WeeklyWorker

25.11.2021
Escaping intolerable conditions

From hell to even worse

The so-called migrant crisis results from the imperialist system itself, argues Eddie Ford

Nobody could have failed to notice the recent headlines about the “migrant crisis” facing the “embattled” home secretary, Priti Patel. The latest grim twist to the story being, of course, the drowning of 27 people, maybe more, attempting to make the crossing over the English Channel in an overcrowded inflatable dinghy. The statistics have been endlessly repeated. Since 2018 there have been over 50 deaths, more than 26,000 people making the journey this year alone: a threefold increase over the previous year. Indeed, 1,131 arrived on a single day last week.

Note, the reasons why so many are willing to undertake the always hazardous and potentially deadly journey in small boats is, firstly, the appalling conditions in Calais and Dunkirk. The French police baton heads, break up camps, confiscate tents and leave people blooded, bruised, cold, wet and hungry. Then, secondly, there is the fact that the British government has been successful in clamping down on people smuggling themselves over on ferries - primarily in the back of lorries, of course. The authorities have upped the legal penalties faced by drivers and now have heat-sensitivity equipment that can locate people, plus sniffer dogs and other such methods. As a result of all this, migrants are absolutely desperate and more than eager to try alternative routes.

Not that the small boat option comes cheap (nor did the lorry approach either, it has to be said). We all know about those evil ‘people smugglers’ who hardly offer their services for free - that is for sure. Therefore the idea that such migrants largely consist of the poorest and most desperate is rather misguided. In general, if you are fleeing war, famine or persecution and are poor, you would normally go to the nearest town or big city, often in a neighbouring state. If, however, you are rather better off, then you can arrange to fly or be taken overland. Rough figures for what is charged for this amounts to something like £20,000 a head, which either you or your family pay. The usual idea would be to come to Britain and get your refugee status officially certificated - after which you start to earn money in some way or another, and then pay it back.

We not only have a so-called refugee crisis on the English Channel: there has also been the Belarus/Polish border. Here too the people involved come from the usual places: Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria, Afghanistan, etc. But it is Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko, not Poland’s Mateusz Morawiecki, who is routinely portrayed by the western media and politicians as Mr Evil - using refugees as a political pawn. That is undoubtedly true, and it is also true that Belarus is under siege, facing as it does a whole array of western sanctions.

But, of course, it is not Belarusian warplanes which are bombing Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria, Afghanistan, etc, let alone Belarusian tanks and soldiers imposing regime change. The fact of the matter is that, whilst the press and politicians in the west want to dress up Lukashenko as the embodiment of evil, in reality he is an intermediary. The real crime is the fact that imperialist actions - whether by invasion, occupation, sanctions or International Monetary Fund diktat - have made places such as Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and so many other countries around the world almost impossible places to live in. All this is the result of the system headed by the US, the global hegemon, and its loyal sidekick, Britain, with its grisly record over the last 30 years or more.

Competition

Very many people are simply desperate, and if they have any hope or ambition for themselves and their children - that lies abroad, so that they can have some sort of decent life. It goes without saying that, if these countries were stable and prosperous, it would be a very different question. Overwhelmingly people prefer to stay where they have been brought up, near to relatives and friends, and with what they are used to.

Hence it would be pointless to deny that migrants want to get into Europe. But why is it happening? The big lie is the idea that you can legislate to stop it. The reality is that, by passing more laws against ‘people smuggling’, or imposing stronger penalties, you simply make more people illegal.

There is certainly a false idea in some sections of the labour movement that, if you make certain people illegal, that prevents them from competing for jobs and undercutting your wages and conditions. But quite the opposite is the case - it makes such competition more intense. Who would companies rather employ - a trade union member who demands the agreed rate for the job, or someone who has no rights: someone afraid of immigration officials coming round and carting them off at a moment’s notice. Who is going to command the highest wages? Who is going to be prepared to work the longest hours in the most unsafe conditions? You ask the question and you know the answer.

At the end of the day, it is also pretty obvious why many people want to come to Britain, as opposed to France or Germany. It is not the social security system, but rather the straightforward fact that - as a result of, first, the British empire and then US global hegemony - English is the second language of so many people.

Another thing needs to be mentioned here. In terms of the government’s own figures, as opposed to the rhetoric, if you take those people who come over in small boats, the home office concludes that two-thirds of them are genuine - which means they are entitled to refugee status. But, according to the language used by Priti Patel for public consumption, the migrants crossing the English Channel are not genuine. They are genuinely wanting to escape intolerable conditions, but they are mere ‘economic migrants’ and therefore should not be allowed to stay. Instead, they should be packed off to Albania or even the Falkland Islands - as a warning that they should not think about trying to come to Britain. They will be going from what is hell to somewhere even worse - an appalling, inhuman detention centre.

We on the left should not deny that migration has a downward pull on wages and conditions - it is a self-evident truth. Just as if the supply of this or that commodity was doubled, that would tend to reduce its price. When it comes to that special commodity called labour-power we know that trade unions exist precisely to limit competition between worker and worker. In that way the working class gains strength under capitalism, going against the grain of ‘one against one, one against all’ - the ‘dog eats dog’ logic of capitalism. We are not against immigration - the world belongs to all its people. Rather, we are against immigration controls. But at the same time we say organisation is vital - competition must be limited, minimum standards when it comes to pay and hours defended and extended. More than that, we need a mass Marxist party which is affiliated to a genuine international. Meaning that people who come to Britain as migrants are already politically organised.

Our programme is not for the liberation of Britain only, based on the belief that we can build communism in this little island - a total delusion. In our view as Marxists, communism is only a practical project if it is actively fought internationally in order to decisively tilt the balance of forces worldwide. Only at that point can we start to make countries like Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Iraq, Syria, and all the rest of them, places worth living in. Places where people can fully develop themselves as rounded human beings, not struggling merely to survive.

eddie.ford@weeklyworker.co.uk