Migrant workers fighting back at Great Ormond Street Hospital last year (Picture: Guy Smallman)

The Tories want to slash the number of migrant workers coming to Britain, even if it upsets bosses. In a grubby search for votes, the government will wreck lives, feed the far right and increase violence against black people, migrants and Muslims.

Ministers already have a filthy plan to ­weaponise racism against ­refugees—through the notorious Rwanda ­deportation scheme. Now they also want to falsely target migrant workers as the cause of low pay and rotten public services. Their plans have further divided the Tories and have enraged sections of big business.

An editorial in the Financial Times newspaper last week sneered, “Stuck in a hole over its immigration policy, Rishi Sunak’s Conservative UK government has chosen to dig deeper.”

It goes on to complain that because it won’t be honest about the need for—some—migrant workers, the ­government has to lash out and look tough with the Rwanda scheme. There’s always a two-sided attitude to migrant workers under capitalism. 

Bosses and the politicians who ­support them want the skills, sweat, and energy of migrants to fuel the profit machine. But they also use racism to divide opposition to the rich and to deflect from the real criminals—the ­corporations and the people at the top.

Sometimes those two elements clash. Most of big business opposed Brexit. But, to help them win an election, the Tories backed a particular version of it, attacked migrants, and ­aggressively posed as friends of “indigenous” ­working class people.

Boris Johnson, whose whole politics is to defend the rich, said “fuck business” when some bosses complained this was against their interests. A similar process is happening now. The Tories want more severe anti‑migrant measures, claiming ­“nothing matters more” to voters.

The politicians’ relentless propaganda about migrants has had an effect. A You Gov survey last week asked people what was the single biggest issue facing ­Britain. The economy—really the cost of living—was top at 30 percent. But immigration was in second place, at 20 percent.

More importantly for the Tory ­election planners, among those who voted Conservative in 2019, immigration is clearly the top issue. Two‑thirds chose it as one of their most important concerns, with 38 percent saying it was the most ­important topic.

And among those thinking of leaving the Tories to vote for the ex-Ukip party Reform, 90 percent say immigration is a top issue. The Tories will tell any lies, and ­utilise any scapegoat, in order to hold together their voting base. If people are kicking down to blame migrants, it means those who are really to blame are out of the spotlight.

How important are migrant workers?

Migrant workers are crucial to society and benefit everyone in Britain. Particular industries would collapse without the work they do. Migrant workers make up 28 percent of the hospitality workforce and over a quarter of transport and storage workers.

Often workers who come to Britain leave quite soon after. That may be because the job and the life aren’t as rosy as they hoped or because of their experience of racism.

In addition, there’s the high cost of housing or the desire to return to family and friends. Often, the system that allows workers in at one point repels them at another.

By the end of 2022, only a third of non-EU citizens who received work visas in 2017 still had permission to be in Britain.

Early last year, the Tories opened a new immigration route. Because there were so many vacancies, they expanded the health worker visa scheme to include care workers. 

They hoped for cheap and flexible labour to fill shortages. There are 152,000 care worker vacancies in England and 121,000 in the NHS.

Work-dependent visas regulate their stay, so you might lose more than your job if you step out of line to demand better pay or conditions—it could mean deportation.

And if the demand for labour decreases, the government doesn’t have to renew migrant workers’ visas. Bosses are now complaining that major hospitality and social care staffing crises are coming.

Are British people too lazy to do certain jobs?

One lie told by the racist right is that migrants are stealing jobs from British people. Another idea thrown around is that British people are too idle to do the jobs that migrant workers come to do.

Most people don’t “choose” their jobs. They have to work where they can, often in conditions they hate, and for pay that’s barely enough to survive.

But there are lots of reasons that people might refuse jobs that are on offer. The biggest one is low pay.

If you are aged 18 to 20 the present minimum wage is £7.49 an hour. The cost of travel to work, the unavailability of affordable housing, and the hope of getting something better make people reluctant to be forced into rubbish jobs.

