Scrap Section 9! Stop Destitution and Deportation Now!
1. The Conference
On Saturday 28th January 2006, Manchester hosted the first National Conference against Destitution and Deportation - particularly calling for the scrapping of the inhumane Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc) Act 2004. Flores Sukula represented the excellent campaign of the Sukula Family in Bolton - the leading campaign of the 100 families whose support has been stopped after their initial asylum claims were refused - and her call for support for all deportation campaigns was echoed by lawyers, social workers and trade unionists present among the nearly 200 strong rally. Rosie Kane, MP for the Scottish Socialist Party, brought greetings and full support, as well as practical advice, based on the campaigns in Glasgow.
There is no doubt that this conference was an important step forward in organising resistance to New Labour's attempts to starve and intimidate asylum seekers into submitting to deportation. Flores Sukula showed how the actions of her teachers and local social workers had prevented her family from being thrown onto the streets and her younger brothers and sisters being taken into care. Her family, banned from working or claiming benefits, had no money to feed or shelter themselves. Section 9 compels social workers to take away the children of "failed" asylum seekers who have no money to house themselves, unless their parents agree to deportation. The brutality of this law, and the resistance to it has forced local councils in most of the pilot areas to block its implementation and led to several demanding its repeal.
Three clear messages came out of the meeting
- the campaign against Section 9 can be won (the Government has only backed down and conducted an "evaluation" simply because of the campaign, and victory on this issue could be a start of successful wider opposition to the government's asylum and immigration attacks);
- this is a trade union issue (and public sector unions, such as Unison, must actively support their members who refuse to comply);
- the families involved must be at the centre of all future activity.
At the same time, there were warnings that any "humane alternatives" offered by the Home Office needed to be treated with caution - see http://www.adss.org.uk/pres/2005/asylum.shtml - for ideas such as detaining failed asylum seeking families in family friendly circumstances, the Danish solution of giving failed asylum seekers basic food and access to health and education while encouraging them to return home, asking asylum seekers to co-operate with their own removal if necessary when they first sign to receive support from NASS; failure to do so resulting in lesser benefits. Several actions were agreed:
an e-list for continuing campaigning against Section 9 and other attacks
welfare of migrants;
a speaking tour of social workers and other trade unionists
solidarity action with Newham social workers should they go to industrial
The meeting also voted in favour of the resolution presented, which supported direct actions and made clear the necessary opposition to all immigration controls; although a minority expressed the opinion that (although they personally supported these objectives) such demands would not enable the campaign to gain the support of others outside the meeting, such as the professional organisations of social workers, and that simple opposition to Section 9 would be preferable.
Whatever the tactical differences of opinion, the main point to take from the conference is that the determination for united action dominated the day. The trade union delegates expressed how they were going away from the conference determined to find ways that everyone opposed to section 9 could be part of the campaign.
END DESTITUTION AND DEPORTATION, SCRAP ALL IMMIGRATION CONTROLS
On January 28th there was a conference opposing section 9 of the 2004 asylum legislation. This provision allows for the eviction of people seeking asylum whose initial claim has failed and therefore the possibility of their children being taken into care. It is also part of a process of drawing social workers into the enforcement of immigration controls. The conference passed a resolution in support of opposing section 9 within the context of opposition to all immigration controls. This was the majority view of those present - refugees, trade unionists, lawyers, social workers and others. It is also our view. However we think there was and is needed a more concrete discussion about how to defy controls. We also think the resolution could have been far sharper and more concrete in the following ways. We think these ways may have resulted in an even larger majority.
(1) There is now a distinct possibility - because of the Sukula Family campaign in particular - that the government may not so much repeal section 9 as ignore it. This will not be the end of the matter. It may be replaced by something just as bad. This is the scheme of "humane alternatives" proposed by the Association of Directors of Social Services. What they propose is: a) more asylum seeking families are placed in detention and b) NASS benefits to those families left in the community will be reduced if they do not co-operate in their own deportation. In other words benefits will be reduced below the existing 70% of income support if refugees do not collude in their own removal! This is an effort by the ADSS to keep its hands clean whilst attacking refugees and their children. It will also mean social workers are no longer in the role of having to perhaps enforce this particular legislation (through taking children into care). It is only by opposing ALL controls and ALL aspects of control is it possible to, in a principled way, switch opposition to section 9 to opposition to the new proposals.
(2) There will remain other ways social workers remain implicated in immigration controls. For instance most community care entitlements are now linked to immigration status - with social workers being responsible for this. And other workers are responsible for assessing and providing other areas of welfare based on immigration status - for instance most non contributory benefits and in patient hospital treatment are linked to immigration status. In ALL these cases we support workers who defy the legislation and we think a fight should be waged to ensure their unions support this defiance. We are against workers in ALL circumstances becoming agents of the Home Office
(3) A position against all controls is not abstract. It is not "purist". In fact it leads to very concrete demands in respect to how immigration controls DIRECTLY affect trade unionists in their workplace. In particular in addition to the issue of defiance not compliance for those workers within welfare there are the following matters which affect us as trade unionists:
a)Since 1996 there has existed "employer sanctions". These penalise employers who hire labour without the "correct" immigration status. Employer sanctions are about to be strengthened by the latest Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill. What this law does is to make bosses agents of control - by vetting immigration status and reporting the "undocumented" to the Home Office. It also requires trade unionists working in personnel departments to collude in this. We are opposed to employer sanctio! ns.
b) Since the death of the Chinese cocklepickers the government has been forced to enact legislation regulating taskmasters. However one function of the legislation to ensure gangmasters again report the undocumented to the Home Office
c) Immigration workers are mainly organised in the Public and Commercial Service Union (PCSU). These include workers who literally are part of "snatch squads" who descend on the homes of refugees at dawn and snatch them. These raids represent trade unionists being used by the Home Office to arrest, detain and deport other workers. We think the PCSU should at the very least consider how its members can refuse to implement this role
d) Unions are powerful bodies. This is why we think there should be a campaign to unionise undocumented workers and for the unions then to fight for their right to remain
e) Equally we think there is an urgent need for unions to fight for equality of wages and conditions of migrant and undocumented labour. This is in the interests of all workers whatever their status. Section 10 of the 2004 legislation allows all support to be withdrawn from some people seeking asylum whose claims have failed, unless they embark on "community services" without pay. This reduces these refugees to actual slaves. As trade unionists we oppose section 10 as much as section 9. The present Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill has provision for detained asylum seekers in removal centres awaiting deportation to work at wages below the agreed national minimum wage. As trade unionists we oppose this.
As trade unionists we support the position of opposition to controls as passed at the last national conference of the National Association Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE). It is a demand which can unite us all. Any lesser demand is divisive - as it will leave all those outside of the demand vulnerable to the Home Office snatch squads.
No One Is Illegal have produced a trade union programme – Workers Control Not Immigration Control. This also includes a model trade union resolution which is both politically opposed to all controls and yet presents concrete trade union demands within this context. This can be found at our website www.noii.org.uk
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