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It is in all our interests to reject the Tories’ divisive immigration policies – Diane Abbott

In response to this attack, the traditional rallying cry of the labour movement should resound, ‘An injury to one is an injury to all!’ 

Diane Abbott MP

By Diane Abbott

The Tories have launched an attack on all working people with their new immigration policy. It will probably do serious damage to our public services, even if big exemptions and exclusions from the new restrictions are finally put in place.

Behind all the populist rhetoric about restricting cheap labour, the major risk is that the system is actually designed to create a new, lower category of worker in this country, akin to something like the gestarbeiter status in Germany. This has the potential to create a new category of worker with much lower rights, or even whose right to be here is linked to their specific employer.

This would place those workers at a huge disadvantage, leading to super-exploitation. It would also then have extremely negative spill-over effects on all workers’ pay, terms and conditions. Divide and rule in the workplace would be enshrined in immigration law. It is vital that the labour movement as a whole grasps this threat and resists it.

It should hardly need saying that the Tories have no interest in improving the living standards and working conditions of ordinary people. The Tories slashed real pay for millions of public sector workers since 2010, and in this way helped the private sector to push down wages too. All of the current government supported those measures.

It is sickening to hear Iain Duncan Smith, the author of the hated Universal Credit scheme, suggest his anti-migrant rhetoric is based on concern for lower-paid workers. In reality, the Home Secretary gave the game away by arguing that the ‘economically inactive’ could fill the vacancies in lower-paid jobs created by the Tories’ new immigration policy. This category includes students, the retired, the long-term sick and carers. One of the effects of the immigration system they propose is actually aimed at forcing more people here into low-paid work. It definitely isn’t about raising their pay and conditions.

The claim that this is an ‘Australian-style points-based’ immigration system is false. Successive Australian governments have recognised that people (and their labour) are the most important factor in creating prosperity and well-being. In fact we used to recognise it here, which is why for example we invited the Windrush generation to come here in the first place.

The new Tory system is a restrictive one, falsely portraying lower-paid workers as low skilled. When ministers argue that the widening vacancies they expect can be filled by training, they give the lie to all their rhetoric on this issue. Trained workers are by definition skilled. In reality, to fill the vacancies in the NHS, is social care and in other areas that damage, the government will probably have to introduce a whole string of exemptions from their system. This part of the system is likely to be pure window-dressing – yet another way of constantly demonising migrants and migration while continuing to recruit them.

Because we should be clear, the anti-migrant rhetoric in British political life is a classic case of divide and rule, by turning workers against each other. The volume has been turned up in recent years because there is also the need to deflect against the government for the effect of its policies. Migrants are scapegoats, and so are people who are perceived to be migrants, even if they and their families have been here for generations.

This new Tory government has decided to turn the screw even further, and is planning to strip the rights of migrant workers. This concerns us all, especially organised trade unionists, but in reality all workers.

Migrant workers will lose the right to a family life, and unable to bring their families here. It will still be the case that their children born overseas can be deported, even if one parent is British! Migrant workers will also lose the right to access public funds, a period of five years has been mooted. This could mean losing everything from working tax credits, to access to the NHS, to refuges if they are fleeing domestic violence. Crucially, the Tories may try to link their work visas to specific employers. This would place enormous power in employers’ hands to dictate terms to workers. The threat of dismissal could be tantamount to the threat of deportation.

Taken together, these measures would ensure that only the most desperate workers would want to come here. They would be treated appallingly. And their super-exploitation at work would create another, lower tier in the workforce, which is clearly a threat to all workers’ terms and conditions.

In response to this attack, the traditional rallying cry of the labour movement should resound, ‘An injury to one is an injury to all!’

Labour has argued strongly for these rights. They are crucial in protecting the rights of all workers, and their living standards. Labour must continue the road it has embarked on, to struggle for unity and to oppose division, which leads directly to divide and rule.

With that in mind, I have launched six pledges on immigration policy for Labour in the period ahead. I am hoping all the leadership candidates will sign up to them, but more importantly that they have broad and enthusiastic support across the labour movement. It is in our own self-interests, and in the fundamental interests of all those we seek to represent, to reject the Tories’ divisive immigration policies.

  • This article originally appeared in the Morning Star.

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