The worst of both worlds
Saturday 20th August 2016
HARSEV BAINS writes on the contradictions between the European Union’s promises for immigrant workers’ rights and their reality
AS PART of the general election campaign in October 1974, the Labour Party promised a referendum to decide whether Britain should remain in the European Economic Community (EEC) or quit. In 1975, 67 per cent of voters favoured staying in the EEC.
The Indian Workers’ Association (Great Britain) — IWA(GB) — was among the 33 per cent opposed to continuing membership in that first referendum 40 years ago.
The Wilson government’s recommendation to remain and subsequent treaties promised much in terms of works councils and an increase in workers’ participation in the affairs of industry.
Instead, what we had was increased bureaucracy, the destruction of manufacturing, the migration of finance to cheaper labour markets in Europe and a disconnected system of overpaid non-accountable European MEPs and bureaucrats.
With the passage of time, following the setbacks in eastern Europe, the EU became the world’s largest trading group, with monetary and political agreements that benefit the movement of finance.
The EU has continued to pursue its neoliberal economic agenda with secret trade deals being negotiated, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and that between the EU and India, to exploit developing countries still further.
In response, the IWA(GB) has been stepping up its campaigning alongside other left and progressive forces against the neoliberal agenda of globalisation and associated austerity.
The total undermining of sovereignty and of the democratic right of elected member-state governments to implement pro-people alternative policies provided the backdrop to this May’s referendum called by an over-confident Tory government out of touch with the people.
Over the preceding period, alarmed by the increase in Ukip votes, the Tories had chosen — with the support of prominent Blairites — to continue attacking levels of immigration and asylum.
Instead of exposing the racist policies of Ukip, they proposed yet more discriminatory laws such as the 2016 Immigration Act.
Further restrictions were placed on non-EU citizens wishing to enter Britain and study, work or settle here.
David Cameron’s EU renegotiations in February 2016, aimed at creating the conditions for a “Remain” victory in the referendum campaign, were a contemptible demonstration of this racist, xenophobic strategy.
The proposals for imposing a work qualification period of up to four years for in-work benefits for migrants from Europe resonated with migrant workers in Britain as a very real threat.
The racial profiling used in the London mayoral elections further exposed the desperation of the Tory Party.
When the IWA(GB) carefully examined the results of 43 years of EU membership, it became clear that there has been a growing contradiction between the promises of frequent renegotiations in the interests of working people and the actual delivery.
The expected paradigm of a Europe with free movement for people permanently settled in Britain, including those who have a non-EU passport, has been denied.
People from India, for example, still require one Schengen visa for Europe and a separate one for Britain.
Within the EU, Asian communities have experienced the worst of all worlds as result of Britain’s alignment with the EU’s “Fortress Europe” approach.
As part of Lexit — the left’s campaign for leaving the EU — representatives of the IWA(GB) received invitations to speak from Sikh temples and other institutions not normally associated with it.
We shared our experience of campaigning and lobbying MPs and peers against the legalised framework of discrimination and racist xenophobia in Britain. This has resulted in:
The withdrawal of visa bonds that would have required a deposit of £3,000 per person.
The reduction, following the EU exit vote, of the English language test requirements for non-EU nurses, mainly from India and the Philippines, who had to demonstrate a command of English above that required by universities for PhD study.
The establishment of a home affairs select committee inquiry into the scandalous use of an orchestrated media sting operation to stigmatise and deport 48,000 university students. They had been accused — without a shred of evidence — by the then home secretary Theresa May of obtaining study visas through a fraudulent process for English language testing.
The Indian Workers’ Association (Great Britain) continues to lobby against the discriminatory, unethical immigration legislation applicable to non-EU residents that divides poor families and denies them the basic human right to live together in Britain.
This fundamental right is being means-tested by the Home Office on the basis of a minimum income threshold set 50 per cent above the national minimum wage. As a broad mass organisation, the IWA(GB) put its faith in the people to make an informed choice on May 23.
Initial statistics reveal that 33 per cent of people of Asian background and specifically 52 per cent of Sikhs voted to leave the EU.
Together with our allies in Lexit, we are not against the people of Europe or people in any other part of the world.
We want to be friends and trading partners with all peoples of the world, whatever their race, religion or nationality.
As Prakash Karat, former general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) noted in the editorial of People’s Democracy on June 29, while commenting on the post-referendum shenanigans in the Labour Party:
“What was required at this juncture was the advancement of the left agenda set by Jeremy Corbyn with a programme which consists of re-nationalising the railways and exercising social control over key sectors of the economy — an agenda which brings back the priorities of the people and not of finance capital.
“The struggle against racism and xenophobia of the far-right can only be countered by putting forward such a left programme and mobilising people around it.
“What has to be underlined is that the struggle for an alternative agenda can be advanced now that the EU shackles have been removed.”