Even the “top” minimum wage—for over 23 year-olds— is only £10.42 an hour.  Moving into work means losing benefits, and the punishing cost of childcare stops people, particularly women, from gaining financially from low-wage work.

All of these reasons for not entering low paid jobs are why the bosses sometimes prefer migrants to do them. A large section of migrants are young people without children, which suits the bosses well. 

As the Tories cut migrant workers, they simultaneously attack benefits and ramp up the intimidation and harassment of claimants.

The assaults against disabled people and those on Universal Credit in chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s recent Autumn Statement are linked to the attack on migrants.

The plan is to fill the gaps by battering people into low-paid work. Whether you are a migrant or not, this is a disgrace.

Are there not enough resources?

Capitalism is a system of plenty. There’s enough food, housing, and necessities to ensure everyone on the planet doesn’t have to go without. But capitalism puts competition and profits above resourceful production and distribution.

For instance, around four billion metric tons of food is produced globally every year. Around 1.3 billion of that goes to waste, while 43 million people risk falling into famine. And it’s not rising populations that cause shortages.

Crises built into the system, from economic shocks to wars and pandemics, affect production and distribution of goods, food and fuels.

The system we live under creates an excess of everything confined to the hands of a few. In Britain there were 676,304 empty homes in England as of October 2022—a 3.6 percent increase in the year. This makes little sense considering 1.2 million people were on housing waiting lists.

In January the government recorded a net loss of 14,100 social homes in England, as demolitions and sales outstripped the number of new homes built.  

Long housing waiting lists, lack of funding for schools and crumbling health services aren’t the result of rising immigration. Tory cuts, implemented by Labour councils, have hit ordinary people.

The Big Issue magazine recently featured the story of Patricia Leatham. She became homeless after her mother’s death, and was then placed into housing without proper heating—a mouldy and damp place with open wires.

She struggled to make it liveable for herself and her son. “That’s it”, she said, “they’ve given you somewhere to live and you can’t say no.” Her rotten housing was in the shadow of the palaces of the rich, such as Embassy Gardens in Nine Elms, south London. 

There ten storeys up, sits the “Sky Pool”, described as the world’s first swimming-pool bridge, connecting two sections of the luxury development. British billionaires have accumulated wealth of £683 billion between them—up £630 billion since 1990 and up £180 billion since 2020.

Workers should celebrate the arrival of migrants

Migrants have always been among the most militant and inventive sections of the working class. Cleaners at the London School of Economics (LSE), for example, won a landmark victory recently that will benefit others. 

Most of the cleaners are migrants from Latin America. After several strikes by UVW union members, the LSE bosses have conceded two years of backdated holiday pay, amounting to thousands of pounds, and a one off lump sum of £150 per person to their halls of residence cleaners.

Vilma Villamoros, one of the cleaners, said, “We will continue to fight until all the years we have worked are recognised.”

The cleaners’ victory means other workers can follow this precedent. Migrants raised wages, not cut them. Migrants are not just objects pushed around by market forces, border regimes and politicians’ attacks. They are subjects and leaders of struggle.

Workers who are persuaded that immigrants are the enemy will be drawn away from the struggle against the real enemy—the bankers, the bosses and the Tories.

And a line will be drawn through every workplace in Britain dividing the British-born from the rest. Karl Marx described how this happened in the 19th century, when Irish workers were the main source of migrant labour in Britain. He wrote, “The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers his standard of life. In relation to the Irish worker he feels himself a member of the ruling nation.”

He went on, “This antagonism is kept alive and intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers — in short by all the means at the disposal to the ruling class. This antagonism is the secret impotence of the English working class, despite its organisation. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And the latter is quite aware of this.” The right, and especially the far right, won’t stop with the targeting of recent immigrants. Any black or Asian person will also be in the firing line.

 

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