In response to the economic crisis, the federal government has moved to reduce Australia’s skilled migration intake.
Some unions not only welcomed this, but called for cuts to the 457 temporary visas scheme and even for migrant workers already working in Australia on 457 visas to be sacked first before “local workers”.
This is a very dangerous argument. It risks encouraging workers to turn their anger at job losses onto migrant workers and lets the real problem—profiteering bosses—off the hook.
Any demand framed in terms of “putting local workers first” inevitably paints another set of workers—“foreign workers”—as the problem.
It pits Australian workers against workers from China, India or New Zealand. It seeks gains for one group at the expense of the other.
But “foreign workers” are not to blame for mounting unemployment, rampant outsourcing or worsening pay and conditions.
The blame for these things lies squarely with the bosses—of whatever nationality.
Attempts to play the race card to divide workers have always been cheered on by the right, by successive governments and by the bosses. But they have been opposed by a powerful counter tradition of unity across the labour movement.
The working class of this country is multiracial and most people are proud of that fact. It is made up of people descended from migrants who came here seeking work—whether from Britain, Vietnam, Italy or the Middle East.
There is a proud tradition of joint union activity involving migrant workers in the fight for better pay and conditions for workers regardless of nationality.
The chorus of “Aussie jobs” pulls the rug from under the feet of those who’ve fought to create such unity.
And it can only encourage those elements who want to echo filthy tabloid attacks on migrant workers.
The real issue is the bosses’ continual drive to increase profits by seeking the worst pay and conditions possible—whether in Australia or overseas.
They are only too happy to use race and nationality as divisions whenever they can pit worker against worker.
What they want is a race to the bottom where workers everywhere compete to offer the lowest wages.
Workers from Burma and China want decent jobs and a decent future, just like workers here. They are our brothers and sisters.
Every worker is facing the same horrors in the face of a global recession. We can’t let ourselves be divided by racism or nationalist sentiment.
The answer to companies forcing through sackings is to build a united fight amongst all workers at a company to save the jobs. Management should be forced to take a pay cut, or to make the company take a cut in profits, instead of cutting back by saving on workers’ wages.
We need a united fight that targets the real culprits—the bankers, the multinationals, the politicians. Let’s turn the anger on those truly responsible for this dreadful recession.

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