The following article was sent to Proletarian by a worker in Liverpool.
The mainstream media’s constant bombardment of the narrative that ‘immigrant hotels’ are places of feather beds and luxury, and their endless hype about an ‘invasion’ of refugees in dinghies, had stirred up people’s fears and frustrations, and erupted into anger and violence.
Two sides positioned themselves outside a hotel housing poor migrants. Angry residents who had been roiled by emotive and incendiary social media posts and leafleting campaigns faced off against left-wing groups including the Merseyside Pensioners Association, the Socialist party, the Merseyside BLM alliance and members of Unite the Union.
The left-wing groups were massively outnumbered by the local protesters, while the good intentions of those who came to defend the hotel residents was lost on the angry crowd.
Locals described the protest as having a carnival-like atmosphere. One video shows protestors face to face with police as a member of the crowd shouts: “Get those Isis bastards out.”
Once again, the harnessed rage of the worker was being pointed at the wrong enemy: another poor worker. The media coverage of imperialist wars, the manufacturing of consent for the Nato invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, etc, has all fuelled bigoted opinions that any middle-eastern-looking person must be a muslim fundamentalist ‘enemy’, most likely ‘Taliban’ or ‘Isis’.
Irish immigrants who came to Merseyside over the decades were similarly accused of stealing people’s jobs and of being terrorists. But poor workers do not undertake treacherous journeys to foreign lands out of desire; they do so out of desperate economic need precipitated by imperialist looting and by imperialist wars for profit and power.
Why the anger?
Understanding our history and its relevance today can often bring people a better understanding. Media outpouring, especially over immigration, completely ignores the British history of migrant workers performing most of the toughest jobs in building our nation’s infrastructure, from the canals of the 18th century to the motorways of the 20th.
Liverpool, a city built for and by shipping, has attracted and made use of a vast migrant population over the centuries of its existence. And the nearby town of Kirkby has taken in much of the overspill as the city grew.
The postwar rural population of Kirkby was around 3,000 people, and the industrial estate built there in the 1950s provided more jobs than the small population could fill. Liverpool had long suffered from overpopulation, with many workers living on top of each other in cramped courts.
Scotland Road (known as Scottie) was one of those heavily-populated areas. It was filled with Irish immigrants who had left their homes to escape famine and provide a cheap labour force to the busy ports of Liverpool. The area was so heavily Irish that it provided Britain’s first Irish National parliamentarian, TP O’Connor.
With a vast army of surplus labour available, and with the expansion of the city centre into the outskirts, the Scotland Road community was torn down. Many of its inhabitants moved to Kirkby, swelling its 3,000 population to well over 50,000 over the course of a decade.
While Scotland Road today has dwindled into a set of fast roads for dock traffic, Kirkby has grown exponentially. New housing estates have been built and the population has settled into the community we see today. What was once an agrarian village has grown into a busy town as a result of the postwar movement of migrant labour.
Modern-day Liverpool is a city split in two: the famed city centre, with all the trappings of a capitalist consumer-driven metropolis, and the outskirts, where neglected Scouse workers have been left to rot.
North of Liverpool, electoral wards such as County and Everton are some of the poorest in the country, while Knowsley, the wider borough in which Kirkby now sits, although not officially part of Liverpool, suffers from the same economic and social abandonment – just another working-class Merseyside town struggling after decades of underfunding, underdevelopment and underemployment.
The neglect of these ‘post-industrial’ working-class areas has created a malaise that’s been exacerbated by the economic ‘cost of living’ (inflation) crisis. This discontent, bubbling under the surface for years with no readily available outlet, is being tapped into by right-wing groups that seek to direct the pent-up anger of workers towards other unfortunate victims – poor immigrants imprisoned in hotels – and to divert it away from the true perpetrators – the ruling elite of the capitalist system.
There’s a mantra being beaten by those in the area who agree with the protestors when the ‘far right’ is mentioned. “It’s just normal people who are fed up.” Whilst true, the fact is that their anger is being manipulated.
