Trade unions must fight back against scapegoating of immigrants, Sally Hunt tells TUC

10 September 2017 | last updated: 11 September 2017

Immigrants do not depress wages, employers like Sports Direct do and immigrants are not destroying the NHS, they are saving it, UCU general secretary Sally Hunt told union delegates today.

Speaking in the opening debate on Brexit at the annual TUC Congress, Sally Hunt said she had no time for the argument that immigrants take British jobs, depress wages and undermine workers' rights.

She said that it was "beyond condescending" to tell people who want to lift themselves out of poverty that they should stay in their own country and in effect were not welcome here. She said it was "bordering on racism" to blame people from other countries for depressed wages in the UK.

Defending immigration she said that it enriched our society, taught us how to live with others and is something we must celebrate and defend. She said we must not look the other way when the government tells lies about immigrants and seeks to set one group up against another.

She said the trade union movement had a responsibility to argue for the principle of free movement backed up by fairer labour laws, stronger collective responsibility and higher wages.

 

Full speech:

Congress,

What is the trade union movement about?

These values that we will be talking about this week - what do they mean for our members?

I ask because I represent a workforce in higher education in which one in seven are from the European Union.

They want to know why after - in many cases - decades of living here, they are now treated as second class citizens.

They want to know why the government is spinning the lie - because that is what it is a lie - that immigration and immigrants depress wages.

And they want to know just what we, this movement of which they are members, are going to do about it.

Congress, higher education is not the only sector that depends on - is proud of - its diverse workforce and our many colleagues from the EU.

But like trade union members in hotels and catering, transport, medicine, nursing and manufacturing, we now face a brain drain, a skills hole, which ultimately will make all of us poorer.

The question for me is not so much what motions we pass this week.

My union represents a truly international workforce.

In truth, whatever this Congress does we will never turn our back on those members. Same as you.

And whatever this Congress does we will never stop arguing in favour of the free movement of labour.

Because surely free movement isn't just for capital is it?

I keep hearing these arguments that immigrants should stay at home, building their own societies and economies rather than here.

That where they are here, they are taking British workers' jobs, depressing their wages, undermining their rights.

Seriously?

It's beyond condescending to tell people who want to lift themselves out of poverty that they should stay in their own country - in effect that they are not welcome here.

And it's frankly bordering on racist to blame those from other countries for depressed wages here.

Immigrants don't depress wages, employers do. Immigration is how our society is enriched.

It's how we all learn to live with others. It's something we must celebrate and defend.

The answer post-Brexit isn't to look the other way while the government tells lies about immigrants and seeks to set one group against each other.

The answer is to argue and argue again for the principle of free movement backed up by fairer labour laws, stronger collective representation and higher wages.

Immigrants didn't depress retail pay. Companies like Sports Direct did. Immigrants aren't destroying the NHS - they're saving it.

It's our Brexit government that is doing the damage.

We in the trade union movement have to stand up for the truth.

We have to stand up for each other.

And we must provide hope to all our people wherever they are from.

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