I feel like a stranger in the world, especially Europe. Over the past week or two I have travelled across Europe, from east to northwest, and stayed in different places. It is turning out to be intimately familiar and disconcertingly strange.
Why? After some discussion, it seems as though these are some of the features.
Everywhere it seems as though people are obsessed about refugees and immigrants, no matter what the political persuasion. It is not merely the right-wing groups and parties who make this an issue: nearly everyone seems to feel it is the main problem facing Europe today. But if we take a Marxist approach, then the concern with migrants is a diversion, if not a symptom of the main problem: economics and class.
So let me use this lens to interpret what I see and hear:
- A major plank of EU economic policy is a ‘free labour market’. What this really means is that people seeking work from poorer countries will drive down incomes and conditions of those in the richer countries. In other words, the migrant labour situation is standard EU policy. This situation creates the scene for a number of responses:
- The recasting of this policy in light of the strange framework of a scarcity of jobs: with limited jobs in the richer countries, the increasing number of migrants seeking work means greater unemployment, crime and so on. Very strange: if workers in the richer countries were prepared to take jobs with lower pay and less conditions, wherever such a job might be, they would still have work – in line with EU policy.
- The narrative of the various ‘right-wing’ parties is that migrants from the Middle East are taking jobs.
- The narrative of the social-democratic parties is that cheaper labourers from eastern Europe are taking jobs and social welfare.
- Speaking of social welfare, the implicit xenophobia of the welfare state reveals its face. Such welfare is only for the deserving within a state, not for the EU as a whole, or indeed wider.
- And those who see themselves as middle-class progressives can now blame the workers for being racist and reactionary.