Monday, 29 December 2014

Labour's Immigration Policy Is A Mess - Part 3

The history of the Aliens Bill, discussed in Part 1, is significant for another reason. The argument is often put that the problem of racist and other bigoted ideas can be addressed by dealing with the underlying causes of fear amongst workers that leads them to accept those ideas as solutions to their problems. Its undoubtedly true that policies that deal with those underlying causes of fear is a necessary part of that struggle. But, its facile, and to have a totally unrealistic conception of the working-class, and more particularly of its more backward segments, to think that this is in any way sufficient.

Although, 1905 coincided with a period of higher than usual unemployment, itself a sign of Britain's flagging economic power in the world, as new economies like the US, Germany and Japan were beginning to rise, it came in a period of long wave economic boom. From the early 1890's, up to 1914, there was a powerful global expansion, which itself was the material basis for the development of strong labour movements, the growth of trades unions, and the establishment of huge workers parties, of which the Labour Party was only one.

The same is true of the 1950's and 60's. A similar long wave boom ran from 1949 to 1974. It saw the growth of strong trades union movements in the 1950's and 60's, including the growth of powerful rank and file movements, like the Shop Stewards movement in Britain. It saw that translated into a renewing of the workers political organisations, which had been decimated during the 1930's and 40's.

In Britain, the economic growth was such that labour shortages meant that not only did capital seek to bring married women into the workforce, but the Tory Governments of the time sent out to the Caribbean and other parts of the Empire to encourage immigration to Britain. It was a time when huge amounts of money was being spent on developing the NHS and Welfare State, when large quantities of council houses were being built, and when vast swathes of Victorian slum housing was being cleared and replaced by modern houses, and flats. That is not to say that any of this was adequate, there were still large numbers living in poor conditions, and the top down statist methods used to carry out all of this modernisation was bureaucratic, but unlike today, it could hardly be said that there was not large scale public investment taking place.

Yet, despite all of that, there was no shortage of racist and bigoted views across all sections of society, including the working-class. Nor was it just the backward, unorganised sections of workers where that was the case. It was, for example, some of the most militant workers, the London dockers, who marched in support of Enoch Powell.

On 23rd April 1968, 1,000 London dockers went on strike in protest at Powell's sacking, by Ted Heath, over Powell's infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech. The dockers marched from the East End to Parliament, with placards saying "Don't knock Enoch" and "Back Britain, not Black Britain". To their credit Labour MP's Peter Shore and Ian Mikardo, who represented London seats where many of these dockers came from, stood up to the reactionary sentiments.

Mikardo's own parents were Jewish emigrants escaping Tsarist anti-semitisim. Shore and Mikardo were shouted down and some dockers kicked Mikardo. The organiser of the strike, Harry Pearman, headed a delegation to meet Powell and said after: "I have just met Enoch Powell and it made me feel proud to be an Englishman. He told me that he felt that if this matter was swept under the rug he would lift the rug and do the same again. We are representatives of the working man. We are not racialists."

The same kind of approach is taken today by UKIP. In January, Nigel Farage stated that 'the basic principle' of the speech was 'right'. (Quoted in Daily Telegraph 7th January 2014). We have the former Tory MP, and now UKIP MP, Mark Reckless, mirroring the kind of sentiments previously espoused by the National Front in relation to deportation. In a speech in the by-election campaign, Reckless proposed that EU citizens living in Britain would be asked to leave by a UKIP government, if Britain left the EU. We then have the surreal picture of Reckless and Farage, as former bankers and stock market traders, right-wing Tories, putting themselves forward as defenders of the interests of ordinary working people! 

On 24 April 1968, 600 dockers at St Katharine's Docks voted to strike and numerous smaller factories across the country followed; 600 Smithfield meat porters struck and marched to Parliament where they handed Powell a 92-page petition supporting him. By 27 April, 4,500 dockers were on strike.

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