Claire Laker-Mansfield, Socialist Alternative — ISA in England, Wales & Scotland
27 migrants including pregnant women and children drowned when their boat sank as they tried to cross the English Channel / la Manche in an attempt to gain asylum in Britain.
This was mass murder. The horrific tragedy that unfolded on 24 November was predictable and predicted. Right-wing governments on both sides of the English Channel now point fingers at one another and play the blame game. They have even sickeningly tried to leverage the issue amid the growing tensions between Britain, France and the capitalist EU. But the truth is they are all guilty. Their whole system is guilty.
This horrific event was the inevitable result of inhuman capitalist immigration policies, of war and imperialism, of poverty and climate catastrophe. People traffickers thrive on desperation. And the capitalist system creates desperation in abundance. Meanwhile, the lives of men, women and children are treated as disposable.
The policies currently being implemented by the Johnson government mirror those that the capitalist EU has already applied. They have turned the Mediterranean Sea into a mass grave. Now the English Channel is one too. But far from pulling back from this deadly approach, the Tories’ new Borders and Nationality bill threatens to heap misery upon misery. It includes the threat to create a two tier system based on whether a refugee arrived ‘legally’. Also among the measures being discussed is one which would remove the legal responsibility to offer help to those drowning. This is the grotesque barbarism that made for right-populist talking points in the days running up to this horror.
Divide and rule
Racist divide and rule politics is a standard part of the Tory playbook. But it is also grimly pathetic that Labour under Starmer’s leadership has spent the last week trying to ‘out-tough’ the Tories on the issue. Fresh crackdowns on the rights of refugees in the UK will be music to the ears of people traffickers — adding to the fear and desperation that they thrive on. And while there will be hand-wringing and sombre words in the wake of these deaths — no real alternative to cruel xenophobic policies is currently being put forward by any of the mainstream capitalist parties.
To prevent this tragedy from being repeated, it’s up to working-class and young people to fight back. We must stand in solidarity with refugees and migrants, helping to build a mass movement that will demand justice. As an immediate step, we must fight for safe and legal crossing routes for refugees, democratically overseen by workers, trade unions and refugees’ organisations, to ease the humanitarian crisis and stop the drowning.
How can refugees be made truly welcome in a country like Britain? For a start, we must organise to shut down all detention centres. We must fight to stop deportations which destroy families and cost lives. We must demand the right to work for asylum seekers, and a minimum wage of £15-an hour for all. Only with full employment rights and fighting trade unions will it be possible to stop employers from super-exploiting migrants and dividing workers. At the same time, we must develop the struggle for mass council house building to provide high-quality, genuinely affordable homes for all. And we must fight to build a movement that unites working-class people of all backgrounds to demand a socialist society — one that’s run in the interests of the majority, not the tiny, super-rich few.
The socialist movement at its best stands against all forms of oppression. We recognise that a working-class person born and raised in Britain will always have far more in common in terms of shared interests with one born on the other side of the world than with the boss who exploits us both. And what’s more, we understand that it’s only by fighting to unite working-class people, both within a country and internationally, that the huge potential economic power of workers taking collective action can be realised. That means the socialist and workers’ movement must, by necessity, be anti-racist. It must stand for refugee rights. And faced with the horrors of the cruel and exploitative capitalist system, it must boldly pose the need for a socialist alternative, based on public ownership and democratic workers’ control of the economy’s commanding heights. Join us to help build the fight for a socialist world.