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The Politics of Immigration in Hard Times Don Flynn

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The Politics of Immigration in Hard Times Don Flynn

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  1. The Politics of Immigration in Hard Times Don Flynn

  2. Outline of argument • The character that immigration took in the noughties has its origins in the reconstruction of the UK economy which took place in the 1980s • The key features of this were the de-regulation of labour markets and the use of social welfare systems to defuse protest and manage the transition to the new economy. • It took a decade and a half for the implications of these changes to feed into immigration but the lineagew is there to be traced.

  3. Thatcher’s reforms create the need for a new type of working class • Post-war capitalism was built on a model which assumed a strong partnership between the state and capital. • Capital prepared to commit to long-term investment in activities that supported the employment of a skilled working class, but required the state provide it with this class, appropriately educated and socialised to meet the needs of Fordist production. • Features of this model – jobs for life, regulation and a role for unions, the male family wage.

  4. Problems with this model • Required regulation to provide stable conditions that would encourage long-term investment. • Also, high rates of taxation to support state services • A state bureaucracy to oversee economic planning • Consequently a marginal role for the commercial middle classes who also carried what they thought were unacceptably high levels of taxation

  5. Implications for immigration policy • Immigration associated with ‘bottlenecks’ in manufacturing and the public sector. • Periods of downturn and reduced demand for labour could be rapidly translated into more restrictive immigration policies. • This was particularly the case after 1973 when the rationalisation of industry forced by the OPEC oil crisis brought back large-scale unemployment. • This reduced labour demand encouraged the view that the immigration legislation of this period was working.

  6. Thatcher’s settlement • Deregulation of labour markets • Increased mobility of capital (floating exchange rates, the City ‘Big Bang’, etc) • Sharp decline in industrial sectors that has provided a base for trade union power. • The ‘liberation’ of the middle classes through lower taxation and increased opportunties to leverage value from asset inflation. • Squeeze on the public sector

  7. Outcomes • Much smaller industrial base • Decline in skilled jobs offering life-long employment prospects • Expansion of jobs in service sector • Higher proportion of lower paid jobs • Cushioning the danger of social tension through the large-scale use of social welfare allowing large numbers of middle-aged males to be weased out the labour market • An economic recovery driven by more intensive market competition.

  8. Implications for immigration • No immediate expansion of demand for immigrations emerging from these market driven reforms. • But external effects – Thatcherism allied with US power to become the neo-liberalism that filled the vacuum in the post-Cold War period – began to produce a more volatile situation internationally bringing larger numbers of workers into migration systems. • This intially seen as increased refugee flows, but latterly became economic migration.

  9. 1990s onwards – the new economy and migration demand • By mid-1990s capitalism was emerging as a competitive system in which firms gained advantage by managing supply chains – off-shoring but also just-in-time production domestically. • Ultra-flexible labour force had been summonsed but in conditions of broadly full-employment as a result of a long boom and labour supply restricted by social welfare provisions that provided for subsistence. • Demand for labour therefore flowed over into a new phase of immigration.

  10. Implications for politics • New Labour reconfigured the objective of immigration management away from ‘reduction to an irreducible minimum’ to policies which supported growth. • Required a reform of work permit system geared towards skilled migration, but also measures aimed at easing bottlenecks at low skilled ends. • This project configured in managerialist terms – low level of confidence that ordinary citizens would welcome immigration.

  11. Ambiguous messages – growth of mistrust • Negative perceptions of refugees • Surveillance of economic migrants – ID cards, etc • Undermining of rights of EU migrants – residence test, etc • Claim for policy rooted in a strong evidence base fundamentally challenged by experience of 2004 accession • Considerable loss of lustre as capable managers but the full force of a backlash still some years away.

  12. 2008 and collapse of New Labour competence • Space now exists for the backlash to more fully develop • Claims of competition between natives and migrants becomes more plausible. • Evidence for this is claimed in the form of wage pressure, youth unemployment, and pressure on public services. • Centre right furnished with arguments which allow it to chip away working class support for Labour

  13. Coalition produces ‘new’ immigration messages • ‘Broken borders’ • Uncontrolled EU migration • Loss of capacity to select ‘good migrants’ and deport the bad • Pressures from population growth. • Need to reduce net migration.

  14. Wider policy agendas • Immigration an obstacle to completing the drive to reform social welfare provision and make it a more effective instrument for disciplining the working class through conditionality, etc • But stronger restrictions also threaten to break up old alliances with business community and also the drive to put higher education on a business footing. • Demographic issues – how does the Tory party avoid alienating the rising ethnic minority middle classes?

  15. Medium and longer-term prospects • Demand for labour migration unlikely to diminish – now too strongly written into the business plans of important stakeholders • Mainstream parties also unable to develop a credible narrative which supports their claim that migration can be managed through stronger policing and more selectivity • Outcome is likely to be the consolidation of immigration as a part of the platform of stronger right wing current in mainstream politics • But still no practical answers to how migration can be better managed/

  16. Thanks • Don Flynn • Migrants’ Rights Network • www.migrantsrights.org.uk • d.flynn@migrantsrights.org.uk • #donflynnmrn