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June 29, 2013

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Chris

I guess the real question is why it's 'ok' to create dangerous jobs and cut corners and employ people to do them. Surely there are better examples than things that would stand a good chance of getting the bosses imprisoned if something goes wrong?

Chris

Just so as to cover conflict of interest, I have refused to do dangerously unsafe things (standing at the very top of a high rickety ladder to attach things to the top of a marquee) I've been asked to do by an employer, whilst others were willing to. I am not, however, a member of a union.

George Carty

Surely people oppose immigration because immigrants increase Britain's benefit bill (either by claiming benefits themselves, or by taking jobs that would otherwise have gone to British citizens).

Phil

What you're missing is that nobody should have to work in life-endangering conditions, wherever they're from. The point of that story is surely that the use of migrant labour made it possible to circumvent the protections of employment law and unionisation, and thus made it possible for the employer to threaten the non-migrant workforce with the loss of those protections. And, secondarily, that Labour should be telling this particular story, and it's their failure to do so which is gifting millions of votes to UKIP.

Churm Rincewind

Well, yes. There seems to me little doubt that in the UK the benefits of immigration flow primarily to the moneyed, while the disbenefits mainly affect the poor.

Sadly, the chattering classes who dominate the discourse tend to be regardless of this point, and legitimate working class concerns about displacement are met with knee-jerk accusations of racism.

Bob Mouncer

Surely the fault is not with Dave for not seeing that migrant labour is complementary to his but with the boss who is able to get workers to do dangerous jobs without training. The union is at fault if it doesn't make that part of its annual negotiations on pay and conditions and the law is at fault if it doesn't make such practices illegal.
Yu seem to think that immigrants "working cheaper and faster" is a good thing. Lower wages benefit the bosses and nobody else.
Stumbling and mumbling indeed.

Kamo

Bringing in migrant labour to do jobs others don't want to do is one thing, but bringing in immigrant labour to do jobs others don't want to do whilst paying them not to do them is another thing. British society financially maintains a lumpen-proletariat whilst importing proletariat to do the only sort of work the lumpen-proletariat can realistically do due to their skills. This is part of what makes people angry about immigration, there is no real shortage of low skilled labour, there are incentives for low skilled labour to withhold their labour.

This costs society twice, first there is the cost of maintaining the people who think the only work they have the skills to do is beneath them. Secondly there are the costs of absorbing the immigrant labour we use as a substitute, these are things like localised pressures on housing, education and medical services. Assisting your neighbour with her garden might mean you and a few others have less time to tend your own gardens, but it's a stretch to see wider impacts on the community in which you live.

Alex Bollinger

Immigrant labor is more likely to be hired as scabs than non-immigrant labor? Sounds like a good reason to increase protections/provisions of immigrants and to support economic development and stability all over the world!

David Allen

What the writer missed was that the English workers, mainly ex miners, were upset that the immigrants were being taken advantage of by the company. British men would have stuck together and refused to do unsafe work for the benefit of ALL the workers.
Eventually the divide and rule tactic ensured that the company could and did impose draconian working practices.

The comparison you draw between me and your charity for your neighbour is bogus and incoherent.

Jim

The disingenuous logic is false from the very first premise: they do "feel like" doing those jobs. They feel like doing them for wages. Immigrants lower the wages, leaving the working class still doing the same jobs (they don't suddenly get better jobs just because immigrants came in, that's not how the bosses roll), but now for lower wages.

Blissex

The argument of the article seems to be that using desperate immigrants from very poor countries in a viciously exploitative way is fine if the profit is shared between middle and upper classes, and not fine if it is only the upper classes who get the profit.

It is based on nothing more than the old refrain "cheap servants are difficult to find today".

The politics of the post are simple indeed: that propertied (whether it is real property or being in some trade protected from competition) middle class voters can achieve the neo-liberal dream of becoming ladies-of-the-manor if only they let businesses drive down labor standards and wages of the UK working poor by importing even more desperately poor workers from countries with much lower costs of living.

