Shadow home secretary and Labour MP Diane Abbott has urged the labour movement to reject myths about immigration and to march against racism on Saturday 18 March.
Abbott also compared the Tories’ planned immigration controls to notorious “pass” laws of apartheid South Africa. She was speaking at a Stand up to Racism meeting in Hackney, east London last night, Thursday.
“They want schools to collect data and send it to the Home Office. They want hospitals to collect data and send it to the Home Office,” she said.
"They are seeking a position where the public sector as a whole are required to act as virtual immigration officers.”
This would “create a climate of fear, both for people who might have problems with their immigration status but also for people who are here perfectly legally,” she added.
“Because who can doubt, if ever there are passport checks at hospitals they will be asking people who look like me.”
Abbott slammed the Labour MPs who have called for the party to follow the Tories’ promises of more immigration controls.
“I’m very sad to hear Labour politicians who should know better saying that immigrants are responsible for driving down wages and conditions,” she said.
“Let me make this clear. Immigrants don’t drive down wages and conditions. Predatory employers, weakened trade unions and globalisation do that.”
Abbott pointed to the revolutionary Karl Marx’s warning about the damaging effects of divisions between British-born and Irish migrant workers in the 19th century.
She said, “Anyone in the Labour Party who thinks the answer to people’s very real problems is to exacerbate splits between working people clearly doesn’t have the interests of working people at heart.
“It’s not just about principles—it cannot work. It will take the Labour Party over a cliff. You cannot out-Ukip Ukip and Labour shouldn’t be trying.”
Speaking from the floor, activist and Hackney councillor Sema Moema described canvassing for Labour in the Stoke-on-Trent by-election. “It’s very hard being black and on the left at the moment,” she said.
“You wonder, am I a liability to this campaign? Do I want this person’s vote or do I want to have a bigger argument with them?
“How do we address those people who maybe five years ago wouldn’t have looked at me twice but now stop drinking and stare at me if I go in the pub?”
But Abbott stressed, “We can't be afraid to take the debate to people, on the doorstep and in our workplaces.”
She said the demonstrations on Saturday 18 March were a chance to shift the argument. “The march is so important because it’s about all coming together and saying we won’t let racism divide us,” she said.
Over 150 people attended the meeting. Other speakers included Lucia Pradella, a campaigner defending the freedom of movement for European Union migrants, human rights activist Heena Khaled who spoke about Islamophobia, and Guardian journalist Gary Younge.
Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg also addressed a rally of 80 in Manchester in last night. Other rallies took place in Harlow, Essex and Redbridge, north London
Both meetings were part of a programme of activity across Britain to build and strengthen the anti-racism movement and mobilise for the demonstrations.
As Younge warned, only struggle from below can turn back the tide of racism from politicians such as Theresa May and Donald Trump.
“History does not reward the silent or the squeamish,” he said. “It’s up to us to stop them—no-one else is going to.”