Brutal forced deportations, globalization and human rights

The Stansted 15 were right to draw forced deportations into the light of day. They have exposed the hypocrisy and double standards of Britain’s utopian globalization ambitions, Ann Pettifor argues

Photo: Håkan Dahlström (CC 2.0)

Okay, this is personal. Immigration, the Home Office, terrorism and the law are not my field of expertise. I am much happier discussing Sovereign-bond-backed securities, shadow banking and monetary theory. But today I must speak out.

A dear friend – a quiet peace-loving, earth-caring gentlewoman and human rights campaigner – is currently being held under a law intended by our government to deal brutally with terrorists. Her crime? Defending the human rights of strangers: visitors to our shores that are, in the dark of the night forcibly detained and secretly deported back to countries in conflict, or countries where their human rights are denied. According to some, the government uses racial profiling to select people for deportation so that it can fill planes, including people with active legal claims.

There is a lot profoundly wrong with the way these flights are furtively and apparently forcefully managed by the Home Office – with very little independent scrutiny or oversight.

I am angry about that. But I want to focus on the broader issues driving this campaign to forcibly repatriate migrants – and to expose the British hypocrisy and double standards at the heart of it.

Our leaders boast about a post-Brexit ‘global Britain’. We live in a country that has led the way in promoting the ideology that global markets – in money, goods and labour – provide the most efficient and effective governance of any economy. We have been drilled into believing that markets are best managed, not by elected politicians, not by regulation, but by ‘the invisible hand’ of market forces. Britain positively welcomes dirty, cross-border flows of money. We are the most globalized, ‘open’ economy in the world – a leader in the de-regulation, or self-regulation of markets in goods and services. We happily sell off the nation’s ‘family silver’ – our manufacturing companies, our land and property – to corporations that are unaccountable and largely invisible players in global markets. We do so, because global markets, economists and politicians argue, are most effective (at e.g. lowering wages) when they are detached from democratic oversight and regulation. That is why right-wing politicians are so enamoured of ‘global Britain’, and so critical of the EU’s defence of workers’ rights.

‘Free markets’ in people or labour have long been advocated by ‘globalization’ ideologues as one of the ways of a) creating a globalized market in labour and b) lowering wages around the world – a global race to the bottom. (Destroying or undermining trades unions is another way of achieving the same goal.)

As a result of ‘globalization’ wages have fallen across the world as a share of national income and since well before the Great Financial Crisis. Indeed wages as a share of national income began to fall as ‘globalization’ took off in the 1980s and 90s. The IMF explains in plain language, what happened both in rich and low income countries:

‘The labor share of income – the share of national income paid in wages, including benefits, to workers – has been on a downward trend in many countries. In advanced economies, labor income shares began trending down in the 1980s, reaching their lowest level of the past half century just prior to the global financial crisis of 2008–09, and have not recovered materially since. Data are more limited for emerging market and developing economies, but in more than half of them – and especially the larger economies in this group – labor shares have also declined since the early 1990s.’

The reaction to this worldwide fall in living standards for those on wages was predicted by Karl Polanyi back in 1944. He wrote then, in The Great Transformation, that self-adjusting (global) markets ‘implied a stark utopia’. They could not exist for any length of time without annihilating living standards, both at home and around the world. ‘Inevitably, society took measures to protect itself, but whatever measures it took disorganized industrial life, and endangered society in yet another way.’

Britain led the campaign for the globalization of the labour market. Our leaders – on both the Right and Left – understood well that a global market in labour was the best way to lower wages as a share of income both at home, but also internationally, and to increase profits.

And so workers of the world were encouraged to move away from home, and welcomed into Britain. Not just European workers, but also low-paid, skilled nurses from South Africa and Jamaica deliberately lured away from where their skills were badly needed. Agricultural workers willing to pick fruit and vegetables, for long hours on low wages were also encouraged; as were workers from e.g. West Africa willing to clean hospitals and offices and to work unsocial hours caring for the mentally ill and elderly.

And then the backlash against the fall in living standards began. Not just in the UK, but also in the US, Europe and worldwide. Anti-immigration parties gained public support. ‘Society took measures to protect itself, but whatever measures it took disorganized industrial life, and endangered society in yet another way,’ Polanyi explains. Trump was elected on the promise that he would build a wall between the US and Mexico’s migrant workers. In Britain the backlash was led by the anti-immigrant party UKIP, and took the form of Brexit.

The Home Office was ready. It had begun forcibly deporting migrants back in 2001. But the scenes of resistance on commercial flights proved unsavoury, and caused embarrassment. Hence the need to move to chartered flights and secretive airfields. In 2017, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott wrote in the Guardian that ‘Mass deportation on chartered planes is a brutal way of responding to the current immigration panic.’ And, ‘These type of mass expulsions are “show” deportations and should not form part of a coherent immigration policy.’

The brutal forced nature of deportations undermine the delusion that the ‘invisible hand’ regulates the global market in labour. They undermine the widespread illusion that Britain is a tolerant, decent society, committed to upholding the law and human rights. Their existence, if better known about, would horrify most decent Britons.

That is why my brave friend was right to work with others to draw this brutality into the light of day. By doing so, they have exposed the hypocrisy and double standards of Britain’s utopian globalization ambitions.

She and her friends must be lauded for their brave stand, and for their determination to uphold fundamental values of democracy, transparency, justice and rights. The personal risks they have taken to uphold these values, oblige us to act urgently. We must stop the Conservative government from defining my friend, and her peaceful fellow human rights campaigners, as ‘terrorists’, and from imposing life-long sentences. The way to do this is to spread awareness, and to be ready to act when the trial, which has been adjourned to October, resumes.

As I said, for me this is personal.

Ann Pettifor is the author of The Production of Money (Verso, 2017) director of PRIME economics. In 2017 she was appointed by Jeremy Corbyn as a member of Labour’s Economic Advisory Committee. In 2018 she was appointed to a Task Force to advise Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, Kate Osamor MP.  In 2006, she predicted the Great Financial Crisis in her book The Coming First World Debt Crisis (Palgrave).