Ian Allinson, the third and most recent candidate to join the Unite leadership race champions freedom of movement and advocates an egalitarian deal for migrant workers.
Marcos Ortiz F.
‘Migration is a fact: it has always happened. When people try to impose restrictions the main effect is not actually to change migration, the main effect is to make people more vulnerable.’
Ian Allinson is taking a break in his career to stand for General Secretary of Unite and explains to The Prisma his stance on a set of controversial issues.
‘The employer, ideally, doesn’t want his workers to be deported but they want them to be afraid of being deported,’ he adds.
“The more restrictions that are put in place I think the more people end up working outside the legal framework, feeling more vulnerable, not being able to exercise their rights. And that’s where the absolutely worse exploitation happens, because people are forced to work outside the legal framework and they have no access to the rights that the rest of us take for granted”.
After 25 years working in Manchester Allinson, who describes himself as representing the grassroots, shirks no issues.
You have said that ‘we must not treat workers differently based on their nationality.’ How important is this statement for your candidature?
It’s one of the reasons I stood for the elections. There’s clearly been a big rise in racism and nationalism around the referendum. There’s been a big political debate about the attitude to borders. My view is that it’s a worker’s rights issue, so I think we should be free to go where we please and I think we should be treated equally wherever we go.
What is your opinion of the impact of Brexit on immigration in the UK?
Even before the referendum there was a lot of fear. In my own workplace I spoke to one member who was trying to get British citizenship for her fiancée before the referendum because she was frightened of what might happen. I think it’s generated a lot of fear and that both sides in the referendum fed an atmosphere whereby it was taken for granted that immigration was a problem that had to be contained.
How important is the Latin American community for Unite? Do you have any specific strategy for this group of workers?
We haven’t put forward any specific policies targeting that group, but I think migrant workers are disproportionally in some of the most casual and low-paid areas of the economy. Yesterday I was at the hotel workers’ branch, which has a lot of migrant workers and they have fantastic successes. But we should be writing those up so that other activists maybe in Manchester can copy what’s worked. We can’t be spending a lot of time reinventing the wheel. Similarly, a lot of migrants bring with them experiences of the labour movement in other countries that to be honest we could imitate.
You have said that one of the objectives of your campaign is to get issues onto the agenda. What are these issues?
I think that Trident and free movement of labour are the big questions that we are trying to push onto the agenda. I think more generally I’m trying to get a more bottom up approach to the union. So we’ve got plenty at the top of the union who have lots of experience, but I think the power of the union comes from the members at the base and I don’t think people at the top fully understand the kind of frustrations and experiences of the people at the bottom of the union who are trying to campaign against what the employers are doing.
One of the ideas we are trying in Manchester is the idea of a minimum standards campaign across the city. Work places could opt to pay into a local strike fund. And then we could define a minimum standard of employment that we would be prepared to accept. It might for example be a living wage and no zero-hour contracts. If we have in the space of a few months a few wins on this kind of issue in a city it would have a ‘replay’ effect in other places.
How do you fight zero hours contracts, which have doubled over five years?
I think the minimum standards campaign is one of the ideas that could help challenge that. Unite has done some good work on it, but zero-hour contracts and subcontracting are symptoms of our weakness. If we were strong that wouldn’t be happening. It has to be a priority to challenge that.
Is a minimum wage for immigrants also part of these standards?
I don’t see why you would have a different minimum wage for immigrants. People should just be treated equally and respected for who they are.
What is your position regarding the detention of immigrants?
It’s outrageous. You’ve got people who’ve committed no crime and are being treated like criminals. Campaigns like at Yarl’s Wood have been fantastic trying to expose the really inhumane treatment of people.
You have said that ‘our ability to ensure decent jobs and housing depends on our solidarity.’ I imagine that this includes in particular migrant workers.
Absolutely. That’s precisely the point I was trying to make. Any insinuation that somehow migration is a cause of our problems or any acceptance of lesser rights for people based on their nationality undermines that unity.
If I’m a migrant worker why would I trust an organization that is supporting that position that appears accepting that there aren’t enough jobs, services or housing? That’s not the best tradition of labour movement.
I draw a parallel in the past, sometimes trade unionists argued against women being allowed into certain jobs because that would push down wages. Fortunately now people would be given a very strange look if they argued that. It’s the same argument. You don’t protect jobs and paying conditions by excluding certain people from the labour market based on their nationality or gender.
Photos: Marcos Ortiz and Pixabay – (Translated by Nigel Conibear – DipTrans IoLET MCIL – firstname.lastname@example.org)