Migrant Rights ARE Workers’ Rights!


29/09/2016 by socialistfight

Socialist Fight Statement 19-9-2016


In fact, it is likely that it was his critical stance on the EU that saved Labour from being completely undermined in England and Wales, outside London, in the way it was wiped out in Scotland in the 2015 general election. It was Labour’s joint neo-liberal campaign with the Tories against Scottish independence that drove Labour’s discontented working class base to the SNP. It is not difficult to imagine something similar happening South of the border if the Blairites had had their way over the EU referendum. The Blairites are fully aware of this; their propaganda against Corbyn on the EU is reflective of their indifference to the very survival of the Labour Party.

In the aftermath of the narrow vote for Brexit on 23 June, there has been a major escalation of racist and chauvinist attacks on both East European workers, and people from long established ethnic minorities such as Afro-Caribbeans and South Asians. Social media has highlighted the frequency and nature of these attacks, with racist thugs loudly proclaiming that ‘we’ the ‘indigenous’ population had voted to ‘get rid’ of ‘foreigners’, and some of the reality has found its way into the mainstream media.

Polish and East European workers have been the targets: leaflets have been pushed through doors threatening ‘Polish vermin’ with violence. Polish cultural centres have been attacked and daubed with racist graffiti, and there have been a rash of violent attacks, including the disgusting murder of a Polish man, Arkadiusz Jóźwik, over the August Bank holiday weekend, in Harlow, Essex. This was followed up by another violent assault a week or so later in the same town.

Black and Asian people have been abused and threatened by pro-Brexit racists and told to ‘go home’. These incidents are just a small sample of a large litany of incidents. The Institute of Race Relations compiled a list of well over 100 incidents in the month after the referendum vote just by monitoring media (http://www.irr.org.uk/news/post-brexit-racism/). But even these are undoubtedly only a small fraction of what is actually going on. Many victims of abuse and even violent racial crime do not report such incidents because of justified distrust of the police and the legal system.

Leave, Remain, and Xenophobic Bigotry

This wave of racial abuse and violence can be put at the door of the bourgeois politicians on both sides of the recent referendum vote. The entire thrust of Johnson, Gove and Farage’s ‘Leave’ campaigning was whipping up hatred of migrant workers; but the bulk of the ‘Remain’ side was no better, endorsing both fortress Europe racism against migrant workers and demands for an ‘emergency brake’ on European migration, agreeing with the Leave side that migrants were to be treated as an enemy population.

Theresa May, now Prime Minister and pro-Remain, was responsible for sending vans with the hate message ‘Go Home’ (ostensibly to illegal immigrants, though in the small print) touring round areas with heavily immigrant communities in the recent past.

Not only East European migrants but also Syrian and Middle Eastern refugees were targets for the hatred of the Leave campaign as Farage in particular banged the drum against those fleeing the wars the West and the Israelis have waged in the Middle East. These wars destroyed Iraq and Libya and continue to destabilise great swathes of the Fertile Crescent and North Africa, in pursuit of the objective of creating anarchy, social collapse and fragmentation of the Arab world in particular. This is not only aimed at asserting US global hegemony but also at preventing any coherent Arab unification that may threaten Israel’s ability to seize Arab land with impunity.

Often the patter that came from the pro-Remain Tories and Blarities was that staying in the EU was the way to halt EU migrants and refugees though a deal with the EU itself, whereas an ‘isolated’ UK would not get cooperation from the EU. This was desperate stuff on the part of the Remain campaign, cringing in the face of the anti-immigrant populism that has gained much influence in British society because of the relative absence of working class politics for more than two decades.

Labour movement chauvinism

Even where elements of working class politics existed, it often undermined itself because of its parliamentary reformism and thus programmatic ties to the nation-state. Britain is not just any old nation state; however, much it may have declined from its heyday of empire, it is still an imperialist state and a key, if junior, partner of the United States in its imperialist crusades around the world.

