The Socialist 28 February 2004 |
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EU Enlargement Brings Benefits For The Bosses
THE NEW Labour government says it will be 'regulating' the
number of migrant workers who are allowed to come to Britain from the ten
countries, mainly in Eastern Europe, which will be joining the European Union
on 1 May.
Home Secretary David Blunkett has announced that all
migrant workers from the East European accession states will have to register
with the government and will not be entitled to claim unemployment benefits
until they have worked continuously for a year in the UK.
This new 'tough' talk is a knee-jerk reaction because of a
fear of the electoral consequences, in a situation where the right-wing press
has hysterically warned of 'swarms' of East Europeans 'flooding' into the UK as
'benefit tourists'. Against a background of New Labour's constant cuts in the
welfare state, this has inevitably created fears amongst wide sections of the
The government is threatening to deport migrants who fail
to find work to prevent them claiming benefits, despite criticism from
immigration experts. Keith Best, the chief executive of the immigration
advisory service, has pointed out that new migrants from Eastern Europe will
already be excluded from benefits under the existing rules. The government says
it only expects that 12,000 to 13,000 people will come to the UK each year but
will restrict numbers if more come in.
DESPITE MAKING it harder for East European workers to claim
benefits, Blair and Blunkett want to encourage migrant workers as cheap labour
for the bosses.
Already many thousands of workers from Eastern Europe are
living and working in the UK. They are often doing jobs that local people
won't. For example, around 30,000 people came last year under a special scheme
to provide seasonal work for agriculture. Up to 10% of the 100,000 building
workers in the UK are also thought to come from Eastern Europe.
While allowing migrant workers in through legal channels,
where they have some rights, is much better than abandoning them to
people-traffickers (as the Morecombe cockle-pickers were) they will still be
expected to do the lowest paid most back-breaking work.
THE GOVERNMENT'S insistence that migrants from the
accession states must not claim benefits has gained an echo among many people
in the UK, painfully aware of how difficult it is now for people to claim the
miserable amount of benefits they are entitled to.
However, the problems in the benefits system are not due to
pressure from the number of people claiming unemployment benefits, which (at
under 900,000) is at its lowest level since 1975. For the last 25 years the
bosses and their representatives in government (the Tories and now New Labour)
have carried out ruthless attacks against the working class. Their aim is to
maximise their profits by making us work harder and longer for less, and
destroying the 'expensive' welfare state.
New Labour's attempts to deny benefits to migrant workers
are aimed at creating a section of the workforce who will be forced to take any
job, at any wage, because they have no other option. If New Labour and the
bosses can get away with it, they will use this most exploited section of
workers to drive down wages and conditions for everyone else.
Migration to Britain is going to continue. The restoration
of capitalism in Eastern Europe has meant massively increased poverty. While
the vast majority of Eastern Europeans have no interest in coming to Britain -
in a situation when unemployment is now 36% in parts of Poland and there have
been food riots in Slovakia - it is inevitable that some will want to try and
improve their lot by working abroad. Only a trade union movement prepared to
unite migrants and existing workers and organising to fight for the rights of
both can prevent the bosses getting their way.