photo/video report from MFJs immigrant rights march 4 July 2020

On Saturday 4th July 2020 we marched for immigrant rights as part of the growing worldwide #BlackLivesMatter movement. We started in Brixton, stopping at Brixton Police Station to remember those who’ve died at the hands of Brixton police, marched on to Serco and G4S head offices (the private companies responsible for the brutalisation, abuse and murder of so many) and ended at the Home Office. At each stop people who have experienced the racism and brutality of detention and deportations spoke out.

OUR DEMANDS…

* End the racist Hostile Environment for Immigrants policy

* No more charter flights – Stop immigration raids & deportations

* Shut down ALL detention centres

* Amnesty Now! Extend settled status to ALL immigrants who want it

* Defend & extend the free movement of people

* Widen the Windrush Scheme to all Windrush Generation descendants

* Jail killer police and immigration enforcers

* Build the independent, integrated, youth and immigrant led mass movement fighting for immigrant rights and equality

The fight against racism will decide our futures. It will decide whether Britain, the USA and Europe have a future of progress as democratic, multiracial societies based on equality, whether poor and oppressed people can resist and defeat our exploiters, whether young people can live hopeful, creative lives – or if our countries will be dragged backwards by the politics of Donald Trump and his backers, Boris Johnson and Brexit, and the Far Right across Europe. That is why we, on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, responded immediately to the mass movement that took to the streets after the police murder of George Floyd, and is still marching in every city & state in the US, day after day and week after week. 

A future without racism requires the defeat of racist policies that blame immigrants and black youth for the failures of government to meet the needs of poor, exploited and oppressed people. We are marching today, on 4th July, as youth speaking the truth about racist police brutality, and as immigrants and communities fighting for our right to live here with respect and dignity.

Black lives more than matter: the leadership of black and Asian people has been critical to every progressive victory in Britain for decades – to every victory that has taken us closer to equal quality education, decent healthcare and workers’ rights. Each new generation of immigrants from Britain’s former colonies and the rest of the world brings a new, fierce aspiration for a bright future, that is shared by the youth of all races.

That is the basis of the dynamism and hope that can fire a mass movement. That is the fear of the politicians and the rich & powerful who are desperate to divide us and dampen our ambition. 

Our fight back matters: The anti-racist movement that has taken to our streets must assert our power to decide our future, by raising and fighting for clear demands. The Home Office runs the immigration system and police; it is responsible for too many deaths and acts of brutality and too much forced squalor at the hands of the police, the immigration authorities and the private contractors who profit from the government’s racist Hostile Environment policy. We demand: jail all killer cops and immigration enforcers; announce an amnesty for all immigrants; shut down all immigration detention centres; stop immigration raids and deportations.

This first video is of Ugandan lesbian activist and leader in MFJ, Prossie. She was detained for 5 months in Yarls Wood in 2013 before being removed to Uganda under the now unlawful fast track system, for the first time here she publicly speaks out, in front of Serco headquarters (who run Yarl’s Wood) about what she went through and why she continues to fight…

At Brixton police station as we started to speak about those who have died at the hands of Brixton police, a passerby started shouting ‘all lives matter’ – they were swiftly shouted down!
“Immigrants – HERE TO STAY – Charter Flights – NO WAY!” marching through central Brixton
“When they say go back – FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT BACK!”
“Tear down the fences – OPEN THE BORDERS!”
“whose streets? OUR STREETS! and Where is our power? ON THE STREETS!”
“How we gonna do it? BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY!”
“Yarl’s Wood – Shut it Dooooown SHUT IT DOWN!”
“no Justice – NO PEACE – AGAIN – NO JUSTICE – NO PEACE!”
“IMMIGRANTS HAVE THE RIGHT – HERE TO STAY HERE TO FIGHT!”
MFJ leader and Windrush descendant Eulalee speaks outside Serco Head Office, her son was deported to Jamaica and murdered five months later.
Outside G4S Headquarters “I SAID – No Justice – NO PEACE!
“the racist immigration system is a virus – at least they are looking for a cure for coronavirus”
Perfect chant for outside the Home Office “WE ARE STRONGER!”
MFJs Tacko speaking outside G4S headquarters
MFJ’s Eulalee speaking outside the Home Office
MFJs Larry speaks about his experience as a Gay Nigerian asylum seeker

From Minneapolis to London, mass action led by black, Asian & immigrant youth defeats the racists & fascists.

Each weekend and most days since the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, USA, we’ve had huge marches through central London and around the country. We risked coronavirus because we knew history wouldn’t wait. At times when the state goes too far and exposes its racism it creates a turning point. It is imperative that leaders emerge in action on the side of the oppressed to win. It means overcoming mis-leadership and fears of our own power in action. MFJ is an organisation building leaders in action, speaking the truth about racism. We know that to overthrow oppression, the oppressed must strike the blow.

