No vote for racists

As the 2015 General Election approaches, the racism of Britain’s ruling class is in full flow. On 20 November UKIP gained its second MP in the Rochester and Strood by-election, triggered by the defection of sitting MP Mark Reckless from the Conservatives. In a televised debate, Reckless admitted that UKIP supported the repatriation of migrants following withdrawal from the EU. UKIP leader Nigel Farage hastily issued a correction, but Reckless maintains that up to that point repatriation had been party policy. A few days later, Farage claimed that children born to immigrants in Britain should also be viewed as immigrants – a position this time defended by a UKIP spokesperson. Tom Vickers reports on the escalation of racism.

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No justice for Jimmy Mubenga as racists walk free

It seems that no-one will be held to account for the death of a black man at the hands of the British state after the three racist and brutal security guards who restrained the Angolan deportee Jimmy Mubenga were cleared of manslaughter at their trial on 16 December.

Terrence Hughes, Colin Kaler and Stuart Tribelnig worked as detention custody officers (DCOs) for the private security company G4S, subcontracted by the Home Office to enforce deportations. The company is notorious for complicity with torture in the prisons it manages in Israel and South Africa, amongst other crimes. They were accused of forcing Mubenga’s head down and restricting his breathing as the deportation flight prepared to take off from Heathrow in October 2010. Originally they had not been prosecuted: the charges arose from the inquest into Jimmy Mubenga’s death in 2013 at which the jury found, by nine to one, that he had been unlawfully killed.

‘I can’t breathe’
Nearly 100 witnesses submitted evidence to the inquest, which heard how Mubenga had been handcuffed in the ‘rear stack’ position (with his hands cuffed behind his back), and his head forced towards the floor for between 30 and 40 minutes. In an echo of the killing of Eric Garner in New York earlier this year, more than 50 passengers on the flight testified to hearing Mubenga, increasingly distressed, cry out that he could not breathe. When he became ‘unresponsive’ – unconscious – none of the three DCOs nor the cabin crew, all of whom were trained in First Aid, offered any assistance. Jimmy Mubenga was dead before the plane had returned to the stand and paramedics could treat him.

Returning the verdict of unlawful killing in July 2013, the jury foreman said:
‘We find that Mr Mubenga was pushed or held down by one or more of the guards, causing his breathing to be impeded. We find that they were using unreasonable force and acting in an unlawful manner. The fact that Mr Mubenga was pushed or held down, or a combination of the two, was a significant ... cause of death. The guards, we believe, would have known that they would have caused Mr Mubenga harm in their actions, if not serious harm.’

G4S – a pervasive culture of vicious racism
The 2013 inquest also heard that:

  • the senior deportation officer, Stuart Tribelnig, had received just four weeks’ training from G4S before being put in charge of other officers – training that mainly involved learning how to subdue deportees using ‘pain control’;
  • guards only received their hourly pay if a deportation went ahead – whatever the state of the deportee; and
  • most damningly, racist texts were routinely circulated between guards.

The coroner condemned what he described as a pervasive culture of racism at G4S which led its DCOs to depersonalise deportees and rob them of their humanity, coupled with a widely held belief that deportees would ‘feign’ illness. One of the G4S guards, Terrence Hughes, had 76 racist texts on his phone which abused black Africans, Asians and Muslims and were racist about immigration. Stuart Tribelnig forwarded texts from his phone using the vilest and most contemptuous language imaginable to describe immigrants. Yet at the trial of the three DCOs the Old Bailey judge refused to let the jury even know of the texts’ existence because they did not have ‘any real relevance’ to the case.

Once again it is clear that black people can expect no justice from the racist British state. Not only have these three racists walked free; the Home Office also decided not to investigate the practices of G4S, despite all the evidence that emerged about its employment practices, brutality and racism. As in the United States, the legal apparatus of the state acts to protect its racist security forces. In October 2014, the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to bring charges of perjury and perverting the course of justice against two police officers involved in the cover-up over the death of Sean Rigg in Brixton police station in 2008. The same month, the family of Mark Duggan – shot by police in Tottenham in 2012 – lost an attempt to get the inquest verdict of ‘lawful killing’ overturned. Campaigners were seeking a judicial review on the basis that the coroner misdirected the jury as to what constituted lawful self-defence. There has not been a successful homicide prosecution in Britain for the death of anyone in police, immigration or prison custody for over 30 years. The anger shown by protests in London over over the lack of justice for Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York, United States, needs to be directed also against the racist British state, its racist police and racist immigration laws

Operation Skybreaker: Defending migrant rights

Supporters of FRFI in north London have been working with the developing campaign against the government’s latest attack on migrants in the capital.  

