In Germany right wingers said that immigrants who were only coming to the country for benefits should be deported. They call it ‘Armutsmigration’ – ‘poverty migration’. The Social Democratic Vice Chancellor of Germany put a ‘balanced’ point of view “We don’t need all-out discrimination against the Bulgarians and Romanians but nor should we ignore the problems some big German cities faced with the immigration of poor peoples.” Like the Labour Party in Britain, they say they’re against racism, but poor foreigners are a problem.
In Britain the government has made sure that new immigrants will not be automatically entitled to benefits, that they can be deported if begging or homeless. On the right, Boris Johnson (who says he’s pro-immigration) wants a two year clamp down on migrants receiving benefits, and for the state to get tough on illegal immigration. From UKIP Nigel Farage puts forward a five year halt to immigration as the way to solve all social and economic problems. The left say that immigration is good for the economy. Farage says that maybe it would be better to be poorer.
‘Benefits tourism’ is the catchphrase in Britain. However, it’s just the latest label used to stoke up prejudice and find new scapegoats. Ed Miliband and other leading figures in the Labour Party say that immigration got out of control under Blair and Brown and that there should be ‘sensible’ controls on immigrants. They agree that immigration can enrich culture and economy, but Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna thinks that there has been far too much “low-skill immigration” in the EU. He maintains that “the founders of the European Union had in mind free movement of workers not free movement of jobseekers.”
Ultimately, across the British bourgeoisie, there is agreement that Britain is a ‘small island’ country, that there’s only room for so many, and immigration has to be firmly under control, if not actually stopped. This ‘common sense’ view (like its equivalent in a big, non-island country like Germany) is used to back up the basic nationalist framework of capitalist ideology. With all the recent anti-immigrant propaganda it is hardly surprising that surveys in the UK are showing more people wanting a reduction in immigration, and more wanting a big rather than a small reduction. Labour says that cheap, unskilled foreign workers are taking jobs that could go to cheap, unskilled British workers. If you’re unemployed you could put your situation down to one of many causes. You might feel it’s because of some personal inadequacy, or you might listen to the media and politicians telling you that foreigners have taken all the jobs. Neither explanation gets close to understanding the roots of unemployment in the basic workings of the capitalist system.
The effects of the economic crisis, imperialist war, ecological disaster, social problems like urban overcrowding and rural desertion, cultural impoverishment – all these flow from the reality of capitalism, not from workers travelling to find work and other opportunities. On the contrary, the more capitalism sinks into crisis, the more the exploited will be forced to move from country to country in search of work, shelter or security. This is something built into the condition of the working class, which has always been a class of immigrants.
Capitalism poses everything from a national standpoint. If workers’ wages are reduced the bourgeoisie wants workers to blame workers from other countries, not the bourgeoisie’s system of exploitation. Workers can’t let themselves go along with nationalist ideology, whether it’s of the right or the left. The most dramatic example of how nationalism can be used against us is in times of war when workers have been taken in by calls to sacrifice their lives in defence of the nation – in other words, the interests of the national capitalist class and its state. But any time that capitalism tries to divide workers, the only response can be by uniting to resist exploitation, by waging a common struggle of all proletarians, ‘native’ and ‘foreign’, employed and unemployed. Workers’ struggles ultimately have the potential to do away with all frontiers, all nation states, and to build on the rich cultural diversity of all humanity.