Why Labour should regularise migrant workers


This got me thinking last night, about something which I am pretty much in favour of anyway. It seems that over the past year or so, immigration has been struggling to put itself back onto the agenda, particularly after all that stuff with immigrant criminals being let out of jail and back into this country.

One of the things that I think should be a priority for a future Labour government is either an amnesty on immigration, or a more Fabian alternative, which is my view of the policy represented by unison, following the link above. That alternative is regularisation, and I hope it is what would result from an immigration amnesty anyway.

I concur with Jon Cruddas and Liam Byrne when it comes to admitting that immigration can have negative effects. There is a fundamental need to accept that fluctuations of supply and demand is how labour is going to implemented; my particular conception of socialism is one whereby the state serves more as a trustworthy route from job to job (while maintaining regulation to bring quality of life at work) than a massive, hulking allocator of social functions. The reason for this is quite simple. If you're a distance to the left of me, you will probably agree that the capitalist logic of providing commodities which are un-needed is a result of the fact that commodity fetishism and hegemonic capitalist ideology is never able to keep up with material needs or desires (when framed in terms of human potential fulfilment). Capitalism needs to produce things for a supply side gain to the employer, not because what it produces is inherently valuable at the demand end.

Bosses are always pushing workers to work harder to produce, but this cannot meet the need of workers on the supply side, or customers on the demand end, because in an environment of such unequal incomes, propped up by mass slumber, want is given priority and capacity over need.

Thus, we end up with overproduction. A mass sit back, followed by a change of employment, is necessary.

By the same token, If you're to the right of Keynesian economics (which puts you a mile to the right of me), you'll actually reach a similar conclusion to Marx in terms of the empirics, but you'll call it 'slowdown'. Bad products = less sold = less profit = less net growth + more corporate insolvancies = unemployment. Bad businesses get eaten up.

Hence, overproduction. A mass sit back, followed by a change of employment (or starvation) is enforced.

In this respect, the main difference between Thatcherism and Marxism is that Thatcherites see unemployment as an unwanted result (though some don't seem to see it as that unwanted...), whereas Marxists see it as thoroughly predictable in capitalism, and sometimes as a positive intention. Within a socialist system, it is deemed less likely to happen. Conversely, the other main difference is that Thatcherites won't just blame the boss for making a bad sell, but also the workers for not working hard enough (and thereby once again, the boss too for not working them or threatening the workers hard enough; whereas Marxists criticise bosses for creating irrelevant products for no demand side reason, much like the Thatcherites; but blame the boss directly rather than through the employees, to whom it is more sympathetic).

In this particular framework, I must disown my own fabian instincts, even as they scream "moderation!" in my ears, and lay my cards on the table. Ladies and gents, I'm afraid I agree with the nutters.

Why am I saying all this?

Well, it goes back to what kind of state a socialist would like to see. I would like to see mine a lot more egalitarian, but fluid and responsive. I deem that wholly possible. Even within an egalitarian environment, social conditions as variables are prone to change. There is a rationale.

The problem then, with regards to immigration is this: If you're not going to get the government to allocate jobs, and do dodgy and ultimately futile bits of demand management (i.e. stimulating rates of interest and inflation to raise spending, thus employing people, while keeping a massive state sector doing nothing relevant, as an excuse to pay people) of either the Keynesian/Morrisonian or Stalinist variety, how do you cope with segments of unemployed people that fluctuate rapidly as people move? How can you find them jobs?

Finding jobs, just to qualify my argument, is something I deem to be a given policy desirable. It's good for taxpayers, good for workers (look at the income, mobility and equality stats, and you'll agree; not to mention the fact that being holed up in a house all day is quite depressing in itself) and good for companies and 'third sector' co-op, charity and non-profit groups (let's call them 'undertakings', european competition law style) who wish to produce.

Finding a job is especially important to people who have just arrived in the country, and are looking to build financial stability, skills and social connections.

Now, you can take a laissez faire attitude, and hoe things fall into place. Firstly, much to the justified discontent of John Reid, people slip through the border all the time, without gettin' registered wiv the revenue. Secondly, once they are in Britain, they're able to work for less than the minimum wage, which is greeted gleefully by unscrupulous companies who don't care about their employees, and rued by working people who find that the artificial and competition is driving them out of the market. I had a really interesting chat on a train back from London with the Labour club once, with two lads who were builders. They were a bit pissed, but talking about the level of polish competition they got, they made decent points.

