Free movement is not only for the metropolitan elite. It is not the reserve of university students spending a year larking about, or bankers working for their FTSE 100 company in their Paris branch or spending a weekend a month in Marseille. It is for every citizen of the EU and for the time being, every citizen of the U.K. Every banker and every bartender alike.
Recently, the freedom of movement between EU states has been criticised as discriminatory against citizens from the rest of the world. That is not a reason to restrict existing freedom of movement rules. Rather, it should inspire us to extend them further afield. You don’t create a more globalised Britain by shutting the door to 500 million people until it opens to the other 6 odd billion.
This is not the time to take one step back to later take two forward. This is a chance to take a giant leap for human kind.
Immigration brings such huge benefits to the UK. Economic, cultural and societal benefits. Our communities and our workplaces are stronger when they are more diverse. While ending freedom of movement may not end immigration, I don’t see anyone arguing that it will herald a new period of mass migration.
Far too often immigration and freedom of movement are viewed as negative. The ultimate stumbling block, preventing us from gaining access to the Single Market. Let us make the positives cultural and economic arguments for freedom of movement we must not make workers the scapegoat of exploitative employers and the gutter press.
Wage stagnation is not caused by migrant labour, but instead by unscrupulous employers. Having worked in London’s melting pot of a hospitality sector, I can tell you there was no discrimination amongst my Polish, Lithuanian, Italian, Spanish, French, Bulgarian or Portuguese colleagues on the basis of our nationality. We were all paid poorly.
We all struggled to make ends meet, to pay our bills, our rent, to put food upon our tables. We all struggled just the same. It was our solidarity as workers that provided us strength: mutual struggle made us stronger. We never blamed each other for our poor wages. We placed the blame firmly where it belonged, with the employers who prioritised profit over our well-being.
As an internationalist party of the worker, Labour should fight for all workers, no matter where they were born.
We must defend free movement of all citizens and of all workers, just like we defend their rights to secure employment and fair wages through the union movement. Freedom of movement is a worker’s right akin to any other – we must defend it as such.
It must be a priority. We must not pander to those to seek to divide workers on the basis of nationality, the language they speak or the colour of their skin. We must show solidarity with all workers. We shifted the narrative on the economy, we can do it on immigration too.
‘Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!’