George Szirtes: The Immigrant at Port Selda

April 2, 2017 at 4:55 pm (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, democracy, Europe, Human rights, identity politics, immigration, internationalism, literature, Migrants, poetry, populism, posted by JD, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism")

Picture by Clarissa Upchurch

George Szirtes was born in Hungary and emigrated to England with his parents—survivors of concentration and labor camps after the 1956 Budapest uprising.

George’s address to the recent symposium at Southampton University, ‘The legacy of Brexit and citizenship in times of uncertainty’  is posted here with his permission:

I must confess I have no qualification for speaking on this subject and am keenly aware of speaking to those who do. I can only speak in my character as an unwitting child refugee to these shores, a poet and translator, and as an occasional writer of articles in the press, on, among other things, the issue of Brexit: about the campaign itself, the impact of the campaign and its likely future impact.

On that last, of course, I can only speculate. We are not out yet, we don’t know anything about the terms of disengagement, and we have no clear idea of how this or that set of terms may impact our lives.

I did in fact campaign for Remain but my role and experience was very minor. In asking Leavers why they intended to vote as they did the two answers I repeatedly got were: ‘So they won’t tell us what to do any more,’ and, ‘Things were better before’. These words will be familiar to most people here and seemed to me to be perfectly rational responses to the two major arguments of the Leave campaign regarding sovereignty and free movement of people. The way those arguments were presented elicited precisely these responses.

As I have already said I am not qualified to address those questions because I am not an expert in any of the relevant areas and because I am, by birth, parti pris on one side of the question, in that I am a foreigner and therefore one of those factors in things somehow being better before my arrival.

I don’t want to caricature the Leave campaign. I don’t want to call those who voted differently from me stupid, or simple, or racist. Life is far more complicated and I did have some intelligent conversations with people who wanted to leave the EU, particularly those on the Chomskyite left of the political spectrum, whose arguments centred on globalisation, capitalism and high finance as expressed, occasionally, in terms of sovereignty.

I don’t want to caricature the Leave campaign but the day after the referendum there was an incident in Norwich, a city that had voted to remain in a region that had voted to leave, in which a small Romanian supermarket was firebombed. Students at the university from which I had retired immediately set up an appeal to raise £500. By the next morning it had raised over £20, 000, so the field was not altogether lost. Despite what we are continually told about the clear will of ‘the people’ there were enough people willing to raise money for a minor indirectly demonised enterprise.

I don’t think demonisation is too harsh a word, in that Leave rhetoric called forth certain demons, or rather that it quite consciously opened the trapdoors where such demons were hiding. It legitimised them. It called forth the firebombers. It called forth those who immediately set upon elderly widows of French and German birth who had lived in the country for decades and taunted them by asking when they were going home. It called forth the teenagers on the Manchester tram who demanded a black American get off it. It called forth the murderer of Jo Cox.

By the time that happened a certain madness had set in. All the Leavers rushed to distance themselves from the murder, of course. This was nothing to do with them. None of those xenophobic incidents, and there have been and continue to be plenty of others, had anything to do with them. It was nothing to do with their presentation of sinister foreigners in Brussels, and sinister gangs of Albanians hanging round Dover and Boston, or with the sinister cheap labour of mushroom pickers and chicken packers who were taking much-coveted jobs from true Brits. No! they protested. That was not what they meant. They had nothing to do with encouraging the taxi driver we met who had moved from Kings Lynn because there were too many Lithuanians and Poles there, foreigners whose rather marvellous supermarket down a side street was, as he put it, ‘taking the place over’.

Perhaps I could go back in time and take a more personal line in order to think about what it is that might make one properly British or, more problematically, a foreigner.

2
My family of four, along with some 200,000 others, that is one-fiftieth of the population, left Hungary in the months following the defeat of the 1956 Revolution. I am not entirely sure why we left. My parents had taken no part in the fighting and were unlikely to be arrested in its repercussions. My father, as the leader of a department within the Ministry of Building, would have been exposed in the revolution itself, as much as a Jew as a member of the apparatus, but I think he would have stayed. It was my mother who insisted we leave.

Why did she do so? I don’t think it was for ideological reasons. Neither my mother nor my father hoped to feel more comfortable among free-market liberal capitalists than in a restored post-Stalinist state. They were both of the left, my middle-class mother further to the left than my working-class father who actually worked in a ministry. Ideology would, if anything, have kept them at home. They lived quite well in the given context and weren’t economic migrants.

The truth is that my mother was afraid, not so much for herself as for us, her children. She had survived two concentration camps, my father had survived forced labour. They had history gnawing at their nerves. Neither of them could have demonstrated that their lives were in immediate danger. Instead they took the dangerous impromptu risk of walking out of the country at night in wholly arbitrary party of a dozen or so, across the Austrian border, arriving there with one suitcase of clothes and nothing more. At that stage I had just three words of English — A A Milne’s AND, BUT, SO as read in my bilingual copy of Now We Are Six. We also had a bilingual edition of Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. In this poem based on the memory of crossing the Hungarian-Austrian border by night, Milne’s characters — the owl and the ass in the hundred-acre wood — serve as forms of familiarity.

My father carries me across a field

My father carries me across a field.

It’s night and there are trenches filled with snow.

Thick mud. We’re careful to remain concealed

From something frightening I don’t yet know.

