Migrants' Rights Network
Labour Party Conference – It wasn’t about immigration at all

Labour Party Conference – It wasn’t about immigration at all

Last week saw the Labour Party conference in full swing and leading with its slogan ‘for the many and not the few’ but where do migrants and immigration fit into this mantra?

BY FIZZA QURESHI

 

 

Post-Brexit immigration policy?

The Labour Party surprised its delegates and others for the lack of debate on Brexit at the conference. While it did at the nth hour, release a document that described what kind of Brexit Labour wants, it said little to nothing about what kind of immigration system it wants or, the UK needs post-Brexit, or talk about freedom of movement.

Whilst there were encouraging but very brief statements made on migrants – most notably a very moving standing ovation for EU nationals in the UK urging the government to guarantee their rights, and a renewed call for not scapegoating migrants for the ‘ills in our society’ there was little else and no detail! So are we clearer on what is Labour’s proposal for a post-Brexit immigration policy? Not by any means yet.

Saying the right things?

Jeremy Corbyn in his closing conference speech could not have put it clearer that ‘bosses are the cause of wages being driven down not migrants’- although you’d think differently having read the Labour manifesto. Statements like this are particularly welcome, when certain Labour MP’s continue to use this unfounded and inflammatory rhetoric. But how will these general statements translate into concrete policies that will improve the working and living conditions of all exploited workers?

When Labour however then go on to using  unhelpful labels of ‘low-skilled and unskilled’ workers that more than often do not accurately reflect either the skills or the work done by many migrant workers in the UK-  it falls in the trap of  speaking about migration  only in terms of  contribution’ and ‘profitability’ to the UK economy. It ends up losing the argument, and the support from migrants’ rights campaigners, if that is the only lens they see them through.

‘Fringing’ it

The most interesting and lively debates on either Brexit, migration or freedom of movement were held in the fringe events or parallel events held as part of The World Transformed. The breadth of discussions on these issues showed the appetite for these topics- ones that are central to the Brexit discussion, and how we want the UK’s relationship to the EU to develop.

At one fringe hosted by War on Want and Global Justice Now, the panellists discussed the need for a ‘just migration policy’ one that considered ‘open-borders’ but also the need to address the drivers of migration, so that people chose to migrate rather than having to be forced into such significant decisions.

It also highlighted how increasing borders and restrictions on migration or the conditions migrant workers end up attached to results in more exploitation not less, which suits certain nefarious employers. All aspects that are seldom discussed, and almost never by the politicians that support those restrictive policies.

Where criticism is being made of the Brexit negotiations being too slow, and complicated by different messengers in both parties, here lies the opportunity for Labour to seize the moment, and show a progressive approach to migration. One that focuses on people’s rights, and not just numbers.

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Fizza Qureshi is Director of MRN

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