In a bizarre echo of a recent James Bond movie title, the current initiative is named Operation Skybreaker. Unlike its predecessor Operation Centurion, there was no media fanfare around its implementation and very little information about it is publicly available. Credit is therefore due to the Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex and London (RAMFEL) charity, which has put the details of Skybreaker into the public domain and has provided information, support and training for those affected by it.

In its latest reorganisation, the Home Office immigration department, previously the UK Borders Agency (UKBA) has been divided into UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) and Home Office Immigration Enforcement (HOIE); HOIE is running Operation Skybreaker. In July various community organisations were invited to meetings at the Home Office, as part of the ‘consultation’ on this new pilot immigration operation which is targeting five London boroughs: Brent, Ealing, Greenwich, Newham and Tower Hamlets. They were told that the operation would be in place for the next five months and would target businesses, registry offices and housing services, with the aim of driving people with no permission to stay out of the country.

The operation has four main stages:

  1. Immigration team engagement with community groups, faith leaders, police safer neighbourhood panels and safer neighbourhood boards;
  2. HOIE officers offer ‘support to employers’;
  3. Stopping people accessing services and benefits;
  4. Raids and enforcement including HMRC, police, fire brigade and other agencies.

Operation Centurion, a high profile two-week crackdown on ‘illegal immigration’ in June 2014, is generally regarded as having been a failure, as leaked information allowed activist networks to mobilise and warn people, which helped ensure there were few arrests.

Likewise, the ‘racist vans’ of the earlier Operation Valken in October 2013 were a PR disaster for the government. Mobile billboards informing immigrants that UKBA could arrange their repatriation either the easy way (by their volunteering to be sent back) or the hard way (arrest and deportation) became the butt of repeated pranks, with people calling up asking to be repatriated from the pub to their bed etc.

Skybreaker is therefore intended to have a much more low-key, ‘working with the community’ veneer. According to RAMFEL, the Home Office claims that it has already gone through a consultation process with potentially affected communities, although it refuses to say what this process entailed or even who it included. RAMFEL itself was invited for consultation, but says that this simply entailed being informed that the operation was taking place.

Skybreaker targets employers, faith groups and private landlords. The second stage, following the vague ‘consultation’, involves approaching these targets and asking them to volunteer for a HOIE audit. Companies and groups who do not take up the softly-softly invitation will then be subject to the harder side of the operation and will then be hit with warrants and raids.

Legal defence and support are being organised in the targeted boroughs. Bust cards are being distributed and workshops taking place, to create a network of people armed with legal information with which to defend themselves and others against immigration enforcement officers. Unless such officers have a warrant, you are under no obligation to speak to them; likewise, despite what the officers may tell you, they have no power to enter your home or detain you and they most certainly cannot summarily deport you. Without a warrant the only power they have is to persuade you to comply voluntarily.

Campaigning on the streets about Operation Skybreaker also aims to raise general awareness about these Home Office operations and to challenge the racist myths being touted by all the mainstream political parties in the run-up to a general election in which immigration is going to be a key issue.

The Home Office has also announced another pilot scheme to begin in December in the West Midlands areas of Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton, specifically targeting private landlords under the auspices of the Immigration Act 2014. This pilot requires landlords to ensure that prospective tenants have a ‘right to rent’ by checking their immigration status. Landlords who do not carry out checks or who rent to ‘illegal migrants’ will face fines. Most of the checks are to be done on the spot by the landlord; however in some cases, such as where a prospective occupant’s papers are currently held by the Home Office in relation to an immigration application or appeal, landlords are to request a ‘right to rent’ check from the Home Office.

