there's nothing free about the 'free movement of labour'
WORKERS, JUNE 2004 ISSUE
BRITAIN — the welcoming new home within an enlarged European Union for all fleeing war, starvation and desperate poverty? Impossible, of course. Why, then, the confusion, deliberate and naive, concerning the free movement of labour? The government, its EU masters and its placemen and women in the trade unions are orchestrating the most systematic and deliberate campaign to exacerbate the confusion.
To begin with, the "free movement of labour" deserves closer attention. It is not about race, culture or victims, nor is it to do with enriching societies by introducing diversity: it concerns economics and at its root, the selling of commodities - literally people in this case. Whether workers' labour is "free", "moving", enslaved or otherwise, it is always a class question.
In some societies slavery was the main form of labour — ancient Greece and Rome depended on it — but with the development of productive forces it became more profitable to the ruling class to find other ways of exploiting the labour of others. It reflects on the backward, unequal societies and cultures that slavery still exists in Africa and parts of the Middle East. It is also significant that for the first time in over 100 years in Britain, the Anti-Slavery Society, that bastion of petit-bourgeois guilt-cleansing Victoriana, has started to grow.
Slaver-owning exists across the world, including Britain — though here it is hidden. It was imported by the liberalism which believes all cultures are equal and that therefore the direct slave-owning cultures of the backward so-called Third World should have an acceptance and tolerance here. For all the breast-beating about one tragic child slain because her stepfather was a drug dealer, the Metropolitan Police's bald estimate that a minimum of 200 children a week arrive at Heathrow Airport whose destination and fate are unknown — other than being trafficked — raises not a murmur.
Meanwhile, the trafficking of estimated thousands of women and children into Britain's misnamed "sex industry" has turned London into the brothel and venereal disease capital of Europe. These people are not free labourers in any sense of the word, and should be considered as slaves — illegal in Britain.
But what about those who volunteer for the worst kind of wage slavery, those who risk their lives to come here illegally to work for starvation wages?
The recent deaths of 21 Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay or the 60 smuggled Chinese in the back of a lorry in Dover last year, reflects that this modern-day slave trade runs to the Far East as well as Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe. A recently jailed father and son from East Anglia are estimated to have made £10 million in the last three years from smuggling people.
The importation of labour is an abuse of the term "free movement of labour" because it is about exploitation. The Chinese cockle pickers, the farm hands, the workers stuffing goods for supermarket chains, are all about employers getting away with paying rates of £1 per hour or less.
Until recently, the term "gangmaster" survived only in the most backward areas of East Anglia. Now it has resurfaced across Britain and reflects the old agricultural work, construction sites and docks of the 19th century with their casual labour and starvation wages.
Immigration into Britain has always been about bringing in labour cheaper than that done by established workers. It has never been about charitable employers cleansing their consciences by offering jobs to the poor downtrodden who happen to be elsewhere in the globe. It has been about bringing in labour that would accept wages established British workers would refuse — whether the historic Irish labour working on railways, canals and roads as navvies or the Caribbean immigration in the 1950s and 1960s for jobs on London Transport or in nursing. These people were quickly unionised.
Immigration from Pakistan and India during the 1960s and 1970s into the mills and textiles factories of Yorkshire and the North West was a deliberate attempt to try and depress already depressed wages. It is to the honour of a number of Pakistani and Indian Communists who ensured that the rate for the job was known, that the men joined the union and had begun to learn the language of the employer — English — before they landed.
How reliance on overseas teachers is dragging down London's education London schools have long attracted teachers from overseas to come and work. In the days of the Inner London Education Authority, the opportunities for professional development in a world-class inner-city education system which stood for excellence in classroom practice and provision, was appealing, particularly to english-speaking teachers from Australia, New Zealand and Canada who would stop off in London for a year or so before travelling in Europe. Nowadays a spell in London schools is still good for a CV back home, but conditions are not the same. Overseas teachers from places like South Africa and the Caribbean desperate to retain their skills, and increasingly from eastern Europe, are brought here by agencies to work on a termly or daily basis at far lower pay rates than permanently employed teachers. If their qualifications are not recognised by the DfES — now often the case — this is no longer a bar to work. They are simply employed short-term on the unqualified rate. Many, working in the most difficult schools which are desperate to fill empty posts, are shocked by the reality of these London classrooms. The costs of living in London eat away at wage rates which looked good at home. So some schools are effectively filling posts with a turnover of often unqualified teachers — the effect on children's education is obvious. The response of teacher unions has been confused. The proper tactic of recruiting teachers into the union and demanding they become fully qualified by British standards (insisted on in the past by the unions themselves) is undermined by calls for the DfES to recognise all overseas qualifications and for pay parity in the name of equal opportunities — the unqualified to be paid equally with the qualified.
