It’s striking that, in his recent speech, Ed Miliband appears to be keenly interested in the language skills of people who move to Britain but has little or nothing to say about their impact on the labour market and wage rates (Attack on Labour’s ‘English for migrants’ plan, 15 December). If you increase the supply of labour, the price of labour shows an extraordinary tendency to be held down or depressed. Did that sound socialist Ralph Miliband never point that out to his son Ed, nor introduce him to the concept of the reserve army of labour?
If Labour is to have any hope of mending its fences with people at the bottom of the heap who face stiff competition in the labour market from, for example, recent arrivals from eastern Europe, it will have to address a good deal more than language issues. In particular, it will have to address the absurd EU dogma that the disruptive consequences of the free movement of capital can be counterbalanced by the free movement of labour; the latter actually increases the economic pressures on the most vulnerable and disempowered members of host communities.
People, who are tied into inherently localised networks of kinship and belonging, can never be as mobile as capital, which can be moved around at a keystroke. To pretend that they can be, and that sizable, economically driven movements of population pose little more than linguistic and cultural problems, is to propagate myths which facilitate the toxic race to the bottom; it also enables the blame for the consequences of neoliberal policies to be passed on to its victims for their supposed inflexibility, xenophobia, ghetto mentality, bigotry or worse.
•?Ed Miliband’s “comprehensive strategy” for integration doesn’t address the real issue. Yes, learning English is central to some elements of immigrant communities. At QED we put 1,000 people a year through courses in English for speakers of other languages, to help integration and to help them find jobs. But this focus on migrant communities as if they’ve just invaded British shores, unable to speak the language, is misleading. It merely reinforces immigration anxiety and risks fuelling racism and reactionary politics.
I welcome the sentiments behind Miliband’s One Nation concept. But one of the key ways to solve segregation is through employment. A good job gives someone access to different social circles. More needs to be done to address prejudices in the job market. There’s a glaring absence of ethnic minorities in senior roles, despite the shifting demographic evidenced in the census.
Dr Mohammed Ali
Founder and chief executive, QED (Quest for Economic Development)
•?Since debates on immigration tend to focus almost entirely on its economic costs and benefits, Ed Miliband ought to be commended for broadening the debate by placing integration at its centre. New arrivals to Britain have two choices: they can live here either as immigrants or as settlers. The former tend to maintain their ethnic identity as a sub-component of their British identity, while the latter go for dual loyalties and dual nationalities.
Settlers tend to live in a parallel universe, with their own separate TV channels, radio stations, banks, places of worship, vernacular newspapers and religious schools. Since the British state allows them to carry on living in such self-imposed isolation, they have no incentive to integrate. Miliband’s “strategy for integration”, however, which expects immigrants to integrate but not to abandon their cultural heritage, is a non-starter, for it is this multicultural model that created segregation in the first place.
Randhir Singh Bains
Gants Hill, Essex
•?Jackie Ashley (Comment, 17 December) says the Labour government “greatly underestimated” the number of immigrants from eastern Europe following the accession of 10 countries into the EU in 2004. A 10% or 20% error may be described as a great underestimate, but one in excess of 2,000% can hardly be. The government forecast was for 13,000 and the actual figure was in excess of 300,000. This is wilful miscalculation designed to smooth the way for cheap labour, ushering in a race to the bottom on wages and conditions.