‘Free movement’ in the EU actually means free exploitation

This article was originally published by the Morning Star on the eve of last year’s EU referendum. The issues is raises are still very relevant to the continued debate on immigration.

487Immigration has dominated the headlines over the last few weeks. While the right and extreme right have used some particularly incendiary rhetoric in the context of this EU referendum, the left needs to present its own arguments in order to tackle this issue.

It is heavily argued by sectors on the left that the free movement of people within Europe — one of the central tenets of the EU — is a practice that should be protected, and one that enriches our societies. This is not, and should not be, the position of the organised left.

The young, in particular, have been duped into thinking that free movement of people is a near-socialist principle.

Criticism of “free” movement — which in reality is anything but free — has become a no-go area in progressive thought.

The grim economic reality behind this free movement is in essence a free exploitation of a primarily young European workforce with no job security and no prospects.

It is may be hard for us to recognise this grim trend in purely economic terms, away from the sentimentality that accompanies our memories of school trips to grey chateaux and first French kisses on the Continent.

The majority of European migrants in Britain are arrivals out of economic necessity.

By and large they are young (the average age of EU migrants is 34), and in many cases come from countries whose economies have been decimated by EU fiscal policy and are suffering from a “brain drain” as a result of skilled labour leaving the country.

For leftists and progressives in the most debilitated European economies, freedom of movement is not seen as positively as it might be here.

Recently, Alberto Garzon, the iridescent young leader of Spain’s United Left party, which has voted to formally ally itself with Podemos, bemoaned the crisis of young Spanish people flocking to other corners of Europe, saying: “If anyone wishes to leave Spain, let it be through free will, not out of necessity or due to the lack of alternatives.”

This approach should be at the very essence of the debate around EU migration.

It is not a case of whether the small percentage of entrepreneurial, free-spirited young people seeking adventure in their travels around Europe will be affected by Brexit (they most likely won’t be), but whether this mass economic migration really is free.

We must ask ourselves how many young people are being coerced — if not forced — out of their countries partly because of an economic situation largely the making of EU fiscal policy.

Without forgetting that the EU’s growth-sapping economic policy provides a fertile breeding ground for extreme right groups to foster their hatred, especially among European youth.

Alarmingly, in Greece the fascist Golden Dawn party draws the bulk of its support from the 18 to 34-year-old demographic, and 2014 exit poll data showed that 21.2 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds voted for Golden Dawn, more than any other party except Syriza.

A UCL study showed that low-skilled workers, roughly the bottom 20 per cent of those on the wage scale, are disproportionately affected by EU immigration, while those at the top of the pile benefit from migration.

It is no surprise then that YouGov has found that the poorer you are, the more likely you are to favour Brexit.

Leafleting for the EU referendum on the weekend, many working people — bricklayers, builders, etc — commented on their experiences of EU immigration, pointing out their frustration at having their wages undercut. They were not racist, as many people would have you believe (many in fact were black and ethnic minority), and did not resent the migrants themselves but rather the lack of job opportunities available to them for a decent wage.

Quite simply, those at the bottom of this pile are more likely to have witnessed the basic principle that if a boss can use a cheaper foreign workforce, they will do so.

These rather sophisticated opinions are a far cry from the fascistic overtones of Nigel Farage’s campaign.

But what may be nuanced approaches at the moment can become angry and disjointed if the left chooses to ignore these issues.

If we do not recognise migration and social dumping as issues arising from the inherent contradictions within capitalism, to be combatted through trade unionism, internationalism and solidarity, debates on immigration will quickly become the preserve of the extreme right, even more so than they are already.

Renowned historian Simon Schama, writing in the FT this weekend, commented that Brexit would represent the abandonment of Britain’s humanitarian, “heterogeneous” past.