And then I walk and there is space between

The four of us. We go where we have to go.

Did I dream it all, this ghostly scene,

The hundred-acre wood where the owl blinked

And the ass spoke? Where I am cosy and clean

In bed, but we are floating, our arms linked

Over the landscape? My father moves ahead

Of me, like some strange, almost extinct

Species, and I follow him in dread

Across the field towards my own extinction.

Spirits everywhere are drifting over blasted

Terrain. The winter cold makes no distinction

Between them and us. My father looks round

And smiles then turns away. We have no function

In this place but keep moving, without sound,

Lost figures who leave only a blank page

Behind them, and the dark and frozen ground

They pass across as they might cross a stage.

We might well have been moving into extinction. My parents would never again be what they had been and what they might have become. Once in Austria the process of unbecoming became relatively easy. Refugee services were waiting for us, both in Austria and, a few days later in Britain, after we had been offered a flight there. Reception was efficient and kindly. We were regarded as victim-heroes of a failed but heroic Uprising against the Cold War enemy. Sentiment was with us.

So was our historical baggage. In Metro, the longest poem of my career, there are a couple of verses in which I try to sum up what we had left behind in Budapest. The physical city described in it stands in for history: the empire of the living becomes the empire of the dead.

[Metro 2 2/3]

The empire underground: the tunnelling

Begins. The earth gives up her worms and shards,

Old coins, components, ordnance, bone and glass,

Nails, muscle, hair, flesh, shrivelled bits of string,

Shoe leather, buttons, jewels, instruments.

And out of these come voices, words,

Stenches and scents,

And finally desire, pulled like a tooth.

It’s that or constancy that leads us down

To find a history which feels like truth.

That baggage of old coins, components, bits of lace and so forth is the kind of thing any refugee brings with them. It is an emblem of the real baggage of those who leave without much deliberation or calculation simply because of what appears as a pressing necessity. The children and teenagers in the jungle at Calais carry something similar. They bring their foreignness with them to squat in the mud of an alien port.

England was not our intended destination. That was Australia where my father had a cousin: we had no one in England. But Australia rejected us because of my mother’s health so we had to remain. Altogether some 28,000 Hungarians chose to remain in the UK.

What did we offer our kindly hosts?

My father had some English before we came. The rest of us — my mother, brother and I — had none. The English my father possessed made him useful in helping to process other refugees, which is what he did while we spent four months along with those others in various off-season boarding houses in or near Margate, attending English classes. My father interpreted for fellow refugees who were sent off to jobs in Wolverhampton or Luton or wherever their skill and experience would come in handy. My father’s particular skill lay in plumbing, heating and ventilation at managerial level so they found him a first job in London and, remarkably enough, enabled us to put down a deposit on a first house there. Starting from zero that was nothing short of a miracle, a remarkable act of generosity that was enough to make life-long anglophiles of us all. Meanwhile my mother, a press photographer, found work in a photographer’s studio and shop in Oxford Street.

Having settled in we set about assimilating. First of all we were to speak English, not Hungarian at home. We would never go back, very few people in the world spoke Hungarian so the language would be redundant and only slow down the rate at which we, the children, learned English and made a go of school. Budapest was no longer home. My father anglicised the pronunciation of his name to Surtees, as in the racing driver, even altering the spelling for strictly work purposes when visiting building sites to make life easier for foremen and site managers. His face and accent did not accord with the adopted name of course, and the accent was thick.

But it was a reasonable, relaxed ambience. By the time we began our English school careers there were other immigrant issues to think about. The Notting Hill Riots of 1958 for example and, ten years later, Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech. Then, just four years after that, in the wake of Idi Amin, came the Ugandan Asians. We might have been foreign but at least we were white.

And because we were white and less conspicuous we did not experience the resentment that met West Indians or Asians. We took the mild if diffident benevolence of England for granted. We had melted in hadn’t we? And the country into which we had melted was a stable, powerful force in the world, a safe place, ever less powerful now perhaps, ever less imperial, but still safe.

In 1984 I returned to Hungary for the first time as an adult. And kept returning. In 1989 my family and I spent almost the whole year there watching the state fall apart. Ten years later, after several books I changed publishers for the second time and my work to that date was sorted into two distinct volumes: The Budapest File (2000) dealing with work that had a Hungarian interest (by which time I had written a good deal on that) and one titled An English Apocalypse (2001), that dealt with settling in England and simply being here. In this way my work — and self — was neatly divided for public consumption.

An English Apocalypse was chiefly written in Ireland while I was a fellow at TCD, Dublin, and contained many memories of the seventies but also registered what I sensed was a mounting crisis in English identity and self-confidence. There were five apocalypses at the end of the sequence. This is one of them.

Death by Deluge

I have seen roads come to a full stop in mid-

sentence as if their meaning had fallen off

the world. And this is what happened, what meaning did

that day in August. The North Sea had been rough

and rising and the bells of Dunwich rang

through all of Suffolk. One wipe of its cuff

down cliffs and in they went, leaving birds to hang

puzzled in the air, their nests gone. Enormous

tides ran from Southend to Cromer. They swung

north and south at once, as if with a clear purpose,

thrusting through Lincolnshire, and at a rush

drowning Sleaford, Newark, leaving no house

uncovered. Nothing remained of The Wash

but water. Peterborough, Ely, March, and Cambridge

were followed by Royston, Stevenage, the lush

grass of Shaw’s Corner. Not a single ridge

remained. The Thames Valley filled to the brim

and London Clay swallowed Wapping and Greenwich.

