Affilation to the No One is Illegal Campaign is to be debated at the SSP Conference on October. The attitude an organisation takes towards the rights of migrant workers throughout the world defines whether it is international socialist or merely national labourist. We are publishing the first chapter of NOII’s pamphlet, Workers Control Not Immigration Controls, to highlight the issues at stake.
No immigration controls in the workplace!
The well known phrase
workers of the world unite does not mean
only workers with the correct immigration status unite. It means all workers both here and internationally. The function of immigration controls is to ensure the absolute reversal of this principal. It is to ensure the global division and antagonism between workers. This is divide and rule based on the crudest nationalism and racism. Workers’ unity means getting rid of controls. This may seem unrealistic, fantastic and utopian. It would certainly require an enormous political upheaval.
Some unions have indeed at some times adopted resolutions in opposition to controls in principle and in so doing have effectively accepted the slogan No One Is Illegal. This has been the result of the self organisation of those threatened by controls – organising either within the unions or through anti deportation campaigns.
The programme that dare not speak its name
However opposition to controls in their totality has with rare exceptions become the programme that dare not speak its name. Instead another and opposite orthodoxy is dominant in the labour movement. This is the demand for
compassionate controls. And meeting this demand would not require a political upheaval. It would require a miracle. By their very definition controls are inevitably, unjust and malign. It is the idea that controls can be non-racist or fair that is unrealistic. There cannot be equal opportunities immigration control.
Most of the reasons why there cannot be
fair controls are really transparent and don’t require much reflection. First, the initial legislative controls, the 1905 Aliens Act, were based on that most primitive of racisms, anti-Semitism, and were directed against Jewish refugees fleeing Tsarist Russia. Second, the next wave of controls, starting with the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act, were directed at black people (this itself being in some ways anticipated as early as 1925 in a Coloured Alien Seamen Order requiring the enforced registration with the police of
coloured seafarers). None of this is much of an advert for the idea that controls can be turned inside out and rendered
non-racist. Third, controls are anyhow based on the vilest nationalism – the idea that the right to come to or stay in the UK should be a reserved only for members of a privileged club who somehow have managed to acquire the franchise. This is why they should be opposed to both the present work permit scheme and also the proposed new scheme based on a points system for workers. Fourth, controls can never, by any definition or redefinition, be
fair to those excluded by them. Fifth, the very first control on peoples’ global movement prior to legislation was slavery out of Africa – which again was hardly susceptible of being rendered benign or compassionate.
All this is obvious. What is less obvious, because it is less known, is that controls are in fact a result of successful fascistic agitation. The 1905 Act was largely the result of agitation by an organisation now lost (suppressed) to history – the British Brothers League. The 1962 Act followed quickly on the so called Notting Hill riots (actually racist white riots) of 1958 which were organised by fascist groups such as Oswald Mosley’s Union Movement. The idea that a political construct such as immigration restrictions which are a product of fascistic activity can somehow be sanitised and rendered harmless simply does not make sense. It is equivalent to arguing that all that is wrong with fascist groups like the British National Party is that they are
unfair and we ought to fight to make them non-racist. As the saying goes – a leopard can’t change its spots.
Workplace immigration controls
The fact that the destruction of controls would require a huge political movement – maybe even a revolution – is not a statement of pessimism. It does not imply any acceptance of controls until the day of complete deliverance. Rather it is a statement that all criticisms of control, all demands made against particular controls, should be on the basis of opposition to restrictions in principle – on the basis that No One Is Illegal! Within this political framework trade union agitation becomes crucial.
This is because of something often ignored – namely immigration controls come into conflict with union organisation on a daily basis at the workplace. Immigration laws are a total system – they are about internal controls as well as exclusion and deportation. In particular most welfare entitlements (social housing, non-contributory benefits, hospital treatment) are dependent on immigration status as is the right to work itself. As a consequence of this total system it is inevitable that controls regularly and directly impinge upon workers in the course of their employment or their union activities. Of course trade unionists should oppose controls in every context in which they arise – such as detentions and deportations – because in every context in which they arise they are a manifestation of racism. However the need for trade union involvement goes well beyond this and extends into the heart of the employment relationship itself.
A danger to all workers
Immigration controls are a danger to all trade unionists – including those workers with full immigration status. One of the functions of immigration control is to undercut the wages and conditions of all workers by transforming migrant labour and labour without any immigration status into a non-unionised low-waged workforce unprotected by labour legislation. Which is why there is a need to fight for the regularisation of immigration status, for full unionisation and for equality of wages and conditions for all. In the past the trade union movement has, unfortunately, often been in the forefront of agitating for controls. For instance the very first controls –the 1905 Aliens Act aimed at Jewish refugees – was preceded by the TUC demanding controls. Again in the 1950s and 1960s the TUC supported controls against black commonwealth workers.
Today the labour movement has once again begun to change its position, to begin to take a critical position towards the present laws –and again this is due to a great extent to the resistance and anti deportation campaigns of those threatened by controls. Today it is possible to once again open up the whole debate. It is possible to start to challenge the very existence of controls.
We are not alone!
‘No One Is Illegal’ is a phrase first used by Elie Weisel, a Jewish survivor from Nazi Germany, a refugee and a Nobel prize winner. He was speaking in 1985 in Tuscon, Arizona at a national sanctuary conference in the USA in defence of the rights of refugees to live in the USA. The sanctuary movement undertaken by religious communities in the USA (and to a far lesser extent in the UK) in support of those threatened by immigration controls is one of many pieces of resistance to controls. Over the last few years ‘No One Is Illegal’ groups have been formed throughout Europe and North America — for instance in Germany (‘Kein Mensch Ist Illegal’), Spain (‘Ninguna Persona Es Ilegal’), Sweden (‘Ingen Manniska Ar Illegal’), Poland (‘Zaden Czlowiek Nie Jest Nielegalny’) and Holland (‘Geen Mens Is Illegaal’). In August 1999 anarchists organised a demonstration in Lvov Poland against the deportation of Ukrainian workers under the banner of No One Is Illegal. In France the ‘sans papiers’ campaign under the slogan personne n’est illegal/e. There have been ‘No One Is Illegal’/’No Border’ camps at the joint borders of Germany, Czech Republic and Poland, and No Border camps at Frankfurt, southern Spain and Salzburg. In June 2002 there was a demonstration against war, globalisation and in defence of refugees under the same slogan in Ottawa, Canada. In England groups are emerging calling themselves ‘No Borders’. The demand for no controls, rather than being seen as extreme, operates as a rallying call to the undocumented and their supporters. Our aim is to encourage the formation of ‘No One Is Illegal’/’No Border’ groups throughout this country — groups specifically and unreservedly committed to the destruction of all immigration controls.