I really learnt things today in conversations with European migrants whilst talking politics. Two with Labour comrades and friends, the other with an elector met on our Labour Party’s stall.
I say ‘met’ with the elector. It was mainly me pursuing her to be honest. I just had to give an answer to her initial quite angry comment as she passed our stall. She said ‘I could never vote Labour again after what Corbyn did with Article 50’. She was a very intelligent and political European, but with British citizenship and strong connections with other EU migrants in the area.
After I almost chased her down the street, we managed to have a very useful debate. Me – agreeing with her in part. I too was against Corbyn’s line on Article 50. It sent the wrong message, especially to people like her. It indicated that Labour would unconditionally accept a Tory Brexit.
But I pointed out to her Labour had made a manifesto pledge to protect EU migrants currently here. I also pointed out that there were those in the Party still fighting for free movement. For the future of families wanting to be reunited; for those who wanted to expand their horizons and opportunities; and in a growingly divided Europe to encourage an internationalist identity against growing and mutually hostile national ones.
I tried to explain to her the pressures that Corbyn was responding to. From the right of the Party as well as, unfortunately, the left. Those who believed, rightly, that we had to seriously engage with most working class Brexitters. But after the UKIP and BREXIT shock, they had been panicked into believing that concessions had to be made to nationalist beliefs e.g. that ‘British people had to be looked after first’. As if one human life was worth more than another.
My newly-made European friend told me about the racism that she and friends were suffering from. Her and her friends refraining from phoning home and using their own language from fear of the hostility they encountered from people around them. She told me of the distress of her friends from elsewhere who were now facing abrupt demands to leave the country – I don’t think these were citizens of an EU state but just outside. She was obvious concerns that all possible government parties might allow that to continue.
I listened, I learnt but I think I managed to persuade her that a vote for Labour was the best way for her and her friends future.
I then went to meet a friend and comrade from the Czech Republic. The story he told me was fascinating. Working in a local factory. Trying to get his union, affiliated to the Labour Party, to campaign for Remain in the referendum – just by putting a poster up in the notice board. That was refused.
Then he told me about the change of atmosphere in the factory after the referendum. People openly implying around him that those like him were soon ‘going’. Some looking at him with hostile eyes. I imagine/ hope these were just a minority of racists – but they feel that they are in the ascendancy. He certainly felt they were widespread.
He has been here FOR OVER TEN YEARS!
In the pub, my Czech comrade and my Portuguese friend, here for about 20 years, spoke about their forthcoming battle to try and get British citizenship. The £1,000 fee – ‘the test’.
In the test now they have to know all the dates – the date of the Magna Carta, the siege of this the battle of that. If they fail, they lose the money and possibly the right to stay here.
We obviously need to politically relate to those politically disengaged working class Brexitters. We need to explain to them the importance of working class unity of all nationalities. But don’t let us forget our responsibility to confront the growing xenophobia and stand by our European sisters and brothers.
We may and should have BME officers and campaigns. But xenophobia is wider and we are not yet organised well to defeat it.
Unite’s campaign at SportsDirect and others such as the 3 COSAS of largely migrant workers in London are indicators of what should be done. But as well we urgently need a political campaign for migrant rights.
Let’s make this election campaign the starting point.