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Sunday, 6 May 2012

Griff says; Refugees Welcome Here - May Day and everyday!

I attended the May Day rally in Glasgow today, as I usually do, and we were rewarded with fine, sunny weather for our march. For those of you who may be unaware, May Day, also known as International Workers' Day, is a celebration of the international labour movement. However, I didn't march with any of my Trade Union colleagues, who were presumably all sleeping off Saturday night hangovers, but instead attached myself to the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees, who were glad to supply me with a placard proudly declaring 'Refugees Welcome Here'. I'm pleased that I was able to do my little bit to support the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees as they are a fine and honourable organisation, as I will explain in more detail below. But aside from that, after the rally at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, where speakers had been laid on by the Glasgow Trades Council, I was doubly pleased to be supporting a cause with such pure and noble aims, and I want to explain just why that is so important too.

But first things first; what is the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees?
Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees are a group of people from all walks of life who have come together with the aim of campaigning to improve the quality of life of asylum seekers and refugees arriving and settling in Glasgow and the West of Scotland. Glasgow is a large city in one of the richest nations on earth and it seems only right that we should do whatever we can to provide sanctuary to people fleeing war, terror and persecution, particularly in the face of the racist smears and lies spread about refugees and asylum seekers by parts of the mainstream political parties and media in this country. Now, however, the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees has an even bigger fight on its hands. Around 150 refugees in Glasgow face eviction over the next few weeks by their landlord Ypeople, the former Glasgow YMCA. When evicted, these vulnerable people will be left effectively destitute without any access to work, benefits or any form of state support.

Ypeople, is a charity which is funded by the government to provide accommodation for asylum seekers and they currently hold housing contracts from the UK Border Agency in various locations throughout the city. However, these contracts are being handed over to the giant multinational company Serco, present in the military industrial & prison industrial complexes of most of the G20 countries, who have recently been granted funding to take over this role. Ypeople have until November before the contract is officially handed over to Serco but have decided to begin evicting people immediately. Those who have been told to leave include; families with children, pregnant women and people with severe health problems and mental health issues. To further compound the issue, this is happening at the same time as cuts have been made to the funding to the Scottish Refugee Council and other supportive community groups.

Thankfully, the people of Glasgow will not stand idly by while these, our brothers and sisters in humanity, are made homeless. The Glasgow Destitution Network, a network of community, faith groups and individuals, has set up a Night Shelter, which while very welcome, badly need support and resources. Go 'here' to see how you can help. You can also visit the Unity Centre Glasgow to see how you can help in other ways. Further to this, the FBU tabled an emergency motion to the recent Scottish TUC conference calling for no evictions. It also called for support for a national demonstration on 9 June by the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees and other campaigning groups. The Streetlamp will inform you of the details of this event nearer the time and would urge you to try to attend. For those of you in the UK, but not in Scotland we suggest a visit to the RAPAR website.

And now for some suitable music. Arts on the Run is a broad network of individuals and organisations across the Yorkshire & Humberside region in England with a common interest in refugee-related arts. The network was established in 2010 with the aim of using the creative power of the arts to promote social inclusion and integration. Arts on the Run welcomes and supports creative people who are refugees, migrants, asylum-seekers, exiles or who are otherwise marginalised, as well as individuals or organisations acting on behalf of these, or whose creative work explores refugee-related issues & the inevitable narratives of conflict, diaspora & sanctuary. In December of last year they released their first track, called We Are the Bridge, on bandcamp. The song is in Serbian, Shona and Kurdish, please check it out. It is available to download on a 'name your price' basis. Have a listen:

Now, a bit more about events at the Royal Concert Hall. While I was wandering around the various stalls before the rally began, I was pleased to meet and chat to a number of organisations whose causes I support. These included; Scottish CND, Scottish Friends of Palestine and The Scottish Cuba Solidarity Campaign. All good, solid left-wing causes. It had also been heartening on the march too to see anarchists and communists and Greens and various ideologically comitted socialist groups out there carrying the torch for progressive politics. However, something was bothering me, and I might as well be blunt and get right to the point, and say that it was the presence of Scottish Labour Paty members at both march and rally. You see, historically, there has been a symbiotic relationship in the ‘labour and trade union movement’ between the economic component (the trade unions) and the political component (the Labour Party). This remains evident today, as a majority of the unions still support or are affiliated with the Labour Party and provide it the bulk of its funding. The problem is, as has been mentioned before on this site, the Labour Party just can't realistically describe itself as a socialist organisation any more. It's time to face facts, the last Labour government laid the groundwork for much of this Government's agenda, from workfare to NHS privatisation. We had 13 miserable years of Labour government, which did nothing to support nuclear disarmament, illegally invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, carried on the legacy of Thatcher by further eroding trade union rights and encouraging privatisation. The same Labour governments carried out an unprecedented assault on civil liberties as part of their 'war on terror' and failed to tackle the growing wealth gap between rich and poor in the UK, instead preferring to kowtow to big business and the wealthy. The Labour Party is firmly signed up to the neoliberal agenda.
So, why do the unions continue to have anything to do with them? Why do Labour Party members continue to march with us on May Day? The keynote speaker at the Concert Hall was Owen Jones, an undeniably fine orator and, inexplicably, a member of the Labour Party. After delivering a rousing exposition of all that is wrong with modern Britain he rather spoiled the effect by telling us that the fightback had begun with the election of so many Labour councillors at the recent local elections. Another speaker made a similar reference. It was all I could do to remain in my seat and not voice my opposition. What planet are these people living on? There is a desire, a real burning and urgent desire in some areas, for an alternative to the vicious ConDem policies that are tearing our communities apart. But to even suggest that the alternative is the discredited and perfidious Labour Party is an offense to logic. When I was on strike last year with my union comrades, as part of the biggest strike in the UK since the 1920s, did Ed Milliband, the current Labour leader support us? When the same Milliband is asked what is his alternative to austerity economics, how does he reply? The man and his party are a disgrace and an affront to socialism. They are not the answer because they are part of the problem. We can never have a real socialist alternative while these wolves in sheep's clothing are loose amongst us; they are a fifth column among real socialist organisations. May Day is a proud and venerable institution, it is just the sort of event where organisations like Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees and Scottish CND should be given a voice, a platform and a ready-made support network. However, in my opinion, its very essence is sullied by the presence of anyone associated with New Labour and I don't believe I'm alone in thinking that. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that it is the elephant in the room at any socialist or trade union event in Scotland. I'm sorry to vent my spleen in this way but I just had to say it. Whether you agree or disagree, I hope you'll give it some thought.


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