On Saturday 6th June from Parliament Square we marched for miles – to the US embassy, to Home Office Headquarters, Parliament Square and Whitehall. It was an outpouring of anger by young people taking to the streets, to reckon with time-worn British racism. The speed of the escalation is testament to the line being drawn against all the ways we are being killed and sacrificed to the profit, political opportunism or convenience of a few – deaths at police hands; deaths in detention centres; being left to die from Covid-19; left in Grenfell Tower; left to drown in the Mediterranean sea; deported to countries we don’t know; losing everything to a bloodsucking immigration policy; Windrush generations humiliated; young people and immigrants scapegoated for the failures of a system that for ten years has bailed out banks not communities.

A reckoning has been a long time coming.

A struggle for power

A dynamic youth-lead anti-racist movement asserting its power in the streets is the most serious threat to the government’s racist policies and practices; racist Brexit, the hostile environment for immigrants, health, education and work inequalities and racist policing. It is also the strongest hope of the exploited and oppressed as we face a world in crisis desperate for revolutionary change.

That power – on the streets – has incensed racists and fascists across the country and led assorted far right groupings to call a counter demo against the BLM protest on 13th June, under the pretence of “protect the statues”. Their ‘defending statues’ was really about defending their racism against the awakening of a movement that could come to challenge the politics of nationalism and racism that gave them Brexit, and which most divides and weakens the working class as a whole. Their answer is to put black people back in ‘their place’.

Wherever the fascists march or demonstrate, their goals are simple: brutal racist intimidation; physical attacks on black people, Asian people, LGBT people and anti-fascists; recruiting more racists to their ranks. They want us weakened, afraid to act, and really afraid to fight back. Fascism has to be defeated; it cannot be negotiated. The past four years since the Brexit vote has seen racism and racist attacks increase, some of the largest fascist mobilisations including in London and Manchester since the 1970 ‘Keep Britain White’ marches. With the election of the most far right government since Thatcher, under Boris Johnson, and his rallying cry to racists everywhere of ‘Get Brexit Done,’ fascists have been emboldened. The timidity of Labour who turned a blind eye to Brexit racism allowed a weak Tory government to stay standing. It is no accident that bigoted racist and anti-Muslim attacks increased; Brexit gave licence to racists to act.

Overcoming the misleaders

The march BLM LDN called for Saturday 13th June would have outnumbered the fascists and easily driven away any right-wing racists trying to disrupt it. Turning back the fascists with their tails between their legs from the start would have cemented the power of the anti-racist movement. Instead BLM LDN announced they would ‘give’ the fascists Saturday, by moving to Friday instead. They lined up alongside everyone from the police, media, Akala and Boris Johnson, telling black people to clear out of the fascist’s way. That betrayal was a comfort to the far right, who may well have increased their attendance as a result. It is always a mistake to give ground to fascists to organise and grow; it leads to racist attacks on the day and in the aftermath. It treats black people as though we are weak, when it is precisely our strength that has brought about this critical point in history.

A distraction rally was held in Hyde Park, called by Stand up to Racism, which should have marched straight to Trafalgar Square, but the leaders of that rally also told people to go home after a few speeches. Thankfully hundreds ignored that advice and came to Trafalgar Square. London Black Revs and Malcom X Movement had called on protestors to go to Trafalgar Square from the start, and not back down to fascists.

The decision of the 200 or so, to stand ground in Trafalgar Square against all racist provocation and abuse, getting the word out as far and wide so others would come and join us, turned a near defeat into a major victory. The day ended with mass action lead by overwhelming black, working class young people, driving the fascists out streets by street, and taught them a hard lesson. It was a truly historic defeat for fascism.

An MFJ account of Saturday 13th June – Trafalgar Square to Waterloo

“It was known the racists and fascists came in largely through Victoria on coaches and trains to head to Parliament Square. They always start drinking early. Altercations with police began quickly, they attacked journalists and gradually fought through police lines to get to Trafalgar Square. These were the groups looking to attack any BLM / anti-fascists and do damage. They had glass bottles and fireworks as weapons.

“In Trafalgar Square the anti-racist demonstrators were overwhelmingly black, young and working-class, a lot of women. Everyone knew why we were there: we had to defend the growing movement by holding the ground to stop the fascists taking advantage of the day, and not clearing ourselves out of the way.

“We were only around 200, if that. There were police nominally separating the sides. The fascists (all men, some EDL, some violent groups connected through football) were gathered around the south west of the square shouting racists and misogynistic taunts, ‘go back to Africa,’ being provoking, and some in berets like ex-army gathered on Nelson’s Column. They carried on until they felt confident enough in their numbers to attack physically. At that point they moved like a flock around from the south end of the square, then up the east side to the higher ground along the top. They used the higher ground to lob glass bottles and fireworks into the crowd of black people, while making monkey noises and chanting. At the same time there were other racists milling around allied with the racist mobilisation.

Some police moved in, but a lot of the time the police stood back. The police caught up some fascists around Charing Cross, and later with police dogs stopped another breakaway group of fascists near Haymarket. There were fascists on side streets around Trafalgar Square.

