By Mark Buckley
Health workers and campaigners have achieved a rapid-fire succession of victories against this government’s reactionary policies against migrant workers. The Home Secretary had defended the policies just hours before they were scrapped, and Boris Johnson had done the same just 24 hours earlier at Prime Minister’s questions. Even so, the government was forced to retreat.
The most prominent victory was the scrapping of NHS charges for NHS migrant workers. Of course, this is only a partial victory as no charges should be applied to any worker or their family. Yet this is an important step forward. It is a victory for the workers themselves, for anti-racist campaigners and many on the left and trade unions.
There is no reason to stop here. It is completely unjust to charge anyone twice, and the NHS is already paid for from tax and National Insurance. The campaign can continue in opposition to the pernicious Immigration Bill, where the government is precisely aiming to widen the category of migrant workers who are treated as second-class, with far fewer economic, political or social rights.
In fact, it is Labour policy to oppose all charges for migrant workers. The 2019 conference resolution on immigration committed to,
- “End “no recourse to public funds” policies.
- Scrap all Hostile Environment measures, use of landlords and public service providers as border guards, and restrictions on migrants’ NHS access.
The new Labour leadership should be held to account on upholding this agreed policy.
The second victory was over ending the vile restriction on family members of non-clinical health staff receiving death-in-service payments. Now the families of cleaners, cooks, porters and others will receive these much-needed payments.
Thirdly, a similar and disgusting restriction applied to family members of non-clinical staff which did not prevent them from being deported if their family member died. That too has been scrapped.
All of this was achieved by determined workers and campaigners and despite the Tories having an effective 100-seat majority. This is because the struggle was not decided in parliament.
Instead, the popularity of the Tory government is declining and its mishandling of the crisis increasingly apparent to wider layers of the population, as opinion polls show.
No government can fight on every front when it is losing popular support and authority. The vigorous campaign against their policies was led by the Labour left. Diane Abbott put it well, arguing that migrant NHS workers, “are paying three times for the NHS: once through taxation, then through the levy and increasingly with their lives.”
Scoring important victories has not been the frequent experience of the working class in this country for some time. So these gains should be celebrated and widely popularised. This is especially so as the much greater fight is still raging to stop this government from continuing to inflict is ‘herd immunity’ policy on the population.