Socialist Party documents

British Perspectives: a Socialist Party congress 2011 document

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Immigration and the far right

57) Britain has throughout history been affected by waves of immigrants coming to these shores. The influxes in the last 200 years of Irish, Jews, Afro-Caribbeans, South Asians, Africans and, latterly, Eastern Europeans have all led to racial and ethnic conflict to one degree or another.

Any clashes were the product of the 'heritage' of the British Empire - initial suspicions of different cultures - inflamed and exaggerated in the post-1945 situation by the right-wing Tories like Enoch Powell, and latterly by 'Migration Watch' and racist and neo-fascist organisations.

58) These conflicts, however, tended to recede - even when racism and racial suspicions lingered - as the 'newcomers' became integrated into communities but especially into industry and the trade unions.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, immigrants from the Caribbean and South Asia came from a largely rural background yet they developed a higher density of trade union membership than the 'native' population.

An economic boom tended to lessen open racial or ethnic clashes, but racism continues as part of the 'fabric' of capitalism and heavy-handed policing of immigrant or ethnic communities provoked clashes and upheavals: the Notting Hill riots, stop and search clashes, the riots of the 1980, etc.

59) But the issue of immigration has come sharply to the fore in recent years as 5 million immigrants have arrived in Britain in a decade; the biggest influx in history.

The hostility to these new 'incomers' has grown - sometimes from 'second generation' immigrants from the Caribbean and South Asia. This was the case even before the onset of the crisis and this view has been reinforced, if anything, as workers have been severely affected economically and, in the absence of any explanation or solution to their problems, look for scapegoats.

Sometimes workers simply say: 'We are full up'. Neither New Labour nor the trade union leadership have really answered the avalanche of anti-immigrant, racist lies, particularly from the gutter press.

On the contrary, sometimes New Labour figures like Margaret Hodge and the discredited Phil Woolas, have reinforced some of these prejudices.

60) The neo-fascist British National Party (BNP) and, following the BNP's internal splits, the English Defence League (EDL) have attempted to whip up an anti-Muslim mood, especially amongst layers of discontented - sometimes lumpenised - youth.

This has met with little success, not least because anti-fascists - including us - have confronted them. The ruling class is at a quandary over immigration.

Politically, they need to echo opposition to immigration in order to secure their base in the conservative strata of the population. But they required an influx of cheap labour to take up jobs, which, previously, British workers were unable or unwilling to do.

This also furthered their aim of a race to the bottom in cutting wages. In this crisis, they need this even more, especially if it allows them to pursue a policy of divide and rule.

61) The BNP is stagnant or has declined in effectiveness recently, partly because the 'electoral' strategy of Nick Griffin failed in Barking. The ruling class in any case needs them more as an auxiliary to the Tories rather than a serious force in its own right.

At the moment, the 'reborn' Thatcherite Cameron is 'doing the job' with promise to 'cap immigration'. This, in turn, has led to opposition from the City and big business which needs cheap labour, particularly skilled labour, from Eastern Europe and Asia.

It is possible, even likely, that the issue of immigration will feature more prominently in the next period as the cuts bite and workers are thrown out of jobs.

The neo-fascist right could make a comeback if we fail to develop a powerful left alternative.

62) We have to approach this issue skilfully from a propaganda point of view. We totally reject the ultra-left's dismissal - or even the adoption of an initially hostile approach - to workers who blame immigrants for their economic woes.

In fact, many Eastern European workers, tempted by the prospect of jobs in Britain, have also been made unemployed. Some have returned to their native countries but homelessness and rough sleeping now afflicts many migrant workers.

We need to explain - as we do - the reality of immigration: what causes the shortage of housing, jobs, schools, etc. We must point out that there are no fences big enough or rivers wide enough, which can stop the desperate from searching for a 'better life'.

We can create that new life only through socialism. This, in turn, is only possible if we fight to integrate all those workers - immigrants included - on the programme of trade union rights for all and the rate for the job.

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