The latest debate taking place against the backdrop of the economic downturn is about migration. The Rudd Government recently announced that it would cut the annual intake of skilled migrants by 14 per cent. Immigration Minister Chris Evans said he would cut the number even further if the downturn got worse.
Difficult issues surrounding migrant workers are bound to arise in the near future. Employers will attempt to sow division amongst workers by blaming migrants for all the economic problems. The union movement needs to adopt a principled class approach when these issues arise.
Unfortunately some trade unions, including sections of the Construction, Forestry, Mining & Energy Union (CFMEU), have already bought into the boss’s arguments and are also calling for a complete halt to temporary skilled migration.
Under pressure from some sections of business, and some unions, the Government has removed construction workers from the list of skilled workers employers can bring into Australia. Bricklayers, plumbers, welders, carpenters and metal workers are now all excluded.
CFMEU leader John Sutton boasted that he had called for the changes more than a month ago. “It was pretty absurd when we could see our people being retrenched all over the place” he said. It’s a shame that Sutton doesn’t see migrant construction workers as ‘his people’, especially since migrants have often been the most militant of workers in the construction industry.
Apart from the racist undertones, the problem with Sutton’s comments is that by accepting job losses, he is admitting that he thinks it should be workers and not bosses who pay the price for the economic downturn. You would expect this approach from a boss but Sutton is supposed to be a ‘leader’ of the workers movement!
It’s not as if Australia has too many schools, hospitals and houses or too much public transport. The reason construction has slowed is not because things aren’t required, it’s because the bosses have decided there is not enough profit to be made.
Rather than accepting the boss’s arguments, Sutton would be better off defending the jobs of ALL construction workers against the bosses who are trying to decimate the markets through unemployment.
It is correct for workers to want to defend hard won rights and conditions. The best way to do this is to ensure that decent conditions are afforded to all sections of the working class. Organising migrant workers into trade unions and waging a united struggle for jobs and equal pay is what the bosses fear most.
The unions need to ensure that all migrant workers are on the same pay and conditions as local workers. Side by side with this the unions should be campaigning for a massive program of public works. This would create thousands of jobs for construction workers, including migrants.
Migration should not be dictated by how much profit the employers can make. While some employers are calling for a cut to migration today, in the past they have campaigned for higher levels of migration to meet demand for their goods and services. They will change their tune again when it suits their profit margins.
The reality is that cutting the number of skilled migrants coming into Australia will not lessen the impact of the economic crisis. Migration actually creates jobs, as people who move here boost economic demand through spending. Blaming migrants only plays into the hands of the employers as it allows them to divide the working class.
If anyone should be ‘kept out’ of Australia it should be the corporate criminals and the bosses who are ruining people’s lives by sacking thousands of workers. It’s time for the labour movement to stop blaming migrants and to start putting up a fight against the bosses and the capitalist system.
By SP reporters