The fourth meeting of the Cardiff Radical Socialist Forum last Wednesday attracted over twenty activists to discuss issues around immigration. Teresa Hayter of No-one Is Illegal, introducing, lamented the reluctance of much of the left to stand openly against the hypocrisy of immigration controls, while her co-campaigner Bob Hughes pointed out that it is the capitalist class, not asylum seekers, who threaten our jobs and fail to integrate.
The forum was both positive and productive. South Wales No Borders activists discussed the anti-deportation work they had been involved in, and artist Babi Badalov spoke movingly of the cruelty of the asylum system in the UK and the constant pressure under which he lives. PR activists spoke about our experience working within the Campaign to Defend Asylum Seekers and taking part in the successful campaign against Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration Act which, if implemented, would have torn children away from asylum-seeking families and left those families destitute.
The Campaign to Defend Asylum Seekers is, however, moribund, and it is surely no coincidence that its decline came at the same time that the largest left groups initiated their projects attempting to fill the space vacated to the left of Labour with an electable alternative. Opposition to immigration controls had been the policy of the Socialist Alliance; Respect, however, ditched this commitment, and at the recent GLA elections, the SWP’s Left List avoided the subject of immigration altogether.
There was a consensus at the forum that it is a grave mistake for the left to give ground on the issue of border controls. Such controls were originally introduced to criminalise ethnic minorities and subsequent immigration acts have pandered to the far right and fascist groups, as opposed to minimising their influence as some claim. The absurdity of the present government’s policies is summed up by the fact that fruit is now rotting on the trees in the UK owing to their politically-motivated clampdown on foreign seasonal workers.
However, as PR members argued at the forum, it is clearly wrong to make opposition to border controls a precondition for supporting an anti-deportation campaign. The wrongness of deporting asylum-seekers back to misery or death, the brutality of dawn raids and detention centres may be evident to many people who do not yet understand why we also need to oppose all immigration controls. That does not mean we should stint in any way from having that argument; but we need united fronts against deportation that base themselves, as did the Campaign to Defend Asylum Seekers, on a brief list of basic demands such as the right of asylum seekers to work and the closure of detention centres.
The activists of South Wales No Borders have already reached a similar conclusion and have sought to initiate a wider front, Croeso, which does not require supporters to be anarchists or those within their close orbit. However, Cardiff PR members took the view that it is better for all interested parties to together thrash out what kind of campaign we need, and to take this discussion to the Convention of the Left later this month with the aim of linking with other initiatives and extending this across the UK.
Uniting socialist and anarchist forces will not be easy. Hard arguments will need to be had over decision-making processes and how nationwide integration and unity in action can be achieved. However, the relative level of agreement at the forum was promising. The life-or-death nature of anti-deportation campaigns is incentive enough to overcome sectarian divides, and there will certainly be no disagreement from PR on the need for the militant defence of those under attack.
No Borders are holding a meeting on 18 Sept where this discussion may be taken forward; two days later the Convention of the Left kicks off, with transport being arranged from Cardiff. The next forum is on Iran on Weds October 1 – more details to follow. Help build on what we’ve started, raise the level of political debate in Cardiff and lay the basis of greater unity in action against an increasingly despicable enemy.