Therefore, British national sentiment does not contain any element of justification or a struggle against oppression, as does, say, Palestinian, Irish or Latin American nationalism. It is reactionary pure and simple – we as Marxists do not support the ‘right’ of British chauvinists, even those with ties to the labour movement, to exclude or restrict migrants from British soil.

Unfortunately, the Labour left has been historically bound to reformist schemes involving the nation- state here as a potential vehicle for reforms in the supposed interests of the working class. And it is true that real gains have been won within the framework of the national state: the existence of the National Health Service is apparently a case in point. Legislated into existence by Attlee’s post WWII Labour government, it was the realisation of a proposal actually made by Beveridge, a Liberal peer, during the war.

But it is profoundly misleading to see the NHS as a product of national reformism. It was rather one of a series of concessions made by the ruling classes in the imperialist countries in circumstances of the extreme discredit that fascism threatened to bring upon capitalism itself at that time. In order to try to obscure the connection between fascist barbarism and the capitalist system, relatively generous social welfare concessions were made to the working class across the imperialist world.

It was fear that the widespread hatred of workers for fascism would come to be directed against the system itself, and lead to its revolutionary overthrow, that led the imperialists to adopt ‘welfare capitalism’ as a disguise for the system.

Only decades later, at the dawn of the neo-liberal era in the 1970s, would capitalism seriously break with the ‘welfare capitalism’ consensus and launch a prolonged, but often quite cautious, offensive against these gains. It is the potential for class struggle on an international level that offers the hope of defeating and reversing this offensive, not a return to delusions about ‘national’ reformism. But that is one of the key weaknesses of the Labour Left.

‘Lexit’ Delusion

Thus the most ‘radical’ elements of the left campaigned for so called ‘Lexit’ – left wing exit, in the name of Britain taking control of its sovereignty from the EU in order to elect a left government that could legislate for socialism, or at least some serious social reform. This is the ideology that motivated the likes of No2EU in the past, leading elements of the RMT Rail Union, the Socialist Party, the SWP, and in the referendum itself, George Galloway.

The problem is that, reformist illusions aside, Britain is an imperialist country and the demand for its ‘sovereignty’ – which was never violated in any case but merely voluntarily and partially delegated to EU institutions – can only have reactionary consequences. The result is that organisations and individuals who were and still are among the most subjectively fervent opponents of racism and chauvinism against immigrants, and who have led movements that have mobilised millions to protest against imperialism’s worst recent crimes, find themselves rubbing shoulders with reactionary chauvinists like Farage and even endorsing demands for immigration restrictions on migrant workers.

This is the dead end of nationalist reformism. Galloway for instance had the courage to openly side with Iraqi resistance against British and US imperialism, but in the referendum this most pro-immigrant of Labour politicians was rubbing shoulders with Farage and denouncing ‘unrestricted’ immigration.

Militant/Socialist Party have always flinched from opposing immigration controls as a matter of principle, as part of their accommodation with imperialism, including such manifestations as Zionism and Ulster Loyalism, thus showing their chauvinist, parliamentarist deviation from Marxism.

The SWP (and its splinter group Counterfire), which historically stood, at least in theory, for the abolition of all immigration controls, nevertheless lined up in a victorious campaign politically dominated by anti-migrant chauvinists like the Tory right and Farage.

Corbyn and the EU

Jeremy Corbyn historically had similar views on the EU to the Bennites that are probably most characteristically associated today with George Galloway (since the Greek debacle, prior to which he was actually pro-EU). Corbyn called for a critical ‘Remain’ vote in the referendum. He was savagely attacked by the pro-Remain Blairite PLP for his critical stance, as part of the political rationale for the coup aimed at unseating him.

In fact, it is likely that it was his critical stance on the EU that saved Labour from being completely undermined in England and Wales, outside London, in the way it was wiped out in Scotland in the 2015 general election. It was Labour’s joint neo-liberal campaign with the Tories against Scottish independence that drove Labour’s discontented working class base to the SNP. It is not difficult to imagine something similar happening South of the border if the Blairites had had their way over the EU referendum.

The Blairites are fully aware of this; their propaganda against Corbyn on the EU is reflective of their indifference to the very survival of the Labour Party.