Blissex

«British society financially maintains a lumpen-proletariat whilst importing proletariat to do the only sort of work the lumpen-proletariat can realistically do due to their skills.»

The posh english word to describe the disposable working poor of the time, whether northern, then scottish, then irish, then from father afield, is "residuum", not "lumpen-proletariat".

Blissex

«Surely people oppose immigration»

The UK middle and upper classes are enthusiastically in favour of immigration of working class and residuum immigrants, because they love paying less for wages of carers, gardeners, shopkeers, and they also love being able to profit from increased house prices and flat and house rents thanks to charging high rents for 4-6 to a room bed to desperate immigrants.

«because immigrants increase Britain's benefit bill (either by claiming benefits themselves, or by taking jobs that would otherwise have gone to British citizens).»

Britain's benefits bill, and most of its long term increasing burden, is overwhelmingly, like 80-90% depending on how one counts, going to unemployment benefit for unemployed people 60+, the so called "pensioners".

Most of them have not paid for a majority of the value of the 60+ unemployment benefit called "pension" and for their free health care.

Those benefit costs are taken straight from the pockets of hard-working people who get up early in the morning to see the drawn curtains of the their scrounging 60+ neighbours who did not save enough for their old age yet get a massively generous voluntary unemployment benefit from the state.

The costs of the unfunded 60+ voluntary unemployment benefits euphemistically called "pension" plus the very large part of NHS spending on 60+ beneficiaries who haven't paid enough to cover their costs are many times (probably 10-20 times) larger than what goes to the working age unemployed and they are growing fast.

However the many 60+ voluntarily unemployed scroungers mostly vote Tory, and are mostly older female swing voters with property, so they get generous free money costing a fortune to hard-working taxpayers, while the rather fewer and cheaper sick or down-on-their luck working age poor get demonized, because they are not that many, and mostly male and vote Labour automatically, so they don't swing elections in favour of the Tories (whether in the Conservative or New Labour parties).

Sandwichman

At the end of Chris Dillow's post he links to a London Review of Book review by Jonathan Portes of David Goodhart's "The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Postwar Immigration." Portes's review is titled "An Exercise in Scapegoating." Authors of articles are typically not responsible for the headlines, so I won't blame Portes, but the presumed implication of the title is that Goodhart was scapegoating immigrants and not that Portes was scapegoating Goodhart.

I haven't read Goodhart's book but I've read some of Portes's previous work and have corresponded with him at length about his conviction, repeated in the LRB review, that critics of immigration commit the "lewd and idle"* lump-of-labour fallacy. That, it seems based on Portes's priors, is the core of Portes's critique of Goodhart.

(see http://ecologicalheadstand.blogspot.ca/2012/06/kick-starting-recovery-open-letter-to.html)

While I haven't read David Goodhart's book, I did find his reply to Portes's review article very informative. It can be found here:

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n13/letters#letter1

Igor Belanov

One of the problems is that it is always foreigners that are picked out in such cases, while natives who show a lamentable lack of solidarity tend to be ignored.
When I went out on strike twice to try and protect my NHS pension most of my colleagues went in and worked, quite willing for myself and others to lose a day's pay in order to try and defend our collective rights. The same applies to workers who will not join a union but benefit greatly from pay and conditions that exist due to the efforts of unions. It is actually easier to excuse the actions of immigrants because they are often poorer and more desperate. Singling out 'foreigners' is hardly likely to produce the kind of solidarity needed!

Blissex

«using desperate immigrants from very poor countries in a viciously exploitative way is fine if the profit is shared between middle and upper classes, and not fine if it is only the upper classes who get the profit. [ ... ] importing even more desperately poor workers from countries with much lower costs of living.»

Because a point that is rarely made is that few people in the UK either object or like immigration from countries with incomes and costs of living similar to the UK, like Germany or France. It is similar to immigration of Mancuvians to Bristol, not a big deal.

The whole debate is about immigration of people from very poor countries with very low costs of living and very low incomes: because the immigrants from those countries will accept much lower wages and much more dangerous working conditions than those from less desperate countries.


