The following is an appeal drafted by MFJ chair Antonia Bright, in her capacity as UNISON Black Members Officer at SOAS. Appealing against a decision to rule out of order the SOAS motion to UNISON London Regional Council to organise resistance to the most draconian and racist immigration legislation in British history, the Nationality and Borders Bill. This appeal and the motion lays down a strategy that is essential to building the resistance to this racist legislation. The trade unions must be prepared to lead, organise and mobilise resistance to this bill, to support their members who will be asked to participate in facilitating concentration camps, mass deportations and racist discrimination. Please spread the motion, pass it in your branch, in your union. If you are a member of UNISON pass it in your branch.
Appeal for SOAS Unison’s motion Black Members Against racially divisive “Nationality and Borders Bill” to be heard at Regional Council.
To the Regional Secretary.
SOAS Branch object to the ruling to deny Regional Council the opportunity to discuss and vote on our motion ‘Black Members Against racially divisive “Nationality and Borders Bill”.’ The motion urgently tackles the dangerously racially divisive piece of proposed legislation while it is at committee stage, not yet law. We appeal the ruling. We were informed that the motion would not be included on the agenda on the grounds that:
“the union cannot support activity that is beyond the law, as referred to in the fourth action point”.
The fourth action point in question calls for London Region to
“Work with Labour Link to support those local authorities / councils that make public pledge that they will resist collaboration with the Home Office on its targeting of immigrants”.
We make the following three requests:
- We request that the motion be accepted on to the agenda for the Regional Council meeting now timed for the 2nd November.
- We request a copy of the legal advice on which this claim is asserted, and a list of which laws it is claimed would be breached by supporting locally elected councils that pledge to resist the targeting of our immigrant communities. What is the specific ‘activity that is beyond the law’, given that the immediate Bill referred to has not become law, and many local councils have made similar such pledges?
- We request a meeting with whomever made the decision where we can make our challenge.
There is nothing in the motion to justify taking the extreme unilateral position of ruling it ‘out of order’.
Firstly, the assertion that support of local authority’s resistance to Home Office activity is equal to support of ‘activity beyond the law’ is a speculation that the decision-maker has chosen to imply – it is not what the motion actually states. Loose speculation of this kind is dangerous to our unions’ democracy; it could be applied to any motion that ever seeks to resist any of the abhorrent things the government of the day may try to impose despite there being many ways to resist and challenge such things.
In Higher Education we had resistance to “Prevent”, for example. The legally binding obligations placed on educational institutions by Prevent, did not stretch to forcing those institutions to force staff to carry out harassment of particularly Muslim students, though that was the implication. Unison HE Conference debated supporting members who refused to comply with the demands from state powers through Prevent legislation. There is always scope for resisting discriminatory practices and asserting protections, which we should be using when the objective of an activity pushed by the government is the blanket discrimination or harassment of particular oppressed groups.
But unlike with Prevent, this motion is talking about a Bill that has not even passed. It is NOT law – it can’t be ‘broken’ since it’s not even clear what it is capable of legally imposing. It can however be fought, withdrawn, amended, and delayed. The ruling against discussing this motion inherently presumes that councils will have no lawful means to resist the racist and sexist outcomes of what they might be asked to do in the furtherance of the hostile environment policies.
In fact, the Bill is already demonstrably likely to face legal challenges for years to come. That challenge could conceivably come from local authorities, or dare we say, trade unions. We are not discussing settled law, it is precarious unclear immigration law which is an area where Home Office activities have been found unlawful in lots of areas including the workplace.
Action point 4 anticipates that councils will be faced with choices and will be asked to do things that they have the power to refuse. It would mean Unison working through its Labour links to further the very resistance that is already underway against the anti-immigrant Hostile Environment policies. Councils including Hackney, Lewisham, and around 100 others have refused to assist the Home Office. That is a sign of the strength of the international, integrated communities they represent and serve.
While so many local council’s have already been resisting collaboration with the demands of the Home Office’s racist hostile policy, why are we now being told this is unsupportable? What a weak message to send a parliament as they weigh up this deplorable racist attack on refugees and Black communities, alongside major attacks on the right to protest, Judicial Review and legal aid. No wonder we have MP’s openly envisaging their path towards getting rid of the Human Right Act too.
This is the time we need to state where we stand – as the RNLI did by stating what should be obvious: that their obligation is to rescue without discrimination; and that is not compatible with any law that tries to order them to let human beings drown in the sea. The local authorities have public sector duties too and are accountable to communities; they are in a position to challenge and to resist demands on them to breach human rights.
If locally accountable councillors actually use what powers they have (the few powers central government have not yet destroyed), to resist measures that the Home Office may attempt to impose that would racially target and discriminate against immigrants, turn public services into a trap for the harassment of Black people and of non-citizens, lead to racial division and cause real damage to their community worse than what the hostile environment already has, clearly they should be supported and celebrated.
Regional Council is our voice. It is for us as members to raise debate, in this case to call for Unison to be clear where its support lies before our members, (which includes several serving as local councillors), are faced with the dilemma of how to uphold their obligations and ethics to help and serve our communities without discrimination, in the face of a political pressure to harass and stigmatise immigrants including refugees.
The meaning and necessity of ‘Resistance’.
Our motion express the strength we want to convey. Discriminatory laws get repealed or changed when oppressed communities build resistance, with no guarantee of achieving justice. Universally, resistance is a means of struggle essential to fighting oppression.
The Nationality and Borders Bill, if it passes, would not be the first time a British parliament has attempted to codify into law a set of deeply racist or bigoted ideas that opened a section of our society to legally sanctioned harassment and abuse. Look at the whole series of immigration and nationality laws that have systematically written the Black out of ‘Britishness’. Look at Section 28 that made an offence out of encouraging openness towards gay sexuality and empowered school leaders to drive out gay teachers. Had Unison been asked to declare “we support teachers and students who resist collaboration with the authorities implementing Section 28”, a motion to that effect would have shut down as ‘out of order’. What a way to prolong the misery suffered living under unjust laws.
Without resistance to unjust laws there would be no fighting racism, segregation or apartheid, there would be no defeating anti-gay laws, or the legalised oppression of women. We fight unjust and oppressive laws, or we give way to even greater oppression. Fighting unjust laws begins with resistance, the means of which is decided by the context and what power exists.
Our motion opens a legitimate debate that must be had, about the nature of the Nationality and Borders Bill, its relation to past experiences of resistance to racism and unjust legislation, and the actions of local councils and communities currently resisting the racist hostile environment for immigrants. This is a trade union issue, recognised by the TUC statement quoted in the motion.
To block this motion by claiming that a trade union should not support resistance to a proposed law which seeks to introduce concentration camps for asylum seekers among other reprehensible measures, is offensive to the very historic struggles that the organisations of the oppressed have led and which we ‘celebrate’ in words if not in deeds.
 Unison HE Conference 2012, Motion 16: “WE WON’T SPY ON OUR STUDENTS”
 Hackney Gazette: “Hackney Council pledges to ‘Support not Deport’ rough sleepers”; https://news.hackney.gov.uk/hackney-council-pledges-to-support-not-deport-rough-sleepers/
 “London Council Rejects ‘Cruel’ New Immigration Rules”; https://www.localgov.co.uk/London-council-rejects-cruel-new-immigration-rules/51550
 The Independent: “More than 100 councils and charities vow to boycott Home Office policy to deport rough sleepers”; https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/councils-charities-rough-sleeping-deportation-home-office-b1898240.html