Britain:The bitter fruit of Brexit
The first of the reactionary consequences of Brexit is the major boost it has given to racist attacks on people perceived to be migrants. The effect was immediate. In the first four days following the 24 June announcement, True Vision, a police-funded website, reported a 57 per cent increase in reported hate incidents, month on month.
Passers-by believed to be immigrants were shouted at and even physically abused on public transport and in the street, often in broad daylight and in front of large numbers of people.
Polish cultural centres and shops were vandalised and “No More Polish Vermin” signs put up outside schools in Huntingdon. Women wearing Islamic dress reported increased abuse, along the lines of, “You’ve all got to get out now ” and, “We’re taking back our own country”.
The most savage took place in Harlow, Essex on 27 August. A group of young teenagers assaulted two men overheard speaking Polish. One, local factory worker 40-year-old Arkadiusz Jozwik, died from head injuries two days after the beating. The victim’s brother told the press, “The young teenagers are so aggressive. After the Brexit vote it has got worse – I have seen people change – it is hard at the moment”.
Of course, it would be wrong to suggest the racist perpetrators of such attacks are more than a tiny fraction of the population or that those who voted “Leave” condone this sort of repulsive response. It may well turn out to be far right or fascist groups that are responsible for many of these actions.
But there can be no doubt about those who have incited the attitudes which led to violence. This phenomenon has been chronic for decades. Once it was those fleeing the Balkan wars in the 1990s. Today, it is Syrian refugees and Polish builders.
The demonisation of European migrants and Middle Eastern refugees by the bulk of the tabloid press, particularly the Mail, The Express and the Sun, has fuelled hatred and fear in a wide spectrum of the population. During the referendum campaign, these papers went into overdrive. “300,000 migrants prove we cannot control our own borders”, “The great migrant con”, “How to be a Pole on the dole”, “One in five Britons will be ethnics” were just a few of their headlines.
Nigel Farage hammered home the message with his billboard of Syrian refugees with the message “Breaking point – we must break free of the EU and take back control of our borders”.
The “argument” they spread was that it was migration – due both to EU “free movement of labour” and EU members like Germany (temporarily) opening their frontiers to Syrian and other refugees – that was responsible for putting intolerable and unsustainable pressure on the NHS, schools and housing.
No matter that EU migrants are greater net contributors to taxes and national insurance than British citizens; that failure of real wages to keep up with the cost of living had more to do with wages so low you have to claim benefits on top; or that the numbers of migrants quoted by press and politicians was vastly in excess of the real number.
Their argument drew strength from the fact that there certainly is a chronic housing shortage, the NHS is in a bad way, and zero hours jobs have replaced well paid industrial jobs. Regions like Wales (which voted for Brexit) have received large EU regional investment, but not enough to offset the neglect of Labour and Tory governments.
That parts of the working class blamed the EU and voted heavily for Brexit is proof that it is possible to deflect blame if there is not a deeply rooted force in these communities fighting these arguments. It is no accident that the Welsh Labour leaders are anti-Corbyn.
The fight against the spread of anti-EU and migrant hatreds is, therefore, not just a matter of mounting antiracist propaganda or holding marches wherever fascists try to foment attacks, important as these are.
Under Jeremy Corbyn, we have the opportunity to mobilise the growing Labour Party and the trade unions on a truly mass scale, to take our message into the communities, onto the doorsteps. We can use canvasing not just to count up potential voters and pass on quickly when we encounter prejudices, or pander to them as Blue Labour does. In so-called Labour heartlands, where voters are attracted by the UKIP and tabloid message, we have to combat the lies, face to face.
This will not be fully effective unless our message is that Labour will fight to end the conditions caused by workplace closures, government and council cuts. That will mean not simply fighting for these communities at Westminster or in the Town Halls, but with them, on the streets.
In the end, it is only by activity, becoming the agents of our own liberation, that we will explode the false consciousness of racism. Once Labour and the trade unions really get moving, and actually become a social movement to end austerity, to create jobs and housing, then the phobias spread by the media and Brexit will begin to disappear.
Labour must also intervene in the Brexit process itself. The Tories are floundering, divided on what it means. Our party must fight every Tory attempt to cut our social, workplace and human rights, plus every measure directed at EU citizens resident here. We must expose the disastrous effects of severing ties with Europe and put the blame on Britain’s bosses.
Just as raising the tempo of the class struggle against austerity at home will combat racism, so we have to play our part in combating it with the same methods across Europe. Racism is on the rise across the continent, with parties like the National Front in France and the Alternative for Germany rising in the polls and winning elections.
During the referendum, Jeremy Corbyn spoke of, “working together with our European socialist allies, offering the best chance of meeting the challenges we face in the 21st century”. Labour should take the lead now in calling for a conference of all parties of the left and the unions that are opposed to austerity and racism, from across Europe. It should plan coordinated action, both in opposition and in government.
If we fight in this way we can halt the break up of the EU into economically warring states, each infested with national chauvinism. We can win a powerful popular majority for junking the Brexit disaster and taking up the struggle for a socialist Europe with borders open to those seeking work and asylum in the richest continent on the planet.