SNN at TUC Conference fringe

11 September 2023: Considering a call for anti-racist immigration and nationality law.

Hello.  I’m Rhetta Moran.  Thank you for asking me to come here tonight on behalf of the SNN to consider a call for anti-racist immigration and nationality laws.  

The views I’m about to share are best summed up through the words of Angela Davis: Racism cannot be separated from Capitalism.

Before I outline what the Status Now Network is I want to ask a fundamental question: 

What do laws tell us about the society that has produced them? 

If we agree an understanding of what the existence of any law means, including the “Illegal” Migration Act then it becomes possible to collectively, do one of at least three things:

1.  Get rid of that law

2.  Introduce a new one

3.  Abandon the process of law formation altogether, in favour of another way entirely of going about the business of creating a world that is safe for people – and every other living thing. 

The existence of any law in the society tells us that the ruling elite, who are constantly working to maintain their control over the society, have decided that it is necessary to explicitly define specific actions by individuals, groups or organisations in the population as ‘unlawful’.  Alongside implicit and largely unseen control, explicit control involves laying down a specific rule or sets of rules under a single law, backed up by force, so that behaviours become punishable. 

The latest anti trade union legislation is a case in point, and so is the decision taken today that UK unions, via the TUC, intend to challenge anti-strike laws at the UN watchdog (some Union leaders present did assert that it may be necessary to break the law).  Here, in response to the creation of one law at the national level, another legal body is being called upon to intervene.   On the legal front, this dynamic resembles the response to the attempt to deport people from Britain to Rwanda. Resistance to that policy (contained in the 2022 Asylum and Immigration Act), includes mounting a legal challenge at a higher court and that too involves a member organisation of the TUC, the PCS.   In  tandem, and in addition to pursuing legal channels, direct action is organised in opposition to the laws.   

The existence of any law also tells us that, in that society, pre-legal forms of control that had stopped behaviours from the bottom up if you like, are no longer enough for the ruling elite to maintain their control.  For example, prior to 1905’s Aliens Act, there was no attempt by the dominant elite in the UK to establish an administrative structure of entry control into Britain and, in that instance, those first implicitly racist immigration control laws were introduced to try and stop the entry of Jewish people fleeing pogroms from Eastern Europe. 

Finally, the introduction of any law directed towards any individual, as opposed to group, also tells us that the ruling elite have decided that it has become necessary to blame the individual: the individual is responsible for what is now, for the first time, being defined as unlawful or illegal behaviour; the individual must be punished in consequence;  the problem is, ultimately and by its very nature, an individual problem that requires the punishment and control of the individual; and the problem is not an outcome of the ways in which the society is developing and therefore does not require a social, as opposed to individual, solution. 

Let me offer you an example. Cobalt is the chemical element that is necessary for every single mobile phone around the world to work.  Following the destruction of your Congolese village by a Global corporation that is mining for cobalt, you became a miner.  You manage to pay someone to get you out and embark upon a treacherous journey to join your sister who has already reached the UK. When you arrive, you are placed in a hotel.  In this example, not a single one of the multiple, socioeconomic, cultural and political factors – none of which are within your control and all of which have led to your presence on British soil – stops you from being defined, within the law, as ‘illegal’.

In this instance being displaced from your hearth and home and escaping forced labour becomes ‘illegal’ migration. 

The ruling class is making laws that assume it is possible to hold individual refugees responsible for the social problems that have compelled the refugee’s individual behaviours in the first place and, in the process, the ruling class is denying a fundamental truth: that every profound problem that now besets the world has been socially, not individually, created. 

The ruling class are compelled to take such action because it is their route to the creation of the individual scapegoat and, from there, the creation of group scapegoats for what are, fundamentally, social problems.  It is this attempt to scapegoat, in practice, every single person in the UK who does not have the same status as every person who is a British Citizen, that the Status Now Network unconditionally and unequivocally rejects. 

On the contrary, our Network asserts and aims to secure the human rights of every single person who has been or is being defined as having migrated to the UK ‘illegally’, alongside every single person who is continuously having to ‘prove’ that they are not ‘illegal’ – through paying money to the State to secure work permits, renew student visas, or become reunited with their family members, for example.  

So now, having offered you a way of thinking about what law is – and is not – I am going to set out the vision that Status Now has created, initially as a public health response to the emergence of COVID19. 

Then, holding that vision in our mind’s eye, I will conclude by pointing towards some of the forces that need to be tackled and overcome if we are going to replace, with an anti-racist future, the actions of the sitting government towards both the people who are migrants into the UK and the people who were born here.    I hope too that you will want to sign up your organisation or group, however big or small to become a member of our Network.

The Status Now Network includes Trade Union representatives who are campaigning for Status Now For All undocumented migrants and migrants in the legal process. 

By the 20th March 2020, the Status Now Network had come into existence, underpinned by public health knowledge from front line HIV and AIDS work, combined with front line knowledge about the reality of life in the UK as an undocumented migrant or migrant in the legal process.  With no budget whatsoever, three days before the UK Prime Minister announced the first Covid lockdown, we formalised the Network through a collection of groups who committed to exposing the impossibility of stopping COVID19 transmission unless people without their Status could begin to exercise meaningful personal control over both their living conditions and with whom they were in physical contact. 

