Immigration is a big issue today. Certain newspapers have spread alarm about it almost daily for many years. Slowly it has risen up the agenda. Yet is this really the biggest problem facing union members today? If so, what exactly is it that causes the concern?
Of course it is not unnatural to worry about change. If your kids can’t get jobs, or affordable houses, it seems logical to worry that more people coming into that situation may not help. Yet it would be wrong to blame newcomers themselves as racist organisations have.
More foreign students, bringing billions to our economy, is a benefit not a problem. Migrants come here to work. We are an ageing society, and without more younger workers, we will be working until we are 80. Our NHS depends on migrants to supplement staff already here. Not least because British skilled workers are freer than ever before to travel abroad and better themselves. Two million Britons live in Europe.
Yet, if the benefits of immigration are vast and widely spread, problems can occur, and are often concentrated for both host communities and the migrants themselves, if local communities are not equipped to manage population changes. This can apply just as much when people move around the country. Rows of empty houses in some declining poor towns, housing shortages in others. In the immediate post war period, it was government’s duty to create the jobs and build the houses to match the population. Now, increasingly, politicians stand aside and leave it to the market. This is not working. Proper planning and distribution of resources is needed.
We also need to be cautious of those that have an interest in scaring union members. Perhaps to distract us from austerity, or growing inequality between the wealthy few and the rest of us. The truth is that wages are low because of anti-worker policies over many years. This is not the fault of migrants. In fact demonising migrants forces them into the illegal economy where they are exploited, leading to local workers being undercut. Stamping out exploitation is needed to stop this. Yet it is also not migrants’ fault that British employers won’t train British workers, but instead raid the skilled workforces that other countries have paid to train up. This is why young people in Britain don’t get their fair share of the jobs.
The truth is all workers can be victims of globalised market forces. We need stronger collective bargaining and unionisation as the antidote – not the spreading of fear and hate.