the foundations of oppression can't be plucked up without the anger of a multitude

Why a Corbyn-led Labour Government would be better for nearly everyone, even the radical left. Part 1: Race and Immigration

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This is Part 1 of a series of articles around the UK General Election. You can find the introduction to the series here.

If you are an actual bricks-through-windows racist, pro-marital rape misogynist or a castrate-the-gays homophobe, than Corbyn is not the one for you. But nor are any other of the parliamentary parties, so we can leave that little unpleasant band of brothers to their own nasty devices.  For the rest of the population, fed on a diet of slanted, and sometimes entirely fictitious media stories, there are a few who are concerned about immigrants destroying British values and traditions. One might wonder who really has time to mourn the decline of Morris dancing, Sunday school and suet pudding, but beneath this apparently empty debate about abstractions there are real concerns. Many link immigration with a loss of jobs and there is a reality that standards of living for much of the population has seen a real decline since the 1980s. This decline accelerated after the financial crash of 2007/08, meaning that “between 2007 and 2015 in the UK, real wages – income from work adjusted for inflation – fell by 10.4%.”[1] making Britain, Portugal and Greece the only three of twenty-nine countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to see a wage decrease. Coupling this with an erosion of welfare provision has produced increases in homelessness[2], temporary accommodation[3], foodbanks[4] and suicide[5].food bank

To blame the problems on immigrants is, I believe, misguided but not totally irrational. Neoliberal capitalism relies on the movement of populations within an unequal global economy in order to prevent free-market pressures pushing up wages and damaging corporate profits and executive bonuses. The OECD in 2006 declared that they like “migrant inflows” because they “raise labour market slack” and keep down inflation.[6] I actually agree with David Davies that “Bringing in large numbers of immigrants depressed wages, particularly for unskilled workers.” However, our explanations are somewhat different. He argues that, “For low skilled jobs in places with high immigrant populations, like London, the minimum wage almost became a maximum wage”[7] This statement is revealing of a certain bias, because in the case of London, it is simply not true. The Centre for London’s 2013 detailed report: London Rising, produced by former Labour MP for Burnley, Kitty Usher, outlined that: “Even in the lowest paid category of “elementary occupations”, median pay in London, at £7.50 per hour, is nearly seven per cent higher than the national average of £7.02. Within this, the lowest paid categories nationally, waiters and waitresses and bar staff are still paid 6.6% and 4% more respectively in London than the national average. Cleaners and domestics are paid 3% more in London; care workers 4% more.”[8]

Low skilled jobs (or low-valued work. Is care work really “low skilled?”) tend to pay minimum wage wherever they are situated, but it is a fact that in ALL sectors of the workforce in London, wages are higher than in the rest of the country, and above the minimum wage (the London Rising report was written when the minimum wage was £6.31 for over 21s). This does not make London some paradise of workers’ rights. London’s problem is around housing. It has high unemployment, not because of a lack of work (immigrants have not ‘taken our jobs’ in the capital) but because many people don’t want to get off benefits to work in jobs that do not cover the cost of their accommodation. My feeling is that Davies cites London as an example, because he wants to blame multiculturalism.unison campaign for london living wage

Nevertheless, it is true that the management of labour flows is part of a tactic to keep down wages. UCL’s CREAM department estimate that while “the arrival of economic migrants has benefited workers in the middle and upper part of the wage distribution, immigration has placed downward pressure on the wages of workers in receipt of lower levels of pay.”[9]

Overall, as the liberal press sometimes likes to point out as a ‘shock’ headline, immigration creates jobs and raises wages – creating more demand for services, more labour to produce stuff and more people to sell things to. But this effect is not evenly distributed. Low-paying jobs pay even less than they would do if it weren’t for exploitable immigration. This is a very real concern for people who can only enter the job market at the “lower levels of pay”, where the problem is not just the ‘levels’ of pay (plenty of highly educated, well-qualified people choose to take low paid or voluntary work) but the very jobs themselves. They are boring jobs made degrading by their lack of pay and the constant surveillance. To get people to work in them requires an intense disciplining of the immigrant workforce, begun in the countries which were structurally adjusted into debt-ridden underdevelopment. Whether that was in the ‘Third World’ where self-sufficient communities were bulldozed to make way for practically taxless Global Apparels Kenya in the Kenyan Export Processing Zonesweatshop factories in Export Processing Zones, or in the former Second World, where Communist state assets and infrastructure were handed to NATO-compliant cronies, those who could afford it had to leave homes, culture and familiarity to come to the West. They did so not out of a spirit of adventure or as gap year inter-railers setting out to find themselves, but often as the educated member of a family tasked with finding work to provide for their relatives who couldn’t get gainful employment back home. Many overqualified people take jobs in the UK cleaning trains, stacking shelves, packing biscuits, picking fruit etc. at wages and in working conditions that would not be enough to tempt the indigenous unemployed to get out of bed for. Thus, in the words of Gordon Brown (and New Labour were just as guilty in this regard as the Tories), capital-managed immigration prevents ‘wage inflation’.

