A new start towards redoubling work by the pro-free-movement left was made at a protest at the Home Office on Wednesday 19 August, bringing together a wide range of socialist groups and migrants' rights campaigns, including Labour Campaign for Free Movement, Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, Southall Black Sisters, Mutiny, Socialist Resistance, Red Flag, RS21, Momentum Internationalists, Workers' Liberty, and many others.
A follow-up meeting called by the initiators of that protest on 29 August discussed future plans, including, should the pandemic conditions permit it, a national action for migrants' solidarity, raising explicitly pro-free-movement demands. Solidarity will carry further reports on that initiative as it develops.
Mercy Baguma, a Ugandan asylum seeker who was found dead in her home in Glasgow on 25 August, was murdered by Britain's savagely inhumane immigration laws.
After Mercy's limited leave to remain expired, she was prevented from working, forcing her to rely on donations from charities. Her one-year-old son, who was found next to her, was suffering from malnourishment.
Asylum seekers have no right to work in Britain. Certain immigration statuses also have “No Recourse to Public Funds” conditions attached to them, meaning migrants are eligible for almost no state support.
Mercy's death, and her son's malnourishment, are the human consequences of a policy consensus that has dominated modern British politics, which sees migrants and immigration as problems to be solved, something to be constrained.
Two days after Mercy's death, the Home Office released a video trumpeting its anti-migrant perspective. It showed a graphic of planes leaving Britain for the continent, with the subtitle “we are working to remove migrants with no right to remain in the UK.” The video said “current regulations are rigid and open to abuse”, because they “allow activist lawyers to delay and disrupt returns”.
“Returns” here means deportation flights, like the one that was due to remove 23 migrants who'd entered Britain by crossing the Channel to Spain on 28 August. Fortunately, “activist lawyers” were able to intervene, and the flight was stopped.
A statement from the PCS union, which organises Home Office staff, called the video, which has since been withdrawn, “morally repugnant”, and drew comparisons between the graphics and the famous Dad's Army title sequences, which featured Union Jack arrows spearing out of Britain to push back “invading” arrows emblazoned with the Nazi swastika.
The policy of the state gives legitimacy to, and emboldens, “street level” intimidation of, and violence towards, immigrants. On 28 August, a video circulated on social media showing supporters of the far-right Britain First group marching through a hotel in Bromsgrove, near Birmingham, which is currently accommodating some asylum seekers, knocking on hotel room doors and interrogating the occupants. What will the Tories say against these fascists – what can they say? - when they take the logical next step of bundling asylum seekers and migrants into vans and carrying out some “activist deportations” to shortcut around the “rigid” system that gives “activist lawyers” too many opportunities to obstruct?
This atmosphere makes it all the more urgent that the left and the labour movement reinvigorates and redoubles anti-fascist, anti-racist, and migrants' rights campaigning. This must take the form both of practical solidarity with migrants attempting to navigate Britain's harsh border regime, and direct action to assert bold, radical demands: free movement for all migrants and asylum seekers, the abolition of “No Recourse to Public Funds” laws, an end to all deportations, and the closure of all detention centres. Migrants must be free to move, free to stay, free to work, and free to live.
This fight must be taken up inside the labour movement, including the Labour Party, too much of which is still in the grip of protectionist, nationalist ideas that sees migrant workers as a threat.
• Labour Campaign For Free Movement: www.labourfreemovement.org