Now we see another wave of immigration to fill underpaid jobs. The 44,000 overseas doctors, nurses and health professionals working in the NHS reflect the refusal of this government to train and adequately pay the numbers required to fill those jobs from workers already resident in Britain.
The theatre staffing in one hospital has more than 50% overseas nurses. The professional registration body for nurses does require them to pass an English test before they are able to register and work. And when the shift on duty is primarily Philippino, then that becomes the preferred language with the result that British nurses are reporting they feel isolated at work.
Meanwhile, health services worldwide are sucked dry, and developing nations plundered of the skills and resources required to build and staff their own health services.
Cleaning and domestic staff, many illegal, have long been ruthlessly exploited on minimal wages. This situation has only begun to change in recent years with the unions vigorously enforcing the minimum wage as a starting point.
Once the employers in the public services cannot get away with poverty wages, then the value of employing unskilled, probably non-English speaking, non-numerate, non-literate, illegal labour loses its appeal. There are areas in hospitals where immigrants outnumber British staff, almost to their exclusion.
And yet some of the the larger contracting companies are starting to realise that illiterate labour is a poor basis for securing market share and profitability. So even these vulture companies are having to embrace the trade unions, lifelong learning programmes, government training schemes etc so as to lift the skill level and quality of service.
It is estimated that in 1985 over 105 million people worldwide were economic migrants and that by 2000 this figure had risen to over 175 million. These figures will continue to rise with the expansion of the EU eastwards.
It is further estimated that the wages of migrant labour worldwide results in over $150 billion dollars of income returning to those originating nations. This figure is far higher than aid programmes and handouts.
What has been known for years is that foreign aid has only aided imperialism and has been a contributing factor to ensuring poverty by subverting agricultural markets to supermarket demands or by shifting industrial production to Third World nations. Migrant wages now keep the rest of the family alive.
In Singapore, for example, slavery by another name staffs the construction, cleaning, and caring industry. After years of limits on population growth (no more than two children), Singapore realised it had insufficient people to ensure the country could function. Workers are imported, and are employed on a variety of short-term contracts. Six-month contracts are issued to single workers, who live in camps and are paid a pittance. Families must be left at home. Any dissent and the immigrant is sent packing on the next boat home.
In British trade unions it is being argued that the migration of labour is a positive development but it is not. Instead the discussion should be about how to build the self-sufficiency and indigenous industries in those countries so as to free them from dependency and the need to ship their young men and women around the world.
The British trade unions have got to stop pandering to guilt and liberalism when they bleat about the desirability and acceptability of the "free movement of labour". They have got to stop promoting the ideologies of the EU. It is only in capitalism's favour to have free flow of goods, capital, services and labour.
Have the words of the Communist Manifesto, written over 150 years ago, been lost on our modern-day social democrats: "The bourgeoisie...compels all nations, extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e. to become bourgeois themselves."
The British trade unions should stop pushing the diversion of racism in discussions concerning migrant labour. If we want to tackle racism then we should address the unemployment rates among Black British youth, running at three times their white/Asian peer group, by getting that group into work. There is now a widespread culture of unemployment, benefit dependency, unemployability, with whatever explanations — drugs, criminality, destruction of industry, destruction of community, a loss of class consciousness and identity.
It suits the employing class to have a reserve army of labour which is not steeped in the traditions and culture of the working class, which does not belong to a trade union, does not understand the history or the language and whose first priority is to ensure that the family left at home eats — let alone pay off the loan-shark smugglers that thousands of such workers are indebted to for the rest of their working lives.
The issue is one of class not race. It is a question of regenerating our class — forget the shopping malls with their low-wage jobs.