Then west, roaring and boiling. A rapid skim

of Hampshire and Dorset, then the peninsula:

Paignton, Plymouth, Lyme, Land’s End. A slim

line of high hills held out but all was water-colour,

the pure English medium, intended for sky, cloud, and sea.

Less earth than you could shift with a spatula.

Something important began in the seventies that more-or-less coincided with the time of Britain’s EU entry: a process that involved the fuel crisis, the three-day week, the winter of discontent, and the rise of Margaret Thatcher which was followed by the destruction of old mass industries that had sustained stable communities and provided social cohesion. Britain had become the sick man of Europe. And despite an economic recovery through the later eighties and nineties, the cohesion had vanished. The economic body was no longer sick, but the social soul was.

Somebody had to be blamed for all this and the EU was the easiest scapegoat. If Britain was falling apart by 2001 in the way An English Apocalypse suggested that can’t have been Britain’s fault, can it? Who took away our pounds and ounces, our twelve pence to the shilling and our pride? Our image of sinister, faceless foreign bureaucrats — so beloved by the right wing press — conjured our own long resentful demons. The foreigners kept coming. They were after our jobs, after our benefits, after our houses, changing our ways of life, the ground of our very being. These foreigners were not all the result of the EU’s free movement policy, more to do with globalisation beyond Europe, with the disasters of wars or famine, with Britain’s own colonial history.

The concerns associated with large numbers of immigrants were masked by what people — and increasingly the popular press — called ‘political correctness’ (Political Correctness Gone Mad) by which they meant the control of language and manners, and in some cases of law, of the means of even beginning to address the concerns. That was seen as repression and, in some ways, for the best of reasons, so it was.

What I am suggesting is that that which was successfully suppressed after Notting Hill in 1958 was inarticulate and still struggling for manoeuvre in 2016 when it finally found an outlet in the referendum campaign. The end of empire had found its cry. Hence the fury. Hence the demons.

Two or three years ago I was chairing a small literary festival in the small Norfolk town where we live. In order to publicise the event we decided to read poems in the marketplace on market day. That was fun. Somebody there decided to read John Betjeman’s A Subaltern’s Love Song, that begins: ‘Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn / furnished and burnished by Aldershot sun…’, a poem that wonderfully conjures an England of the 1930s. After the event the sweetest and nicest person on the committee said to me, ‘I don’t suppose you will ever fully understand that poem, George’.

Maybe he is right. Maybe, even to the nicest of men, a foreigner can never be truly of the atavistic tribe. That wouldn’t be peculiar to the English, of course: that is, I suspect, a general truth about specific historical moments when tribes come under pressure. Maybe the English tribe is ay such a point and has decided to wash its hand of foreigners. I started out by saying that I am not, for now, directly affected by Brexit and the tide of emotion it has loosed. But the conversation with the genuinely nice man who pointed out that I could never truly understand the heart of Englishness in the Betjeman poem — and he may be right, of course — is a salutary reminder that, in subtle ways, I remain a foreigner. Maybe the door to Brexit is the door out for some of us.

I will finish with a short poem titled Port Selda. There is a much loved popular poem by the Anglo-Welsh poet, Edward Thomas, titled ‘Adlestrop’ In Thomas’s poem of 1917, it is a sunny day during the war when his train makes a brief unscheduled stop at a tiny station, Adlestrop, by an empty platform where no one gets in or out. It seems quiet there until suddenly the poet hears “all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire”. What we know, as readers, is that the poet himself was very soon to die in the war. For many people this poem this represents a sense of England at war, England as the elegiac quiet place sensed as if by accident.

My title, Port Selda is in fact the word Adlestrop spelled backwards. It is about the beauty of the country and the inevitability of rejection. Many of us are at Port Selda now.

The Immigrant at Port Selda

I got off at Port Selda and looked out for the harbour

but it was quiet, nothing smelled of the sea,

all I saw was a station by a well-kept arbour

with a notice pinned to a tree.

It said: Welcome to Port Selda, you who will never be

our collective unconscious nor of our race.

This is the one true genealogical tree

and this the notice you will not deface.

It was beautiful there. It was Friday in late

autumn and all the birds of the county sang

their hearts out. I noted down the date.

The sun was shining and the church-bells rang.

Permalink 10 Comments

Socialist Worker’s fantasy world of non-racist Brexit, quite different from Trump

February 23, 2017 at 8:35 pm (Andrew Coates, Beyond parody, Europe, fantasy, immigration, Migrants, nationalism, populism, posted by JD, stalinism, SWP, Trump)

Andrew Coates nails the liars and fantasists of Socialist Worker:

Image result for Trump Brexit

Nothing to do with Brexit, says Socialist Worker Alternative News Factory.

Don’t lump together Brexit and Trump.

Socialist Worker. 21.2.2017.

There’s no shortage of things to be angry about at the moment—especially when it comes to racism and attacks on Muslims and migrants.

It can be hard to keep track of the outrages committed by US president Donald Trump.

And in Britain many politicians think the vote to leave the European Union (EU) is an opportunity to attack migrants and end freedom of movement.

