Llanelli hotel: Setting the record straight

Extracts from Carmarthenshire County Unison statement

Our Unison branch has been criticised in the Socialist Worker newspaper, regarding our position on the Tories’ proposal to use Stradey Park Hotel in Llanelli to house asylum seekers.

Whilst 99.9% of our members will not have read this scurrilous article, to set the record straight, we take this opportunity to respond to this criticism and restate our branch’s position, especially considering the Home Office’s decision to scrap its plans.

Carmarthenshire County Unison supports Unison’s position that all refugees have a right to safe, humane, and clean accommodation that is suitable to their needs, and we have a proud record of opposing racism both in the workplace and in our communities.

Our branch and its members have, over decades, attended almost every anti-racist/fascist/far-right event in west Wales and beyond. We have also been to the fore in Wales in opposing council cuts, defending our member’s interests and fighting for resources for all – the council workforce, working-class communities in Carmarthenshire, and refugees and migrant workers.

We stand for and organise trade unions and working-class unity against the far-right and the Tories who attempt to use racism to divide us.

Our branch has been actively involved from the beginning, when the Home Office first announced its plans to use Stradey Park Hotel to house refugees, and we have encouraged other trade unions to get involved.

The approach of Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) is that, if you don’t agree with their slogans and demands, then you are branded a racist or Nazi! This has unnecessarily polarised the situation and made some protesters outside the hotel more susceptible to the poison of the far right.

The article went on to say: “Some unions have opposed the racists, but others have used mealy-mouthed excuses to oppose them (asylum seekers) coming to Llanelli. The local Unison branch said housing the asylum seekers at the hotel would put significant pressure on council and health services locally that have been cut to the bone and underfunded for many years.”

The method of housing asylum seekers, decided by the Tory government, was both deliberately provocative, designed to stir up racism (as it has been in other locations across the country), and to the detriment of the refugees themselves, housing them in overcrowded numbers, with inadequate services. SUTR itself stated that it opposed the use of the hotel for similar reasons!

This is not making a concession to the racists; we raised these concerns before the far-right raised their heads, and it is a genuine concern of residents that our branch shares.

On 9 June, our branch published a press release that again clearly laid out our position regarding Stradey Park Hotel and the Home Office wanting to place refugees there.

We stated we are in favour of the council’s policy of housing asylum seekers across the wider community. We stated that the Tory government wanted to create a hostile environment for asylum seekers by placing them at the hotel which resulted in the loss of 95 jobs.

We agree the far right has intervened and has been a presence outside the hotel for many months – they have had some influence with some protesters. But the tactics of SUTR, branding everyone as racist on the protests, is wrong and has been an obstacle to achieving unity and stopping this happening.

We supported and participated in the Furnace Action Committee’s 9 June demonstration to save the 95 hotel jobs, which was addressed by the Plaid Cymru leader of the council and the grateful hotel workers.

SUTR/SWP boycotted the demo, claiming it was a racist protest, even though the handful of right-wingers present, who tried to disrupt the speeches, were challenged by us, but also shouted down and shown the door by the one hundred-strong protesters! We attended a protest against the far right when we were told they were mobilising outside the hotel.

The hotel failed a fire inspection recently and the Home Office now claims its plans to house asylum seekers there have been scrapped.

Mark Evans, Branch Secretary on behalf of Carmarthenshire County Unison Branch Committee