Behind the immigration targets

The BBC News site has a fairly lengthy piece on the work culture in the Home Office asylum application office in Bootle (outside Liverpool).

One of the staff at the office describes a work environment that resembles a call centre:

A leader board hangs on the wall displaying who is hitting their targets and who isn’t, and performance managers pace the floor asking for updates on progress as often as once an hour.

Staff who don’t meet their targets risk losing their jobs.

“There is an obsession among management with unachievable ‘stats’ – human beings with complex lives are reduced just to numbers,” says Alex who has been a decision-maker for the Home Office for almost a year.

“These are people waiting for a decision to be made on their lives – it is probably one of the biggest things they will ever have to go through.

“Given what we are dealing with, this is not the environment for pushy managers who try to drive results through fear and intimidation.”

The focus is on cases classified by the Home Office as “non-straightforward”, including pregnant women, people who claim to have been tortured and those with mental health conditions.

But no matter how complex the case, Alex is expected to make five decisions to grant or refuse asylum seekers a week, justified by a letter that can be anything between 5,000 and 17,000 words long…

Anyone consistently hitting three or less is put on an “improvement plan” – and will be sacked if they don’t improve in four weeks, Alex says.


Radical Film Network Scotland events: May 2018

Open Borders Scotland will be represented at two events organised by the Radical Film Network Scotland in May 2018. The first of these is on Tuesday 1st of May in the Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre in Dumfries.

Migration – Then & Now: An Evening Of Film & Discussion (Tues 1st May)

The event features two films by Philip Donnellan – The Colony & The Irishman – in which ‘Windrush generation’ immigrants speak of their own experiences. The event provides a rare opportunity to see ‘The Irishman’, which was made for the BBC in the 1960s, but never broadcast. More details at the Radical Film Network site, or on the event Facebook page.


1968: The Day The Troubles Began (Sun 20th May)

The second event is a film showing and discussion on a documentary about the 1968 civil rights march in Derry, Northern Ireland, that has been credited by some as marking the beginning of the Troubles. The event is being chaired by OBS’s Chris Gilligan, the author of Northern Ireland and the crisis of anti-racism, who will be in discussion with two veteran civil rights campaigners; Eamonn McCann, a leading Civil Right advocate, politician and attendee of the march on 05 October 1968 and John Patton, PR Officer for Derry Citizens’ Action Committee.

The event is showing at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Glasgow. You can find out more from the Radical Film Network site, or on the event Facebook page.


Forced and precarious labour

Open Democracy have built up a wealth of useful resources on migration. So much so that they are able to group the materials together into sub-categories (Open Migration; People on the Move; Immigration Detention and Removal in the UK, and; Beyond Slavery and Trafficking). There are so many resources within some of these sub-categories that it is daunting for someone visiting them for the first time. Some of the people involved in the Beyond Slavery and Trafficking stream have now put together a free MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) to help navigate through some of these resources, and learn in a structured way. The course – Forced and Precarious Labor in the Global Economy: Slavery by Another Name? – can be accessed at EdX. You will need to register, but the course is free, and is open to join until 30th of April.

The course overview explains that:

The primary focus of the course will be migrants and workers. Students will learn how patterns of exploitation are linked to economic and political interests, and be invited to consider the strengths and limitations of different models of intervention and protection.

Drawing upon examples from across the world, the course will specifically focus on labour in three major categories of work – supply chain work, migrant work, and sex work – and consider how their connection to global economic and political forces creates patterns of vulnerable, precarious and forced labor. It will also consider the limitations of popular approaches focusing upon the politics of rescue, the criminalisation of movement, and corporate social responsibility, and instead consider alternatives based upon models of worker rights, collective organising, and decent work.

Forced and precarious labor cannot be reduced to the grit in the gears of an otherwise legitimate and smoothly functioning economic system. They must instead be viewed as an intended outcome of the regular operations of the global economy. Taking effective action to address patterns of exploitation therefore requires identifying and challenging systems of exploitation, rather than targeting individual ‘bad apple’ employers or deviant criminals.

