Don Flynn, Brexit and Free movement

In CHARTIST 281, Don Flynn calls on Labour to tackle exploitation in the labour market


There is no denying the fact that anxieties over immigration has been one of the major reasons why 52% of voters opted for ‘leave’ in the EU referendum. The presence of higher numbers of immigrants in local communities and workplaces is for many people become the most obvious reality of the neoliberal globalisation that has made life so much worse for them. Easier to comprehend as the source of difficulty in getting accommodation at an affordable rent or mortgage than the ineptitude of the government in failing to build houses; always available as scapegoats when bosses lay staff off or push down on wage rates; just what is needed when wriggling off the hook for allowing local schools and hospitals to fail the communities they serve, immigrants are ever available as the explanation for rising misery levels when the real reasons are considerably more complicated. Jeremy Corbyn got into hot water with media pundits for setting out the view that there is no obvious limit to the capacity of a country like Britain to absorb newcomers and get them functioning as value-producing wage-earners. Radical as this might sound to people with a conservative outlook on life, it is actually the very thing that students of economics are told to get their heads around in year one of their studies as the proper response to the gloomsters who cling to the ‘lump of labour’ fallacy. Labour is a positive input into any national economy and its availability produces growth which ought to, all thing being equal, produce benefits for the entire population.


The problem for the supposedly left wing proponents of remain appeared to be that most of them did not really believe this fact themselves. Accepting at face value the complaints about immigrants so often offered up on the proverbial doorstep, the MPs who were supposed to be leading local campaigns seemed too often to be conceding the argument and offering it no challenge. As a consequence we are now facing the grim prospect of seeing the scrapping of the right to free movement which have been one of the main mechanisms for redistributing wealth between the rich and the poor of Europe for the last forty years. The benefits of free movement come from the fact that it allows wage earners in low wage/high exploitation segments of economies to move to places where they can strike a better deal in terms of the cost of their labour.


But that is not the end of it. It is also an important defence for workers in higher paying areas who have an interest in stifling of competition from the type of arrangements which exist in the rising species of global species of export processing zones which suck jobs out of high wage areas in order to seize the advantages that come from the super-exploitation of people whose lack of the right to free movement means they are trapped in conditions which typical require eight hour days at low rates of pay. Labour could have argued the case for free movement much better than it did during the course of the referendum campaign. The dangers that really loom for working people are more closely linked to capitalism’s proficiency in directing global supply chains made up of workers trapped by national borders and the absence of a right to free movement. The bogus concern that right wing Brexiteers expressed for a supposed discriminatory effect of free movement with the EU – claiming that it prevented workers moving from countries in Asia and Africa with whom Britain has connections through the Commonwealth – should have been countered by a promise to extend free movement to all workers who are compelled to labour in supply chains managed for the benefit of UK transnational companies.


The priority now lies in uniting Labour and the trade unions around a commitment to secure the rights of EU nationals who have established themselves in the UK prior to the now inevitable Brexit. The growing anti-migrant moods which have been associated with opposition to the EU have led government to claim more powers to deprive citizens of the other EU states of residence rights when they experience unemployment of six months or more. Migrant support groups across the country have been reporting a huge increase in deportation notices being served on EU nationals in recent times, with hundreds and possible thousands being expelled from the country. If Labour is ever going to account for itself in the national argument over immigration – a task which it has proved an abject failure – in recent times, then it has to strengthen its analysis of the role that turbo-charged labour exploitation plays in the business plans of modern capitalism, and to explain just how brutal and savage this system is whenever the right to freedom movement is denied.


This article appears in CHARTIST issue 281

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