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Immigration is a symptom, not the cause, of our broken economy

Immigration is a symptom, not a cause, of a broken economy

In the flatlands of Lincolnshire, in eastern England, the town of Boston is a centre for the industrial scale vegetable farming that flourishes in those fertile soils. In the EU referendum, it recorded the highest vote for Brexit anywhere in the country.

The connection is straightforward. Those farms attract large numbers of labourers from Eastern Europe to pick and process their produce. This often transient, alien-sounding workforce is highly visible in an area of limited employment prospects and low pay. It is easy enough to make the case that immigration is depressing local wages while putting pressure on housing and other social services such as health. Easy and, at least to some extent, true.

If, however, as reported, there are 20,000 economic migrants working in the area, the 6,795 people in the entire county claiming unemployment benefits will not be able to fill their shoes. Nor would they want to: the work is hard, often back-breaking stuff: not much fun for anybody. The only way to get it done is to exploit people from far away for whom UK poverty pay and grueling conditions is still better than they can find at home.

All of which is odd, because growing vegetables is something that many millions of people do for fun, for no pay at all. 

 much of it seasonal and insecure. It attracts people from the E.U. states in eastern Europe not because they want to see the world and meet new people, but because poverty pay in the UK is still far more than they can earn at home.

According to Eurostat (2010 data), median gross hourly earnings in the UK are over three times the rate in Poland and nearly five times the rate in Lithuania. This sharp differential, combined with the availability of ready work, means that workers from those countries are ripe for exploitation. However badly employers or their gangmaster intermediaries may treat them, the alternative is probably worse.

From a traditional perspective, this is a sign of the system working. It reveals the shadow side of the sunny, liberal ideal known as free movement, which has less to do with people going where they like than with business drawing its workforce from wherever it is cheapest. And free movement is not only about labour: if, for whatever reason, the immigrant workforce were unavailable, rather than improving pay and conditions to attract UK workers investors could take their capital to cheaper countries, instead. In fact, they might have to: increased overheads making UK production more expensive would soon send the supermarkets chasing cheaper sources of supply abroad.

The central myth of this system is that low prices benefit people. 

This is the neo-liberal narrative, which seeks out the lowest production costs possible at every stage along the supply chain. If the UK government succeeds in reducing the number of immigrants employed in agriculture and food processing it won't create many jobs. Instead, more food will be imported and the Uk' balance of trade will deteriorate even further than it already has. Jobs will be lost and more farmers will go out of business.  

market solution is drop in currency, which means less incentive for foreign workers and lower competition from over seas goods, which which could increase local wages. The effect of that, however, is inflation, which to which the standard market response is higher interest rates. Either way, local people will suffer… especially as prices necessarily increase of goods that have to come from abroad, such as bananas, oranges, lemons, etc...

Nobody enjoys growing veg in this way; e europeans only do it because they are forced to by circs. In their own contry, occsioned bu neo-liberal forces. But we know that at the other end of the spectrum here is a way of growing veg that people really do like… doing it for onself, or in small communities or cooperatives. (Same principal as sandwiches)