- Category: Analysis
- Published on Saturday, 11 October 2014
- Written by David Renton
How can you solve a problem like Heywood and Middleton? The fear in Labour circles is not caused by the Clacton result, which both main parties had long given up as a lost cause but by Heywood where Ukip had been a 20-1 longshot with the bookies until just a week ago. An immediate response has been to criticise Labour for failing to “campaign” around immigration, i.e. for failing to argue, like Ukip, that its candidate’s principal task in Westminster would be to demand policies to reduce the number of migrants to the UK.
The way migration functions, in the mind of a Ukip voter or those who are now calling for a Ukip of the Labour right, is like a distorting mirror in which you can see a person’s knees and neck but hardly anything of the rest of their body. If in 2015 not a single migrant entered Britain, wages and benefits would not rise, nor would the coalition cease to cut pension and services. The policy of the state would still be to warren the public services with a thousand privatisations. There is not some magic year (1960 perhaps? combining the the security of the postwar boom with an equilibrium between those nostalgic for the nuclear family and the rest of us who have run from it) to which Britain could be returned if only there were no ads for Polish builders in the newsagents.
At least when Ukip promises an exit from the EU there is a logical end-point. It would theoretically be possible for the UK to do just that and then you could pause and evaluate sensibly: we have done it. Were we right? But there is no end point in anti-immigrant politics, no moment of “accomplishment”.
It is the nature of anti-immigration politics that even to call only for a pause is to demand that some people are sent “back”. End, as Labour once did, the rights of foreign born but British educated doctors to work after finishing their studies in the UK, and inevitably people who were in the country then (as students) would have to leave (when they finished). But people who come to study also live, work, settle and have children.
When we talk about people coming to Britain we think of them (us!) arriving in waves: Saxons, Danes, Normans, the Empire Windrush generation. If you dig beneath a city you will see the remains of hundreds of years of human habitation squashed down upon each other in narrow wooden and brick layers. But migration happens neither in waves nor layers: a typical London child might have a father whose parents first crossed the borders as long as 50 or 500 years ago and a mother who was not born here and whose immigration status was uncertain until recently. Take the one migrant away and three lives are diminished. Take the migrant away and even an “indigenous” citizen must leave with her.
Mere observation teaches that the parties which promise ethnic welfarism as a strategy supposedly to delay cuts and privatisation are also the parties least enthusiastic about welfare or workplace rights and keenest about school and hospital privatisation.
So if Labour wants to stop UKIP, its present debate has to shift from one in which the two loudest groups are those saying “steal Ukip’s clothes” and “don’t panic”. The former mis-identify Ukip’s present ascendancy. It is not a party of the dispossessed; it is not an SNP south of the border. Rather it faces Labour as a real and urgent threat of a different origin – a return of Tory working class voting, liberated from the terrible stigma of the Tories’ association with the employment-cleansing that befell industrial Britain under Thatcher. The latter meanwhile are only half-right: Labour will be weakened if immigration dominates the political conversation and the Labour Party is mute or acquiescent. The Left does indeed have something which it must say, and that is to defend the right to cross borders.
To Labour’s left, there are tasks to escape from habits which are as stale as a milk which has turned brown.
One is the idea that Ukip is a party pregnant with the threat of fascism. No: it is a party of economic neoliberals with a different (eulogistic rather than hostile) relationship to the centres of ruling class power. Even the way it does anti-immigration is different from the ways in which the fascist right does elsewhere in Europe. Ukip does not call for repatriation; in Clacton, Carswell (an ideological libertarian of the right) was rhetorically pro-immigration in repeated contrast to the people voting for him. The problem with Ukip’s anti-immigrant politics lies not in the coherence with which it demands an all-white Britain but the determination and militancy with which it says “something must be done”, when that “something” cannot be achieved without making many thousands suffer.
The key task of the moment is not to isolate Ukip from the other parties (painting its politics worse and theirs better); nor is it to reposition the left as yet another adversary of the enormous, general sentiment that the old ways of doing politics have passed their time and something new must be found.
The benign point of political organisation will be reached when activists can show that the working class is reconstituting itself and that people who are presently on the periphery (because they are migrant workers, because they are on precarious contracts) are remaking forms of organisation in the way that the New Unionism of the 1880s pointed the way to the pensions and proto-welfare state that were introduced in the early 1900s. If we can achieve that then we will have a message of hope to argue back against Ukip’s vision in which the deckchairs in first class must be swapped around but the workers and the poor are still sailing the Titanic.
This article originally appeared on David's blog Lives Running
- Category: Downloads
- Published on Wednesday, 8 October 2014
- Written by Leeds/Bradford ISN
On the 24th September following the Scottish Independence referendum, Leeds/Bradford IS Network hosted a public discussion of the vote and its implications on both sides of the border. The meeting was introduced by Republican Socialist Alliance member Steve Freeman, followed by varied and lengthy debate.
Download the meeting recording >>
- Category: International
- Published on Monday, 6 October 2014
- Written by Sue Sparks
Another week begins in Hong Kong with people still blockading the streets in several areas of the city on Hong Kong Island and in Kowloon. There are talks about talks, but the protesters say they are not giving up their positions without something much more substantial than what the government is offering.
