‘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.

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.

Free movement must end

Immigration-1The impact of mass and unrestricted immigration into working class communities was a significant factor in last year’s EU referendum. Yet, despite compelling evidence demonstrating this truth, many left-wingers seem determined to remain with their heads buried firmly in the sand.

EU law provides for free movement of people. It is one of the ‘four freedoms’ enshrined in the rules of the capitalist single market (along with the free movement of goods, services and capital). In other words, workers are categorised not as human beings but explicitly as commodities to be bought and sold like copper and coffee according to the laws of supply and demand.

Naturally, this commodification of workers is very popular with big business, enabling bosses to take advantage of highly-diverse economies by shunting workers across borders and playing them off against each other, thus driving down wages.

This type of social dumping uproots workers and their families, divides communities, and all in the name of greater profits. Social cohesion has been tested like never before along with the increased strain on under funded public services.

Yet, to many on the left, free movement is seen as an advance for working people, to be defended against all comers. For them, it’s a building block to greater class solidarity and another step on the path to their vision of a borderless world. The actual impact on working people, migrant and native, is secondary.

We must of course stand with migrants and challenge any attempt to attach personal blame to them for the failings of government or the actions of unscrupulous employers.
The failure of the left to accept or even discuss the negative aspects to free movement allows the bigotry of right-wingers to take hold in vulnerable communities.

Let’s be clear that refugees fleeing war and persecution should always be welcomed. But we cannot remain in denial on the broader issue of immigration. That’s why we must support an end to free movement for economic migrants. A failure to do so will further damage – and possibly shatter for good – what support still remains for left-wing politics among working class people.

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While recognising that the current economic conditions prevent us from having open borders, we must nonetheless move towards a world where all people can one day move freely. A necessary step in that direction will be the replacement of capitalism with a more cooperative economy and the equalisation of conditions across the world (such vast differences in the standard of living between EU member states has been arguably the number one reason for immigration). Under such a system people will move because they want to and not because poverty compels them to. As a result this will reduce worldwide immigration levels to a relative trickle and allow people to remain with their friends and family in the parts of the world they were born.

‘Renters pay the most to live in the worst conditions – we’re going to change that’

ACORN protest peopleCommunity organising network ACORN have announced #RentersRising, a campaign to build a new national renters’ union to fight for better housing conditions.

Since being founded in 2014, more than 20,000 people have joined ACORN to fight for tenants’ rights and housing justice.

In Bristol, Newcastle and elsewhere they have stopped evictions, prevented homelessness, won repairs, won landlord licensing and put tenants’ voices at the heart of local housing policy.

And because of the efforts of housing campaigners the government has now pledged to ban letting agents fees charged to tenants!

Rents and fees are rising. Evictions are rising. Complaints about unhealthy homes are rising. Homelessness is rising. Now the fightback has began.

Eleven million people now rent, including three million children – twice as many as a decade ago.

Renters pay the most to live in the worst conditions with the least security. Thousands are forced to move each year. And many people find it impossible to find a new home. Now #RentersRising is going to change all that.

Renters need a union. To be able to defend tenants’ rights and make them stronger. To be able to win secure, decent and affordable homes for all.

The #RentersRising campaign are looking for volunteers in Hereford and across the country to help build the union. Get in touch with them via their website for more information on getting involved.

rentersrising.org.uk

Food Donations from Hereford arrive in Calais

Food clothing and other essential supplies continue to pour into to Calais from across the UK, and the people of Herefordshire are doing their bit to help those living in the Jungle refugee camp.

Calais Jungle Refugee Camp

Last week a van full of donated food and water left Hereford for the long journey down to Folkstone. This is the second time donations have been taken directly from Hereford to Calais. The Hecklers own Luthur Blissett went along to assist with driving.

All the food donations that are going from Hereford to Calais are being packed and organised via the Facebook group Food Donations for Calais and Dunkirk, Hereford Group. For this trip more than a quarter of a tonne of food donations were loaded into the van.

The rest of the load was bottled water kindly donated by a local mineral water company. In all a tonne of supplies left Hereford for the long drive down to the South East. The diesel and channel tunnel costs were covered by donations by people in Hereford and Ross-on-Wye.

After arriving in Calais late afternoon, a couple of hours were spent talking to local people to get their views on the crisis. Unfortunately for us the hotel we stayed in was full of French pigs. The copper we spoke to said of the migrants “We don’t want them here. We need to change the system so we can get rid of them”.

We were expecting an equally negative opinion from local people but were pleasantly surprised. Local bar owner Pascal told us that the main problem is that tourism in Calais has collapsed. English people no longer stop there on their way home. But he said many people are sympathetic to the plight of the refugees, and they are happy to help in any way they can.

Eric, a resident of Paris who was visiting Calais, said he knew who was blame for the crisis. “David Cameron, he’s the one who can sort this out. But he prefers to play politics with these people.”

After spending the night in Calais we delivered our van load of supplies to the warehouse in an industrial estate on the west side of Calais. A hive of activity, staffed by young British volunteers, they were very grateful for our delivery. We were told that the food and water would be sorted into individual food parcels and distributed within days.

Children in Calais Jungle

Children at the camp in 2015. Photo by Philippe Huguen

It was heartening to see the amount of tents, sleeping bags and clothing that had been sorted. Social media would have you believe that most people in the UK are antagonistic towards the refugees, but on the evidence we saw, many people give a shit and are donating a lot of essential stuff.

And it’s a good thing too. The charity Help Refugees estimates that there are over 500 unaccompanied children living in the Jungle. While British politicians argue about their tax returns, innocent children, many of whom have a right to come to the UK, are stuck in squalor and dependant on hand outs. It’s an utter disgrace but at least we can do something to help.

Once again ordinary people show that direct action can work when the politicians fail. Solidarity is alive and well and people in Hereford are playing their part.

These trips from Hereford to Calais will continue until the refugee crisis ends, and lets be honest that won’t be any time soon.

To make food donations, please click here or leave a comment below.

Luther Blissett

For more info visit –

Help Refugees www.helprefugees.org.uk/

Calaid www.calaidipedia.co.uk