Defending and extending rights to freedom of movement


12 July 2016

This was a speech given at a protest called by Another Europe Is Possible on 9 July in London.

I want to start, at this rally for a Europe of solidarity, with some very harsh words about the European Union. The deal that the EU struck with Turkey in March is nothing short of a disgrace.

We are paying the brutal Turkish government, which was already murdering Kurdish citizens in eastern Turkey, to use renewed force to keep Syrians fleeing war from reaching Europe.

At the same time, NATO is now patrolling the Mediterranean Sea with its warships – including British warships. Europe is now a grand version of the gated community, patrolled by private security guards, surrounded by a sea of misery.

For a time last year, we saw a very different vision of what Europe could be. A wave of sympathy saw European nations agree to accept thousands of refugees and ordinary Europeans moved to physically help the Syrians, Iraqis and others on their difficult journey, even rescuing people from the sea.

But anti-migrant politics fought back. And the same set of politics which saw war ships rather than lifeboats sent to the Mediterranean was also active in our EU referendum. Nigel Farage’s infamous ‘Breaking Point’ poster was only the most high profile example of a campaign of hate designed to undermine our common humanity.

Let me be quite clear.

Many people voted to leave the EU because they were fed up of the effects of an economic system which generates growing inequality, and of a political elite which has left their communities to rot while they look after the interests of banks and big business. They are right to be fed up.

But by building on years of anti-migrant propaganda from the press, the main leave campaigns persuaded too many of those people that the answer to their problems lies in somehow halting migration. Others, the Little Britain Tories, were not economically marginalised of course, but signed up to the anti-migrant rhetoric anyway.

So now, as a result of the leave victory, a minority of racists feel they now have some kind of electoral mandate – a licence to carry out racist abuse and attacks against recent migrants or anyone who isn’t white. Our likely next prime minister, Theresa May, will also feel she has an electoral mandate to carry out racist and anti-migrant policies.

So the political climate we now have in this country means defending migrant rights has to be a priority.

At Global Justice Now we campaign against the undemocratic power of multinational corporations and the inequality and injustice which that power produces.

We have a long history of international solidarity, especially with people in the global south. But it’s no good acting in solidarity with people only as long as they stay over there, on the other side of the Mediterranean.  

Because make no mistake, the drivers of migration are all about the power of corporations and the rich countries who back them.

Free market economic conditions imposed on poorer countries by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank have destroyed public services, ruined local agriculture and ensured only a tiny elite have benefitted from economic growth. The UK government has been at the centre of imposing those conditions over the last few decades.

Meanwhile raw materials and profits are extracted from the global south by corporations - in direct continuity from the history of European colonialism in those countries. And of course tax havens like Panama, Jersey and the British Virgin Islands allow companies to avoid paying huge sums in tax. Countries in Africa lose 35 billion dollars in tax each year – money which could be paying for health, education or local investment.

Climate change is starting to make some parts of the world uninhabitable; climate change which is being driven by oil companies, coal companies, car companies and more.

This week we’ve heard from the Chilcot Inquiry how Tony Blair told George Bush “we’re with you whatever”.
The war they started, to secure American influence and corporate power in the world has seen hundreds of thousands of people killed and millions more displaced.

So friends, this is not a ‘migrant crisis’ we’re seeing:

It’s a crisis of war;

It’s a crisis of inequality;

It’s a crisis of climate change;

It’s a crisis of colonial-style exploitation which leaves people the world over without access to resources or control of their own lives.

So our responsibility is to not allow the politics of Fortress Europe, or of Fortress Britain, to win. To say that migrants are welcome, whether they’re fleeing war or poverty. And to say that we live in a country which caused these crises, and that has to end.

We need an end to the arms trade, whereby wealthy shareholders profit from human suffering.

We need an end to trade deals that work only in the interests of the rich.

We need an end to the fossil fuel economy and meaningful action on climate change.

At the same time we have to fight to create a culture of welcoming, not scapegoating, migrants.

Immigration detention – locking up people who have committed no crime – must go.

It’s also time for an amnesty on undocumented migrants. No-one should be illegal; and everyone should have access to workers’ rights – to be paid the minimum wage and have access to unionisation.

And we need to begin a fight for freedom of movement which isn’t just limited to the privileged few. I don’t expect to win that fight soon, but we have a very immediate issue on our hands, which is to defend what cross-border freedom of movement exists within the EU. Our friends from Spain, from Greece, from Poland, from Germany are welcome here and it has to stay that way.

Friends, we need bridges, not borders

We need dignity, not deportations

And we need an economy run for people, not profit

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