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Highlighting news stories important to the Civic Republican
particularly those that are overlooked or little covered in the main media.
The debate on immigration is raging. It will continue into the next election and beyond. There are really only two sides to the debate and there is an absolute schism between them. This divide is intensified by the fact that it corresponds to a divide in the nation between the political and middle classes who are not directly touched by immigration and the less well off people living in less affluent areas who are.
The exception to this alignment is UKIP, which is able to represent the latter’s interests, through its anti-European Union politics. Everyone recognises this is a great part of UKIPs extraordinary success.
The focus of the immigration debate is on EU migrants from Eastern Europe. There are others, but we can control them - and they tend to disappear into the population mix. The Poles and the Romanians tend hang together in specific places looking for the lower paid jobs and so are conspicuous. The difference they make to employment prospects, housing provision and pressure on social services is palpable for the people living in those same places.
These people complain. But what is the response to them from the political classes?
They are given a history lesson in how immigration has in the past been good for Britain, how it has contributed to a healthy cultural mix and how it is part of traditional, British tolerance and openness. They are reminded of how the Huguenots came to England in the seventeenth century and the West Indians did in the 1950s and how they became a valued part of our society.
And it seems practically every commentator or politician can claim to be descended from immigrant stock – their own undoubted virtues a testimony to the desirability of immigration in general.
History is always important, but not necessarily relevant. If the times, we now live in, have changed dramatically then we need to look at the subject through a different lens. And times have changed far beyond those of earlier years when we welcomed immigration. The big sea change of recent years lies, as everyone recognises, in globalisation – globalisation of everything from selling goods and services, to movements of capital and, most crucially for the subject of immigration, the globalisation of the labour market.
To understand why immigration is so resented by many British people now, you have to see that it is just one part of this globalisation of labour. It is far from being the only one and probably not the most important. But it is a highly visible one. The others generally hide under a bushel.
A while ago I heard about a teacher in a secondary school who told his pupils the following tale. If you want to succeed in the world that you are going to enter, you will have to compete with the Chinese. The Chinese work for a small fraction of what British workers do and are happy to do so. With the globalisation of the labour market, your competitor is no longer your fellow Britons, or even fellow Europeans, but the people in China. In fact, you will be competing with your labour with everyone, everywhere.
The result of this particular globalisation is plain. If wages are to be equalised everywhere, they can only go in one direction for us. Firmly downwards.
This is not theory. It is fact. Any economist will tell you that wages in the western world have been falling since the 1980s and show no sign of turning around. We are destined to become poorer and poorer. Globalisation is an inevitable fact of our modern world, so the decline in living standards for us in the west is equally unavoidable. Like the teacher said.
The globalisation of the labour market works in various different ways – but always with the same effect - of reducing incomes. A striking example was when James Dyson decided to uproot his manufacturing from Britain and re-establish it in the Far East. There was just one factor in his calculation – labour costs. The British worker was directly put into competition with his or her far eastern counterpart and lost the race.
With the policy of so-called Free Trade, Dyson’s vacuum cleaners could re-enter the British market and other markets at a reduced price.
Such globalisation of the labour market has a long history, stretching back to the late eighteenth century when the weavers of Northern England lost out to cheaper labour in India. But it is only in the last thirty years or so that it has become so intense.
We have all had the experience of surprise at just how cheap some items of clothing can be. That surprise should be the surprise at just how little people in other countries are paid. But our wages are being constantly screwed down in relation to the cost of living that we cannot but take a small, guilty pleasure in the bargain.
Coming back to our central topic, today’s immigration from Eastern Europe, this has to be understood in relation to this overall drive to globalisation of the labour market. Here the context is the European Union, but the underlying narrative is the same.
The EU created the right of labour mobility within its borders so, in spite of what some party politicians may say, there is nothing we can do to stop Poles and Romanians coming in. They can earn three or more times what they would earn in their own country. This is nothing to do with welcoming immigrants because we are an open tolerant country. It is all about driving down wages of lower income groups, subjecting them to the cold wind of labour globalisation.
Nigel Farage is right. We can only stop this by quitting the EU. But that would not address the other even grander worldwide aspects of this process.
The politicians are trying to hoodwink the people by dressing up East European immigration as a cultural matter. But the people most directly affected are not so easily fooled. They see the direct effect on their communities and job prospects.
And all the talk about these migrants coming for the easily-had benefits is just a smoke screen. They don’t come for that. Reducing their eligibility, even if allowable by the EU, won’t make a scrap of difference. They don’t want our social benefits. They want our jobs.
And we never even spend a moment thinking about what the exodus of labour and skills does to countries being vacated. They have paid for these people to be educated and trained, often for high level professions, and Britain then takes advantage. This is nothing less than a theft from those countries. Why bother to pay for training here when you can let a less affluent country in the east pay for it? How can it make sense to even the most ardent globaliser to have doctors from Poland sweeping factory floors in Britain?
This globalisation ultimately works to the advantage of only one set of people – the international financial classes. People like James Dyson who create and run businesses are not to blame. Dyson moved his operations out of Britain to survive. That is all.
It is a pity that the political classes cannot just admit why we encourage so much immigration in this country. It is nothing to do with the Huguenots. Frankly, they have been flogged to death.
Our politicians are bought by the financial classes who want to channel even more of our wealth into their bank accounts in Her Majesty’s tax haven. The globalisation of labour and the consequent downward pressure on wages does just that.
Forget culture and tolerance. This is what excessive immigration is all about.