Britain would not be the same without the Huguenots, Russian Jews or Bengalis who have settled in the country over the centuries. A valid historical point perhaps, but not one that has anything to do with the European Union. Conveniently, Schama ignores that EU migration policy isn’t one of accepting the most needy around the world, but one of driving down wages within EU borders, while doing its level best to keep desperate people out of Europe, even if that means drowning in the Mediterranean.

Would the Russian Jews who migrated at the start of the 20th century have been accepted into “fortress Europe”? Let’s leave the wild historical comparisons to Schama.

In opposition to the Establishment’s liberalism, the left’s position is a nuanced one, away from the arrogance which has marked the recent debate.

Many sadly wish to ignore this fact, preferring snide accusations of xenophobia and racism at every available opportunity.

By being so positive towards EU migration, sectors of the left are naively, or willingly, falling into a trap of their own making — which is not merely xenophobic but actively racist too.

If we are to consider our shameful colonialist past, and form a rational immigration policy starting from that point, there are so many nations and people to whom we owe a great debt.

Many West Indians find it extremely difficult to enter Britain, even to visit families. Why is it then that any EU citizen can come indefinitely to Britain, to visit, study, work or live?
Might we assume it is because they are white, and supposedly share “European values,” unlike our brothers and sisters in the Caribbean, Africa or on the Indian subcontinent?
As well as the historical legacy, there is the more recent crisis in the Middle East, largely the making of western European and British intervention in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan.

EU member states have a debt to accept the people whose very countries we have played a part in destroying.

In fact, the EU is increasingly acting with imperialist clout, officially supporting military campaigns such as the Afghanistan war in 2001, or giving France a waiver on its economic obligations in order to carry out its ill-thought-out attacks in Syria in the aftermath of the Paris attacks.

A move towards a new migration policy which accurately reflects the damage Britain has done as a colonialist and imperialist force can only be negotiated outside the EU, with a future progressive government.

Simply put, the case needs to be made for a progressive anti-racist immigration policy that doesn’t merely let white Europeans enter Britain.

Of course, it is easy to argue that, thanks to the right-wing discourse being dictated by the Establishment, a left-wing migration policy is simply not on the agenda.

The argument, however, is that it could be in the future, if we leave the toxic fortress Europe of the European Union.

Crucially, a vote for Brexit does not merely have a bearing on the next five years of government, but potentially the next few decades.

Booth (Vidal)-Hall

Steve IgnorantIt’s fair to say that Hereford has been crying out for an alternative, do-it-yourself music venue for years. Just over a year ago sister-and-brother team, Willow and Arran Vidal-Hall, moved up from Bristol and took over the Booth Hall.

In 12 months, with the help of other committed people, they have given the live music scene in Hereford a massive shot in the arm.

We sent our intrepid reporter Helen Heckler down to the Booth to catch up with Willow.

HH: How did you end up in Hereford?

WVH: Well to be honest the reason we came to Hereford was the Booth Hall. We had been thinking of starting an alternative venue for many years. We were just checking out possible options, I don’t know how serious we really were but then we drove up to Hereford to see the Booth and kind of just fell in love with the building. And in a moment of madness we just went for it.

How has the first year gone?

Hereford has been so welcoming to us, we feel so lucky. So many people have supported what we have tried to do, even from day one it always felt more like a community project. We had people offering to help with sound and light, come and help build the stage, put on events, decorate, promote and together with all these amazing people I feel like we really have done some amazing things.

We worked out that the Booth must have facilitated over 100 events last year. We just can’t believe it, there’s been an amazing breadth of entertainment and music from blues nights, to heavy punk, rock, metal, reggae, ska and everything else you can think of including circus, dance, theatre and comedy!

What are you plans for the year ahead?

We have amazing plans. We are committed to being open five days a week and we already have a nearly-full calendar of weekend events. To make Thursdays exciting we are offering slots to any charity that wants to run an event; the venue will be free, we will even offer £50 towards making the event happen, and they can take the money on the door.  We are also looking to support local bands and musicians to take events into their own hands. So anyone who wants to run a Thursday event should get in contact. We’re really excited about this as it offers live music more days a week while also supporting the community around us.

