Immigrants: A Few Facts Soon Neutralise Powell’s Poison
Published in Socialist Worker 9 September 1972.
The case of the Ugandan Asians has revealed just how far the whole political line-up in Britain has moved to the right over the last 10 years.
While Enoch Powell and the National Front spread their poisonous ideas, those who support letting in the Asians do so as an act of charity or because the Asians are a ‘special case’.
In the 1950s even right-wing Tories argued for free entry for all Commonwealth citizens, and when the Tories introduced immigration control in 1961 the Labour Party opposed it.
A letter from the secretary of the Parliamentary Labour Party to Cyril Osborne on 2 June 1961 said: ‘The Labour Party is opposed to the restriction of immigration as every Commonwealth citizen has the right as a British subject to enter this country at will. This has been the right of subjects of the Crown for many centuries and the Labour Party has always maintained it should be unconditional.’
But it was about-turn when the Labour government in 1965 decided to tighten up the controls, and the Tory weekly The Spectator accused it of ‘giving …. tacit approval to the idea that coloured immigrants are unwelcome second-class citizens.’ (20 August 1965)
Now almost everyone – except a few groups of revolutionary socialists – seems to accept that immigration control is necessary. Is this really so?
Many workers who have no quarrel with immigrants already here still feel that control is necessary because of overcrowding. In fact, immigration is not leading to population increase – for during the sixties more people were leaving Britain than were coming in.
In any case it is not a question of numbers. Barbados, which is mainly a sugar-growing country, has more than 1300 people to the square mile. In Britain there are fewer than 600 to the square mile. The problem is not numbers – it is houses and jobs.
Immigration does not cause housing problems. On the contrary, since many immigrants are building workers, immigrants build more houses than they occupy.
The most detailed study of London’s housing problems, the Milner Holland Report of 1965, said quite clearly that immigration was not the cause of housing problems.
Nor does immigration lead to unemployment. Unemployment was much higher in the 1930s, when there were hardly any immigrants, than it is now.
Unemployment is encouraged by the government because it weakens workers’ militancy, making them compete for jobs instead of uniting against the boss. UCS and the dockers have shown that this ‘divide and rule’ tactic is not working.
Anyone who accepts that black and white workers are fighting each other for jobs is in fact playing the Tory government’s game by making unemployment do what it is intended to do.
And as far as social services are concerned, immigrants – just because they are mainly young adult workers – take less per head than the average for the population. Since they pay the same taxes and contributions as everyone else, they are putting in more than they take out.
Some socialists argue that since we support planning, we should plan immigration in the same way as we would plan the rest of the economy. The assumption here is that working people are too irrational to know what is good for them, and need wise planners to look after them.
If the entire population of London was liable to rush off to the Highlands at a moment’s notice, it would be necessary to put up walls to stop them. But they aren’t, so it isn’t.
Unless there are exceptional circumstances, workers don’t move from one country to another unless there is a good chance of having a house and a job when they get there. This is doubly true when it comes to leaving a pleasant place like the West Indies – where the British rich pay hundreds of pounds a week to spend their holidays – to come to a cold damp country like Britain.
And the figures show that in the 1950s, before there was any talk of immigration control, immigrants came when there were jobs, but stopped coming when there was unemployment, and many who were already here went away. When there was a shortage of labour in the fifties, British industry went out to look for immigrants.
Why has there been so much immigration, not just into Britain, but throughout Western Europe, since the last war?
Because industry has developed in certain areas, where it suited the bosses to build, while other areas have been run down. Scotland, the North of Ireland and the South of Italy are left to rot, while industry clusters in centre of the Common Market.
Socialist planning would reorganise industry to solve the problems of regional underdevelopment, but planning the movement of workers to fit in with the bosses’ needs has nothing to do with socialism.
Logically, anyone who argues that this is what planning means should demand that workers have to get permission before moving from Glasgow to Birmingham, or Newcastle to London. (This, of course, is what happens in Russia.)
Britain has had immigration controls for 10 years now. What good has it done us?
Firstly, it increased immigration. Just before the first Tory immigration laws were introduced, there was a huge rise in immigration. Many people who might never have come hurried here because it was their last chance.
Secondly, it has increased racial prejudice. When the government spends its time debating how to keep immigrants out, instead of how to build more houses and find more jobs, then people naturally believe immigration is the cause of their problems.
And that suits the government.
Thirdly, it has opened the door to the real racialists and their propaganda. Between 1966 and 1968 there was more or less an agreement to take immigration out of political debate. This was done by everyone accepting the Tory terms – the need for stiff controls.
So when Enoch Powell wanted to cash in on the issue in 1968, he had to go a step further by demanding that immigrants be sent home. Concessions to the right wing don’t satisfy them – they encourage them to ask for more.
There is another, more basic reason why all socialists must oppose immigration controls.
The officers who are enforcing immigration control are part of the same state machine that put the five dockers in Pentonville and is preserving ‘order’ in Northern Ireland. Any worker who believes that machine is working in his interest, does not understand what the state is and cannot fight it properly.
To oppose immigration control is to explode the myth of the ‘national interest’ and to fight for the unity of all workers, of whatever race or nationality.