Yet Trump and Brexit are not the same thing—and we shouldn’t lump them together.

There are similarities between the two. They both happened because sections of working class people kicked back at mainstream politicians after decades of attack.

Myths

Some did swallow racist myths pushed from the top of society.

But there is a major difference. There could never be a progressive case for supporting Donald Trump—but there has always been a left wing and anti-racist case against the EU.

Socialist Worker campaigned to leave the EU because it has enforced austerity and locked out refugees fleeing war and poverty.

It’s not true that the main factor behind the Leave vote was racism against migrants—as polls keep showing.

It was a way of punishing the elite and mainstream politicians.

There’s an anti-establishment feeling in Britain that can be turned into resistance.

But to do that means connecting with people’s anger—not dismissing it as racist.

It is no doubt important to emphasise that Trump, who strongly backed Brexit, is not Brexit, nor indeed is he Paul Nuttall, nor was he present, like Nuttall at the Battle of Hastings.

Yet one suspects that the SWP are stung by the loud noises of celebration coming from the Trump camp, and far-rightists around the world, from Marine Le Pen onwards, at the British vote to Leave.

It would be interesting to see the data that shows that the main factor behind the Brexit  was “a way of punishing the elite and mainstream politics.”

It would be also interesting to see a Marxist analysis of the ‘elite’, what class it is, and indeed what an ‘elite’ in the UK is.

It would be perhaps too much to expect an account of how leaving the EU, and attacking migrants’ rights (in the UK and, for UK citizens within continental Europe)  and ending freedom of movement within its frontiers, is going bring borders down and help, “locked out refugees fleeing war and poverty”.

No doubt the “The EU’s Frontex border guards stop refugees entering Europe by land – forcing them to risk their lives at sea.” will disappear as the UK……. sets up its own border guards.

How Brexit  was going to be part of the the fight against austerity by consolidating power in the hands of the right-wingers now in charge of the UK Sovereign state, opening up the way for future trade agreements with the pro-Brexit nationalist Trump, is one of those mysteries of the dialectic.

One that shouting that Trump is not Brexit, and an analysis based on “kicking back” at elites, is not going to unravel.

As for people’s reasons for the Leave vote.

This is a synthesis of many studies (Wikipedia).

On the day of the referendum Lord Ashcroft‘s polling team questioned 12,369 people who had completed voting. This poll produced data that showed that ‘Nearly half (49%) of leave voters said the biggest single reason for wanting to leave the European Union was “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK”.”

Lord Ashcroft’s election day poll of 12,369 voters also discovered that ‘One third (33%) [of leave voters] said the main reason was that leaving “offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders.”’[8]

Immediately prior to the referendum data from Ipsos-Mori showed that immigration/migration was the most cited issue when Britons were asked ‘What do you see as the most/other important issue facing Britain today?’ with 48% of respondents mentioning it when surveyed.

In the SWP’s Alternative News Factory the third who were plainly anti-migrant have vanished, nor any consideration that this may have been a reason, if not the principal one, for a Brexit vote.

Perhaps the writers for Socialist Worker were asleep when the torrent of anti-migrant propaganda was unleashed in the country.

Now, how exactly  is the SWP going to relate to the “anti-establishment” demand that motivated the others  that “decisions taken in the UK should be taken in the UK” by these people ‘angry at the elites’?

Permalink 1 Comment

Millions march against Trump: “not our President!”

January 24, 2017 at 4:16 pm (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, civil rights, Human rights, Migrants, posted by JD, protest, Trump, United States)

From the US website Socialist Worker.org (nothing to do with the UK SWP):

Nicole Colson rounds up reports of massive demonstrations from around the country.

Hundreds of thousands stand up for women's rights in New York City
Hundreds of thousands stand up for women’s rights in New York City

WE KNEW they’d be big. But they ended up being “YOOGE,” as a certain incoming commander in chief might say.

Across the U.S. and around the globe, masses of people disgusted with the bigot who officially moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue took to the streets to say “Not my president” and to oppose the right-wing attacks that the Trump administration has planned.

People marched against Trump on all seven continents–a first for presidential inaugural protests. (Yes, even in Antarctica, where a group of tourists and environmental activists protested in defense of penguins and the planet.)

While Trump’s team began his presidency with bald-faced lies about the size of the crowds that (didn’t) turn out for his swearing-in on January 20, the best estimates for the January 21 women’s marches were between 3.3 million and 4.5 million people.

That sent a resounding “no” to Trump: No, we will not stand by as women’s rights are attacked; No, we will not stay silent as racist hate is unleashed; No, we will not be complacent as the rich get richer, and working people face further assaults.

Everywhere, the massive numbers of protesters–in several cities, there were counted the largest protest gatherings ever in their histories–provided a sense of excitement and hope to those who understand the only way to stop Trump is by building uncompromising resistance to his agenda.

As one sign carried by a protester in Seattle summed up, Trump-style: “We know marches. We do the best marches. (They’re terrific.) Everyone agrees.”

— In New York City, site of the largest protest outside of Washington, some 500,000 people gathered at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in Midtown Manhattan for a march that traveled close to Trump’s own doorstep–Trump Tower.

