“What was the cost? Well, basically I lost everything. I lost my job. I lost my home. I lost my freedom.”
Sitting in Limbo is a harrowing film by the BBC about the real-life experiences of Anthony Bryan, a 58-year-old decorator and victim of the Windrush Scandal.
Anthony was one of thousands of Caribbean workers and their families who were brought to the UK after WW2 to help fill gaps in the economy, in areas such as the NHS and London Transport. Decades later, hundreds of members of this Windrush generation, including Anthony, were wrongfully detained or deported - victims of the Tories’ ‘hostile environment’.
Anthony’s story starts in 2016 with a letter from the Home Office -he is suddenly considered an illegal resident, ineligible for work, healthcare, and benefits.
Under the watchful eye of the British state, he is forced to face the bureaucracy of the immigration services. In one humiliating meeting, he is offered a paternity test for his two children. Even the supposedly professional servants of the state engage in the reactionary myth of broken black families and fatherless children. Yet this is still not enough suffering for one man to endure.
Aggressively arrested, Anthony is wrongfully imprisoned for five weeks. In an immigrant detention centre, he witnesses the desperation and misery of the many migrants who face deportation. At night, the halls are filled with the pained cries of distraught inmates.
His son, Gary, echoes the audience’s shock: “this can’t be legal”. As Marxists, we know all too well that what is legal is not an indicator of morality, but simply the interests of the ruling class.
Upon release, Anthony struggles with traumatic flashbacks, impacting on his relationship with his family. For three years, Anthony is deprived of an income and healthcare, and is driven from his home by looming debt.
Anthony’s plight ends better than many others’. Thanks to the perseverance and commitment of his family to raise funds and find the right documents, he does not end up being deported. In a heartening case of working-class solidarity, his son’s colleagues - construction workers - chip in for Anthony’s court fees.
The Home Office’s apology for Anthony’s treatment would have been more genuine had they not gone on to deport 17 Jamaican-born British workers for past crimes (for which they had already served time) earlier this year.
The overall figures are appalling. 850 people were wrongfully detained between 2012 and 2017. Of the 83 people unfairly deported to the West Indies, 13 didn’t live long enough to see the pathetic and hollow apology of the Home Office. Of those who have claimed compensation under a government scheme, only 5% have been successful.
The condition of migrants today, ‘illegal’ or not, worsens daily. In Yarl’s Wood, an immigration detention centre run by Serco, incidents of psychological torture and sexual abuse have been reported. The Tories’ immigration policy becomes ever more brutal and restrictive.
At protest at Yarls Wood Immigration Detention Centre where the detainees mostly women, many of whom have been victims of rape torture & other human rights violations are incarcerated indefinitely without trial having committed no crime sometimes for years pic.twitter.com/9Uxu7xBJHZ— BradleyHSmith (@bradclockwork) November 18, 2017
Exploitation and oppression
Anthony’s story reveals the inhumanity of the capitalist system. Having lived and worked in Britain for half a century, his contribution is flippantly ignored by a government focused on stoking up racism.
Ultimately, the labour of black Caribbean workers is dispensable to the ruling class. At one time, they welcomed the labour of migrants as useful to boost their profits. Now, as the Tories turn to chauvinism to win more votes, the lives of these workers are considered forfeit.
As a man born in Jamaica, Anthony also faced compound discrimination: xenophobia as a ‘foreigner’, and racism as a black man. In their attempts to divide and exploit the working class, there is no dirty trick the capitalists won’t turn to in their hunger for greater profits.
The bosses and their politicians will always pit ‘native’ and migrant workers against each other. It is the age-old policy of divide and rule. In a situation of scarcity, there is a fight for the crumbs that capital throws to the hungry workers.
The capitalist gain is two-fold: (1) workers engage in competition amongst themselves, dividing them in the face of the bosses; and (2) imported labour, cheapened by imperialism’s suppression of living conditions abroad, boosts company profits. This keeps the capitalists’ pockets well-lined and safe from the toiling masses.
Unite and fight
As Marxists, we must counter division and exploitation with internationalism: working-class solidarity across borders, to prevent oppression within them.
It is therefore the task of the labour movement to resist these malicious tactics of the bosses. In the Grunwick dispute of 1976-8, mostly immigrant South Asian women went on strike for union recognition, with massive support from predominantly white unions. Eventually, the trade union leadership withdrew their support and the strike collapsed. As a historic example of inter-racial solidarity, it’s also a reminder that unions need to organise within migrant communities.
The labour movement must stand in solidarity with migrant workers against racism. Workers involved in deportation, like airline staff, must refuse to enforce the violent acts of the state.
We must fight on both the political and industrial front to improve workers’ rights, including residency, healthcare, social benefits, and housing. We need to build strong international ties between trade unions and working-class organisations.
We do this for people like Anthony Bryan. An injury to one is an injury to all.
No to immigrantion detention centres! No to deportations!
Yes to open borders! Yes to workers’ rights!