1980s >> 1986 >> no-984-august-1986

Letters: Should Immigration be Controlled

Agreed that the new Commonwealth Immigrants Act, passed in March, is racialist even more than the previous ones, I cannot fully agree with the complete freedom of labour movement in the existing structures.

You say that “economics demands free immigration”. This is opinion, not fact. Asians are prepared to work long hours, weekends, in order to send home money to families left in the move. If by a strenuous (as it is) effort, disregarding leisure time completely, an Indian or Pakistani can earn a large wage, this holds back any claims for higher basic wages and/or a shorter working week. Labour becomes ‘cheap’ — or cheaper — whether this is economically true or not, it will seem to native factory workers who will feel resentment. This leads to prejudice in other matters.

Make labour available cheaply and one makes automation unnecessary. Already Japan, USA, etc. have managed, by increased technical efficiency, to increase industrial productivity. Thus it can be argued that allowing free immigration—especially of unskilled workers—holds back efficiency. I am no economist. There are perhaps faults in my reasoning, but surely you are aware of these arguments. Why not then deal with them in your article? Or is it that the above arguments are sound?

What is abhorrent is the limitation of entry into a country because of race, or religion, etc. Commonwealth citizens have no more right to come to Britain than we have to go to their countries—and yet they all impose strict control on immigration. It was all very well to cling to the 19th century ‘mother country’ idea when the influx was small and the immigrants, like the Hugenots, Poles, etc., seemed to be ‘refugees’. Their numbers were small and they were assimilated with few pains. But now if it is a source of economic or social instability some control seems necessary. But anyone who comes to Britain should be subject to the same rules regarding entry—whether European, Canadian, South African or Indian. And if any check is to be made on entry, it should take place in the country of origin, to avoid disappointment when in a strange environment.

I am sympathetic to the immigrant, especially to the Asians whom I have taught. They represent a real problem, and frankly our education service is so understaffed and under-equipped that we cannot hope to teach our language and customs to an unlimited number. Uneducated immigrants cause greater prejudice than those who have overcome the language barrier and understand English attitudes and customs.
D. Green, 

14 Ena Crescent,
Leigh, 
Lancs.
Capitalism brought our Blacks to create the racial hatred and colour bar to crush all resistance of the natives of this island, and to cheapen labour and force up the cost of living. Most of our unemployed are Whites and poorly housed in hostels like the Salvation Army, Church Army and Rowton Houses (on Board and Lodging Vouchers) who are making fortunes out of our homeless and half-starved workers. Blacks have created mass unemployment for our workers. Blacks are selfish and grab everything then can get for themselves. Capitalism is cunning as a rattlesnake and apparently cannot be beaten by small groups like the SPGB, who while you print a load of twaddle, have no real policy and favour Blacks before the English who have supported you from the start. Socialism! but National it will be! It’s on the way now! At least the SPGB gives an easy living to its leaders — that’s all.

S. J. Deal, 
London, SE1.
Your article on Race Relations makes one think that you are in favour of the white man having to work, live and feel at home with coloured people. Such a thing is impossible. Our tradition and outlook is totally different from anything the coloured people have ever known. I agree with your assertion that a coloured man is every bit as capable as a white man given the chance and the conditions.

Socialism does not mean a free for all will take place when it comes. Black and While will not be forced to earn a living in a strange land. A free and full outlet will be the right of mankind to express the best that is in him without having to go to another part of the world to get a job. Marx’s declaration “Workers of the World Unite” meant politically and not nationally.

This country is too small for a larger population. In many parts there is no place for the native white people to live and the seeds are already being sown by the enormous number of coloured workers buying houses in an already overcrowded country. Already the dockers are supporting the criticism of their overcrowding here and those responsible for their coming here will have a lot to answer for before many more years.

W. Harding, 
London, E17.
Reply: 

Prejudice is defined as an opinion formed without proper consideration of the facts or arguments. Both Mr. Deal and Mr. Harding are prejudiced.

There is one simple reason why most of the unemployed in Britain are “white” and that is because 98 per cent of the population is.

