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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9 Responses to “Finally, Labour’s left are standing up for freedom of movement”

  1. Ram

    Are these NOT the same people who moan that salaries are being kept low by importing cheap labour from Romania and Bulgaria ?

  2. Dulari-leiylah markelle

    Definitely the left move in right direction free movement. Excellent time as remain voters supported labour not a u turn but Listening to its supporters
    Corbyn must embrace this!!!!

  3. Alasdair Macdonald

    I welcome this appeal by groups within the Labour Party.

    I t must be remembered that Labour’s attitude since its formation has always contained contradictory strands. my compatriot Kier Hardie was opposed to immigration, James Callaghan as Home Secretary was the first to put what might be termed ‘racist’ legislation on the statute book and Jack Straw was probably one of the most illiberal politicians to be Home Secretary.
    But, Labour, and Mr Jeremy Corbyn, personally, have more things of which they can be proud. I still feel (hope?) his reply to Mr Marr was poorly expressed – a charitable view, I accept – because his history indicates a far more humane and internationalist attitude.

    We in Scotland require substantial immigration, as do Northern Ireland and Wales. immigrants have over centuries enhanced the culture and economy of Scotland. The First Minister’s statement to EU nationals in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote was humane, compassionate, and heroic. It was widely applauded. Why is the Labour leadership so afraid? Why has Mr Corbyn supported self-determination of so many groups, but adopts a colonialist attitude to the Scots (i.e.those who live and work in Scotland, irrespective of place of origin) and Welsh?

  4. Michael

    We are, after all, a nation of immigrants: Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes, French, etc

  5. Ray Visino

    It makes no difference what Labour wants or would do. It is a highly complex and appalling situation and we have to cope with what the Tories are doing and attack them for it. Either they must back out of Brexit or they are destroying themselves. Labour can heal.

  6. kerrie ball

    while i support immigration in the uk i do feel that non eu spouses are given a raw deal when wanting to live in britain with their uk born spouses…there seems to be no rights for uk born spouses to have their partners to live with them unless the british born spouse earn £18,600 per year unfortunatly more if children are involved….many uk born feel they are having to leave britain and set up a new life abroad because they can not meet the min income….i applied for a spouse visa 7 months ago for my usa partner to join me in the uk but it was declined due to my income even though i am disabled and i am supposed to be exempt due to receiving carers allowance for my disabled daughter and pip for myself…now i cant move to the usa because my son receives all his medical attention here in the uk and i cant see my situation changing so me and my usa spouse are forced to live thousands of miles apart with our only contact being skype and facebook as border control wont even let my partner into the country since our visa was declined by the home office as they fear my partner might not return to the usa….its a horrible feeling never knowing when i will ever see/hold my partner again…we feel like we are being punished by the government simply because i am a disabled british born in the uk!

  7. David Britten

    Immigration would not be a problem if entry were dependent of having a job paying at least the minimum wage, which should be high enough to make unemployment less attractive…

  8. Dave Roberts

    Without any shadow of a doubt immigration from eastern Europe has held building industry wages down for the last fifteen years. In London there are queues of EU workers, many sleeping rough to judge by the sleeping bags, standing outside branches of B and Q and builders merchants every morning looking for work. They can be hired by the day for forty or fifty quid, they haggle, which was what a labourer was getting twenty and twenty five years ago.

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