Millions of workers are driven to emigrate to wealthier countries because of the desperate dire conditions in home-lands. The capitalist class realise that these workers can serve as an alternative labour supply for the industrial reserve army, since native-born workers, through their past struggles have come to expect higher wages and benefits. One very basic idea, unity of the working class is critical. In all capitalist societies, a tiny class of people owns the means of production and profits by exploiting the workers’ labour. United, the overwhelming tendency of the working class would be to fight for a decent life for all, which is incompatible with capitalism. Powerful united struggles of the working class would inevitably demonstrate the need to overthrow capitalism altogether. Since the working class is the only class with the power to overturn capitalism, the capitalists use every possible divide-and-conquer tactic to prevent this development. The employing class hope to keep the workers fighting with each other over shrinking pieces of a small pie instead of uniting to fight for a decent life for all.
The U.K., a country of immigrants, has always been prone to an anti-immigrant chauvinism, which becomes more active during times of economic crisis. Even during capitalist booms there are never enough jobs to go around and workers compete with each other for employment and wages. But during recessions, competition can become cutthroat. This compels not only individual rivalry but group competition, and the most oppressed groups get the worst jobs—or none at all. Competitive hostility spills out into all areas of life, well beyond the job market. The capitalists and their lickspittle retainers in politics and the media tell workers that their increasing plight is due to “welfare scroungers” and migrant “free-loaders."
It is certainly true that the policies of immigration are determined and done for profit, quite regardless of the welfare of either the migrant or the indigenous worker. It would be naive to believe that capitalists think of anyone’s welfare except their own. It is the bosses who benefit from immigrants and love the low wages forced on them, and the effect this has in depressing wages in general. Migration is being occurring everywhere and used to drive down wages to the lowest point possible. The migrant workforce has become irreversibly vital to the economy. This fact is already understood by politicians and think tanks. And this gives immigrant workers an opportunity to fight back. Socialists need to explain to our fellow workers that the real power of the working class lies not just in its numbers but in its central role in production and the rest of the economy. The only mass organisations the working class has today are the unions. The unions will have to play a central role in the immigrant rights struggle, but they will not do so without transformation. But it cannot remain just a trade-union fight.
However, the real solution to the problems faced by immigrant and non-immigrant workers cannot be won by strikes alone, no matter how powerful. We make no secret of the fact that class consciousness is not just militant trade unionism but that struggles must be in the direction of socialist revolution. The capitalist system is the enemy and socialist revolution is the only real alternative to the miseries capitalism inflicts on the immigrant masses and all workers. Any concessions won under the present system will be temporary.
Capitalists want to see immigrants with second-class status, because they form a layer of the working class that is most easily exploited—they have a much harder time fighting back against rotten conditions and sub-minimal wages. Having such a layer of workers bound to miserable conditions weakens the whole working class, since other workers face the threat of replacement by this underpaid sector of the workforce. Immigrants tend to be concentrated in the lowest-paid, hardest and dirtiest occupations industries increasingly shunned by UK-born workers. Now the capitalists shore up their profits by a heavy reliance on immigrant workforces in the hotel and catering trade and in food-processing factories. The exploitation of immigrant labour has increased the division of the working class. By forcing immigrant workers into competition with native-born workers, the capitalists intensify the exploitation of all. The mass use of immigrant labour, at a time of retreats by the unions and minimal job security, has stirred competition.
A section of the capitalists generally reflect the interests of middle-sized companies which have not invested abroad, who sell on the domestic market and out of fear of competition from the giant multinationals, they wrap themselves up in the patriotic flag and right-wing populism, warning about the immigrant “hordes” threatening our culture and values and demonising them as criminals and terrorists. Such “respectable” politicians (and they are not restricted to UKIP) give aid, comfort and stimulation to neo-fascist thugs. The mainstream of the ruling class largely accepts immigration, since it provides a layer of readily exploitable workers. But when times anc conditions changes, the ruling class may move to harass immigrants and also to try to bar them, and you can be sure that many in the union bureaucracy will join in the chauvinist chanting against unlimited immigration. It is also disappointing to admit, but in the past, “socialists” have joined the outcry against the “foreigner” and some of its modern counterparts on the Left to-day echo this clap-trap against the arrival of the Eastern Europeans - the “white pakis”. The ideas of racism and nationalism become intertwined, both overtly and subtly.
The restriction or even expulsion of immigrant labour would by no means solve the labour question and we should drive that home hard enough, so that workers can really understand it even amidst the sufferings caused by the immediate and special attack on their standard of livelihood. We stress the common interests of immigrants of different nationalities.
Until he or she becomes a socialist, and is conscious of being naturally the friend and ally of every worker throughout the world, the capitalist class will continue to divide and rule. Our capitalist masters use racism, national chauvinism and every other reactionary device to exacerbate divisions within the working class. Their method is divide and conquer, and they hide the fact that attacking the whole working class is going to be the only way to maintain capitalist rule. Today, migrant workers and asylum seekers are among the most vulnerable targets for virulent scapegoating. Large numbers of predominantly white indigenous workers were led to see newcomers as undeserving who have to be kept down, forcibly if necessary.
Migrant workers are only doing what every worker is more or less forced to do and that it to compete with all others for subsistence and survival. It is true that some immigrants are forced by capital into being more obviously the enemies of their fellow-worker than is usually the case, but that is only a surface difference; it is more dramatic, that is all. Every working-person is forced into the same false position of contest with every other working-person. The foreigner, the incomer, is no more guilty of the suffering which their competition causes than are female workers when used against men or younger workers against the older generation. Many immigrant workers have learned from their experiences that both here and in their countries of origin, capitalism is a cruel and callous system that needs to be swept away. If the working class can see this, and abstain, as we may well hope they will, from playing into the hands of their real enemies by attacking their fellow wage-slaves, they will deserve well of the Brotherhood of Man and will show that they understand the motto: Wage-workers of all countries unite!
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