Former prime minister Tony Abbott has been trying to link immigration with the falling living standards experienced across the country. But this link isn’t there. The “stagnant wages, unaffordable housing and clogged infrastructure” that Abbott blames on immigrants are all directly caused by a system that serves big business at the expense of everyone else.
Studies commissioned by the OECD have found that immigration has no clear net effect on wages or on house prices. In fact, a number of studies have found that immigration can create jobs, as migrants need housing and other goods and services. Even capitalist commentators, including treasurer Scott Morrison, disagree with Abbott. From a capitalist perspective, immigrants add to tax revenue and provide workers to be exploited.
Among other things, Abbott blames immigrants for the housing bubble, claiming that high prices are caused by high demand. The truth is that house prices and rents have remained high despite the fact that plenty of overpriced properties in inner city areas of Melbourne and Sydney have been left empty – ‘supply-and-demand’ is not the only thing at work. High prices are created by the fact that capitalism operates the housing market for profit, leading to speculation and price-gouging whenever investors can get away with it.
Abbott also claims, “It’s a basic law of economics that increasing the supply of labour depresses wages”, blaming immigrants for wage stagnation. But it is bosses that consciously drive wages down. Immigrants often arrive with a weak bargaining position, which is exploited by bosses, but there is no reason we should accept this situation. Our goal should be to draw them into the workers movement. Unionists must push for newly arrived workers to be brought into the fold, and made part of the struggle for higher wages.
Actually, wages are low because union activity is low. The Australia Institute released a study in January showing that from 1950-2017, whenever the number of strike days dropped, wages also dropped. There has been a 97% drop in strike days since the 1970s. Union leaders who tie themselves to the Labor Party, accept the basic ideas of capitalism, and refuse to engage in industrial action have led working people into no longer using their bargaining power to push up wages.
Racism is often used to prevent local and migrant workers from uniting for better pay and conditions. Tony Abbott is a notorious racist, and his recent comments included the false claim that immigration brings “ethnic gangs” and crime. In reality, gang activity and crime is a home-grown affair. It is a direct product of capitalism, and it happens everywhere. It is related to the breakdown of social infrastructure through underfunding – something Abbott enthusiastically supports.
Capitalist politicians of all stripes preside over the “clogged infrastructure” that Abbott also blames on immigrants. Instead of expanding services, they have wound them down, reducing public spending and privatising essential services. Abbott himself famously oversaw the deterioration of Australia Post in his short-lived term as prime minister.
The very system Abbott supports is the cause of the problems he describes. He brings these problems up because he knows that people are suffering, and looking for answers. He also knows that the government is extremely unpopular, and that the conservative wing he represents is correctly seen as backwards by most people. His goal is to win a little bit of popular support by pretending to care about issues that affect us. But he knowingly lies about the cause of the problems.
Addressing any of these problems brings us into direct conflict with the capitalist system. We need a united workers movement of unionists and community groups to push for change. This movement must fight for an end to profiteering from housing and other essentials. This means calling for a public housing building program to create both jobs and homes, caps on rents and bans on speculation. It means blocking cuts to social services, and using industrial action to fight for a proper living wage.
Much work will need to be done to repair and expand services to meet everyone’s needs. The building of renewable energy, quality public housing, public transport and other necessities will likely require an influx of immigrant workers to help out. We stand for those workers being paid the same rates as local workers, and for them to be participants in the trade union movement.
Immigrants are not the cause of our problems, but they can form part of the solution.
By David Elliott