If Labour is afraid to lead on free movement, what are we here for?

By Nadia Whittome

The Labour Party was founded as the party of workers, not migrant workers vs British workers.  It is this founding principle of international solidarity, and an evidence-based outlook, that must guide our Brexit policy-making.

Our fight should not be against immigrants, but the economic and employment conditions that allow anti-immigrant rhetoric to thrive and strike a chord with Labour supporters.

Since 2010 the UK has seen plummeting pay and working conditions, stretched public services and the biggest housing crisis since 1920.  We must have the courage to place the blame for this crisis squarely where it lies: an ideological programme of Tory austerity, that promotes the interests of multinationals and unscrupulous employers above that of the people.

A motion to ‘Defend and Extend Free Movement’ was debated at National Youth Policy Conference.  This presented a unique opportunity for Young Labour members to demand only the most progressive Brexit deal.  The motion fell, with arguments against citing the myth that migration lowers wages; and stating the need to heed immigration concerns, and prioritise electability.

The Labour movement clearly needs to rebuild support for free movement, but how can we do this without firmly and forthrightly supporting it ourselves?

As Diane Abbott argues in Freedom Movement and Beyond: Agenda Setting for Brexit Britain, an injury to one is an injury to all and we hold power in unity.  It is imperative that we do not allow the Conservatives and global right wing to undermine workers’ rights by dividing the working class.  Migrants are central to our struggle and scrapping free movement not only alienates them but weakens the Labour movement.

A feat of Corbynism has been its break from apologism on Labour’s economic and migration policy values.  It’s one of the reasons I began galvanising support for Jeremy from the moment he announced his leadership bid in 2015.

We’ve slowly learnt that the left will never win the argument by conceding ground to the populist right.  My generation will not forgive us if we give them a free pass at the most critical point in history of our lifetimes.

In two years we’ve shifted the economic ground to an anti-austerity argument.  Let’s now have the guts to reframe the immigration debate.

For Labour to be electable not just in five months or five years, but in 25 years, we must be on the right side of history in 2017 on Brexit and free movement.

• Nadia was a delegate to youth policy conference. She is a trade unionist, care worker and student, and is seeking to be Rushcliffe’s Labour PPC

Let us know what you think? Write a reply? theclarionmag@gmail.com


  1. As a black woman born in this country. Racism has always been part of this Country DNA. My parents came here in the 60s and experienced racism. At school I experienced Racism through out the 70s. I struggle to get a job while my white school mates literally walked into a job. Freedom movement is not acceptable to the Majority of white people in this country. It was why people from the commonwealth were restricted from coming here even though Britian needed workers for its factories, Underground buses trains and NHS. so blame Labour for prejudices that have been years in the making.

  2. Socialists are here for a planned provision of resources – not for liberal markets which will always favour the privileged. Although it is unfortunate to have to say so even the migrants are often more privileged and enterprising within their communities. The real needy rarely have access to money, connections and resources to enter the liberal markets in manpower.

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