Labour, immigration, and the “white working class”

Simon Hannah responds to recent comments by some Labour MPs regarding immigration and border controls.


Immigration is not a crime

The recent announcements by Labour MPs, both left and right, against immigration is both economically illiterate and politically scandalous. Emily Thornberry on the Andrew Marr show stated that some employers “take advantage of sucking people in from other countries and undercutting wages and undercutting conditions”.

The idea that bosses use other workers to undercut wages is true, but there is no evidence that immigration has reduced wages generally. Not a single study proves it. But Thornberry isn’t even saying that. She concludes; “Do I think that at the moment too many people come into this country? Yes I do”.  Words that could come out of the mouth of Paul Nuttall.

Stephen Kinnock has also been in the news, stating: “I don’t necessarily think it has to be a cut – I think what people are looking for is a system they can believe in and can trust.”  What kind of system he was looking for was revealed in a tweet from Progress where he was quoted saying “We must move away from multiculturalism and towards assimilation. We must stand for one group: the British people”.   He later said that the debate on immigration was in danger of being hijacked by “nationalist and populist voices” – indeed, Mr Kinnock.

Frank Field MP joined in the craze, arguing in effect that Paul Nuttall’s election as UKIP leader meant that Labour now had to pander to racist UKIP arguments. Field argued that Nuttall is going to wipe out Labour in England by focussing on “culture, identity and family and so on”.  Field thinks Labour will win by becoming UKIP-lite.

White working class

All of this is taking place against the constant background noise around the “white working class”.  This phrase has entered the political mainstream, boosted by the election of Donald Trump, where lazy journalists lament the plight of those people in the working class who are white.

Socialists should oppose this dangerous line of argument. The working class are those people that earn a wage, either making a profit or working in the public sector, they have little or no power over their working lives and exist by selling their ability to work.

The working class is made up of every ethnicity. When there are public sector cuts, do they only effect white workers? When there is a public sector wage freeze, does it only effect white workers? No. So where does the argument that white workers in particular are suffering come from?

White people in general in society benefit from their ethnicity. That is how racism works. It isn’t just discrimination, it is a structural unequal relationship in society. Take wages, for example. According to TUC research, BME people in the UK with GCSEs are paid 11% less than their white counterparts. This inequality rises to 23% for university graduates.  That isn’t an accident, that’s because of racism.

Now, clearly most working people are suffering under austerity, wage freezes, longer working hours, lack of trade union rights and the crisis in housing and health care. Both white and BME people are suffering. This focus on only the white working class only makes sense if you are trying to divide people from each other – and that plays into the hands of UKIP and the far right. Labour won’t win by pandering to racism. It has to challenge it and confront it.

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1 Comment

  1. The article completely ignores that over the last two decades it became acceptable amongst some members of the liberal intelligentsia to victimise the white working class. Liberal minded people who would never dream of being racist, regularly use ‘Chavs’ – an unmistaken attack on the white working class. There was a feel amongst a lot of the liberal left of utter contempt of the white working class, and yes specifically the white working class not working class BME people.

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