1970s >> 1970 >> no-785-january-1970

Immigration fallacies

It is an unfortunate fact that many workers in the Midlands and the South East of England are colour prejudiced. But this does explain why both Labour and the Tories are prepared to pander to racialism in order to get votes. Everybody knows about the campaign some Tories waged in the 1964 election. Widespread criticism caused the Tories to tone down their racialism but Labour learnt a lessen too: they made sure that before the next election they strengthened the Commonwealth Immigrants Act whose obvious purpose is to keep out as many so-called coloured immigrants as possible.

Most workers are opposed to immigration on practical grounds: they mistakenly believe that it is a threat to the living standards they have achieved by trade union and political action. Very few go for the fancy frills of racialism, the dangerous pseudo-scientific nonsense peddled by outfits like the National Front and the Union Movement. Of course a number of Tories too have attacked “race-mixing” on theoretical grounds: Enoch Powell and Duncan Sandys, exploiter of the Ghanian gold miners.

We are living in a capitalist society where a privileged class owns the means for producing wealth so that the rest of us have to work for them. We are called, appropriately enough, the working class. Capitalism is international (including state capitalist Russia) and so is the working class. As far as Socialists are concerned, all workers the world over are brothers. While the economic system is world-wide, for political purposes the world is divided by frontiers into artificial national states. As Socialists we don’t accept that these frontiers have any relevance. We don’t recognise them. Nor do most workers in search of jobs. For it stands to reason if you have no property and depend for a living on working you must go, if you can, where the jobs are. Since the war many jobs have been going in North America and Western Europe. So to these parts have come workers and impoverished peasants from the rest of the world. To the Common Market have come people from North Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East. To Britain have come people from India and the West Indies. Surely the point that these post-war migrations bring out is that capitalism is an international system and that the world is one economic unit.

The racialists claim that this migration to Britain has caused problems in housing, education, and the health services. Without denying that throwing people of different customs together in the economic jungle of capitalism can cause inconveniences, it is quite untrue that immigration can be said to be the cause of bad housing, cheap education and inadequate medical services. These problems existed long before the migrants came. They are problems for the working class everywhere and all the time. Besides, since the war more have left Britain for overseas than have come here. Immigrants are in the same position as the rest of us: propertyless, having to find an employer to live. They, too, are members of the working class.

In a Union Movement pamphlet Robert Row repeats a common argument of the racialists that is accepted by many workers. Migration, he says, has caused over-crowding in our big cities “with its attendant evils of taking houses which should be inhabited by the British who built them”. This is nonsense. Houses, even palaces and mansions, are all built by the working class but under capitalism workers are only allowed to live in the sort of house or they can afford. This charge of taking “British houses” might make sense if immigrants took the best. Yet all the evidence suggests that immigrants have to put up with the worst housing. The best houses go, of course, to the rich who get their money from exploiting workers, black and white.

Capitalism is the cause of working class problems. Under capitalism, how we live is restricted by the size of our wage packet or salary cheque. And the economic laws of capitalism ensure that we don’t get much more as the price of our energies than enough to keep us in efficient working order. This will be our lot as long as capitalism lasts. We will have to put up with, not the best that is available in housing, education, food and clothing, but with the cheap and second-rate.

These are problems that affect all workers, irrespective of so-called race or colour or nationality, whether they live in America, Britain, South Africa or India. They are problems which can only be solved by the joint action of workers everywhere to convert the means of production from the class property of a few into the common property of the whole community, through the establishment of Socialism with production solely for use, not profit.