Thursday, October 27, 2016

Workers of the World Unite

The claims that immigrants take jobs became harder to sustain as the level of the overseas migrant population reached record highs in Britain at the same time as a record high level of employment overall and a record high for employment of UK-born workers. Even so, the most recent Tory party conference tried to revive the racist claims, with lists of foreign workers, removing overseas doctors from the NHS and prioritising immigration controls over economic prosperity. Some of these have already fallen apart while they would all be deeply damaging to the UK economy, as well as fanning the flames of racism.

The false claim that immigration drives down wages has long been exposed as relying on the 'lump of labour fallacy' . The long history of capitalism, in general, is that more and more workers across the globe are brought into production. That is still happening to this day. At the same time, for the overwhelming majority of those workers, their material conditions have risen enormously over the same period. The growth of the workforce has been matched by the growth in the work available. This is because of the growth of the productive capacity of the global economy, in which workers fight for a share. 

Instead, the attack has switched to the alleged impact of immigration on wages. As the discussion of this issue is so loaded with emotion and confusion in a country like Britain, it is important to set out some clear points of reference.

Objectively, there is no difference between a worker who travels ten miles, hundreds of miles or thousands of miles for work. There is, of course, no difference in terms of their skin colour, religion, gender, sexuality or nationality. Wages in any city or town are not more or less affected by the immigration of a worker from the next county than from a different continent.

Yet the idea that wages are driven down by immigration, that the price of labour (wages) is determined by the increased supply of labour from migration is closely related to the lump of labour fallacy. They both depend on the notion there is a fixed amount of work or fixed amount of wages, and that in both cases these are adversely affected by increasing the supply of labour through immigration. For the lump of labour, now read the 'pool of wages'. These are false notions.

It is in the interests of capitalists to foster the idea that someone else is to blame. This partly accounts for the tenacity of these false ideas. It also explains why far right and fascist groupings are tolerated or even promoted by big business, sometimes even funded by them. If the labour movement pays the slightest lip service to these lies it does itself a great injury. It disarms itself in the class struggle by agreeing that it is foreign workers, not rapacious bosses who have driven down wages, increased rents and increased prices.  

The chart shows, the output per worker in these advanced economies rose more than three times as fast as the rise in real wages, which were close to stagnation.

 The workers in the advanced industrialised countries were not being undercut by workers in the 'Third World'. They were being robbed even more by their employers in the advanced countries.