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The left needs to take on Ukip’s migration myths

It’s not good enough to say that immigration is good for the economy, says Steve McGiffen

It’s time that the left began to take Ukip on. The best way to do this is also perhaps the hardest. 

It’s to counterpose the facts to Ukip’s spurious arguments, most of which neatly encapsulate a number of myths about immigration which are both rooted in racism and fuel its spread. 

In conjunction with this, however, it’s important also not to go along with the idea that unregulated inward labour migration from low-wage countries is unproblematic. 

To begin with the spurious nature of Ukip’s arguments. 

As someone who, despite being a subject of Her Britannic Majesty, has lived for the last two decades in Belgium and France, I cannot deny having my doubts about Ukip’s apparent belief that life in Britain is so wonderful that, given half a chance, half the population of the world would be flooding in. But then I’m not a manual worker from a low-wage country, or competing with one for a job. 

So let’s look at the situation of such a person, seeking to leave a central or eastern European country for a better life, or simply better wages, elsewhere. 

On the basis of wage rates and related benefits, Britain would hardly be his or her destination of choice. Most such people would be looking for a job in the private sector, especially in Britain, where there is little else on offer. Yet private sector wages in Britain are amongst the lowest in western Europe. 

According to Ireland’s Unite trade union, which took the figures from the EU’s own statistical service Eurostat, average hourly “compensation” in Britain amounts to €18.95 per hour, which as I write is £15.17. This includes not only wages but any benefits to which an employee may be entitled, such as payments into a pension scheme. 

This is lower than Spain even, considerably lower than Ireland, and massively lower than anywhere else in western Europe. 

Of course, it’s a great deal higher than rates in central and eastern Europe but if you’re going to up sticks, why go to the country in the EU where pay rates are less than half those in Belgium and not much more than half of those in France or the Netherlands?

Well, immigrants must be coming here for something, Ukip would argue.

And they’re right, even though overall Britain has a lower proportion of immigrants in its population than every other western European country except France and the Netherlands. 

Interestingly, these are two countries where the far right has also made recent gains, proving that their strength has nothing much to do with current levels of immigration. 

Of course, to many people who vote for Ukip, or the Front National, half of the English or French World Cup teams and many of their Olympic medallists are “immigrants,” despite being born and bred in the countries in question, simply because they have black or brown skin. Recent immigrants from eastern Europe, however, tend to come from countries where people’s skin, like that of indigenous Britons, hovers between pink and pale grey, depending on the season. This doesn’t make any difference — racists are undiscriminating when it comes to finding a target.

The new immigrants are coming not for the high wages, but for the unregulated labour market and the lack of enforcement even of those laws which remain. 

In other words, it is the policies enthusiastically backed by the likes of Ukip and right-wing Eurosceptic Tories which have made Britain a popular destination for people whose countries’ economies have been undermined by European Union “free market” policies.

With no prospects at home, they are not in a position to demand the kind of job security and living wages which had begun to characterise Britain’s labour market before Thatcherism swept it all away.

Neither Ukip nor the Tories would admit it, but the deregulating policies they want to see deepened still further are identical to those favoured by Brussels.

Their slogan should be — we’re not having foreigners screwing the British people. It’s our historic right to screw the British people!

In the long term, immigration is almost always a huge benefit to a country’s economy. 

The problems, where they are not pure inventions of the Ukip mindset, are short-term.

In the long term, immigrants will no more drive down wages than women did when they entered the labour market in greater numbers from the 1970s onwards, breaking into sectors and trades from which they were previously excluded. 

This is not, however, to deny that if people from low-wage countries are willing to work for lower rates of pay, they will deny jobs to indigenous workers.

The answer to this is not to demonise and insult people from Romania, Lithuania or some other part of the EU’s new eastern empire, but to organise and demand decent wages for all workers, minimum rates which reflect the real cost of living, and decent housing and living conditions for all.

In conducting such a struggle, we would be doing what ought to be the job of the state — ensuring that employers obey the law – laws of the kind which the Tories and their fellow travellers in Ukip have been steadily undermining for more than three decades. 

Where they have been weakened or abolished, labour protection laws must be strengthened. This will only be achieved by militancy and organisation, not by voting for racists.

The Ukip-Tory establishment and their policies can only be fought by indigenous and immigrant workers making common cause against the real enemy — exploitative employers and a government which makes exploitation not only possible, but lucrative. 

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