Corbyn’s ‘Remain and Reform’ stance on the EU at least defended the rights of migrant workers. He has talked of ‘solidarity’ when confronted with chauvinist agitation against migrant workers in the labour movement. His perspective of reforming the EU, however, is indeed another variant of left reformism, as the EU itself is a capitalist, neoliberal bloc dominated by imperialist states like France and Germany, and not a vehicle for gains for the working class. Greece showed that very clearly.

We do not endorse the EU’s single market for labour and capital, just as we do not endorse capitalist markets in general. But we do defend workers’ rights, and a key right of any worker is the right to sell his or her labour for the highest price s/he can get. We are opposed to all restrictions on this, including chauvinist ones that purport to benefit one section of the working class (‘indigenous’) workers against another migrant section.

Proletarian internationalism not labour protectionism

Working class support for labour protectionism actually helps capital to divide the working class along national lines and severely damages the possibility of international solidarity. And since capitalism has become more and more internationalised for many decades, and the IT revolution in the more recent decades has made capital flight qualitatively easier, international solidarity is going to be a crucial weapon even in defensive struggles in many countries, both imperialist and semi-colonial, in the future. Without it, the working class will suffer more very damaging defeats.

One positive effect of migration is that it brings into existence, despite all the strains, an international working class, not as an abstraction, but as a material reality. That has always been true of capitalism. In an earlier period, by drawing into the cities and industry enormous numbers of former poor peasants, it created its potential gravedigger in subsequent generations. This is also true of migration: and it is why all kinds of reactionary backward –looking bourgeois nationalists hate migration and migrant workers.

We as socialists and supporters of workers’ rights, in the Labour Party, have to make a leap of our understanding, and realise that migrant workers’ rights ARE workers’ rights.

Just as much as the right to join trade unions and to strike and struggle for better wages and conditions, so the right to seek work where the best conditions are available is also indivisible for workers. To say otherwise is to poison the relations between sections of workers with different national origins, and so destroy the prospect of class solidarity both domestically and internationally. In effect, such chauvinism encourages different groups of workers to scab on other’s struggles.

We need to fight to win so-called ‘indigenous’ workers to defend migrant workers’ rights and struggles as the same as their own. We need to organise a movement that will physically defend migrant workers against racist and xenophobic attacks, whether from organised non-state racists and fascists, or indeed the state.

The new Labour left should have no truck with labour protectionism, but should adopt as its own the slogan:



10 thoughts on “Migrant Rights ARE Workers’ Rights!

  1. If selling their labor power at the highest price they can get is a fundamental workers’ right, then workers have a right to break strikes.

    [Why do you suppose that Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, or Luxemburg never announced this supposed workers’ right that you’ve discovered?]


    • Oh come on Stephen. This is just a quibble for the sake of it. Obviously we are speaking of the rights of immigrants to find work here.

      It has nothing to do with respecting picket lines, respecting genuine pickets is an obligation on all workers irrespective of origin.


      • Not a quibble, a question about theoretical justification, with implications for program. You ground the right of migrants finding work here in a broader right to sell labor-power at the best price. I don’t think there’s such a right, and a gave you a counter-example to prove it. The right which grounds defense against deportation is the bourgeois-democratic right of residents of a country to the rights of citizens.

        Rather than a quibble, this is the source of our difference on open borders.


  2. Ian says:

    The problem is that the logic of your position is not the working class relying on its own strength, including its ability to organise and politicise, across national borders, to win and defend social gains. The labour protectionist position that equates migration into a particular labour market with strike breaking, implies a strategic alliance of workers in better paid countries with their own bosses against migrant/foreign workers. This is the working class cutting it’s own throat politically, and politically enslaving itself to its own ruling class.


    • I certainly don’t equate migration with strikebreaking. (Obviously, I’m for defending migrants against deportation, and I don’t defend strikebreakers. Where would you get such an idea?) The point has to do with theoretical rationale. I’m saying your rationale for the “free movement of labor” – the right to sell labor power at the best price – justifies strikebreaking. Since we agree that no Marxist would justify strikebreaking, we can conclude that your *analysis* (the right to sell labor power at the best price) is wrong. No progress will be made on the question of migration policy without considering the theoretical basis for the claims.

