Saturday, 24 January 2015

Labour's Immigration Policy Is A Mess - Part 5

The attitude of Blair's government between 1997 and 2010 is symptomatic of this bureaucratic, statist approach of social democracy, described in Part 4. Blair's government faced a similar problem, after 1999 in particular, as Tory Governments had faced in the 1950's.

Just as a new long wave boom began after 1949, so a new boom began after 1999. After 1949, that boom in Britain, particularly after large numbers of working age men had died during the War, faced labour-power shortages that were met in a number of ways. Married women were encouraged into the workforce. The newly created Welfare State, began to provide nurseries and childcare, so that a new generation of workers could be born, whilst their mothers were relieved of some of the requirements of child rearing, that would have prevented them selling their labour-power to capital. The Welfare State, also provided healthcare on a mass produced, Fordist basis, which ensured more workers lived longer, and were patched up so as to be able to keep supplying their labour-power to capital on a more sustainable basis. It also provided education and training to workers, so as to ensure that capital had a supply of the kinds of labour-power it required in a changed, more technological society. By increasing the proportion of complex labour to simple labour, that meant that a given number of workers, thereby provided a greater quantity of abstract labour.

But, even all this, and the further releasing of reserves of domestic labour, by the introduction of a range of labour-saving domestic appliances, was not enough. As workers found themselves in a better bargaining position so as to demand higher wages, and to reject the lower status jobs, especially as better education meant they were now able to apply for the expanding range of higher value, white collar, administrative, technical and managerial jobs, so capital was led to look to fill the large numbers of unskilled jobs, by encouraging immigration.  

A frequent refrain from those who want to claim that their opposition to immigration is not racist, is that “its not about the numbers” coming in, but only about any policy being one that ensures controlled borders. In other words, they are claiming that there is no particular limit, in their mind, of how many workers should be allowed to migrate into the country, other than, whatever the number, it should be based primarily on the interests of British capital, its requirement for particular types of labour, in particular quantities. Its on this basis that Labour, for example, attacks the caps on immigration, proposed by the Tories.

But, in the 1950's, the numbers coming in were geared to this end, and the numbers were not that great. Moreover, the other aspect of the “its not about the numbers” excuse didn't apply either. That is that the infrastructure of availability of houses, schools, hospitals etc. should be able to cope with any increase. During this period, all of these things were being provided in increased quantities, and indeed, then as now, many of the immigrants were required to provide them. Yet, just as happened at the start of the century, when the Aliens Bill was introduced, it is clear that the opposition to the immigration was racist, and the argument about numbers was simply a cover. When the level of immigration was still very low, when wages were rising due to a shortage of labour-power, when the post-war boom was creating significant numbers of additional housing, including council housing, and a rapidly expanding welfare state, the signs in rented housing stating “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs” were still common.

When we hear today arguments about opposition to immigration not being racist, the same thing applies. Labour has been happy to accept the notion that this is the basis of opposition by many potential voters, because it is easier to do so, and address the conclusion to that, by pandering to it in the form of some form of humane, anti-racist immigration policy, than to deal with the truth.

We are repeatedly told that Britain is an harmonious, tolerant society, where racist and bigoted views are held by only a tiny minority. It is the same kind of liberal cowardice to tackle unpleasant truths that leads to the argument that religion is peaceful and so on, and which, thereby again tries to present religious violence and intolerance as only being the actions of an aberrant minority of extremists. This myth is also perpetuated by many sections of the left too, who mostly being middle class students, or former middle class students now ensconced in middle class jobs, are afraid to allow themselves anything other than a rose tinted view of the real working-class, a view which their separation from that real working-class allows them to continue to hold. It allows them to continue to believe that the only thing holding back socialism, is the continual betrayal and misleadership of those workers by the TU and Labour bureaucrats. 

Yet, anyone who lives in the real world knows this is far from the truth. The unpleasant reality is that apart from specific, usually short-lived periods, the TU and Labour leaders are generally ahead of the mass of workers in terms of their class consciousness. Around 30% of workers hold views that are essentially racist. They are not hardened racists of the type of the BNP, but they are views that are racist in the sense described above, that even were there no problems with jobs, housing and so on, they would still see immigration as a problem. In fact, its often in areas where there is least immigration where opposition is greatest. It is reflected in the fact that so many are prepared to accept as fact, lies that are quite clearly preposterous for anyone with a brain. For example, you do not have to go far, or hear many vox pop interviews, to hear the same “facts” trotted out about immigrants not only being given free luxury houses, but being given free cars, being allowed to drive without passing their test and other such nonsense.

Yet nothing is done to address those ideas, that are also widely disseminated by the gutter press such as the Express and Mail, because to do so, in an adequate manner, would not just mean admitting that these ideas are widely held amongst sections of the working-class, but would, more significantly, involve taking on the power of that section of the press, and the conservative social forces upon which it rests. The reason that Labour's immigration policy is a mess, is the same reason that Social Democracy's position in dealing with all other manifestations of conservatism is a mess, that is its timidity in waging an all out war against the attempts of that conservatism to impede the further development of modern, industrial capitalism, and where possible even to roll that development back. It is seen in the cringing, cowardly position of social-democracy in relation to a defence of basic bourgeois freedoms such as the right to free speech, when under attack by religious zealots.

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