By Amina Saddiq
3000 people demonstrated in central London for migrant workers’ rights on 7 April. This is much bigger than previous migrants’ rights demonstrations, and clearly a very positive step forward.
However, there is a problem. The demonstration was called by the Strangers into Citizens campaign set up by the “community organisation” TELCO. TELCO has until now focussed mainly on living wage campaigning; migrant workers is a logical progression. However, like its living wage campaigns, Strangers into Citizens bears the marks of its highly problematic politics.
The TELCO living wage campaigns were hierarchically organised, with full-time TELCO organisers always fully in control; oddly ambivalent in their attitude to unionisation; and always concerned to get priests, community leaders and other conservative dignitaries on board. Strangers into Citizens, however, is worse. It wants a one-off regularisation, strongly implying that after that the doors should be slammed firmly shut.
It not only explicitly rejects the demand for full regularisation of all illegal workers, but demands that the government “Respect honest migrants” and “Control our borders”.
According to the campaign’s website (www.strangersintocitizens.org.uk): “A country has the right to regulate its borders. An amnesty with too generous provisions could weaken that policy. Hence our four plus two years’ criterion, which annuls any risk of encouraging further illegal immigration while recognising the place of those already here.”
Workers’ Liberty members and supporters marched with the No Borders/No One is Illegal contingent on the demonstration, and helped to give out the “October 7 Network” bulletin demanding “Papers for all” and “Freedom of movement and the freedom to stay”. Generally, this position got a very good reception from demonstrators — except for from the TELCO stewards, who tried to stop various “No borders” banners from entering Trafalgar Square at the end of march.
It is very good news indeed that the migrant workers’ movement is growing and developing. All the more reason for the left to mobilise in the labour movement to challenge this sort of reactionary politics.
There were very few organised socialists on the demonstration — the eight Workers’ Liberty supporters were by far the biggest contingent (presumably the SWP and the Socialist Party feel a bit embarrassed by their crap positions on this issue). And yet the demonstrators, of all backgrounds, were very open to hearing what we had to say: we sold about fifty papers and had lots of interesting conversations.