Despite the mis-leaders who stayed away, everyone who stayed showed boldness greater than any of those fascists and racists. Our cause meant more – we are making history.

After an hour or so another big group of anti-racist protestors (some marched from Hyde Park, probably picking up others on the way) got to Trafalgar Square. Then our numbers were closer to a thousand, as it should have been. There were still confident fascists and racists verbally abusing black people around the square like it were a sport. They quickly found Trafalgar Square was no longer a space where you could be openly racist.  Emboldened and our numbers growing the racists and fascists got shut down.

We got moving down the side streets around the square. Fascists spotted in Leicester Square were chased out. Back in Trafalgar Square some of the earlier fascists who had been so confident and bold before were caught up with. Everyone who had aligned with the racist abuse found themselves questioned and confronted.

We marched down The Strand to Waterloo Bridge, widening the field where the fascists could no longer operate. Over the bridge at Waterloo station a group of fascists in the train station had presumably left behind a couple of their fascist friends. By now the numbers of anti-racists was still growing, still overwhelmingly black and working class. Some of the crowd managed to chase the fascists into the station.

Our side’s goal was clear, we wanted to defend our city, our people from the fascist threat and we wanted to ensure that any fascist or potential fascist thinks twice before returning to attack us. We ended up as thousands, and we took the streets back from them, from Waterloo to Trafalgar Square to Whitehall, to Vauxhall – we chased those fascists out, any who thought to challenge us, any who sought to spew their racism or attack us got taught a lesson in the power of working class black, white and Asian people fighting in unison to defend our communities”

A historic victory against fascism

It is impossible to overstate the enormous victory over fascism which took place on Saturday 13th June, for the first time ever a mass black led, working class mobilisation in central London managed to beat back the fascists, force them out of our city in tears. There have been victories like this in our local communities such as Tower Hamlets when the EDL were defeated by masses of Asian youth and anti-fascists determined to defend their community, but in central London the fascists have been able to hold increasingly large demonstrations freely – they see central London as their space. The victory was confirmed when the Democratic Football Lads Alliance put out a statement afterwards saying they would be withdrawing from future mobilisations to ‘defend statues’.

Fear of this expression of the power of a black-led struggle, and the great significance of our victory, has meant that much of the left, and the leaders who use the ‘BLM’ name, are refusing to tell the truth about what happened. Most people who were not there will just have seen the footage from earlier in the day when the fascists had the upper hand and the photo of a fascist being carried to safety. Neither of these things tells the true story of what happened, the scale of the physical, emotional, political defeat for fascism – something that only happened because thousands defied the call to ‘stay at home’.

Movement for Justice by any means necessary exists to mobilise that power, to make the power of exploited and oppressed communities a social force that will defeat the racism of the state, abolish its brutal system of oppression, and smash the fascists. That movement will give new hope to youth, to the poor and working class, and to everyone suffering discrimination and prejudice.

MFJ is a movement of leaders, most of us immigrants and asylum seekers who have fought to be in Britain and fought to stay here. We fight to abolish the anti-immigrant system that is central to racism in Britain: – to end the racist scapegoating of immigrants and the government’s ‘Hostile Environment’ policy; to shut down all detention centres and stop deportations and immigration raids; to win the right of ALL descendants & family members of the Windrush Generation to stay in the UK; and to extend the Settled Status for EU citizens in Britain to EVERYONE, from any country, who is living here without secure immigration status.

MFJ does not rely on politicians, judges or any institutions of the state. To secure our rights and futures we must build an independent, integrated mass movement, led by youth, immigrants and the black & Asian communities, and fight by any means necessary for civil rights,  immigrant rights, and equality for all.

Covid19: We won’t sacrifice our lives, friends & communities for your profits

No return to work or school until…

  1. We have an intensive, community-based programme of testing and tracing to suppress Covid-19;
  2. Workers, students, parents & medical scientists decide that conditions are safe & protection is reliable.

Extend settled status to all immigrants who want it    –    End NHS charges for immigrants   –    Kick the Home Office out of the NHS    

It is an outrage that the government is lifting the Covid-19 lock-down and trying to force people back to work, to school and onto public transport in unsafe conditions, without protection and when there is still no serious national programme of testing for the virus and tracing contacts. From January onwards, and even after the infection reached Britain in February and the first deaths occurred in early March, the government’s refusal to prepare for the looming pandemic was a demonstration of criminal irresponsibility. That response aroused anger and opposition that increased during March, and Boris Johnson had to bring in a UK-wide lock-down on 23rd March. On Sunday 10th May he announced the first stage of lifting that lock-down. That is the latest demonstration of criminal irresponsibility.

