'The Jungle' camp in Calais, photo Paul Mattsson

‘The Jungle’ camp in Calais, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Paula Mitchell, Socialist Party executive committee

Many people in Britain watched in horror as French authorities cleared the refugee camp in Calais, leaving hundreds, including many children, sleeping rough and herded by riot police as the camp was destroyed around them.

The refugee crisis in Europe is one of many examples of the brutal, cruel character of Theresa May’s Tory government and the profit-driven capitalist system they represent.

Western governments wage wars, drop bombs and supply arms to merciless conflicts around the world, such as Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. Yet when people flee, these same governments turn their backs and leave people to rot.

The hypocrisy won’t be lost on many people, that this comes at the same time as western intervention in Mosul in Iraq could displace a million residents, and as the Tories – scandalously aided by over 100 Blairite Labour MPs – blocked a parlimentary vote to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia that are used in Yemen.

This couldn’t contrast more with the outpouring of human sympathy last year after the body of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi washed up on a beach, when an estimated third of the population did something in support of refugees – donating money and goods, signing petitions, and going on demonstrations.

A million

In 2015 a million people tried to cross the Mediterranean, but only 14,000 were granted asylum in the UK. This is dwarfed in relation to the number of refugees in the world – over 60 million, over 80% of which stay in extremely poor, war-torn countries in their home area.

The right to asylum is a fundamental human right which must be defended. The use of repressive measures such as detention centres and brutal deportations must end.

Years of austerity, forcing working class people to pay for the economic crisis while the super-rich increased their wealth, have created the conditions for social revolt. Mass, united working class action can challenge this vicious government and take on the interests of the rich. Knowing this, the Tories set out to divide us, playing on the fears many working class people have about the impact of immigration.

A third of people who voted for Brexit in June say they did so because of immigration. But as the Socialist Party has explained, for the vast majority this vote was an expression of rage and rejection of the establishment politicians. Contained in the fears about immigration are the reality of lost jobs, pay and benefits, a housing crisis, an NHS crisis, library closures and so much more.

So it is essential that support for refugees is linked to the fight against austerity – for homes, jobs and services for all. We campaign for a mass council house building programme, for rent controls, for empty speculative property to be taken over and used for social housing, for a £10 an hour minimum wage, for an end to the cuts and privatisation in the NHS.

Massive cuts

Councils have had massive cuts over the last five years, and now some say they have no money to look after refugees. The resources should be provided by the government to support refugees properly – and we must fight to stop cuts and for all council services to be fully funded.

The Socialist Party has campaigned for Labour councils to refuse to make the Tories’ cuts and to fight to defend jobs and services for all instead. A bold stand, starting by using reserves and borrowing to buy time to build up a mass community and trade union campaign, would defend jobs, homes and services. This could allow councils to engage their communities in democratically drawing up budgets that would serve the needs of their boroughs and towns.

Several trade union struggles have recently shown how the race to the bottom can be fought, bringing migrant workers into the unions and fighting for the rate for the job for all. For example, cleaners organised by Unite and the RMT, lively struggles of workers in small independent unions such as the IWGB; domestic and portering staff at Whipps Cross hospital; oil refinery workers at Fawley and many more.

Vital to building a mass campaign against Tory austerity and racism is the battle for a mass anti-austerity socialist party, a key part of which means organising to clear the Blairites out of the Labour Party. Such a party would cut across the risk of the far right capitalising on this crisis.

A socialist government would nationalise the banks and the tops of the economy so that the vast wealth that is currently held in the hands of the few can be owned, controlled and planned democratically.

The fight for a socialist alternative is the fight for the future of humanity, so that we can bring an end to the wars, poverty and persecution that force people to flee, and can create a world in which people can move, live and work in decency and with dignity.

  • ‘Socialists and the EU free movement debate’ – one of the sessions at Socialism 2016