immigration ‘points system’ plans to stifle migrants’ freedom of speech

by David Broder

On Monday 3rd August the government outlined its new proposals for a ‘points system’ through which immigrants to the United Kingdom can seek citizenship. The ‘points system’ will see migrants ‘earning’ their citizenship in a ‘probation’ period following a five-year stay, as opposed to the current set-up whereby five years of working in the country automatically entitles them to apply.

The system will reward those who can fill in gaps in skilled jobs and who are willing to move to areas with labour shortages – a blatant display of the business imperatives behind the use of immigration controls, shepherding the workforce – as well as extending the usual demands on immigrants to pass an exam on the UK’s history and constitution and the use of the English language (this despite the huge cuts in English for Speakers of Other Languages provision).

One particularly worrying new development, however, is that the new measures will see immigrants subject to state approval of their political activities, with bonus points for “playing a role in the democratic life of the country” via “membership of political parties and trade unions” and minus points for what the government deems “bad behaviour”, which may include even legal protests and activism.

On Radio 4’s Today programme, Immigration Minister Phil Woolas explained: “It’s right to say if we are asking the new citizen to have an oath of allegiance to that country, that it’s right to try to define in some objective terms what that means. Clearly an acceptance of the democratic rule of law and the principle behind that we think is important, and we think it’s fair to ask that.” When probed by interviewer Sarah Montague: “Are you effectively saying to people who want to have a British passport, ‘You can have one, and when you’ve got one you can demonstrate as much as you like, but until then don’t’?” Mr Woolas clarified: “In essence, yes.”

Commenting on the story the Guardian, Times and the free London papers all carried the rather anonymous line that “it has been suggested that immigrants who took part in anti-war demonstrations could jeopardise their chances of qualifying for citizenship”: a ‘suggestion’ clearly briefed by the Labour government itself.

The idea that even legal anti-war demonstrations could be deemed “bad behaviour” on the grounds that they show a lack of allegiance to the United Kingdom can only mean that similar punishment would be levied on those whose “membership of political parties and trade unions” does not meet the Home Office’s approval. This is the reality of modern establishment ‘anti-racism’: hard-working, loyal immigrants who don’t speak out of turn are welcome to come and be trampled on by bosses, and maybe even have their cultural sensitivities tolerated or patronised to a certain degree via the tribune of community leaders cosy with the Labour Party: but anyone who wants to be not just ‘tolerated’, but treated as an equal, can go back where they came from.

After the recent police raids and deportations of migrant cleaning workers at SOAS and at the Willis building in the City of London (who ISS and Mitie, respectively, had willingly employed illegally at low wages up to the point where their union activity began to put the squeeze on profits),  it is quite clear that the state and its border controls are totally at the service of management. The ‘points system’ will certainly discriminate against ‘troublemakers’, that is to say, anyone who engages in effective class-struggle organising, standing up for themselves rather than meekly lobbying the great and good (what Labour thinks “democratic life” means). Government discrimination against ‘troublemakers’ but rewards for loyal business-unionism could wreak havoc within the labour movement and attempts at migrant-worker organising, in particular those willing to take action to defend themselves even without union bureaucrats’ backing.

While the Tories condemned the measures as soft on illegal immigrants, the Liberal Democrats’ Chris Huhne argued that “There should be no question of barring people because they criticise government policy. Democratic values must come first”: but what does he have to say about the constant police raids and deportations used by the ruling class terrify illegal immigrants into submission, and which already deny them their democratic rights every single day? In a typical display of the hollowness of ruling class liberalism, Huhne qualified his comments with the claim that the government has “no idea how to deal with the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants living here” as if they were some abstract social malaise to be cleaned up rather than real people with rights equal to anyone else.

As opposed to the recent reports, much-vaunted by the GMB and Unite as well as the Strangers into Citizens campaign, that a one-off amnesty for illegal immigrants would be more cost-effective for the government than deporting them en masse, or the idea that migrants should be given the ‘right’ to ‘earn’ permanent residence in the UK, we argue without qualification that everyone has the right to live and work wherever they like, whether or not the government deems them sufficiently economically useful or loyal to the British state. Rather than playing the game of more lenient measures or special treatment for some (implying police raids and ‘detention centre’ prisons for the rest) the left must uncompromisingly and loudly militate against all border controls and the right of the state to police the free movement of people.

3 thoughts on “immigration ‘points system’ plans to stifle migrants’ freedom of speech

  1. A good piece, Mr Broder. Just one thing:

    “the left must uncompromisingly and loudly militate against all border controls and the right of the state to police the free movement of people.”

    Fine, but this needs to be combined with strategies aimed at winning real gains in this arena. None of the current approaches are working especially, neither militant defences of principle nor begging for a one off amnesty. The gap urgently needs to be bridged.

    An approach asserting workers rights above immigration status is the practical way to go in my opinion. The SOAS occupation showed the way in this respect whatever other criticisms people may have. The demos at workplaces are also good as they make the situation visible, especially within the labour movement, and apply some pressure there.

    We don’t reject wage rises because we don’t believe in money; so should we reject any notion of short-term victories because we dont believe in borders? I leave the question open!

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  2. I agree absolutely that we ought to fight for short-term victories, not just mount a general ‘political’ campaign against all border controls. I think we can do (and have to do) both things at once: linking workplace activism, which I think you are right to assert as central, to the broader question of getting rid of all controls.

    However, fighting for reforms and recognising that even limited steps forward are worthwhile (including, for that matter, a one-off amnesty, which if ever achieved would make a huge difference for hundreds of thousands of people) is something different from endorsing the kinds of tactics and arguments used by those who identify themselves as ‘realistic’ reformists in NGOs.

    Rather, I’d hope that small-scale fights would fit into some sort of strategy to make the workers’ movement as a whole take a stand.

    Making the “business case” for amnesty, lobbying MPs etc. is unlikely to empower migrants or to win the argument in wider society for free movement of people: I don’t see Strangers into Citizens as particularly active in resisting immigration raids, supporting workplace activism etc: they are obviously very good at mobilising community groups, but in many ways themselves seem to lack short-term tactics.

    Just like with the wage rises analogy – yes, it’s ‘reformist’ in aspiration and doesn’t overthrow capitalism, but the best way to go about it would be self-organisation, militancy, joined-up actions, trying to show why other workers should support it etc. and also trying to link it to other issues in society and build lasting and radical organisations – not just trying to persuade the bosses that it might be a nice idea.

    The fact that Respect, No2EU etc. refuse to call for ‘no borders’ amounts to shying away from taking a stance on a political question that won’t go away and which has significant purchase in society. Certainly I don’t think electoral politics would be the number one means of changing attitudes on the question, but even so I think if people are going to stand they should make their position clear.

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  3. “An approach asserting workers rights above immigration status is the practical way to go in my opinion.”

    Right, but the first thing most people ask in these immigration raids is “Well, are they illegal or not?” are when you reply “yes they are” people then say “so they shouldn’t be here and they are breaking the law?”

    How would you respond to that? In my view, only a principled stand against all immigration controls is consistent. Just as when companies and the state start spinning economic theory for why Unions are a bad idea, lay offs and wage reduction are necessary etc. (all of which within their capitalist framework are probably strictly true) all you can say is “we don’t care” – “we see our resistance as a process of transforming the economic reality.”

    It follows that when people, inevitably, come back and say something like “Nice principle, but it would cause chaos in reality” I think our answer should not be, “no it won’t be so bad, people exaggerate how many would migrate here” – no, we should say “Yes, it will be chaotic, but that is the price we pay for radically transforming the system and creating universal, global rights” Change is not easy.

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