Capitalism and immigration

Ours is not the first generation to encounter migration on a vast scale. 200 million people, representing 3% of the global population, work outside their countries – double the number of migrants 25 years ago. This new wave of migration (for which there are several reasons to which we shall turn later on), especially that portion coming mainly from the poor countries, inhabited principally by people of dark skin, to rich countries who principally happen to be inhabited by people of lighter skin, has generated a torrent of anti-immigrant sentiment in the US to a certain extent, but particularly across the countries of western Europe. There is concern of hysteric proportions over asylum-seekers in Britain, foreign workers in Germany, immigrants in general in Austria, etc. The new arrivals are popularly portrayed as welfare scroungers, job snatchers, criminals, drug traffickers and, increasingly, terrorists who present a danger to European culture and stability.

Anti-immigrant sentiment, expressed covertly by the mainstream bourgeois parties, is overtly espoused by Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front in France, Umberto Bossi’s Northern League in Italy, Jorg Haider’s Freedom Party in Austria, the late Pim Fortuyn’s Fortuyn List in the Netherlands, Philip De Winter’s Vlaams Block in Belgium, Pia Kjaersgaard’s People’s Party in Denmark, Carl Hagen’s Progress Party in Norway, and Nick Griffin’s British National Party in the UK – to name but a few.

Listening to the leaders of the bourgeois racist parties of the respectable and not-so-respectable variety, ordinary workers might be forgiven for gaining the perception of immigration being a new, and dangerous, phenomenon. It is worth reminding them that immigration, the racist myths to the contrary notwithstanding, is not a novel phenomenon, which only began with the arrival of foreign workers in western Europe in the aftermath of the 2nd World War from the erstwhile colonies and other poor countries – in the case of Britain from the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent. To assert that somehow foreign workers would undermine national culture, stability and racial homogeneity is to make the bold and absurd claim that the countries of Europe developed in idyllic and splendid isolation from the rest of the world – a claim devoid of all foundation. In the case of Britain, there were waves of immigrants between the Roman occupation and the Norman Conquest in 1066, let alone in the centuries following them – movements of population which make nonsense of the very concept of British racial exclusivity. Those who in Britain claim descent from the Cheddar Gorge man are as rare as a red herring.

Capitalism and migration

All the same, systemic large scale migration is unique to capitalism. Developing capitalism obliges workers, through physical or economic compulsion, to move from one corner of a country to another, or from one country or continent to another, thus necessitating both internal and international migration. In its earliest days, this movement took the form of the slave trade – the first forced, large-scale and cruel movement of labour in history. 30 million Africans were transported as slaves across the Atlantic to the New World, of whom only 11 million survived the journey. Jamaica and the rest of the British West Indies were turned into colonial labour camps in “…a traffic so beneficial to the nation”, in the words of a British secretary of state in 1774.

All of the members of the royal family and the great Whig families of England made fortunes out of this miserable trade in human flesh, fortunes which they invested in the construction of canals and coal mines. Those who made their fortunes on slave trade included:

– Sir Isaac Newton, the famous scientist

– Sir John Vanburgh, architect, playwright and founder of King’s College, Cambridge

– The Earl of Halifax, founder of the Bank of England

– Thomas Lucas Lee (died in 1784), treasurer of Guy’s Hospital

– Francis Baring (1740-1810), founder of Baring’s Bank

– William Beckfort (1709-1770), Lord Mayor of London and the richest plantation owner.

A 1720’s contemporary list of shareholders of the slave-trading South Sea Company (which took over from the Royal African Company which lost its monopoly of the slave trade in 1698) names most of the 462 members of the House of Commons and half the members of the House of Lords. Britain’s crucial part in the transport of African slaves on such a vast scale between 1500-1800 gave Britain a head start and, inter alia, helped to kick start the industrial revolution. Apart from reflecting on the inhumanity and cruelty of the British ruling class, the transport of 30 million slaves across the Atlantic represents a successful attempt to satisfy the colossal demand for labour which marked the dawn of modern capital.

In addition to slavery, capitalism has always relied on the ‘free’ movement of labour – workers seeking to escape poverty and unemployment go to the centres of developing or developed capitalism to meet the demand for wage labour, thus initiating migratory movements within countries and across international frontiers. Really large-scale free movement of people in search of a livelihood began in its present form in the 19th century. In Britain, for instance, the Enclosures of common land forced agricultural workers to leave the countryside en masse and head for the urban industrial centres, just as the potato famine in Ireland drove significant sections of the destitute Irish population to head for Britain, there to work in factories, mines and on railway construction, or to cross the Atlantic to seek work in the US. Throughout the 19th century all Britain’s cities were immigrant cities, filled by first or second generation migrants from the countryside of Britain, Ireland and Europe. Half the population of London during the 1880’s had been born elsewhere. Capitalist development of the US, Canada, Australia and Argentina took place on the back of populations overwhelmingly of immigrant origin.

Just as capital moves from one place to another, and from one country to another, in search of profit, so does labour, overcoming many obstacles, move in order to make a living and escape destitution and unemployment in places where capitalism has failed to develop altogether, or is insufficiently developed, or is in decline, to the centres of its expansion. The invention and development of the steam engine, and with it the railways and steam ships, made migration, internal and external, a realistic proposition on a large scale. Consequently, by 1840, on average 70,000 people emigrated each year from Britain. In the mid 1850’s this number doubled. Most emigrants went to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the US. As a result, by 1871 Britain became a net exporter of people and, with a few notable exceptions, continued to be so throughout each successive decade right up to 1990. (The information in this paragraph comes from Ruth Brown, Racism and Immigration in Britain, International Socialism Journal, Autumn 1995 – hereafter RB).

Europe – a continent of immigrants

Although Europe has traditionally thought of itself as a continent of emigration, it is nevertheless indisputable that immigration is an integral part of the European landscape. Following five centuries of intra-European migration, Europeans are a rather mixed people. A quarter of the French today have a foreign-born parent or grandparent; in Vienna the figure is 40%. In the 18th century, when Amsterdam built its polders (dykes) and cleared its bogs, it brought in northern German workers. When the French built their vineyards, they employed Spaniards. When London built its water and sewerage infrastructure, the Irish provided the labour, as indeed they did from the earliest days of the industrial revolution. In the 19th century, when Baron Haussman rebuilt Paris, with wide boulevards so as to make barricade fighting next to impossible, he brought in Germans and Belgians.

Europe – not the Americans, as is usually thought – was the main destination for Italians in their century of emigration from 1876 to 1976. Close to 12.6 million Italians went to other European countries – a million more than those who emigrated to non-European countries. While the US was the destination for the largest number of Italians (5.7 million), France, with 4.1 million, was not far behind, with tiny Switzerland receiving 4 million Italians, Germany 2.4 million and Austria 1.2 million. Since the 2nd World War alone, Europe has absorbed more than 20 million immigrants.

One thing is clear, namely, that in comparison with the movement of people from the second half of the 19th century to the First World War, the present-day volumes are very small indeed. In the 40 years leading up to WW1, migration raised the New World labour force by a third and lowered the European labour force by an eighth. If the migrants (200 million) today constitute just under 3% of the global population, in the 19th century they represented 10%.

