Work­ers must unite against xeno­pho­bia

CityPress - - Business - Pa­trick Craven busi­ness@city­press.co.za

The shock­ing out­break of xeno­pho­bic vi­o­lence and the loot­ing of foreign-owned shops in Gaut­eng is de­plorable, and of par­tic­u­lar con­cern to work­ers and the poor – the peo­ple who most need to be united against a com­mon enemy and who will al­ways pay the heav­i­est price when work­ers turn against one another.

Such vi­o­lence and divi­sion fly in the face of the work­ers’ his­toric slo­gan: “United we stand; di­vided we fall.”

Far from solv­ing their prob­lems, this wors­ens their woes by open­ing the way for even more ex­ploita­tion by em­ploy­ers who like noth­ing bet­ter than a di­vided and weak­ened work­ing class. It is not a new prob­lem. Mod­ern na­tion states were formed with the emer­gence of cap­i­tal­ism around 200 years ago, when the new rul­ing class needed an in­stru­ment to po­lice the work­ers whom they were ex­ploit­ing.

This in­cluded us­ing border con­trols to dic­tate where work­ers could and could not live, and de­lib­er­ately cre­at­ing na­tional di­vi­sions in or­der to set work­ers at one another’s throats, rather than united against their com­mon enemy – the cap­i­tal­ist ex­ploiters.

As early as 1870 Karl Marx wrote about the “forcible emigration” of Ir­ish work­ers to Eng­land, which “thus forces down wages and low­ers the ma­te­rial and moral po­si­tion of the English work­ing class”.

“And, most im­por­tant of all! Ev­ery in­dus­trial and com­mer­cial cen­tre in Eng­land now pos­sesses a work­ing class di­vided into two hos­tile camps – English pro­le­tar­i­ans and Ir­ish pro­le­tar­i­ans.

“The or­di­nary English worker hates the Ir­ish worker as a com­peti­tor who low­ers his stan­dard of life.

“In re­la­tion to the Ir­ish worker, he re­gards him­self as a mem­ber of the rul­ing na­tion and con­se­quently he be­comes a tool of the English aris­to­crats and cap­i­tal­ists against Ire­land, thus strength­en­ing their dom­i­na­tion over him­self.”

Marx also recog­nised the same prob­lem in the US, where the most re­cent im­mi­grants, and par­tic­u­larly the black for­mer slaves, were be­ing used as scape­goats to stir up di­vi­sions within the work­ing class, which is just as true and rel­e­vant in Don­ald Trump’s Amer­ica to­day, 147 years later.

In South Africa it is par­tic­u­larly dis­turb­ing that much of the xeno­pho­bic anger is di­rected at work­ers from coun­tries that dis­played in­ter­na­tional sol­i­dar­ity by im­pos­ing sanc­tions against the apartheid regime.

While un­equiv­o­cally con­demn­ing xeno­pho­bic vi­o­lence, it is es­sen­tial to lo­cate and ex­plain the un­der­ly­ing rea­sons for it.

Anger swells be­cause of the poverty that af­flicts work­ers, the un­em­ployed and own­ers of small busi­nesses, es­pe­cially in times of re­ces­sion, but this is then mis­di­rected against those im­mi­grants in their im­me­di­ate neigh­bour­hoods who are wrongly seen to be get­ting jobs which should be theirs.

This feeds the no­tion that the fault lies with the im­mi­grants, rather than their ex­ploiters.

So, the ul­ti­mate re­spon­si­bil­ity for this xeno­pho­bic vi­o­lence and the loot­ing must be laid at the door of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem and the em­ploy­ers who ben­e­fit from a di­vided work­ing class and who cyn­i­cally ex­ploit im­mi­grant work­ers, par­tic­u­larly those who have no doc­u­men­ta­tion and are thus vul­ner­a­ble to de­por­ta­tion, by pay­ing poverty wages and im­pos­ing harsh work­ing con­di­tions.

This in­evitably re­duces jobs for lo­cal work­ers and cuts wage lev­els for all work­ers in those sec­tors.

Small busi­nesses are tar­geted be­cause al­though some are be­lieved to be over­charg­ing their cus­tomers, this has noth­ing to do with what part of the world they have come from. They, just like their South African coun­ter­parts, are strug­gling to sur­vive.

Work­ers’ un­der­stand­able anger about crime is also mis­di­rected. South Africans are just as likely to be re­spon­si­ble for crime and there can be no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for blam­ing it on im­mi­grants.

The trade union move­ment must re­mem­ber its in­ter­na­tion­al­ist roots, summed up by the fa­mous slo­gans, “The work­ing class has no coun­try” and “Work­ers of the world unite!”

So the ul­ti­mate re­spon­si­bil­ity for this xeno­pho­bic vi­o­lence and the loot­ing must be laid at the door of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem

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