Finally, Labour’s left are standing up for freedom of movement

A new campaign is tackling the Labour leadership's growing anti-immigration narrative.

There’s no easy way to say it, but after years of backing free movement, parts of the Labour left have been pretty quick to drop support for it.

It’s a silence that speaks to the fundamental unease within the party over the EU, with most of the left backing membership of the Single Market and the ability of workers to live, love and work elsewhere – while at the same time feeling hesitant about lending weight to public criticisms of their leader’s stance on the subject.

That unease – and silence – was flagged raised by Jeremy Corbyn’s recent interview on Andrew Marr, where he said:

“What there wouldn’t be [under Labour] is the wholesale importation of underpaid workers from central Europe in order to destroy conditions, particularly in the construction industry.”

Or previous comments from the Labour leader that “free movement ends after Brexit”, comments back by GMB leader Tim Roache on Radio 4 yesterday.

That might now be changing – a backlash is growing among the Labour left.

Today sees the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement – and it has some prominent backers, including union heads like Manuel Cortes (TSSA) and Sally Hunt (UCU), as well as Clive Lewis MP, Owen Jones and NEC members like Ann Black.

In their opening statement, they write:

“The UK is at a crossroads in its relationship to the rest of the world, and so is our party. Immigrants and free movement are being scapegoated by a political and economic elite that is subjecting ordinary people to cuts and austerity. During the greatest refugee crisis in recent years, the Tories have responded with brutality and detention centres.

“Labour should respond with clarity, humanity and solidarity. We fought the last General Election arguing against such scapegoating, and celebrating the contributions of migrants to our society. That tone must now translate into policy.”

Those who want to see Labour back free movement can only welcome the launch. This is a new platform for those on the left who’ve been sceptical of the leadership’s line – but who’ve been cautious about speaking out on their own.

Nor are they mincing their words. Michael Chessum, an organiser for the group, said:

“Labour’s immigration stance has for far too long been dominated by pandering to the idea that immigration is to blame for a fall in living standards. This isn’t just factually wrong, it’s also self-defeating – because we need a narrative that is clear and honest about the fact that neo-liberalism and exploitation are the real problem.”

Whether this marks a new opening in the Labour party is unclear – but there has long been a need for those who want the party to commit to free movement to speak out.

The top brass’ Euroscepticism has gone unchallenged (at least in public) for too long. It’s good to see those among its ranks who’ve long defended European values getting organised.

Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.

See also: Letter from a Corbynista: Labour needs to rethink its rhetoric on immigration

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