According to one report, the march was so massive that it took well over three hours for the last of the crowd to set off on the march route along 42nd Street and up 5th Avenue. The route was packed as far as the eye could see, and crowds of protesters trying waited on side streets to make it onto 5th Avenue for the opportunity to raise their voices at Trump Tower.

Protesters were awash in the ubiquitous pink “pussy” hats and handmade signs. Many declared the women holding them to be “nasty” (a favorite Trump slur), while men held signs that appropriated Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan “I’m with her” and added arrows pointing to the women next to them.

Other signs and banners focused on issues of racism, immigrant rights, LGBT oppression and more. Among them were: “You can’t comb over sexism,” “Black lives matter” and “Build a bridge, not a wall.”

“A lot is at stake,” marcher Jennifer Tavis told the New York Daily News. “There are so many issues to support, but I think we are for fighting [for] reproductive rights, health care and equality.”

Others echoed the need for solidarity. “It’s obvious to us that he’s bringing back–and has brought about–division,”retiree Mildred Taylor explained to Vox.com. “We know what division can lead to–divide and conquer. This is what he’s all about.”

— In Chicago, a crowd of several thousand rallied at Daley Plaza on January 20 and then marched to the city’s Trump Hotel and Tower. Speakers focused on immigrant rights and other issues, and protesters chanted “Donald, escucha! Estamos en la lucha!” (“Donald, listen! We are fighting!).

Earlier in the day, Students Together Against Trump (STAT), a new student coalition at DePaul University, organized a “Day of Defiance” that drew approximately 40 students for a speakout and march on campus preceding the Daley Plaza event. The protesters were cheered on by campus workers as they led chants and marched.

Then came the incredible display on January 21. The Chicago Women’s March packed Grant Park to overflowing with some 250,000 people–the largest protest in the city since the mass immigrant rights marches of 2006. Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 10 Comments

Gove’s ‘interview’ reveals: Trump out to destroy the EU

January 16, 2017 at 11:08 pm (capitalist crisis, Champagne Charlie, Europe, fascism, grovelling, Migrants, nationalism, populism, profiteers, Racism, reaction, Republican Party, Tory scum, Trump)

The miserable worm Gove has crawled all the way across the Atlantic to suck up to Trump (in the slime-trail of Farage), and his “interview” with the scum-bag appears in today’s Times.Little Govey can scarcely contain his breathless admiration for his host, who he describes  as “like a man who has been plugged into some power source where the dial has been turned up to levels well beyond the safety regulations would recommend” and “the force of nature that is the man”.

Govey’s main point (apart from greasing up to his new hero) is to remind us that the Great Man supports Brexit:

“And, ultra-competitive as he is, the president-elect was particularly keen to remind me that, almost alne among international figures, he had the natural good judgement to foresee our departure from the EU.”

Not just foresee it, of course, but to positively welcome it. Trump’s animosity towards the EU, it would seem, stems from the EU’s obstruction of a proposed “expansion” (we can guess what that meant) to a property he owns in Ireland: “What happened is I went for an approval to do this massive, beautiful expansion … but I learned a lot because … they [ie the EU] were using environmental tricks to stop a project from being built.”

During the campaign of lies, deception and xenophobia that the Leave side ran during the referendum campaign, Little Govey and most of his Tory chums claimed that they weren’t seeking the break-up of the EU, merely then UK’s amicable exit.

The one single useful aspect of Govey’s Times piece is that Trump makes it clear that the aim of nationalists, nativists and outright racists like himself is the total destruction of the EU (in this respect Trump is more honest than Govey and the Tory Leavers):

“A combination of economic woes and the migrant crisis will, he believes, lead to other countries leaving. ‘People, countries, want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity. But, I do believe this, if they hadn’t been forced to take in all of the refugees, so many, with all the problems that it … entails, I think you wouldn’t have a Brexit. This was the final straw that broke the camel’s back … I believe others will leave. I do think keeping it together is not gonna be as easy as a lot of people think. And I think this, if refugees keep pouring into different parts of Europe … I think it’s gonna be very hard to keep it together because people are angry about it.”

So it takes the pathological liar Trump to point out a simple truth that the Tory Bexiteers and their useful idiots on the anti-EU “left” (Morning Star, SWP, etc) either denied of avoided during the referendum campaign: Brexit will inevitably help undermine the EU as a whole, which is precisely why racists everywhere seek this goal.

And the end result of the racists’ wet dream of destroying the EU?

The freedom for workers to move across Europe would be lost. “Foreign” workers in each country from other ex-EU states would face increased hostility at best, and racist attacks (as is already happening in post-referendum UK) at worst.

There would be a big reduction in the productive capacities of the separate states, cut off from broader economic arenas.

Governments and employers in each state would be weaker in capitalist world-market competition, and thus would be pushed towards crude cost-cutting, in the same way that small capitalist businesses, more fragile in competition, use cruder cost-cutting than the bigger employers.

There would be more slumps and depression, in the same way that the raising of economic barriers between states in the 1930s lengthened and deepened the slump then.

Nationalist and far-right forces, already the leaders of anti-EU political discourse everywhere, would be “vindicated” and boosted. Democracy would shrink, not expand. The economically-weaker states in Europe, cut off from the EU aid which has helped them narrow the gap a bit, would suffer worst, and probably some would fall to military dictatorships.