The debate is then as ChrisD points out on who should get the profits of the much lower compensation that the more desperate immigrants are willing to accept.

Should all the profits go to upper-class employers or professionals in heavily protected trades or should they be shared with middle-class property owners and consumers, in particular retirees?

In particular older/retired mostly female small-property owning voters, who love to profit from lower wages for young, mostly male, rent-paying, working age often non-voting workers.

That's the big deal.

Michael Havnaer

Think of immigration from an elementary economics point of view.

Labor is a commodity, just like coal or iron or energy. The price is set by the market interaction between owner/worker and user/employer. Traditionally, Labor's negotiating advantage was limited supply since a factory is constrained by location (a city or country). Skilled labor (doctors, engineers) are in less supply than unskilled laborers, so they can charge more for their labor. Wages are set by the market.

But Immigration eliminates Labor's negotiating advantage. When an employer can import foreign workers at a lower price, local workers are forced to compete on price with the cheaper foreign labor. And this applies to unskilled jobs and highly skilled jobs as well. Medical workers and Engineers are imported from Asia and Eastern Europe to displace native Doctors and Engineers (This worked well in the 60's, 70's, and 80's when we in the U.S. drained Britain of its technical talent).

Ultimately, cheaper foreign labor makes products cheaper as well. But extrapolate this to its ultimate conclusion. If employers imported slave labor, working for mere subsistence and motivated at the end of a whip, product cost would be reduced dramatically.

Is this what we aspire to?

And what happens to displaced local workers? Priced out of the labor market, they become an ever-expanding underclass - reduced to being exactly what we fear immigrants will become: dependent on social welfare, subsisting on crime, losing the desire to work.

And when even skilled labor is imported to cut costs, local workers who educate themselves to earn more are still cut out of the labor market. Why train to become an Engineer if you're competing for that entry-level job with a Croatian Engineer with 8 years experience?

Sue R

I read the article in the Times that you are referring to. It says that Mr Allen's son is a Tory MP which is interesting. The main drawback with your article Mr Dillow is that you are looking at it purely from a capitalist economist point of view. Yes, it is true that workers have no country and we are all one race etc etc, but unfortunately, people have to eat, heat their houses and sleep soundly at night. How are 'indigenous' populations supposed to do that with an influx of other populations prepared to work for less and flount any legal health and safety laws? A basic trade union issue. Has it occurred to anyone that the reason that the union movement is so weak now in this country is because of the influx of labour outside its traditional recruiting grounds?

I see the cause of immigration as the lack of development in the countries that many of these people hail from, and as an internationalist I recognise that the struggle for human emancipation is worldwide. By allowing the surplus labour of these countries to migrate to more developed countries, there is no need to tackle the political and social questions facing many of these societies.

Steve

Immigration as a matter of practice has been used by the Oligarchs as a weapon against labor.

Follow the money in the current debate in the US. The big tech companies are tired of having to cough up paltry 3% raises for some of the brightest in the US..solution..import more compliant candidates from abroad.

Anyone against it must be "racist"!


Blissex

«Yes, it is true that workers have no country and we are all one race etc etc, but unfortunately, people have to eat, heat their houses and sleep soundly at night. How are 'indigenous' populations supposed to do that with an influx of other populations prepared to work for less and flount any legal health and safety laws?»

Don't the immigrants also "have to eat, heat their houses and sleep soundly at night", especially if they are so desperate that they will "work for less and flount any legal health and safety laws"?

I think that there is are good rationales for restricting immigration from countries with much lower costs of living, but it is not at all based on the "moral" rights of incumbents in the destination country. They aren't any more "deserving" than the would-be immigrants, and perhaps less so.

«A basic trade union issue. Has it occurred to anyone that the reason that the union movement is so weak now in this country is because of the influx of labour outside its traditional recruiting grounds?»

