Divide and rule is the oldest trick in the book

Scapegoating immigrants is a way to distract attention from the economic crisis and who caused it, says BILLY HAYES 

You have to go back to the 1930s to find anything worse in this country. The same is true of the rise of racism and racist scapegoating. Jews are once more being targeted. So too are many others, including people from eastern Europe and anyone with a black or brown skin. 

There is an enormous barrage of propaganda, discrimination and physical attacks on Muslims. There is a clear link between these two processes, the economic crisis and the virulent rise of racism. 

Anyone who knows about the 1930s, or even less extreme crises, knows that economic slump or stagnation are quickly followed by a rise in racist and other types of scapegoating. The reason is also very clear. 

Scapegoating means exactly finding someone else to blame other than the real culprit. In this country we have seen a whole string of scapegoats. 

At different times or in different circumstances the list of scapegoats has included all public-sector workers, anyone in receipt of a social security benefit — most of whom are in work — anyone from Europe, all foreigners, or all Muslims. 

One of the most disturbing features of this is the efforts to set up an “us and them” mentality, to talk about “us” and “our values” and to contrast or exclude the scapegoats. This is deadly to the unity that we need in society as a whole. It is also in sharp contrast to the unity of the trade union movement. 

That’s because unions seek to represent all their members, irrespective of their ethnic origin, their gender, their sexual orientation or their religion. 

We have to do this to be successful in representing our members’ interests and in trying to influence wider society for the better. The oldest trick in the book is divide and rule and our opponents are well used to playing it. We’re not having it. 

The reality is that the global economic crisis was not caused by anyone’s religion or by their ethnic background or by immigration. Two major economies, Germany and Japan, have populations that are declining and becoming older. 

Large-scale immigration would help them to overcome that and so provide a decent retirement for all. 

But their economic crisis was at least as severe as the British one. The economic crisis had nothing to do with immigration. But this is the nonsense that now routinely passes for wisdom. 

There is a growing housing shortage, rising NHS waiting times and some of our schools are falling apart. Public services are being cut, and pay and pensions with it. 

But none of this was caused by immigration. When public industries are privatised, prices go through the roof and the new private employer tries to push through worse conditions and lower pay for the workers. 

But this is the product of the ideological position of the government and managers hell-bent on making a quick buck. None of it is caused by immigration. 

The reality is that many more successful economies than Britain have higher levels of immigration. These include most northern European economies, as well as the US, Canada and Australia. 

As the New Zealand prime minister, who is very far from being a socialist, recently told David Cameron: “You need to explain to people that immigration is a measure of economic success.” 

It is often claimed that immigrants drive down wages. But there is no evidence for this. In Britain, on average immigrants earn more than the average worker who is born here. 

It is impossible for someone earning more than you to drive down your wages. Immigrants are also net contributors to public finances because they are more likely to be in employment. 

The real culprits in our economic crisis are the housebuilding firms that only build homes for the super-rich, the energy companies that gouge prices but refuse to invest in new energy capacity and renewables and the bankers who speculate and lose our money and then expect to get bailouts and bonuses. 

The arch-culprit is this Tory-led government which lets people suffer for hours in ambulances but which sent vans round the country telling people to “Go home!” 

We should be clear that at a time of increased attacks, from Copenhagen to Chapel Hill and Paris, the priority is to unite all communities against all hatred, Islamophobia, anti-semitism, racism and fascism. 

Blaming immigrants, including Muslim and Jewish people, is a way to distract attention from the economic crisis and who caused it. Uniting against racism and fascism is a key part of the role of the trade unions.

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