"British jobs for British workers”. A UK Independence Party slogan? British National Party? National Front? Right now it comes from Labour prime minister Gordon Brown.
At the TUC conference in September, Brown talked about “British workers”, “British jobs” and “British living standards” (don’t mention the 2% public sector pay limit...) with such unashamed nationalism that even a few union general secretaries felt compelled to rebuke him. Now he has upped the ante.
At the end of last month, after the Government admitted that it had underestimated the number of migrant workers in Britain by hundreds of thousands, Brown tried to fight back with a straightforward appeal to xenophobic bigotry. “British jobs for British workers”, a slogan used by the BNP in the 1980s and the NF in the 1970s, became an official part of Government policy.
The Queen’s Speech (6 November) announced a new “points system” for migrants from outside the European Union. This means that people with wealth, or advanced qualifications of the sort more easily gained by those from a well-off family background, get in. The less well-off are kept out. There will be a compulsory English test. You will be tested if you come from Colombia or India, but not if you come from France or Sweden. This has rightly been dubbed “lace curtain racism”. (It also comes at a time when the Government is cutting English as a Second Language provision.) The left must condemn Brown’s appeal to bigotry. But it is also important to grasp New Labour’s lying and hypocrisy.
As a party which serves the British capitalist class, New Labour wants more migrant labour in Britain — skilled and unskilled. That is why most new jobs created here since 1997 have gone to migrant workers. “British jobs for British workers” is demagogy.
It would be illegal under EU law, as the Tories and others have pointed out, and
anyway impossible to implement without reverting to a siege economy. No serious
capitalist demands it.
What can Brown achieve by the slogan? The denial of proper rights for asylum-seekers or of rights which would allow migrant workers to assert their rights and get organised. They want a steady flow of migrant
labour, but one firmly under capitalist control. At the same time, they aim to appeal to disillusioned white working-class voters, and win the competition with the Tories for “middle-class” right-wingers. Hence their contortions and doublespeak on immigration.
By his blundering, Brown has opened the door to a Tory offensive on immigration,
welfare reform and a whole range of issues. In our counter-attack, the left must be very clear.
We must oppose economic nationalism, the points system, language tests and the rest of it. We must demand open borders: the repeal of all anti-immigration and asylum legislation. And we must fight for the labour movement to organise all workers, British-born or migrant, legal or illegal, in resistance
to this anti-working-class government.