Labour must listen to its heartland’s about immigration

For most socialists, freedom of movement is the dream. From some who wish to see a world without borders to those who reject the idea that somebody can be an illegal immigrant, it’s not unusual to hear the claim that, to be a socialist, one must be a supporter of an individual’s rights to go wherever they want in the world without barrier.

This is a lie.

One intrinsic principle of freedom of movement is that somebody can work in whatever territory: they simply need to cross over the border and set up camp. This has been a great advantage to our British NHS, with foreign nationals moving to our country in order to work as doctors, nurses, and health-care practitioners. It would take a particularly hard person to deny that this has not been a benefit to our country, and the people living in it.

But let’s look beyond that. Let’s look to the estimated 872,000 Eastern Europeans working in Britain in low-skilled jobs. What we have done, by accepting freedom of movement, is to declare to people ‘come into our country all you like because we’ll give you the jobs we don’t want.’ What this individual, with hopes and dreams and family and friends, becomes is a piece of transferrable capital. How on earth can any socialist support a system whereby somebody is valued on the basis of their economic productivity?

Of course, it is not just the foreign national worker who is affected by this. When one group of people become a piece of convenient capital, there is nothing stopping the indigenous population from undergoing a similar transformation. From zero-hour contracts to companies that pay the minimum wage (which, as we all know, is no living wage), the people of Britain are consistently being undercut by bosses who care about nothing other than profit.

There is, naturally, a cultural element to this too. Rather than full integration, what we see instead is various cultures living side-by-side. After all, the new foreign workers are not valued by the culture so why should they value it? For the middle-class socialists there is no problem here. But for the working class of Britain this is not simply a theoretical problem: it is a concern that cuts right to the core of community

Blue Labour, a campaign group that believes in regaining the working-class vote through consideration of certain socially conservative ideas, has rightly highlighted the strain that immigration puts on community. Community, after all, is a form of solidarity, and solidarity is at the core of the working-class identity and at the core of socialist principles. But when the nature of the community changes, the group identity splinters, and real problems arise.

These are neither racist nor xenophobic ideas. This is simply an acknowledgement that, as a result of freedom of movement, the condition of workers has changed either economically or socially. The solution is really quite simple: call for a definite end to freedom of movement, and change immigration laws so as to admit workers into the country that are required for high-skilled jobs. From there, we can work on holding to account so-called ‘fat cat’ bosses.

The problem, naturally enough, is that this would be unlikely to happen. Why? On the one hand, we have the group of capitalists who have no problem with exploiting workers to get a larger pay packet every month. They have no incentive to change the system. And, on the other hand, we have the most prominent socialist voices of our times. These are middle-class people who claim to speak for the working-class, yet dismiss their concerns and anxieties over migrant labour.