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Abolish immigration controls - citizenship for all

31 March 2006 saw around a hundred trade unionists, anti-deportation campaigners and left wing activists come together in Liverpool to discuss how to organise migrant workers and challenge the host of racist immigration controls faced by workers coming into the country. The agenda was a broad one, covering everything from European anti-trafficking legislation, to the struggle of organised migrant cleaners, to local ongoing campaigns, such as the defence of the Sukula family in Bolton.

The day began with us joining a demonstration of around thirty local youth, in support of a fellow student whose family had recently been arrested and was pending deportation. If it were needed, there could be no better reminder of the reality of racist immigration controls and the importance of solidarity in workplaces, schools, colleges and universities.

Having rallied near the venue of the conference, we marched down the road chanting "No borders, no nations, stop the deportations!" before starting the meeting. The agenda was a busy one, covering a number of areas of work and discussion. Events opened with an introduction to the Justice for Cleaners campaign by TGWU organiser, Javier Ruiz. Javier gave us some background to the campaign and its importance in not only fighting for better pay and conditions for migrant workers, but in presenting a direct challenge to immigration controls.

One particularly interesting segment of the conference turned to the "anti-trafficking" legislation being introduced across the European Union under the fairly transparent "humanitarian" guise of "protecting women". Camille Paglia of the International Union of Sex Workers highlighted the need for international workers' self-organisation (particularly in an industry with as many potential dangers as the sex industry) both to combat unsafe conditions and to seize control from the gang masters responsible for trafficking. The legislation would simply create a licencing system for these gang masters, turning them into agents of government, rather than giving workers the freedom to move and protect their rights.

7th May - a day for migrants
Emphasised throughout the day was a national day of action against immigration controls and in support of migrant workers, planned for 7th May and being carried out through several local demonstrations around the country.

In London, however, the main organisers of the demo are the Catholic-inspired London Citizens, who are not campaigning for citizenship for all. Instead, their Strangers into Citizens initiative proposes that "irregular migrants who have lived and worked in the UK for four or more years be granted a two-year work permit. At the end of those two years, subject to employer and character references, they should be given leave to remain." They defend border controls and attack amnesties that are "too generous". They want to make an exception for "hard-working, honest and conscientious, who pay taxes and contribute to society, and who have put down roots in the UK".

This is rubbish. Why should employers, who super-exploit migrants without papers, have any say in their status? To impose a time criterion and simply demand an amnesty for those already here is to abandon new and recently arrived migrants to the netherworld of illegality and vulnerability. Nonsense about "contributing to society" and "putting down roots" is a concession to Gordon Brown's "Britishness" campaign. In practice it means migrants must not become politically active or protest against British imperialism's foreign policy.

That's why Workers Power supporters and the 7th October coalition of antiracist and migrant organisations will not be marching with Union Jacks, as London Citizens would like us to, on 7th May. Instead, we are making a big banner with the slogan "Abolish all immigration controls".

Next steps
All in all, the conference was very positive. Following the SWP's attempts to rid any mention of the slogan "No borders" or "No to immigration controls" at the Section 9 conference last year, it was refreshing to see all participants wholeheartedly supporting the position that immigration controls of any form are inherently racist, and being prepared to publicly voice this position.

On the other hand, without a central body to bring together all interested parties and organise campaigning, this positive start will be unable to develop itself to the level necessary for waging the sort of relentless national campaign that is needed against immigration controls. This must be a priority for the campaign in the near future, as must be the forging of links with other sections of the workers movement, in particular the TGWU, GMB and Amicus, which have recently started to organise migrant workers.

Our inspiration and aim must be the USA's "A day without migrants", which last year mobilised millions to take strike action to demand citizenship rights. With between 500,000 and two million unregistered migrant workers in Britain, such a strike, backed up by action from all workers, would have a tremendous and progressive impact - not only on the status of the workers concerned, but on the trade unions themselves.

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