Thousands of Labour activists have signed up for a new free movement campaign as the group prepares a motion to be debated at party conference.
The Labour Campaign for Free movement has won support from 2,000 people since it was set up earlier this month, with the backing of former shadow cabinet minister Clive Lewis, as well as two trade union general secretaries. It warns that a shift away from free movement could damage pay and conditions for British workers.
Michael Chessum, an organiser for the campaign, said: “Just one week after the launch of the campaign we’ve got well over 2,000 supporters of the campaign signed up – that’s a statistically significant proportion of the party’s membership has signed – and it includes a lot of conference delegates and CLP leaderships.
“We could be on course for a landmark policy shift – away from pandering to the Tories’ immigration myths and towards unequivocally putting forward real, radical solutions to people’s problems. In order to win we’ve got to give a clear narrative about who is to blame for the crisis – and that isn’t immigrants.”
Manuel Cortes, key backer of the campaign and general secretary of the TSSA union, recently used a LabourList article to warn that it would be a “disaster” for Brexit to pitched as “EU workers versus British ones”.
“The only winners in this divide-and-rule strategy will be the bosses. As the old slogan goes, unity is our strength. We must fight against the economic conditions that allow these divisive tactics to chime with a proportion of Labour’s electorate,” Cortes wrote.
Nick Dearden, a Labour activist and organiser for Another Europe is Possible, said: “Abandoning free movement will damage to pay and conditions for all workers.”
“That’s why so many on the right of the Conservative party want to scrap free movement – because it will help to undermine workers rights and protections. Labour needs to defend those rights, and make sure we don’t move to a migration system when migrant workers are dependent on their employer to stay here.”
“Yes, we can improve the system of free movement – by clamping down on loopholes that allow unscrupulous employers to divide and undermine us. Our message at conference will be: don’t remove rights, but extend them; don’t divide but unite.”
Don Flynn, a former director of the Migrants Rights Network, said: “Negative attitudes towards immigration are in the ascendancy today because so few people prominent in the Labour Party have been prepared to make the principled argument in favour of the right to freedom of movement.”
“This motion sets out the basis for such a stand and makes it clear that a committed defence of the rights of migrants is part and parcel of the overall fight against austerity and the poverty wages being inflicted on all working class communities in Britain today.”
The full text of the proposed motion is:
Migration and free movement: an agenda of hope and solidarity
Conference notes the free movement debate. On 31 July the Tories confirmed their intention to end free movement between the UK and EU. On 2 August, however, the EU Commission released its Eurobarometer survey, showing 70pc of British people support the right to free movement across Europe.
Stagnating wages, crumbling services and the housing crisis were caused by government and employers making the rich richer at working people’s expense – not immigration.
We need massive public funding to ensure good jobs, homes, services and benefits for all; scrapping of anti-union laws and stronger rights so workers can push up wages and conditions; and communities uniting across divisions to win changes.
Labour is the party of all workers, regardless of where they were born. We note many struggles where migrants have been central to improving low-paid workers’ wages and rights, like the recent victorious cleaners’ campaign at LSE.
Free movement benefits all workers. Without it, migrants are more vulnerable to hyper-exploitation, making downward pressure on wages more likely. Limiting it would damage the economy and hit living standards.
Britain and the EU should welcome migration across Europe and from beyond.
In government, we should maintain and extend free movement; scrap the net migration target; strengthen refugee rights; dismantle the brutal anti-migrant regime built over decades; abolish immigration detention centres; ensure the right to family reunion; end use of “no recourse to public funds”; end use of landlords and health workers as border guards; and reverse attacks on migrants’ access to the NHS.