Covid-19 is still infecting and killing thousands of people in Britain. The UK has the biggest number of infections and deaths in Europe; the NHS and care homes are still under-equipped and over-stretched; the provision of equipment and the conduct of testing is chaotic; lucrative contracts are being handed out to dubious private companies, and the future development of the virus is uncertain. The government’s response to the situation is to stop publishing international comparisons and to censor the science. Lifting the lock-down now will mean a sharp rise in infections and a lot more deaths – and the people getting ill and dying will mostly be poor, in low-paid jobs, in care homes, and will be disproportionately black and Asian.

Boris Johnson and his government never wanted the lock-down in the first place. They had ignored all the warnings of the damage that years of cuts and privatisation have inflicted on the NHS and social services. They had disregarded all the warnings about the danger of new pandemics and the advice to stockpile equipment, protective clothing etc. They were prepared to see a rising and preventable death toll – in order to keep business going. For this government, the poor and oppressed are expendable; profits are sacred

How the lock-down happened

We the public imposed the lock-down on Johnson. The government’s own figures demonstrate that the bulk of the fall in public transport and car use had already occurred before Johnson officially announced a lock-down. In the three weeks before his announcement, journeys by car and by London buses had fallen by nearly 30 percentage points, bus journeys in other areas fell by 35 points, London underground and national rail by around by 25 points. Even journeys on foot had fallen.

Journeys were falling rapidly because more and more workers, parents, students, teachers etc were not going to work or school. It became a movement, and it was greatly strengthened by the efforts of doctors, scientists and journalists who were publicly exposing the government’s refusal to prepare for the pandemic. Organisations had to follow suit: universities, sporting bodies like the Football Association, some schools and even some businesses – theatres, carmakers etc – shut down or went online. This open resistance compelled Johnson to take action – reluctantly, belatedly and hesitantly.

In April, an anonymous cabinet minister told the High Tory Daily Telegraph newspaper that the government had not wanted a lock-down, but was forced into it by ‘public opinion’ (it was actually public action).

Despite all the problems that the lock-down has created for people, it is still supported by the overwhelming majority of people in Britain. The government’s failure to take effective action has left them with no other way to limit the spreading infection and save lives after.

Now the government wants to return to its original course of inaction. Johnson’s televised ‘address to the nation’ on 10th May launched the new and meaningless slogan, ‘Stay Alert,’ to replace ‘Stay at Home.’ He accompanied this with confused and confusing advice, and the lying assertion that the government is ‘following the science.’ It had a single purpose – to get people back to work in order to protect the profits of the capitalists who run big business. Meanwhile, of course, the rich and powerful capitalists will keep themselves very safe. They have always ‘socially distanced’ themselves from the people they exploit and oppress.

If we act together now we can win. The government has been badly shaken by the Covid-19 pandemic and the public reaction to it. Cabinet ministers are already divided over what level of deaths, and how much more damage to the NHS they can get away with. A co-ordinated refusal to return to work or study under the present conditions can stop the government’s plan, just as massive independent action started the lock-down in March.

Return to school is a cynical manoeuvre

One of the most cynical aspects of Johnson’s plan is the attempt to get children and teachers back to school. The government wants children in primary school reception classes (4 & 5 years old) in year 1 (5 &6) and in year 6 (10 & 11) to go back to school, and under-5s to return to nurseries, playgroups, childminders etc. This is not based on public health or educational considerations. The idea of ‘social distancing’ in classes of 4, 5 and 6 year-olds or even younger is utterly absurd. The only reason for this decision is to get their parents back to work. It will spread the virus further and lead to more deaths.

This is unacceptable and we won’t accept it. The people returning to work are doing so reluctantly, and their numbers are low. Parents are resisting the proposal. All the unions with members working in schools (teachers, assistants, cleaners, cooks, office staff) oppose the plan; they are supported by the Trade Union Congress (TUC). The two biggest teachers’ unions are telling their members not to co-operate with the government’s plan, and reminding them that they have a legal right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions – as all workers do. They are supported by the British Medical Association (BMA). Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland are maintaining the lock-down; some local educational authorities in England, like Liverpool, are refusing to re-open schools at this stage.

In fact, schools have never shut down totally, nor has education. Children and young people who have special educational needs are, rightly, able to attend school where they can be taught in safely manageable numbers, often on a rota basis; so are the children of some key workers in essential services. Throughout the lock-down, teachers have been going into schools on a rota basis, and they have been preparing and conducting online work for their students. There is much more that we can fight for while a lock-down is maintained – allocating areas of parks and open spaces for the use of children from individual schools, for example, and ensuring that all students have online access, which would make online lessons possible. However, in the current unsafe and unprepared state of affairs, returning a very much larger number of pupils, teachers and other staff to primary schools, nurseries etc would be a recipe for chaos, and undermine the positive work that is going on. The only beneficiaries would be the capitalists and the Covid-19 virus.

Where next

None of us are ‘addicted to the lock-down,’ as government ministers are saying. Living under lock-down is a huge problem for most of us; the poorer you are, or the more oppressed and abused you are, the harder and more dangerous it is. We should not have to resort to a lock-down to save our health and our lives, or the health and lives of our families, friends, neighbours, co-workers and fellow students. We are in this position because of years and years of ANTI-SOCIAL government – government by criminally irresponsible politicians. We are ruled by the political heirs of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, by her guiding principles: “There is no such thing as society, there are only individuals and their families,” and “You can’t buck the markets.”

