Open the borders

Respect conference delegate David Isaacson explains why he will be supporting resolution 31, which would committ Respect to "oppose all borders"

"Workers of all countries, unite" - so say the final words of the Communist manifesto. For Marxists the question of working class unity is of central importance, without it we will never achieve socialism. It is therefore incumbent upon us to do all we can to remove barriers to working class unity. The most pernicious of these barriers existing today is the nation. This barrier is expressed both ideologically, through various forms of national chauvinism, and physically by borders and those that police them. The demand for open borders is therefore an elementary one for all revolutionaries. However, the Socialist Workers Party has consistently opposed including the principle of open borders in Respect policy. The argument goes that Respect is not a revolutionary organisation and as such it would be wrong for it to be against all immigration controls. It is worth noting that the policy of the Socialist Alliance, which the SWP did its utmost to ensure was not a revolutionary organisation either, was one of opposition to all immigration controls. What is more, "During the late 1950s the official position of the Labour Party towards immigration controls was apparently still one of principled opposition to any controls" (Ruth Brown, 'Racism and immigration in Britain' International Socialism spring 1968, p19). Labour did very little about this in practice, but it was its official position up until 1962. At present Respect's policy in this area is limited to defending the rights of asylum-seekers and refugees. It does nothing to challenge the bourgeois definitions of these categories, seemingly accepting the bogus distinction between 'genuine' asylum-seekers and economic migrants. For socialists this separation of the political and economic is anathema - the two are inextricably linked. Respect needs a policy which recognises this. If capital can move freely between borders, then so too should workers if they wish. The fact is that economic migration takes place, and is indeed encouraged by capital. Certain sections of capital are reliant on the worst paid labour they receive from illegal immigrants. Immigration controls mean that this section of the workforce is separated off from 'legitimate' workers, have no legal rights and can therefore be used to undercut 'British' workers and undermine trade union action. It is in the interests of both these sections of the workforce that the illegals are legalised. They can then of course be unionised and organised. This in turn can undercut the ideological divisions that currently exist between workers of different national backgrounds. The SWP is right in one sense - under current conditions the demand for open borders is in effect revolutionary. This should not, however, stop people voting for this policy. The logic that we need to accept is that Respect must adopt more and more revolutionary policy because this is what we need if we are to achieve human emancipation.

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