It is outside of London that this has been most severe. The Tories have promised to continue, as every government has since the Immigration Act of 1962, to make life harder for foreign-born workers, citizenship rights more difficult to obtain and entry into the UK more bureaucratic and expensive (for state and immigrant) than ever before. Schwarzenegger-style border security, coupled with impossible Kafkaesque bureaucratic paradoxes, does prevent many more arriving than would under open borders. Contrary to popular mythology, the raft of new British immigration laws in recent times have made residency harder to obtain. But the real change in types of arrivals is most significant in the category of legal immigrant, laws being great creators of illegal things. Emily Ryo from University of California looking into the effectiveness of tough immigration laws as a deterrence for Mexican immigration into the USA discovered that “people’s fear of being caught and punished did not have a significant impact on their intention to migrate without papers. Instead, other factors such as the availability of work, the presence of people from the same community or family in America already and the need to support families, had a greater influence on a person’s decision to cross the border.”[10] The harder legal immigration is, the more illegal immigrants there will be. People don’t break laws unless they think there is a chance they won’t get caught. And there is always a chance that you’ll sneak in, however tough the bouncers. The less you have to lose the more you’re prepared to risk. This is of course common sense (or at least it should be).  By making legal residence even more difficult to obtain, the Tories will increase the numbers of illegal immigrants and at same time, through their ‘hostile environment’ policy they will make the status of those who do have a right to remain more precarious, and worsen the wages and job conditions at which they will work.UK Big brother agency

Thus, immigration does reduce wages, but in a very particular way. Exploitation, underdevelopment, border controls, anti-immigrant rhetoric and racism create the conditions in which capital accumulates a labour force that will work its most boring, shitty jobs at minimum or less than minimum wage. This is what has led to the contradictory nationalist belief in a Master Race with a genetic inferiority – a sort of reverse Darwininian racism – that says that British workers are inherently lazier than Polish ones. They don’t have a problem with them, as the standard conversation goes, they’re hard workers, but they’re taking jobs from our lazy British builders and bringing over their inferior culture.

The ‘surplus’ migrant populations who cannot get work will continue to be hounded by the police and border forces and rounded up into detention centres.

Corbyn’s ideas of raising the minimum wage and creating state-funded jobs favours native workers, many of whom would actually want to work if the pay is worth giving up the dole for. The Tories’ version is to make the dole even worse so that even native workers might be forced into dirty, degrading employment. A sensible and humane system of immigration processing would mean that immigrant workers would have more security themselves to resist exploitation, meaning that there would be upward-pressure on wages and conditions. In jobs that pay at levels reasonable to the context of the cost of living, indigenous workers would find that speaking the language is an advantage in pretty much any job. Pushing for international political solutions for armed conflicts and for legislation against multinational companies to stop them exploiting cheap labour or destroying natural environments in the poorer parts of the planet, would reduce the need for people to want to cross these heavily militarised borders in the first place. The reason that Conservatives have spent so much on foreign aid, provoking angry Daily Mail headlines, is not out of consideration for the wretched of the Earth but because that “aid” is in fact subsidies for British businesses to go about exploiting low wages abroad. It is aid “used to promote British interests,” as The Economist put it.[11] Evan Osborne noted sardonically in a report for the Cato Institute, “If aid is not particularly given with the intention to foster economic growth, it is perhaps not surprising that it does not achieve it.”[12

Focus e15It is striking that in London, where the regular mixing of culturally different people has created an atmosphere of general tolerance of difference, people’s complaints against immigrants is usually around housing rather than jobs. When we are placed on ridiculous waiting lists, moved out of our areas, or living in temporary accommodation we are inclined to believe conspiracy theories about immigrants given preferential treatment. Creating more social housing, restoring benefits and taxing second or empty homes as Corbyn promises to do, would alleviate much of this pressure and thus make people more accepting of their immigrant neighbour. The Tories will continue to sell off council housing, continue with their bedroom tax and punitive welfare, encourage and subsidise property prices and thus make competition for homes even more intense and bitter.

