By Mohamed Elmaazi for The Canary
The Labour Party has passed a historic vote on immigration policy at its party conference in Brighton. The second-to-last vote on 25 September included a commitment to “close all detention centers”, “reject any immigration system based on incomes” or a person’s “utility to business”, and “scrap all Hostile Environment measures”.
The Canary was in attendance at the moment conference passed the vote to massive cheers and claps from across the hall.
A break from from Labour’s “very awful record”
Joanna Gowers, a delegate for Finchley and Golders Green CLP, called the vote “the most radical immigration policy we all have ever had as a Labour movement”. Gowers, who has supported homeless people as part of her work, told The Canary that the new rules will help reduce homelessness by ensuring all residents have “recourse to public funds”.
Umaar Kazmi, a Rushcliffe CLP delegate, told The Canary he was “glad that it received such overwhelming support from Constituency Labour Party delegates and from trade union delegates. The Labour Party has a very awful record when it comes to immigration. We’re much better than the Conservatives, but under Tony Blair’s New Labour in particular we were responsible for the originator of the Hostile Environment. With our anti-terror laws… we pushed Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-migrant policies and [Labour politicians] were initially the people talking about reducing immigration.”
He continued: “So to have gone from that position, which was quite authoritarian under New Labour under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, … to a position where we are saying ‘actually, we will close down detention centres, protect free movement, we will open our borders to asylum seekers and other people’… It’s actually where the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn should have been in 2015. It’s disappointing it took this long to get here; but now that we are at this point, that’s something we can really be proud off.”
It’s been helpful for some political parties to direct the anger of the population towards immigration”
Sabina Arthur, a Hastings and Rye CLP delegate, told The Canary: “I was very proud to see a unanimous vote from the Labour Party for such a great bill. I think it signifies that the Hostile Environment will be over with the Labour Party [in power]; that we welcome immigration and we see the value of it; and that we welcome immigrants in this country”.
She said: “I think people have been sold a lie for a very long time. It’s been very helpful for some political parties to direct the anger of the population towards immigration. So we have to go out there on the doorstep and make the argument for immigration, and show people how it benefits our country, how the NHS wouldn’t be what it is without immigrants”.
The answer is to support strong labour regulation, not the targeting of immigrants
Howard Beckett, a union delegate and assistant general secretary for legal affairs for Unite the Union, told The Canary that “immigration has not caused anything other than good in this country”. And he said:
Migrants deserve the future that they are fighting for… They are people like you and I – deserving of a good future. And of course, trade unions will always back migrants and always look to represent them and always look to represent their cause.
Beckett said the UK needs “labour regulation” and the law must “allow trade unions to be in the work place, allow trade unions to represent migrants and to represent indigenous labourers, so it becomes an argument about the rate [of pay] for the job and not bosses allowed to use endless labour pools to drive the rate for the job down.”
He said: “Trade unions want to represent everybody regardless of what their colour [is], where they’re from, what their background is. It’s workers that we represent. It’s labour market representation. Companies should be made to have labour representation in the work place and then we will sort out the rate for the job, not greedy bosses”.
‘Striking a blow’ against racism and cuts to public services
Rick Gaehl, a Totnes CLP delegate, said the vote: strikes a blow against the rising tide in racism and xenophobia that we’ve seen in this country, especially since the Brexit referendum.
Sue Walsh, a CLP delegate for Chichester CLP, told The Canary that she’d “seen the devastating effects that have occurred on the NHS – just since the [Brexit] vote”.
Walsh, a staff nurse and Unison rep who is due to retire next year, said: “Large portions of our EU staff have left. Can you blame them? Why would you want to stay where people tell you you’re not wanted? People now are starting to complain on the [hospital] ward, and they say ‘why haven’t you got enough nurses, why haven’t you got enough doctors?’ And I’m going ‘well, it depends on did you vote Tory. If you voted Tory, you voted for us to be in this situation now’.
On the whole, Walsh was optimistic about what she saw as ‘increased democracy’ within the Labour Party.
Claud Hendrickson, a Leeds North East CLP delegate, called the unanimous vote “fantastic”, saying: “Being of the Windrush generation, immigration is crucial. We are still struggling with immigration issues after 70 years for the Windrush generation”.
The Composite 20 vote on immigration
Labour will include in its manifesto pledges to:
- Oppose the current Tory immigration legislation and any curbing of rights.
- Campaign for free movement, equality, and rights for migrants.
- Reject any immigration system based on incomes, migrants’ utility to business, and number caps/targets.
- Close all detention centres.
- Ensure unconditional right to family reunion.
- Maintain and extend free movement rights.
- End “No recourse to public funds” policies.
- Scrap all Hostile Environment measures, use of landlords and public service providers as border guards, and restrictions on migrants’ NHS access.
- Actively challenge anti-immigration narratives.
- Extend equal rights to vote to all UK residents.