By Becky Crocker
There are an estimated 500,000 migrants living in the UK “without papers” Evidence of the intimidation and exploitation they face as a result of being denied the right to work is constantly coming to light. Despite the numbers involved Blair government remains committed to its policies of detaining and deporting so-called “illegals”. Meanwhile it is kicking “failed” asylum seekers out to so-called “safe” countries like Darfur and Iraq and constructing a new prison for detaining immigrants at Gatwick.
Migrants desperate for the right to work and to live without fear will get no much-needed relief from the government. Last year’s brief talk of an amnesty, conditional on ID cards being issued, was not a generous offer, and seems to have been drowned out by anti-immigrant priorities.
In this light, the faith and community-group -led Strangers Into Citizens campaign for regularization has an understandable appeal. Their statement is sensitive to the “dire poverty” and vulnerability to “unbending employers” faced by migrant workers. The campaign is holding a national day of action for the rights of undocumented migrants on 7 May.
But what does the campaign actually demand? Undocumented migrants that have been here four or more years should be admitted to a two year “leave to remain” “during which they work legally and demonstrate their contribution to UK economy and society.” At the end of the two-year period, employers will give references that will determine whether they are granted leave to remain further.
Quoting the CBI, they say that migration is necessary to fill skills shortages. They are for a very New Labour, “managed” version of migration — migration on the bosses’ terms. The campaign may think they are benevolently extending the arm of the law to offer protection to some migrants. But they are bare-faced opponents of rights for all migrants. They proclaim “a country has a right to control its borders…an amnesty with too generous provision could weaken that policy.” They are for “One-off regularisation” — rights for migrants here today, but intensification of the borders against those who wish to come here tomorrow.
Their slogan “Control our borders. Respect honest migrants” asserts that some migrants are more worthy of rights than others. By giving employers the veto over whether leave to remain is granted, they hand the bosses another tool to crush workers organising for their rights.
The rally on 7 May is expected to attract 1000 demonstrators from migrant communities. To these people we should make plain that the Strangers into Citizens campaign is not the campaign that will deliver much-needed hope.
We should go with an agenda that is genuinely for the rights of migrants — to come here at any time, work and be free to organise against exploitation in the workplace. We need a campaign that is independent of the bosses’ interests. Jack Dromey, deputy general secretary of the TGWU, will be speaking on the official platform. The trade union movement seems to have been co-opted by this campaign. Not good.