Of course, how you can react to that is a choice. There is a danger that the debate could be allowed or encouraged to slip into xenophobia. Some people can conceptualise this choice better than me, but it is still a choice I understand to exist.

Blair and pals like to talk about how the future political paradigm is going to be about openness; flexible labour markets, adaptation not opposition to globalisation. I agree. The only problem is that they don't. Because when it comes to multinationals, they're on tune, but immigration... well, look at the links above. 'Close it off', they say. Erect the sea wall, stop the tide!

So much for that paradigm.

I think that we should be open to companies and investment. Though crude Marxism may lay at the base analysis of some of my views, it is certainly not the sum total of them. I believe in reform, and I believe that we are halfway through a process of neo-liberal globalisation that benefits global business no end. However, going back to the Marx bit, what benefit business in the short term plays eventually towards a stab in the face for the logic of capitalism.

I want level wage structures the world over. That's what business led globalisation will eventually get us.

Just one thing though. I have this issue, a problem, if you will. I happen to be on the left. While it would be nice to have level wages, I would prefer it if they were as high as possible! Friendly conditions at work would be nice too!

This has two moral implications for policy. The first is that while being flexible, we must maximise the bargaining power of workers. Keep the borders reasonably open; start checking who comes in and out to stop the race to the bottom in pay, conditions and general levels of employment opportunity. Bring in a border police force. Link national insurance with PAYE databases. All work must be regularised work. We also need to mop up the people who are already here, under clandestine auspices. So regularise the workforce. Declare an amnesty, or a registration process. Bring back free English lessons for migrant workers (I cannot believe that they have been removed!). Indeed, encourage them as much as possible, maybe by incentive, so that the country and these workers themselves can benefit from skills which are mutually required.

This will tackle the racist reaction to the recent explosion in immigration. You can't complain about people from a different background to you when they do the same work for the same pay and can offer the same in terms of skills, for example the ability to speak English. Largely, people become racists because they think they see a society which is discriminating positively (though I do not accept this to be true, it is a highly mistaken view. Such behaviour is partially caused, but in no way excusable) in favour of people who are not in similar catagories to them... a feeling which, on its own, is mere discriminatory misguidedness and error, which is then mixed with the poverty of the indigenous beholder... giving birth to discriminatory blame. I have witnessed it all across the north of England, on the doorstep, on the phonebank. Regularisation would remove the material causes leaving only racist idealists: a small and thankfully irrelevant minority of boneheads.

Regularisation also carry a massive benefit to the positive quest for higher equality levels, not just in terms of raising wages and bringing people into regular work (indeed, a side point is that it is rather scandalous that immigrants are forbidden from working during appeals), but also in tackling the culture of insecurity, or indeed even more dangerous phenomena, that exist around cash in hand work.

Tackling insecurity is another theme of blairite rhetoric. Insecurity in work and home is one of the emerging challenges for democratic socialism in the 21st century, and is rightly decried as such. The government should have the moral courage to stand up and fight insecurity for those that need it most. Some of the poorest people on earth, many of whom are refugees, who come to our shores. And those who already here, who work in bad conditions, who are afraid of being priced out by those who will work in even worse conditions for less.

We need to accept globalisation of companies and markets, at least, in its non-military manifestations. At the same time, we need to globalise human beings. To do this, government needs to know who they are, and it needs to remain on their side (and indeed aware of their core human dignity); something I fear a 'points based' approach to immigration simply cannot achieve. Globalising humanity, and managing modern insecurities, are exactly what modern socialist international parties should be doing. Changing with the times, keeping with the values and most importantly aims of the left. That requires a sense of direction. Does anyone feel that, for example, points basing achieves that prescription? I feel that the vision is lacking.

The general moral argument seems pretty clear. If we are to be lured into statistical managerialism, at least, for god's sake, let it be in this civilised and logical direction. The interests of migrant workers and their indigenous counterparts are one and the same. A better deal from their employers, and a better deal from each other.

Regularise migrant workers. Back the UNISON campaign.

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