Debate and Discussion: Santising Deportations

Submitted by AWL on 12 September, 2005 - 12:07

I fully support the Socialist Caucus within the PCS in its fight over job losses. However there is one area of PCS membership where I’d fully support job losses. This is among that major sector which works for the immigration service.

The PCS has its own Immigration Staff Branch which is divided into regional constituencies and which, according to its web site, “represents all grades in the Immigration Service, up to and including Assistant Director”. [The PCS is a minority union in the Immigration Service -editor]. It is problematic and arguable as to whether the labour movement should be welcoming into its ranks those whose role is to enforce a regime which is inherently racist and repressive.

Working for the immigration service is not an “ordinary” occupation.

It is an occupation that those on the receiving end would like to see destroyed and closed down. There could in fact emerge (and may well have emerged) a situation where one PCS member in the Immigration Staff Branch is obliged to deport another PCS member. This is obviously not a viable situation.

The only conceivable progressive reason for unionisation is to challenge and undermine controls from within — and given the number of people involved in internal welfare controls whose involvement forms only part of their job who are members of other unions then this would seem the most appropriate way forward. However it is not a way forward yet recognized by any union. It is one which will have to be fought for politically.

The PCS Immigration Staff Branch does not view its main, or any purpose, as representing a challenge to controls. Its main concerns are the everyday conditions of its members In expressing these concerns the PCS inevitably legitimises the politically illegitimate.

So in its written evidence to the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee report on Asylum Removals it expresses “discontent with the system for removing failed asylum seekers” — but it does this not from the perspective of the refugee but “on the basis of improving the working conditions of members of the union”. It offers no principled objection to controls or their implementation — rather it criticises the IND’s “business plan” and “the setting of unrealistic targets”. By “unrealistic targets” it is referring to the forced and potentially violent removal of human-beings. This is the banality of language, the sanitisation of the unsanitisable, thriving within the labour movement.

The PCS normalises immigration control by regarding workers within the immigration service as “ordinary” employees undertaking “ordinary” employment. This is made clear in the November 2003 edition of the union journal.

Here the General Secretary, whilst condemning “prejudice” against asylum seekers, compliments union members in the immigration service as undertaking a “professional job” to which the PCS “has given and will continue to give 100% support”. In the same issue, various workers within the service discuss their job. One, an enforcement officer, refers to it as “worthwhile” and himself as “compassionate”.

The journal then gives a typical example of his work:

“Its 6.15am and on a nondescript south London street the fleet of unmarked vans could belong to any number of early risers, builders perhaps or council workers. The Immigration Services arrest team don’t announce their arrival, relying instead on undercover intelligence and the element of surprise”.

This elevates (or reduces) the vocabulary of worthwhile and compassionate to doublethink. Can I suggest that the Socialist Caucus within the PCS starts to challenge the vocabulary and politics of immigration control — and begins to deal with the issue of the unionisation of workers whose role is to deport, detain and demoralise other workers. How can you reconcile supporting on the one hand those fighting deportation and on the other hand supporting those implementing the deportation?

From Steve Cohen (No One Is Illegal)

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