Labour has once again tried to out-do the National Party from the right – this time with calls for tighter immigration restrictions. Labour’s recent attacks on immigration should be worrying to people on the left. It seems a strange perversion of the ideals of equality that people should want to put up walls and prevent human beings from coming to New Zealand simply on the basis they were not born here. By telling myths about house prices, wages and quality of life, there is a push to whip up racist sentiment to bolster support, and it needs to be opposed. Not that Labour are the only racists in parliament. National are scaremongering over refugees, trying to place us in the same position as Australia, where wholesale destruction of human rights happens daily on Manus Island. The Greens warn of Chinese ownership, and injected xenophobia into the anti-asset sales campaign. As for NZ First… well, that needs no further explanation. We should be calling for open borders, not greater restrictions, for a free and safe haven for refugees, not the barrel of a navy gun.
The myths that the racists are using to prop themselves up are quite insidious – exploiting genuine fears and problems about wages and house prices. Labour claims that the reason house prices are so high in Auckland is because of immigration and ‘competition’ for housing. This is not true. According to New Zealand Institute for Economic Research economist Shamubeel Eaqub, immigration is not a major driver of rising house prices.
He explained to the New Zealand Herald, “If it was mainly about immigration we would see both rents and house prices spike up but in Auckland rental inflation was 2 -1/2 per cent while house price inflation was in double digits.”
It would be relatively simple for New Zealand to build enough housing for all, insulated, safe, and dry. The cost of housing is because of rapacious speculators who treat homes – a basic human necessity that is a right – as fodder to build up their fortunes.
Equally, low wages in New Zealand is not because of immigrants ‘settling for less’; it is because of the weakness of the union movement against the power of the bosses. If anything, workers from the Phillipines could teach us a few things about union militancy! The anti-immigration crowd buys into treasury’s neoliberal bullshit, where all prices are settled ‘by the market’, and power has nothing to do with it.
These racist attacks and propaganda have recently been turned against Maori as well. The survey that revealed that there is ‘deepening resentment from Maori towards Asian immigration’ can’t be dismissed in of itself. If there is hostility towards immigration among Maori, it is because Maori have faced the brunt of the neoliberal reforms undertaken by successive governments – National or Labour – that have savaged working class lives. The competition for jobs, the search for a better life in Australia, and the fight to get the Treaty of Waitangi recognised are real and pressing issues for Maori. It’s no wonder that resentment towards Asians can build especially when there’s politicians like David Cunliffe fanning this type of dog-whistle politics. Racism serves as the classic tool of the rich to divide and rule us all so that instead of seeing what unites us, we are squabbling amongst ourselves and letting those who have real power in society off the hook.
The idea that Asians ‘don’t understand Te Tiriti’ holds no water when compared to the CEOs and Bosses who are ardently against the principles of Waitangi. The battles that exploited immigrants face are the same battles that Maori face.
Racist and xenophobic barriers to immigration are not the way to improve the lives of workers in New Zealand. A basic demand should be that we call for open borders, an acceptance that being born in New Zealand is no reason for ‘special treatment’. The struggle for good living standards is global. Placing walls between us only harms that struggle.