back to front - migration and power
WORKERS, SEPT 2005 ISSUE
Speaking in Bradford in June, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, said, "Immigration has reduced wage inflation:...If the increased demand for labour generates its own supply in the form of migrant labour then the link between demand and prices is broken...Indeed, in an economy that can call on unlimited supplies of migrant labour, the concept of output gap is meaningless...the inflow of migrant labour, especially in the past year or so from Eastern Europe, has probably led to a diminution of inflationary pressure on the labour market...Without this influx to fill the skill gaps in a tight labour market, it is likely earnings would have risen at a faster rate, putting upward pressure on the costs of employers."
In other words, cheap mass labour from Eastern Europe — the Polish Plumber syndrome — has been used to keep wages stagnant or reduce them. The real purpose of immigration is revealed for what it is: to undermine the wages of British workers.
Anyone who wants a practical example of this need look no further than Heathrow. The workers at Gate Gourmet (see page 3) were just too expensive, and, even more important, too highly unionised for this spin-off of British Airways, itself a product of privatisation. Destroying the union is essential to the project.
The plan is to hire new workers from Eastern Europe at £6 an hour — not a proper living wage, and one that will require the taxpayer to subsidise families dependent on it via the tax credit system. The European Union tells us we cannot subsidise industry to keep it going, but it seems that there's unlimited money to subsidise union-busting and drive down wages and conditions.
Could this have happened anywhere else in the EU? Well, perhaps not yet. Because apart from Ireland only Britain — courtesy of Jack Straw and the Labour government — decided to give unrestricted access almost immediately, from 1 May 2004, to workers from the new Eastern European members even though transitional arrangements allowed restrictions for up to seven years. At a stroke, Labour solved most of the problem of illegal immigration...by making it legal!
There should be no doubt about what the aim of this open-door immigration policy is. It is to reduce wages and conditions to the world minimum. Think about it: we are constantly told we will have to reduce our expectations, and our wages, if we are to compete with China. But wages in Britain are 20 times those in urban China — and 30 times the Chinese rural wage. The inexorable logic is that unless we suffer wage cuts of 95%, we're "costing too much".
In that regard, cheap Polish or Lithuanian labour is just a halfway house for capitalism. And already their wages are too high — as the article on page 5 of this issue ("Last Scottish yard under threat") shows, Polish shipyards are using even cheaper Russian labour to undercut Scottish yards.
For too long some in the trade unions have taken a liberal attitude to immigration, so afraidof charges of racism that they have allowed Labour to operate a deliberate policy of weakening workers' bargaining power on a massive scale. Perhaps those in favour of unlimited immigration could explain what is anti-racist about a policy that leads directly to the sacking of hundreds of British women of Indian origin.
In the face of the Bank of England, the Labour government and the European Union, we in Britain will survive only by asserting our class interests. The working class — of every country — must exercise control over the supply of labour.