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Who dares talk about migration?


In this issue of Workers we return, and not for the first time, to the question of the free movement of labour. Why? Because it represents a deep-seated challenge to the British working class. And let us be clear what we mean by the British working class: all those, of whatever origin, living permanently in Britain and living by selling their labour power.

An unholy alliance of neoliberal economists, do-gooders, much of the so-called "Left", of Tories, Labour and Liberals, of the right-wing Wall Street Journal and the so-called liberal Guardian – in short, the Establishment – is constantly telling us that migrant labour is good for Britain. So is the World Bank and the European Union. If all these people agree, can they all be wrong? Well, yes. If they all agree, we say, they are more than likely to be wrong.

Anyone who dares to question the prevailing orthodoxy is labelled in the media and even at union meetings as a crackpot or worse, a racist, a bigot. Some in the union movement even join up with the Wall Street Journal and call for the removal of all restrictions on entry. Free movement around the world, they say.

But as our articles show, there is only one beneficiary from this "freedom": capitalism. It has discovered the magic formula for keeping wages down, even during an economic upturn. There's always someone, somewhere in the world, who will work for less – and with cheap airfares, well, it's cheaper to fly to Stansted from Wroclaw than a day return from London to Southend.

The political commentators all say migration is good for Britain. Is it good for workers in east London who will be shut out of jobs building the Olympics? Is it good for the hundreds of thousands of London workers who cannot even dream of buying their own houses because demand from migrant workers has fuelled a boom in house prices and encouraged a host of buy-to-let landlords? What about buy to live, not to let?

Is it good for Britain to strip weaker economies of their skilled workers? Does it make sense for midwives in Sierra Leone, where one in eight women die in childbirth, to be lured to Britain simply because there's not enough money to fund midwifery courses here – or, apparently, to pay proper salaries to mid-wives? Isn't that simply imperialism – stripping the developing world of its resources?

If you are one of the millions of workers in Britain worried by these questions and uneasy at the effects of the unprecedented mass migration that Labour has ushered in, then this issue of Workers is for you. Read it, argue about it, and pass it on to your workmates and friends.