Uniting the struggles against racism and austerity:
- Amnesty for all immigrants without secure legal status;
- End immigration detention;
- Abolish the anti-Muslim Prevent strategy;
- Stop mass deportation charter flights.
You have now won the Labour leadership with increased support. Your campaigns have energised hundreds of thousands of mainly young supporters. Many went through the mass student movement of 2010 and felt betrayed by the mainstream parties. They have transformed Labour into the largest political party in Europe. You have great authority, but the open and closet Blairites in Parliament are making it clear that the price of their dubious ‘support’ will be major concessions on your part – and their main line of attack is on immigration. They are calling for more immigration controls and the end of free movement with Europe. You will be their hostage if you avoid the issue.
Brexit has plunged Britain into a profound political crisis and racism is at the heart of it. The referendum only happened because politicians of all the main parties have spent decades scapegoating immigrants for the effects of ‘free market’ economics, anti-working class policies and public sector cuts on poor, working class and struggling middle class people of all races. Successive governments have crashed the productive economy, crushed collective working class action, trashed our public services and started disastrous colonial-style wars. With no hopeful future to offer people who are battling with long-term poverty and insecurity, politicians have promoted fear, division and racist myths – the stock divide-and-rule strategy of an establishment that knows the damage its policies are causing for the poor and oppressed and wants to divert our anger and divide our ranks. As that strategy doesn’t end insecurity or produce new jobs and housing, better public services or real hope for the future, governments have come up with tougher immigration bills, one after another. This vicious spiral into the pit of racism has led to Brexit.
The Brexit vote has sparked a predictable upsurge of racist, xenophobic and anti-Muslim attacks, abuse and murder that still continues. It has produced a more right-wing government under Theresa May. Internationally it has emboldened far-right, racist demagogues like Trump and Le Pen. It is clearer by the day that Brexit means more racism, more austerity, and a more dangerous international situation.The Movement for Justice urges you as Leader of the Labour Party to give at least the same level of public prominence and policy commitment to the fight against the racist scapegoating of immigrants and the demonisation of Muslims as you rightly have to opposing economic austerity and the militarisation of foreign policy. There are clear practical reasons for doing this. Winning the argument against austerity and building a movement to end it is not possible unless anti-immigrant prejudices and policies are combatted openly. The western powers’ war-drive in the Middle East can’t be stopped without fighting anti-Muslim prejudices and policies. The struggles against austerity and poverty, against war, and against racism and xenophobia cannot be won separately or at the expense of one another. If they are not combined we lose.
We are concerned that, despite an honourable record of voting against anti-immigrant legislation by you and your parliamentary allies, your campaigns have done little to highlight the threat and danger of racist and xenophobic prejudice against immigrants, refugees and Muslims, or make an explicit attack on the Government’s calculated scapegoating of those communities. These are vitally important issues for the future progress of our whole society, but your campaign has addressed them marginally, in vague and sometimes ambiguous terms (e.g. in the 10 Pledges of this year’s leadership campaign: “…back effective action to alleviate the refugee crisis”; “We will ensure that the human rights of all citizens are respected” – emphasis added). What is most concerning is the lack of any specific proposals for ending the current anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim policies – in contrast to your pledges on employment, health, education etc. White voters whose communities have been impoverished and who expressed their disillusionment and anger by voting for Brexit will not be convinced by an approach that promises economic and public service reforms while simply avoiding the issue of immigration.
We therefore urge you to adopt the four measures below to end the most pressing and outrageous aspects of current state racism, as part of your programme for government.
1. Immediate Amnesty for EVERYONE without a secure legal status in the UK.
Immigration and nationality policies have divided British society into a hierarchy of statuses and non-statuses, rights and no rights. Tens of thousands of people are living in limbo, some for decades, and most have no reason to hope that this will change for the better. Thousands have been ‘signing on’ at Home Office reporting centres for 10 or 12 years or more. Tens of thousands of families are divided by immigration status and potential or actual deportation. Communities live under the shadow of immigration raids. It has become a living nightmare for millions of non-citizens and citizens whose lives are blighted, and it is an expanding crisis as the numbers affected grow year-on-year. It is an insane, inhuman and racist situation that threatens integration and equality. An immediate and unconditional amnesty is the only practical measure that can end this and open the way for a rational, progressive policy.