Before long the economic tensions between the different nations competing elbow-to-elbow in Europe’s narrow cockpit would lead to war, as they did repeatedly for centuries, culminating in the world wars of 1914 and 1939.

That’s why the left should fight, not to go backwards from the current bureaucratic, neo-liberal European Union, but forward, towards workers’ unity across Europe, a democratic United States of Europe, and a socialist United States of Europe. But the idiot-left, who advocated Brexit and privately look forward to the break-up of the EU, don’t see things that way. They are the useful idiots of Trump, Le Pen, Farage … and even that wretched little weasel Gove.

Permalink 5 Comments

Three arguments against free movement, and three responses

January 5, 2017 at 9:01 pm (Anti-Racism, AWL, Europe, immigration, internationalism, labour party, Migrants, nationalism, populism, posted by JD, reformism, Socialist Party, solidarity, unions, Unite the union, workers)

By Ira Berkovic (also published at the Workers Liberty website)

In the debate in the labour movement around “free movement”, which is in fact a debate about immigration, a number of arguments have been made by left-wing advocates of ending free movement – that is, leaving the EU on a basis which abolishes the rights of free movement to the UK that EU citizens currently have, and which UK citizens currently have to other EU states.

This article attempts to respond to some of those arguments, and present a positive case for defending and extending existing freedom of movement.

Argument One: “By ending free movement we can make Britain a giant closed shop”.

See: “Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit opportunity”, Clive Heemskerk, Socialism Today No. 201, September 2016.
“Standing in the way of control: thoughts on Labour post-Brexit”, Tom Muntzer, The Clarion, 28 November 2016
“Workers need safeguards and strong unions to make migration work”, Len McCluskey, LabourList, 5 November 2016

A closed shop is a workplace in which membership of the recognised union is a condition of employment. It is a gain which grows out of workplace organisation and strength, when a union is strong enough to impose it on the employer.

It was illegalised by Thatcher’s anti-union laws in 1990, and now exists only in a handful of places in a spectral form, where workers are able to establish a culture and a common sense in the workplace whereby choosing not to join the union is universally understood as a very bad idea.

So, what has any of that to do with the debate on immigration?

In what is simultaneously the most fantastical and, in some ways, the most offensively reactionary, “left-wing” argument against free movement, some have suggested that the existing free movement arrangements could be replaced by a form of immigration controls that legally compels bosses who wish to “hire abroad” to operate closed shops, so the foreign workers they recruit must be union members in order to get jobs, or be covered by collective bargaining agreements.

Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey puts it like this: “Any employer wishing to recruit labour abroad can only do so if they are either covered by a proper trade union agreement, or by sectoral collective bargaining.”

The implication is that if employers are legally forced to only hire union workers covered by collective bargaining agreements, there will be no financial incentive for them to hire cheaper, migrant labour.

The demand relies on two assumptions: one, that migrant labour necessarily has a depressing effect on the pay, terms, and conditions of domestic workers. And two, that employers deliberately and directly hire migrant workers in order to drive down their costs, because migrant workers will work for less.

But in a genuine closed shop, the enforcing body is the trade union. In this version, the British state will apparently become the enforcer. Quite how this is supposed to work in practise (whether, for example, it will involve uniformed border police checking people’s union cards at Calais and Heathrow) is not clear.

And why will the proposed law apply only to international migrants? Why will a Polish worker looking for work in London require a union card, but not an English worker from, say, Blackburn looking for work in London?

And why is it imagined that the existing labour movement, that has not been able to overturn the law banning closed shops in order to force employers to recognise them for domestic labour, will succeed in forcing employers to operate closed shops for migrant labour?

Some advocates of this policy on the revolutionary left justify the approach with reference to the First International, which did indeed set as part of its aim resistance to attempts by employers to “play off” workers from one country against those of another.

But two key differences with the contemporary situation are missed out. Firstly, the disputes to which the First International was responding were ones in which employers who faced strikes in Country A attempted to directly hire workers from Country B, in order to break the strike in Country A. Almost no migrant labour in Britain today is directly recruited abroad, and none of it on the conscious, explicit basis of doing the work of striking workers in Britain.

And secondly, the methods of the First International were solidaristic, linking workers’ organisations across borders to appeal directly to workers not to allow their labour be used to undermine the struggles of their brothers and sisters abroad. This approach has nothing in common with the hostile attitude to migrants and immigration implied by the policies of today’s anti-free-movement left.

There is a nationalist arrogance implied in this politics. The implication is that British workers are unionised, militant, and in an almost permanent state of struggle to defend their conditions – which is why bosses want to use migrant workers, who of course have no trade union consciousness and are little more than scabs, to undermine it.

The reality is quite different. As we know, strikes are at historically low levels and the labour movement has halved in size since its 1979 height. The picture of a militant and combative “native” labour movement having its struggles undermined by bosses shipping in migrant strikebreakers is simply false. In fact, some of the brightest spots in contemporary class struggle in Britain are migrant workers’ struggles, such as the organising by the Independent Workers’ union of Great Britain (IWGB) and United Voices of the World (UVW). As Jason Moyer-Lee of the IWGB puts it, these struggles mean migrant workers often leave their jobs “better than they found them”.

