by David Broder
Today several thousand people marched from Elephant & Castle and Westminster to London’s Trafalgar Square in a demonstration calling for the regularisation of undocumented immigrants.
The organisers of the march, London Citizens, have an extremely conservative stance similar to that of Mayor Boris Johnson, commenting on their website that they have been “calling for the Government to implement a one-off regularisation measure that would allow refused asylum seekers and visa overstayers who have put down roots in Britain to become legal. Campaigners argue that strict conditions – residence of at least four years followed by a two-year “pathway” period, a clean criminal record, good English, character references, etc. – should be applied.”
However, others on the march argued that immigrants should not only be let stay because of “good behaviour” or because they are hard-working (i.e. making a business case for exploiting migrants) but rather because everyone has a right to settle where they please.The speakers at the ‘official’ rally included a mix of religious leaders, NGO and trade union bureaucrats and the likes of Liberal Democrat MP Chris Huhne. The compere appeared none too impressed when guest musical act Asian Dub Foundation sang a song about police brutality ‘Target practice‘ and she patronisingly reminded the crowd why we were there “because you are somebody. Repeat after me, you are somebody…” the crowd chanting back “we are somebody”…
The ‘official’ message of the demo was furthermore encapsulated in the slogan “we want to be British” and, worst of all, the singing of ‘God Save the Queen‘, with migrant workers expected to demonstrate their loyalty to the state, “useful”, “industrious” subjects for Her Majesty’s Government.
The far left was not really out in force at the demo, which admittedly did mobilise very large numbers from – mostly African and Latin American – migrant communities. Many had clearly been mobilised by churches (and to a lesser extent, mosques) but a “Coordinadora” of Latin American groups had organised on a more class-struggle footing.
An alternative rally was held on the steps at the back of Trafalgar Square, with several dozen people listening to militant speeches by activists such as the Mitie/Willis cleaners and a speaker from the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees. The Coordinadora had produced a Spanish-language leaflet “Amnesty for some, or papers for all?”, criticising the tepid politics of London Citizens and its claim that some immigration controls are “necessary”.
One activist tore into the idea of an amnesty for “good” immigrants as “the classic imperialist policy of divide and rule” and we shouted slogans in English and Spanish such as “Latino or foreign, the same working class”, “No borders, no nations, stop deportations” and “No human being is illegal”. This was not just a mobilisation on a community footing (representing as it did only a small minority of the Latin American demonstrators) but a more political intervention and more confident set of demands.It was unfortunate that more of the trade unionists at the protest were not in the vicinity of this alternative rally.
Workers and other people involved in the campaign to support the Mitie/Willis cleaners, who have been let down by the Unite bureaucracy, were particularly incensed when Unite number two Jack Dromey addressed the crowd in Trafalgar Square from the platform and was visible on the giant screens, and as he spoke shouted their demand that he should throw the union’s support behind the cleaners’ struggle.
So while it was impressive to see so many people on the streets of London standing up for migrants’ rights, it was a pity that the leadership of the protest is so tame in its slogans and objectives. This of course reflects the way in which it organises: rather than religious or liberal pity for the downtrodden and appeals to government and business on the basis of the idea that immigrants can “play their part too” we need more self-organisation by migrant workers and assertive demands such as has been seen in the cleaners’ struggles in the City of London and on the London Underground.
The next demonstration for the Mitie/Willis cleaners is at Willis, Lime Street, EC3M, from 1pm on Friday 8th.