Those policies have become central to all the main capitalist governments over the past four decades. They have devastated communities across Britain, created even greater devastation in poor countries, and led to ever more racist divide-and-rule policies from governments, mounting health problems everywhere, and increasingly dangerous global heating; they have turned education and health into privileges rather than rights; they led to mass murder at Grenfell Tower and the racism and chaos of Brexit. Now they have brought the biggest pandemic for 100 years and quite possibly the deepest recession since the industrial revolution.

However, the fight-back against Johnson’s criminal policy on Covid-19 has already achieved what the Labour opposition could never manage: it derailed the central policy of a Tory government. We have to drive that victory home in order to defeat both our enemies – the virus, with its potential to adapt more effectively to its human hosts, and the capitalists & politicians, who have weaponised their own virus of racism and xenophobia through Brexit.

There is much we still need to win in order to defeat those two enemies:

  • We must win the extension of settled status and the right of residence in the UK to everyone who wants it, whether they have papers or not;
  • We must end NHS charges for immigrants and the ‘No recourse to public funds’ policy, shut down all immigration detention centres and stop deportations;
  • We must stop all reporting of patients’ immigration status to the Home Office.

These are essential public health measures to defeat the virus, as well as basic issues of human rights, because they would allow immigrants and asylum seekers to seek medical help without the fear of detention and deportation. They are essential political measures to oppose and undermine the capitalists’ racist scapegoating of immigrants.

We must demand:

  • An intensive, community-based programme of testing for the virus & anti-bodies and tracing contacts;
  • The urgent reversal of the massive cuts to local council’s funding, so that they can take a leading role in fighting the pandemic;
  • Free broadband for the homes of all school age children and students who need it.

The government has proved itself incapable of dealing with a serious public health crisis – or with the levels of poverty it has created. Whatever they dishonestly promise, we can’t afford to give them, or any of their agents and appointees, the benefit of doubt. We know from experience that they will fail and deceive us. We – workers, communities, students, immigrants – must take matters into our own hands. We must take control from the government and the capitalists:

  • Health workers and social care workers, at all levels (doctors, nurses, cleaners, technicians, care assistants etc) must join together and take control of the delivery and management of health care, social care, the supply and distribution of protective equipment, medical equipment, drugs etc, working with supportive organisations in the communities they serve; this is too important to be left to the government and profit-driven companies;
  • We must fight by any means necessary, including rent strikes and occupations, to stop evictions and cancel rent payments;
  • We demand that all furloughed workers receive 100% of their pay; where conditions make it safe to work, we must oppose redundancies and fight for the available work to be shared between workers on the full weekly pay (cut the hours not the wages).

If Johnson and his ministers persist with their deadly policy of lifting the lock-down and fail to take the essential measures outlined above, it will be necessary to unite all our forces and use all our social power to Bring Down the Government.  

After the Election – Build a mass movement to defeat racism & Brexit

Defend & extend the free movement of people – No new immigration controls – Speak the plain truth about racism
Build an independent, integrated, youth & immigrant led movement to unite the struggles against racism and poverty  

Whatever election result awaits us on Friday, some things are certain. Firstly, there is a greater need than ever for a mass movement against the racism and anti-immigrant bigotry that have been the driving force of Brexit. The Tory election campaign has given fresh impetus to racism and xenophobia, while the other parties have stayed silent. Secondly, the election will not get Brexit ‘done.’ The Brexit crisis, and the political and economic disorders that led to Brexit, have not been resolved. Thirdly, the political system remains broken and the two main parties remain divided, while the general population, on all sides, is more disengaged from the present political system than at any time since world war two.

The chief lesson of the election is that we have to build an independent, integrated mass struggle to defend the free movement of people and stop Brexit. The current system can’t fight racism or offer a future of integration and equality. There can’t be an effective movement against poverty and inequality without a real, practical fight to overcome racism – and there can’t be such a fight without black, Asian, immigrant and youth leadership. Building that leadership and movement is the purpose of the Movement for Justice (MFJ).

Free movement banner

Brexit’s test for Labour

Brexit has been a critical test of the Left’s attempt to restore Labour’s traditional role as the party of the working class and a force for social progress. In 2015, hundreds of thousands of people joined or re-joined the Labour Party and propelled Jeremy Corbyn into the leadership. A high proportion were young people. They rallied to Corbyn’s campaign because he pledged to reverse the cutbacks and neo-liberal economic policies, supported the Palestinian struggle and had opposed Blair’s Iraq war. The following year those supporters defeated an attempted coup by right-wing Labour MPs and re-elected him with a bigger majority. They had a strong sense of their collective power to change history.