Europe has absorbed more than 20 million immigrants. Today, intra-European migration is by and large uncontroversial, but in their time such migratory movements were just as controversial and it was just as sensitive an issue as is presently the immigration of non-Europeans into Europe. Immigrants seemed overwhelmingly alien to the locals and anti-immigrant sentiment was just as rife then as it is today. (Information in the preceding 3 paragraphs is drawn from ‘The Immigration Fallacy’, Saskia Sassen, Financial Times 27 October 2004 Europe a Continent of Immigration).

In Britain during the second half of the 19th century, for instance, the strength of the prejudice against Irish workers was no less than that encountered today by black immigrants in Britain and other imperialist countries. Anti-Irish sentiment, bordering on hysteria, was whipped up by the capitalist press and, in the absence of a revolutionary leadership, the mass of the workers allowed themselves to be led along this path to impotence. In a letter of 1870 to Meyer and Vogt, Marx gave the following graphic description of the bourgeois-instigated anti-Irish racism and national chauvinism with which the working class was infected: “Every industrial and commercial centre in England possesses a working class divided into two hostile camps, English proletarians and Irish proletarians. 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 and so turns himself into a tool of the aristocrats and capitalists of his country against Ireland, thus strengthening their domination over himself. He cherishes religious, social, and national prejudices against the Irish worker. His attitude towards him is much the same as that of the ‘poor whites’ to the ‘niggers’ in the former slave states of the USA. The Irishman pays him back with interest in his own money. He sees in the English worker at once the accomplice and the stupid tool of the English rule in Ireland.

“This antagonism is artificially intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers, in short by all the means at the disposal of the ruling classes. This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organisation. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And that class is fully aware of it” (K Marx and F Engels, Selected correspondence Moscow 1965, pp 236-7) (our emphasis).

Reasons for migration

There are basically two causes of migration, namely, persecution or poverty. Historically, persecution has given rise to migration. Jews in large numbers fled persecution in Czarist Russia at the beginning of the 20th century and fascist terror in Germany in the 1930’s, and Palestinians fled persecution at the hands of Zionism, in the wake of the latter’s conquest of Palestine and the expulsion of its lawful owners at gunpoint. During the last 15 years, a considerable number of Iraqis, Afghans, Yugoslavs, Somalis, West Africans and those from the Lakes region of Africa, have been driven to fleeing their countries as a result of imperialist wars and imperialist-inspired civil strife and persecution.

It is equally natural for people to want to escape poverty and destitution and move to places which offer them the chance to earn a livelihood. People do not easily leave their places of birth or countries in which they were born and brought up. Just as there were waves of intra European migration during the 18th to the 20th centuries, and even larger movements of population from Europe to North America and Oceania during the same period, in similar fashion are to be viewed the immigration of Mexicans and others into the US and of Asian, African, Afro-Caribbean and other peoples into Europe, North America and Oceania. These immigrants from the poor and oppressed nations do not up sticks and move thousands of miles away into the imperialist heartlands for the quality of climate or cuisine or the warm welcome that awaits them on arrival. On the contrary, they are prepared to put up with a hostile, at times dangerous, environment because they have no other choice. They are prepared to be regarded as criminals for no greater crime than the desire to earn a livelihood for themselves and their families. The brutal history of colonialist loot and imperialist exploitation has left their countries of origin with a legacy of dire poverty, disease and hunger, which continues to be aggravated by unequal terms of trade and the massive burden of debt servicing. The 13 million children who die each year before reaching the age of 5 are an eloquent and damning testimony of the relationship between a handful of rich imperialist oppressor nations and the vast majority of the poor oppressed nations. These 13 million children – the equivalent of 2½ holocausts a year – die in their mothers’ arms, unseen and uncommemorated. The political and ideological representatives of imperialism (which, be it said in passing, was the sole author of the holocaust during the 2nd World War), while waxing eloquent every year on holocaust day, maintain a deadly silence on the holocaust taking place every year under their system on a far larger scale.

Capitalism long ago grew “…into a world system of colonial oppression and of financial strangulation of the overwhelming majority of the population of the world by a handful of ‘advanced’ countries”. This handful of marauders shares the booty and, armed to the teeth, wages endless wars against the oppressed nations and from time to time draws “…the whole world into their war over the division of their booty”. Without question, capitalism has “…singled out a handful of exceptionally rich and powerful states which plunder the whole world simply by ‘clipping coupons’ ” (Lenin, Preface to the French and German editions of Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism).

With this colossal concentration of wealth in the imperialist countries, on the one hand, and the equally colossal concentration of poverty in the oppressed nations, on the other hand, it is hardly surprising that some of those from the oppressed nations who are able to undertake the journey should attempt to escape starvation and attempt to earn a living in the centres of wealth and capital concentration. This is all the more so in view of the shocking disparities in wages. The real wages, for instance, of a bus driver in a rich imperialist country are 15 times as high as in a poor oppressed nation. That is why people from the poor countries are desperate to move. It is also why they are right to attempt to do so. No one in their senses moves out of a poor country into a poorer one. When the Europeans moved from one country to another, or from one continent to another, it was without exception a move away from poverty to better conditions of existence. Why should it be different now? And this is the reason that today all the rich imperialist countries have become net recipients of immigrants.

Thus the driving force behind this wave of immigration from the poor to the rich countries is the grossly uneven distribution of wealth across the globe. As long as this is so, the movement of people across international frontiers can no more be stopped than the movement of people within the national frontiers of each country – from the depressed areas to the economically vibrant zones.

No matter what attempts are made to keep them out, “…the potential immigrants will not go away. On the contrary, the combination of porous borders with vast differentials in wages is a recipe for persistent pressure – similar to that of the ‘barbarians’ on the frontiers of the Roman empire” (Martin Wolf, Financial Times, 28 November 2001). To the cries of those who, while accepting as a natural law the free movement of capital and goods across international frontiers, oblivious to ethnic, political and national boundaries, call for a halt to immigration, the huddled masses from the poorer parts of the world pay no heed, for their desperation leaves them with no scope for the capacity to listen. “For those locked out of the rich man’s club”, remarks Philip Stephens, “every unmanned border crossing, every gap in a fence, every passing train, car or boat promises freedom and a future”, adding that “as long as there is chaos and poverty on Europe’s periphery, the citizens of those countries will seek to escape”. Pointing to the futility of attempts to keep out the desperately poor and persecuted, Mr Stephens says: “None of this will work. Prohibition has already put migration into the hands of criminal gangs. The traffic in human misery now vies with the drugs trade as a source of billions for those who make their fortunes from the dark side of globalisation. Europe’s borders will always be porous. Knowledge of the drugs networks should have taught governments long ago that as long as there is demand there will be supply.”

Pinpointing the boundless cynicism of ‘our’ politicians, Mr Stephens says: “It does not matter whether policies work. Perceptions are what count. Domestic electorates must be persuaded that their governments are being tough with ‘scroungers’ and ‘bogus asylum-seekers'”.

And all this anti-immigrant hysteria, the attempts to put an end to immigration and build a Fortress Europe were being undertaken just as David Blunkett published (in early 2002) a White Paper recognising the need to open up routes to legitimate immigration into Britain! (See Financial Times, 24 May 2005).

Imperialism and Immigration

“One of the special features of imperialism…”, observed Lenin, “is the decline in emigration from imperialist countries and the increase in immigration into these countries from the more backward countries where lower wages are paid” (Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism).