The first thing to note is that the term ‘Occupy Central’ being used as shorthand for the protests is not accurate. In the first place, the protests are not actually in ‘Central’ – the business district on Hong Kong Island. But more substantially, the organisation called Occupy Central didn’t initiate this round of protests, and is certainly not in control of it. Occupy Central was set up a year ago by a group of academics and others to plan a campaign around the government’s consultation on introducing universal suffrage for the 2017 Chief Executive election. It was to culminate – if the proposals from Beijing in response to the Hong Kong government’s report on the consultation were unsatisfactory – with a peaceful sit-in to block the roads in Central by a controlled number of volunteers who were trained in civil disobedience and agreed they were prepared to go to jail.
In the event, nothing like this took place. The Federation of Students called a week long class boycott, and Scholarism, the school students’ movement forged in the protests against ‘national education’ in 2012, called for school students to join in on the final day. Thousands of students held teach-ins close to the government’s headquarters in Admiralty and some decided to scale the high fences enclosing Civic Square, setting off a chain of events leading to Occupy declaring that the long-planned protest had started. After the police blocked access to the main site of protest, thousands of people who had come to support the students on Sunday 29th September spontaneously occupied the roads around Admiralty and began to besiege the besieging police. The police responded with pepper spray and 87 canisters of tear gas and displayed signs saying they would ‘fire’ if protesters didn’t disperse. It was unclear if they were talking about rubber bullets, and they later said they had not meant to display the sign at all, but altogether this violent response had the opposite effect to that intended. Thousands more supporters poured into Admiralty, having watched the scenes at dinner time on the TV (it happened about 6pm), including many non-students. A separate protest site sprang up across the harbour in Mong Kok in Kowloon, blocking Nathan Road, one of the main shopping streets and bus routes in the city, stranding seven double decker buses. The government recognised they had made a mistake, and the riot police were withdrawn. The police have kept a pretty low profile since, though there have been incidents of violence against protesters and some arrests, and there is, rightly, constant vigilance on the protests for signs of a police offensive.
On the Monday, teachers belonging to one teachers’ union, social workers and a group of distribution workers at the Coca-Cola plant in Sha Tin all declared they were on strike and it looked for a while as if industrial action might spread. But the groundwork for such action had not been done and so only a few groups of workers who are strongly connected with the anti-Beijing union federation, the HKCTU (which also organised the dockers who struck for 40 days last year), responded to its call to strike.
A week of street protests has ensued. As Wednesday and Thursday were public holidays, people could come out to join in and at various times there was a carnival atmosphere. Meetings went on all the time, with people taking turns with the microphones to express their thoughts. There was lots of singing, and at night people used the flashlight functions on their smartphones to create light shows. Volunteers distributed donated food and water and cleared rubbish, being careful to recycle.
Self-organisation has been impressive and this came to the fore on Friday, when bands of thugs started to try to break up the protests. This has been most common in Mong Kok, which is known for the presence of triad gangs but a group of masked men also attacked the outlying protest site in Causeway Bay. The police made some arrests after being pressured to do so by protesters, and have revealed that some of those arrested do indeed have triad links. Other evidence that people were paid to take part has come to light, for example, some young men in a poor area came forward to say they received text messages offering them HK$800 (£65) for a day to harass and attack the protests and video footage shows a man boasting about getting money to do so. The attacks have been violent and deliberately provocative with people shouting things like “Your daughter should be raped!” and targeting women and girls with sexual assaults and harassment, adding to the evidence that these are not simply ordinary workers and small business owners angered by the impact of the protests on their livelihood. Protesters defended the encampments and rebuilt barricades, regrouping each time after the attacks.
The fact that the protests are self-organised and that the leadership of Occupy and even the students have little hold over them has been made clear as the leaders have repeatedly called for the Mong Kok and Causeway Bay sites to be abandoned and people to concentrate in Admiralty. Some people left but others took their place, arguing that to leave would embolden those who were trying to break up the protests. People are not waiting for someone to tell them what to do. In Admiralty, too, debates are continuous about how to respond to police requests to bring food and medical supplies into the government HQ or facilitate police shift changes, or clear some roads. Sometimes roads are temporarily cleared, sometimes the requests are refused.
Clearly, however, the movement needs to be organised more systematically, or sooner or later it will be overcome by police and other violence, splits, fatigue and the repeated calls for talks to replace action, lest the movement lose public support. It also needs to spread from the streets into workplaces, through groups being set up which can debate what should be done next, and build to link the struggle for universal suffrage more directly with the economic and social issues which underlie the anger being expressed: low wages, absurdly high rents and scarce, cramped housing, long hours, abysmal social welfare and so on. The task is very difficult; the genuine trade unions are weak, as is the left.
These protests have been fuelled above all by the absolutely correct perception that the Hong Kong government does not care in the least about what people here think or want. It is run by the rich, in their interests and on behalf of Beijing. Ultimately, the movement will have to be a cross-border one, of course. However, the talk on some sections of the international ‘left’ about the HK protests being funded by the US State Department or that they are destabilising China on behalf of US imperialism, or that Hong Kong people are just hostile to mainland Chinese and have an inflated sense of entitlement, is basically reactionary nonsense. Many people on the mainland are anxiously watching the Hong Kong protests, in spite of massive censorship. Many mainlanders in Hong Kong support the demands of the students and wish they had the relative freedom Hong Kong enjoys and people in Hong Kong have shown many times that they support movements for greater rights on the mainland. Though the feeling on both sides of the border may well be that Beijing will not budge, anyone who wants to see change in China should not be tempted to dismiss the Hong Kong protests as just a bunch of middle class liberals, or as a CIA plot, but see them as one element in the diverse battles being waged in the whole country.