No Borders – review

A review of Natasha King’s book No Borders: The Politics of Immigration Controls and Resistance by Chris Gilligan.

Gilligan says that:

No Borders makes two important contributions to migration struggles. Firstly, King reflects on her own experience in the No Borders Movement, and attempts to make explicit the theory underpinning No Borders practice. Secondly, she is honest and does not shy away from identifying limitations to the current stage of the struggles and she tries to think about how we advance the struggle.

He then goes on to say that King’s:

desire to go beyond what already exists––rather than, for example, get a fairer deal for migrants, or have a more equitable redistribution of resources––combined with her involvement as an activist, is what makes No Borders stand out from the rest of the burgeoning literature on migration. King is at her best when she critically reflects on her own experiences and identifies dilemmas that need to be tackled as part of the strengthening of migration struggles. Unfortunately, the theories that she draws on hinder her ability to do so.

The review contains a critique of the theory – principally prefigurative politics – that King draws on in writing No Borders.

Gilligan concludes that:

Migration struggles are pregnant with possibilities for building a movement that can strive toward human freedom. At present the focus on practice at the expense of theory (or a particular version of the same thing, the ultilitarian uses of theory) is a barrier to developing the emancipatory potential of migration struggles. King has helped to make a step along the path, by making explicit the theory that underpins the activity of the No Borders movement. Doing so allows us to engage with No Borders as theory.

No Borders theory, however, is inadequate. King assumes, rather than demonstrates, that the human capacity for dominating behaviour leads to the state, and that the capacity for egalitarian behaviour leads to something else. The theory that she discerns in the No Borders movement, unlike the movement’s practice, evades the real world. In doing so it ruptures the unity of theory and practice and ends up reconciling itself to resistance and escape, as the best that we can hope for. Migration struggles have the potential to do so much more. The struggle for free movement highlights the contradictory nature of capitalist society (e.g. promising freedom in theory, while denying it in practice) and the brutally anti-human consequences (e.g. the deaths of thousands who drown in the Mediterranean because states in Europe refuse to treat them as fellow human-beings).

The full review is available online at:

The UK Trade Unions and immigration controls

An interesting article by Thomas Fagan on the immigration issue in the recent UNITE the Union leadership election. Fagan shows how Len McCluskey (the election winner), in an article in The Morning Star, misrepresents Marx in order to justify his opportunistic opposition to free movement.

McCluskey quotes from a short speech, written by Marx, to the International Workingmen’s Association in 1867:

“A study of the struggle waged by the British working class reveals that in order to oppose their workers, the employers either bring in workers from abroad or else transfer manufacture to countries where there is a cheap labour force.”

McCluskey uses this quote from Marx to then go on to argue that the issue Marx identified in 1867 is a problem confronting the British working class today:

Anyone who has had to negotiate for workers, in manufacturing in particular, knows the huge difficulties that have been caused by the ability of capital to move production around the world — often to China and the Far East or eastern Europe — in search of far lower labour costs and higher profits… [which is] all part of the flexible labour market model, ensuring a plentiful supply of cheap labour here for those jobs that can’t be exported elsewhere.

We can see that McCluskey is trying to draw a parallel between Marx and his own position, before he then goes on to suggest the need to get away from a flexible labour market model that promotes ‘free movement’ of labour and instead talk about protections for labour:

I believe it is time to change the language around this issue and to speak instead of safeguards for communities, for workers, and for industries needing labour. At the core of this must be the reassertion of collective bargaining and trade union strength. Unite has proposed that any employer wishing to recruit labour abroad can only do so if they are either covered by a proper trade union agreement, or by sectoral collective bargaining. Put together with trade unions’ own organising efforts this would change the race-to-the-bottom culture into a rate-for-the-job society. It would end the fatal attraction of ever cheaper workers for employers without the requirement for formal quotas or restrictions.

McCluskey gives a nod to free movement as a worthy aim, but urges us to be realistic in today’s conditions:

Of course, all socialists must ultimately look forward to a day when people can move freely across the world and live or work where they will. But that is a utopia removed from the world of today, and would require international economic planning and public ownership to make a reality.