Has “coloured immigration” cheapened labour, i.e., depressed wage levels? Alan Day, in an article in the Observer on 28 April, suggested that immigration had held back, rather than depressed, the wages of certain sections of the working class: those in the unskilled jobs that immigrants tend to do. He reckons that, without immigration (and this is the argument put forward by Mr. Green in the previous letter) employers would have been forced to introduce labour-saving machinery. It is quite true that one of the factors under capitalism which decides whether or not machinery is used is the level of wages. A labour shortage forces up wages and so could make machinery profitable. It is true also that London Transport in a bid to overcome an acute labour shortage did recruit workers in the West Indies. The hospitals, too, have had an acute labour shortage. But even if we concede that by restrictions on immigration certain workers could have pushed up their wages and that therefore immigration has harmed them, is this a reason why Socialists should support immigration control? Of course it is not. Socialists stand for the interest of workers all over the world. All who work for a wage or salary, no matter where they live or work or what language they speak or the colour of their skin, have a common interest; in working together to protect living standards while capitalism lasts and, more important, to replace capitalism with Socialism. One section of the working class may for a time improve its lot by keeping out other sections. But Socialists are opposed to sectionalism, whether it is by trade, nationality or colour. It hampers effective united action and spreads the pernicious theories of nationalism and racialism. We state frankly: we would not support immigration control even if it would maintain the living standards of some workers in Britain.

Has “coloured immigration” forced up the cost of living? We confess we are unable to fathom this one. It seems to be a prime example of the working of a prejudiced mind. Take something you don’t like (rising cost of living) and blame it on some scapegoat (immigrants).

Has “coloured immigration” created mass unemployment? Unemployment there is. and will be as long as capitalism lasts, but at the moment there is not “mass” unemployment. Immigration is not the cause of unemployment. Rather the post-war immigration is itself the result of a relative labour shortage, as the Confederation of British Industries has pointed out.

Is it impossible for “white” and “coloured” people to work and live together? Mr. Harding says it is, on the grounds that the tradition and outlook of the two are completely different. Let’s clear up one point first: different peoples do have different traditions but it is not true that all “whites” share one common tradition and all “coloureds” another. If you are going to argue from different ways of life you must throw overboard arguments based on colour and so-called race, unless you are prepared to argue that a man’s skin colour and other physical features determine how he must behave. All human beings are members of the same animal species, homo sapiens. All human beings are capable of learning and of absorbing the culture of the society in which they live. Such differences as exist between the peoples of the world are not the result of different natures, but of living in different environments. All peoples are quite capable of absorbing modern culture in a comparatively short time (see for instance, New Lives for Old by Margaret Mead). Obviously, people born and bred in a capitalist-industrial society are better equipped to live in it than people who have recently come to it from backward agricultural villages. This does not mean, however, that such immigrants must remain ill-equipped for ever.

Is Britain overcrowded? This is a big myth. In any event the figures for population per square mile do not allow us to say that an area is inhabited by too many people because it cannot sustain them. There is another factor which must be taken into account: the man-made means of production. In 1801 there were 12 million people in Britain, in 1851 22 million, in 1901 38 million and today about 54 million (of whom less than one million are “coloured”). Britain has been able to sustain an increasing population because of the ever-increasing productivity of the man-made means of production. In fact, of course, it does not make sense to take one part of the world in isolation from the rest. Britain, through the international division of labour, is part of the world economy and the earth could sustain many times its present population. If the politicians who talk about Britain being overcrowded really believed it they would also be advocating increased emigration, birth control, abolition of family allowances, the end of tax discrimination against single people and childless couples, and so on. They would also be instituting internal migration controls (giving us all “passes” as in Russia and South Africa): if Wolverhampton or London were overcrowded then they would be trying to stop people moving there from Glasgow and Wales as well as from overseas. But they are not, are they? This “overcrowded” argument is pure nonsense. It is only in vogue because it appears to be a respectable, rational argument for an immigration colour bar.

Now, for the odd ideas about the Socialist Party of Great Britain and Marx.

Have the English always supported us from the start? First, who are the English, anyway? It is true that till now the bulk of die members and supporters of the Socialist Party (but by no means all) have been what our correspondents would label “white”, but that is not by choice but by accident. Socialism is a system of society which the workers in the industrialisted parts of the world must strive for. The fact that most such workers at present happen to be “white” is irrelevant. We seek the support of all workers and have declared right from the start that we seek the emancipation of all mankind, irrespective of race or sex.

Do our leaders have an easy living? No, we have no leaders, just ordinary workers carrying out Socialist activity in their spare time.

Who said Socialism would be a free-for- all? We are sure that in a Socialist society people will be pleased to travel and work anywhere in the world. Certainly they will be free to do so.

What did Marx mean by “workers of the world, unite”? Perhaps Mr. Harding can tell us how workers can unite politically without workers from all nations joining together. He might also ponder over this one: Why did Marx let his daughter marry a “coloured” man from Cuba?

Editorial Committee