Immigration controls kill
Eddie Ford calls for the abolition of all border controls, not just ‘racist’ ones
On November 15 a study on immigration was published by the think-tank, British Future.1 Polling found only 30% of the public “trusted” David Cameron on the matter, whilst 27% believed Ed Miliband, and Nick Clegg found himself on 23%. BF director Sunder Katwala concluded that politicians should “listen more to the public’s concerns and views” - which is that, while the British people do not want to scrap “our proud tradition of protecting refugees”, they do expect an immigration system that is “effective and fair”: ie, most of them would “probably like to see a bit less of it”.
Cue Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Rachel Reeves. Cooper, the shadow home secretary, announced on November 18 that under a Labour government a £10 surcharge will be levied on the 5.5 million annual visitors to the UK. In this way, she hopes, that will more than generate the £45 million needed to employ 1,000 additional guards to defend our borders from illegal migrants and in general “restore public confidence in the immigration system”. For instance, she complained, Labour has discovered that 175,000 failed asylum-seekers may not be removed because the government has “limited resources”. Shocking. Instead, she promised Labour would be the “sensible”, patriotic voice expressing “people’s genuine concerns” - unlike the Tories or UK Independence Party, which want to up the “arms race of rhetoric” over immigration.
On the same day, Reeves, the shadow work and pensions minister, penned an article for the Daily Mail saying that Labour would clamp down on tax credits claimed by about 252,000 working European Union migrants - the period for which they are prevented from claiming out-of-work benefits would be extended from three months to two years.2 She said that Labour would also end the “absurdity” of child benefit and child tax credits being claimed for children living in other countries.
Reeves insisted that she would “never pander” to those who would deny the positive contribution that immigrants have always made to the country, arguing it was the Tories who were “desperately attempting” to “out-Ukip Ukip”. However, the Mail’s sub-headlines were more accurate and honest, telling us about Labour’s “attempt to outflank Tories and Ukip on immigration” with its plans to “curb welfare tourism”.
As Cooper and Reeves remind us, immigration is a toxic issue for the working class movement - meaning that support for any form of immigration controls (firm, fair or otherwise) is to succumb to British nationalism and divide the global working class into competing national units. Communists therefore call for the abolition of immigration controls and utterly reject the ‘socialist’ justification that restrictions are needed because mass migration is used to drive wages down, and hence we must retreat into our national shells to defend the rights and conditions of the ‘indigenous’ workforce. If you are an internationalist, as opposed to a left nationalist, the answer is to incorporate migrants into the trade union and labour movement and in turn learn from them about their struggles and experiences.
Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels fought to do precisely that with regard to mass Irish migration into mainland Britain - initially it was met with hostility by British workers, well aware that the bosses were using the Irish migrants to depress wages and undermine the growing trade union movement. Yet the long and determined struggle to assimilate Irish migrants into the other Britain was undoubtedly successful, as the number of Irish names that run through the history of the workers’ movement testifies. Eleanor Marx, of course, campaigned vociferously against the 1905 Aliens Act, aimed mainly against poor Jews trying to flee Russian pogroms, which was the first (relatively unsuccessful) attempt by the British state to control immigration into this country.
Nor should we ever forget that the First International proclaimed that “each member of the International Association, on removing his domicile from one country to another, will receive the fraternal support of the Associated Working Men”. By contrast, history has shown us that if you start defending national borders against the incoming tide of cheap labour, even if motivated by ‘socialist’ ideas, then sooner or later you find yourself supporting your country’s right to militarily defend its front lines.
Cooper wailed about the “awful cases” of immigrants taking increasingly desperate measures to get to the UK from Calais, citing the example of young men camping by the roadside, then leaping onto the wheel arches of passing lorries, “only to be crushed and killed”. What crocodile tears. Her toughening of border controls will only make such instances more likely, not less - immigration controls kill. If you genuinely want to stop such incidents in Calais and everywhere else then you must fight to end all immigration controls and extend the hand of solidarity to all workers.
Given our principled and internationalist stand on immigration controls, we in the CPGB think that Left Unity made the correct decision at its November 15-16 national conference to turn down a full electoral coalition with the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition at next May’s general election - local branches will have the option instead to cooperate with Tusc on a case-by-case basis. Our reason for not wanting LU to agree a common platform with Tusc is quite straightforward: it seems likely that Tusc will insist, amongst other things, on a position of opposition only to “racist” controls - the obvious inference being non-racist immigration controls would be acceptable. But for us in the CPGB that would not be acceptable in the slightest.
