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Why capitalists love higher immigration

Lunar House, Croydon, south London, the headquarters of Britain’s immigration service. Photo Guy Corbishley/Alamy Stock Photo.

Many people wonder why successive governments have failed to reduce immigration, or even control it. The answer is simple: the government and the employers like immigration, because it weakens workers…

Sometimes by accident politicians unwittingly reveal what they really think about working people. Gordon Brown, the then Labour prime minister was on a walk about in Rochdale, canvassing during the 2010 general election. It happened when Mrs Gillian Duffy, who had just popped out to buy a loaf of bread, spotted him and decided to take the opportunity to ask him a few questions.

After introducing herself as a lifelong Labour voter and someone who worked for the council supporting children for 30 years, she had a conversation with him lasting approximately six minutes. Immediately afterwards, while being whisked away in a car, and still wearing the Sky News radio microphone, he was recorded saying “She was just a sort of bigoted woman who said she used to be Labour.”

She had asked about taxes, pension credit, levels of crime and policing, the size of the national debt, university tuition fees, a lack of local services and the general need to look after the vulnerable in society. But out of all these topics raised by Mrs Duffy, Gordon Brown on being asked to explain why he had described her as a bigot, had immediately zoomed in on her question about immigration.

‘It is clear that British capitalism wishes to use mass immigration as a weapon against the working class…’

Why? Why did he find dealing with legitimate questions on immigration so difficult, and why did he need to abuse one who had raised them? Mrs Duffy asked “What was bigoted in what I said?”  She would later become angry, though, and not accept Brown’s grovelling apology. Such a peek behind the curtains at, not just the real Gordon Brown, but at the contempt in which ordinary people of Britain are held by its ruling class, would come to define the nature of the continuing debate on immigration.

It is a truism to say we are all in some way migrants. There is little benefit, and great danger, in trying to establish a pure bloodline for the British working class. In the end it is not the retreat into the silos of the differences between us that will make us strong, but the acknowledgement that we all are one working class: we all have our part to play.


Through a journey that has lasted now for over two centuries, many workers have come from abroad and got on the bus with us, and some in time have taken their turn at the wheel. The British working class is not a collection of peoples, but a synthesis – a unique people in our own right.

It is clear that British capitalism wishes to use mass immigration as a weapon against its working class. It uses it both as a tool to try and attack British workers, and as a desperate measure to breathe life into an ever-moribund economy. In order to silence the growing concerns over the consequences of such a strategy, it employs the tactics of lies, abuse and confusion, to divert the argument away from its underlying intent.

So why was it that Gordon Brown was so sensitive about the issue of immigration? Since the election of Labour in 1997 net immigration had immediately risen. In the year following his election, Blair had raised annual net immigration from an average of 100,000 to just below 250,000 a year.

Then, in 2004 when a number of East European countries joined the EU, Britain refused to exercise its right of control over their migration, but instead bowed down to the free movement of labour. The government predicted it would bring 15,000 a year but six times that number came in the first year, increasing to 300,000 by 2015. Added to that there were the 200,000 non-EU immigrants that had entered every year since the Labour government had come to power.

No wonder Gordon Brown was so sensitive to the question, given that unemployment at the time was 8 per cent.


It is clear that there is purpose in the use of immigration by the ruling class. They are not acting in the interest of the migrant nor is it an act of benevolence. They simply act out of self-interest. For them it is both a planned strategic weapon against the working class, and a desperate means of dealing with capitalism’s decline.

Consider the question of pay. It is undoubtedly true that high immigration depresses wages. It has been particularly acute in the low wage economy in general and especially in certain sectors such as health and social care, agriculture, hospitality and transport. This last area is an interesting one, as it should be noted that, as soon as Brexit was finally introduced at the end of 2020 and the EU HGV drivers were restricted in their opportunity for employment in Britain, the wages of British HGV drivers rose by 12 per cent in the first year.

Marx and Engels described the unemployed as the “reserve army of labour”, a necessary component of capitalist production, a constantly available reservoir of labour that ensured that in the battle between capital and labour, capital would try to keep the upper hand. For periods in the past, under Thatcher for example in 1984, it was wielded at a level of 12 per cent. Currently unemployment stands at about 4 per cent. A great improvement you might think. But things have changed. Through the aid of mass immigration, so easily facilitated as part of globalisation, capital now views the whole world as its “reserve army of labour”.