This year’s manifesto promises to build many more council houses, rebuild the NHS, extend public ownership, and abolish Universal Credit, benefit caps and student fees. It has gone beyond the party’s 2017 election manifesto and represents the party’s most significant break from the ‘neo-liberal’ economic policies of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and ‘New Labour.’ They reflect the continuing aspirations of the ‘new wave’ that rallied to Corbyn – and they are widely and rightly popular.

However, the most politically significant feature of the manifesto is that it did not repeat the language of the 2017 manifesto that gave an unconditional commitment to Brexit, with the blunt assertion that “Freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union.” Labour’s members and supporters made those positions untenable.

Labour’s rank-and-file are to the Left of Corbyn and using their power

Since 2017 Labour’s overwhelmingly anti-Brexit and pro-free movement base has become increasingly frustrated by the leadership’s fudging, indecision, delays and parliamentary manoeuvres on Brexit. Even when the leadership finally accepted the idea of a second referendum with a ‘remain’ option, it felt like drawing teeth and was repeatedly called into doubt. Nevertheless, it was the discontent and pressure of the Labour rank-and-file that forced change and encouraged more MPs speak out.

In last May’s local government elections and the elections for the EU Parliament in June, a majority of Labour Party members and supporters felt unable to vote for their own party; a large proportion actually voted for one or other of the anti-Brexit parties. They were not generally leaving the Labour Party, but they ‘went on strike’ against the leadership and sent Corbyn a sharp warning message.

That pressure on the leadership was demonstrated again at Labour’s national conference in September, when delegates sent a strong anti-racist message to the leadership by voting almost unanimously for a motion (Composite 20), that was originally drawn up by the Labour Campaign for Free Movement, calling on Labour to include a set of policies on immigrant rights in its election manifesto. Among these were:

  • Maintain and extend free movement;
  • Ensure the unconditional right to family reunion;
  • Close all detention centres;
  • End “no recourse to public funds” policies;
  • Scrap all Hostile Environment measures, use of landlords and public service providers as border guards, and restrictions on migrants’ NHS access.

Not one delegate spoke against this motion; it was (and remains) a major victory for the progressive instincts of the party’s rank-and-file. Within 24 hours, however, leading front-benchers were publicly playing down the significance of this vote, and Len McCluskey – leader of Unite, the country’s biggest trade union – was soon taking every opportunity to attack it.

It made it clear that Labour’s base and its activists are to the Left of the leadership on Brexit and racism.

The election and free movement

The Movement for Justice (MFJ) brought out an Open Letter to the Labour leadership ahead of the ‘Clause 5 meeting’ where they drew up the manifesto for the current election. It called for the inclusion of the Composite 20 policies in the manifesto, and MFJ members lobbied the meeting. We said in the Open Letter that,

“There are very good reasons why the great majority of black, Asian, Muslim and other minority ethnic voters, youth and students, and significantly more women than men are opposed to Brexit – because it is racist and reactionary and driven by anti-immigrant prejudice. We are experiencing its impact and we will not be silenced while our rights and futures are destroyed by the Brexiteers’ backward-looking, chauvinist project. You, the Labour Party and trade union leadership, cannot stay silent on this. You must listen to our voices. …

“You can’t afford the illusion that Labour will unite ‘Leavers’ and ‘Remainers’ and win this election just by focussing on the NHS, public housing, Universal Credit, privatisation, the minimum wage etc, while saying as little as possible about Brexit or being neutral on it. Such a policy means being evasive, neutral and inactive on the continuing rise of racism and hostility to immigrants. It means ignoring the voices and the experience of black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, immigrants and youth.”

The Clause 5 meeting did not make the Composite 20 policies part of the manifesto. The only direct reference to free movement in the manifesto boils down to a restatement of Labour’s pledge that EU citizens already living in the UK will be able to stay here. Only one of the ten practical demands in Composite 20 made it into the manifesto – extending the right to vote to all ‘UK residents.’ That is a welcome progressive measure, but the manifesto endorses managed migration in the interests of employers and ignores the most pressing injustices of the present immigration system.

The challenge for Labour’s pro-free movement, anti-Brexit activists

Hundreds of thousands of members who have flocked to the Labour Party since 2015 believed that Corbyn’s election as leader would reverse the history of increasingly racist immigration laws introduced by the Tories, Labour and Lib. Dems. That was the clear desire of Labour’s national conference when delegates voted for Composite 20. They will be deeply disappointed or downright angry at its exclusion from the manifesto.

Those members have, however, put their concerns aside for now and are working all out to get an anti-austerity Labour government elected, or at least to deny Johnson a majority. The general election campaign has, for a time, changed the balance of power between the leadership and the rank-and-file. Labour activists feel they must unite around the leadership when it is under a ferocious attack from the right.

MFJ understands that response, but we don’t politically support a Labour leadership that consciously refuses to take a stand for the right of free movement and against the racism of Brexit in the middle of Britain’s biggest peacetime political crisis for a century.

