Liberal commentators present the ‘free movement of labour’ as a great advance in civilisation, and its possible restriction following Brexit as a body blow to that European civilisation. A century and a half ago the Political emigre Karl Marx wrote of this process in an article called ‘Forced Emigration’:
Begin with pauperizing the inhabitants of a country, and when there is no more profit to be ground out of them, when they have grown a burden to the revenue, drive them away, and sum up your Net Revenue! Such is the doctrine laid down by Ricardo, in his celebrated work, The Principle of Political Economy. The annual profits of a capitalist amounting to £2,000, what does it matter to him whether he employs 100 men or 1,000 men? “Is not,” says Ricardo, “the real income of a nation similar?” The net real income of a nation, rents and profits, remaining the same, it is no subject of consideration whether it is derived from 10 millions of people or from 12 millions. Sismondi, in his Nouveaux Principes d’Économie Politique, answers that, according to this view of the matter, the English nation would not be interested at all in the disappearance of the whole population, the King[c] (at that time it was no Queen, but a King) remaining alone in the midst of the island, supposing only that automatic machinery enabled him to procure the amount of Net Revenue now produced by a population of 20 millions.
At the time he was referring to what was being done to the population of Scotland and Ireland, who at the time, to satisfy the ‘improvement’ of agriculture were being forced from the small holdings to emigrate at the rate of over 300,000 a year. But it could as well refer to what has been happening to Southern and Eastern Europe recently. In Greece and Spain the austerity policies of the European Union have driven unemployment to levels where one in 4 or one in 5 of the adult population has no job.
Unemployment in Europe April 2016 (Eurostat)
For youth the figures across Southern Europe are far worse. Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Croatia, all have youth unemployment rates of 30% or more. The EU has as Marx put it ‘pauperised the inhabitants of whole countries’, and then holds it up as freedom’s triumph when they are driven to emigrate. Meanwhile Britain, France and the USA have systematically subverted secular states in the Arab World by invasion or the supply of arms to Jihadist rebels, unleashing a flood of impoverished refugees from these formerly stable, and in some cases prosperous nations.
I showed in my last post how migration increases the exploitation of the working classes by the employing class. This has become the deliberate and conscious policy of the rulers of the European Union, one shared by our own employing class. With Brexit having been voted on by the people, the business interest are desperate to do a deal which will still secure them access to cheap labour. This is why they so favour the Norway option.
In 1866 faced with a similar strategy, albeit on much more puny scale, by the employing class in Britain Marx issued the following proclamation on behalf of the International Worker’s association.
Some time ago the London journeymen tailors formed a general association to uphold their demands against the London master tailors, who are mostly big capitalists. It was a question not only of bringing wages into line with the increased prices of means of subsistence, but also of putting an end to the exceedingly harsh treatment of the workers in this branch of industry. The masters sought to frustrate this plan by recruiting journeymen tailors, chiefly in Belgium, France and Switzerland. Thereupon the secretaries of the Central Council of the International Working Men’s Association published in Belgian, French and Swiss newspapers a warning which was a complete success.The London masters’ manoeuvre was foiled; they had to surrender and meet their workers’ just demands.
Defeated in England, the masters are now trying to take counter-measures, starting in Scotland. The fact is that, as a result of the London events, they had to agree, initially, to a 15 per cent, wage rise in Edinburgh as well. But secretly they sent agents to Germany to recruit journeymen tailors, particularly in the Hanover and Mecklenburg areas, for importation to Edinburgh. The first group has already been shipped off. The purpose of this importation is the same as that of the importation of Indian COOLIES to Jamaica, namely, perpetuation of slavery. If the Edinburgh masters succeeded, through the import of German labour, in nullifying the concessions they had already made, it would inevitably lead to repercussions in England. No one would suffer more than the German workers themselves, who constitute in Great Britain a larger number than the workers of all the other Continental nations. And the newly-imported workers, being completely helpless in a strange land, would soon sink to the level of pariahs.
Furthermore, it is a point of honour with the German workers to prove to other countries that they, like their brothers in France, Belgium and Switzerland, know how to defend the common interests of their class and will not become obedient mercenaries of capital in its struggle against labour.
On behalf of the Central Council of the International Working Men’s Association,
The policy here was essentially to first use a moral appeal to workers not to cross frontiers to undercut the rates of fellow workers. Those who did so, were threatened with the status of Pariah if they came. What the 19th century workers movement meant by ‘pariah status’ is made clear in the following description of those events published recently in a commemorative article in the Northern Echo
George Stephenson, the leader of the Darlington Master Tailors, recruited 15 German tailors and returned with them to Bank Top on the 6.43pm train.
He placed them in a lodging house – run by Mrs Nelson – which, the moment his back was turned, was stormed by angry strikers.
They drove the Germans across town until Mr Stephenson found them sanctuary in the Station Hotel, in Hopetown.
“A large crowd collected in front of the house, amongst whom were 20 or 30 tailors using threatening and obscene language,” said the D&S Times.
At least one of them, Edward Cawfield, burst into the pub and accosted Mr Stephenson as he tried to protect the Germans.
Mr Cawfield “seized Mr Stephenson by the beard and a struggle ensued, in the course of which the hat of complainant (Stephenson) was crushed, his coat torn and his head bruised”.
The stand-off continued late into the night. A couple of days later, Mr Cawfield appeared before magistrates and was fined ten shillings for assaulting Mr Stephenson.
In other words ‘obedient mercenaries of capital’ got the standard reception for blacklegs.
By 1880 we see the topic being touched again in the Programme of the French Workers Party, co-authored by Marx, and Guesde which included the following immediate economic objectives:
- Protective supervision of apprentices by the workers’ organizations;
- Legal minimum wage, determined each year according to the local price of food, by a workers’ statistical commission;
- Legal prohibition of bosses employing foreign workers at a wage less than that of French workers;
- Equal pay for equal work, for workers of both sexes;
What is significant about this is that it moves beyond a mere trades union response – appeals to solidarity, use of physical force when that failed, to a political response. The Worker’s Party was standing on an election manifesto advocating that the state intervene and prohibit the employment of foreign workers at less than the going French rate. Note that the target of prohibition here is not the migrant workers but the employers.
In principle both these tactics could be employed by the trades union federations in Europe. A general appeal could be issued to workers not to cross borders and accept work that undercut workers in the country they moved to. That would be backed up with the appropriate threat of ‘pariah status’ should this appeal be disregarded.
Within each country, the Labour parties should, on coming to power enact legislation prohibiting the employment of foreign labour at below local union rates, and stipulating that all workers coming into the country to work must join the appropriate local union. Attempts to enforce milder versions of this in the EU have led to legal penalties being levied by the ECJ against unions in the Laval and Viking cases.
An important feature of this old programme is the heavy emphasis that it lays on the self administration of labour legislation by the worker’s own organisations: supervision of apprentices, workers statistical commission. The corresponding political demands in the context of preventing the import of low paid migrant labour would be something like:
- Enforcement of the laws against the exploitation of migrant labour to be the responsibility of the local Trades Councils who would have the authority to shut down all employers found to be breaking these laws;
- Work permits to be issued by Trades Councils when people join the appropriate union;
- Full legal immunity for mass picketing, secondary actions, blacklisting etc, used in enforcement of the regulations.