Over the weekend around 1,000 people lost their lives whilst feeing the horror that is being wrought by the fascist scourge of IS. Well, I say they lost their lives –in reality their lives were stolen from them. First by the murderous rampage of IS and then by the states of the European Union who collectively decided to turn their backs on people fleeing murder and terror. This is a shocking and woeful example of the utter inhumanity of the desire by the ruling class to control the flow of people –of labour, around the world.
The issue of the movement of refugees and migrant labour around the world is a political football in most, if not all, of Europe with the various political parties making noises about being ‘tough on immigration’. There are a handful of notable exceptions but these are in the minority. What shocks me most about this situation though is the attitude of some on the left that I have encountered towards the issue of immigration.
There has long been a thick vein of protectionism running through the authoritarian left that seeks to prevent the free flow of people across borders in order to stop the bourgeoisie from exploiting migrant labour in order to mitigate the bargaining power of the organised working class. Indeed, this was the argument put forward by Marx and the First International and has been a part of the British Trade Union movement for over a century. On this matter I have to say that Marx was wrong. Very, very, fucking wrong.
It is true that the ruling class uses migrant labour, or the threat of migrant labour, to sow unease amongst workers –just as it uses the threat of unemployment, homelessness, and starvation to do the same. To react to this by attempting to prevent the free flow of people around the world is, on the part of the left, an act of utmost cowardice. My politics are based on some very basic principles (from which come a more nuanced and complex understanding of capitalism and the world in general) that are base lines for how we must approach politics. For starters the working class is international in character –a worker from Senegal has more common interests with a worker from Scotland than either of those country’s ruling class. Secondly I believe that an injury to one is an injury to all –that an attack on any section of the working class, regardless their nationality, gender, sexuality, or race, is an attack on every single one of us.
The reaction to the use of migrant workers to destabilise the working class should not be to close borders it should be to organise those migrant workers! Bring them into the union –the more of us that there are then the more powerful we become. There is power in the union, remember that old song?
But, the argument goes, there are only so many jobs to go around! To which I respond: and? If there are more workers than there are jobs then it is the task of the left to argue for higher wages, shorter days and shorter weeks. Not to turn against other sections of the working class that happen to have been born in the wrong part of the world. More workers means less work to do, which means more leisure time if we only have the courage to organise and to fight.
We need open borders, we need to welcome people who wish to come here and we need to fight to improve the quality of life for people both here and elsewhere in the world. A strong and organised working class here can offer solidarity and support to workers elsewhere in the world but to do that we need to be strong and we need to be organised. If we do that then we can win fights with the bosses, we can win fights with the state, we can win.