The official blog of The Social Democratic Party.

Open borders favour capital not labour

Through its support for open borders, the metropolitan left has aligned itself to economic liberalism and the exploitation of workers.

By: Sadia Hameed

“Ideas, knowledge, art, hospitality, travel – these are the things which should of their nature be international. But let goods be homespun whenever it is reasonably and conveniently possible; and above all, let finance be primarily national.”

~ J.M. Keynes

 

During the Covid pandemic, many people have started to rethink globalisation.

However, whilst economic liberals have all too predictably defended the status quo ante, many on the metropolitan left have also failed to articulate a case for returning industry and production to the United Kingdom.

The old internationalist left used to argue for fairer wages and better working conditions for all; it used to understand some basic economic principles about surplus labour driving down wages and working conditions. The old internationalist left also understood that employers would try to pit workers against one another according to their sex, ethno-national identity or race and worked to prevent this.

However, today’s intersectional left is most enthusiastic at highlighting these differences and promoting such antagonistic practices.

When labour market ‘shortages’ appear, the value of labour increases. A surplus of labour meanwhile drives down wages and, with it, working conditions. After the Spanish flu for example, because of labour shortages the wages of factory workers in the US more than doubled. [1][2]

Instead of taking the opportunity to rethink globalised supply chains and labour relations, on today’s metropolitan left the tendency is more to argue unthinkingly for open borders and/or wistfully brandish images of Communist iconography like the far left activist Ash Sarkar did on May Day.  They do this without realising that unregulated movement was not even permitted within the territories of the former Soviet Union; sometimes you needed a pass to move between the internal regions of the old Soviet Bloc.

We can either have social democracy or we can have untrammelled economic liberalism, but we can’t have both. Under our current version of globalisation, with its supranational institutions, the ability of nation states to protect citizenry and strike social contracts has been undermined. Within deregulated labour markets, increasingly transnational corporations have been empowered to go shopping around the world for the best deal, meaning the lightest regulation and the easiest exploitation of workers.

In its backing for this supranational regime, the ‘open borders left’ has unwittingly aligned with the exploitation of workers. In its blanket dismissal of anything construed as ‘nationalist’, it has been seduced by the policies of ruthless laissez-faire globalisers. Where once social democrats understood the need for a sensible controlled immigration policy, for the sake of all workers, today’s metropolitan left argues for policies which would mean the saturation of labour markets, thus enabling business to drastically undercut national workers. The open border left is inadvertently arguing for the needs of capital against the needs of labour.

One has to ask if the left globalisers of today would have championed colonialism and imperialism as fervently, as these were also forms of economic globalisation.

The idea of a global labour market is one of economic liberalism, in which human beings appear as commodities to be bought and traded, as raw material. In this formulation, there are no social contracts and no systems of social security; peoples’ access to the material prerequisites of life is predicated upon selling their labour in this system.

This is a global race to the bottom, in which the lowest bidder wins. This is arguably one of the most degrading conceptions of humanity and certainly not one that the left should be arguing for.

 

[1] Garrett, T. A. (2007) Economic Effects of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic Implications for a Modern-day Pandemic. https://www.stlouisfed.org/~/media/files/pdfs/community-development/research-reports/pandemic_flu_report.pdf

[2] O’Neill, A. (2020) Impact of the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 on hourly wages in select industries in the United States from 1900 to 1928. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1103413/us-wages-spanish-flu/

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All Comments (20)

  • Who on earth sanctioned the publication of this article. It is couched in such jargon as to appeal only to other dedicated academics. If the SDP is to attract voters it needs to speak to a mass audience. It needs to appeal to sufficient people in language they understand in order to gain at least a measurable proportion of the vote.
    The last time I wrote to the SDP office I got some sort of dismissive form letter. I reported this back and received a similar but personalised reply. Two strikes. Let’s hope this won’t make the third.

    • All makes perfect sense to me. I’m not an academic. I think the article is very well and clearly written.

    • I disagree, the article is clearly written using the approbate terminology. The populous/working class can understand it too.

  • Great article ,
    the left has sold out what it used to perceive as its natural constituency- the working class and now are bed fellows with the neo liberals , strange times indeed .

  • Great article
    The left has abandoned what used to be its natural constituency – the working class , they are now bed
    fellows with the neo liberals , strange times.

  • Great article. Hits the nail on the head. I disagree with the previous commenter — I don’t think this is overly academic. Plus the party needs both a rigorous political philosophy to stand on as well as broad popular appeal.

  • Part, quite a large part, of the current pandemic is a consequence of globally dispersed manufacturing and supply networks. The tragedy of the commons applies, and standards of safety are sacrificed in favour of cheapness and expediency. The democratic polities need to recognise the dangers of freewheeling global trade and production. This recognition should result in readjustment of economies to encourage local autonomy in manufacturing and production. Transport costs, having fallen to trivial levels with cheap air transport, and cheaper container shipping, are likely to increase in a post-Covid19 world. This should bias procurement in favour of sources nearer to home.

  • An excellent piece which clearly explains in danger in the current strategy pursued by the ‘progressive’left

  • Yes, and what a perverse situation we are now in, where the misty-eyed internationalist left has become a bedfellow of the hawk-eyed globalist corporations. I wonder what old Karl would make of it.

  • An excellent summary. The disappointing aspect of recent times is that the SDP was unable to capitalise on the disaffection among many traditional Labour voters who rejected Corbyn’s leadership and felt no option but to either not vote (I know several) or vote conservative (for Brexit). That was a great opportunity.
    Articles such as this really do get to the rub but without a more dynamic leadership, most people are simply unaware that the SDP could be a genuine home for them. If the party is to make serious progress it really does need its own Nigel Farage character to generate the level of publicity required. I fear the SDP might have now missed the window of opportunity and that Starmer will start to regain some of those lost voters which is a real shame because many of the SDPs policies offer a genuine opportunity for changes to the good. I’m sorry this will be disappointing for some people but it is just how I view our time.

  • Good article and one reason why I am looking again to the SDP, after a very long absence. One facet of the argument was the recognition that labour as a commodity actually undermines any idea of a social contract between individuals which is consensual.

  • Though I believe we as a nation must become more uk centred, are we certain the left is all for globalisation. Examples of this please.

  • Enjoyed your article. Where do you think we are headed under this 5 year government? Where will we be in 20 years time?

  • Agree with everything in this analysis. Identity politics started in earnest under Obama as a substitute for the real politics that his country needed, and now this deceptive diversion seems to be well entrenched in the labour party. The Tories won’t care if you self-identify as a chimp as long as they can spin economic illusions like austerity and QE welfare to the bankers.

  • I live in Bristol. Once we understand what kind of measures might be needed to make meetings safe in relation to Covid 19, I would very much like the SDP to organise a short conference in this area. Any chance of that?

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