Julia Gillard has added her voice to the false claims that migrants are to blame for unemployment by joining the scapegoating of 457 migrant visa workers.
The Prime Minister made the issue a key part of her pitch to Western Sydney, starting in her keynote speech at the University of Western Sydney where she promised, “a fight to stop foreign workers being put at the front of the queue with Australian workers at the back”.
It was a foul and calculated piece of dog-whistling of which any racist would have been proud. One Labor Left MP told the Financial Review “It sounds like Philip Ruddock is back. I’d rather lose than stoop to that level.”
The Labor government is so desperate for votes that it has adopted the racist populist policies of Pauline Hanson—whose backing Gillard quickly received. Hanson said she felt vindicated that the government was finally acting on her warnings about foreign labour.
Gillard clearly thinks she is onto an electoral winner, repeatedly attacking foreign workers in a series of speeches and interviews. The Fairfax press revealed that Labor had done focus group research and concluded that its promises to put “Aussie jobs” ahead of foreign workers were striking a chord.
The Gillard government has justified talk of a “crackdown” on 457 visas by claims of widespread rorting and misuse by employers. But the crackdown will increase the climate of hostility against 457 visa workers, and make it harder to unionise them and fight their exploitation. The cancellation of any worker’s 457 visa means they will face deportation.
Labor is also influenced by the union campaign for “Aussie jobs” and against 457 visas (see page 6). But the focus on blaming workers on 457 visas for unemployment risks entrenching racist and xenophobic responses to job cuts, low wages and unemployment in the working class.
The danger is all the more real when Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard are continuing to outdo each other in stirring up racism against refugees, such as the Liberals’ recent disgusting demands to treat refugees living in the community like criminals by imposing “behavioural protocols” on them.
From the Gillard government itself the sudden concern about job losses is staggering hypocrisy, when it cut 5400 jobs in the public sector last year, according to the Community and Public Sector Union. Gillard has handed hundreds of millions of dollars to the car manufacturers without requiring them to guarantee jobs. The banks have made billions dollar record profits but have cut hundreds of jobs in the process. Yet the government now trying to pretend that it is concerned about unemployment.
It is crucial that the left helps undermine the danger all this poses of nationalist and racist responses to job losses and economic crisis.
Yet Greens Deputy Leader Adam Bandt has tried to outdo Labor in his commitment to “Aussie jobs”, saying the government, “wasn’t really serious about putting locals first”, and demanding they force businesses to advertise locally before employing any 457 visa workers.
We urge everyone to raise motions and discussion about the issue in the unions and more broadly to help fight for a principled anti-racist approach and to building a real fight for jobs.
Read more from this month’s issue: