The UK’s vicious measures against migrants (AWTWNS 9 February 2015)

This AWTWNS news packet for the week of 9 February 2015 contains one article. It may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as it is credited.

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The UK’s vicious measures against migrants

9 February 2015. A World to Win News Service. Immigration has become a paramount issue on the UK political scene and in the debate among the political representatives of its ruling class.

Migrants from all over the world, especially the Middle East and Africa, have been trying to enter the UK to find work for decades. The number of new immigrants from outside the European Union is down by more than a third since its peak a decade ago, while the yearly number of new immigrants from European countries, especially Eastern Europe, has increased tremendously (to 92,000), even though these figures are still lower than non-EU immigrants (168,000). Between 1997 and 2009, 2.2 million people came to live in the UK.

For the politicians of the UK’s main political parties, using this issue – in fact, making it the huge issue that it is – has been one of the main ways they have sought to shape public opinion.

The major political parties have targeted both European and non-European immigrants. This article mainly examines the vitriol directed against EU immigrants. Because they have the same rights and are entitled to the same benefits as UK citizens, they are being blamed for the long queues for an appointment in the public health system and unavailable public housing. Along with immigrants in general they are accused of being responsible for overloaded public transport and all sorts of other social ills, as well as some things that are not really problems at all, such as increasing ethnic and linguistic diversity in London and some other cities. Concerns about cultural affronts to “English identity” are given a hearing.

These parties have been trying to outmatch each other with their plans to limit immigration to the UK. All this not only has resulted in a draconian anti-immigrant policy but also has given rise to the openly racist political figure Nigel Farage and his party UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party). Farage, a member of the European Parliament, and his party have gained support in some Conservative Party (Tory) strongholds in south and south-east England. In the May 2014 European Parliament election, UKIP won nearly a third of the seats from the UK, with more votes than any other party. This was the first time a party other than Labour or the Conservatives has won the popular vote in a national election since 1906. In recent months, some high-ranking Conservatives left their party for UKIP.

The thrust of UKIP’s programme is “putting Britain first” by taking it out of the European Union and stopping most immigration. Farage is famous for a rhetoric that blames immigration for everything wrong in the UK, including unemployment, crime, anti-Semitism, housing shortages, the situation in the National Health Service and the general deterioration of the welfare state. He has also complained of foreign languages being spoken on public transportation, and even blamed the number of immigrants for a traffic jam that caused him to almost miss a party conference.

The UKIP, while more deliberately provocative in its rhetoric, is a product of the anti-immigration campaign by the other three main parties, which promoted anti-immigrant and British chauvinist rhetoric and policies before the UKIP was founded. Now these mainstream parties are using the political threat posed by UKIP as an excuse to compete with it and each other in stoking backward and racist sentiments among the population.

The Labour Party led by Tony Blair during their time in government in the l990s and 2000s introduced some of the most draconian restrictions against immigration. In a 2005 speech, Blair said among his proudest achievements were cutting the number of asylum applications by two-thirds and almost tripling deportations. Despite sometimes trying to play the “nice guy” role when they were not running the government, Labour has jumped completely into this nasty current campaign. Even though party leader Ed Miliband likes to point out that he is the son of immigrants when that suits him, he recently declared that the “concerns” of UKIP supporters “most of the time aren’t based on prejudice, they’re based on reality.” Here he was echoing Conservative (Tory) Prime Minister David Cameron, who had said Farage’s “concerns” were his too.

Because Labour is supposed to represent the working people, Miliband had to add the claim that immigrants drive down wages and say that he “championed openness and diversity”, but the “system’s not working” – meaning the immigration system. What that means was revealed in a Labour leaflet left in letter boxes all over the country that denounced the Tories for “losing control over our borders” and promising to rid public services of people who don’t “speak English properly”. When he became prime minister, Cameron promised to slash overall immigration by eighty percent. Now Labour is blasting him, not for making that reactionary promise, but for failing to deliver on it.

Both the Tories and Labour, who implemented drastic cutbacks in government spending for social services, want to blame the dire results in health, education, housing and other areas on the “flood” of immigrants and especially immigrants from the EU. So Cameron and his government came up with a plan to cut or limit most of those services to EU citizens who come to the UK seeking jobs, including both unemployment benefits and other benefits for those who have jobs. (The percentage of immigrants who work is much higher than that of the non-immigrant working age population.) He also said his government wanted to deport EU workers who remained jobless for more than six months, although he acknowledged that such a measure would be illegal without renegotiating the EU treaties his country has signed.

It is extremely unlikely that all the other EU countries would agree to dropping the right of citizens of one member country to live and work in all the others, which is supposed to be a pillar of the European Union itself, along with the free movement of capital and the open market for merchandise. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European government officials have made it clear that they will not allow the UK to pick and choose which EU foundational principles to follow.

In his speech in Staffordshire towards the end of last year, Cameron retreated from declaring an “emergency stop” to immigration or putting a cap on the number of migrants, as government officials have repeatedly proposed. Instead he said he would reduce the flow of immigrants from Europe by reducing alleged “incentives” to immigration. However, he included a threat that UK might leave the EU if these conditions are not accepted by other EU countries, saying, “If our concerns fall on deaf ears and we cannot put our relationship with the EU on a better footing, then of course I rule nothing out.” Cameron had previously scheduled a referendum on whether or not the UK should leave the EU for 2017; now he says he wants to hold it next year.

