Since the end of February when the government introduced new penalties for bosses who hire “illegal workers” the number of raids on workplaces has increased drastically — twice as many in the last few months as during the whole of the 1990s. Fines totaling £500,000 have been issued. 63,140 people, asylum seekers and undocumented workers, were removed from the UK last year. That is still not enough for the Liberal Democrats and the Tories who continue to urge on the rabid dogs who run the Immigration Department.
The ruthless persecution of migrant workers from outside Europe is in part largely for the benefit of the media. The BBC were recently invited to watch 56, mainly Asian, workers lined up against the wall in a chicken processing factory in Derbyshire by 60 Border Agency officers backed by the police. Meanwhile, there are fears of fruit rotting in the fields this summer because Polish workers are leaving in droves, the result of a UK currency dip.
On 24 April there was a raid on the Latin American community working at the Elephant and Castle. A prominent London Citizens activist was deported as a result.
A few days later, a food processing factory in west London with mainly Sri Lankan and Indian workers was raided at 6am by 80 officers. 22 workers were detained, three assigned for immediate removal. When in the past workers lost fingers at the factory in the machinery and the bosses refused to call an ambulance, where were the authorities then issuing fines?
The GMB union has been organising workers at this particular factory for a few years, but the union, like many other unions, has yet to develop a strategy to defend undocumented workers.
These attacks on migrant workers need to be resisted both politically and industrially. Trade unions urgently need to develop strategies to resist a regime of checks, raids and deportation. Equally, all socialist organisations (not just some) need to wake up to the struggles of migrant workers, help organise effective solidarity and argue politically for open borders.
The Campaign Against Immigration controls activists will be organising with workers involved in these raids to step up the pace of this work.
• See: www.29thmarch.org.uk
It is indeed shocking how little profile this is getting on the left and how low a profile this is getting in the trade union movement.
Thius perhaps reflects how divided and weak the working class movement is- however, if a fightback can be built perhaps involving settled workers with secure immigration status and lightning strikes as well as community mobilisation then we do have the potential to do something on this.