Love immigrants, rather than large-scale immigration

| 19th June 2014
'How many more can we take?' screams a Daily Mail headline. Photo: Gideon via Flickr.
'How many more can we take?' screams a Daily Mail headline. Photo: Gideon via Flickr.
The quest for never-ending economic growth demands high levels of immigration, writes Rupert Read - as do the demands of capital for pools of educated, needy, obeisant, low waged workers. Can we love individual immigrants, while opposing mass immigration?
High levels of immigration create a more divided society, socially and economically, and ecologically weaker and less resilient.

Bien-pensant green types - that is, people like me - often think that, because UKIP types (and the BNP, and the Tory Right) hate large-scale immigration into this country, we should love it.

But that's like saying: because Hitler was a vegetarian, we should be voracious meat-eaters.

By the way: next time someone trots out this canard, do please also point out that Hitler wasn't a vegetarian - or if he was, he was one with a particular relish for sausage, and turtle soup.

No compromise on humanity

Of course it right to attack UKIP victim-blaming strongly. I have done so myself, tackling Patrick O'Flynn (now an MEP), who is Farage's spin-doctor, over UKIP's xenophobia against Romanians. But that does not mean we should love large-scale immigration.

There must be absolutely no compromise whatsoever on the humanity and rights of immigrants, and on our responsibility to welcome and help to integrate those who are here.

But we ought to accept the power of the reasoning that shows that a high level of immigration leads to significant problems - here, abroad, and in the future. It

  • puts downward pressure on wages for the poorest - multiple studies have shown this;
  • increases wealth differentials - and inequality in a society is the worst thing for health and wellbeing, as Wilkinson and Pickett have taught us;
  • increases GDP / 'economic growth' - something distinctly ungreen!
  • reduces social cohesion - bad news because to create a more progressive / redistributive economy we need a sense of that we are all citizens working together on a common project: this is 'the progressive's dilemma';
  • increases  net environmental footprint - people migrating here whether from Estonia or East Africa suddenly jump their footprint dramatically: this is bad news of course for all things ecological / for future generations;
  • puts pressure on public services, housing, schools, infrastructure, food supplies - and this country is far (and getting further) from being able to feed itself; and, last but certainly not least,
  • strips the countries that migrants are coming from of their brightest and best - which is why many African countries desperately want us to reduce our imports of medical staff, etc.

Getting serious

If we do not rein in immigration, that means that we are not taking a host of important issues seriously, like: being on the side of working-class Britons; equality; limits to growth; building a sense of society and community; future generations - who depend on us to halt the pressure of our ever-growing ecological footprint; reining in over-'development' in this country; helping 'Third World' countries. 

But we must insist that in reducing levels of immigration we offer genuine solutions, humanely. For example,

  • tackling dangerous climate change - and other 'push'-factor environmental problems, that are hitting 'Third World' countries particularly hard;
  • reducing war and oppression - again, obvious 'push' factors about which we can, usually, do something;
  • increasing, and improving, foreign aid  - opposing the pathetically short-sighted, selfish, irrational UKIP / Daily Mail opposition to foreign aid;
  • raising standards elsewhere - for example, a European living wage or Euro-level citizens income; and
  • tackling exploitative employers - controlling gangmasters who exploit migrant labour, and stopping the abuse of migrant workers, who in some cases only the wages or conditions of their home country even while they are working here.

And we should seek to implement these policies jointly with as many other countries as possible, starting with our EU colleagues: as is obvious, the more buy-in there is to such policies, the more effective they will be.

We need, especially, collectively to reduce bad 'push' factors that lie behind the wish or need to migrate, including low wages in other European countries.

A new, fairer, more democratic global order

We ought also to be clear that resisting large-scale immigration is only one part of a larger picture of resisting neo-liberal growthist globalisation, and of regaining the ability to protect ourselves against rootless international capital.

As already implied above, a more general point is that we need to actually mean the talk about 'subsidiarity' that is supposedly so crucial to Brussels.

We have to get serious about re-localising our economies and societies, about allowing power to be exercised at the lowest possible and appropriate level for it to be exercised. This is what democracy in the 21st century would be.

And - as is already implicit in what I suggested above - another key part of the picture is to tackle the power and wealth of the rich. We have to reverse the tide of economic inequality that has engulfed our societies over the past 40 years.

What's the relationship between immigration and GDP?

So, we all know that GDP is a farrago, and GDP-growth a disastrous goal for a society to have. We all know that being eco-minded requires thinking beyond growth, to a post-growth society.

But we also all know that the 'mainstream' thinking in our society remains madly trapped within the obsessive desire for 'growth'. Immigration plays two roles in this.

First it helps Britain's oligarchy to bypass social concerns about what our economy, and our government, are doing to us as a society - and instead just pile ahead with seeking to 'grow' the economy.

Brits demanding better wages for agricultural labour or work in care-homes? Don't worry: get foreigners to do the work instead. Don't want to spend the money to train and educate young people for productive employment? Simple: steal foreign workers to do the jobs for you.

Need to 'discipline' your home-grown workers to stop them demanding wage-rises and threatening to go on strike? Same solution. This, incidentally, is why Gordon Brown was so keen on New Labour's high-immigration policy.

Our neoliberal elites just love it

Governments are still, madly, judged on whether or not they are raising the nation's GDP. Immigration plays an even simpler role in this, in the following way: the more people who get added to our country, the larger GDP gets, simply by the country having more people and thus more economic activity within it.

Large-scale immigration doesn't necessarily raise GDP-per-capita, mind you: but GDP per capita isn't what the BBC et al fixate on. They simply look at the overall GDP figures. You see how simple and how mad this is? You see how attractive it is for mainstream politicians to find reasons and ways, on the sly, to let more people into this country?

That means more people working, producing, consuming, doing all the things that our capitalist growthist economy wants - things that are gradually undermining our ecology, fatefully.

The more our population grows, the more GDP goes up. And the happier, until pretty recently, our 'main' neo-liberal parties are.

Mass immigration is about economic power, not wellbeing

Immigration makes countries 'economically more powerful' - so long as your economy is judged by the unbelievably-crude, destructive conventional standards: like GDP.

It is slightly reminiscent of fascism: remember how Mussolini and Hitler liked to increase the size of their populations, so that they could become economic powerhouses? And have plenty of future soldiers to swell the ranks of the military.

Yes: just because Hitler liked something doesn't mean it was necessarily bad. But there is a genuine similarity between why governments now secretly like mass immigration, and why fascism openly encouraged population growth. In both cases, it's about building 'economic strength', as conventionally understood.

We need to move beyond thinking of real economic strength as having anything to do with GDP growth. High levels of immigration create a more divided society, socially and economically, and ecologically weaker and less resilient.

We Greens need to be absolutely and resolutely pro-immigrant - while turning against large-scale immigration.



Rupert Read is Green Party Transport Spokesperson. He narrowly missed being elected an MEP for the East of England in the 2014 European Elections.

Twitter: @GreenRupertRead (political) or @RupertRead (personal).

See Rupert's report: 'Post-growth Common Sense: Political Communications for the Future', published by the Green House Think Tank.


Help us keep The Ecologist working for the planet

The Ecologist website is a free service, published by The Resurgence Trust, a UK-based educational charity. We work hard - with a small budget and tiny editorial team - to bring you the wide-ranging, independent journalism we know you value and enjoy, but we need your help. Please make a donation to support The Ecologist platform. Thank you!

Donate to us here