The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 71/No. 26      July 2, 2007

 
Communist League in U.K.
holds special congress
Changes in working class under impact
of immigration at center of discussion
 
BY JONATHAN SILBERMAN  
LONDON—“Before us is a battle for the labor movement, for class solidarity and consciousness,” said Pete Clifford, in the political report to a special congress of the Communist League (CL) in the United Kingdom held here June 2-3. Clifford, a meat worker, is a member of the league’s Central Committee and its Edinburgh branch.

“The working class in the United Kingdom is being transformed as hundreds of thousands of young workers from Eastern Europe settle here,” Clifford explained. Since May 1, 2004, when nationals of eight countries joining the European Union (EU) got job access, 640,000 workers have registered for work in the United Kingdom, some 70 percent of them from Poland. “The new arrivals have spread throughout the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. In the Republic of Ireland, 10 percent of the population is foreign born.”

The working class in Scotland is changing beyond recognition. Taking into account unofficial estimates, the proportion of the population that is immigrant in Scotland has expanded from 3.3 percent in 2004 to about 6.2 percent in 2007. “When I started at Halls,” Clifford noted, “workers at the meat factory were overwhelmingly from the United Kingdom. Today they’re majority Eastern European.”

The Eastern European workers joined a successful union action when the bosses moved to undermine a union overtime ban, Clifford reported. At Dawn Meats in Bedford, England, Polish workers joined a protest against changed conditions. “This is a glimpse of how these workers will be drawn into union resistance and social struggles,” he said.

“The bosses use the foreign born as they drive to depress wages and conditions, speed up production, introduce flexibility, and pit worker against worker,” the CL leader said. “Over 80 percent are aged 18-34 and just 7 percent have dependents—just what the bosses need.”

Members of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee and Confederation of British Industry recently attributed a decline in real earnings over the last year to immigration.

“These workers are tricked into anticipating a good life and livelihood here,” Clifford said. “They’ve met a different reality. Half are working temporary jobs or are agency workers with inferior wages and conditions; 75 percent earn less than 6 per hour [1=US$1.98]. At a strike at the Grampian poultry plant in Cambuslang, Scotland, the company bused agency workers from Eastern Europe across the picket line.” Agency workers are sent to factories or other workplaces by temporary job agencies. They face inferior conditions and wages and can be fired by the boss at any time.

The government placed restrictions on workers from Romania and Bulgaria when these countries joined the EU in January. “They’re not keeping immigrants out,” Clifford said. “They want them in, but insecure.” They’re cutting translation facilities to force immigrants to ‘learn English’ and a minister has proposed that ‘British families’ get priority over immigrants in council housing [public housing].”

London delegate Julie Crawford, a worker at the Hygrade sausage factory in London, where many workers are from Africa, spoke about raids and other anti-immigrant probes. “The labor movement needs to stand with the foreign-born when the bosses talk about ‘investigating National Insurance [social security] irregularities’ as happens where I work,” she said. She reported that five workers at the plant subscribe to the Militant and they and others have bought 20 books and pamphlets on revolutionary working-class politics this year.

Edinburgh delegate Caroline Bellamy, a garment worker, reported on a Transport and General Workers Union (T&G) immigrant worker recruitment meeting that drew 100.

“Behind the trade union officials’ welcome, often lies a chauvinist stance,” Clifford warned. He cited anti-immigrant comments by Ron Webb, national secretary of the T&G section of the newly formed union Unite, during a strike at the Tesco distribution center in Livingston, Scotland. Webb branded as “substandard labor” Eastern Europeans who crossed the picket line. “Such a course pushes foreign-born workers away from the unions and fosters anti-immigrant prejudice among the U.K.-born,” said Clifford

Clifford outlined the consequences for the Communist League’s activity today before the outbreak of the gigantic social struggles that will make possible the transformation of the unions into fighting instruments. “We must see this not as the ‘immigration question’ but rather as the labor question,” he said. “We fight for class solidarity in the face of the divisions set by the bosses. The Militant is a key weapon in this activity. This is important for communists and the broader working-class vanguard.”

The labor question is at the center of politics in this country as the rulers push to reverse British capitalism’s decline, Clifford said. “Prime minister in waiting, Gordon Brown, has signaled more attacks on the social wage with his ‘education is my passion, health is my priority’ comments,” he noted.

Brown takes over from Anthony Blair June 27. “He will continue Blair’s overall course,” Clifford said, “including the ‘special relationship’ with the United States, which the British rulers consider key to defending their interests on a world scale.” Brown has stated that British troops will remain in Iraq. London continues to lead NATO forces in Afghanistan. “The rulers face a challenge from their European competitors, with German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Nicolas Sarkozy shifting their foreign policy toward Washington.”

The Blair administration has notched up a success in Northern Ireland, Clifford said, “in the Paisley-McGuinness coalition government.” Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionists, is first minister and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness is deputy first minister in the devolved administration. “The Communist League continues to demand unity and independence for Ireland, and the immediate withdrawal of British troops,” Clifford said.

“At the same time, we must anticipate that the class question will come to the fore,” said London delegate and Central Committee member Tony Hunt, describing capitalist development in Ireland. “This trend is magnified by immigration. The new arrivals’ first concerns are wages, jobs, and living conditions,” Hunt said.

“We see a similar development in Quebec,” said Michel Prairie, a fraternal delegate from the Communist League in Canada. “Language discrimination against French-speaking Quebecois has been at the heart of the national question. Many new immigrants settling in Quebec are not French speaking. They consider they have come to Canada. The labor movement faces the same opportunities and challenges in forging working-class unity.”

Delegates heard Alex Xezonakis, a fraternal delegate from the Young Socialists, report on work of the communist movement in Britain in defense of the Cuban Five. These are Cuban revolutionaries, framed-up by Washington on charges that include “conspiracy to commit espionage” for Havana, who are serving draconian sentences in U.S. prisons.

Delegates adopted the political report and decided to reinforce the league’s Edinburgh branch. They also elected a Central Committee, half of whose members were not on the previous committee.
 
 
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Public forums in London surround CL congress  
 
 
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