Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2008

An active campaign can shape how immigrants and refugees are treated (Pic: Duncan Brown)

An active campaign can shape how immigrants and refugees are treated (Pic: Duncan Brown)

No doubt about it – we must back an amnesty

Teresa Hayter’s article (Freedom or trap?, 1 July) about the proposed amnesty for so called “illegal” migrant workers contains many important and instructive points.

However, I disagree with her ultimate conclusion, which appears to be that anti-racists should treat with suspicion or outright opposition any advancement in the rights of migrants short of the complete abolition of immigration controls.

Teresa acknowledges that the demand for the amnesty has come from within the trade union movement. Yet she views any amnesty as something which a New Labour government would introduce for its own reasons and on its own terms.

Of course, a Blair or Brown government introducing an amnesty would have to be watched very carefully in case it followed the French government in granting work visas to some while deporting others.

However, Teresa’s pessimistic view that an amnesty might make things worse for migrant workers misses out the single most important element in this issue – the solidarity of trade unionised workers with their migrant sisters and brothers.

Pressure from the trade union movement will shape the nature of any amnesty, and campaigning within the unions will be, as it is now, the most effective weapon against deportations.

Mark Brown, secretary, Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees

When a leading trade unionist opposes the deportation of immigrants, they should be applauded. T&G union deputy general secretary Jack Dromey was right to say that “illegal immigrants” are “good men and women who are the backbone of our economy”.

His call for an amnesty should be supported, not derided as Teresa Hayter does (Freedom or trap?, 1 July). 

Recent calls for an amnesty from undocumented workers in the US have sparked the biggest protests seen in that country for civil rights since the 1960s.

The right to stay and to work is a key demand. Those who fail to fight for reforms risk becoming bystanders in any progressive movement. 

In the present climate of hostility shaped by politicians and the media against immigrants and “illegal workers”, it is racists who will be opposed to any amnesty.

Anti-racists should take up Dromey’s call for an amnesty, and build it as a key demand within the unions.

We can build a strong movement to force through an amnesty, shape its implementation, and turn the tide of hostility back. Or we can accept the status quo of silent union leaders in the face of the demonisation, detention and deportation of asylum seekers. 

Mark Krantz, chair, Manchester Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers 

Asda spirit is a delight

I worked for Asda in the 1980s and it was the worst job I’ve ever had. I’ve worked for Tesco, WH Smith, the now defunct International Stores chain and Woolworths – and while none of them were model employers, Asda was the worst by far.

I worked the night shift where ten of us would try and replenish a shop the size of an aircraft hanger with stock every night.

That was difficult enough. However the management of the store decided that they didn’t want to pay out for overnight security staff. So they locked us in the shop at night and opened it up in the morning.

This was during the miners’ strike and there would be occasional “pep talks” in which management would tell us that if we didn’t like the conditions in Asda perhaps we should get a job in the pits. It was hard, physical work which was badly paid.

One night, under the pressure of the workload, I sliced my hand open to the bone with a Stanley knife.

It was half an hour before the security staff locked up and they kept me waiting in an ever growing pool of my own blood while they set the alarms and closed up before taking me to the hospital to get sewn up.

I can only imagine how this culture has deepened in the intervening 20 years since I was there.

Sometimes supporting a fightback by workers is more than a duty and a pleasure – it’s a delight.

The news that thousands of Asda workers were ready to strike over union rights was delightful. 

Sasha Simic, Usdaw union steward (pc), East London

Newham Respect is standing up to Labour

Respect’s newly elected councillors in Newham, east London, have already proven to be a threat to Labour’s mayor Sir Robin Wales – who is used to dealing only with a council full of sheep.

At the first council meeting since the May elections, Respect councillors highlighted that terrorism cannot be adequately dealt with by raiding innocent people’s homes, as happened during the recent Forest Gate raid.

The council should refuse to allow any part of our community to be demonised by the media as a result of the police actions. Councillor Hanif Abdulmuhit, deputy leader of the Respect group, said, “The council should congratulate those community leaders who sought to maintain community cohesion throughout the period of the police action and refused to remain silent.”

Respect’s involvement has caused a much needed public debate on issues of justice and transparency in the council.

