First steps in Rochdale
Supporters of the CPGB and the Socialist Workers Party held a useful meeting in Rochdale on June 20 with the theme, 'Defend asylum-seekers'. This gave an opportunity both to debate the issues of racism, national chauvinism and migration and to plan joint activity. It was a first step towards building a Socialist Alliance in Rochdale and in exploring the potential for the town to become one of the seats to be fought by a united left in the next general election.
Peter Grant had been invited by the SWP to address the meeting, in his capacity as chair of Manchester Piccadilly Aslef, the rail union. The comrade nevertheless stated his intention to be controversial.
His starting point was to challenge the almost universal insistence on the left that the migration and asylum issue was one of race and racism. He remarked upon the undeniable phenomenon that a very high proportion of those workers being demonised by the state as 'bogus' asylum-seekers are Europeans - those seeking refuge from the poverty and chaos which has ensued from the collapse of the former bureaucratic socialist states of Eastern Europe.
The issues here are not ones of race and racism, but of national chauvinism, and of the exclusion by capital of unskilled labour. We should deny the ruling class the opportunity to mark out 'bogus' asylum-seekers by refusing to differentiate between economic migrants and those fleeing political persecution. Our demand should be for freedom of movement for workers, anywhere in the world: "I have no nation. Proletarian internationalism is the basis of my anti-racism and anti-chauvinism," the comrade explained.
Comrade Grant ended by proposing that we work to establish a Socialist Alliance in Rochdale. He referred to the success of the London Socialist Alliance as an example of what can be achieved when revolutionaries combine democratic debate and organisational forms with joint activity.
Whilst many of the SWP comrades expressed their wholehearted agreement with comrade Grant's internationalism, some felt that taking such a principled line in public would turn away potential supporters. These comrades felt that we should concentrate on arguments which take on the immediacy of the prejudices being fuelled by New Labour and Tory politicians and the press. For instance we should point out that, in every year since World War II, more people have left Britain than entered, and that Britain actually now requires migrants in order to build a sufficient tax base for funding the pensions of the elderly. The comrades proposed targeting the voucher system, whereby asylum-seekers are denied cash benefits and subjected to inhumane and exploitative treatment by the supermarkets which process the vouchers.
A wide-ranging discussion ensued, although the SWP chair of the meeting did repeatedly advise comrades that we should focus not so much on political debate as on the planning of activities. As to a Rochdale Socialist Alliance, the same comrade agreed that this was a good idea, but suggested that we should first await the outcome of "discussions that are taking place with the Greater Manchester Socialist Alliance". All were agreed however that further efforts must be taken to promote left unity in Rochdale. An SWP comrade issued an open invitation to comrade Grant to attend the SWP's weekly branch meetings to this end.
As an initial local activity, a protest picket has been organised at the Tesco superstore in Rochdale town centre, where vouchers are processed, from 5.30 pm on Friday June 30.John Pearson