IMMIGRATION and the mass movement of people are now major political issues. However confusion and polarised opinions are hindering our understanding of the causes of modern immigration.
It is important to acknowledge, firstly, that immigration is mainly driven by economics. It is not the so-called ‘freedom of movement’ that politicians claim it to be. Immigration is often economically-forced movement. Economic decisions overwhelmingly dictate where most people go to, along with wars and environmental disasters.
Immigration is often the result of deliberate economic pressure, including the destruction of traditional or existing employment in home countries or regions, and employers’ demand for cheap labour.
THE IMPACT OF IMMIGRATION ON WAGES & LIVING STANDARDS
We need a fair immigration system that does not undercut UK workers nor drain overseas nations of young people. We should oppose migration where it undercuts wages and living standards, creates social tensions and discourages UK businesses from investing in their existing domestic workforce, skills and facilities.
In recent decades, institutions such as the EU and IMF have aimed to create a cheap, mobile international labour force to suit the needs of major trans-national, shareholder-driven businesses that operate in very different ways to traditional family firms and small or medium-sized enterprises.
As part of this process, the EU, individual European states and other organisations have created policies to weaken the existing bargaining rights of working people through laws, competition regulations and restrictions on trade unions.
Historically, trade unions and other labour movement organisations have attempted to regulate the labour market, to control wages, the movement of people and the movement of finance and investment. But individual governments, the EU and other organisations have weakened labour regulations and national democratic controls.
EU regulations have also been created to prevent individual member-states from intervening in their own economies to protect key national or regional industries, such as steel, coal, energy, utilities, transport, farming, fisheries, postal and communications services.
In the UK, successive governments have supported policies that have done severe damage to the pay and economic conditions of ordinary working people and their communities – and to working people overseas.
Up until recently, all the mainstream UK political parties – the Conservatives, Labour and Lib-Dems – have claimed that migration can benefit the host country (the UK). But this can only happen if migrant labour adds to existing employment and does not replace local workers, or threaten existing wages and conditions. Unregulated migration may enhance short-term profits for the businesses using migrant workers but it can also harm the long-term economic development of communities, regions and nations.
ECONOMICS & DEPENDENCY ON MIGRANT LABOUR
We are told the UK economy now depends on foreign workers across numerous sectors. Westminster parties and big business lobbying organisations repeatedly claim we need overseas workers to do the difficult, dirty or unpopular jobs that British workers do not want (agriculture, construction, cleaning, hospitality, warehousing, food processing) or highly-skilled jobs where there are not enough skilled UK workers (technology, engineering, medicine, science). Similarly we are now told the NHS could not function without immigrant doctors and nursing staff.
If so, why has this happened? What does it say about our economy, employers, politicians, education and skills system? Why are we failing to produce the right mix of home-grown workers year after year?
The Regional Party will take no lectures on economic ‘wisdom’ or so-called ‘patriotism’ from any of the mainstream political parties. Until they come up with policies that genuinely protect and enhance the pay and conditions for ordinary people, their talk will be empty.
Investing in skills, training and education opportunities for people at different stages of their lives should be a top priority. It is a scandal that our education system is apparently so wasteful and irrelevant to so many people. The whole system needs radical change to make it more flexible, relevant and accessible. Adult skills and educational opportunities also need to be properly invested in.
DAMAGE TO OVERSEAS COUNTRIES
Despite liberal calls for ‘open borders’ between nations, economists recognise that mass immigration can harm migrants’ home countries. Their social structures, economies and democratic systems are undermined to meet the requirements of global businesses and shareholders. These are not neighbourly nor ‘internationalist’ relationships.
Furthermore, foreign policy mistakes and overseas wars have created huge instability across many regions, creating further migration crisis linked to refugees and people seeking asylum. These pressures are separate from economic immigration and require different solutions.
UK politicians and some national newspapers have deliberately confused these issues for years to provoke widespread, unfocused public anger at all ‘illegal’ and ‘bogus’ foreigners. This unfocused anger will let those politicians and bad employers off the hook, and leave bad UK trade and employment arrangements untouched.
We must address the fundamental economic issues and policies that lie behind mass immigration. We must look at new measures, such as enacting new labour regulations to protect pay and conditions, and re-establishing wage councils across key industries and sectors, especially businesses reliant on seasonal or casual workers, such as agriculture or construction. Recruitment agencies must also be looked at to ensure they do not undermine pay and conditions. Employers and sub-contractors must use labour exchanges properly. Trade unions should have a key role to play in these activities.
It is legitimate for a nation to control its borders, as part of its defence, economic and social provision. However border controls should give much greater priority to targeting gang masters and traffickers, who do much damage to working people’s lives.
As the UK moves to depart the EU, we need to take a long, hard look at Westminster, to see what changes are needed there to create a healthier economy and better prospects for ordinary working people. There is much to be done before Brexit and beyond.
Other global trade organisations, such as the International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organisation, hold similar economic views to the big Westminster political parties in wanting cheap, mobile labour forces. These organisations may well be involved in future UK trade deals. However we must not repeat the exploitation of domestic and overseas workers and democracies that it has gone on in the past.
There may arguably be a role for short-term, targeted migration schemes that would genuinely promote economic development. For example, temporary visa schemes could perhaps be used to tackle genuine regional skills shortages as a short-term measure? Maybe permanent citizenship could be offered for foreign researchers, academics or investors, based on measured outcomes such as UK job creation or patents for new products or scientific processes?
Different examples of these types of economically-targeted visa schemes can be found in countries including Canada, Australia, Germany and Sweden, and in US city-regions such as Detroit/Michigan.