Greater Manchester

Seizing leadership

Unsurprisingly, the two main bourgeois parties, having strived to make asylum-seekers the number one general election scapegoat, declined to attend a hustings meeting organised on June 4 by the Manchester Committee to Defend Asylum-Seekers. The platform was occupied by the Socialist Alliance, Green Party and Liberal Democrat candidates standing in Manchester Withington constituency, whilst the SA and Greens each had an additional candidate also present.

Speaking first, John Clegg for the Socialist Alliance stated the SA?s support and welcome for asylum-seekers and for the committee which had organised the event. All immigration controls must be abolished and the right to free movement of people won, he continued. If money can move freely, why not people? Comrade Clegg described how, during the time that he was a Labour member of Manchester city council in the 1980s, significant municipal effort, funding and publicity was directed towards support for immigrant communities and, specifically, to help those fighting deportation. All of this had now gone, as the militantly pro-capitalist New Labour Party has been constructed. The needs of people come right at the bottom of Blair?s priorities list.

The Green Party candidate also stated opposition to all immigration laws, attacking in particular the concept of ?fortress Europe?. Green councillors and members of the European parliament are all working practically to help refugees, she said. Linking the issue to that of ecological crisis, she described the enormous tensions that she feels will develop as millions from the poorer countries, devastated by environmental degradation, storm the walls of the rich western nations. The fight to defend human rights was therefore inseparable from that to save the planet.

The Liberal Democrat candidate opened by stating her pleasure at being able to discuss an election issue of human concern rather than one about taxation or other money concerns. Attacking New Labour?s record, she asserted that home secretary Jack Straw had outdone his Tory predecessor, Michael Howard, in the severity of his attacks on asylum-seekers. Quoting from her party?s manifesto, she explained that Liberal Democrats want to retain immigration controls, but to make them non-discriminatory. The division of families and the infamous voucher system would end under a Liberal Democrat government, which would also seek to reach international agreement on the sharing of responsibility towards refugees, she promised. Asylum-seekers would have immediate access to independent legal advice. A new regime of immigration laws would focus on ?skills assessments?, she rather vaguely concluded.

The 40-strong audience contained a good proportion of asylum-seekers and a Socialist Alliance contingent, and it was these two groups which dominated the contributions made from the floor. An asylum-seeker now from Liverpool, described eloquently the appalling conditions in which over 600 people are housed in the decrepit Landmark tower blocks in that city. The council has handed them over to a private landlady and one of the ?services? this parasite provides is the exchange of ?13 face value vouchers for ?10 cash. An SA comrade later pointed out that Liverpool has a Liberal Democrat council.

Another refugee, from Zimbabwe, rubbished the official branding of ?bogus asylum-seekers?. Who on earth would want to come to Britain for economic reasons, he asked, in order to be debarred from working and forced to exist on ?28 per week? All asylum-seekers from Zimbabwe are automatically detained on entry to Britain, the comrade informed us. He concluded by referring to the problem of racial hostility encountered from those amongst whom asylum-seekers live. He does not blame these people for the ideas which are put into their heads by the politicians, he insisted.

Peter Grant, the SA?s candidate for Salford, welcomed the discussion and underlined the SA?s view that no distinction should be made between asylum-seekers and economic migrants. The right of freedom of movement of people throughout the world must be won. But the major obstacle which confronts those of us engaging in that struggle in Britain today is the fact that the working class has no political programme that puts it at the head of all movements for democracy, crucially against the state.

The fight for a federal republic and self-determination for Scotland and Wales is therefore an indispensable requirement of taking other fronts forward, he explained. Socialism is a mass floodtide of democracy which breaks through the political, social and economic confines of capitalism. In turn that by definition, can only be consolidated and taken to fruition on a world scale. 

Many other useful contributions were made to the debate in a meeting which lasted two hours and which had a real spirit of solidarity. It was gratifying to witness Socialist Alliance comrades seizing leadership in terms of the ideas put forward.

John Pearson
Greater Manchester SA

Post-general election rally: ?Celebrate socialism?,
Thursday June 14, 7.30pm,
Friends Meeting House, Mount Street, Manchester.

Speakers: Louise Christian (SA candidate, Hornsey & Wood Green),
Cathy Wilson (SA candidate, Liverpool Riverside),
John Rees (SWP), John Nicholson (GMSA)