2. End Immigration Detention.
Detention is a system of social control over all immigrants and their families and a policy designed to criminalise immigrants in the eyes of the non-immigrant population. That dual role puts it at the heart of the policy of scapegoating and demonising immigrants. Racism, sexism and abuse are inherent in detention. It relies on fear, isolation and secrecy and it can’t be successfully reformed. Over the last two years there has been a growing movement inside and outside detention in which the Movement for Justice has played the leading role. Detention has been exposed and become notorious as never before. The system was heavily criticised by an all-party Parliamentary inquiry. Detained Fast Track in asylum cases has been ruled unlawful and effectively ended. The expansion of Campsfield was stopped; two detention centres have been closed down, and Dungavel detention centre in Scotland is to close next year. The system is indefensible and its complete abolition would be widely popular, as well as being a necessary measure for countering anti-immigrant bigotry.
3. Abolish the anti-Muslim Prevent strategy.
Prevent is mass surveillance and political censorship of Muslim students from nursery to postgraduate level, purely on the basis of their religious identity. It is a systematic attack on Muslim students’ freedom of speech and right of assembly. The NUS, UCU and NUT are demanding its abolition. The NUS Black Students’ Campaign has led opposition to Prevent in universities and colleges, and this year Malia Bouattia, an Algerian Muslim refugee, was elected President of the NUS on the basis of her leadership in this fight. It attacks an entire community and is a devastating blow to integration and equality. Muslim youth are being targeted by Prevent because they have been the most dynamic element in the anti-war movement and solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. It is thus an attack on all opposition to an imperialist foreign and military policy.
4. End the mass deportation charter flights.
Bi-monthly mass deportation charter flights go to Nigeria/Ghana and Pakistan and have now been restarted to Jamaica after a two-year gap; others go to war-torn Afghanistan. These modern-day slave ships are attacks on some of the biggest and most long-established black and Asian communities in Britain. They are the most brutal aspect of the politically motivated drive to increase deportation numbers. Many of those on the charter flights have families and children here or are carers for elderly or disabled relatives. Others have severe mental or physical health problems. Many have spent most of their lives in Britain and have few connections with the countries they are being sent to, or any support there. The policy is thoroughly opportunistic: in a short period before a charter flight immigration raids are stepped up in African, Asian and Caribbean communities to snatch whoever they can find to fill the seats, leaving them with no time to make a case to stay, to get a lawyer, contact friends etc. Whole communities are affected and increasingly they are resisting. Like detention and Prevent, mass deportation is a show of power designed to spread fear; reform is not an option.
Putting these measures at the heart of a radical programme for equality and the elimination of poverty can inspire a united mass movement. Like any bold progressive initiative it will be controversial, but without that controversy there will be no progress.
The Movement for Justice makes these assertions with confidence because we recognise that the racism of the rich and powerful in the establishment is far more profound than the racism of poor and working class white people. For the former it is rooted in and serves their basic material interests. Racism among the poor and oppressed is the result of immersion in the class and race divided society of the world’s fourth or fifth richest nation. It is convenient for the majority of politicians to espouse the opposite view and push the blame for their racist, xenophobic policies onto the ‘white working class’. Too many Labour politicians have joined this blame-game with weasel words about ‘listening to the concerns of our traditional supporters.’ That is a betrayal of generations of immigrants and the black and Asian communities who are also Labour’s traditional supporters, and a betrayal of white working class people.
Those same Labour leaders have been deaf to the concerns of working class people of all races about the effects of neo-liberal policies, privatisation, cuts and war. By blaming white working class people for their own scapegoating of immigrants they have betrayed their supporters twice over!
Labour must break decisively with that tradition or it has no progressive future.
We are confident that if you adopt the four measures we have proposed it will meet with an enthusiastic response from millions, especially among the youth who want a bright and hope-filled future and who are crucial to the prospects for vibrant and dynamic labour movement and progressive politics in Britain – and we can ensure you of the support of the Movement for Justice in that fight.