immigration and social solidarity

This is an old blog post on the LSE Europp blog, but it’s new to me so worth commenting on in my view. It refers to this paper by Brady and Finnigan which suggests that the old saw that immigration undermines public support for a decent welfare state is flawed.

According to the authors:

our major conclusion is that immigration does not undermine public support for social policy. Even though many have argued that there is a “progressive’s dilemma” or “heterogeneity/egalitarianism tradeoff,” our study mostly contradicts these views. It appears to be entirely possible for countries to be ethnically heterogeneous and economically egalitarian. The rise of immigration does not truly contradict or challenge a public’s willingness to protect the poor, the sick, unemployed or old. In the end, a far more promising question is how, why, where and when does rising ethnic heterogeneity complement or coexist with economic egalitarianism.

This is particularly relevant in the UK where during their peak levels of support the fascist, anti-immigrant BNP were often combining opposition to immigration with support for “old Labour” policies around decent pensions, higher wages, and protecting the NHS; and where the currently ascendent UKIP combine being anti-immigration with populist anti welfare policies and some proven support from former Labour voters.

The fact is that in trade unions and community organising we see everyday that increased levels of migrants in the workforce and neighbourhood can increase an instinct for solidarity – sometimes, yes it is within specific fairly exclusive groups (such as the ‘British Jobs for British Workers’ campaigns a few years ago); but generally we see that people from very different backgrounds see and experience overlapping injustices that if harnessed correctly can lead them to work together with some success.

Two examples which crossover with arguments against immigration (downward pressure on wages and pressure on housing); are firstly the Living Wage campaign which is succeeding and building in a variety of areas and which would not have taken off if it was not for migrant workers mobilising in their communities and workplaces. Secondly we see the growing visibility of housing campaigns such as Sweets Way in Barnet, New Era and Focus E15, Walthamstow, Movement for Change’s Home Sweet Home, Bristol’s Acorn etc etc where indigenous and immigrant residents are mobilising together to win better housing conditions for all.

It’s always good to see academic research that backs up what we know as organisers.

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