Hundreds of people—most of them European Union (EU) migrants—rallied in Trafalgar Square last night Wednesday.
They demanded that British and EU politicians guarantee the rights of EU migrants in Britain and British nationals in Europe.
The rally followed a lobby of parliament during the day. Both were organised by the 3 Million and British in Europe campaigns and the Unison union.
As Theresa May and her EU counterparts cynically use migrants as bargaining chips, many are worried about the future.
Katia Widlak, a Unison official and 3 Million activist, was part of organising the rally. “We came to Britain with certain rights,” she told Socialist Worker. “It's not fair to change the rules of the game now.”
Joan Pons, a nurse and Unison member, warned the crowd, “I'm here to stay and defend the NHS.
“But I'm afraid a lot of my European colleagues are already leaving."
The Tories obsessively peddle racist myths about immigration and create a hostile atmosphere. Elena Remigi, who helped editor book In Limbo that documents people's fears, said it left people feeling like “unwelcome guests”.
Maurizio Rodorigo was at the rally representing an advice centre for Italian expats run by the Italian trade union CGIL. He told Socialist Worker, “We're not happy with the way the government is handling Brexit. Its proposals reduce our rights, bringing us into the British immigration system. That means we will face all the same difficulties as people from the rest of the world."
The rally was contradictory.
Many people brought EU flags or placards with pro-EU slogans. Some speakers represented pro-EU campaigns. And it finished with EU anthem Ode to Joy.
It's understandable that many Europeans under threat see the EU as an ally and Brexit as the problem. Yet the EU is no friend of migrant workers. And seeking to overturn the referendum result would cut the campaign off from millions of potential allies who voted Leave.
Katia emphasised, "This is not about stopping Brexit. This is about protecting the rights of people who are here. That can happen, and it's separate from the question of Brexit."
London mayor Sadiq Khan repeated his message about the value of migrants to the economy. Another speaker was even the head of a money transfer company.
But it can't be left to bosses and their cheerleaders to defend the rights of workers. The left, the Labour Party and the unions must rise to the occasion.
Unison assistant general secretary Christina McAnea hailed a vote at the TUC conference to defend European migrants.
She told the crowd, “This is a critical issue for the trade union movement—to make sure we're at the forefront of defending workers wherever they come from.”
Katia agreed. “Trade unionism is about solidarity and unity,” she said. “It's the employers who try to divide different groups of workers—our job is to show them they are stronger together.”