By Karen Johnson and Becky Crocker
Around 500 people gathered at the Imperial War Museum at midday for the 7 October demonstration called by the Athens European Social Forum. Workers, activists and people from migrant communities were demanding freedom of movement and the right to stay. The South London route was deliberately planned through areas where migrants live, to show direct solidarity with migrants who feel vulnerable and isolated as a result of the government’s immigration policy. The demonstration was made up of a mixed crowd, including immigration campaigners, trade unionists, migrant workers and asylum seekers. There were marchers from the Congo, Rwanda, Bolivia, Iraq and Iran.
There were a large number of colourful banners from a wide variety of campaigns such as the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees, Coalition to stop Deportations to Iraq and No Borders, alongside trade unionists including the GMB sex workers section and a large RMT contingent.
As the group reassembled at 2.30pm, following the march, speakers including Dashty Jamal from the Coalition to Stop Deportations to Iraq addressed the demonstrators. Dashty spoke of the current situation in Iraqi Kurdistan and the experience of Iraqi asylum seekers recently forcibly returned on 5 Sept 2006.
“In this century starting with the war on terror there is not a safe place in the world. The Human Rights and Civil Rights of Migrant workers are under threat because of both state and non state terrorism. We need an international Human Rights movement to stop this barbarism. Today twenty three million Iraqis are affected by this policy. Their daily lives are controlled by terrorism and civil war. On the 1st September, 32 Kurdish Iraqis were forcibly returned to Iraq from the UK. Iraq is not a safe place. This is why we have set up the coalition, to publicise the terrible way asylum seekers are treated in this country and stop deportations to Iraq. Please support our campaign and help us build this movement.”
On the same day in Huddersfield, the International Federation Iraqi Refugees and the Kurdish Cultural Community of Kirklees held a demonstration, attended by a number of asylum seekers and campaigners from the International Organisation of Iranian Refugees and Workers’ Liberty. .The following slogans were used on the demonstration: “No Deportations to Iraqi Kurdistan”, “Stop the war on Iraqi asylum seekers” and “Asylum rights is human right”.
Burhan Fatah on behalf of the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees spoke asking for support for the campaign to stop deportation to Iraq and spoke of the current situation in Iraqi and Kurdistan telling people to visit their MP and to sign the petition (visit the Coalition To Stop Deportations To Iraq website for more information —www.csdiraq.com)
In the rally that followed, the crowd heard how immigration controls result in the exploitation of migrant workers. An Iranian Refugee from the No Borders network spelled out that immigration controls underpin by, and serve the interests of, capitalism. Pat Sikorski, Assistant General Secretary of the RMT, identified outsourrcing to cleaning companies on London Underground as a source of exploitation. He broadened the struggle for the rights of underground cleaners, the majority of whom are migrants, to the fight to restore employment to the control of publicly owned services.
The conference on Sunday was intended to galvanise the links that had been made between workers and activists in the building of this day of action.
About 50 people, most of who had marched the day before, met to agree a basis for future campaigning. With a variety of political perspectives represented, a consensus was not going to be easily-reached. Dave Landau from No One Is Illegal warned against uniting with campaign groups who reject an ‘open borders’ position if it means we end up arguing only for a ‘fairer’ system of immigration controls, which would mean indefensibly defending an abhorrent system in a slightly different from. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, who do argue for this seemed relatively isolated in its position.
No Sweat argued for involving all unions at the grass roots in building solidarity with migrant workers. Robin Sivapalan from Workers’ Liberty contributed saying that the organised left have a responsibility to call for open borders.
A Ukranian woman arrived at the conference; she said she’d come to find out if there is truth behind the rumour that an amnesty might soon grant legal status to all migrants in the UK. She said that she left the Ukraine because she earned only £20 per week there: enough to buy food, but not clothes and barely enough to meet the the escalating cost of housing. The necessity and good sense behind granting legal status to those made ‘illegal’ by the current system would have been obvious to all who heard her say, “I don’t want help. I just want to work and earn money and bring my family here.....I don’t understand. If I can earn money here, why can’t I work here?”.
If there was any conclusion from the conference it is that something needs to be done. We should take the best elements of the movement assembled around 7 October - its worker and grass-roots focus, its intent to challenge immigration controls as integral to capitalism - and carry this into trade unions across the country at every level, and in our political campaigning.