This has been fully confirmed by patterns of migration into and out of countries which became imperialist by the close of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. Lenin, in his work just quoted above, says that “…emigration from Great Britain has been declining since 1884. In that year the number of emigrants was 242,000, while in 1900, the number was 169,000. Emigration from Germany reached its highest point between 1881 and 1890, with a total of 1,453,000 emigrants. In the course of the following two decades, it fell to 544,000 and to 341,000. On the other hand, there was an increase in the number of workers entering Germany from Austria, Italy, Russia and other countries. According to the 1907 census, there were 1,342,294 foreigners in Germany, of whom 440,800 were industrial workers and 257,329 agricultural workers. In France, the workers employed in the mining industry are, ‘in great part’, foreigner: Poles, Italians and Spaniards”.

This trend, with a few variations, has continued down to the present. “During the 1990’s, Europe became a continent of immigration”, says the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), a Geneva-based intergovernmental body, in its report World Migration 2003: Managing Migration. This statement from the IOM marks a profound change in that the continent of Europe joins the United States, Canada and Oceania as a significant net recipient of immigrants. The number of immigrants into western Europe has increased markedly since the 2nd World War. If in 1950, western Europe was home to 3.8 million foreign citizens, in 2003 this figure had risen to 20.5 million. Another 10 million were foreign-born although by then no longer foreign nationals. The number has risen further since then.

Between 1970 and 1995, the US received a net inflow of 25 million foreign workers, while Canada received 3.4 million, Germany 2.7 million and France 1.4 million. These figures do not take account of illegal immigrants, who are believed to number between a third and half of new entrants into the imperialist countries. According to some estimates, the US alone may be host to as many as 12 million irregular migrants, whereas the entry of irregular migrants into the EU was estimated at half a million in 1999 – a 9-fold increase over a 6-year period. In the 5 years to 2003, nearly a million migrants applied for regularisation in the EU.

By 2000, the gross migrant stock (foreign-born) stood at 35 million in the US, 7.3 million in Germany, 6.3 million in France, 5.8 million in Canada, 4.7 million in Australia and 4.5 million in the UK. In just the 5 years between 1998 and 2003, the number of foreign-born residents in Spain grew 4-fold to 3 million, accounting for 7% of Spain’s population of 42 million.

According to the 2001 census, of the 57.1 million people living in Britain (excluding northern Ireland), more than 4.3 million were born outside the UK, accounting for 7.53% of the population, as compared with 5.75% in 1991. The number of people born abroad and settled in Britain has nearly doubled over the past 3 decades and it underwent a rapid increase in the 10 years to 2001. While the decade 1971-1981 witnessed a rise of 360,371 in the number of foreign-born inhabitants in Britain, the following decade saw a rise of 402,245, and in the decade to 2001, the figure rose by 1.5 million thus accounting for more than half of the increase in the population as a whole. The major centre for immigration is the economically vibrant London area and the south east generally. Out of a total of London’s population of 7.2 million, nearly a quarter (1.78 million) are foreign born (See Sunday Times, 11 September 2005).

Net immigration into Britain stood at 40,000 a year in the 1980’s. It went into reverse with the impact of the recession of the early 1990’s, with a net outflow of people in 1992 and 1993, after which the number of arrivals picked up – averaging 60,000 a year over the 1994-1997 period, jumping to 133,500 in 1998. Home Office statistics, which take into account refugees and temporary visitors who turn out to be permanent stayers, put the net immigration into Britain at an average at 84,000 a year over the ten years to 1997-98, accounting for nearly half the 1.8 million increase in Britain’s population between 1988 to 1998. And the Government actuary, in the projections released in August 2000, predicted more than half the expected 4.4 million rise in Britain’s population by 2021 to come from immigration. According to the Financial Times of 25 October 2000, however, about “400,000 people arrived legally in the UK in 1998 with the intention of staying a year or more; but some estimates suggest that another 200,000 entered the country illegally”.

Correspondingly, employment over the 1994-1998 period rose by 1.4 million, of which 20-30% is estimated to have been accounted for by immigrants. Over the five-year period to August 2000, Britain gained nearly 400,000 people, mainly of working age (see David Smith, ‘How migrants help keep Britain’s economy healthy’, Sunday Times, 27 August 2000).

In 1999, nearly 80,000 foreigners, mostly from the Philippines, India, Australia and South Africa, came to Britain; in addition, another 100,000 and their dependants came to the UK to fill job vacancies, following the change of rules by the Home Office in September 2000, making it easier for people to enter the UK for work. In 2002 the UK took around 150,000 foreign workers, while in 2003 about 119,000 people entered Britain as work permit holders – two and a half times the number in 1993. The largest number of these immigrants were from America, followed by eastern Europe and the Indian subcontinent. Net immigration in that year (2003) was 151,000 people, not taking into account the 40,000 asylum seekers (see Financial Times, 25 January 2005).

Since May 2004, when their countries joined the EU, 290,000 east Europeans applied to work in Britain. Of these, Polish workers accounted for 58% in the hospitality industry and 61% in the catering industry. Latvians and Lithuanians accounted for 26% and 21% respectively of the accession workers in agriculture. 7,500 workers from the accession countries registered as care workers in the three months to the end of September 2005. Over the same period, 700 teachers and classroom assistants, and more than 500 doctors and nurses, registered to work in the UK (see Financial Times, 23 November 2005).

The Financial Times of 22 December 2003 noted that net immigration had risen from around zero in the early 1990’s to more than 150,000. If this trend were to continue, said the Financial Times, the UK’s population would rise to 69 million by 2050 – 12 million more than it would be without immigration.

In the 5 years from 1999 to 2003 inclusive, cumulative net immigration into the UK was close to ¾ of a million.

Of those born abroad, 1% were born in Ireland and 1.5% in the rest of the EU.

According to official figures quoted by the TUC, the working population born outside Britain grew from 7% to 9% of the working population of Britain between 1995 and 2002 – certainly an underestimate as these figures do not include foreigners working illegally. It is well-known that in London and in many other big cities the catering trade would grind to a halt without foreign workers, a good many of whom go unrecorded in the data as they lack work permits.

Asylum Seekers

In addition, there are the asylum seekers. According to the UNHCR, more than 6 million applied for asylum in the high income (i.e., imperialist) countries during the decade of the 1990’s – nearly 3 times the number (2.2 million) who lodged asylum applications in the 1980’s. The collapse of the former eastern bloc regimes, the disintegration of former Yugoslavia, instigated and abetted by US and EU imperialism, and the resultant Balkan wars, as well as the first Gulf War, gave a spurt to the flow of refugees. From 200,000 in 1988, asylum applications to the then 15 EU member states jumped to 676,000 in 1992 during the war in Bosnia. After a lull, asylum claims surged again in 1999, with the war in Kosovo, by nearly 20% to 366,000.

In 2001, Britain was at the head of the list with 92,000 asylum applications, followed closely by Germany and the US. Considered as a percentage of the population, however, the countries most affected in that year were Austria and Switzerland. Although the flow of refugees into the heartlands of imperialism grabs the headlines, the truth is that most refugees do not end up in the rich countries. The biggest recipients are poor (oppressed) countries in Asia and Africa. It is on them that the burden of the cross-border flow of refugees falls most heavily. It is they who take 85% of the world’s refugees.

The countries which gave rise to the largest number of refugees in 2001 stood in the following order: Afghanistan, Burundi, Iraq, Sudan, Angola, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Somalia – all victims of imperialist war, genocide and imperialist-inspired civil strife. This does not, however, prevent the perpetrators of such wars and genocide from describing their victims as bogus, although “these would have been on the top of anybody’s list of countries from which to escape” (Financial Times, 30 July 2003).