Another joint motion, put forward by the Christian Peoples Alliance and Respect, asked the council to rethink the Queens Market development.

The campaign by Friends of Queens Market declared victory after the recent decision by Asda to pull out.

But the question is, will New Labour listen to local people, or will it once again show utter contempt for local people and push through plans to hand over Queens Market to private business?

Sabia Kamali, Newham Respect

‘No cash’ to win rights for low paid

While the government spends billions on wars, it is allowing low paid workers’ rights to be ignored for the sake of a few thousand pounds.

The National Minimum Wage Helpline in Scotland closed on 30 June because it was not given the necessary annual funding of £36,000.

It took calls from all over Scotland and helped low paid workers enforce their national minimum wage rights by referring cases to the Inland Revenue for enforcement.

Now the Department of Trade and Industry has pulled the funding and the Scottish parliament and executive have refused to take over support. 

However, Scottish Enterprise, an industry quango which overspent its budget by £50 million pounds, was bailed out by the Scottish parliament and executive.

From July, low paid workers in Scotland will only be able to contact a call centre in Newcastle run by the Inland Revenue, with reduced hours and an answerphone message that all calls will be recorded.

This is not the independent confidential service that low paid workers need. 

I would urge readers to raise this matter in their union branch and write to their MSP or the first minister to protest.

Niamh O’Toole, Glasgow

Stereotypes, not racism

I never imagined I would write in defence of football commentators, but I am not convinced that they can generally be accused of racism (Letters, 24 June).

Any descriptions of the “naive” defending of African countries should be considered in context.

Firstly, defenders who play for Petro Atletico or Serif Tiraspol cannot have the same experience as those who hone their skills in the top leagues of Europe and South America. Compared with the superstars, the defending of the less successful nations often is naive.

Secondly, commentators tend to bury themselves in the trite cliches of international football. 

Italy play defensive catenaccio, Brazil play samba football, Germany are efficient, Spain underachieve, Holland are technically gifted but lack team spirit – and England are world-beaters, right up until kick-off.

It is hackneyed, idiotic claptrap. But is it racism?

Mal Ferguson, Liverpool

Stay and fight for our NHS

You report (Rochdale health chair resigns, 1 July) that the Rochdale health chair has resigned over cuts to the NHS.

Why does she walk away? Now they will slot in a jobsworth who really won’t give a damn about forcing through cuts.

Socialist politics is not about walking away.

Ed, Rochdale

Imperialism and racism

Neil Davidson (No defence for the British empire, 24 June) attempted a brave response to historian Niall Ferguson’s views on Empire, but it failed to convince.

Capitalism is about untrammelled greed – the drive to acquire what belongs to the Others whom the exploiters otherwise despise.

But this is not the only force at work.

The other equally potent driving force is the ideology of white supremacy which is manifested in racism and the instinct to dominate and subjugate the “inferior” Others. 

White Marxists tend to play down this factor and thereby absolve the imperialists from their innate malevolence to the Others.

Eddie D’Sa, South London

Flag boosts the racists

Susan Houman is right when she says that our streets seemed to be drowning in a sea of red and white (Letters, 24 June). She is dangerously wrong however, when she suggests that socialists can afford to “celebrate and be part of” this phenomenon. 

Up here in the economically battered and politically alienated mill towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire, the St George flag has been a crucial, constant emblem for the far right for years – whether England were playing football or not. 

If anything, it is getting worse, paralleling a worrying growth of fascist electoral success and respectability. 

What covered the headquarters, literature and the rosettes of the two England First candidates, elected as councillors in May on an even more racist platform than the BNP? Yes, the St George cross emblazoned with “England” and the three lions!

John Murphy, president, Blackburn and Darwen United Against Racism

Modzelewski: a correction

A mistake crept into the introduction to our interview with Karol Modzelewski (The Poznan uprising, 1 July).

It was incorrectly stated that Modzelewski was a key leader in the Poznan rebellion in 1956.

Modzelewski was 18 at the time, a student and a political activist. But he was not involved in the Poznan events.

Kuba Olszewski and Andy Zebrowski, Warsaw, Poland
[This has been corrected online]

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Sat 8 Jul 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 2008
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