Why we joined the anti-Brexit march

Submitted by AWL on 27 March, 2019 - 10:33 Author: Alex Fernandes

In the run-up to the huge anti-Brexit protest on 23 March Young Labour member Alex Fernandes replied to NEC youth rep Lara McNeill’s article “I’m Labour’s NEC [National Executive] youth rep – and I won’t be at the People’s Vote march”.

In her latest article on LabourList, Lara McNeill recycles the right-wing lie that Remain sentiment belongs to the “liberal middle classes”. I’m sure that will come as news to the working-class residents of Merseyside, Manchester, Glasgow, London and other Remain-voting areas. I’m a member of Young Labour, and as such McNeill claims to speak for me, at least on Labour’s NEC [National Executive]. As a low-waged Portuguese migrant committed to international socialism, I can tell you categorically that she does not.

McNeill talks about the campaign to stop Brexit being “tired”. I’m tired too. I’m tired of articles which refer to the working class as a (white) monolith that voted for Brexit, ignoring the millions of working-class migrants here on EU passports, many of them poor and BAME. I’m tired of an irresponsible minority of Lexit theorisers ignoring the fundamental socialist notion that the working class is international and has no borders. I’m tired of articles that dismiss the deeply racist and reactionary undercurrent of the Leave campaign with a shrug, and platitudes about “kicking the establishment in the teeth”, when the people most likely to be kicked in the teeth are people with a foreign accent.

McNeill seems to believe that denying the “will of the people” from three years ago will hasten the rise of the far right; but also that if we give into their demands on migration they’ll pipe down and go away. Spoiler: they won’t. She accepts in her article that “the politics of xenophobia was central to the Leave campaign, and was a significant mobilising factor in bringing unprecedented numbers of voters out”. But her conclusion is that this nationalist swing in UK politics is “an opportunity” for Labour rather than something to be resisted.

We migrants do not have the luxury of ignoring the coming assault on our rights, our family life, our physical safety as we walk down the street. When the Coram charity warns that thousands of migrant children in care could be rendered illegal and undocumented, forgive us for not hailing this as a wonderful “opportunity”. Brexit, especially the closed-borders migrants-under-the-bus Brexit being advocated for by both the Tories and sections of the Labour party, will be a disaster for workers.

The path to a socialist Europe (not “social”, come on), and world, that McNeill claims to be fighting for involves the building of a mass trade union movement that can challenge the bosses and link up internationally. This task becomes significantly more difficult when employment is linked to migration status – “managed migration” means handing the bosses much greater powers to threaten workers with deportation. Those powers are already being used to break the unions of low-paid migrant workers in the UK. And the expansion of those powers is an “opportunity”?

Those of us on the “remain and rebel” left, unlike the Anna Soubrys and the Chuka Umunnas McNeill rightly attacks in her piece, understand that stopping Brexit will not solve society’s ills. Just to start with, we need a massive expansion of public ownership and public investment, the trade unions to be unshackled and to build a mass grassroots movement that takes on the bosses in Britain and in the neoliberal EU, to change both for the better. Clamping down on the rights of migrants, scapegoating people like me, and framing Britain’s problems as though they’re being imposed upon it by the evil EU are not the solution.

Lara McNeill won’t be on the anti-Brexit march, and that’s up to her. But hundreds of thousands of people will be, and many of them (more, I suspect, than she imagines) will be people she purports to represent on Labour’s NEC, young people worried about their future, members of that vast majority of Labour activists who oppose Brexit – oppose it because they are socialists. I’ll be on the march – I’ll be marching on the Left Bloc, which will be large and full of trade union and Labour banners, as well as slogans and chants calling for open borders and international solidarity.

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