Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Capitalism, Migrants and Maternity Provision

Divide and Rule

To divide the working class and play one section of workers off against another, the media produce a stream of misinformation about the numbers and impact of migrants using the health service, the benefits system, schools and housing. And the DAILY TELEGRAPH, SUN, DAILY EXPRESS and the DAILY MAIL have been all very successful in this form of mendacious propaganda by poisoning the minds of their readership and creating an atmosphere of racism, xenophobia and anti-migrant sentiment.

The newspapers seize upon government statistics and use them to their own advantage and sectarian political view. According to the statistics released from the Office of National Statistics, over a quarter of births in England and Wales in 2015 were to women born outside the UK. There were 192,227 live births to women born outside the UK and 505,588 to UK-born women. Poland was the most common country of birth for mothers born outside the UK, followed by Pakistan and India. Pakistan was the most common country of birth for fathers born outside the UK, followed by Poland and India.

However, what the media critics of migrants using maternity services will not tell their readers is that these migrant workers giving birth in the UK are just that: workers. They are members of the working class no different from those workers born in the UK. As a class they do not own the means of production and distribution; they are excluded from direct access to what is produced; and what they need in terms of goods and services, like adequate maternity care, is constrained by the rationing of the wages system.

And all workers are exploited as a class. It is a unifying feature that anyone who is forced to sell their ability to work for a wage or salary is a member of the working class and this includes migrants. It is the working class who generate what Marx called “surplus value” that eventually goes to the employers in the form of unearned income of rent, interest and profit with a segment of this surplus value, as taxation, used for the upkeep of their state.

What unites working class mothers born in the UK with their migrant counterparts is that the children they produce will make up a future exploited working class. Their children will be born into a class of wage slavery. Therefore, from the perspective of class and class relations, it is irrelevant to compare the number of births from migrant women compared to native-born female workers. And it is racist, and divisive to suppose it is.

Furthermore, migrants are not the cause of government policies to cut back on hospital services, schools and housing. Nor do migrants cause the operation of the gig-economy; impose zero-hour contracts, low-paid, precarious part-time employment and poor working conditions. These policy decisions are made by employers and their government. The working class, whether they are migrants or not, live lives of poverty and discomfort because they do not own the means of production and distribution.

In fact, in an open and rational society like socialism, there will be free movement of people around the planet. However, in socialism there will not be enforced economic migration and refugees fleeing from conflicts. Socialism will be a global society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by all of society.

Migration and free movement only become a problem in a world partitioned by national frontiers, national interests and national competition. What capitalism does, in all its ugliness and division, is create artificial boundaries in which members of our class are mistakenly seen as “alien” or “foreign”; where workers act out lives as atomised and isolated individuals in constant competition with each other. Fear and hate replace class unity and cooperation. In the “blame game” the only winners are the capitalist class.

Maternity is a Class Issue

The problems facing maternity wards - over-crowding, stretched services and increasingly stressed and over-worked midwives, - are due to capitalism and the priority of governments to serve the interest of the capitalist class. Profit instead of meeting human needs defines capitalism. Cost- cutting, paring back services, making workers redundant and keeping pay low and working conditions difficult so that mistakes occur, are continually forced on maternity services and the NHS.

So it comes as no surprise to read that NHS maternity wards in England were forced to close their doors 382 times in 2016. According to the GUARDIAN:

In total, there were 382 occasions when units had to close in 2016. This figure is slightly higher than the 375 occasions from the year before, and an almost 70% increase on the 225 in 2014”.

The article went on to state:

Trusts reporting maternity closures cited bed capacity problems and high activity. St Helens and Knowsley teaching hospitals NHS trust closed down for more than 30 hours during one period; Bradford teaching hospitals NHS foundation trust shut 10 times; the maternity unit at Royal Berkshire NHS foundation trust had to close 30 times due to “insufficient midwifery staffing for workload”; Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS trust said the need to “maintain safety and staffing levels” forced it to close five times, including once for 14.5 hours. Other trusts cited a lack of cots (NHS Maternity Wards forced to close 382 times last year (Guardian, 8th August 2017).

The 2014 Immigration Act has also forced the NHS to charge, often destitute women, £6000 for their maternity care. Doctors of the World, which runs a specialist clinic for migrants in East London, has seen over 200 pregnant women who have not received any maternity care because they have been denied treatment or because they are worried about the costs they cannot afford. The callousness of the Act is shown by that fact that two women were pursued with demands for fees even though their babies had died in hospital.

The Doctors of the World Report, written in 2015, concluded:

This report finds evidence of the deterrent effect of entitlement checks and charging in a population with little access to primary care. Antenatal care is frequently received late and often does not meet the minimum standards for care and subsequently puts women and their unborn children at increased risk of pregnancy-associated complications.

Doctors of the world have recently published another report in 2017 in which they say pregnant and seriously ill migrants are going without medical care because they are afraid of receiving bills they cannot pay and subsequently being referred to the Home Office (INDEPENDENT 22nd October 2017). And the Home Office is always looking out for excuses for deporting migrants, so sick migrants also feared the risk of being deported.

Socialists can understand why the capitalists and their government want to make migrants pay or enjoy scare stories appearing in the media about migrants giving birth in hospitals. They have an economic interest in keeping taxes low and costs to the NHS down. After-all it is the capitalist class who have to ultimately pay for the capitalist state and its institutions. Workers, on the other hand, have no interest in the concerns of the capitalist class, their state and their political parties. Workers no matter who they are or where they come from have an identical class interest.

The problem is not migrants but capitalism. Immigration was encouraged by the 1950s Tory government, recruiting nurses and transport workers from the West Indies, and later by employers recruiting from India, Pakistan and so on for the textile mills of the north – a period of ‘full employment'. Capitalism is a social system of commodity production and exchange for profit. Social wealth is created by workers but they do not own the raw minerals, transport systems, factories, distribution system and transport and communication systems. They get the minimum “social service” for workers to reproduce their class.

Cost cutting, inadequate staffing levels and lack of facilities are hallmarks of the NHS, under both Labour and Tory governments, and this has been the case since its inception. But in a social system of free access in which the means of production and distribution would be commonly owned and under democratic control, there would surely not be inadequate midwives, stressed working conditions, unsafe working practices and lack of facilities like cots.

It is the inadequacy of capitalism as an anti-social system based on profit which is where workers’ attention should be should be focussed, not migrants – not their fellow workers.

The Socialist response to the question of large numbers of migrant women giving births is simply to point out that inadequate maternity service and over-stretched maternity staff is caused by capitalism, a social system which requires the vast majority of the population to rely on selling their labour power to survive. Migrants are workers; they are members of our class and they are all potential socialists. They are to be welcomed. Socialists are calling for class unity - not disunity which only makes socialism that much harder to achieve.

Socialism would be a society with free access to goods and services, including maternity care. Women would not be forced to pay £6000 to give birth or made to pay for ante-natal care. Socialism is about production for use and directly meeting human needs. Migrants are not the problem: capitalism is. And world socialism is the answer.

Back to top

Socialist Studies

email: enquiries@socialiststudies.org.uk | www.socialiststudies.org.uk