As the global crisis reduces living standards and conditions throughout the world the everyday reality for millions of people is to flee its effects by migration. It goes without saying that socialists are opposed to all borders and frontiers. Migration has always been a part of human history and population border controls are relatively new. Only in 1905 did the UK pass an Aliens Act, and only during the First World War were passports first introduced. Immigration controls are by their nature racist in that they always aim to exclude particular distinct groups and in doing so promotes racism. It causes massive human suffering and tragedies. The newspaper headlines that men and women would arduously travel thousands of miles, sometimes risking their lives, pay over every penny they have to the people-smugglers just to "milk" our benefits system hardly merits serious discussion. Immigration, for sure, generates problems and can strain the social services but it isn't the cause of the indigenous population's poverty.
The UK population density is 650 people per square mile, well below Japan (836), Belgium (889), the Netherlands (1259) and utterly dwarfed by places like Hong Kong or Singapore (18,000+). The issue of shortage of housing is a completely red herring. There is already a housing shortage and widespread homelessness, and there always has been, regardless of the population. This is due to housing being constructed largely for profit than for need. It is not profitable to build housing for people who can't afford it! And of course scarcity of housing is vital for the profitability of house building as it pushes prices up.
And what about jobs? The working class is global, so we can't just look at its effect in one country. Immigration is not a one-way system because an immigrant is an emigrant from somewhere else. Immigration cannot be assessed or addressed in terms of merely its impact directly on the host population. Workers in the host countries feel their wages are being devalued by immigrants but it is surely in their interests firstly to argue for full union membership and to fight for equal terms and conditions and also border controls that results in the situation where people can be made "illegal" and subjected to sweatshop conditions. Those who are criminalised in this way are forced to operate in working conditions well below legal requirements. If you threaten to start to organise against this, your employer can sack you and you have no recourse to unfair dismissal. And if you actually got anything organised, a quick call to immigration gets you jailed to await deportation.
People who say they want what's best for the working class are only thinking about the native host working class. When Algeria gained independence in 1962 - 900,000 white settlers moved back to France. Unemployment in Marseille rose to 20% within in months but was back down to 6% within a year and 4% in two years.
It is better to see immigration as a trend or contradiction developed though processes of globalisation. Any attempt to simply curtail those forces leads to a lot of hardship and draconian politics. In todays society we are told its acceptable that investment and goods can pass from poor to rich countries without burden, enriching capitalists but poor foreign people can't do likewise. Capital will move to areas where it can maximise profit. It's always done this and the capitalist of any nation or colour can live wherever they choose so, in practice. immigration is essentially a class issue. If international capital can cross borders, so too should labour.
Capital chooses when it needs one’s labor. The ruling class relies upon immigrant workers, legal and illegal, to fill low paid jobs that are not attractive to native workers, to serve as a reserve army of unemployed and underemployed workers to depress wages for the entire working class and to fill workforce shortages created by aging populations and declining native birth rates. Immigration controls currently are largely set out in the interests of businesses. In 2011 the OECD calculate that by 2050 the ratio of working people to over 65s will be 2:1 to keep this ratio at its current level of around 4:1 Italy would need 2.2 million immigrants - Germany 3.4 million. But we should not talk about the capitalist economic benefits of immigration, because immigration can indeed have a negative economic impact. It should be about right to migrate and to live where we wish.
The people that benefit from the anti-refugee and anti-migrant campaigns are the same people that benefit from the real causes of bad housing, long hospital waiting-lists and declining education standards. It is the financiers and industrialists. They support running down public services and selling them off . They want to limit and reduce government spending. So they make scapegoats of migrants. They did the same thing in the 1900s when they blamed the Chinese, in the 20s and 30s when they blamed the Jews, in the 1970s when they blamed black and Asian people, and today, they blame asylum seekers and the influx of Eastern Europeans.
From a traditional working-class perspective, workers from another country are little different from female workers or younger and unskilled workers, or even workers from a different area of the same country. In the past, letting women into the workforce was questioned and challenged. They were accused of working for "pin-money" depriving the traditionally male provider of jobs by working for less pay. Younger workers were also accused of undermining pay since they would work for less since they had no family to support. Incomers from the countryside or another region of the country were also accused of stealing locals jobs. The point is, as socalists, we do not set the interests of one part of the working class against another. Socialists try to improve the lot of the working class as a whole. We fight against descrimination and pay differentials based on sex, age and nationality or race. We organise together to fight the bosses for better wages for all and better conditions for all. A united working class is in our own interest as opposed to one that is divided along national/gender/racial lines.
The socialist argument on immigration is always to get together with migrants to fight together for decent working conditions but we must go beyond the demand for the right to work or fair pay, but fight for the right to a decent life. We demand freedom from the market, not a free market.
The slogan is "workers of the world unite!", not "workers of the world unite unless you're a foreigner".