UKVI guidance also states that: ‘Asylum seekers who are awaiting a final determination, or those who face a recognised barrier to leaving the UK, may also be afforded a discretionary right to rent’, suggesting that although these groups are not undocumented, they may also be prevented from renting. The result of all this will undoubtedly be that many landlords simply refuse to rent to migrants, and there is likely to be a further increase in racist practices in the private rental sector.

Britain is an imperialist country and this is integral to its relationship to other countries and to people coming to Britain from them. The RCG believes that this means that all British immigration laws are by definition racist. We do not accept any of the government’s distinctions between legal and illegal migration and we oppose all British immigration controls.

John Byrne

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 241 October/November 2014

Immigration Act intensifies exploitation /FRFI! 239 Jun/Jul 2014

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 239 June/July 2014

The Immigration Bill became law on 14 May. It includes:

  • the imposition of a racist regime of immigration monitoring at the point of access to health care, bank accounts, privately-rented housing and driving licences;
  • a new system of charging for health care for ‘temporary’ migrants;
  • removal of the right of appeal to many immigration decisions;
  • powers to strip British citizenship from naturalised citizens whose behaviour is judged to be contrary to the ‘national interest’, a euphemism for the interests of the ruling class.

These measures are the latest stages in a process of using immigration controls to divide the working class into special categories of super-exploited labour. They are a particularly vicious and racist element of the wider attempt to make it increasingly difficult to survive without accepting whatever work is on offer, no matter how low the wages or how poor the conditions. Tom Vickers reports.

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2014 European and local elections – UKIP the winners

Nigel Farage. © European Union 2012 - European Parliament.

The local and European elections on 22 May were always going to be about whether the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) would be able to demonstrate significant country-wide electoral support. That it won the most votes in the European elections, gaining 27.5% of the vote, beating the Labour Party into second place (25.4%) and the Tories into third (23.9%), shows the attractiveness of its simple anti-Europe and anti-immigrant message to Eurosceptic Tory voters. But it also appealed to sections of the working class who feel they are being left behind, and who blame their deteriorating position on EU immigrants who they think are getting a better deal than they are, especially in the areas of housing, free health care, jobs and welfare benefits.

The voting proportions were different in the local elections, with UKIP receiving 17% of the overall vote compared to Labour’s 31% and the Tories’ 29%. However, UKIP were able to gain over 160 new council seats, mainly at the expense of the Tories, although in some places such as Rotherham, Newcastle under Lyme and North East Lincolnshire, at the expense of Labour as well. The LibDems lost heavily in both European and local elections because they were seen as unprincipled careerists whose support had been crucial for driving through the government’s austerity programme.

Voting patterns were very different in London with its high proportion of migrant workers and a large population of black and Asian people. UKIP managed to win only 10 council seats, while Labour won control of Hammersmith and Fulham, dubbed David Cameron’s ‘favourite council’, and of four other councils including Croydon. In the European election, Labour also gained two MEPs and obtained more than double UKIP’s vote (807,000 compared to 371,000; the Tories managed 496,000).

Throughout the election campaign UKIP leader Nigel Farage refused to be drawn any issue other than EU membership and immigration. He denied that UKIP is a racist party but gave a nod and a wink to those potential supporters who believed it is. A succession of homophobic, Islamophobic and straightforward racist comments by both supporters and candidates did not affect UKIP’s standing in the polls. Farage’s carefully-cultivated straightforward and blokeish image with him standing in a pub with a pint glass, was only once disturbed when in a radio interview he said he would be worried if a group of Romanians moved in next door. Asked what his attitude would be if it were a German neighbour – Farage’s wife is German – he dissembled and then said ‘you know the difference’. Later UKIP took out a full-page advertisement in the Daily Telegraph to deny it was a racist party, but claimed that Romanians were responsible for 92% of ATM crime in London. A later attempt to prove its multiethnic support with a carnival in Croydon turned into a fiasco when the steelband hired for the occasion refused to play when it realised that the event was organised by UKIP.

