Last year, the slogan British jobs for British workers became popular, even spoken by the Prime Minister. And what’s not to like about a catchy slogan like that? Keep unemployment down! New job creation! However, it seems that a lot of people were brandishing the slogan to say ‘kick the immigrants out’.
If one takes a very simplistic view of supply-and-demand economics, one might paint a picture like this: there are x British workers employed in British jobs, y immigrants come along and work for lower pay, knocking y British workers out of jobs. When you look behind the rhetoric of the anti-immigration campaigners, the maths is no more developed than that over-simplistic little picture.
The maths is wrong for a number of reasons, partly because employers don’t buy and sell employees like football mangers, but mainly because the total number of jobs at any one time is not constant. And all the evidence points to immigration increasing the number of jobs in this country. Yes, they come over here and they make more jobs (not take our jobs)!
Immigration has created jobs in two distinct sectors. Firstly, the greater availability of cheap, unskilled labour has allowed labour-intensive industries to expand and thrive, which includes certain forms of industrial farming, packing and manufacture, creating more jobs in these areas. Secondly, this industrial expansion has led to a greater number of lower and middle management jobs as supervisors, accountants and secretaries who manage the unskilled labour. This latter job expansion almost entirely employs the local, settled population rather than immigrants.
So, what’s happened to British jobs? The worse off are British unskilled labourers. Although there has been an increase in unskilled jobs due to immigration, the British unskilled are almost entirely unable to compete. This is partly due to the Thatcherite revolution that had created a British service economy with little room for unskilled labour. This means that the new jobs are almost entirely geared to highly motivated immigrants, often without dependants and sharing cheap accommodation. The British unskilled with families to feed and rents to pay cannot compete. This is a real problem, but it is still the fact that there are more unskilled-job opportunities with immigration than without it.
I missed this article by Evan Davis in the Times that came out about three weeks ago. Davis is certainly no left-winger and is economically astute. Yet, despite the clarity of his argument, popular opinion seems to be that immigration is ‘the problem’, and it has to be ‘dealt with’.
The larger part of the British unemployed are semi-skilled, skilled and middle-management workers. This increased sector of unemployment is due to failures in global capitalism — credit shortages, recession and inadequate employment protection. Deregulation of banking and over-regulation on trade unions is part of the problem; the former ties the physical economy in with an abstract gambling game, while the latter champion fair wages and employment conditions. To blame immigration for this unemployment, or almost any unemployment, is nothing more than legerdemain.
For the British unskilled worker, there must be opportunities created for on-the-job training, that is government incentives for employers to hire long-term unemployed in return for promises that they will be trained up on the job, helping the unskilled hurdle that skill barrier. On the other hand, the general pay and conditions for the most poorly paid jobs, the unskilled jobs, should be improved. This will make it possible for British workers to go for these jobs too, and will prevent a tendency towards the capitalist need to create slave labour to increase profits. Improved pay and conditions for these workers would also mean increased tax revenue to pay for public services, healthcare in particular. Whereas the anti-immigration campaigners see immigrants as burdens on the healthcare system, the low or non-existent tax paid by their employers for them is the real steal. In fact, skilled immigration of healthcare professionals has bolstered a Britain unable to produce enough nurses and doctors to meet our demand. This makes immigration a net giver to our healthcare system, rather than a drain on its resources.
The sham rhetoric of the anti-immigration message — entered into by the BNP, UKIP and Tories alike — is a scapegoating of the immigrant to cover up what is fundamentally a class issue, that the working class have had a raw deal from Thatcherism and New Labour. Successive governments have moved us towards a service economy where workers are left having to skill-up constantly to compete and where we have become dependent on immigration to provide unskilled labour.