In addition to the millions of people who are UK citizens for whom this was also the truth –  because they lived in overcrowded conditions, or were ‘front line’ workers, or had suppressed immune systems because, fundamentally, of poverty – upwards of an additional 1.2 million people were believed to be without their status living in the UK at that time. 

In collaboration with trusted allies and co-workers, we created the call as follows:

For the British and Irish States to act immediately so that all undocumented, destitute and migrant people in the legal process in both the UK and Ireland are granted Status Now, as in Leave to Remain.  In this way every human, irrespective of their nationality or citizenship can access healthcare, housing, food and the same sources of income from the State as everyone else.  

Everyone has the right to be in an environment where they can follow the Public Health directives necessary to limit COVID19 viral transmission to the absolute minimum and to care for themselves, their loved ones and their living and working communities.

It is imperative – being in everyone’s best interests – that the basic needs of all are met.

People living in extreme poverty and/or destitution and/or without immigration status in the UK or Ireland and/or without access to the NHS or the Irish Health System:

  • Are unable to socially isolate as needed
  • Cannot access health care, and income and other social support
  • Cannot contribute openly and without fear, to making the population as safe as possible, alongside everyone else. 

The Irish state acknowledged our call, the British State is yet to acknowledge, let alone respond. 

As of now there are almost 150 organisations and groups in the Network and they all recognise what became very evident during the course of the COVID lockdown:  that the virus is a syn– not a pan-demic:  that is, it’s an interaction between coronavirus infection and a number of non-communicable diseases.   The critical fact here is that more than three quarters of deaths from these diseases, occur where there is poverty and inequality.   Therefore, not only must we treat each health affliction as it arises in the world, but we must also simultaneously and urgently address the underlying social inequalities, including the manufactured ideology of racism, all of which, at this historical juncture, cannot exist without capitalism.   

In my few minutes that remain I am choosing not to offer you my shopping list of the range of forces that must be overcome to re-vision and create a world that is anti-racist where no-one is ‘Illegal’.  But if I did, top of my list would be the company Frontex that, since 2004, has been funded through the European Commission to deliver the overt and systematic militarisation of the European Union borders. 

Instead, I want to signal towards one extremely powerful source of our collective distress, where we must direct our collective power, as the working class. And by way of introduction to that source I urge you to get onto YouTube and watch the Michael Oswald 2018 Documentary ‘The Spider’s Web, Britain’s Second Empire.’

That source of so much distress is the City of London that had been the financial heart of the British Empire from which so many of the people now becoming redefined as ‘Illegal’, came to Britian.  As the refugee Miwanda Bagenda said to the Home Office representative at the 2002 National Refugee conference: “I am here because you were there.”

When the Empire declined so did the City of London and British financial interests across the globe came under threat.  In its stead, and the Oswald documentary offers a very accessible medium to learn about these historical developments, an arrangement developed through the Bank of England, in the heart of the City of London, called the Eurodollar market that was treated as completely separate from the domestic market.  Essentially, through this market, financial activity is taken from the place where it is regulated and taxed and pretends to be being regulated elsewhere… except it isn’t being regulated at all.

As the British Empire sank the City of London adapted, survived, and thrived by enabling money flows through former colonies that are now tax havens.  As the empire declined, the City of London transformed itself from a hub operating the financial machinery of empire into a global financial centre.  Former outposts of empire became the bases for a spider’s web of offshore secrecy jurisdictions that have captured wealth from across the globe and funnelled it into the City of London.  Now, financial structures are so complex that, even after being revealed publicly, like the Private Finance Initiative, they are not widely recognised for what they are. 

Today 25% of international finance is conducted in the British territories and almost half of the world’s secrecy jurisdictions are under British protection.  Up to half of offshore wealth is being hidden in Britain’s offshore havens.  Now, financial services is how Britain’s elites, our ruling class, make their money: former ministers, politicians, senior civil servants and others receive lucrative consultancy contracts after their time in public service.  They have transformed Britain and its dependencies into the world’s largest tax haven.

From the shadows, as this class presides over the passing of, and enforcing adherence to racist laws that, individually and collectively, scapegoat brown and black migrants and refugees, blaming them for the lack of available public funding and amplifying what are, in essence, lies, it has developed at least two key dynamics simultaneously:

  • Firstly, it deflects attention away from the real reasons for the State’s refusal to resource our public services and address our human needs.
  • The second reason is that it preserves and, if allowed to continue, will increase their profits.

To conclude then, Status Now Network identifies with everyone in transit, everyone who has died in transit and everyone without Status who is in Britain, and is committed to being a part of the networks up and down Britain that condemn the Government’s immigration control systems, both AT and WITHIN the UK’s borders.

Every time people plan and work together through mobilisations against these immigration systems, we strengthen the bonds that can transform the way the migration system works and stop the deaths and the suffering, globally.

And we must achieve this transformation, for the sake of our class as a whole. 

There is no room for competition, only for constructive communication, connection, correction and co-operation.

On behalf of the Status Now Network I offer you our Solidarity. 

Thank you.