Written by Margaret McAdam, ISL
Thursday, 14 August 2014 10:29
After the May elections the rise in the UKIP vote caused concern and raised questions about how issues of racism and fascism can be challenged and defeated.
Most trade unions and trade unionists actively and consistently campaign against racism and fascism, and would not tolerate a system that denied access to services such as health care, housing, or welfare support to anyone purely based on colour, religion or racial origin. However, immigration controls do just that as they discriminate and deny access based on the immigration status of an individual and their family. It is therefore essential to ensure that the trade union movement addresses the brutal reality of immigration controls to workers, and not allow worker to be turned against worker.
Despite the rhetoric contained in the election propaganda and media hype, successive governments and the laws they pass are not soft on immigration and our borders are not uncontrolled, the reality is the opposite. Thousands have died just trying to reach safety through drowning at sea, suffocating inside containers or falling from lorries.
Those who do reach ‘safety’ are not welcomed with a generous handout, the false image painted by the media, in particular the Daily Mail and Daily Express, and mainstream politicians do not even attempt to portray the issue honestly.
Thousands upon arrival are imprisoned in detention prisons. Thousands are made destitute – with no right to money, no welfare, no home, and no right to work. Thousands are brutally deported back to the very place from which they fled.
Those seeking asylum who receive support get £35 per week if single and £72 for a couple, which is way below the level of Income Support (considered to be the poverty line, but in reality below that).
The media carefully ignores this. The media are also careful not to raise concern and awareness of super exploitative employers who use the strict immigration regime to keep their workers as modern day slaves in inhuman and brutal living and working conditions. Immigrants are conveniently the forgotten poor.
Immigration controls are brutal
Immigration controls are brutal and total they reach into and control every aspect of the life of an individual. Furthermore, they encroach more and more on lives of many workers who are being drawn into the role of immigration police officers in their work place, with laws that require the checking of a person’s immigration status to identify entitlement – this includes health care, welfare support, social and private housing and the right to work itself.
Immigrants don’t cause cuts
Undocumented workers are not the reason the working class is facing an assault on their services and quality of life – immigrants are not responsible for the passport queues; the housing shortage; cuts in public spending; nor for the problems in the NHS, education or welfare system.
The austerity offensive has led to deterioration in living and working conditions of the working class and was a product of the 2008 economic crash which was caused by the greed and corruption of speculators, bankers, and big business. The very people who created the financial crisis now seek to recoup their losses and enrich themselves by stealing public money and privatising all public services. This is the cause of job losses, cuts in services, cuts in pay and conditions, and hence deterioration in living and working conditions.
There could be plenty of work for all if there was a programme of public works and services – such a building and maintenance of social housing, of which there is a massive shortage due purely to under investment. There is no shortage of building expensive apartments and housing for the very rich and wealthy real estate speculators.
UKIP uses Labour’s racism
Immigration is explicitly and obsessively used by UKIP to turn worker against worker. In doing so they also increase the level of racism and encourage fascist groups.
However, rather than counter the lies and myths that are being used to stir up anti-immigrant feelings, both Labour and Tory shift their policies further to the right. Consequently all of this boosts the confidence of racist and fascist groups, who return to our streets propagating hatred and raising fear in our communities.
UKIP were able to build their campaign by adopting the very same scapegoating and scaremongering tactics about immigration that have been used by Labour and Tories for decades, and which go back to the end of the last century when opposition developed to Jews escaping pogroms in Eastern Europe. Opposition to Jewish immigrants fleeing Nazism in the 1930s was also raised by the press and government. Today is no different to then.
In 2013, Labour MP David Blunkett created a moral panic over the Roma community “congregating on the streets” of Page Hall, Sheffield. He has also talked about asylum seeking children “swamping British schools” and suggested that they be educated in “accommodation” prisons, words and sentiments reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher claiming that Britain was being “swamped by an alien culture”.
It is therefore important to look at the origin of immigration control which is “a system of law built historically on fascist activity and can never be humane”. (S. Cohen, Standing on the Shoulders of Fascism, 2006).
Agitation by fascists groups, by the BNP, by UKIP is and always has been used as an excuse to enact further immigration controls.
At the same time as the Trades Union Councils conference was being held, the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict was being hosted by Foreign Secretary William Hague and Angeline Jolie in London. Women who tried to tell their stories to the summit were denied the right to speak so a demonstration was held outside which was organised by the Black Women’s Rape Action Project.
Those seeking safety in this country but face a system that is permeated with a culture of disbelief. That disbelief is an even greater for women who have escaped murder, rape and sexual violence.
Once these women tell their harrowing story they are treated as being guilty of a crime, taken and held in detention prisons where many have then been subjected to further racist and sexual abuse by the guards in those prisons, such as Yarls Wood.
And many have been deported back to the terror they had fled after reporting this abuse.
The trade union movement must stop looking the other way and actively campaign against immigration controls. The Trades Councils, representing grass roots trade union activists, can start by adopting a common programme to fight against these brutal controls by countering the lies and rhetoric that leads to a division of workers, and furthermore leads to an increased level of racist and fascist activity.
· The right to stay
· No restriction to work or services based on immigration status
· The right to work for all
· Oppose work place raids seeking to arrest detain or deport workers
· No to detention or deportation
· End slave labour
· Better pay and conditions for all
· Unionise all workers – including the undocumented
· Full, decent and equal access to all services for all
· Full, decent and equal access to all welfare support for all
· Support workers who refuse to collude in the oppression of immigrants.
Socialist Party turn their back on immigrant workers
The International Socialist League is opposed to the position of the Socialist Party on the question of immigration control. The aim of control is to divide workers and hit the most oppressed, all revolutionary Marxists must stand in defence of and for the most oppressed.
The British perspectives document adopted at the SP 2014 congress. http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/18345 said, “We have to stand in defence of the most oppressed sections of the working class, including migrant workers and other immigrants. We staunchly oppose racism. We defend the right to asylum, and argue for the end of repressive measures like detention centres. However, we cannot make the mistake of dismissing workers who express concerns about immigration as ‘racists’. While racism and nationalism are clearly elements in anti-immigrant feeling, there are many consciously anti-racist workers who are concerned about the scale of immigration”.
The SP 2013 congress document stated, “At the same time, given the outlook of the majority of the working class, we cannot put forward a bald [sic] slogan of ‘open borders’ or ‘no immigration controls’, which would be a barrier to convincing workers of a socialist programme, both on immigration and other issues.
“Such a demand would alienate the vast majority of the working class, including many more long-standing immigrants, who would see it as a threat to jobs, wages and living conditions.
Nor can we make the mistake of dismissing workers who express concerns about immigration as ‘racists’.
While racism and nationalism are clearly elements in anti-immigrant feeling, there are many consciously anti-racist workers who are concerned about the scale of immigration.”
There can be no socialist programme without including the fight against the laws that disorganise the class and ignore the essence of Marxism, that the working class is an international class.
The SP is caught in a contradiction. They say they cannot use the demand “no immigration controls” because it would “be a barrier to convincing workers of a socialist programme”, but by doing that they do not present the workers with a socialist programme, because they avoid saying how they think immigration control should be fought.
he SP rests on what it perceives to be the moods and feelings of workers and not on what must be fought for. That is, they adapt to the low level of consciousness of some workers instead of fighting to raise it to the level of a vanguard worker. Ever since imperialism developed, capitalism has used immigration laws against workers. Some workers’ organisations even proposed immigration laws.
A voice from the immigrants
In the 1890s the TUC passed several motions in favour of immigration control including at its 1894 Cardiff conference. The union bureaucracy thought too many Jewish workers were coming to Britain and at that time the trade union leadership was part of the agitation for control.
Jewish people suffered persecution in Tsarist Russia and Eastern Europe and were forced to flee in increasing numbers in 1890s and anti-Semites had responded by agitating for entry restriction to the UK.
This was fought by Jewish workers and others. A pamphlet opposing the “anti-alien” motion of the TUC 1894 congress, “A Voice from the Aliens” was launched at meetings in London and Leeds where the main speaker was Eleanor Marx.
In 1892 more than 40 labour movement bodies, including Trades councils in London, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester, adopted resolutions calling for restrictions on immigration, especially by East European Jews.
Manchester Trades Council’s statement was typical:
“It is time that workers of this country . . . rose up and protested with firmness against the continuation of this curse [of Jewish immigration]”. (noborderswales.wordpress.com). Such were the anti-internationalist feelings then in many trade union bodies.
Certain trade union bodies opposed immigration control such as the London trades council in 1895 and by 1903 Manchester trades councils was involved in local protests against immigration legislation.
By the 1960s black immigrants’ self-organisation against restrictions had started and in the late 1970s the fight against immigration control and for the rights of the undocumented had spread and entered trade unions.
Immigration controls divide workers
Anti-immigration, xenophobia and anti-working class oppression has always been fought against by revolutionary Marxism.
The fight against immigration controls became part of the outlook of the 3rd International under the guidance of Lenin and Trotsky.
“In view of the coming danger, the Communist Parties of the imperialist countries – America, Japan, Britain, Australia and Canada – must not merely issue propaganda against the war, but must do everything possible to eliminate the factors that disorganise the workers’ movement in their countries and make it easier for the capitalists to exploit national and racial antagonisms.
“These factors are the immigration question and the question of cheap coloured (sic) labour”. (November 1920, 4th Congress 3rd International).
The resolution goes on to say, “The Communist Parties of America, Canada and Australia must conduct a vigorous campaign against restrictive immigration laws and must explain to the proletarian masses in these countries that such laws, by inflaming racial hatred, will rebound on them in the long run”.
The SP position is therefore contrary to the position of the 3rd International before Stalin took control.
If the SP say it is impossible to assert ‘no immigration controls’, then what controls do they support?
Oppose all immigration controls
Not to oppose oppression based on the immigration status of one sector of the working class means it will be impossible to end our own oppression and exploitation.
A Marxist perspective document must establish where a party stands. If a party is not against all immigration controls then the most oppressed, sector of the working class will be left isolated and undefended.
How can we clarify confused workers, if we do not establish the reality of such controls?
We need a programme to fight against immigration controls in the organisations of the working class, one that seeks to unite all workers, especially the most oppressed, and not divide them.