The Communist Manifesto charged workers with many tasks. One of these was that: "The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie." That means that the working class, wherever they are in the world and faced with whatever difficulties there may be, need to be clear that they must sort out their own problems at home and take control and not look elsewhere for wages or a better life. If life is dire at home, then they must become the catalyst to change it. No revolutionary from Russia, China, Vietnam, Cuba or wherever else thought the problems at home could be resolved by becoming a migrant worker.
As long as workers fool themselves that globalisation of labour is unchallengeable or that mass migration is acceptable, then capitalism will always triumph. For this line to be espoused in the trade unions is criminal. The mass transfer of British manufacturing jobs over the last 30 years to the European Union or China or India, poses the same challenge to British workers: stand and fight or become stateless, identity-less, another band of travelling, cheap labourers.
"Workers of all Countries, unite!", not "Workers of all Countries, migrate!" How patronising for our own trade unions to try and foist a programme that creates division. Workers can have organisation, unity and discipline in any workplace. Any worker who comes to Britain should join their union, learn English and understand the history and culture of these islands. That culture is very simple: there are those who exploit and there are those who labour: we unite to defeat the former.
We are not for the free flow of capital, goods, services or labour, for this is mere code for capitalism's continued looting of the world. We are for self-sufficiency, self-reliance, mutual exchange and co-operation, sovereignty and non-interference, development and equality and an end to exploitation — especially of labour.
The impact of migrant labour on the home country: what happens when doctors migrate from Old Europe to New Europe At Karlovy Vary hospital near the Czech Republic's western border with Germany, Dr Roman Brazdil, head of the intensive care unit, is facing an acute problem. In the past 18 months four doctors have quit his ward, and more are set to leave now that the door to the European Union is open, with 10 nations, mainly former Soviet bloc states like the Czech Republic, having joined the EU on May 1. "Once we are in the European Union there is nothing to stop doctors leaving, especially when they can earn up to eight times more abroad," Brazdil said in a recent interview. Joining the EU means automatic recognition for qualifications gained anywhere in the bloc and no formal requirement to prove language proficiency. And several Western countries are now actively recruiting doctors from the new member states, which are Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Doctors' journals in several of the new member countries are full of advertisements for lucrative work packages in Western Europe. With a doctor's basic monthly salary around 800 euros in Hungary and as low as 420 euros in Poland and 312 euros in Latvia it's easy to see why many physicians are tempted to work abroad. The result of this brain drain is that some hospitals could be left with a shortage of healthworkers. "We fear that after 1 May we will lack medical specialists," Polish Doctors Chamber spokeswoman Iwona Raszke-Rostkowska, told the news agency AFP. "Polish doctors are already leaving for Germany, Britain and Sweden where they are regarded as good specialists and very prized," she said. But it is hard for the hospitals they leave. "You can't just replace a specialist with 10 or 12 years' experience overnight," Brazdil said. Border regions like Karlovy Vary are particularly susceptible. Doctors can commute to better-paying countries while continuing to live at home without having to relocate their families. Milan Kubek, chairman of the Czech doctors' trade union, said that while the average Czech doctor's monthly salary, including overtime, was 35,000 koruna (1,070 euros), Czech doctors could earn up to seven times a month more in Britain. "If we want doctors to stay in the Czech Republic, their salaries must be raised significantly," he said. Kubek emphasised that another reason doctors were tempted to go abroad was greater professional and further study opportunities. Officials admit they are concerned. "I personally have deep concerns that doctors and nurses from Latvia could move to other EU states after enlargement," Rinalds Mucins, Latvian heath minister, told AFP. Mucins expects that mostly young people with language skills will be tempted abroad. "We have to solve several tough tasks. The most urgent are wages, workloads and the education system," the minister said, adding, "It is not easy." A Hungarian health ministry spokeswoman said the issue was "worrying" and was currently being researched by the ministry. She said the Hungarian health system already lacks five percent of the medical personnel it needs. Petr Ottinger, Slovakia's deputy minister of health, said the greatest risk is faced by smaller hospitals in the regions. Czech Health Minister Marie Souckova said however that limited and temporary migration was not necessarily negative. "It is not a bad thing if doctors go abroad to get some valuable experience. Most of them will come back," she told AFP. But will they? Many young newly-qualified doctors such as Hungarian Peter Salstig, aged 30, are impatient to leave as soon as they finish their studies. "As soon as I qualified two years ago I started looking for a job abroad and am now earning 10 times as much in Switzerland as I would in Hungary."