Wednesday, March 26, 2014

‘Immigrants’: A Voice From the Past (2014)

From the March 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Think-tanks galore are releasing studies about income inequality. The Tories preach free markets as the answer to it while conveniently ignoring the failure of ‘trickle down’ economics. The Labour Party suggests the need for more social programmes while its left-wing argues for a greater redistribution of income in order to level the playing field. Of course, they will ignore the fact that decades of state-sponsored interventions have failed . What happens when inequality rises? Usually, a demagogue turns up to stir up the discontent and he or she will point the finger at ‘them’ for making things worse for ‘us’. It is all too easy to blame outsiders for causing problems such as unemployment, the housing crisis or even crime.

The employers pay as much as they have to pay, in order to carry out their profit-making enterprises. The employers pay scant attention to the cost of living, much less its quality. They pay for their workers what they have to on the open market. They do not care whether you are of 100 percent Anglo-Saxon stock, related to the best families in the land or just another ‘damned foreigner.’ The workers found this out long ago and began to organise unions, pledging one another not to work below a certain price. If they worked to get all available workers into the union and if they vigorously practised solidarity, they were better able to shift more of the burden of economic necessity from their own shoulders to the employer’s, and make him pay them a ‘living’ wage.

‘A Voice From The Aliens’  may possibly be one of the earliest appeals against blaming ‘immigrants’. It was produced in 1895 and was published in the name of several Jewish trade unions. Jewish refugees started to come to this country in the 1880s, fleeing from persecution and pogroms in Eastern Europe and Tsarist Russia. At this time there were no immigration controls. However, there was very quickly racist agitation for such controls and unfortunately some in the trade union movement took up the demand for restrictions. Those who today argue for a ‘just’ immigration policy ought to realise that over a century ago some trade unionists were fighting controls in principle. They rejected the notion of ‘fair’ controls and instead appealed for workers’ solidarity against a system that exploits all workers.
‘It is, and always has been, the policy of the ruling classes to attribute the sufferings and miseries of the masses (which are natural consequences of class rule and class exploitation) to all sorts of causes except the real ones. The cry against the foreigner is not merely peculiar to England ; it is international. Everywhere he is the scapegoat for other's sins. Every class finds in him an enemy. So long as the Anti-Alien sentiment in this country was confined to politicians, wire-pullers, and to individual working men, we, the organised aliens, took no heed; but when this ill-founded sentiment has been officially expressed by the organised working men of England, then we believe that it is time to lift our voices and argue the matter out...’
The pamphlet counters with the conclusion:
 ' [it]not rather the capitalist class (which is constantly engaged in taking trade abroad, in opening factories in China, Japan, and other countries) who is the enemy, and whether it is not rather their duty to combine against the common enemy than fight against us whose interests are identical with theirs...’