With the anti-trade union laws as the backdrop, capitalism has deployed its favoured method of attack to devastating effect: unemployment, intensified by the exporting of jobs and the importing of labour…
Nothing stands still. We either progress or regress. And what we have had for the last 13 years is the continuation of the [Thatcher] counter-revolution. It is the attempt to destroy any semblance of collective thought and organisation, to prevent the possibility of us moving forward to taking power.
Earlier this year, it was exposed in the London Evening Standard that the Labour Party had made a conscious decision in 2000 to begin the process of opening the doors to the largest mass migration this country had ever known, with some three million people having settled here. They boasted that they have created two million new jobs, but the Office of National Statistics tells us that 9 out of 10 of these have gone to foreigners coming in to Britain. And Labour told us that they lose no sleep over the population of Britain going to 70 million and beyond!
We are told that everybody has the right to better themselves and we must therefore support the freedom of movement of labour. So, for example, we have the disgraceful spectacle of teachers, doctors and nurses being poached from countries that struggle to afford their training while we have people with the very same skills out of work or in jobs they weren't trained for. And worse still is being planned.
While in his role of EU Trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson initiated the negotiations for the introduction of a little-known clause to be included in future trade agreements between the EU and countries outside of the EU. Known as Mode 4 (see page 11), the intention is to open up further the EU's labour markets to cheap labour.
The sole purpose of this is to entrench the power of global capital so that transnational corporations can move labour around the globe from, say, India, paying only the minimum wage (and India is even arguing that the minimum wage is too much). And because of the Lisbon treaty, all things EU apply here.
The desired effect of mass migration is the destabilising and undermining of working-class organisation and communities, and the extraction of ever-greater profit through use of cheap unorganised labour. Until very recently mere mention of the issue was shouted down as racist.
Well, the engineering construction workers of Britain changed all that and firmly placed the issue on the agenda when workers at the Lindsey Oil Refinery walked out at the beginning of last year.
With employers bringing in over 400 Italian and Portuguese workers, denying those already on site the right to work, these construction workers struck, demanding British Jobs for British Workers, BJ4BW.
In defiance of the anti-trade union laws, they were swiftly followed by workers from over 20 other sites up and down Britain, capturing the imagination of workers not only across this country but the world. Because of the support neither the government nor the EU dared challenge the “illegality” of the action fearful of fanning the flames.
Ever since, BJ4BW as a slogan has been vilified by the main parties and ultra left alike as racist. Interesting though is how there is common ground between international capital and the ultra left – sharing as they do the position of calling for unfettered movement of labour and no border controls.
But we have come a long way since those strikes and all opinion polls register that this is one of the major concerns that people have in Britain, and to demand the right to work in our own country is recognised as correct and not racist.
A poll of members conducted by the Unite union said the same, but you won’t find the union mentioning it, and the main parties conspired to try to avoid it at the election. Yet workers forced it onto the agenda. The same was true with regards to the EU – a conspiracy of silence gave way at the 2005 election to a promise to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. As we know, they have all reneged.
When the question of immigration is put, however, all these parties make righteous noises about border controls and regulating those coming in from outside the EU. Their attempts to sidestep the issue of the EU become more futile as workers become ever more aware that the main source of migrant labour is from the EU, particularly the countries that have recently joined.
The current financial turmoil in the eurozone raises the prospect of ever greater movement, and membership of the EU means we have to accept them. But if we say we don’t want to, that we want to put a stop to further influx, what mechanisms have we got to stop it - to assert our democratic right in our own land?
It has been fashionable to talk of globalisation as if it were a thing beyond the control of mankind. Some unions and others think that we need one big global union to combat the power of multinational capital. They would have us spend more than a few lifetimes in the vain struggle to do what? To stand toe to toe with our exploiters on a more equal footing?
All that boils down to is that we are still exploited by capitalism. And can you really expect someone in, say, an Indian call centre, who is offered work at more than ten times their national average wage, to reject that work – even if they were in a global union – because it has been taken away from their brothers and sisters in, say, Britain?
When international capital demands the death of the nation state, the answer is not to call for measures that enable that. The way to challenge the power of multinational companies is not by trying to build a global union but to assert control of our own borders through workers’ nationalism. You can’t have inter-nationalism without first having nationalism, and for workers of all countries to do likewise. Then when we say to global capital, “You can’t operate here except by our rules”, what power would they actually have?
• This article is part of a speech given at the CPBML May Day celebration in Conway Hall, London, on 1 May.