Overturning the law on closed shops, and reintroducing them as a feature of the industrial landscape in this country, is a worthy aspiration. But that will be achieved through organisation and struggle. To demand a state-enforced “closed shop” as a means of “solving” the largely illusory “problem” of migrant labour depressing wages for domestic workers is, at best, bizarre.

It either functions as a demand that migrant workers have adequate trade union consciousness before they move to Britain (again, why demand this of a Pole moving to Britain, but not a Geordie moving to London?), or is simply a dishonest obfuscation. Uneasy with straightforwardly expressing the political core of their demand – that immigration be reduced – the policy is wrapped up in “trade union” verbiage to make it appear like something other than what it is, a demand for boosting one group of workers at the expense of another, in this case on the basis of nationality and immigration status.

It is the very opposite of the politics of class unity and solidarity that the principle of the closed shop is supposed to express.

Argument Two: “We need fair immigration controls”.

See: “My cure for a divided Britain: a programme of managed immigration”, Stephen Kinnock, The Guardian, 19 September 2016

Versions of this argument are used by a range of people in the labour movement, from Blairite and soft-left MPs through to some on the far-left. Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 1 Comment

Jo Cox: victim of ‘Leave’ hate crime.

November 23, 2016 at 8:33 pm (assassination, crime, Europe, fascism, immigration, Jim D, Migrants, murder, populism, Racism, RIP, terror, UKIP)

Nigel Farage with the poster
Above: incitement to hatred

The individual who murdered Jo Cox a week before the EU referendum shouted “Britain First” and similar slogans as he snuffed out her life. In court, when asked his name he replied “Death to Traitors.” We now know that in the bag he carried during the attack there was a leaflet about the referendum (from the ‘Remain’ side, but quite obviously not because that’s the side he supported).

Jo Cox was, of course, a well-known ‘Remain’ campaigner and had also been outspoken in demanding that the UK did more for Syrian refugees. She was murdered on the very day that Farage unveiled his notorious ‘Breaking Point’ poster.

At the time of the slaughter, it was pretty obvious that the killer was a ultra nationalist, driven into action by the extreme nativist and anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Farage/Banks wing of the Leave campaign (which the likes of Johnson and Stuart were, of course, quite happy to go along with). But the Remain side pulled our punches on this – mainly, I suspect, because it felt distasteful to seem to be making political capital out of a human tragedy. Even Shiraz Socialist was hesitant about making the link in plain language. The likes of the SWP and Morning Star, usually quick off the mark in pointing out that politicians’ racist language (eg Cameron’s use of the word “swarm”) can have practical consequences in the streets, avoided pointing the finger – for the obvious reason that they found themselves on the same side as Farage, Johnson and Stuart, however different their motives may have been

But now it can be said – indeed, must be said: although the killer is a far from being a typical ‘Leave’ voter (he is a neo- Nazi and may well be mentally ill), he was undooubtably stirred into action when he was by the ‘Leave’ campaign. In the wise words of Alex Massie (one of the few journalists to make the link at the time, though he stopped short of holding Farage personally responsible):

When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn around and say, ‘Mate, you weren’t supposed to take it so seriously. It’s just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.’

When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks. When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don’t be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn’t make them do it, no, but you didn’t do much to stop it either.

Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen

Permalink 7 Comments

Why are you so upset?

November 19, 2016 at 12:19 am (democracy, Human rights, immigration, Islam, Migrants, posted by JD, Racism, Trump, United States)


Above: the author’s choice of music to accompany this article

This post is important; never mind that it first appeared at Harry’s Place:

This is a guest post by Yasmin Baruchi

“You’re not the type of Muslim or immigrant the Brexit Leave or Trump Campaign targeted so why are you so upset?!”

This was the question my partner asked me, struggling to grasp why I would sitting in tears at 4.00am on Wednesday 9th November 2016 as “Brexit plus plus plus” became a reality and Trump was elected.

In the eight years we have been together, we have never needed to have a conversation about identity despite being an interracial couple. However, in the last week, it has never been clearer how as a South Asian Muslim heritage woman my experience of the world vastly differs from that of a White middle class man, despite how aligned and compatible we are in so many other ways. As my pain, despair and hopelessness grows on a daily basis, he became increasingly resigned. “It will be ok, it’s not that bad, you are being dramatic, don’t be so emotional” he said in exasperation reflecting the chosen attitude of our government that we must accept this, we need to give Trump a chance and this could be an excellent opportunity for a UK-US trade deal post Brexit.

What erupted as a result was a series of the most raw, passionate, and painful conversations we have ever had but also the most valuable. It allowed him to understand what few can unless they have experienced being part of a demonised minority and led me to overcome some anger and gain insight into why so many people are so resigned, even willing to accept what has happened and just get on with it.

I know people voted for Brexit as they did for Trump for a whole array of reasons, some complex and some simple. I still feel confident in saying that most did not vote for racist or xenophobic reasons. But the fact is that the extreme language, rhetoric and narrative employed by both campaigns was not enough to turn people away, that it was still acceptable, excusable or ignorable. If this same rhetoric was deployed against people we all personally cared about or we held in equal regard to ourselves, we would never have accepted it, no matter what great promises were on offer to compensate. It would have been condemned and rejected. And this has been at the root of my despair. When people are willing to accept these things being said about you at the very highest level in society, it devalues you as a human being and leaves you questioning your place in society.