Admittedly, you can glean little, or nothing, from Tusc’s official website - clicking ‘policies’ on the home page just gives you a statement dated March 3 this year about how “councillors can make a difference”, and so on, and directly below that are its “core” policy positions for the 2010 general election - the comrades are really up to speed. The ‘latest news’, dated November 12, merely tells us that the national steering committee has approved the first eight parliamentary candidates for the general election. However, giving us a strong clue, we do read in the Socialist Workers Party’s Internal Bulletin No2 that its central committee has proposed that “around 15 SWP members” should be adopted next year as Tusc candidates because doing so apparently involves agreeing to a list of “good, basic socialist demands” - including the “repeal” of the 2014 Immigration Act and “all racist immigration controls”.3 Yes, comrades, but what about immigration controls in general - are you opposed to them or not, especially as you have always argued that immigration controls are inherently racist and have historically been opposed to all border controls.
Alas, the suspicion is that the SWP is watering down its stance for the 2015 election campaign in line with its Tusc partners, the RMT union and the Socialist Party in England and Wales - both of which, just like the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain, subscribe to a ‘common sense’ view on immigration that in the last analysis is not profoundly different from that of the Tories or even Ukip. SPEW’s frankly rather nauseating approach to migration was made explicit in its 2013 perspectives document:
Of course, we have to stand in defence of the most oppressed sections of the working class, including migrant workers and other immigrants. We staunchly oppose racism. We defend the right to asylum and argue for the end of repressive measures like detention centres.
At the same time, given the outlook of the majority of the working class, we cannot put forward a bald slogan of ‘open borders’ or ‘no immigration controls’, which would be a barrier to convincing workers of a socialist programme, both on immigration and other issues. Such a demand would alienate the vast majority of the working class, including many more long-standing immigrants, who would see it as a threat to jobs, wages and living conditions” (my emphasis).4
Whilst our SPEW comrades, of course, believe in the lofty Platonic ideal of open borders, the working class - deep sigh - is far too backward to go along with such an idea. Hence in the interests of ‘unity’ and perhaps grabbing a few votes, we just have to face facts and sign up to the prevailing consensus - which would have you believe that people should have no right to live, settle and work anywhere on this planet and that the whole world must remain divided up into nations (or pseudo-nations) protecting their ‘own’ patch at the expense of outsiders. But for communists, for whom the common interest of the international proletariat is an absolute principle, this consensus is pure poison. National borders are part of the crap of class society.
This race to the bottom, politically speaking, is down to the fact that Tusc is a mere on-off electoral coalition devoid of any principled programmatic positions or world view - epitomised by the high farce last May of SPEW comrades standing on the same day for both Tusc and No2EU, hardly the best way to propagate the idea of a new and attractive working class party committed to universal human liberation.
No2EU, of course, is a national chauvinist organisation that promulgates a particularly abhorrent form of anti-EU left nationalism - wanting to exit the bloc and effectively slam the doors shut. Presumably, everyone will be forced to stay put unless they get government permission to move. Yvette Cooper may want a 1,000 extra border guards. Under No2EU’s plans, they would have to employ at least an additional 50,000 guards to patrol the borders - not to mention the creation of a vast network of form-fillers and enforcers. Strangely enough though, in a near off-the-cuff remark by Daren Ireland of the RMT’s national executive at SPEW’s recent Socialism 2014 school, we discovered that No2EU had actually been “wound up” - surprising the majority of people in the room. So much for the principle of open and transparent decision-making.
Anyhow, even as opportunist electoral alliances go, Tusc is a lousy failure. Last year it did not even reach its target of 600-plus local election candidates, and its performance on the day was predictably dismal - its 560 candidates polled 68,031 votes, a less than impressive average of 121 per candidate. A statistic skewed, needless to say, by the victories of Keith Morrell in Southampton Coxford (a former Labour councillor suspended for opposition to the cuts) and Dave Nellist in Coventry St Michael - the former got 1,633 votes and the latter, who had been a Socialist Party/Socialist Alternative councillor in the area from 1998 to 2012, received 974 votes (29.7% for second place). Subtract their votes from the total and SPEW’s ‘strategy’ for the building of a “new mass workers’ party” becomes an embarrassing joke.
This time around, aiming for glory again and helping to explain why SPEW is so desperate to get LU on board, Tusc is aiming for 100 general election candidates and 1,000 council candidates, because then the BBC would be forced to give it a party election broadcast (PEB) - the eligibility criteria stating that in England a political party will qualify for one PEB if it stands candidates in at least 89 constituencies or parties standing candidates in at least one sixth of the seats in “one or more of the nations” will be entitled to a UK-wide broadcast instead of national broadcasts.5 Then again, the Greens have had a Westminster MP since 2010 and polled 7.9% last year in the European elections (not forgetting the 15% of the vote they got in the 1989 European elections), and yet the BBC almost totally ignores them.
Thankfully, the pro-Tusc comrades did not get their way at the LU conference. Tusc is not a serious partyist project, which is why LU was right to reject a formal electoral alliance that would have included a common manifesto containing policies weaker in certain areas than those currently upheld by LU.
2. Daily Mail November 19.
5. Though the rules do also state that a PEB “may be allocated where a party does not qualify under the above criteria, but can demonstrate that it has significant levels of current electoral support” (www.broadcastersliaisongroup.org.uk/criteria_genelect.html).