First published: November 1998
Racism has become a key political weapon deployed more and more frequently by mainstream capitalist parties in Western Europe, Australia and the United States over the last decade. A recent example is the governing Christian Social Union (CSU) campaign in Bavaria which featured a poster stating: ‘If you want more foreigners don’t vote CSU’. The head of the CSU parliamentary caucus in Bonn stated in July ‘Foreigners and criminals are two topics which unfortunately go together’. The campaign was so racist that the local far right withdrew their candidates on the grounds that the CSU had already adopted all of their policies!
Aided by the cynical use of racism by respectable capitalist parties, far right parties now have 22 per cent of the vote in Austria, 16 per cent in Italy, 15 per cent in France – where the National Front has split the traditional right and roughly 10 per cent in Belgium and Denmark.
In the US, racist measures have included scrapping bi-lingual education in California, abolition of affirmative action programs and racist murders like that of James Byrd. In Australia, Pauline Hanson has risen to prominence on the basis of anti-aboriginal rights and anti-Asian immigration campaigns. In Europe, racist legislation and attacks have focused on refugees from the wars, economic and social dislocation of the Balkans, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and eastern Europe.
European social democracy, terrified of being labelled soft on immigration, has responded by supporting the kinds of crack-down on asylum and immigration which legitimates racism.
The Labour government to date has followed a path of, on the one hand, introducing a number progressive reforms directed against racist attacks – making them a specific criminal offence and launching the Lawrence Inquiry – while, on the other hand, in its public statements on immigration and asylum pandering to the racism of the gutter press.
The government’s new White Paper on asylum and immigration takes this further. Jack Straw’s original promise to restore welfare benefits to asylum seekers is abandoned. Instead the government proposes to withdraw benefits and housing rights from all asylum-seekers. In a scheme first floated by Tory Westminster Council, refugees will be issued with vouchers for food and other ‘essential’ items. Refugees will only get one appeal and in order to make it easy to kick them out of the country, they will be confined to a cashless economy and forced to live in hostels, as in Germany – where such hostels are the favourite target for racist arson attacks which have claimed numerous lives. Jack Straw now says: ‘What the genuine asylum seeker needs is food and shelter, not a giro cheque.’ The White Paper would make detention routine for asylum-seekers awaiting appeal.
The government also plans to attack the black communities by continuing immigration checks in the workplace and requiring cash bonds to guarantee that visitors from countries requiring visas leave Britain at the end of the visit.
These proposals, and the debate they will promote, will legitimise more racist campaigns by the tabloid press and the racist culture in which black people like Stephen Lawrence, Ricky Reel and Michael Menson were killed and nobody brought to justice. They give a foretaste of what we can expect from Tony Blair when the economy turns down.
The left wing of the labour movement must put anti-racism at the top of its agenda by:
• launching the broadest possible united campaign against the proposed attacks on immigration and asylum rights;
• demanding the sacking of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and the sacking of all officers implicated in racism;
• support for black self-organisation and black representation in proportion to the weight of the black communities at every level of the labour movement and society.