• Racism and xenophobia in economic downturns

    My previous post talked about the rise of the right-wing UKIP in recent polls and elections in the UK. Part of this phenomena, which is predicated upon the blaming of immigrants and immigration for many social woes, is as a result of the recent economic downturn.

    UKIP is a right-wing, anti-European Union, anti-immigration party which says that the UK should leave the EU so that it can limit immigration. It says that the UK cannot control immigration as a member of the EU because free movement of workers is enshrined in EU law. Therefore all EU citizens, over 500m people, have the right to work in the UK. Therefore, UKIP says, UK workers are losing their jobs to workers from the poorer countries of eastern and southern Europe who are prepared to work for less. [source]

    For those who do not know what UKIP represent, it is as follows:

    The rest of UKIPs policies demonstrate that they occupy the extreme-right fringe of the neoliberal orthodoxy. They support massive tax cuts for corporations and the super-rich, the privatisation agenda, the destruction of what remains of the social safety net, the protection of the idle rentier class, the deregulation of firearms, the militarisation of the police, the construction of dozens of new privately operated jails as part of the prison-industrial complex, open discrimination against homosexuals, the scrapping of our human rights, the indoctrination of children with nationalist propaganda, anti-environmentalism, the expansion of Iain Duncan Smith’s Stalinist forced labour schemes, an energy policy built on heavily subsidised nuclear power plants and fracking, the pushing of “free trade” onto the third world and all pervaded by the stench of barely concealed xenophobia.[source]

    There is such a delicious irony that Nigel Farage, their leader, is married to a German woman whom he pays handsomely as his ‘secretary’! In 2013 the English Defence League (EDL), a neo-nazi political party, endorsed UKIP: “All nationalist parties should stand aside in areas that Ukip have a good chance of winning … Let’s not split their vote.” That alone should send massive warning signals.

    Such a connection between recession and racism has been evident to no greater extent than in Greece, the “Achilles Heel of the Eurozone” in terms of being hit by the recession the hardest, and creating tension within the corridors of power in the EU. This paper looks at the connection of racism to recession in Greece recently (think of the rise of the Golden Dawn, a neo-nazi movement which gained huge popularity in Greece as a result of the crisis). This happened with the Mexican Repatriation Act during the Great Depression, and has been evident across Europe. As Jayati Ghosh says in “Racism and Recession in Europe” in 2010:

    As the economic crisis bites deeper, and as the “austerity measures” enforced by governments cause more unemployment and more failure of small family-run businesses, bitterness and anger among the population will inevitably grow. The danger is that it will be directed not at powerful financial organizations, or even against governments that seem to bend like willows to every dictate of the market, but against vulnerable targets that can be more easily attacked. The most obvious targets, of course, are the migrants, who often stand out because of perceived racial differences.

    Here is part of a report from the 2009 European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) report “Protecting fundamental rights during the economic crisis”.

    Racism and xenophobia

    Economic crises can lead to increased racism and xenophobia against minority groups, particularly foreign nationals. This may be due to the perception that migrants may take away jobs or scarce welfare benefits; and extremist groups may seize on such fears.[24] For example, research[25] based on an analysis of Eurobarometer surveys showed that anti‐foreigner sentiment is higher among those who are unemployed. These findings were supported by a statistical analysis conducted by FRA’s predecessor, the European Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), of Eurobarometer and European Social Survey data over the period 1997‐2003, which included data from all then EU Member States and three of the candidate countries (Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey) of the time. This study found that “the higher the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita in a country, the lower in general the level of support for ethnic intolerance”.[26]

    More recent research[27] analysed the impact of economic growth on the level of political support for political extremism over the period 1970‐2002 in 16 EU Member States confirming that economic downturns do tend to raise the level of support for political extremism, although the magnitude of the effect is relatively small. There are no EU wide comparative studies which look specifically at the impact of economic circumstances on racist crime or violence due largely to the lack of relevant comprehensive and comparable official data across the EU. Case‐study evidence, however, exists for individual EU Member States, as well as other OECD countries. In Germany, for example, there was a “disturbing escalation” of violent crimes against foreigners (in particular, those not perceived as ethnic German) between 1990 and 1992 in the first years following unification.[28] This was attributed, at least in part, to “a sense of social disintegration and fear of perpetual unemployment”.[29]

    An online Financial Times/Harris poll,[30] carried out in early 2009 and covering France, Germany, Italy, Spain and England, Scotland and Wales in the UK, showed wide support for returning unemployed immigrants. Among those polled 79% of Italians, 78% of Britons, 71% of Spaniards, 67% of Germans, and 51% of French supported this type of programme. In addition, over 50% of UK nationals wanted to apply restrictions on access to the British labour market to workers from fellow EU Member States, although this would fundamentally conflict with EU law.

    and later:

    In February 2009, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres declared that “xenophobia is an inevitable trend in many parts of the world when the economic situation deteriorates”.79 Past experience has suggested that economic crises can lead to outbreaks of racism, including violence against persons belonging to minorities. Sufficient measures are therefore necessary to guard against this possibility, and to protect threatened groups against any outbreaks which do occur. In particular, reducing spending on integration and community cohesion measures should be avoided, if at all possible, particularly during a period of economic crisis. In this regard, on 21 March 2009 the FRA released a statement together with the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Council of Europe European Commission against Racism and Intolerance warning against cutting back essential social protection and inclusion programmes as this can have a disproportional negative impact on minority and migrant groups already suffering from precarious living conditions.

