Racism in the north - Who are the real spongers?


Welcome to the new era in the north, in which waiting lists for social housing are at their highest in over 30 years, landlords like the local Rooney brothers continue to plunder our communities to make way for ‘yuppie’ flats. Meanwhile, our local politicians are expected to receive a 16% pay increase while we are expected to bend over backwards for the bosses and supposedly wait for the ‘trickle down effect’.

In the meantime, Stormont is becoming more like a family business. Nobody should be surprised by the recent antics of Ian Paisley Junior and his lobbying on behalf of property developer Seymore Sweeney After all it’s their job to protect the interests of the rich. As Martin McGuiness announced on his recent trip to the US ‘Northern Ireland is open for business”. How convenient Marty, considering we are the lowest paid workers in the UK and hardly a sound economic policy when the same companies will fly off when labour is cheaper elsewhere.

In the last few years, we have also witnessed the common sight of migrants on our streets selling the ‘Big Issue’. Many of them are subject to racist abuse, especially those from the Roma community. These are people widely recognised as one of the most deprived and discriminated groups in Europe, who have no official access to any form of benefits and medical care.

In challenging racism it is important to dispel some of the myths propagated by the gutter press such as the Sun and by many politicians. Migrant workers arriving in the north from eastern countries such as Poland have no access to benefits unless they can prove they have been working here for at least a year, often impossible because most tend to work in the casual/temporary, low-paid jobs which none of us want to do.

Indeed with the noise made about immigration by bigots of all traditions, it is probably a surprise to learn that more people emigrated than immigrated to the UK last year!

Anarchists believe in equality between all people regardless of where their ancestors may be from, what colour their skin is, or where they were born. We all have an immigrant history in one way or the other. We want a world with no borders, where people are free to travel the world and settle where they wish – this is not a freedom that should be only be available to the rich.

Today Fortress Europe, with its border controls, armed guards and detention camps is a reality. This has brutal consequences for those seeking escape from persecution – often fleeing western sponsored dictatorships.

Busses and trains from Belfast to Dublin and elsewhere are regularly searched by Gardai carrying out racist government policy and questioning, harassing, detaining and barring entry to ‘Ireland’ from the north on the basis of skin colour. Shamefully, asylum-seekers here are interned in Maghaberry.

Governments utilise racism deliberately to divert working-class people’s anger away from the real causes of their problems. Problems such as poverty, housing shortages, and unemployment have all been blamed on immigrants - rather than those really responsible such as landlords, property developers and low pay employers.

Despite popular ‘perception’, a recent report by the Government’s own Migration Impacts Forum claimed that migrants are only allocated 1% of council housing or flats. Most end up crowded into some of worst private accommodation, due to low wages and ‘tied housing’ provided by their bosses. Racism is often used by bosses as a tool in dividing the working class and weakening us all. It is when we are united that we can make gains, when we are divided it is the employers who benefit.

The real ‘spongers’ and ‘parasites’ who undercut our wages are not immigrants but the tiny boss class who live off other people’s labour, sweat and toil. Immigrants bring a wealth of experience, culture and make a contribution to society and the economy, often suffering harsher conditions and exploitation than ‘native’ working class people. We must also remember that millions of working class people have migrated from Ireland – north and south – in search of a better life, fleeing inequality, injustice and poverty, over the past couple of hundred years.

In confronting racism we must build class unity. We reject cross class alliances simply because there can be no common interests between workers and the bosses. We need to expose and attack the institutions which are legitimising racism in our society, we need to stand up against racist bullies and fascists carrying out attacks on people from ethnic minorities. Central to this is the need to physically and ideologically confront fascism wherever it raises its ugly head and the building of opposition to the system of wage slavery and exploitation which promotes racist scapegoating and the criminalisation of immigration.

Racism is motivated and perpetuated by greed, promoted by those in power. If festers in ignorance and misplaced fear. Our alternative is social equality and freedom for all.

We seek to replace governments, which create and maintain division on behalf of a few wealthy and powerful people, with a system where decisions are made by the communities and workplaces effected by those decisions. This means doing away with capitalism and returning control to those who produce the wealth of society, the working class.

From Workers Solidarity 102 the issue for March & April 2008


PDF of the Ulster edition of Workers Solidarity 102

PDF of the southern edition of Workers Solidarity 102

First published in Working-Class Resistance 11 (2006)