There is a growing hysteria around the so called “debate” about the impact immigration has on people in the UK. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, mainstream parties are united in claiming that immigration is a problem. UKIP has even gone so far as to talk about “repatriation” of European workers, and its persistent scapegoating of migrants has garnered support from the inhabitants of the political sewer, including ex-leader of the fascist BNP. Protesters challenging UKIP’s racism have had to face the nazi thugs of Britain First and the English Defence League who have turned up to “protect” UKIP meetings. Potential supporters of UKIP are now faced with the question about who poses the real problem - the overseas workers or the nazi thugs energised by UKIP’s racism.
The reality of racism
The reality of migrant workers is profoundly different from the image painted by racists of “benefit scroungers” - who are, contradictorily, “stealing our jobs”.
Alicja Plewczynska, a clinical support worker in a team helping people with treatment resistant depression, came to work in the UK from Poland 9 years ago. Alicja told The Organiser how European workers were first welcomed, but was now finding growing hostility. Alicja said “We were told we were needed to work, that without us the British economy would crash. I sold everything to come to live here to work and to buy a house — I didn’t want to claim any benefits.”
“At first we were welcomed, even though we struggled with the language. Since the crash (banking crisis) things have started to change. I have heard people in shops swearing about Polish workers stealing jobs, though we were asked to come here and are interviewed like everyone else.”
Julia, a domestic at the JRII hospital said “This anti immigrant talk is dangerous – people start to be scared and are afraid for their safety – newspapers stir up aggression and hatred – recently I heard of a Polish shop keeper in the Midlands who had his windows smashed and was attacked by racist mob.”
“After Prime Minister David Cameron’s attempt to restrict migrant rights to state benefits there was a report of a 22 year old Polish woman, Sandra Nowocinska, in Kidderminster being burned to death and her 5 year old son was hospitalised. This is the politics of barbarism. We need the truth about immigration – including the good things about immigration.”
“We need solidarity among all workers – let’s build a big Mayday march celebrating international workers day through Oxford.”
Revisiting a racist past
Racist campaigning around immigration is nothing new. In 1964 the Tory campaign included the slogan “if you want a n*****r as a neighbour, vote Labour”. Margaret Thatcher tried to stoke up racism with claims of towns “being swamped”.
Then, as now, they hoped to divert people’s anger and frustration away from themselves onto migrants. UKIP have echoed Thatchers “swamped” phrase repeatedly, not to mention her support for reducing taxes for the rich and privatisation of the NHS.
Tragically Labour party leaders are failing to stand up to the racism of UKIP and the Tories. This failure to challenge anti-migrant racism is helping to normalise racism in our society again.
This helps to feed institutional racism. Last year stewards in Oxford Health NHS Trust revealed that Black African and Caribbean workers were much more likely to face disciplinary action-suggesting institutional racism and an overly negative assessment of their performance. A year later the figures suggest a worsening picture, and it is hard not to attribute this in part to the racist debate around migration.
For Muslims, the group now facing the most discrimination when applying for work, the situation is worsened by the insistence they are somehow collectively responsible for terrorism and “extremism” - a slur akin to holding all Christians responsible for violence of the Klu Klux Klan.
Racism won’t build
houses or raise wages
The latest budget has shown that working people, especially those in the public sector, face years of growing poverty from pay cuts and job losses. Lack of affordable housing remains a huge problem while cuts in benefits for the in-work poor and vulnerable and closure of public services are the order of the day for all unless we can mount an effective fightback.
Austerity is the real problem
In these circumstances we have to be clear that the real cause of these problems are austerity policies that make working people, irrespective of their creed, colour or origin, pay for an economic crisis not of their making. Austerity policies are being implemented on behalf of the rich in an attempt to increase their profits. If we fall for the lie that it is migrants or Muslims that are the problem we not only let the rich and their political representatives off the hook, but we undermine our ability to unite to stop the attacks on all workers.
As the general election approaches we will need to raise our voices against the racist scapegoating of migrants, and also challenge Islamophobia. The national demonstration on UN anti-racism day on 21/3/15 gives us the chance to do this together.