“But that stuff wasn’t aimed at someone like you! People we know clearly identify you more as British as opposed to the immigrants in Farage’s poster or a Muslim” were my partner’s (failed) attempt to comfort me that I am wrong to question my sense of belonging. Besides the fact that as a society, we should never accept such scaremongering and scapegoating of an entire group of people simply based on their race or religion, no matter how unrelateable they are, I went on to explain why this is simply not enough.

Everything observable about how I act, speak, dress, and behave is what you would consider British. It’s how I have always identified. Yes, I am brown and obviously so but I am everything a “good immigrant” should be- integrated, educated, employed, not on benefits and I pay taxes. But that is not all I am. When my loving partner, friends, his wonderful family and even some of my own family look at the “breaking point” poster immigrants, or read the “Daily Mail” caricatures of “bad immigrants” and criminal refugees, they don’t see anything connected to them, and they certainly don’t see me.

But I’m reminded of my own history that makes up my identity and sense of self. Family members expelled from Burma with only the clothes on their backs, my grandfather who arrived in the UK, looking very much like those demonised, dehumanised young man in present-day tabloids, not knowing a word of English, wearing a karakul hat, and three pounds in his pocket. I’m reminded of my own father and uncles, similarly to an extent “good immigrants” if you ignore their choice of clothes on Friday that make them identifiable as Muslims- which due to blanket demonisation we know is not a desirable thing in the UK. They arrived, again not a word of English, their childhood interrupted to live in a country that was simultaneously welcoming and hostile to them in the 60’s and 70’s.

When I hear the rhetoric on Muslims and how it goes unchallenged, I think of my mother in her hijab and salwar kameez, her unconfident accented English and know full well that because we have let it get this far, there may be a thug on the street who could feel that she is a justified target of abuse. I asked my partner to consider how he would feel if the dress, and appearance of his own mother had been villifed to the extent that some individual could hurt her and the mainstream reaction was to rationalise it as a result of White extremism and carry on.

As we become immune and blind to the harm we are allowing to continue because it’s only directed to those that we feel we cannot relate to, it grows and it spreads. A case in point, is Steve Bannon’s comments in the US that there are too many Asian CEO’s in Silicon Valley. Suddenly the focus is no longer limited to what we have accepted to be dirty, poor, criminal, leeching immigrants, but “good immigrants”- the ones who are educated, talented, contributing to the economy, and why? Because they share characteristics in common with “bad immigrants”- their skin tone, their country of origin, the fact they are foreigners etc etc. How can this fail to alarm someone like me?

For those who perceive any of this as me making some sort of “bleeding heart” case for uncontrolled immigration, I want to be clear, this is not about immigration policy, or a denial of the issues that have arisen from immigration. This is about how we talk about human beings and the consequences of the language we gave a green light to by ignoring and not challenging. Not for a moment do I think everyone who voted for Brexit or Trump are bad, racist or xenophobic. Good, kind people were able to give their vote to a toxic divisive campaign because we’ve had a constant trickle of dehumanisation of certain groups of people that has not been challenged effectively and normalised.

What this normalisation has resulted in is a real panic in even people like me- who as a liberal secular, nominal Muslim has never before felt insecure or uncertain in her British identity. I now feel like my worth is not the same as my partner. Boris Johnson’s appeal for us to quit the “whingeorama”, the focus on how we can make Trump’s election a good thing for Britain’s economy, Theresa May just a week after Trump’s election, saying the “it is up to the United States what rules they put into place, in terms of entry across their borders, but we will be ensuring that “special relationship” continues…” without any comment or condemnation about Trump’s language on Muslims let alone the proposed Muslim ban itself has left me feeling hopeless. One wonders if May would be so pragmatic and willing to maintain the UK-US “special relationship” if Trump had spoken about a group she identifies with in the same way. It is difficult to draw a conclusion other than that to our government, some of us are worth standing up for more than others. How does this not devalue British Muslims- even the most secular, integrated, Muslims like myself.

And moving this away from myself and to the big picture, in this silence, this pragmatism, “business as usual” attitude we are pushing, things will get worse. For those that fear Islamist extremism, and for those like myself that counter and fight it, our work has become so much harder. The sense of isolation and alienation that is resulting amongst Muslims by turning a blind eye can easily be manipulated and turned in to anger, antipathy and violence. The victimhood complex Islamists have been peddling in our communities can now be presented as justified more and more by the day – they will say they warned Muslims that the “West” doesn’t truly care about us.

When will we start proving them wrong?

Permalink 8 Comments

The Calais Sessions

August 27, 2016 at 9:41 am (immigration, internationalism, Migrants, music, posted by JD)

.

“I am happy, like a myna/Life in a caravan, thinking about my friends/Let’s go to the garden,” go the upbeat lyrics from “Khandahar,” a poem first written in English and then translated to Farsi by two Afghan sisters, ages 9 and 12, who were living in a trailer in the migrant and refugee camp in Calais, known as the Jungle.

“Khandahar” is one of 13 tracks on “The Calais Sessions,” a benefit album recorded in the camp involving about 20 refugees and visiting professional musicians. The music ranges from Middle Eastern-inflected pop to Iraqi rap to tunes from the Balkans and Spain. Some pieces are love songs. One mourns the death of a Syrian brother. Others are joyful instrumentals set against a backbeat of traditional percussion.

Permalink 4 Comments