Over 10,000 were present on the streets of central London last weekend, on 17th September, to show solidarity to the refugees caught up in the chaos of war and poverty caused by capitalism and imperialism. Socialist Appeal supporters were active on the protest, putting forward the slogan: let the refugees in! Kick the Tories out!
One year on from a similar – even bigger – demonstration, the intensity of the refugee crisis has only heightened, with thousands still trapped in the infamous “jungle” at Calais, and thousands more in similar camps in Greece, Turkey, and elsewhere. Meanwhile, the Syrian civil war rages on – despite temporary ceasefire deals – and conditions in North Africa, Afghanistan, and other countries ravaged by terrorism and imperialism continue to decline. Many are understandably concluding, therefore, that the whole system is broken; that capitalism cannot offer any hope or future for millions.
In Britain, the question of migration and refugees has been thrust to the forefront as a result of the EU referendum and the xenophobic Brexit campaign led by reactionaries such as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. The new May government shows no signs of sympathy towards refugees; if anything, they are using the question as a scapegoat for the impacts of Tory austerity and the wider crisis of capitalism.
The Labour right wing, meanwhile, have continually pandered to the Tories and UKIP on the question of immigration. Throughout the EU referendum campaign, and before, leading New Labour grandees such as Gordon Brown, Alan Johnson, and Tom Watson all talked about the “pressures of immigration” and the need for “controls”. Their demand was to stay in the EU and create a “Fortress Europe” to keep everyone else out. Jeremy Corbyn was a lone voice in calling for the complete free movement of peoples and the need to address the underlying shortage of jobs and housing that austerity and cuts have created.
Unfortunately, the Labour Party and the unions were notable on this demonstration by their absence. In general, the protest lacked politics – both in terms of an organised presence from the labour movement and in terms of slogan.
It is vital that the labour movement now gives a bold lead on this question, putting forward a clear class perspective and socialist alternative. Only by highlighting the real reasons for unemployment and decaying public services – that is, the attacks and cuts that the rotten capitalist system demands – can we cut across the divisive rhetoric and xenophobic poison put forward by May, Johnson, Farage, and others.