What have the highlights been so far?

We have so many amazing highlights from 2016, from small moments like Bekki Cameron playing the guitar and Kieran Graham playing the bagpipes at one of our first open mic nights, to massive moments like Hereford Pride, where we had hundreds of people coming through the gates in support of this amazing event. But overall I cannot express enough how lucky we feel to be here, to be part of this kooky and kind community in Hereford, and what an amazing year we have had.

Division persists among Hereford fans

Hereford FC v Stourport Swifts FC - MFL Cup semi-final second leg - Joel Edwards spraying champagne.

The short life of Hereford FC has been an eventful one: winning the Midlands Premier League and the trip to Wembley have been the highlights so far.

And now last season’s success looks to continue with promotion from the Southern League South & West a forgone conclusion.

The atmosphere in the Meadow End is better than it’s been for many years and the high attendances are a million miles away from the dark days of Agombar–Lonsdale.

The vast majority of Hereford United fans have embraced the new club and see it as a continuation of the one destroyed by David Keyte and the London crooks.

But things aren’t all rosey. On internet forums, in pubs and on the terraces there is continuing disquiet about the current regime at the club.

The idea that a Hereford United phoenix would be fan-owned appeared to be supported by a large section of the Edgar Street faithful. If not 100% then at least 51% fan ownership seemed to be the preferred model for the new club. But that is not where we find ourselves now.

Although supporters do have a voice on the board of directors, the current structure appears to be needlessly complex and lacking transparency.

We at the Heckler were involved in the campaign to oust the previous owners and still support the idea of a fan-owned club.

The current HFC constitution does not allow for 100% fan ownership but nothing is impossible, and our victory in winning back Edgar Street from the hands of crooks is testament to that.

To change things in the boardroom those people grumbling about the current regime need to get organised and start a campaign, independent of HUST. We would happily get behind a push for a true fan-owned club.

But simply moaning on internet forums achieves nothing apart from dividing fans at a time when things are on the up for Hereford FC. Either do something or be quiet.

Let’s be honest, when have we ever had a club board that was transparent and supported by fans? Hill, Turner, Keyte, Agombar or Hale. Clearly some were worse than others but none of them will be missed. Because it’s not about them.

If we have learnt nothing else it is that this club is bigger than any individual or group of owners. The club is us, the supporters, and we have been there since 1924 and will be there for a lot longer too.

Morris dancers branded racist for black face disguise

Morris menMorris dancers were accused of racism last month after they were confronted by shoppers during a performance in Birmingham city centre.

Dancers had blackened their faces in-line with the Border Morris tradition but had to abandon their performance due to continued heckling.

The men explained the practice had nothing to do with racism but was in fact based on a tradition—local to Herefordshire and surrounding areas—of blackening the face with charcoal as a method of disguise that dated back to the 15th century.

Explanations were not enough and the incident caught the attention of regional and national news outlets.

The use of black face make-up by Morris dancers has even been banned by Shrewsbury Folk Festival.

There are, unfortunately, many genuine instances of racism in daily life that need addressing and eradicating. But political correctness on this level is ridiculous and diminishes the seriousness of real discrimination.

County Hospital needs more beds, more staff

County HospitalBosses at the County Hospital called on people to avoid the accident and emergency department in December because of long delays.

And members of the public were again warned of extended A&E waiting in January.

The calls came as the NHS was being put under great strain across the country this winter, with many widely-reported cases of patients having to wait hours in corridors waiting to be seen.

Long delays were also the cause of two deaths at the Worcestershire Royal Hospital in January.

The British Red Cross is now frequently working with the NHS to help relieve the strain and called the situation a “humanitarian crisis”.

The staff do their best with what they’re given but Hereford needs more beds, more doctors, more nurses. So does the rest of the country.

How much longer do we have to wait before the government seriously investments in the NHS? How many more people have to die? Our hospitals can’t cope.