This view of internationalism, as Fagan points out, is very different from that of Marx. In the sentence immediately following from the one that McCluskey quotes, Fagan points out, Marx:

comes to the opposite conclusion. He doesn’t call for the erection of barriers. Marx writes: “Given this state of affairs [cheap labour], if the working class wishes to continue its struggle with some chance of success, the national organisations must become international”… Workers organising across borders was Marx’s solution, not putting a stop to workers moving.

Defending wages and conditions against a ‘race-to-the-bottom culture’ is something that workers have an interest in fighting for. The main thrust of McCluskey’s arguments, however, are geared towards securing the position of Trade Union bureaucrats, not towards building grassroots campaigns for workers’ rights or workplace based challenges to exploitation.

We can see this concern for bureaucratic power in McCluskey’s talk about ‘having had to negotiate for workers’. Most rank and file Union members experience is that Trade Union ‘leaders’ do not represent the interests of their members, but act as mediators between wage-labourers and employers. We can see this in McCluskey’s talk about ‘a proper trade union agreement’ or ‘sectoral collective bargaining’. Here he is harking back to a time when Trade Union ‘leaders’ had a cosier relationship with employers and the state, and used the power they gained from this relationship to stamp down on militant grassroots activity in the workplace. We can see it in McCluskey’s talk of ‘international economic planning and public ownership’. The model he appears to have in mind here in an internationalised version of the Soviet Union. In that labour bureaucrats ‘actually existing’ utopia ‘economic planning and public ownership’ meant the ruthless domination of workers by capital that was managed in the interests of an elite of state planners.

McCluskey’s worldview is not ‘workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains’, it is ‘workers of the world unite behind helping labour bureaucrats to become part of the ruling class’.

McCluskey presents the interests of workers in the UK as being opposed to the interests of (would be) immigrant workers. Instead he could have pointed to numerous examples of ways in which immigrant workers in the UK – such as the Tres Cosas (or 3Cosas) campaign by immigrant worker cleaners at the University of London – have been furthering the interests of ALL workers. It is, however, no mere oversight on his part that he did not do so. These migrant led workplace based campaigns are a direct challenge to the Trade Union bureaucrats.

Tres Cosas is part of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which was formed by grassroots trade union organisers who broke from the established trade unions (including UNITE). The founders of IWGB were frustrated at the lack of democracy in the established Unions and the attempts by the public sector union UNISON ‘to undermine the [3Cosas] campaign and exclude the outsourced workers and campaigners from meaningful participation in the union’ (IWGB).

McCluskey complains about the flexible labour market that has eroded workers wages and conditions, but it is in this sector of employment that immigrant workers have made some of the most impressive actions. The IWGB has made some important gains by organising amongst this section of the working-class, that has been neglected by the established unions. The size and influence of the IWGB has grown because of the success of grassroots campaigns for better pay and conditions. The 3Cosas campaign, for example, for parity between University workers and outsourced workers on ‘three things’, (sick pay, holidays and pensions), won significant concessions on sick pay and holidays. The Couriers and Logistics branch has won important battles in the ‘gig economy’ against Uber and Deliveroo.

The experience of the founders of the IWGB shows that in order for working-class struggle to, in Marx’s words, have ‘some chance of success’ today it needs to involve workers of all nationalities organising together at a grassroots level to challenge their own exploitation.

For a discussion on the free movement and working class organisation that touches on some of the points in this blog have a listen to this podcast from Novaramedia.




Pro-immigrant protests in the USA

It has been inspiring to hear about all of the pro-immigrant activity in the USA, in opposition to the ‘Muslim ban’, in opposition to deportations, in favour of sanctury cities.

The Best of the Left podcast has a useful round-up of some of the coverage on radio and podcasts. The webpage has, in addition to edits from radio and podcasts, a section that provides links to some of the activist sites, info for immigrants and a ‘Educate yourself’ section that contains links to (mostly) websites for newspapers. Check it out at: