September 2016        

Immigration: a crisis of capitalism

Eoghan M. Ó Néill

New York’s Statue of Liberty bears an inscription from the Emma Lazarus poem “New Colossus.” It reads: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
     Whatever the case a century ago, today this is a lie.
     A century ago, Europe was on the move. Seventy million Europeans left for greener pastures, totalling 17 per cent of the European population. If immigration from the global south were to equal that rate of movement more than 800 million people would have migrated north since the end of the Second World War, resulting in a population bump in the imperialist centre of 70 per cent. In reality there has only been a pitiful movement of people from the global south of about 0.8 per cent. Hardly an invasion of hordes!
     It is necessary to understand the driving force behind forced economic migrations, and who really benefits. The level of forced economic migration we are now facing is not a historical quirk: it is the response to real economic pressures.
     Nor is the resolving of forced economic immigration simply a matter of social justice. It is necessary to understand what are the economic forces that are at play, and to recognise that we do not have an immigration crisis but a crisis of capitalism. To correctly frame immigration as a crisis of capitalism gives us a starting-point from which to analysis the issue.
     Forced economic immigration did not arise from nowhere. To understand it we need to trace the recent development of capitalist economics. In an effort to stimulate economic growth and secure greater profits, capitalism transferred huge swathes of industrial production in the 1970s from the imperialist centre of North America, western Europe and Japan to the developing economies of the global south—to the extent that at present 73 per cent of industrial production is now based in the global south, and 84 per cent of the world’s industrial wealth-producing workers live there.
     This has had a massive impact on both regions. In the global north, highly skilled, well-paid and unionised labour was devastated by huge job losses. Skilled industrial workers were replaced with low-skill, low-wage and poorly unionised service workers.
     Transferring production to the global south allowed for the reorganisation of production processes so that industrial development could be controlled by monopolistic transnational corporations. The fragmentation of component production among different factories, in different countries, with separate assembly sites and monopoly control of design, distribution networks and retail outlets ensured that industrial development in the global south could not threaten the northern oligopolies and their domination over the global market.
     The control of industrial production brought with it access to cheap raw materials and cheap labour and resulted in massive internal migration to the slums of mega-cities, such as Mumbai and Kinshasa, swelling the ranks of the global reserve army of labour, which now stands at 65 per cent of the work force in the global south.
     By means of the weapons of global labour arbitrage and promoting aggressive competition between local capitalists, monopolistic transnational corporations have used this reserve army of labour of 3.1 billion people to depress wages in both the global south and the global north. In 2015 more than half the world’s population was surviving on $2 per day, and a quarter were barely surviving on less than this.
     In his article “The plunder of the poor” in the July issue of Socialist Voice, Jimmy Doran describes the economic rape of workers in the global south: “From these sweatshops in the global south half a trillion euros is repatriated to the global north every year . . . in wealth transferred from the poorest countries on the planet to the richest, created by the slave wages paid to local workers.”
     Transnational corporations, aided and abetted by imperialist states and their comprador agents, are extracting super-profits from the workers in the global south. Marxist economists, such as Samir Amin and John Smith, have described the exploitative imperialist rent and the super-exploitation of workers. In his book Imperialism in the 21st Century, Smith demonstrates that the imperialist states themselves have their snout in the trough of super-exploitation, taking an imperialist rent by means of VAT on products produced cheaply in the global south and sold at super-profits in the global north.
     It is strategies employed by monopoly capitalism, in pursuit of expanding imperialist hegemony, super-profits and control of the global market that are driving the movement of people fleeing dire poverty to seek a decent living. But it is not an open-door policy based on the free movement of people: rather it is a controlled manipulation designed to cater to the needs of the imperialist centre’s internal labour market, to fill labour gaps and to depress wages, to allow imperialist economies to cherry-pick from the pool of skilled labour and, where necessary, to allow restricted access for low-skilled labour.
     To speak of open-door policies and the free movement of labour is to ignore the building of an Israeli-type wall along the Rio Grande and the anti-immigrant fences being erected all over Fortress Europe, and fails to address the cynical global manipulation of people in pursuit of profit.
     The imperialist economies now have an internal reserve army of labour of 26 per cent of their available work force. With the exception of the needs of individual states, they generally do not require low-skilled workers—indeed the internal environment of austerity is driving the precariousness of labour within these economies, adding to the domestic reserve army of labour.
     The imperialist centre is more interested in cherry-picking skilled labour from the global south to put downward pressure on the wages and working conditions of their own skilled work force.
     In the article “The left and immigration,” also in July’s Socialist Voice, Nicola Lawlor poses the question of what the left’s response to immigration ought to be. While I disagree with some of her points regarding the free movement of labour, I do agree with the statement that capitalism is an inhumane and barbaric system that seeks to “create division, sows hatred and fear . . .” and that there is an obligation on the left to respond.
     Lawlor’s article seeks to provoke a necessary discussion on the left and immigration. Facing into this question, it ought to be noted that the vast majority of migrants are driven by economic necessity. Therein lies the clue to challenging this phenomenon of capitalist exploitation: it should be to economics that we turn to seek a solution.
     However, there is a caveat. The only viable solution is the overthrow of capitalist economics. This requires workers in the global north and the global south to work together, as neither can do it alone. Samir Amin makes this point when he states: “There will be no exit from capitalism solely by way of the struggle of the people of the North, or solely by the dominated people of the South. There will only be an exit from capitalism if and when these two dimensions of the challenge combine with one another.”
      So we in the north need to work out our strategies for contributing to the liberation of ourselves and of our comrades in the global south.
     Fighting for the socialisation of all economic activity is one strand of our strategy; deepening democracy within a clear socialist perspective is another, attacking the EU imperialist entity and stopping the exploitative trade agreements such as CETA, TTIP, TTP, and TISA, which will hurt workers in the north but will devastate our comrades in the global south, unmasking the reality of monopoly capitalism and working to raise the consciousness of our class through education and action.
     The last two lines of Emma Lazarus’s poem read:
     “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
     I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

     The lamp has long gone out, and the golden door is guarded by the military might of the imperial guard.

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