Pat Rabbitte and Immigration


Labour leader Pat Rabbitte showed his opportunism when he called for a look at work visas for EU nationals. He raised the spectre of 40 million poles chasing “Irish Jobs”. It was a thoroughly disappointing turn by Labour but hardly surprising.Coming after the massive show of strength by the unions during the Irish Ferries dispute, this call succeeded in moving the debate away from workers rights and onto the basest populist nonsense. It pits worker against worker not worker against boss.

The strategy of the progressive wing of the labour movement is to recruit the new EU workers into the unions and keep the standards of employment up. “Workers of the world unite” was an old slogan that Pat Rabbitte should remember from his Workers Party days. But when power is the objective principle is an expensive commodity.

There was a deafening silence from the ranks of the Labour Party. Apart from a few letters in the Irish Times there was no outcry. The truth is that the Labour Party is all about acquiring power, why else the pact with the anti worker Fine Gael party? The senior ranks are filled with power hungry careerists. The biggest problem with Rabbites pronouncement is that it plays into the hands of the anti/immigrant forces, the racists and the capitalists who seek to keep the working class divided and weak.

But the interests of the working class are far from Pat Rabbittes mind. He reckons that by playing this populist card he can outflank Sinn Fein by playing on peoples worries about jobs and instead of pointing the finger at the bosses he is in effect blaming immigrants. Much as in the US successive waves of immigrants, including the Irish, have been scapegoated. Whilst there is displacement and a race to the bottom this can only be tackled by unionising and workers struggles. The state will only serve the interests of capital and any efforts to control immigration will simply feed the black economy, divide workers and give employers the threat of deportation to hang over immigrant workers.

Pat Rabbitte was once a member of the Workers Party which preached international socialism of a kind. Electoralism and reformist politics has lead him and many others to this point. Don’t hold your breath for any favours from Labour should they acquire power. As always the best defence lies in the self organisation of the working class and direct action to achieve change.

From Workers Solidarity 91, March/April 2006
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