Content warning: mentions racism and xenophobia
It has been a disappointing folly from the start that the progressive parties of Britain should keep relentlessly droning on about how immigration has had a net-positive impact on average wages. This remark, whilst true, is misleading and falls on deaf ears. The immigration problem is not simply a phantom created by the xenophobic right. As I have argued in a previous article, it is a real, tangible issue born of companies’ exploitation of free movement of people, an utter disregard for the dignity of labour and lack of social cohesion. This requires, not the reactionary response of cutting immigration itself, that right-wing parties have been pushing for years, but a progressive alternative that addresses the issue without feeding into the venomous narrative. This is what the Labour Party are offering.
In his first speech of 2017, Jeremy Corbyn said
“[We] support […] taking action against undercutting of pay and conditions, closing down cheap labour loopholes, banning exclusive advertising of jobs abroad and strengthening workplace protections would have the effect of reducing numbers of EU migrant workers in the most deregulated sectors, regardless of the final Brexit deal”
We see not the demonisation of immigrants, but a clamp down on exploitative practices of these businesses who actively encourage migrant labour to drive down wages. He lays the blame firmly at the feet of the corporations rather than the migrants themselves. This is a marked departure from the “they’re stealing our jobs” mantra pushed by UKIP and recycled by the Tories, who only make vague allusions towards enforcing immigration control, capitalising on anti-immigrant sentiment without offering any clear strategy.
He lays the blame firmly at the feet of the corporations rather than the migrants themselves.
The Labour Leader also went on to emphasise the importance of integration and spoke of reintroducing English lessons which were scrapped by the Tory government. Whilst I would argue that English lessons alone are not enough, this is a good first step towards having the discussion about social cohesion.
But what Corbyn proposed beyond seeking a progressive alternative to migrant labour and supporting integration initiatives, was to paint a positive picture of Brexit which transforms the nature of jobs in the labour market itself. He seeks to “repatriate powers from Brussels for the British government to develop a genuine industrial strategy essential for the economy of the future, and so that no community is left behind.” And will “use state aid powers in a drive to build a new economy, based on new technology and the green industries of the future.” A bold industrial vision that’ll bring prosperity back to these struggling communities and put an end to these years of decline that have bought with them so much anger and frustration. Rather than capitalising on the misguided emotions of a faction in this divided country, Labour are pushing the message of brighter future after Brexit by addressing the very real problems faced by communities outside the big cities, without disastrously pulling out of the single market and customs union.
paint a positive picture of Brexit which transforms the nature of jobs in the labour market itself
Unfortunately, this nuanced position is difficult to communicate, especially when progressives and the liberal media are unwilling to appreciate the fact that immigration can and has had a negative effect on some areas of the country. When anyone complains, we’ve simply chalked it down to racism. We prefer to view this position as a betrayal of internationalism in favour of electability. Indeed, the bigger betrayal would be for the Labour Party to continue to let the discussion of immigration fall to the wayside when it is the number one issue on the minds of those in the Labour heartlands.
We left behind a deafening silence when we shunned the issue of immigration. And now it has been colonised by hate-preachers and scapegoaters. It is time for us to reach across the divide and reclaim the space. This is what Corbyn is seeking to achieve.
Featured image: Jeremy Corbyn © Dan Kitwood/Getty