The UK’s exit from the European Union is no longer considered impossible. Although there are divergent assessments on whether this would be advantageous, acceptable or disastrous for British capital, this debate itself is new. After all, it was the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher who brought Great Britain into the EU. Whether the UK leaves the EU or uses that threat to renegotiate its legal commitments, or even ends up changing nothing at all in this relationship, still it seems that anti-EU (and anti-foreigner) public opinion is being whipped up by the three major parties to strengthen the British ruling classes’ hand in any eventuality.

These threats to op out seem to indicate that the UK is moving in an opposite direction from other EU countries and especially the 17-member eurozone (and above all Germany, along with France) that seek greater European economic integration.

Even if the UK’s membership in the EU were replaced by a joint UK-EU free trade zone or some other economic treaties, still such a momentous move would both reflect and accelerate major divergences among the Western imperialist countries. At the least this situation reveals something about the volatility of international relations these days.

Why are they doing this?

The real statistics show that Cameron and other British politicians are lying about the role that migrants could play and have played in destination countries such as the UK. Even the most restricted claims that immigrants pose short-term budgetary problems for the UK are false. “As Katja Hall, deputy director-general of the confederation of British Industry says: ‘Immigration has helped to keep the wheels of this recovery turning by plugging skills shortages and allowing UK firms to grow'”, a commentator wrote in the Observer (30 November 2014).

According to the same source, a study by the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration at University College London indicates that migrants added 20 billion pounds to the UK economy in the decade up to 2011, and that migrants from the EU paid significantly more in British taxes than they claimed in benefits.

The Guardian recently reported that 30,000 British nationals are claiming unemployment benefits in countries across the EU. This makes a mockery of the arguments made by Cameron and his counterparts. Even worse for Cameron’s credibility, British “claimants in richer EU states outnumber those from the same countries in the UK. British claimants in Ireland outnumber Irish claimants by five to one and Germans by four to one. And many Brits get far better benefits in other EU states than they would here.” (Guardian, 21 January 2015)

Cameron, his Deputy Prime Minister (Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats Party), Miliband and Farage know all this. They hide the statistics, or use misleading statistics, to shape the conversation around the terms they want to set.

The same cynicism, lies and cruelty that the UK authorities display toward European immigrants is multiplied many times over when it comes to migrants from the Middle East and African countries under Western imperialist domination. While they face much harsher and even more hostile treatment from UK authorities than European immigrants, no one can argue that the UK economy does not need these migrants, too. Despite the ugly campaign against immigrants, successive UK governments have had to admit many thousands of immigrants from dominated countries every year, and this hasn’t stopped under the Cameron premiership.

The UK government may not have complete control but they have at least a rough control over who to admit and how many to admit into the UK. And they admit the number of immigrants or refugees according to their need to adjust their work force and population growth. They have their structures and mechanisms for this, and are not ashamed to resort to the most brutal behaviour to regulate the situation. This includes deportation of immigrants, or detention and prison where instead of working they waste their lives. Other immigrants are forced to live clandestinely. Some people leave everything and go back home, often at great risk, because the UK government delays people endlessly rather than giving a quick response to asylum requests, for instance. Many people receive automatic phone messages telling them to leave the country immediately or face arrest – and this has happened to people who have been citizens for decades.

Uncounted thousands of people seeking work have died trying to cross the Mediterranean in overloaded boats not fit to sail across these waters. But now the European powers, with the UK taking the public initiative, have announced that they will drastically cut back on the sea rescue operations that have saved as many as 100,000 lives in one year. Italy, whose navy performed most of the recent rescue operations, will no longer act on the high seas. Under the new Operation Triton, Europe, comprising dozens of the world’s richest countries, will operate just seven boats and three aircraft to cover a million square miles of sea. Further, the main mission of these craft will not be to rescue people from drowning but to keep them from getting to Europe.

The UK took a step even further when its government announced it “would not support any future search and rescue operations, including Triton, claiming the assistance simply encourages more people to risk the crossing.” (Guardian, 27 October 2014) Many of those condemned to death at sea are refugees from countries the UK is playing an active role in devastating right now, such as Syria (the single biggest source of refugees), Sudan and Somalia, as well as other African countries. Cameron, perhaps more openly that any European head of government now in power, is essentially advocating and leading in the mass drowning of foreigners.

The UK establishment – the politicians, media and so on – is not just establishing reactionary policies. Nor are they just engaging in electoral politics. They are also legitimizing, encouraging and even imposing the most brutal, reactionary ideology, a way of thinking and feeling that is as dangerous as it is despicable.

The UK has at least as much responsibility as any other country in human history in terms of bringing misery to the world’s people over the past five centuries. The callous and instrumental way that representatives of the UK ruling class deal with European immigrants, and the savage atrocities they inflict far more widely, are two sides of the same “British” values and national interests said to be threatened by immigration.

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