Ditching free movement is more likely to lower British workers pay

21 September 2017

Our friends at Another Europe is Possible have issued a new report today, which suggests that ditching EU free movement rules will be bad for British workers. We agree – and think the same arguments apply globally.

‘Brexit and immigration: prioritising the rights of all workers’, by Luke Cooper and Zoe Gardner, says that any managed migration system – however ‘generous’ – would be worse for British and European workers than the status quo. That’s because the current system places the emphasis on the rights of citizens to live, work and study. It’s not an unlimited right, contrary to popular belief, but it does mean that European citizens have the right to join with their British colleagues and fight for better pay and conditions. And that’s how things improve.  

But any managed migration system would judge individuals by their value to the economy, and would most likely allow employers to bring in workers on strict terms. That means that the power is in the hands of the employer, not the worker. If the employers outlook changes, or if you prove too troublesome, you’ll be out. That makes organising difficult and scary, it means someone can never feel truly at home - for instance to start a family – and it means oversees workers are more genuinely likely to undermine wages and jobs in Britain.

The report looks at a number of managed migration schemes – from the ‘guest worker’ scheme in Germany to the horrific example of the World Cup workers in Doha. The lessons from all these case studies is the same: the less rights migrant workers have, the more they will be exploited.

None of this means things are fine as they are. Britain has a very deregulated ‘labour market’ which has led to workers being less able to negotiate decent pay and condition, and has in turn helped fuel massive inequality. The report argues in favour of a ‘free movement plus’ system in which the right of workers to collectively bargain is enhanced – especially in low skill sectors – minimum wages are boosted and employers are banned from using foreign workers purely to undercut wages through a system of greater penalties. What’s more, additional investment needs to follow migrants to parts of the country suffering deprivation.  

Another Europe’s report hopes to influence policy making at Labour Party conference next week. We support their work. But the implications of their arguments apply globally, not just in Europe. The development of free movement within Europe has been accompanied by a barbaric policy at Europe’s borders, with 5,000 dying trying to reach Europe last year.

This is not only inhuman, it is also a recipe for exploitation as migrants arriving here from outside the EU struggle to get permission and are forced to work in the highly exploitative black economy. This mirrors the process of globalisation as a whole where free movement for big business – and those with money – has been accompanied by the construction of some of the most violent border policies in history. Free capital, controlled people.

Migration has been shown time and again to be one of the most effective ways of undermining global poverty. That doesn’t mean, people should be compelled to move of course. People are driven to move by war, climate change, unemployment and much more. Our governments have often pursued policies that increase these ‘push factors’ and we need to pursue a much more peaceful, equal and sustainable international policy. But this can go hand in hand with expanding free movement across the world. In fact the latter would help the former.  

Constraining the ability of big business to do what it wants, where it wants, when it wants, is essential to building a fairer world. But scrapping rights for ordinary people is something we should be against, both in principle, and because it will only strengthen the most unscrupulous businesses.


You can find out more at the events are are organising at:

The World Transformed

Moving to a just migration policy

The Labour Party Conference Fringe Events

MONDAY 25 SEPT 19.30
Why Labour must support free movement
Metropole: Durham, Kielder


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