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Immigration policy: Labour apes the Tories - again
NEW LABOUR and the Tories are at war, each fighting to prove that they are the "toughest" party on migration to the UK. Desperate for votes, both seem oblivious to the dangers of whipping up prejudice and tension.
Home Secretary Charles Clarke's talk of driving out "people who are a burden" on society is clearly aimed at whipping up prejudice against asylum-seekers, who are banned from working while their claims are processed.
He completely ignores evidence which his own department published in 2001. This estimated that refugees and other immigrants to Britain pay around 10% more per year in taxes than they receive in spending from the government. During 1998/99 this amounted to £2.6 billion, before any other economic contributions are counted. (Migration: an economic and social analysis).
Clarke is deliberately trying to confuse the issues, mixing up refugees and asylum-seekers and scapegoating both for the shortage of public services created by his own government's pro-big business policies.
Yet who is really a burden on British society? New Labour ministers have pursued the incredible waste of privatisation, giving firms like Jarvis record profits at the expense of public services and public safety.
Since New Labour came to power, the super-rich have doubled their wealth. Between 1996 and 2002, the assets of the poorest 50% dropped from 7% to 5% while the assets of the richest 1% of Britain's population (almost 600,000 people) jumped from £355 to £797 billion.
Meanwhile, many of the lowest-paid lowest-status jobs which are essential to the public sector are done by migrants. Last year 42,000 nurses working in the NHS were born abroad. 31% of doctors are foreign-born, while many schools could not function without the teachers who have travelled to the UK to work.
THE REAL problem is that instead of investing properly in public services and education, including paying public sector workers a wage reflecting the real value to society of the job they do, the government is using migration as a stop-gap.
By encouraging cheap labour from migrant workers who often don't know their rights or are prepared to put up with worse conditions than the existing workforce, industry can squeeze more profit out of the labour force and also try to force down other workers' conditions.
The aim of tripling deportations in five years might make good headlines in the right-wing press, but will have horrific consequences for those who are targeted. Already pressure to increase the rate of deportations has led to a rise in violence and abuse of deportees during attempts to remove them from the UK.
Harm on removal, a report by the Medical Foundation for the care of victims of torture, documents the illegal force used against a number of people during deportation attempts. This includes being kicked in the abdomen, legs, chest and mouth while lying handcuffed on the ground, as well as pressure being applied to the neck - which can result in serious injury or even death.
This is happening to refugees who suffered torture in their home countries, but have been refused the right of asylum in the UK. Another Medical Foundation report, Right First Time?, documents how 46 Cameroonians who had been tortured before fleeing their country had had their asylum claims refused with "little attempt... to address the particular facts or features of an individual's case", often "ignoring or effectively overruling expert evidence [of torture]".
New Labour and the Tories care no more for us than they did for the 21 cockle-pickers they left at the mercy of the gangmasters to drown in Morecambe Bay. The only difference is that their political careers depend on our votes.
The fight we have on our hands is not against migrants, refugees or asylum-seekers: it is against the corrupt politicians and corporations who put an intolerable burden on our society.
In The Socialist 12 February 2005: