By Dave Stockton
FAR RIGHT populist and fascist groups are mounting a widespread offensive across the UK and in the Republic of Ireland, using anti-immigrant racism and anti-trans bigotry as their calling cards. The decision of governments to admit Ukrainian refugees while at the same time, in Britain’s case at least, demonising those who cross the Channel in flimsy boats is providing fertile ground for the hate mongers.
In times of mounting economic hardship in depressed areas , long neglected by Tory and Labour alike, governments are placing those who make it here in run-down hotels, often in seaside resorts, where they are cooped up in wretched conditions, far from friends or community support networks.
There the racist groups are inciting locals to target these supposed places of refuge for demonstrations and worse and are finding an audience, not huge yet, but growing and dangerous. The anti-racist campaign, Hope not Hate’s 2023 report points out:
‘Anti-migrant protests and stunts outside migrant accommodation centres and hotels doubled last year. Meanwhile, there has been a spate of actions to disrupt or cancel Drag Queen Story Hour book events, as part of wider activities against trans rights and the LGBT+ community.’
Half the work of fomenting this spread of reactionary activity is down to the Tory tabloids, like the Daily Mail with their propaganda about an invasion by immigrant boats or teachers trying to change the sex of ‘our’ children. Hence the slogans on these demonstrations about stopping the boats or stopping the ‘paedos’.
The virulently anti-immigrant Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who has proposed getting the navy to ‘nudge’ their boats back into French waters, then detaining those who survive the crossing on old cruise ships, is still trying to get courts to let her deport them to Rwanda.
The most threatening event was the full-scale riot on 11 February outside the Suites Hotel in Knowsley, Merseyside, where a large crowd, many local people, gathered to shout racist slogans. The agitation was fueled by claims online that a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl had been molested by a man from the hotel. These have since proved baseless. Someone in the mob had brought a petrol bomb, obviously intending to turn it into a pogrom. A police car became the target.
Other targetings of hotels housing immigrants took place in Long Eaton near Nottingham and Newquay in Cornwall. Hundreds took part in a demonstration in Skegness. Far right groups like Patriotic Alternative and Britain First have handed out leaflets in these areas about ‘luxury hotels for migrants’ whilst ‘our people’ are homeless.
The common pattern is the deliberate choice by the government of inhospitable locations for people suffering the trauma of war in their home countries, added to by long delays in processing their asylum claims. This dates back to Theresa May’s ‘Hostile Environment’ policy when she was Home Secretary.
In Ireland too since November anti-migrant mobilisations have occurred across the country around the slogan ‘Ireland is Full’. There were 307 anti-migrant protests in 2022, while 2023 has already seen 64. At the latest demonstration in Dublin, more than 2,000 protestors took to the streets, the focal point being a building converted into a migrant residence, where hundreds of people started to gather week after week. By December the demonstrations spread to other areas: Drimnagh, Finglas, Ballymun and Fermoy.
In Scotland too protesters have clashed at a hotel in Renfrewshire for the third week in a row over plans to accommodate asylum seekers. Members of Patriotic Alternative have been gathering at the Muthu Glasgow River Hotel in Erskine every Sunday in protest at plans to accommodate 200 asylum seekers there.
Another target for the right include the progressive gender recognition rules and trans cultural events. Transphobia was the theme of recent evsits in London outside Tate Modern and most recently a dozen far rightists from the Turning Point group tried to stop a Drag Queen Storytelling at The Honor Oak pub in Lewisham but were met by 200 protesters.
Off our streets
Fortunately, in many of these cases local antiracists, often from Stand Up to Racism, have quickly mobilised and helped prevent potential violent assaults. Though the police intervened in Knowsely, we cannot leave it to them as they will always defend fascists’ ‘right to peaceful protest’. Clearly the new anti-protest laws aimed against those protesting capitalism’s destruction of the environment will be used primarily against anti-racists not fascists.
It is the duty of the Labour movement to defend our brothers and sisters fleeing environmental degradation, poverty, persecution, and war. We must say – open the borders to those seeking refuge from wars, natural s dictators, and economic hardship.
We also need to agitate for those seeking asylum to be given decent accommodation in towns and cities where there are communities from their countries of origin and where trade union, Labour councils and socialist groups can make them welcome and help them to pursue their claims with legal advice .We need to fight the restrictions which deny them the right to work or to bring their family members to join them.
Socialists must unflinchingly challenge far right hatred in all its forms, including transphobia. Wherever possible we need to drive these racist and transphobic mobs off our streets, ensuring any naïve locals who join them endure an unpleasant experience and the fascists who enrage them are sent scurrying away.
We should work for a big turnout on the demonstrations on March 18 in London, Glasgow an Cardiff, as part of the global day of anti-racist protest.