Delegates at the CWU union conference have slammed the Tories for their racist treatment of Windrush Generation migrants.
The conference, for workers in the postal, telecoms and financial services industries, unanimously passed two emergency motions on Windrush after a week of scandal for the Tories. But delegates also voted down a motion defending freedom of movement for European Union (EU) migrants.
Revelations have exposed how people who came from Britain's former colonies after 1945 have faced deportation as a result of Theresa May’s drive to create a “hostile environment” for migrants.
One motion called on the union to demand that the government gives figures for the number of Caribbean migrants deported or denies NHS treatment.
Moving the motion, Ian Taylor from Greater Manchester blamed the scandal on Theresa May for creating a “hostile environment” for undocumented migrants.
“It’s 50 years since Enoch Powell set the tone which Theresa May has decided to act on,” he said.
“She decided to create a hostile environment. Prepared to see refugees die to create that hostile environment. Prepared to see British citizens deported to create that hostile environment. Prepared to see British citizens suffer the indignity of prolonged unemployment to create that hostile environment.
“Denied sick people access to the NHS for which they will have paid taxes for years and years.
“Denied access to treatment for people with potentially life threating ailments. Theresa May potentially has blood on her hands.”
Other speakers also branded the Tories racist—and linked the scandal to the Tories’ wider anti-migrant policies.
Rob from Cheshire No.1 Amal branch said, “We’re allowing a society to develop that is extremely racist. And I think this is what the Tories want. It’s about divide and conquer.”
Deputy general secretary Tony Kearns supported the motion on behalf of the union’s national executive council (NEC). He said the CWU has “a proud history in fighting racism.”
And he added that “rhetoric about illegal migrants sets the tone for a racist society”.
Yet the NEC later opposed a motion that called on the union to support a campaign to keep free movement for European migrants.
The motion said, “Migrants are not to blame for falling wages, insecurity, bad housing and overstretched public services. These are the product of decades of underinvestment, deregulation, privatisation, and the harshest anti-union laws in Europe.
“A system of free movement is the best way to protect and advance the interests of all workers, by giving everyone the right to work legally, join a union and stand up to their boss without fear of deportation or destitution.”
It also called on the CWU to support the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.
Moving the motion, Will Murray from Greater London Combined region said, “It has never been the policy of the trade union movement to blame low wages on workers.
“If this government is capable of denying healthcare to its own citizens, what’s it going to do to EU citizens?”
But general secretary Dave Ward opposed the motion and the conference overwhelmingly voted it down.
Ward accepted the false argument that migration undercuts wages, jobs and working conditions. He said, “Freedom of movement without proper protection for workers is a recipe for undercutting workers everywhere.
“We can’t ignore the fact that there is undercutting and exploitation.”
He pointed out that Jeremy Corbyn had said that a Labour government would end freedom of movement. And he said the motion “sticks two fingers up” to the result of the EU referendum.
Phil Duffy from Merseyside and South West Lancs branch argued against the motion because “This is not Labour Party policy”.
He added, “Labour lost the core support in the north of England. Those people felt they were left behind because of migrants and voted Tory,” and said it was important to “elect Labour at all costs”.
Lenny Shail from Coventry said he opposed EU freedom of movement because of EU rules that keep migrants and refugees out of Europe. But he made clear his real opposition was that EU freedom of movement is “the right of bosses to move about workers to undercut workers”.
Racist EU immigration controls are to blame for the deaths of thousands of refugees who drown trying to cross the Mediterranean. It is disgraceful to use their deaths to argue for more immigration controls in Britain.
There is no evidence that migration lowers wages. As one speaker pointed out, an LSE study found that “Immigration has little noticeable effect on wages”.
Accepting that migration lowers wages helps bosses and the Tories to divide workers. It strengthens the case for immigration controls that make migrants more vulnerable to exploitation.
Supporting the motion, Amarjite Singh from South East Wales Amal branch said, “I’m afraid that we as a union are saying we want Jeremy to win at all costs, even if our words become racist.
“It’s for us as a trade union to stand with these workers”.
And Rob Wotherspoon from Bristol and District Amal said the consequence of backing down over anti-migrant arguments is “the hostile environment for immigration that Theresa May is trying to create”.
He added, “If someone says ‘migrants are doing down my wages’ we say, ‘No, your boss is—join a union.’ That’s why we don’t attack migrants”.
Some 65 people went to a Stand Up To Racism fringe meeting following the vote. Many people at the meeting talked about the need to oppose the Football Lads Alliance, which feeds off Islamophobic and anti-migrant racism.
Lynne Douglas from Scotland No.2 branch said anti-racists had “strength in numbers”. And Kevin Horsman from Cleveland said it was “very important” to join the protest against the FLA in Manchester.
Conference votes to support trans rights
Delegates at the CWU conference overwhelmingly passed a motion supporting rights for trans people, following a comradely debate.
It called for the union to support a “social model for gender reassignment” rather than current laws that say trans people have to be medically diagnosed before legally changing their gender.
Sarah from Eastern No 4 branch described her experience of going through gender reassignment.
It’s a lengthy medical process that requires trans people to prove they have lived as their own gender for two years. They must also pay for a panel to agree on changing their gender on identity documents.
“Life is not easy for trans people,” Sarah said. “Having self-identification would be much better than the pain we go through now”.
The NEC backed the motion. One speaker opposed it, as she was concerned that “Self-identification could be open to abuse, and this could lead to people being cynical about who is genuinely trans and who is not.
“It will also have the potential to place women at risk”.
But Maria Exall from Greater London Combined branch said, “If you don’t’ have a social model, really you’ve got to go back to the insulting and draconian medical model.”
She added, “It has long been a demand of the feminist movement to challenge the rigid gender roles of our society”.
And Chris from Leeds No1 Amal branch said, “Who has the right to dictate who does and doesn’t have protection?”