Thousands of migrant workers and their supporters rallied in Trafalgar Square, London, on Monday to demand that the government regularises the status of undocumented workers in Britain.
The protest was part of a day of action by the Strangers Into Citizens campaign, organised by London Citizens, an umbrella campaign that brings together trade unions, faith groups and other community organisations.
Groups of workers from across the world came together, many with musical bands, adding to the carnival flavour.
The organisers had asked them to wave Union Jack flags as part of the “strangers into citizens” theme. During the event, these formed just one part of a riot of colour, with many groups of workers waving flags from their home countries.
The rally was addressed by speakers including Dave Prentis, general secretary of the Unison union, Jack Dromey, deputy general secretary of the T&G union, and Jon Cruddas MP, who is running for deputy leader of the Labour Party. Other speakers included singer and campaigner Billy Bragg, as well as a range of faith leaders.
The focus for the protest was the Strangers Into Citizens proposal for “one-off regularisation” of migrant workers and an end to deportations of families with children. But many migrant workers on the demo were cut from a more radical cloth.
The Latin American contingents, in particular, carried with them the spirit of rebellion against neoliberalism that has spread across the continent.
Saul Duran was at the demonstration with a group of migrant workers from Ecuador. “South Americans have always been the first to fight for their rights – we were the first to proclaim freedom from Spanish colonialism,” he told Socialist Worker.
“We believe in organising to fight for the rights of all people across the world. We are being exploited here – we do not feel we are being treated well.”
One particular grievance was the way workers from Ecuador were confined to low paid manual jobs such as cleaning, street sweeping and kitchen work, Saul added.
“Many of us have professional qualifications – we are doctors, teachers or engineers,” he said. “But the government says we have no right to work in any of these areas.
“Solidarity has to be built among all people across the world. That’s why we’re singing, ‘The people united will never be defeated’.”
Poor pay and few rights
A large delegation of workers from the Philippines attended the rally. “All the Filipino organisations are here to protest,” Ramon Tenoso told Socialist Worker. “We want regularisation – we want Filipino workers to have papers and rights.”
Pay and time off work are also big issues, he added. “Many workers don’t get paid properly. There’s a lot of exploitation among undocumented Filipino workers. Some domestic workers do 12 hour days for their employers, and they don’t get given enough time off.”
Discrimination is another problem, according to Manuelita Erediano, who recalled her shock at people barging past her in supermarket queues when she first came to Britain:
“Back home, we’re not brought up that way – we’ve had to learn how to make a stand and be assertive about demanding our rights.”