Right wing populism and migration
By Sebastian Gerhardt
Immediately after the success of the Brexit referendum UKIPs Nigel Frage pointed out, that he never ever backed a key promise of the campaign to leave the EU: The “350 million pounds weekly”, which should be given to the National Health Service, if only the transfers to Brussels have been canceled, these 350 million pounds – more than 420 million Euro – will never come. Not today, not in two years, never. He had not backed that promise. Only the former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, now has to get rid of all the promises he made as front runner of the right wing Brexit campaign.
The right rejection of the EU is focused on two subjects. One is the critique of the European Central Bank, in Germany put forward by the AfD (Alliance for Germany). The ultra liberals see the monetary policy of the ECB as an undue limitation of market forces. Especially the low interest rates in these years they regard as a violation of their human right on high property income. That the central bank does not determine the interest rates, but has to follow the markets – that is beyond the horizon of a unhappy petty bourgeoisie clientele. Even the actual defeat of the neoliberal critiques of the ECB in the German constitutional court (June 21th 2016) won’t change this.
But the British Conservatives have now business with the ECB. The UK is no part of the Euro zone. All related objections – right or wrong – are irrelevant to the Brexit. The second subject of rightist EU critique is relevant: Already in the election campaign 2015 the Conservatives focused on immigration. David Cameron promised the EU-referendum to unify his party and isolate Labour. The latter worked, the former did not. The British Conservatives all the times have been shy with the stranger EU: To much regulation! With the slogan of limitation of immigration Cameron went into the bargain with the EU. A year later he faces, a sorcerer’s apprentice, the wreckage of his politics.
On the hand it was in the election campaign the question about the refugees, trying to get some way from Calais over the channel. Just before the Brexit referendum there too was heavy agitation about a threatening inflow of refugees. But mainly it was – and is – about the legal immigration, inter alia from EU countries. (The emigration out of the UK is seldom discussed. Yearly 300 to 450 thousand people leave the country.)
The media brand as scandal the migration of workers from Poland, enhanced by the accession of the country to the EU in 2004. Actually at the end of 2013 among the more than 63 million inhabitants of the UK about 700 thousand have been born in Poland, official data. Unofficial estimates are about 1 Million. Among the migrants from Europe those from Poland rank first. But not all are working age, not all are employed. Sure, the migration is felt on the job market. And like all migrants from poorer countries the immigrants do not get the best payed jobs. Of the polish colleagues of Inicjatywa Pracownicza, a leftist grassroots union, many have already worked some time in Britain. They say, that of the three actual mass movements of polish society – hooligans, catholic church and unions – only two made it to the British islands: the church and the hooligans.
That’s why accusing the proverbial polish craftsmen of wage dumping is either stupid or malicious. In a globalized world on the national labour markets people with some times entirely different living conditions are confronted with each other. What for the ones is a starvation wage, because they are living with their families in a metropolitan region with high prices, others with a family on the periphery could sustain all relatives on. That contrast is real and does not go away by wishes ore slogans, only by joint organizing of solidarian perspectives.
20 years ago Britisch and Irish laborers pushed to the German labour market. At home there have been no, especially no decently paid jobs. Long before Margret Thatcher there was a typically British tradition of austerity and wage dumping. And with Thatcher it did not turn to the better. But on the continent the laborers could work as contractors, what for German business resulted in less social security contributions. The colleagues from the British island have been quite competitive – what caused conflicts. But when teens in the small Brandenburgian town Mahlow attacked June 16th 1996 three British/jamaican laborers it was not about wages, but racism. They pursuited the escaping strangers and the attack resulted in a heavy car crash. Since Noël Martin from Birmingham is tetraplegic. In Mahlow many things have changed – like in other affluent suburbs around Berlin. There is a youth exchange with Birmingham and there are local activists, working for refugees, confronting racism. But in February 2016 there too was an arson attack on a building, prepared to accommodate refugees.
The official unemployment rate in Britain is merely 5 percent (May 2016). Last it was as low in October 2005. On other side of the same story there are the many, who cannot make a living by a job, even by two or three jobs. But that is not about migration, it is about 40 years of neoliberal capitalism. With the Brexit campaign a group in the Conservative party succeeded in integrating a part of the outrage over poverty and social cuts into a new, right wing populist project: Against “Brussels” and for the nation! As long as the outrage over poverty is turned against migrants the conflicts over the distribution of profits and losses among the elites may be fought out with full force. As long as there are only different version of elite politics on the ballot, there is no danger to the elites. Bertolt Brecht once warned: “Nationalism does not turn into something good, if it is in the heads of poor people. By this it only turns into complete nonsense.” Right he was and is.
June 25th 2016. Published in print in Faktencheck:Europa 1, June 29th, sold copies by July 1st :20.000.