An uncomfortable conversation: Greens still wrong about immigration

justice-for-migrant-workers

‘Justice for Migrant Workers’ protest.

Article by Ben Peterson, originally published on leftwin.org.

The Greens new interpretation of their immigration policy has generated a lot of discussion on the left, both on this blog and elsewhere. James Shaw’s comments committing the Greens to halve immigration numbers have been controversial. In response, immigration spokesperson Denise Roche has offered a defense of Shaw’s comments saying that “The Green kaupapa on immigration is focused on people.”

I respect the work that the Greens have done to support international students and exploited foreign workers. And I respect the Greens when they say “we need to be able to talk about political issues that people care about, even when they make us uncomfortable.” Bring on the uncomfortable conversations!

Unfortunately, the discomfort isn’t leftists sticking to abstract principles. The reaction is caused by Greens new policy discussion being based on untruths.

“Issues people care about”

Roche’s article says that “We need to talk about immigration because failing to do so means that we let that conversation be dominated by fear, intolerance and misinformation.”

True. Progressives should be entering this debate, but lets not overstate its importance. Immigration is not the chief concern of Kiwis. Many times more people are primarily concerned by housing, wages and inequality than immigration. By dipping into immigration debates so publicly the greens have already failed to keep focused on the primary concerns of ordinary people and are turning to a small minority.

This is problematic in itself, but the issues go deeper. Rather than challenging the fear, intolerance and misinformation the Greens are reinforcing it. Instead of challenging xenophobic myths, Roche’s article accepts them.

“It is obvious that there are not enough houses in Auckland.”

Actually that’s not true. There are tens of thousands of empty homes in Auckland. The problem isn’t necessarily that there’s no options, its’ that investors are pricing many out of the homes that do exist.

“We need to build up houses, public transport, schools and hospitals to a level where they are a good fit for the population. After eight years of National’s dismal under-investment, there is a lot of catching up to do.”

I agree. Why are we talking about these problems and immigration in the same sentence? The selloff of public housing, and the degradation of public infrastructure go back to the neoliberal reforms of the 80’s. The trend of falling homeownership and rising housing costs likewise go back decades. When you know these are decades long trends, and only 5 years ago there was a net migration loss, why on earth would migration and infrastructure be part of the same conversation.

Put simply- It is an untruth to put the blame for these long term trends onto migrants.

The Greens are should know better than this- and trying to say they’ll cut immigration because of housing, but also saying housing is the governments fault, confuses the conversation.

Greens message makes no sense.

So Roche rightfully says “Immigration is – categorically – not to blame for these issues…
Bad Government planning is to blame.”

If immigration isn’t a social problem, why the new announcements saying the Greens are for a dramatic reduction? If immigration is going to be dramatically reduced, how do the Greens honour their commitment to raise the refugee quota, raise the family reunion quota and open up pathways for work visa holders to gain residency?

If immigrants don’t drive the housing crisis, why are the Greens bringing it up as a justification for dramatic immigration cuts?

Instead of providing a clear progressive alternative, the Greens position seems confused. A series of contradictory angles doesn’t challenge xenophobia, it fails to provide a coherent alternative..

A progressive alternative

Building a progressive political alternative is critically important and there has never been a better time to do so. The issues of most concerns to Kiwi’s is inequality, and the political mainstream has no answers on how to address this issue.

A progressive alternative has to provide clear answers on housing, infrastructure and inequality. A progressive alternative on immigration has to be clear and unequivocal- immigrants are not the drivers of the housing crisis or the reduction in work conditions.

This conversation on immigration should be uncomfortable. But this ‘uncomfortable’ conversation is not that we need to confront the gap between realpolitik and progressive principles. The uncomfortable fact is that some of our friends are suggesting that we accept and accommodate popular myths that are untrue.

That’s unacceptable, and we should expect more from the Greens.

Comments welcome below.

Leftwin seeks to host a discussion on building a new left politics in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
Be part of that disscussion here 

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