Comments: Migration benefits the economy – so stop the hypocrisy

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The backlash against migration makes no sense, two commentators from opposite sides of the political spectrum in British newspapers argue. 

“It has always been tempting to scapegoat ‘the other’ when […] economic difficulties come round,” writes Brendan Barber, the general secretary of the UK Trades Union Congress, in a comment  for the Guardian, but “undercutting, exploitation and unemployment are not caused by eastern Europeans, nor are these things a necessary part of a sustainable economic future.” 

Barber argues that there is very little, in fact, that any government in the EU can do about workers’ migration. He cites the German example, where workers which were not allowed to immigrate as employees nevertheless arrived in masses, working on a self-employed basis. Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman adds: “All EU citizens are still free to enter another EU country as tourists – and then to find their way into the underground labour market.”

“The biggest myth,” Barber writes, “is that migrant workers are causing unemployment. Those parts of the country that are seeing job losses are not those where migrant workers are most prevalent. They will go where there are job vacancies, not dole queues.” Barber criticises what he calls the “lump of labour fallacy”, namely “the idea that there is a set amount of work to go round, and that if you increase the number of workers, unemployment must go up and wages must come down”. 

“The reality is,” writes Rachman, “that the rich world has a huge appetite for cheaper, lower-skilled labour in industries such as hotels, catering and agriculture. It is simply hypocrisy to say that all the people coming across the Rio Grande or the Mediterranean are unwanted immigrants. Somebody wants them or they would not be coming.”

Barber comments: “Our best response is not to yield to ‘little England’, but recognise that the best way of avoiding a rush to the bottom is to fully embrace Europe; and that means accepting the free movement of labour as well as capital and goods.” To which Rachman can adhere: “The correct response to all this is not to continue hypocritically demanding a crackdown on illegal immigration. It is to create more avenues for legal immigration for workers of all types.”

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