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End wage slavery in Britain's detention centres

THE convergence of Britain's immigration and asylum policy with a system of privatised public services has created a perfect storm of extraordinary exploitation shot through with racism.

The campaign launched by the Morning Star — in support of migrants and asylum-seekers detained by the government — centres on the basic demand that they be paid the living wage for work they do in making these miserable places extra profitable for the corporations that run them.

We can only speculate on the mindset of ministers, their advisers and the bureaucrats charged with administering the system who who, in a spirit of unbounded generosity, concluded that fair play meant that the people carrying out this essential work were due a magnificent cost of living rise of 15p an hour – before freezing it at £1 anyway.

Even the serially incompetent and innately rapacious contractors running these places thought a higher rate of pay was admissible.

For public policy to cast — by comparison — the likes of Serco and G4S in a favourable light tells us much about the capitalist state.

The great Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci — who spent much of his life in prison and died there — gave us an insight into the essential character of the capitalist state when he argued “that in its organs it gathers the power of the proprietorial class.”

Even he might be surprised by the extent to which with this government, the actual functions of the state machine itself are so closely integrated into the routine workings of wage slavery.

The super-exploited labour performed by immigration and asylum system detainees is undoubtedly more profitable for these corporations than if it were to be carried out by “free” labourers.

But this is, in comparison to the rest of us who sell our labour power for the means of subsistence, a question of degree not kind.

Last year the wages of workers in Britain were 4 per cent below what they were in 2008. Ten years of austerity is the price the state, as the instrument of the exploiting class, has imposed on us, the exploited.

In one of the paradoxes that make political economy entertaining the evidence for this comes from the  Office for National Statistics — an arm of the state that depends for its credibility on a reputation for objectivity.  

By last year the richest 1,000 people in Britain had increased their total wealth to £724 billion. To give a simple picture of what this means the poorest 40 per cent of households in Britain have a combined wealth of rather less at £567bn.

Capitalist exploitation is, in essence, a matter of how much of the value produced by working people is appropriated as profits rather than returned each week or month in the form of wages.

But the picture is a bit more complicated. We have the efforts expended by the state to ensure that tax revenues are drawn disproportionately from those with the lowest incomes. And we have the legal framework that makes sure that in wage bargaining  the state intervenes decisively in favour of the bosses.

Changing this is a first step in shifting the balance in favour of working people. The great virtue of the Manifesto for Labour Law, put forward by the Institute of Employments Rights, is the proposal to strengthen the collective rights of working people.
There is no real source of wealth other than useful and productive work. And if workers, whether the relatively free or the absolutely unfree, cannot enjoy the full fruits of their labour then it is not only the immigration system that must be changed.

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