      You don’t have to be a protectionist to oppose the open-borders slogan. (I’m not a protectionist, and I oppose it.) Marxists should counterpose the social control of migration to both protectionism and the “free market.” Gerry’s comment lays bare the pro-capitalist nature of open borderism and immigration reformism. Holding that workers have a basic right to sell labor at the best price reduces, on this question, Marxism to neoliberalism.


      • Ian, did you see that Hillary Clinton spoke in favor of open borders at Goldman Sachs? (WikiLeaks.) Open borders and protectionism are two sides of the same reactionary coin. Marxists should favor collective control over migration as part of an international socialist planned economy, not the “free” movement of labor.


  3. Ian says:

    Did she? I’d be very surprised if she was for open borders in principle, as opposed to relatively open as compared to a more restrictive policy advocated by someone else.

    The bourgeoisie cannot abolish the nation state, even though capitalist development makes it obsolete. Only the working class has an objective class interest in abolishing the nation state, an aspiration that is clearly there in Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto from 1847.

    Different trends within the bourgeoisie have different emphases within this contradiction. But the proletariat has its own historic interest in pushing this beyond the limits that capital can cope with.


    • Her precise statement was: “My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, some time in the future with energy that is as green and sustainable as we can get it, powering growth and opportunity for every person in the hemisphere.” (https://wikileaks.org/podesta-emails/emailid/927)

      Abolishing the nation state is a proletarian task, not a demand. The _demand_ to abolish the state is anarchist. It’s utopianism doesn’t render it progressive.


      • Ian says:

        So in other words, a pan-American version of the EU. Which would really be a greater USA given US hegemony over the Americas. We should oppose that because of the expansion of US power that would involve, but if it came into being, agitating against the ‘open borders’ element of it would mean cutting against its tendency to internationalise the proletariat.

        The migration of workers from countries in Latin America with a higher level of class consciousness than than in the US can obviously provide benefits to the US proletariat. And it would not be the first time this happened, as the fructifying role of Russian and other East European Jewish workers in the US showed last century. Even if this later fell victim to upward mobility and chauvinism, it was still in its time a progressive phenomenon.

        It is the task of communists to gtasp every opportunity to internationalise the prolelariat that arises from capitalism’s insoluble contradiction regarding the nation-state. We may not be able to abolish the nation state without state power on a multi-nation/multi-state level, but we must do every thing to prepare the proletariat for power at that international level and to carry out that task. How is that remotely like anarchism, which rejects proletarian state power, not the nation per se?


  4. 1. Anarchists reject the centrally planned economy. The open-borders program is anarchist because it rejects collective control over the movement of labor in favor of the liberty of workers to choose the location where they’re employed. Historically, the Marxist movement has never called for the end of all immigration controls – although Marxists have consistently opposed advocating a protectionist program. Put simply, I’ve never gotten an answer to why “open borders” was not part of the Transitional Program. It’s not as though there weren’t immigration issues. The labor market isn’t the communist answer.

    2. Although the issue is secondary to the above, I also think you vastly overstate the internationalizing influence of migration. Migrants have contributed to Marxism and to the labor movement but, as to the overall effect of migration on the American labor movement, Engels correctly regarded immigration as the major cause of the backwardness of U.S. labor. (Letter to Sorge.) Has the European Union facilitated the unity of European labor? It’s certainly not clear that it has. In fact, the opposite seems the case.

    3. A movement to stop the deportations and provide migrants with full citizenship rights is possible under capitalism. I see this as a radical bourgeois-democratic measure. But such a movement will not lead to open borders. To the contrary, if the ruling class understands that anyone entering the American labor market has the rights of a citizen will mean that the ruling class will begin to seriously enforce their borders.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

WRP Explosion

WRP Explosion

WRP Explosion

%d bloggers like this: