Friday, February 9, 2024

News: Do the bosses still need the “race card”? (2001)

From the February 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

Do the bosses still need the “race card”?

According to a Home Office report released last month, Britain is facing its biggest rise in immigration for a generation. A combination of asylum seekers and people moving to join relatives are among the obvious reasons cited for this new trend, but, as the Times points out, “Britain’s need for workers has also fuelled the trend. The IT industry will need to recruit a further 540,000 people up to 2009, and the report suggests that the custom of employing migrants for seasonal work on farms could be extended to other areas”.

The message should be unequivocally clear. The needs of capitalism are always paramount, so, since a skills/labour shortage and an ageing society has emerged, we can perhaps expect to hear less perjorative language in the media about being “flooded” or “swamped” by “foreigners”. Indeed, Home Office minister Barbara Roche greeted the report by extolling the virtues of immigration.

This European-wide phenomena was picked up by the Economist last year, which ran a cover story telling non-EU workers to “go for it!”. Quite pragmatic, it would seem, for a right-leaning journal.

However, this will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the history of capitalism. Immigrant workers have always been used to correct a disequilibrium in the labour market. The mass immigration of the 1950s, which underpinned the post-war boom, is a case in point. All things being equal, a labour shortage causes wages to rise and thus puts workers in a comparatively stronger bargaining position vis à vis overall working conditions. Naturally, our masters will always seek to counteract such a situation by importing (often cheaper, more compliant) workers, which in turn intensifies competition among workers, potentially fermenting xenophobia and racism. Needless to say, when demand for labour and/or skills slackens off, the capitalists play the infamous ‘race card’ in order to keep the working class divided.

Historically, this does not depend upon which party is in government. Both the Conservatives and Labour have promoted immigration and denounced it according to the dictates of the markets. Ideology alone does not pay capitalism’s bills!

The working class needs to remember that despite the nationalist and patriotic poison which is rammed down our throats from an early age, our bosses are actually quite open-minded. They will invest anywhere in the world, blazing a trail in their blood thirst quest for profit. Our class enemies may indeed be international,, we, however, are global

The Peter Principle

The resignation of Peter Mandelson from the Cabinet for a second time—an act unprecedented in British political history—has brought allegations of sleaze back to dog the government. Mandelson proved to be a Mr Fix-it in more ways than one but he was caught out and has now paid the price quite publicly. The danger for Labour is that the Party is now tainted in the eyes of the electorate by allegations of financial sleaze and collusion, haunted for the foreseeable future by ghosts like Mandelson and Geoffrey Robinson. Luckily for them, of course, the Tories still have political ghouls of their own to exorcise in Jonathan Aitken, Jeffrey Archer and Neil Hamilton, and so do not present any coherent or principled threat.

In truth, every government since the war has been beset by scandals at some point. Even the Liberals can’t afford to sound pious as it was Lloyd George who made a habit of selling peerages at a time before the phrase “cash for questions” was ever heard of.

When people delve under the surface of these scandals only one thing of real importance emerges. It is that there was nothing uniquely corruptible about any of these people, any more so than there is about Mandelson today, even if so many people love to demonise him. All scandals like this really go to prove is that it is the system we live within—the system of ruthless competition, greed and the power of money—that corrupts individuals, not individuals who corrupt an otherwise irreproachable system.

No more yogic flying

The Natural Law Party has announced that it is giving up contesting elections in Britain. So we are no longer to be amused by Party Political Broadcasts which promise to reduce violent crime and international tensions by the mass practice of “yogic flying”. Laughable, but in the end no less incredible than the claims of other parties to be able to solve capitalism’s problems by less outlandish, reformist measures.

The NLP never got many votes but that was never the aim. Contesting elections—and getting nation-wide television broadcasts and the free distribudon of millions of rnanifestos— was a marketing ploy by an international business empire headed by an Indian fakir calling himself the “Maharish Mahesh Yogi”. The aim was to get people to buy its transcendental mediation courses, herbal remedies, oils, aromas, “healing” gems, Hindu horoscopes, books, tapes, etc.

The NLP’s reason for giving up was that “the election system is stacked against new parties”. Maybe, but the real reason will have been the coming into force of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act which requires registered parties to disclose their accounts. This would have exposed the accounts of the “transcendental” business empire that financed the NLP to public gaze.

The NLP never was as amusing as it seemed, but was a flagrant example of how, under capitalism, Big Money can undermine the proclaimed principle of political democracy according to which everybody is supposed to have an equal say. In fact, the more money you have the louder you can proclaim your views.

Transport workers on strike in London and Belgium

As London Transport workers ballot on whether or not to go on strike, and the employers and the media prepare to whip up a campaign against them for “inconveniencing the public”, they could consider copying what their counterparts in Brussels did recently. From 22 December to 1 January, the buses, trams and metro in Brussels were free, as workers continued working but prevented the ticket machines from functioning as they pursued a claim for better wages and conditions. The public were not all inconvenienced. Just the reverse. And it showed that it is workers, not money, that make the world go round. What would the Evening Standard and the Daily Mail be able to say if this happened in London? No doubt they would accuse both the public and the workers of cheating the employers. Technically, this would be true and the courts might enforce it.

Ironically, less than a month previously, a court in Brussels had done just that. Three members of a group advocating free transport were fined £300 each for deliberately travelling without a ticket, using instead a “right to transport card”. In court they pleaded that the Declaration of the Rights of Man proclaimed a “right to free movement” which charging for using buses and trains infringed. A good point. The judge replied that “this right can be exercised by going by foot”. Which about sums up the value of grandiloquent “rights” under capitalism.

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