Labour needs new policy of solidarity with migrants

Submitted by Matthew on 21 September, 2016 - 11:02 Author: Theodora Polenta and Hugh Edwards

Jeremy Corbyn has said he will defend freedom of movement in the negotiations around Brexit. He has declared: “I have visited the camps in Calais and Dunkirk, which are in an appalling state. Those people are in a very perilous situation. They are all humans, to whom we must reach out the hand of friendship and support”. He has called for Britain to admit more refugees.

By contrast, the legacy of the 1997-2010 New Labour Government, of which Owen Smith aspires to be the successor, was seven Acts of Parliament restricting civil liberties on the pretext of fighting terrorism; six on immigration and asylum; tightened eligibility for out-of-work benefits and reduced real-term levels. We need a left ready for a total break with the system, clearly and cleanly aiming for a different society. A left who will not regress to nation-centred slogans of more borders and border controls, but will instead raise the flag of a common struggle with workers in the rest of Europe.

Politics is polarising between the hard-right authoritarianism of the Tory party and the democratic socialist alternative projected by the growing grassroots movement around the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn.

The left must unequivocally oppose the 2016 Immigration Act, which increase surveillance and repression against migrants and those they come into contact with. It must say: shut down all immigration detention centres; an open door policy on immigration; open borders. Solidarity above all and first of all! Solidarity without “preconditions”! By contrast, Labour right-winger Jon Cruddas’s review of the 2015 election concluded that: “The Labour Party is becoming a toxic brand. It is perceived by voters as a party that supports open door approach to immigration, lacks credibility on the economy and is a soft touch on welfare spending”.

The political and economic crisis within the EU is not sleepwalking us to the rise of the left and socialism. In times of discredit for mainstream bourgeois options, and increasing inequality, the risk of a rapid rise of the extreme right is extremely serious. The only thing that can prevent it is an ideological battle by the left.

“All true men”, as the Cuban revolutionary José Martí said, “must feel a sting when another man is slapped in the face.”

For as long as the war in Syria lasts and chaos prevails, refugees will have no choice. They will try by every means possible to get to a place that is safer. Not matter how many fences and borders are erected, they will not stop the movement of desperate people. So, on the one hand, the forces of reaction, of xenophobia, of right-wing nationalism, and of neo-Nazism are developed, as shown most recently by the gains of the right-wing AfD, with 20% in local elections in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, and 14% in Berlin. On the other hand, there have been advances by the left in a number of countries, including the revolutionary left in elections in Ireland. We have also had anti-fascist demonstrations in many European countries and the huge wave of solidarity for refugees in Greece.

According to a recent poll, over five million Greeks are assisting refugees, and 66% believe that Greece’s borders must remain open even if the rest of Europe shuts down its borders. This crisis in Europe is not the crisis of the EU as an institution (and the answer is not just the “exit” from the EU). It is the crisis of the capitalist system as a whole and internationally, which is reflected in the EU and its institutions. The masses of refugees and immigrants are the ambassadors of a vibrant world of indomitable willpower, of strong solidarity, of passion for a life worth living. They are the lighthouses of beautiful colours and carriers of history and a multitude of cultures.

The mother who carries a child in her arms and pushes the stroller of her handicapped father along a cold highway in Mikrothives in Greece is a thousand times more able to govern justly and humanly than the degenerate bureaucrats of Brussels and London. The refugee issue is not a matter of national security, it is a matter of humanity. The cementing of the alliance of the workers and popular strata with the refugees and immigrants is our own homeland, our own destination. Our struggle is for class unity against the efforts of division, fragmentation, and incitement by the bourgeois governments. Claims for welfare measures for refugees are linked to demands for publicly-provided housing, food, health, and education for the “locals”.

A Pan European solidarity movement, internationalist and anti-imperialist, will be built only if each anti-racist movement in each country wins battles against the policy of forcible exclusion of refugees at their “national borders”. The fronts against Euro-racism and imperialism are not only “outside” but especially in our own country. It is our government, “our own” fences, “our” state-orchestrated racism, “our” fascism and far-rightism, “our” business interests. The battle is first and foremost at “home”.

Migrant worker killed on Italian picket

“Flatten him like a smoothing iron” screamed the racist guard-dogs of SEAM, subcontractors to the multinational distributors GLS in the northern Italian city of Piacenza.

The scab at the wheel of the 15 ton truck didn’t hesitate as he headed towards the picket line of defenceless workers of the cooperative. On Tuesday 13 September members of the base union USB, were a month into their strike to reinstate 13 of their unjustly sacked workmates.

Abd Elsalem Ahmed Eldant , a 53 year old Egyptian, 14 years with the company took the full force of the blow, dying immediately, leaving his wife and five children. The death of Eldant, a former teacher in Egypt but forced to flee because of his politics, is the murderous climax of a campaign by Italy’s distribution service companies to crush workers and their union, USB.

USB has become a beacon of hope for Italy’s most defenceless workers. The heroic sacrifices of thousands of migrant workers from Asia, Africa and Europe has clawed back trade union rights and terms of conditions and wages for men and women All this in the context of the massive and widespread demoralisation among Italian workers following repeated and shameful retreats by the bureaucratic leaders of the major confederation unions. Their struggles have been the living proof that collective resistance and solidarity can still be fought for and won, and can be the means of challenging the class enemy.

On Saturday 17 September, thousands marched in Piacenza to commemorate this brave man’s life Further demonstrations have been planned, and from the rank and file of the CGIL/FIOM federation has come the demand for a day of action in defence of the right to strike and picket. Now is a critical moment for the country’s serious militants and class fighters to raise the banner of united mass working class action against capitalism and class repression in Italy.

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