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Thursday, February 12, 2015

The UK's vicious measures against migrants – Part 1

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.
To be Continuedà

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