Thursday, 7 January 2010

Anti-racist Action in the Workplace

Everyday life in the workplace is a scene of struggle and at its most stark is a battle between management attempts to divide and rule and workers efforts to unite and better their working conditions.

The divide and rule tactics can be based on gender, qualifications, different contracts and other working conditions and hierarchy. Increasingly immigration status has become an issue with on the one hand companies using the insecurity created by immigration checks and raids on workplaces to drive down pay and conditions, and unions seeking to organise all workers, including migrant workers, to provide secure jobs and decent wages and conditions. 

Privatisation and out-sourcing of services in the public sector means that these struggles often take place in schools, hospitals and colleges where cleaners, maintenance staff and catering staff are employed on minimal wages and with few employment rights. The prevailing climate of mounting racism and right-wing activity attempting to blame immigrants for the economic crisis is reinforced by highly publicised raids by riot style squads on workplaces to check the immigration status of workers and detain those whose papers are not in order.

The Hands off my Workmate campaign aims to prevent the use of immigration law and the activities of the Borders Agency to intimidate migrant workers, and especially their use on workers who are seeking to exercise their rights to join and organise trade union membership and representation. It is important to recognise that such raids introduce insecurity and potential violence into the workplace and the shock of seeing workmates with whom you have built up friendship and solidarity seized in front of you is a distressing experience. It was similar emotions that caused many schools to organise against the deportation of families when children and their parents had become part of the local community and local people experienced the shock of the brutality of the state at first hand. Now the brutality is more hidden as children are held in detention centres with their parents at places like Yarl's Wood and prevented from going to school. A moving interview with Yarl's Wood children was published in the Guardian in August.

Students and staff at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London took solidarity action when migrant worker cleaners were held in detention after a raid and forced management action to provide papers to the workers and the release of those held in detention, as well as reconsidering the out-sourcing of cleaning contracts.  The HOMW promotes similar action in other workplaces.

Green Left have agreed to support the campaign, recognising its importance in combating racism and protecting fundamental human rights and I hope that the Green Party nationally will follow their lead. Solidarity action at workplace and community level is an effective and practical way of challenging the divisive activity of the extreme right.

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