In any case, most asylum applications are rejected. During 2000 and 2001, for instance, Britain alone rejected the applications of 150,000 asylum seekers (see Daily Telegraph, 1 January 2002). According to the OECD, in 2000, refugees accounted for fewer than a fifth of the permanent immigrants into Australia, Portugal, Switzerland, the UK, Canada, the US and France.

Stricter immigration laws and controls put in place by the imperialist countries, while reducing the opportunities for legal migration, have increased the temptation for direct (trafficking) and indirect (asylum door) illegal migration. In the words of the IOM, “with the demand for legal migration outstripping supply, many people who are not refugees are seeking to gain access to new countries through the asylum channel, in the absence of viable alternatives.” During the two years (2000 and 2001) which followed changes to British law aimed at excluding ‘economic migrants’ from Britain, there was an increase of 50,000 in asylum applications as compared with the two years (1998 and 1999) which preceded these changes. In 2000, 80,000 (98,000 if dependants are included) claimed asylum in Britain, the number falling by 10% in 2001, when 70,000 principal applicants (88,000 with dependants included) claimed asylum. The number fell sharply in the following three years to the end of 2004.

Thus, rejected asylum seekers may well, and in many cases do, end up as illegal immigrants. Precisely this scarcity of legal channels for migration has given rise to a new flourishing industry in human trafficking and smuggling, estimated to be worth $13 billion a year.

According to the Economist of 6 May 2000, between 400,000-500,000 illegal immigrants manage to “…slip or are smuggled into the EU each year … If these numbers … are correct, this would mean that more illegal migrants are crowding into Europe each year than the 300,000 or so who enter America”. Although by posing as refugees, the false asylum seekers supposedly discredit the asylum system and “undermine the tolerance of Europeans for those who genuinely need protection”, nevertheless argues the Economist, “…clamping down on phoney refugees would not, by itself, weed out the economic migrants whose only sin, like those of generations before, is to be seeking a better life in the rich world. Unless they have an official means of trying to fulfil that ambition, they will bend the existing rules. As a European Commission immigration specialist argues: ‘if you had a legal open front door for migration, you’d have far less pressure on the asylum back door'”.

Continuing, the Economist says:

“Europe has yet to recognise the image of itself as a continent of immigration, even though, over the centuries, its constituent bits have been refreshed by the new blood and vitality of migrants from within Europe itself. It may suit politicians, wary of Europe’s xenophobic streak and mindful that labour needs today may evaporate if economic revival falters tomorrow, to keep it that way.”

Link between jobs and immigration

There is plenty of statistical evidence to show that there is a clear and direct link between immigration and the availability of jobs (in the country of origin and destination of immigrants). Thus, between the 1920’s and 1930’s there was a precipitate decline in immigration into Britain – with only 7,000 a year entering during this period owing to economic depression and the resultant depressed labour market. This reduction in the number of foreign workers coming into Britain happened, as it has always done, because of the economic conditions and not because of anti-immigrant legislation. When capitalism is experiencing a boom, and the labour market is buoyant, nothing on earth can stop capital getting its hands on labourers. No immigration laws are allowed to bar capital’s access to this, the only source of extraction of surplus value. Since the mid 1970’s, all primary immigration into Britain, as well as other western European countries, was virtually ended. This has not put an end to foreign workers entering Europe. If they numbered 11 million in the mid-1970’s, today their number is 20 million, not taking into account another 10 million who are foreign-born but European nationals. Referring to the “…keen awareness of the state of the British labour market” gained by the citizens of Kingston, Jamaica, through their access to the British press and “informal communications networks between immigrant workers already settled in Britain and friends and acquaintances back home”, Ruth Brown says that these informal processes “…proved to be an extremely accurate mechanism for meeting labour demand in Britain and immigration levels consistently dropped very quickly after any drop in the number of advertised vacancies.” She adds, correctly, that it “…was only the racism of Britain’s rulers some years later which destroyed this ‘natural’ relationship between levels of migration and the level of demand for labour” (Ruth Brown, ‘Racism and Immigration in Britain’, International Socialism Journal, Autumn 1995 Issue 68 pp 7-8).

In the apt words of the Financial Times: “Long before the needs of the next boom are clear to lawmakers in capitals, they are often sensed by the would-be immigrants in the remoter countries of the globe” (25 April 2004).

The Commonwealth Immigrants Bill of 1962, as indeed all subsequent legislation to keep foreign workers out, played a crucially transforming role, while at the same time sharply increasing the number of workers from the Commonwealth. In the run up to the introduction of this legislation, as well as in its aftermath, the entry of dependants of Commonwealth workers into Britain increased 3-fold, as dependants did all they could to beat the deadline, driven by the widespread fear that Britain was determined on a course of permanently closing the door to New Commonwealth citizens, as well as to the families of those already settled in Britain. From 21,550 New Commonwealth immigrants in 1959, their number increased to 58,300 in 1960 – this number doubled again in 1961 with a record 125,400 New Commonwealth immigrants entering Britain. Thus, this racist piece of legislation succeeded in accomplishing the destruction of the previously existing correlation between the scale of immigration into Britain and the level of demand for labour. As the government at the last moment decided not to restrict, under the provisions of the 1962 Act, the right to family reunion of the Commonwealth workers already in Britain, it only managed to exacerbate the ‘problem’ of its own creation.

The attempts at tightening immigration controls by the US had, predictably, results similar to those in Europe. Apart from making it more expensive and dangerous for those wishing to cross the border into the US, the controls have merely served vastly to increase the inflow of illegal immigrants into the US.

In 1986, the US Congress passed its first law aimed at preventing Mexicans from crossing the border. The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, while offering an amnesty to 3 million undocumented workers, initiated the effort to stop further arrivals. Border security was tightened and employers were threatened with punitive fines if they employed illegal workers. Far from reducing the number of illegal migrants, the Act has had the opposite effect. The number of undocumented workers has grown from about 4 million in 1986 to some 12 million at present. While failing to stem the flow of immigrants, the crackdown, with its improved border security, claims 300 lives a year as desperate and destitute immigrants continue to make the perilous desert crossing.

In the wake of the 1986 law, what was, in the case of the Mexicans at least, a circular pattern of migration, has become a settled pattern. Before the Act, Mexican migrants crossed into the border states of California, Arizona and New Mexico, and most would leave when work dried up – only to repeat the process the following year. Very few stayed permanently. If in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the average time for migrant labour in the US was about 2 years, now it is over 10 years.

America is built on immigration and, as such, has a long history of immigrants – legal or illegal, a tradition honoured in the verse on the Statue of Liberty that exhorts the world “to give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free”. (Let it be said in parenthesis that the verse belongs to a different era, when the US could doubtless be associated with revolutionary democracy and all the freedoms associated with it. It has long since turned into an imperialist bloodsucker and a hangman of other people’s liberties. And with it, Miss Liberty has come to represent US-imperialist domination, war and brigandage). America no longer welcomes the huddled masses from abroad. It has grown mean minded. It has built fences to stop migrants coming in, it fines employers and it jails and deports those found to be in the country illegally. In 1994, California went to the extent of passing Proposition 187, under which illegal immigrants there were denied public education, non-emergency medical treatment and other tax-funded benefits. In Arizona, several hundred volunteers, styling themselves after the Minuteman militia, who fought against the British colonial authorities in the American War of Independence, established desert camps in 2005 in support of the US Border Patrol. In August 2005, Arizona and New Mexico proclaimed a ‘state of emergency’ on their borders with Mexico, assigning millions of dollars to strengthening immigration control efforts. (Information in the last 4 paragraphs is drawn from the Financial Times of 29 August 2005).

All these efforts have proved, and will continue to prove, fruitless. As long as there is destitution and poverty elsewhere and demand for labour power of these victims of imperialist economics and politics, the immigrants will continue to flock into the US – illegally if legal avenues are blocked.

Like the British Home Office, the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) in the US, trumpets the number of illegal immigrants it captures, expels and repatriates. The dry statistics of the INS dutifully regurgitated by the imperialist media, fail to portray even in the barest outline the emotions, aspirations and humanity, the sacrifices and courage, of those brave enough to run the wire. “Driven as they are by grinding poverty”, said the Financial Times apropos the attempts of Mexicans trying to reach the US, “giving up is rarely an option with them – precisely for that reason they will continue to risk all and throw themselves on the mercy of the road north”(23 February 2000).

Divisions within the ruling class

The ruling class of Britain, as indeed of every other imperialist country, is divided on the desirability and usefulness of immigrants. As the Economist of 29 June 2002 put it, politics and economics push the government in opposite directions. At a time when net immigration was running at 180,000 a year, the government’s relaxation of immigration rules was accompanied by its shrill rhetoric about illegal immigrants. Much of Europe’s media are ridden with hysteria and its politicians struck by panic. The perception has been created that Europe has been overrun by immigrants and asylum seekers, when the truth is that the number of asylum seekers entering the EU has halved over the past decade and those claiming asylum each year represent no more than 0.1% of the EU’s population, doing badly-paid and dirty jobs no local will touch.

Imperialist politicians, Conservative and social-democratic alike, driven solely by demagogy and cheap politics, shout in unison: the dykes must be plugged to halt the flood of asylum seekers and immigrants. In a confidential memorandum prepared for Tony Blair and leaked to the Guardian in the spring of 2002, its author suggested that British warships be despatched to patrol the Mediterranean and intercept boats which might be carrying illegal immigrants who might end up in Britain; that the Royal Air Force be pressed into service to effect the “bulk removals” of rejected asylum seekers. Towards the end of May 2002, Blair told José María Aznar, the then prime minister of Spain, that illegal immigration had to be the top item on the agenda of the Summit of EU leaders due to be held in Seville the following month (June). It would appear that Britain is fighting on two fronts – the war on ‘terror’ and the war against miserable asylum seekers and economic migrants.

At the same time, the very same politicians and a significant section of the media are advocating a much more liberal policy on immigration. The same David Blunkett who, as Home Secretary, boasted towards the end of 2003 that 49 illegal immigrants had been picked up in a raid in Sussex in October of that year, also said that there was “no obvious limit” to the number of migrants Britain could absorb, adding that he had no clue as to how many of Britain’s immigrants were illegal. This being the case, the point of sensationally publicising the arrest and deportation of the 49 victims of his raid can only have been to incense public prejudice against immigrants and at the same time to assuage the bigotry of those who cannot stand immigrants.

Typically, while sensationalising the immigration issue and inflaming racial tensions with an eye to the next election, the governments of the imperialist countries busy themselves on the quiet with securing immigrant labour to meet the needs of business. Thus is was that in the second half of September 2000, Barbara Roche, the Home Office Minister at the time, signalled a relaxation of Britain’s immigration laws in a speech, stating that a certain number of skilled economic migrants were to be permitted to work in Britain for the first time since 1971. About the same time, after lengthy debates, the German Cabinet approved its ‘Green Card’ scheme to attract highly qualified information technology workers in the face of fierce opposition from the “Kinder Statt Inder!” (Children not Indians) brigade. And, in the US, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, on several occasions emphasised the need for immigration to promote growth.

At a meeting of the interior ministers of the EU in July 2000, Jean-Pierre Chevènement came up with a discussion paper arguing that the EU would need to admit 50-75 million immigrants by 2050 to take up vacant jobs. A few months later, António Vitorino, the then justice and home affairs commissioner of the EU, made a speech in which he said that the time had come to recognise that the zero immigration policies of the previous 25 years were not working and, more importantly, had become irrelevant to the EU’s economic and demographic conditions. The 25 years of zero immigration policy had harmed the European economy and into the bargain led to a rise in the number of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, accompanied by smuggling and trafficking in human beings (see Financial Times, 12 October 2000). On 22 October 2000, the European Commission launched a debate on immigration with a view to formulating a common policy after recognising that the zero immigration policies of the past 20-30 years were “no longer adequate”. The Commission estimated that, while the working population of Europe would decline by 2025, the over-65’s would rise and account for 22% of the population – up from 15% in 2000.

Three years later, the Commission estimated that the number of people of working age in the EU’s then 15-member states would decline by some 40 million between 2000 and 2050 – from 243 million to 203 million, while the number of people aged over 65 was set to rise by 60% to 103 million. The implication of this is that the number of workers for every pensioner was destined to decline sharply, putting existing pension schemes under severe strain (see Financial Times, 4 October 2003).

Meanwhile in 2000, a report by the UN’s population division forecast that, owing to a combination of low fertility and rising life expectancy, Europe’s population was on course to shrink by 13% between 2000 and 2050, while its median age was set to rise by 10 years to 48. The report also forecast that the percentage of population living in the high-income countries was set to decline from 20% to 14% by 2050. While the report predicted a rise of 13% in the UK’s population, thanks mainly to immigration, forecast at 136,000 a year, that of southern Europe faced a steep decline because of very low fertility. However, the most spectacular collapses in population are likely to take place further east, with the Russian and Ukrainian populations declining by 30% and 36% respectively between 2000 and 2050. The report went on to argue that the EU needed net migration of 13.5 million people a year to stop the proportion of working age people to pensioners from falling. As a result, the immigration needed by the EU to stabilise its old-age dependency ratio would bring its population to 1.2 billion by 2050.

In order to keep its working-age population stable between now and 2050, at present birth and death rates, Germany would need to import 487,000 migrants a year, France would need 109,000 and the EU in its entirety 1.6 million. And to keep the ratio of workers to pensioners steady, the flows would need to swell to 3.6 million a year in Germany, 1.8 million in France and an astounding 13.5 million a year in the EU as a whole. On the other hand, in the absence of immigration, the population of the 25 (after the 2004 accession of 10 new members) member states of the EU is forecast to drop from 450 million in 2004 to 400 million in 2050.

This demographic change, says the European Commission, implies a sharp rise in the dependency burden as well as a decline in potential economic growth, which could result in the EU’s share of the global gross product declining from 18% (at the end of 2002) to 10% in 2050, while the share of the US rises from 23% to 26% during the same period – a big shift in economic weight (see Financial Times, 3 March 2003).

Other imperialist countries too face similar problems on this score. A 2004 study by Goldman Sachs says that even in the US, immigration would have to increase by 30% a year to stabilise the ratio of working age population to the general population. In Japan, faced as it is with urgent and serious ageing problems, immigration would have to increase by more than 700% a year, increasing the share of migrants in its total population from the present-day level of just over 1% to 20% by 2050 (see Financial Times, 27 September 2004).

In 2005, two years earlier than expected, the population of Japan – the world’s tenth biggest in population terms – fell by 19,000 to 127.76 million (Financial Times, 3 Jan 2006).

In a well-argued article in the Financial Times of 25 October 2000 (‘Let the huddled masses go free’), Samuel Brittan says that, compared with a century ago, there is too little globalisation – the big difference being in migration policies. Many countries then allowed free inward and outward movement of workers. Restrictive immigration policies, he says, have the same effect as those in the area of drugs – whereby “prohibition produces the very evils it claims to prevent”. He therefore proposes to abolish the distinction between economic migrants and asylum seekers and allow people to seek their fortune in any country of their choosing.

Confining himself to Britain, he says that research shows that native wages have not been depressed (this point would be hotly disputed by many) because immigrants have tended to be restricted to 3 types of job:

a) public services, where pay is fixed by the government and is well below market levels. The effect of newcomers is simply to reduce the shortages (in London 23% of the doctors and 47% of the nurses are non-UK born). Since Samuel Brittan’s article was published, the numbers have risen sharply. In 2002, more than 30,000 nurses of foreign origin were working in Britain’s National Health Service. About a third of the NHS staff were born overseas and, according to Home Office figures, 44,000 medical workers entered Britain in 2003 alone. More precisely, 31% of the doctors and 13% of the nurses working in Britain are foreign-born, these proportions rising to 47% and 23% respectively in London. b)

“Migration is massively important. The NHS would fall apart if we didn’t have that”, said Dr Edwin Borman of the British Medical Council. There is an overall shortage of GPs, as well as a shortage of about 10,000 hospital doctors. Without recourse to foreign doctors this gap cannot be plugged in the near future. (Information in the above 2 paragraphs comes from the Financial Times of 14 April 2004 and 28 August 2004).

Recruitment pressures are likely to increase, says the Financial Times of 4 May 2005, with the government committed to recruiting a further 35,000 nurses by 2008 and 100,000 nurses due to retire by 2010.

c) low paid and insecure jobs in sectors such as catering and domestic services, which unskilled natives are unwilling or unable to take. If migrants don’t fill these jobs, they simply remain unfilled or uncreated (70% of catering jobs are filled by migrants). d)

e) Highly-skilled information technology workers, whose inflow, according to a Home Office study, enabled the IT sector to grow faster rather than depressed pay in it. Apart from the Asians, 150,000 French IT entrepreneurs arrived in Britain between 1995 and 2000. f)

In addition, residential care homes, farming, contract cleaning (which employs 800,000) and the construction industry are heavily reliant on immigrant labour. Irish immigrant labour, on whom the construction industry was traditionally reliant, has now been replaced by the Portuguese, Poles, Ukrainians and Lithuanians. “Without migrant workers contractors would struggle to complete many major projects”, says Alan Ritchie, General Secretary of UCATT, the construction workers’ union. The sector would need, says the Construction Industry Training Board, 80,000 new entrants in each of the next 5 years to meet the growth and replace those leaving the industry. Mr Ritchie says that measures are needed to protect foreign construction workers, whose rates of pay are 20% to 30% lower than for indigenous workers (Financial Times, 4 May 2005).

Even Martin Wolf, a Financial Times analyst who is not much in favour of sizeable immigration, has to admit that if “…our aim were to maximise global economic output, we would abolish restrictions on the movement of people… If immigrants pay more taxes than they receive in benefits, there is a gain to the rest of society.” Immigration, he says, saves some of the costs of training people, adding that Britain does “…an almost disturbingly good job of this: in 2002 more than 30,000 nurses of foreign origin were working in its National Health Service. Some 42 per cent of foreigners resident in the UK had tertiary level education in 2001 and 2002, against just 29 per cent of the native population.” Immigration also gives “…access to languages and cultures”. In the end, the prejudice against the foreigner takes the better of him, and Mr Wolf, who is himself a second or third generation Jew in Britain, concludes thus:

“Yet the most important conclusion is that one’s assessment of the desirability of sizeable immigration is a matter more of values than of economics. It is not a choice between wealth and poverty, but of the sort of country one desires to inhabit.” (Financial Times, 14 April 2004).

The implication is clear: do we really want to be surrounded by these hordes from foreign lands? My parent or grandparents got in. That was good. But the door must be firmly guarded, if not completely shut now. Doubtless the essence of much of this debate concerning immigration is about race and ethnic diversity, not economics.

It is generally admitted that immigrants are resourceful, ambitious and entrepreneurial; that they have made a valuable contribution in the fields of medicine, science, academia, sports, music, cuisine and the arts, as well as in business and in government; that millions of others, though less famous, play an equally vital role – without them many health systems would be under-staffed and many jobs that provide essential services and generate revenues would remain unfilled. Far from being ‘benefit scroungers’ and a burden on society, immigrants contribute more in taxes than they receive in benefits. According to Treasury figures, in the 1998-99 financial year, the immigrant population paid 10% more in tax (£31.2 billion) than it took out in benefits (£28.8 billion) – a net gain to the Treasury of nearly £2.5 billion a year (see Financial Times, 23 January 2001).

The Treasury estimates that net immigration adds 0.4% a year to growth in the labour force and the GDP (Sunday Times 11 September 2005).

Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the exchequer, has said that an increase in Britain’s economic growth was in part due to immigration (see Financial Times, 24 May 2002). The Financial Times of 9 October 2000, having stated that between 1988 and 1997 the US allowed twice as many legal immigrants (9.3 million) as western Europe (5.3 million), adds: “Now European economists are wondering whether there is reason for the US’s economic performance”.

Large sections of the economy, in particular the NHS, construction, contract cleaning and catering industries rely on migrant labour. “Migration has changed the way the Bank of England thinks about the trade-off between growth and inflation”, said the Financial Times of 28 August 2004. It adds:

“The seemingly never-ending supply of foreign workers to Britain’s shores may be part of the explanation for one of the economic puzzles of the past decade: how has the British economy managed to sustain strong growth without a jump in inflation? Indeed, inflation has consistently undershot most expectations, including those of the Bank of England.”

“All at once”, wrote the Financial Times of 25 April 2000, “continued growth across the globe hinges on the timely appearance of the man from Hyderabad”, adding that even “German industry is swooning with desire for ‘computer-Inder'”.

In addition, the immigrants are a source of valuable remittances to the countries they come from. Formal remittances by immigrants totalled $167 billion (£97 billion) in 2004 – up from $31 billion in 1990. This sum is almost triple the value of official aid to developing countries, and close to the amount they received in the form of foreign direct investment. Large as this sum is, it represents only the formal transfers. Informal transfers may have been twice that amount. While in 1995, official development aid stood at $59 billion and remittances also at $59 billion, in 2004, whereas the aid had increased by a mere $20 billion to $79 billion, remittances had shot up to $167 billion, nearly triple their size in 1995. Thus it can be seen that immigrants play a very important role in alleviating world poverty. The biggest beneficiaries of these remittances are India, China and Mexico, who received $21.7 billion, $21.3 billion and $18.1 billion respectively in 2004. Britain’s immigrant population alone remitted £2.7 billion in 2004 (Sources: ‘World Bank, IMF and Britain’s Department for International Development – cited in The Times of 17 November 2005).

The World Bank, basing itself on recent household studies, says that the total worldwide remittances in 2005 amounted to $232 billion (£133.6 billion, €198.4 billion). Of these $167 billion went to developing countries (Financial Times, 16 November 2005).

Real purpose

While immigration controls do not stop the movement of labour, they are nevertheless a potent weapon in the hands of the ruling class, for in periods of economic depression and worsening conditions for the working class, which are a recurrent characteristic of the capitalist mode of production, they enable the ruling class to shift the blame for these conditions away from the real culprit, capitalism, on to foreign workers. These controls are aimed at (and actually achieve) pitting the older-established section (many themselves first, second or third generation immigrants) of the working class against those newly arrived. Instead of a united working class fighting against the daily encroachments of capital and for the overthrow of capitalism, the only cause of their misery, one encounters the tragic spectacle of one section of the workers blaming another for conditions none of them can be blamed for. This state of affairs assumes ludicrous proportions when second or third generation Irish, Jews and southern Europeans single out the workers from the Indian subcontinent and the Caribbean as being responsible for the scarcity of jobs, bad housing conditions, lengthening queues at hospitals, etc. The latter in turn blame the Somalis and other recent entrants. This stupid blame game among different sections of the working class would be hilarious were it not so tragic.

During the 19th century, the British ruling class had no use for immigration controls. Britain was the workshop of the world and its industry had an insatiable appetite for labour. It also enjoyed the reputation as a generous provider of political asylum and refuge to those fleeing persecution. At that time, free immigration went hand in hand with free trade. By the turn of the century, however, conditions had changed drastically. Britain faced competition from rising industrial powers, notably, Germany, the US and France, at the same time as it was in the grip of a deep economic recession with the resultant rising unemployment, massive cuts in living standards and widespread destitution. The working class responded with a strike wave and an explosion of New Unionism, aimed at organising the unskilled masses of workers, most of whom had been left out of the unions and were treated with contempt by the organised labour movement which represented the skilled workers. These attempts were defeated by the ruling class. All the same, with unemployment a perennial feature and discontent among the teeming millions of destitute proletarians, the bourgeoisie needed a weapon to divide, weaken and subdue working class militancy. It found this weapon in the Aliens Act of 1905, which institutionalised the notion that immigrants alone were responsible for the increasing misery, destitution, squalor and mass unemployment wreaking havoc among the working class. The introduction of this legislation was accompanied by a frenzied anti-Semitic campaign, led by the so-called popular press and demagogic bourgeois politicians, directed against east European Jewish workers fleeing persecution and arriving in the East End of London. One Member of Parliament likened the arrival of the Jews to the entry of diseased cattle from Canada (see Paul Foot, Immigration and Race in British Politics, Penguin, 1965, p.89).

Liberal MP Cathchart Wilson blamed the inability of capitalism to solve the housing problem on the immigrant workers. In a base attempt to rouse the working class against poor immigrants, he demagogically and rhetorically asked: “What is the use of spending thousands of pounds on building beautiful workmen’s dwellings if the places of our workpeople, the backbone of the country, are to be taken over by the refuse scum of other nations?” (Ibid.).

The aristocracy of labour, which constituted the official leadership of the working class movement, fell into line, as was to be expected, and did the bidding of the bourgeoisie. It held the immigrant workers responsible for rising unemployment and deteriorating conditions. From 1892 on (that is, more than a decade before the enactment of the Aliens Act), the TUC called for a complete end to all immigration. Ben Tillett, the dockers’ leader, addressed the immigrant workers thus: “Yes, you are our brothers, and we will do our duty by you. But we wish you had not come” (quoted in Ruth Brown, op. cit.).

In 1903 and in the years following, the TUC passed a number of resolutions demanding tough legislation against immigrant workers who, it alleged, were stealing their members’ jobs, the dockers’ union being the most vociferous in this context.

Irrespective of their sufferings, the talents they bring with them, their contribution to the economic, cultural and social life of the host country, the ruling class of Britain, or indeed of any other capitalist country, has routinely stoked up anti-foreign sentiments, leading, in times of war, to blind nationalism and roguish patriotism.

The eve of the 1st World War coincided with a series of strikes in Britain, with 4 times the number of days lost through strikes as at the beginning of the 20th century. The national dock and rail strikes of 1911 were followed by a miners’ strike in 1912. The outbreak of the war in 1914 furnished the perfect pretext for the British ruling class to unleash national jingoism on an unprecedented scale. Within weeks of the commencement of the war, the Aliens Restriction Act and the Defence of the Realm Act were rushed through Parliament. Under these pieces of draconian legislation, while nearly 29,000 Germans and Austrians were instantly expelled, another 32,000 ‘non-British’ nationals were locked up in detention centres to remain there for the duration of the war.

Newspapers of the day were littered with anti-immigrant and anti-German hysteria. Typical of the anti-immigrant venom was the Cardiff Herald, which wrote: “You know, we know and they know that a Chinaman isn’t worth a toss as a seaman: that his only claim to indulgence is that he is cheap.”

On the anti-German national chauvinist front, Horatio Bottomley, editor of John Bull, the magazine with the largest weekly circulation at that time, wrote: “I call for a vendetta against every German in Britain, whether ‘naturalised’ or not. You cannot naturalise an unnatural beast – a human abortion – a hellish freak. But you can exterminate it. And now the time has come. No German must be allowed to live in our land” (15 May, 1915).

The anti-immigrant and anti-foreigner language may have moderated somewhat since those days, but the virulent campaign against foreigners, laying at their doorstep all the ills of capitalism, continues unabated – all in an attempt to exploit the insecurity of the workers under the conditions of capitalism by portrayal of the foreigner as illegal, social security scrounger, criminal, drug trafficker and, increasingly, a terrorist. For instance, the Daily Mail and the Sun run a regular anti-immigrant hate campaign. In July 2004 the Sun wrote that bogus colleges were furnishing an easy route into Britain for illegal immigrants, saying “This scandal allows access to Britain for scroungers, prostitutes, crooks and perhaps even terrorists”.

In the run-up to the May 2005 General Election, Michael Howard, the then Conservative leader and himself the son of Jewish immigrants, leading a totally discredited party and with little to offer to the electorate, in typical scoundrelly fashion, latched on to the question of immigration: in a full-page advertisement in the Sunday Telegraph he set out the Tory racist stall, claiming that “there are literally millions of people in other countries who want to come and live here. Britain cannot take them all” (23 January 2005).

Labour countered it by an equally racist response. Its Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, assured the electorate in a strategy document on immigration that his “top priority [was] public confidence in the immigration system”. To the Tories’ quota system, Labour put forward a points system.

Michael Howard also called for immigrants to be screened for diseases, following which the Daily Mail carried the banner headline: “Our NHS, not the world health service!” The intended incendiary effect of this front-page headline is not hard to realise.

Writing in the Financial Times of 12 February 2005, Gary Silverman, commenting upon the attempts of the Conservative and Labour parties to present immigration as the “greatest threat facing the UK today”, has this to say: “With General Elections expected this year, the country’s two major political parties, are tripping over each other, trying to appear tougher on immigration. Labour wants a points system that would encourage only skilled workers to settle in the UK. The Conservatives favour quotas for foreign migrants”. He adds that “… it’s hard to avoid the impression that both parties are using the immigration issue to appeal to the less admirable instincts of the British public.”

Gary Silverman is from New York. As such, he has personal experience of living in a city, which in the words of Lenin, “is like a mill which grinds up national distinctions” and turns people of various nationalities into Americans without in the least threatening American identity. “And”, adds Lenin, “what is taking place on a grand, international scale in New York [and in London, Paris, Rome, Madrid and Berlin, we may add] is also taking place in every big city and factory settlement” (‘Critical remarks on the national question’).

In an effort to assuage the fears of the average Briton aroused to anti-immigrant frenzy by the unscrupulous bourgeois politicians and the press alike, Mr Silverman goes on to say: “From my perspective as a New Yorker, all this rhetoric about the UK being overrun by immigrants seems comical. In New York we are always being overrun by immigrants and the main consequence is the food tends to improve with each new group of arrivals. My last neighbourhood, in the borough of Queens, was positively surreal in its ethnic composition. We had ethnic Chinese from Argentina, ethnic Indians from Guyana, Jews from Uzbekistan, Jews from Afghanistan and Russian-speaking Koreans. We all survived.

“What is missing from the UK debate is a fully formed view of why migrants have been flocking to cities like London and New York. They are arriving because there is work to be done”.

Mr Silverman pokes special fun at the Conservatives who are supposedly believers in free markets. What is more, they are not doing any favour to British business by standing in the way of cheap labour, when in fact they should be fighting for “more immigration as a way to lower labour costs”, adding sarcastically that “… these guys can’t even get their part in the class war right”.

No, Mr Silverman, these guys have got their part in the class war right. They have access to all the cheap labour that British capital needs. The availability of the cheap labour is facilitated all the more easily through immigration controls, with the consequent division into legal and illegal workers, and turning the latter (illegal workers) into the most exploitable material, while at the same time blaming them for all the calamities emanating from the normal workings of the capitalist system – and thus pitting one section of the working class against another to disunite and weaken the entire working-class movement.

Their dirty work, done through such incendiary assertions and demagogic electoral platforms, the gutter press and the respectable bourgeois politicians alike, leave the rest to fascist thugs to attack foreigners and the police to harass immigrant minorities and make their lives even more miserable than already is the case through surveillance, knocks on the door at night, raids, arrests and summary deportations. Given the hysteria skilfully manufactured by the respectable bourgeois politicians and the gutter press, and the near absence of any working-class attempt to counter it, it is not surprising that a Mori poll for the Financial Times found in March 2004 (just before the last General Election) that “30 per cent of people cited immigration and race relations as being among the most important national issues, compared with 14 per cent in 2001 and only 3 per cent in 1997, immediately after Tony Blair’s first … victory”.

Continuing the same old shameful game of divide and rule, the present-day imperialist bourgeoisie is employing every weapon in its armoury to divide the working class along national, religious and racial lines. European ministers, members of parliament, bourgeois journalists and mainstream media routinely refer to the asylum seekers, who are the victims of imperialist wars and imperialist-inspired civil strife, as ‘bogus applicants’ with ‘manifestly ill-founded claims’, whose applications must be rejected, for to do otherwise would be an ‘abuse of asylum rights’; and ‘open the floodgates’ to the entry of undeserving hordes and cause a complete breakdown of the mechanisms for regulating the flow of asylum seekers.

If this is the language of the respectable bourgeois, it is hardly surprising that the openly racist and fascist thugs, as well as the police and immigration officials, take the cue and get on with the business of victimising workers of foreign origin, subjecting them to harassment and violence and openly calling for their repatriation. There is a kind of division of labour not only between subtle racism of the respectable bourgeois and the crude racism of the fascist thug, but also between the concealed and hypocritical racism of the front bench and the raw, open and sordid racism of many a backbencher. Thus, one representative of the right, making the case against immigration back in 1991, argued that Britain could not accept every “James Frederick Bonga Bonga” as that would result in “100,000 people settling in Burton”, doubling the number of families in bed and breakfast and an additional “100,000 on social security” (The Scotsman, 14 November 1991).

These were not the words used by the National Front, but by Ivan Lawrence, the influential chairman of the Conservative home affairs backbench committee and MP for Burton. Ivan Lawrence was by no means alone in expressing such rabidly anti-immigrant sentiments. His colleague, Tory MP David Evans, also speaking in November 1991 on immigration, asked the rhetorical question: “Why should this country be the world’s dumping ground for asylum seekers?” These two gentlemen were only following in the footsteps of Peter Griffith who in 1964 won the Smethwick parliamentary seat on the back of the racist slogan: “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour”.

The open racism of the type mentioned in the preceding paragraph was merely an accurate reflection of the respectable racism of the then Tory Prime Minister John Major. Arguing for strong European borders against immigrants, Major said: “We must not be wide open to all comers simply because Paris, Rome or London seem more attractive than Bombay or Algiers”. He urged them to guard against a torrent of “illegal immigrants, drug pushers, criminals and terrorists”. Having emotively jumbled together these disparate groups in an attempt to obliterate the boundary line between them and rouse racial tension, Major hypocritically went on to reason that immigration controls were in the interests of good race relations. This is the stock argument, as we shall see later, of Tory and Labour hypocrites alike – that immigration legislation must be tightened as the only route to racial harmony. In the final analysis this argument boils down to this: to ensure good race relations every attempt must be made to exclude from our society all members of other races, whatever that might mean.

John Major’s government doubled the carriers’ liability fine in 1991 and, as a result, the number of asylum applicants reaching Britain halved by the end of 1992. The result was that thousands of refugees found themselves stranded, unable to flee persecution and worse, for they could not persuade carriers to transport them without the requisite legal documentation. By 1991, visa requirements for travel to the UK had been imposed on the citizens of nearly 100 countries. Major’s government added further countries to the list in order to block the entry into Britain of people displaced by imperialist-led and imperialist-inspired wars in the Balkans and elsewhere – the victims of the wars in former Yugoslavia, Iraq and Sierra Leone being the prime examples in this context. Further draconian measures were enacted through the 1993 Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act.

Britain is by no means alone in pursuing this racist, inhumane, anti-immigrant and anti-asylum programme. Since the late 1980’s, the EU has streamlined and co-ordinated its policy, which seeks to deny freedom of movement, the right to family reunion, the right to political activity and to belong to a trade union, let alone a political organisation. This policy is carried out to the accompaniment of denial of access to education, health provision, employment and social security to those unfortunate victims of imperialism who manage to escape immediate deportation upon arrival.

In Fortress Europe, the relaxation of internal border controls goes hand in hand with tough external controls. While the 1985 Schengen Treaty put in place the framework for the EC (now the EU) border controls, the Trevi group of EU Interior and Justice ministers, whose proceedings are marked by a cloak of secrecy, has formulated most of the EU immigration and asylum policy, whose influence is clearly visible in Britain’s legislation on carriers’ liability.

The purpose of all legislation in this area is to denude those who would attempt to migrate to, or seek asylum in, the EU of every right and to make it pretty unattractive for them to embark upon this hazardous enterprise. For instance, under the 1993 Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act, those who reach Britain through a third country regarded as ‘safe’ by the Home Office are excluded, as are those arriving without proper documentation. Applications must be lodged promptly, and, if rejected, the applicant is given only 48 hours in which to lodge an appeal. The denial of accommodation to the applicant is accompanied under the Act by the power to detain him/her in some high security prisons or in purpose-built detention centres. Abolition of legal aid, compulsory finger printing, stiff fines on airlines carrying unsuccessful asylum seekers and fast-track deportations of applicants refused permission to stay – these are all part of everyday life in ‘democratic’ Europe, which, along with the US, has arrogated to itself the right to pass judgement on the democratic credentials of foreign regimes.

[To be continued in next issue]