This article first appeared in Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website
One of the best bits of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour conference speech was his defence of migrants.
“It isn’t migrants that drive down wages; it’s exploitative employers and the politicians who deregulate the labour market and rip up trade union rights.
“It isn’t migrants who put a strain on our NHS; it only keeps going because of the migrant nurses and doctors who come here filling the gaps left by politicians who have failed to invest in training.
“It isn’t migrants that have caused a housing crisis; it’s a Tory government that has failed to build homes.
“Immigration can certainly put extra pressure on services… What did the Tories do? They… demonise migrants for putting pressure on services…
“We will act decisively to end the undercutting of workers’ pay and conditions through the exploitation of migrant labour and agency working… And we will ease the pressure on hard-pressed public services – services that are struggling to absorb Tory austerity cuts, in communities absorbing new populations”.
It should put to shame the Socialist Party, which has presented immigration controls as a sort of working-class “closed shop”, thus feeding the myth that migrant workers, and not the exploitation of migrant workers, drive down wages:
“The socialist and trade union movement from its earliest days”, declares the SP, “has never supported the ‘free movement of goods, services and capital’ – or labour – as a point of principle but instead has always striven for the greatest possible degree of workers’ control, the highest form of which, of course, would be a democratic socialist society with a planned economy.
“It is why, for example, the unions have historically fought for the closed shop, whereby only union members can be employed in a particular workplace, a very concrete form of ‘border control’ not supported by the capitalists”.
Were those sentences a bit of bad writing? An aberration? Not at all. The SP has opposed free movement of labour consistently, in many articles, for instance this one by their leader, Peter Taafe, that contains the following:
“The alleged benefits of the ‘free movement of labour’ are in reality a device for the bosses to exploit a vast pool of cheap labour, which can then be used to cut overall wage levels and living standards”.
“The EU’s free movement of labour rules… have helped the bosses to inflict a ‘race to the bottom’ in wages and conditions, rather than stemming from workers’ interests and a raising of living standards across the board”.
Even conventional academic research has shown that any depression of wage levels which follows increased immigration at a time of diminished trade union rights and inadequate solidarity is confined to particular categories of labour, and is much smaller than the wage gain which would result from stronger union rights and greater workers’ unity.