    FRA monitors systematically racism, xenophobia and related intolerance across the EU. FRA’s Annual Report 2010[80] presents an analysis of the available official statistical data on racist violence and crime, as well as on racial discrimination in areas of social life. However, such data were only available for 2008. Furthermore, trends over time can only be observed for those few EU Member States, which collect and publish comprehensive data on a regular basis. In the future one might therefore expect to see some improvement in data collection on racist crimes that can serve to monitor the application of law in practice, as EU Member States should implement Council Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law by 28 November 2010.

    Addressing the current lack of reliable and comparable data on minorities in many EU countries, the FRA EU‐MIDIS survey[81] published in 2009 provided for the first time robust and comparative data for all EU Member States asking a random, representative sample of migrants and minorities of their experience of discriminatory treatment, racist crime victimisation, awareness of rights, and reporting of complaints. EU‐MIDIS involved face‐to‐face interviews with 23,500 persons from selected immigrant and ethnic minority groups in all 27 EU Member States. Some 5,000 persons from the majority population were also interviewed to compare the results. The ethnic minority and immigrant groups interviewed described high levels of discriminatory treatment and criminal victimisation, including racially motivated crime. Of the nine areas of discrimination in everyday life looked at in the survey, discrimination in employment emerged as the most significant area for discriminatory treatment. The EU‐MIDIS results show that discrimination in two main areas of life, namely education and employment, is particularly problematic for some groups. This result is alarming as education and paid employment hold the key to integration and social inclusion, representing the ‘prerequisite’ for leading a dignified, free and confident life.

    It is very difficult to say whether racism and xenophobia have increased because of the economic crisis. It is equally difficult to attribute any specific racist incidents to the economic crisis. Nevertheless, several EU Member States have responded to address the risks. For example, in the UK a £12 million scheme was launched in October 2009 designed to combat the spread of right‐wing extremism.[82] Under the plans, each of more than 100 areas across the country judged to be vulnerable to extremism will be given extra help to boost job opportunities, education and living conditions available to residents. Special community forums will be set up to allow local people to air grievances, while further measures will aim to ensure that council leaders and other officials “speak out” more effectively for those they represent.

    Spain has maintained its policy of ensuring that all immigrants are signed up on the municipal register, which allows them access to health care and education services for their children. The government’s position is that this has been essential in order to protect people’s basic human rights.[83]

    In certain other cases however, responses to the crisis risk hampering efforts to prevent racism and xenophobia. Spain for example, announced that a €59m fund designed to promote the integration of immigrants into Spanish society would be abandoned.[84] In Ireland, in late December 2008, the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism (NCCRI), which was a key voluntary mechanism for monitoring racist crime, preparing bi‐annual reports on racist incidents, was closed[85] due to budget cuts. As a result, a core data collection mechanism on racist crime was lost. In addition, the Irish Migrants Rights Centre has argued that the restrictive changes to the work permit system in June 2009 – to make it more difficult for migrant workers made redundant by the crisis to remain in Ireland – created a “high degree of tension and fear” within the migrant community.[86]

    It is within this context that UKIP  is gaining momentum, though, despite, or indeed partly because of their gaffes and their appealing everyman leader, Nigel Farage, who smokes (surprise, he wants to repeal smoking laws which ban smoking in pubs and other public spaces) and drinks down the pub and revels in photo opportunities showing him doing so with other everyday people, they seem to get away with it. They have gained momentum DESPITE the fact that their manifesto was labelled “drivel” by Farage himself (he wrote the intro and helped launch it), which included compulsory uniforms for taxi drivers, getting rid of all the offshore wind farms because they hurt fish etc. We ave had repeated examples of UKIP councillors saying utterly stupid things like UK floods being the fault of “the gays” due to God’s wrath (Tea Party, anyone?).UKIP Annual Conference 2013

    As I mentioned in yesterday’s article, this issue with general appeal of UKIP across present political spectra is worrying, and it is this immigrant fear which galvanises such support. As one commentator states:

    The majority of UKIP supporters seem to be too stupid/ill informed to realise that UKIP is a party for  right-wing extremists that are too dodgy (Neil Hamilton) or too right-wing for the Tory party (most of their donors and MEPs).

    Anyone that has deluded themselves into believing that UKIP is an alternative to the Lib-Lab-Con establishment order is probably way beyond reasoning with (I doubt many will have read this far without quitting because they can’t tolerate reading stuff that clashes with own their confirmation bias).

    The amazing thing about UKIP supporters is that so many of them are left-wing, yet they support a party that is significantly more right-wing than the Tories. A recent YouGov poll showed that the average UKIP supporter is significantly more left-wing than the average Lib-Dem or Tory voter and almost as left-wing as the average Labour supporter.

    People love to blame. But let’s at least learn from politics from the pre-war period to now. Let’s remember the blaming of the Jews for hyper-inflation, let’s look at the facts, let’s not rely on faulty intuitions based on in-group/out-group psychology.

    Category: FeaturedPolitics

    Tags:

    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce

    6 Pingbacks/Trackbacks