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The Politics of Immigration in Hard Times


The Politics of Immigration in Hard Times Don Flynn Outline of argument The character that immigration took in the noughties has its origins in the reconstruction of ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Politics of Immigration in Hard Times

The Politics of Immigration in Hard Times Don
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.

Thatchers 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

Problems with this model
  • Required regulation to provide stable conditions
    that would encourage long-term investment.
  • Also, high rates of taxation to support state
  • 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

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
  • This reduced labour demand encouraged the view
    that the immigration legislation of this period
    was working.

Thatchers 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

  • 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.

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
  • This intially seen as increased refugee flows,
    but latterly became economic migration.

1990s onwards the new economy and migration
  • 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.

Implications for politics
  • New Labour reconfigured the objective of
    immigration management away from reduction to an
    irreducible minimum to policies which supported
  • 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.

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
  • Considerable loss of lustre as capable managers
    but the full force of a backlash still some years

2008 and collapse of New Labour competence
  • Space now exists for the backlash to more fully
  • 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

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.

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
  • Demographic issues how does the Tory party
    avoid alienating the rising ethnic minority
    middle classes?

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/

  • Don Flynn
  • Migrants Rights Network
  • donflynnmrn