The issues and conflicts around immigration, free movement and Brexit will re-emerge in the Labour Party after the election, because really nothing will have been settled. Whoever is in government, Brexit means a constant crisis.

Whether Labour is in government or opposition, there will be a struggle over free movement because most Labour MPs and trade union bureaucrats think it is too difficult and dangerous to challenge racism, except in abstract moralistic terms. They are unwilling to undertake the kind of struggle that could overturn the material discrimination of racism and the divide-and-rule policies that are deeply rooted in Britain’s political and economic system. A leadership, like the present Labour leadership, that seeks ‘consensus’ among the MPs and trade union bureaucrats at the top of the party is trapped by those attitudes, whatever their own personal opinions.

MFJ therefore welcomes and supports the stand taken by 55 Labour candidates, including thirteen MPs seeking re-election, who have already issued a statement committing to continue the fight for free movement and all the policies in Composite 20[1]

The challenge for Labour’s pro-free movement, anti-Brexit activists (including the MPs who signed that statement) is to take the fight beyond Parliament and the internal politics of the Labour Party, to be part of building a mass movement to win – regardless of whether Labour is in government or opposition.

Building a fight to win

Genuine progressive change always comes from developments and struggles outside parliaments and independent of governments. The most urgent task now[2] is to overcome the toxic division of the working class based on race and attitudes to immigration, and to stop the rise of the Far Right that is based on Brexit. The Brexit crisis has broken the British political system and may yet break up the UK. It is unrealistic to rely on that system to defend and extend the free movement of people, end detention and deportation, and stop Brexit. That task requires the action of a mass movement led by immigrants, youth and the black and Asian communities.

MFJ will continue to support every struggle in the Labour Party to win free movement of people, defend immigrant rights and put Composite 20 into effect – but winning those struggles is conditional on the growth of that movement.

That comes down to building action that makes the current anti-immigrant regime unsustainable: marches and protests in and by the black, Asian, Muslim and immigrant communities and by youth, including on the demonstrations that will certainly be needed at Parliament in the coming months; weekday marches to shut down major cities; joint demonstrations inside and outside detention centres; school and college walk-outs; community organisation to prevent immigration raids; occupations and strikes in workplaces and universities to stop deportations.

This movement can win because it mobilises the social power of the most oppressed and most dynamic members of society, and that can inspire wider struggle and break down barriers, threatening the racist hierarchies that the system of divide-and-rule is based on.

This movement can’t just be wished into existence, nor can it be left to spontaneity; it has to be built and prepared. There are actually many thousands of people who can potentially be part of that work – organising meetings, building links, speaking to community and workers’ organisations, or in schools, colleges and universities. They need to be organised, whether they are in the community groups, the Labour Party, the trade unions or elsewhere.

The Movement for Justice

MFJ exists to build a movement of and for the poor and oppressed that can win a truly progressive and fulfilling future for all those struggling with the injustices of present-day society. To achieve that aim we seek to extend the struggles of the present until we win.

We call for an immediate, unconditional Amnesty for everyone who does not have a legal immigration status in the UK, because that is the only way to begin clearing up the mass of cruelty and injustice created by half a century of racist immigration and nationality laws.

We call for Opening the Borders of Britain and Europe because that is what immigrants are doing in their hundreds of thousands in order to resolve real material problems in their lives – problems that have mostly been caused by the actions of western imperialist powers. The alternative to Open Borders is an escalation of the barbarism and tyranny that we already see in the Mediterranean, in Libya, on the US/Mexican border and all around us.

We call for equal citizenship rights for everyone who lives, works and studies in the UK, because in an increasingly inter-connected world there is no democratic future for Britain, or any country, except as a multiracial, multinational society that is integrated on the basis of the equality of all its members, as the people we are.

[1] https://www.labourfreemovement.org/labour-candidates-pledge-solidarity-equality-and-free-movement-for-migrants/

[2] Of course, there are two ‘most urgent task,’ the other being the climate/ecological crisis, but these are linked in many ways and have a common enemy, and without an integrated movement against the racist scapegoating of immigrants there is no real possibility of building a movement to win action on the climate crisis.

Labour Conference policy on Free Movement & immigrant rights must be in the Election Manifesto

This election is about the future direction of our society…

Movement for Justice Open Letter to the Labour Party leadership

(sign on to this open letter here)

Dear Comrades,

This year’s Labour Party conference ended on a high note of political aspiration. On 25th September, delegate after delegate spoke in enthusiastic support of Composite 20: Free movement, equality and rights for migrants are socialist values and benefit us all. Those delegates spoke from their own experience and the experience of their black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, the communities that are battling against racist Home Office policies and the increasing racism and anti-immigrant prejudice that has dominated the campaign for Brexit. They spoke as immigrants, as the children and partners of immigrants, and as Labour councillors and activists. Nobody spoke against the motion. At the end of the debate Composite 20 was passed unanimously, to loud acclaim. That vote sent out a message of struggle and hope against the threat of a government led by Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Dominic Raab and Priti Patel.

