Glasgow asylum seekers fight against Labour repression

At 6.30am on 4 October, Kurdish asylum seeker Cem Coban stepped out on to the balcony of his 20th floor flat in Cardonald, Glasgow. He threatened suicide as a Home Office snatch-squad moved in to kidnap his family and return them to Turkey, inducing a heart attack in his wife. Asylum seekers, local working class residents and activists gathered on the estate below to protest against the family’s removal. As Cem Coban was eventually seized at 11am ‘dozens of protestors... attacked around 20 police officers, jumping on the roof of a van and throwing themselves in front of vehicles...Two ambulances were called from the scene as the riot erupted. Witnesses said at least one woman had to be treated by paramedics after being knocked to the ground by police’. (Daily Record) The family had lived in Scotland for five years; one of their children was born here.

It is a lesson the ruling class can never learn: repression breeds resistance. The events in Cardonald were not isolated; similar scenes have erupted across Glasgow in recent weeks, and resistance to the Labour Party’s vic–ious anti-immigrant policies will un–doubtedly continue.

Two days earlier on 2 October, a brutal dawn raid had been carried out against a Congolese asylum seeker in Knightswood in the west of the city. The next day over 100 asylum seekers and working class residents from Knightswood came out onto the streets at dawn in protest. The immigration vans that arrived that morning were unable to capture their next target – the Kurdish Uzun family – who were at the protest rather than in their flat. On 7 October, Unity, the Union of Asylum seekers in Scotland, called a demonstration. Comrades from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! marched along–side asylum seekers from the Gor–bals to the city centre, with other marches organised from Knightswood and Sighthill. Around 400 people gathered in George Square, demanding an end to dawn raids and deportations. Refugees and asylum seekers, working class people from communities affected and MSPs addressed the crowd. An RCG comrade also spoke, stressing the links between the Labour Party’s imperialist warmongering ab–road and racist attacks in Britain.

Liam Byrne visits Scotland
On 26 October Labour Party Immigration Minister Liam Byrne visited Glasgow. When his predecessor Tony McNulty came to Scotland, it sparked fierce protests and demonstrations. This time was no different.

In the city centre RCG comrades stood with over 100 asylum seekers and supporters to protest outside the City Chambers. Heavy-handed policing was used to try and intimidate the militant demonstration, whose participants included women with small children. As the minister’s car left the City Chambers, asylum seekers spontaneously attempted to block the road, breaking police lines and chanting slogans. The car was chased down the street by the demonstration, followed by an escort of two police vans.

Protests continued at Brand Street Immigration Reporting Centre, where Byrne met immigration officials. An aggressive police presence greeted demonstrators; an elderly African wo–man was hospitalised and other asylum seekers suffered panic attacks. Protesters filming events had cameras snatched and a Turkish man suffered cuts and bruising round the throat after being ‘restrained’ by several police officers. He was subsequently arrested and faced the ridiculous charge of resisting arrest and ‘molesting police’. The growing militancy of the asylum seeker struggle is causing splits between the ruling Labour Party’s English and Scottish organisations. The problem of dawn raids, more concentrated and frequent in Glasgow than any other city in Britain, is increa–singly becoming a liability for the Scottish Labour Party, whose asylum and immigration policy is determined by Westminster. The brutality of these state kidnappings is alienating sections of the middle class, and has even forced pro-Labour trade unions and the Church of Scotland to take a stand. First Minister Jack McConnell met with Home Secretary John Reid on 7 October. According to a Scottish Executive spokeswoman, McConnell ‘said he understood how difficult the issues surrounding deportations are and remain. But he expressed concerns at the impact on the children from the raids taking place in Glasgow’. Byrne reaffirmed his commitment to dawn raids, saying they would continue to be enforced where families refuse to leave ‘voluntarily’.

Unity against state repression
As we have written in previous FRFIs, the very policies intended to isolate, weaken and destroy any sustained opposition by asylum seekers and to cut them off from the mass of the working class have in fact created the conditions for increasingly organised and militant resistance and unity.

The sheer concentration of thousands of asylum seekers into the massive, crumbling tower-blocks of Glasgow has not only resulted in their becoming organised, but has also facilitated in–creasing unity with working class residents already living on the estates. Growing numbers are supporting the asylum seekers’ early morning protests.

The very urban geography of the estates to which asylum seekers have been ‘dispersed’ has also proved ad–vantageous. Flats on the top floors of high-rise blocks are being used as vantage-points for night watches and estates which only have one way in and out of them are easy to block off from inside to prevent the immigration snatch-squad vans from entering.

Privatisation of social housing and its opening up to private investment and exploitation has been one of the capitalists’ main points of attack on working class living standards in recent years. The city council hoped that housing large numbers of asylum seekers in Glasgow would incite racist divisions in working class communities and thereby prevent effective opposition to privatisation.

This divide-and-rule tactic was initially very successful and there is still deep-rooted racism in many working class communities. On 17 November two 17-year-old asylum seekers were stabbed and seriously wounded as they rushed to help an Afghan boy being ‘beaten up by white youths’ outside Drumchapel High School, which the victims attended. The Evening Times (19/11/06) reported that ‘one parent in Drumchapel... said there were fights between white youths and asylum seekers every day of the week’.

However, the situation is not the same as it was in 2001 when Kurdish asylum seeker Firsat Yildiz was murdered by racists in Sighthill (see FRFI 163). Many asylum seekers have now lived on Glasgow estates for over five years. During this time, the government has driven down the housing standards of both asylum seekers and of the Scottish working class, forcing both sections to begin to realise that their enemy is not one another but the British state.

Drumchapel is one of the poorest working class areas in Britain with unemployment rates of 30-40%. Drumchapel borders Knightswood, where many asylum seekers have been housed and which has seen significant displays of unity between asylum seekers and the local working class population.

The asylum seeker movement is one of the few significant working class struggles in Britain today. Events in Glasgow show it has the potential to involve all those working class masses attacked, exploited and left to rot at the bottom of British bourgeois society by the racist, anti-working class Labour government.
Joseph Eskovitchl

FRFI 194 December 2006 / January 2007

 

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