Since 2020 when EU workers no longer had free movement of labour into Britain, the issuing of work visas has exploded – from 80,000 to 340,000 a year, an increase of nearly 400 per cent over the three years. The Work Visa Application Scheme lists occupations that need filling.  On looking at the list however, you may be astonished to see what is thought to be a critical occupation.

When have you ever thought that this country is short of estate agents, or personal trainers, or disc jockeys, or scrap metal dealers, or amusement arcade owners? The list is so long and comprehensive that it would be difficult to find the few occupations that are not on it. This is of course deliberately so all-inclusive as to be no barrier at all to those seeking entry. It is also saying that British workers do not have the talent or skill to do these jobs.

Why is British capitalism not just incapable of producing sufficient home-grown talent but deliberately setting a course of deskilling its own workers?

One reason is that a well educated, skilled and confident workforce is one to be feared. It would have expectations on pay, conditions and a decent future, expectations that capitalism would be reluctant to grant. What better way to weaken such a position of power than by diluting it with more vulnerable employees. Work visas need to be sponsored by the employers; they have become the new form of indenture, tying the fate of the migrant worker to that of their employer.

The lie of labour shortages results from British capitalism’s unwillingness to invest in both the development of industries that would bring about an increase in productivity, and in the training and education of its present workers to meet the demands of an advanced economy.

Since 2010 the productivity of British workers has stagnated. Productivity per capita has barely changed as employers attempt to extract profit, not through innovation and greater efficiency as would be expected in a classical model of capitalist production, but simply through the continuous input of cheap labour.

So relatively cheap has labour become that it has opened up new areas of activity that would have been unthinkable in the past, particularly in the gig economy and service industries.

At the same time, this depression of general wages driven by mass immigration means that essential jobs, such as care workers, are so poorly paid that they are increasingly only being filled by migrants themselves.


Even Brian Bell, chair of the Migration Advisory Committee and the government’s own advisor, has accused it in the Report on Adult Social Care and Immigration of disguising its drive to low wage employment by allowing health and social care employers to be paid the minimum wage.

Bell goes on to speculate that this may become the norm in other areas of the public sector. He told the Guardian, “It is because we’re not doing anything on the wages front, and until we do that, then we are accepting that exploitation is part of the way that we’re going to pay for social care: and that just seems appalling.”

Immigration, far from meeting the demand for an increasingly skilled workforce, is in fact reducing skill levels. This is illustrated by the LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance report on productivity, which identifies falling skill levels and capital investment as the cause of Britain’s poor productivity.

The deliberate deskilling of British workers has the benefit of not only transferring the cost of education and training to less wealthy countries who can ill afford it, but also as a means of emasculating skilled sections of workers.

This war on British workers is often characterised as a necessary measure in building the economy. Far from it.  Capitalism in Britain even fails to exploit the advantages it might gain from an increasing workforce.

‘More workers does not mean that we are better off…’

Having more workers does not mean we are better off. Although there has been extremely modest growth in overall GDP, it is solely accounted for by the increase in population. Unsurprisingly, despite the evidence to the contrary, the head of the British Chamber of Commerce, Shevaun Haviland has attacked any restriction on immigration as anti-growth.

So British capitalism continues with the pretence that immigration enables growth, whereas real growth in Britain is stagnant and available resources have to be spread more thinly.

Skill shortages then are the result of the deliberate deskilling of British workers – they are no accident. There is plenty of talent willing to be educated and trained in vital occupations.

But it is important to discuss and agree on how we can oppose mass immigration. A confident working class that frames its opposition as a fight for jobs, wages and skills, is one that stands on solid ground and will be listened to by others. Like the Mrs Duffys, they know in their bones that there is something here that needs to be dealt with.

And to the would-be migrant we say, mass immigration has become the new form of imperialism. It is the plunder of talent from around the world. We say to them, your solution is not to desert your own country and become a tool of capitalism, but to stay and fight for your own independence, and build socialism at home. In the end that should be the destiny of every working class.