With that vote, conference delegates presented you with a huge opportunity to change the dangerous direction in which this country and its political system are moving. If you put the inspiring programme of equality set out in Composite 20 at the heart of Labour’s election campaign, you will inspire millions. It will represent a decisive break with the disastrous racist policy that has been followed by politicians of ALL the main parties for decades – the policy of scapegoating immigrants for the social problems created by government policies and capitalist greed.

There are very good reasons why the great majority of black, Asian, Muslim and other minority ethnic voters, youth and students, and significantly more women than men are opposed to Brexit – because it is racist and reactionary and driven by anti-immigrant prejudice. We are experiencing its impact and we will not be silenced while our rights and futures are destroyed by the Brexiteers’ backward-looking, chauvinist project. You, the Labour Party and trade union leadership, cannot stay silent on this. You must listen to our voices.

On Saturday you will gather to finalise the Manifesto for the forthcoming election, in the ‘Clause 5 meeting.’ It is imperative that you include the policies in Composite 20. A clear commitment to fight for those policies can only benefit Labour in this election campaign and on 12th December.

Composite 20 called for Labour to include the following 10 points in the Manifesto:

  • Oppose the current Tory immigration legislation and any curbing of rights.
  • Campaign for free movement, equality and rights for migrants.
  • Reject any immigration system based on incomes, migrants’ utility to business, and number caps/targets.
  • Close all detention centres.
  • Ensure unconditional right to family reunion.
  • Maintain and extend free movement rights.
  • End “no recourse to public funds” policies.
  • Scrap all Hostile Environment measures, use of landlords and public service providers as border guards, and restrictions on migrants’ NHS access.
  • Actively challenge anti-immigrant narratives.
  • Extend equal rights to vote to all UK residents.

These are the policies of hope, and Labour is nothing if can’t inspire real hope. They are the policies for Britain to move forward as a progressive, democratic society that is integrated on the basis of equality for all. For nearly a decade, British governments have ratcheted up divide-and-rule, anti-immigrant policies, while imposing poverty and insecurity on working class and struggling middle class people of all races. The Tories and the Far Right are using Brexit to spread this racist poison. They must be stopped.

You can’t afford the illusion that Labour will unite ‘Leavers’ and ‘Remainers’ and win this election just by focussing on the NHS, public housing, Universal Credit, privatisation, the minimum wage etc, while saying as little as possible about Brexit or being neutral on it. Such a policy means being evasive, neutral and inactive on the continuing rise of racism and hostility to immigrants. It means ignoring the voices and the experience of black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, immigrants and youth

We are traditional Labour supporters if anyone is, and we will not be ignored, side-lined and taken for granted in order to appease the misplaced prejudices that Johnson and the Tories have spent their whole political careers encouraging. We will keep fighting for the progressive demands of Composite 20, and we will fight to win.

Moreover, Labour can’t win unless it challenges those divisive prejudices. The opinion polls make that clear. When asked what they regard as the most important issue in the election, most people put Brexit at the top of the list, especially among those who are not already planning to vote Labour. The NHS, the economy etc come much lower down the list of priorities. This is not surprising. At times of profound crisis – and Britain is going through its biggest peace-time crisis for a century – political direction and action become the decisive issue. It subsumes and determines the economic and social policies. It becomes a question, as many Labour supporters are saying, of what kind of country do we want this to be.

In reality, Labour will get more respect from the majority of Leave voters if you make it clear that you are taking action based on Composite 20, than you ever will by avoiding the very issues that are dividing the country. For decades, politicians of ALL the main parties have told voters that immigration is a threat. There are millions of people in impoverished, working class and struggling middle class (and predominantly white) communities that voted ‘Leave,’ who are not ideologically tied to the Far Right, and they deserve some political honesty and leadership from the Labour Party.

When you put the policies of Composite 20 at the heart of the election campaign you will send out a direct political challenge to everything the Tories and the Far Right stand for, you will inspire millions and multiply the numbers and commitment of Labour campaigners. You will encourage thousands of Labour Party members and voters to engage in a debate with their Leave voting friends, family members, neighbours and co-workers – tens of thousands of conversations that can change minds.

The stakes in this election are high. A victory for Johnson will not ‘get Brexit sorted,’ but it will establish the most reactionary British government since World War Two. It will mean an increase in racism, a deepening of the hostile environment for immigrants, greater repression, insecurity and inequality, and a bonfire of workers rights and human rights, along with tax cuts for the rich. The outcome of this election will shape the future direction of our society for years and decades to come. Labour must act boldly and without equivocation on the political issues of racism and immigration that have dominated discussion on Brexit, just as much as when you talk about the economy, public services or housing.

We urge you to seize the opportunity that the Labour conference provided you with when it unanimously backed Composite 20.

Movement for Justice

12th November 2019

MFJ Demonstrate at Labour Party Conference
MFJ at Labour Party Conference calling on the Labour Party to stand up for immigrant rights.