The latest poll results indicate that the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) could challenge for first place in European elections due later this month. Supposedly to counter this danger, a cross-party campaign has been launched involving the three major parties, Labour and the governing Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
The initiative is being organised by Migration Matters Trust, a coalition of politicians, business representatives and the trade unions that calls for a public debate on immigration to the UK.
Migration Matters chairwoman Barbara Roche declared in a statement launching the effort, “UKIP’s campaign needs to be exposed for what it is, a racist campaign.”
Roche went on to argue that UKIP were engaged in “Eurocism,” since the party was utilising the same arguments employed by parties of the far right against migrants from Africa and Asia.
UKIP is without question a right-wing, nationalist party, having much in common with the European extreme right. The cross-party campaign was launched in a week when a UKIP candidate was forced to resign after telling comedian Lenny Henry to move to a “black country.” UKIP also released posters for the European elections designed to stoke anti-immigrant sentiment by portraying workers from other countries in Europe as the cause of the current economic crisis.
But for an organisation representing the three main parties to seek to oppose such positions is utter hypocrisy, as anyone acquainted with political life in Britain in recent years can testify.
The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition has led a major campaign to slash immigration numbers since coming to power in 2010. Based on the same claim as UKIP, that immigrants are taking “British jobs” and deepening the social crisis, the Cameron government pledged to reduce net immigration from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands.
At the end of last year, as the deadline for lifting travel restrictions for Romania and Bulgaria approached, the government encouraged a vicious anti-immigrant campaign in the media by imposing controls on citizens of these countries claiming welfare benefits and accessing healthcare.
The way for such reactionary policies had been paved by the previous Labour government, which tightened regulations on asylum seekers, slashed the amount of welfare benefits they could claim, and implemented discriminatory policies in housing and other areas.
Roche, who would now like to present herself as a crusader against racism, was fully involved in such policies as Minister for Immigration. In 2000, she denounced Eastern European immigrants forced to beg on the street due to the lack of social support as “vile”.
One year later, in 2001, Roche remarked that, “The 1951 United Nations Convention is being used as a back door route for illegal immigration.”
The reference was to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which granted rights to refugees and placed legal obligations on states to treat them fairly.
In opposition from 2010, Labour has had no objection to the demonisation of immigrants and the present government’s racist propaganda.
Leader Ed Miliband has presented the party in a series of speeches as “One-Nation” Labour, invoking the traditions of one-nation conservatism.
In June 2012, Miliband called in a Daily Telegraph article for a “progressive patriotism” and later that year attacked the previous Labour administration for allowing immigration to “get out of control.”
His stance borrowed heavily from the Blue Labour faction formed at the initiative of academic Maurice Glasman under the slogan “flag, faith and family.” Miliband authored the foreword to a book by Glasman in which he laid out a perspective for an embrace of English nationalism, defence of the free market and hostility to the public sector and welfare state.
Miliband’s launch of the Labour Party’s campaign for the European elections last Thursday continued the focus on right-wing populism and anti-immigrant chauvinism.
In an opinion piece published in the Daily Mirror, entitled “A vote for UKIP would be a vote for the very worst of Thatcherism,” Miliband declared that one of Labour’s priorities was “fairer immigration to stop undercutting of wages.”
He wrote, “I am determined that One Nation Labour will address the greatest question facing you, your family and Britain: Is our country going to be run just for a few at the top or for all the hard working people like you?”
It would be hard to top the cynicism of such a statement. Miliband speaks as the leader of a party that implemented the multi-billion bailout of the financial elite in 2008, and began the imposition of austerity measures to place the burden of the crisis on working people.
Its thirteen years in power saw governments first under Tony Blair and then Gordon Brown adopt Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s outlook in a number of policy areas, against which Miliband now tries to posture. When Labour left office in 2010, it had overseen massive cuts to public spending and the establishment of programmes to privatise public education and the healthcare system that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have vastly expanded.
Miliband’s attempt to combine right-wing nationalism with populist attacks on the political establishment differs little in content from UKIP’s own campaign.
The official anti-UKIP campaign is also backed by the trade unions. Unison, one of Britain’s largest unions, participates in the Migration Matters Trust, having a representative on its board of directors.
The union bureaucracy has done nothing to oppose anti-immigrant chauvinism over recent years. On the contrary, the unions, openly or implicitly, give credence to nationalist and chauvinist arguments, with their defence of the national economy and their own privileges within it.
The unions, for example, backed the “British jobs for British workers” campaign that emerged at the Lindsey oil refinery in 2009. Following the announcement of the employment of immigrant labour, Unite and the GMB union mounted a foul campaign demanding British workers be prioritised for jobs. The campaign won the support of certain Conservatives and even the backing of the fascist British National Party, while the pseudo-left Socialist Party sought to portray it as a genuine working class struggle.
The worthlessness, and worse, of the Labour Party and the trade unions has created the political and ideological space in which UKIP operates and takes advantage of.
Workers must take up the struggle to oppose reactionary nationalism in all forms. This task cannot be left up to the political establishment, with its fraudulent claims to oppose the very positions that they have done so much to foster. The source of the jobs crisis and poverty is capitalism, not immigration. Lining up with one’s “own” ruling elite against workers of other countries is the road to disaster.
Against all attempts to divide working people along national lines, the Socialist Equality Party insists on the international unity of the working class in a struggle against the present system.
Opposition to the European Union and its brutal policies cannot be translated into support for the British nation-state, which has gone a long way in leading the assault on working people. Workers across the continent must take up the fight for the United Socialist States of Europe, which offers the only solution to deepening social inequality, growing nationalist tensions and the danger of war.