The Labour Party has recently announced a flurry of policies aimed at cutting immigration and incentivising ‘British skills for British workers’.
Whilst claiming to be the ‘opposition’, Starmer’s Labour is increasingly echoing the Tories on every front. Both parties now blame rising immigration numbers as the cause for society’s ills: from the housing crisis, to the dire state of the NHS, and to the falling wages suffered by workers.
Labour’s announcement on migration is but the latest episode in Starmer’s journey to outflank the Tories from the right – and to distract from the fact that neither he, nor the system he represents, has anything to offer workers and youth.
Regulation vs organisation
Yvette Cooper, Labour’s shadow home secretary (and noted Blairite coup-mongerer) fired the first shot recently, announcing plans to incentivise training for British workers by setting time limits on how long UK bosses can hire cheaper labour from abroad.
The government’s current strategy for filling labour shortages includes an occupation list, which offers migrant workers 80% of the going market wage for work in strained sectors, such as healthcare, IT, and engineering.
The Labour leadership says that imposing variable time limits on companies in these sectors would force firms to set aside more funding for training up British workers.
It is true that the bosses are increasingly reliant on immigration to plug gaps in the workforce. This is a result of the chronic under-investment that plagues British capitalism across the board.
Legislation from Westminster and Whitehall won’t change this, however. Labour laws alone will not ensure decent jobs, wages, and conditions for workers. This needs to be backed up by workplace organisation and militant action.
In the construction sector and other British industries, meanwhile, far from investing in skills and training, the bosses are using bogus self-employment, labour agencies, and other nefarious methods to circumvent national agreements and push workers into a race to the bottom.
The only incentive that the capitalists care about is profit. They will seek to employ whatever labour they can exploit the most – migrant or native-born. And setting the issue up as one of British workers vs foreign workers only serves to divide the working class, playing into the hands of ravenous bosses, and helping them drive down pay and conditions across the board.
Labour’s migration policies, in this respect, are not only utopian, but are utterly reactionary too.
Instead, the labour movement should be fighting to organise all workers, and demanding socialist policies to plan the economy rationally, invest in skills and training for the entire workforce, and put the working class in control.
Faced with a polycrisis of inflation, strikes, and collapsing electoral support, the Tories have consistently attacked migrants as a means of diverting public attention away from their rotten regime, and the decrepit system they defend.
Instead of challenging the Tories with class-based, socialist demands, ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer, in his usual fashion, has opted to take on the Tory headbangers from the right. This is intended as yet another signal to the establishment that Labour is a safe pair of hands for capitalism.
In doing so, the Labour leaders are completely going along with the Tory strategy of whipping up a culture war. Not only does this divide the working class, but it also provides a convenient distraction from the fact that neither party has any genuine solutions to capitalism’s crises.
The stark resemblance between the Labour and Conservative programmes is no accident. Starmer and his cronies are wedded to capitalism through and through. Just like the Tories, they have nothing to offer the working class.
Continually stirring up debates about immigration is therefore useful for Starmer and co., ensuring that workers aren’t looking at the meagre – or non-existent – policies that Labour have to offer on the economy, the cost-of-living crisis, or the NHS.
In this respect, Starmer follows in the footsteps of his right-wing Labour predecessors, who have a rich tradition of demonising migrants and dog-whistle racism.
It was under Tony Blair and New Labour that the ‘hostile environment’ was first introduced, for example. In the wake of the 2008 crash, meanwhile, Gordon Brown echoed the reactionary slogan of ‘British jobs for British workers’.
And in 2015, Ed Miliband centred the party’s entire election campaign on this issue, even going so far as to produce a Labour-branded coffee mug emblazoned with the demand for ‘controls on immigration’.
According to recently-released government figures, net-migration has hit an all-time high, reaching 606,000 last year.
Nevertheless, with workers’ living conditions coming under attack from inflation and austerity, just 35% of Brits think that immigration is a key issue facing the country, compared to 57% who say that the economy matters most to them.
The upswing of industrial militancy seen in the past year, in this respect, has had a dramatic impact on the consciousness of the working class – mobilising and uniting millions of workers on a class basis, against the Tories and the employers.
Racist rhetoric about migrants lowering wages and stealing jobs, in this context, runs like water off a duck’s back for workers in Britain, who are struggling collectively against the bosses’ system.
The focus of the labour movement should be on uniting the working class – both British-born and migrant – in a common struggle against the capitalists and their representatives: to fight for decent jobs, wages, and conditions for all; and to demand workers’ control over workplaces and industries, including reskilling and training.
This is the only way to cut across the reactionary, racist policies peddled by the Tories and the billionaire press.
It is the capitalist system, not migrants and refugees, who are to blame for the crises of low-pay, under-investment, housing, and dilapidated public services in society.
Only a bold socialist programme and united class struggle can overcome the divide-and-rule methods of the ruling class – and overthrow the rotten system that breeds racism, bigotry, exploitation, and oppression.