I reckong that the trade union movement was cut down to size by
two factors:

* The abysmal behaviour in the 1970s and 1980s of several unions controlling critical trades, which made them more hated than their bosses by other workers in sectors which could not blackmail the rest of the country.
* "Performative" conservative policy that switched very many working class voters from being long labour and short property to thinking they are long property and short labour, especially after retiring.
* The deliberate replacement of laws and rules that leveled the playing field between unions and companies with others that help companies have greater leverage than unions.
* The deliberate undermining by government policy of those industrial sectors that were most unionized (except for the security industries).

In countries like Germany where these factors did not happen the unions are still quite popular and strong.

Sure immigrants help ensure the fruits of higher labour productivity flow to incumbent businesses and property owners, but by themselves they cannot account for the decline of the unions, also because immigrants can well yearn to join unions if doing so is not made dangerous by adverse rules and laws.

Sue R

I don't disagree with many of the other factors that you give for the decline of trade unionism in Britain, 'lump labour is just one variable among many. Let's not forget that that globalisation and improved transport links have enabled manufacturers to relocate their businesses in far-flung corners of the world where labour is a lot cheaper. (This is a form of 'out-sourced immigration'). The moral arguments about precedence of inhabitants are more complicated. Absolutely those working in a country should have the right to join a union (and enjoy all the other aspects of the state's law), but a lot of immigrants work in small scale non-unionised firms. Where I live (North London) immigrants make up the workforce in shops, care agencies and small general builders. The only large scale unionised employer they may work for is the Royal Mail, which I assume is a 'closed shop', at least until it is privatised and broken up. I don't imagine that the myriad insurance companies banks and building societies they work for are unionised or not completely.

Coming back to the moral arguments, I've pondered this one rather a lot. I think it has to do with social solidarity. If you are only resident in a country in order to earn money and then return from whence you came then you are not very likely to participate in the development of that society. The chemists over the road to my mother was run by Pakistanis; a few weeks ago, I was in the shop and I heard the woman saying that the family was moving to Dubai as they considered that England was not lucrative any more. (In fact they have sold to an Indian family). If there is a whirligig of labour and capital, then societies will not be stable. Actually, I read that an academic study in America found that the most hardworking people in an economy were recently arrived immigrants. It occurred to me that the best economic policy for those purely interested in the 'bottom line' would be to force everyone to move every five years or so. The frigate bird spends its entire life on the wing, it never comes to land, perhaps industrialists and governments should adopt that policy for populations? (Another similarity with the frigate bird is that it does not catch its own fish but relies of mugging other birds for their catches.).

Michael Havnaer

Blissex,

You said, "...I think that there is are good rationales for restricting immigration from countries with much lower costs of living, but it is not at all based on the "moral" rights of incumbents in the destination country. They aren't any more "deserving" than the would-be immigrants, and perhaps less so..."

I have to disagree. Britain was built by Britons. The British subject of today owes his standard of living (infrastructure, social contracts, technology, economic clout) to the British ancestors who came before. Your parents and grandparents worked and paid taxes to build what you have today with the intention of making a better life for you. Britain is your inheritance.

The immigrant comes from a less successful society to usurp the benefits that were created by your ancestors. By taking your job, they are taking your inheritance.

Your ancestors built your country to give to you. You truly DO deserve it more than someone who hasn't invested anything in Britain's success.

(That said, it is equally true that: A.-Life isn't especially fair and what you deserve isn't always what you get, and B.-Immigrants usually end up benefiting a society in the long run. They build a better Britain for their future generations as well.)

Blissex

«Coming back to the moral arguments, [ ... ] social solidarity.»

So you feel absolutely no social solidarity with people from such poor and desperate countries that they are willing to work dangerous jobs for little money? How moral is that?

«If you are only resident in a country in order to earn money and then return from whence you came then you are not very likely to participate in the development of that society.»

That's not a "moral" argument, that is an argument of self-interest... You reckon that it benefits your interests to have as fellow residents people who are not immigrants.

Blissex

«Britain was built by Britons. [ ... ] Britain is your inheritance.»

The same applies to Manchester! Why should then Mancuvians suffer the immigration of Geordies for example? What have Geordies ever done to invest in Manchester?

Think carefully about the answer...

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