By Rida Vaquas, Momentum National Committee delegate
The following motion was passed overwhelmingly by the Momentum National Committee on Saturday 3 December – a very positive outcome. It provides the outline basis for a campaign to help shift the political atmosphere and push Labour to take a clear, principled stand which can shift things even more. Please circulate and share to start discussion about how we do that.
Motion 2: Defend migrants, defend free movement – submitted by Momentum Youth and Students National Committee and Lewisham Momentum
Momentum NC believes:
1. Migrants rights and freedom of movement are now at the top of the political agenda, including in the Labour Party. It is right that Momentum’s national committee, as the elected representatives of the Labour left’s grassroots, takes a position in that debate.
Momentum NC further believes
1. People have migrated throughout human history. Without freedom of movement, the right to move safely and freely is enjoyed only by the rich.
2. The social problems we face are not caused by migrants but by cuts, a lack of social housing and regulation of the private rented sector, and an economic model that has failed working class people.
3. Pandering to the idea that immigration is the cause of social problems is tactically naïve, and cannot lead to electoral victory for Labour. We need to change the narrative and win a battle of ideas.
4. Momentum, Labour and the whole labour movement must resist the scapegoating of migrants and campaign for unity of all workers to win more resources and better jobs, homes, services and rights for everyone, regardless of origin.
5. Momentum must fight for Labour to resist the growing pressure to cave in on freedom of movement and migrants’ rights. The social problems we face are not caused by migrants but by austerity and capitalist attacks on the working class.
Momentum NC resolves
1. To campaign for Labour to resist the growing pressure to cave in on freedom of movement and migrants’ rights.
2. To campaign to defend and extend freedom of movement in the context of the Brexit negotiations, including the establishment of a Labour movement-based campaign for free movement and working with existing campaigns.
3. To write privately to Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell to express the view of Momentum’s national committee.
This resolution stinks! Of course we should oppose racism, xenophobia and abuse of migrants. But one hopes that delegates might have been more critical of the motion had its discussion not been preceded by practically the most gruelling meeting in labour movement history!
First, we are told it gives a “clear principled stand”. Yet the resolution is unclear. Consider the loose way it uses the phrase “free movement”. We can assume that (in conformity with everyone’s sloppy political shorthand over the last few months) the motion uses “free movement” to mean free movement of people (the EU actually guarantees multiple free movements – goods, persons, services, capital and freedom of corporate establishment – all of which should be objectionable to socialists). At one point however by mentioning Brexit it seems as if the resolution means free movement in the EU sense – only nationals of Member States enjoy this right (and sometimes their family members). At another point it seems the resolution is talking about the entire world – since it makes a general comment that the poor should have free movement rights not just the rich. This uncertainty would in itself justify rejecting the resolution. It’s anything but a “clear” stance.
Secondly, regardless of whether it means the EU free movement of persons or entirely open borders, the resolution commits Momentum to a policy which is fundamentally liberal and profoundly unsocialist. (A comment which, I fear, sums up rather too many members of Momentum.) A socialist economic programme should mean that as many levers of the economy as possible are placed under governmental control. This is why, for instance, one cannot accept John McDonnell’s approval of control of interest rates by the Bank of England as being a socialist position. By the same token, population flows should not be a free market. The size of the workforce is not something which should be wholly removed from governmental control, which is what this motion would do by setting immigration policy in stone. From the point of view of socialist strategy, the Labour Left’s objective in office should be to govern in the interests of the underprivileged majority of the existing UK electorate, who alone can re-elect a socialist Labour government. A comprehensive, dynamic and radical economic programme run in the interests of the UK working class should therefore drive the government’s immigration policy.
Thirdly, assuming that this vague motion is referring to the EU free movement of persons (maybe the likelier interpretation given its mention of Brexit negotiations), there seems scant recognition that this is in itself a racist policy, despite all the horrible recent evidence of “Fortress Europe”. Due to the doctrine of the supremacy of EU law, the EU free movement of persons creates rights which prevail over any UK Act of Parliament and which benefit only the nationals of Member States who are overwhelmingly white. Their rights thereby trump the rights of anyone who benefits by “mere” national law including refugees fleeing a well-founded fear of persecution. But why should a future socialist Labour government favour Slovakians over Syrians, Austrians over Africans? The government should aim for an immigration policy which does not discriminate against people by virtue of their race.