Wednesday, July 07, 2004

That migrant flood, crime, and prohibition

Back in May, I asked readers to contact me if you saw any signs of a flood of Eastern European migrants after their failure to arrive. Despite, I'm sure, your best efforts to locate them I had concluded that somehow they must have been mislaid, all 2 million of 'em, by the tabs, Tories and 'kippers somewhere between Estonia and Dover. The figs are now out, and they suggest a net gain of 10,000 since May 1st, at least as far as the worker registration scheme goes. link But an important point is revealed by the Guardian story in that link, and that is the convergence of the legal and illegal job markets. This is a very serious factor for everyone who has opposed the Asylum Cry, as it breaks down one of our best arguments. I usually argue that anti-immigrant policies never work in the sense of preventing immigration - even on an island like the UK, people still turn up - but do have the effect of creating a criminal industry in people-trafficking. The demand and supply remain, and cutting off the legal routes transfers it to the illegal routes. This means that the immigrants who do arrive end up working in fearful conditions in a criminal environment. The smuggling industry grows and demands more and money from its passengers, and after a certain point it starts to vertically integrate with the low-end of the labour market.

Those employers who are willing to take on people whose discovery could get them nicked are likely also to be willing to pay them peanuts, extort "deposits", "fees", "repayments" and a pornographic catalogue of other exactions from them, welsh on them, and resort to violence or blackmail if they resist. The smuggler gangs will be only too happy to discipline them for a fee. Ordnung muss sein, and a bigger organisation always seeks to control its environment. That means securing the end market by linking up with employers and agencies. Going into the gangerman business yourself is the next stage, as it keeps as much profit as possible in-house as well as laying a foundation for going legit, should it become necessary. It's a whole new world of criminality.

The counter, I usually argue, is to increase legal migration - starve the beast, as they say. Who would get involved with this scum if there was any alternative? But this story suggests that there is no longer an alternative, even with full freedom of movement in the EU.
"Richard Kowalski agreed, adding that many Poles he knows have been duped while looking for work. He said: "Some of the ads are from people who lie about money. They are stealing money and for two or three weeks promising money."
In particular, he says his friends have become wary of jobs for food packing at the airport. "They are working one week and they don't get paid, they [employers] say that is deposit. Working another week they say bosses don't come with the money. It's like that, they just don't pay."
Although Mr. Kowalski and his fellows are now legal and, according to our solemn obligations in the EU treaties, should enjoy the same employment protections as the rest of us (there are no transitional arrangements or opt-outs on this), they are getting the same mistreatment as the Chinese of Morecambe Bay. The same features come up again and again in this story, and they are the same ones I just described...
"dealing with unscrupulous landlords and Polish thugs trying to steal his passport, and enduring back breaking building work at £3.50 an hour."
"When they do promise £40 a day, the end of the week brings just £100, a shrug of the shoulders and a "maybe we can pay you more next week""
The culture of reliance on illegal labour, and the criminal structure around it, are infecting the economy. The same features - welshing, exploitation, cooperation of employers, immigrant gangsters and smugglers - are appearing in the legal world. Is it too much to suggest that the tough line policies of the last decade have led to a criminalisation or barbarisation of parts of the "legitimate" economy?

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