Years of media coverage focused on ‘just’ wars in the middle east, while the organisations of the far right scream about ‘Johnny foreigner taking our jobs’, has worked to divert anger away from the true scourge of the working class. It is the ruling elite that profits from keeping wages low and utility prices high. It is their imperialist wars for profit that cause the displacement of so many.
The far right
Activists from a group calling itself the ‘Patriotic Alternative’ (PA) were busy in the weeks running up to the demonstration distributing leaflets around Kirkby. These informed locals that asylum seekers were staying in the local hotel and spewed racist rhetoric that was designed to elicit an emotional response. “Five-star hotels for migrants whilst Brits freeze” blared one of their headlines.
The company that houses the migrants in these hotels, under an ‘asylum seeker initiative’ (one might rather call it a fundraising initiative for private capital), is Serco UK & Europe, an allegedly ‘private-public’ (oxymoron) company.
This is the same company that was responsible for the London Olympics security fiasco and which presides over the notoriously atrocious conditions endured by prisoners in many British jails. On past experience, the likelihood that there is any truth behind the ‘feather bed’ accusation is vanishingly small.
The catalyst for the protests in Kirkby were assertions that the hotel residents represented a danger to local children, backed up by an inconclusive but incendiary video circulating on social media. This well-used establishment trope did as it was supposed to: stirred up the most primal fears of its audience and directed them against their immigrant neighbours.
Then came an escalation in the social media assault. Video footage of a young girl being approached by a ‘brown’ man was followed by a spate of unsubstantiated posts accusing a middle-eastern-looking couple of “taking pictures of people’s babies” in Walton Asda, Liverpool. The migrant hotel has been described by Britain First as being “full of young men”, and such is the illogical but emotional pull of this propaganda that even pictures of a couple, miles away from the hotel, inflamed locals to riot.
Capitalism needs immigration
You can’t blame workers for wanting a better life. They don’t come to Britain for the cuisine, the ecstatic welcome or our inadequate welfare system. Imperialist wars waged by the US-led west have destroyed whole nations, depriving people of the means to build a sustainable life.
All humans are entitled to a decent and secure existence, and if that’s not possible where they live, then migration is inevitable. Anyone forced to leave their own country will head towards places of commonality in language or family. Hundreds of years of colonial exploitation has made the English language common to the peoples of many nations, thus attracting them to our shores.
The Tories’ recent posturing about getting ‘stricter’ over immigration is all pantomime. With Labour crawling closer in the polls and the economic crisis deepening by the day, the usual competition over who can most convincingly blame immigrants for the declining living standards of British workers, and who can be correspondingly ‘tougher on immigration’, is being intensified.
In actual fact, it makes no difference to capitalists who the worker is or where they come from as long as they can be exploited. Capitalism needs a surplus of labour to keep workers in competition with each other as they push wages down in their desperate attempt to ride out the crisis and keep profits up.
Many of the workers seeking asylum are running from Nato bombs, western-backed coups or IMF austerity programmes that have left their home economies in tatters. For them to travel to Europe or Britain can be just as deadly, and their willingness to do so reflects of how desperate is their need to leave their home and try to find security somewhere else.
‘Globalisation’ (imperialism) feeds off an unlimited supply of workers in the imperialist countries and the mass migration of labour to where it is needed. Capitalist governments, who act on behalf of the capitalist ruling class in each country, will never really attempt to stop immigration, but they will use racist anti-immigration rhetoric to divide workers and divert their attention from their true enemy.
As communists, we fight against the exploitation of all workers and against our common enemy: the capitalist exploiter of wage-labour. We fight against imperialism (capitalism in its monopoly stage), which decimates the homelands of the world’s people in the name of profit, forcing them to leave their homes to survive.
It is not poor people, regardless of where they come from, who are the cause the world’s problems. They have no such power or authority within the present economic system. Our enemy is the capitalist. And the solution to our problems is to remove the conditions in which a small class of super-rich exploiters lives by sucking the lifeblood of the world’s people, living high while those who create their wealth are left to sink deeper and deeper into the mire.