Despite a valiant campaign in his defence, Babi Badalov was deported to Azerbaijan at 15.15 on Saturday – coincidentally the time that the Convention of the Left was opening in Manchester to plot a way forward for a shrunken, fragmented and in many cases disorientated left. Immediately after the opening plenary, Cardiff activists highlighted the plight of Babi at an anti-deportation discussion group. We focussed on the fact that, despite the dedication of campaigners, we remain in a situation where we depend on the mercy of the Home Office and a legal system heavily weighted against immigrants. This will remain the case until we can build an anti-deportation movement large and united enough to paralyse the immigration system through strike action and other forms of non-compliance, and to win sufficient mass support that it is simply not feasible to continue the present brutal policy of forced deportation.
Nor is there any point in pleading for a fairer system of border controls. As long as immigration is controlled, there must be a means of expelling the rejects. Detention centres, dawn raids, seizures at border agency offices etc are inevitable once we accept the fact that people are deemed to be illegal.
There was no disagreement on this point at the COTL workshop. There was also general acceptance that the present fragmentation of the anti-deportation struggle had to be overcome and that both the trade unions and unorganised workers had to be drawn into it.
This is not a pipe dream. The NUJ and lecturers’ union UCU have approved motions calling for the abolition of immigration controls. A branch of the RMT hosted the 2008 conference of the Campaign Against Immigration Controls. Unite successfully unionised immigrant cleaners at Canary Wharf and won them a pay rise. The TUC supports the right of asylum seekers to work and produces publicity arguing for this.
No specific initiative has arisen from the COTL discussion: time was short, and this convention is very much a starting-point for the development of left unity; a follow-up convention in November should have clearer practical consequences. However, at Sunday’s “Where Next for the Left?” meeting, a wide range of COTL organisers presented a united statement calling, among other things, for the setting up of local forums. The meeting heard about the success we’ve had in initiating such a forum in Cardiff; now, with just about every left group approving the statement, similar forums should be set up across the UK which, among other things, can act as a focus for the anti-deportation struggle.
Such forums should not be vague and inconsequential talking-shops. They need to involve people who are not just nominally ‘socialist’, but who want to see a society owned and democratically managed by its workers. We will need to have out some hard arguments in order to make unity in action a practicality. But with the right attitude it can be done. The COTL demonstrated how willing the socialist left is to look at new, less bureaucratic ways of organising; libertarians and anarchists, for their part, have also got to be willing to examine some of their basic assumptions and practices.
Underlying the COTL discussion was a growing sense of urgency. It took place in a Manchester turned into some kind of sci-fi big brother state by the defences now thought necessary for the Labour Party conference. It took place with the fascists bold enough to openly rally on the Saturday in Stoke. It took place with one deportee being shipped out of the UK every eight minutes, now including Cardiff’s own Babi Badalov.
However, it also took place on the verge of a recession and growing signs of a rebirth of union militancy. Besides being a time of danger, it is a time of opportunity. We urge all those on the left in the Cardiff area to get together now and help us build a radical forum which can help turn the tide of the class struggle and to ensure that we do not spend forever fighting losing battles.
Activists are continuing to target BMI, the airline responsible for Babi’s deportation.