UKIP’s anti-immigration message has been geared towards the working class, with its election leaflets claiming that ‘unlimited immigration costs British jobs’ and that ‘cheap labour pushes down British wages’. The election coincided with news that net migration to the UK in 2013 was 212,000. In the 12 months to March 2014, instead of the floods of immigrants predicted there had been 29,000 Romanian and 7,000 Bulgarian immigrants.

In an effort to hang on to the votes of working class supporters attracted by UKIP’s racism, Labour Party leader Ed Miliband said that worrying about immigration is not prejudice, and, elaborated on this in a speech to Airbus workers in Broughton:

‘We said that people needed to change their attitudes. But in fact, we needed to change ours, because people see their communities changing fast around them. They worry about the entitlements people have when they come here and the pressure it might put on the system. And, especially with the cost of living crisis that our country faces, people ask about the impact of immigration on their wages and terms and conditions.’

These are exactly the sort of voters that the Labour Party needs to win if it to stand a chance at the 2015 general election: skilled workers fearful about impoverishment. In a later interview, Miliband declared: ‘I do want to get low-skilled immigration down’ and that he would impose a six-month restrictions on benefits for EU migrants and longer transitional controls for new EU-accession countries. ‘We need to stop a race to the bottom between British citizens and workers coming here from abroad,’ he said.

UKIP’s ability to take working class support from the Labour Party has grown not just because Labour has totally failed to oppose the Tory austerity agenda and has fully participated in local council cuts, but also because the trade unions have squashed any resistance to them. The consequence has been the absence of local campaigns representing working class interests. It is therefore not surprising that where there were sham electoral campaigns, such as those organised by the Trade Union and Socialist Campaign (TUSC), they performed very poorly; overall TUSC stood 560 candidates in the local elections but got fewer than 100 votes on average. In the few instances where candidates or parties clearly identified with and participated in local struggles, the result could be entirely different. In Kirkby, Merseyside, an independent working class campaign 1st 4 Kirkby, which has also been involved in the fight against the bedroom tax locally, stood six candidates and got up to 46% of the vote in the six wards they contested. The way to defeat UKIP is not by adopting their programme as the Labour Party and Conservatives are attempting, but by opposing their racist programme and vigorously defending working class interests.

Robert Clough 

More Articles ...

  1. Racism and reaction: the Romanian and Bulgarian reception
  2. Racism, poverty, and imprisonment – the plight of Syria's refugees
  3. Racism, lies and violence: scapegoating the Roma / FRFI 236 Dec 2013/Jan 2014
  4. Repression and resistance in immigration removal centres / FRFI 236 Dec 2013/Jan 2014
  5. Theresa May’s Immigration Bill – lies, half-truths and more repression / FRFI 236 Dec 2013/Jan 2014
  6. Charges against Newcastle 14 dropped/FRFI235 Oct/Nov 2013
  7. Hunger strike in Yarl's Wood as women expose sexual abuse and the deportation of witnesses
  8. Defend the Newcastle 14!/FRFI 234 Aug/Sep 2013
  9. After Woolwich
  10. UKIP - Loongate and the Kippers: storm in a British political teacup/ FRFI 233 Jun/Jul 2013
  11. Immigration Bill divide and rule/ FRFI 233 Jun/Jul 2013
  12. The state that kills: Sean Rigg IPCC whitewash exposed
  13. RCG Statement: The tragedy in Woolwich
  14. Supporting struggles of immigration detainees – Jan 2013
  15. Outsourcing racism: Capita harasses migrants – Jan 2013
  16. Morton Hall prisoners protest against racist immigration detention - Dec 2012
  17. State revenge for 2011 uprising – the big gang attacks the poor and vulnerable
  18. End deportations to Somalia - Fight racist immigration controls /FRFI 229 Oct/Nov 2012
  19. Free Said Kasim Mohammed! End detention! Stop deportations!
  20. Running the Asylum
  21. Border Agency attack London Metropolitan University – September 2012
  22. Racist laws attack immigrant families
  23. Secrets, lies and brutality: Britain’s colonial record / FRFI 227 June/July 2012
  24. Stephen Lawrence verdict: ‘no cause for celebration’ / FRFI 225 Feb/Mar 2012
  25. Manchester: Farooqi family faces collective punishment / FRFI 224 December 2011/January 2012