Thus, real concerns about immigration are economic issues, not race and cultural ones. I started this article by saying that the hard-racists have no parliamenTheresa Maytary party. When Theresa May was Home Secretary she set the Conservative policy to “create a really hostile environment for illegal migrants”. Recruiting doctors, private landlords, high street banks and the DVLA to become extra border police, inevitably means scaring and hassling all those who look like they might be illegal migrants. Perhaps I was wrong. White supremacists, I suggest you vote Tory.
Up Next: Race and Immigration – questions for the radical left


[2] “In 2016 rough sleeping has risen by 132% since 2010 according to official estimates. … There were 58,000 ‘homelessness acceptances’ by local authorities in England in 2014/15. This is 18,000 higher than in 2009/10. Administrative changes mean that these official statistics understate the increase in ‘homelessness expressed demand’ over recent years. There were some 271,000 ‘local authority homelessness case actions’ in 2015/16, a rise of 32% since 2009/10.” – CRISIS homelessness monitor 2017

[3] The same CRISIS report records that temporary accommodation places are up by 52% since 2010 and B&B placements are 250% higher than in 2009. The report authors note that past and future welfare cuts “will cumulatively reduce the incomes of poor households in and out of work by some £25 billion a year by 2020/21”

[4] “benefit delays and changes remain the biggest cause of referral to a foodbank, accounting for 43 percent of all referrals (26 percent benefit delay; 17 percent benefit change), a slight rise on last year’s 42 percent.  Low income has also risen as a referral cause from 23 percent to 26 percent.”

[5] “There has been a decreasing trend in the UK suicide rate until around 2007. Since then, there has been a general increase and suicide in the UK is now at its highest rate since 2004.” The Samaritans Suicide Statistics Report 2016












Written by angrysampoetry

May 29, 2017 at 7:20 pm

6 Responses

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  1. […] The Left has basically won on the question of Austerity. It has managed to convince people that the stripping back of state provision and selling off of state assets was not done to reduce the deficit but rather out of political considerations: to enrich the rich, transferring wealth upwards. Under the Conservatives, the deficit has increased and they are not in the least bit concerned because that was never their aim in the first place. Despite some fluctuations, Britain’s external borrowing (debt owed to creditors outside the UK) remains above 6,000,000 million pounds, up by another 500,000 million pounds since the Tories came to power.[13] […]

  2. […] the twenty different ‘grounds for refusal’ that are currently in place under Home Office rules.[14] According to government statistics, nearly twenty thousand people were refused entry into the UK at […]

  3. […] nearly twenty thousand people were refused entry into the UK at the border in the year 2015.[15] There are 12,000 “enforced removals” a year, including 2000 people deported on specially […]

  4. […] British immigration policy is particularly inhumane. Perhaps there is a right for a community to say that some people cannot join them, but it does seem like the burden of proof is at present the wrong way round. To gain residency in the UK for non-EU nationals, a person on arrival must avoid falling foul of any one of the twenty different ‘grounds for refusal’ that are currently in place under Home Office rules.[14] According to government statistics, nearly twenty thousand people were refused entry into the UK at the border in the year 2015.[15] There are 12,000 “enforced removals” a year, including 2000 people deported on specially chartered flights. (Corporate Watch) Many are made destitute by being refused recourse to public funds and over thirty thousand people a year are locked up in detention centres. Simply to obtain a temporary visa from outside the EU for parent-child or spouse visits has become fraught with difficulty, the Home Office now arguing that relationships can be carried out instead via “modern means of communication”.[16] […]

  5. Peddling long-debunked nonsense doesn’t become more interesting because you garnish it with pretend-left arguments. And positioning yourself against white supremacists, racists and xenophobes while peddling creeds that only fan the flames of xenophobia is hypocritical at best.
    The development of wages has been pretty much independent of rise or fall of immigration numbers. Anyone peddling the notion that immigration depresses wages shares guilt in every hate crime out there.


    August 7, 2019 at 2:17 pm

    • Thanks for the comment, and you might be right to pick up on it. I wanted to take seriously people’s feelings that immigration affects wages. Perhaps I went too far or got the tone wrong. Looking back on it a few years later, I think there are some good points on how immigration laws create illegal immigration and illegal immigrants are more easily exploited. Legalising immigration would do much to end this super-exploitation and thus push wages up. It seems there is a concerted effort to keep them down.


      August 7, 2019 at 3:16 pm

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