Over the last 12 months we have seen the reemergence of the far-right onto the streets of Britain....
The following is a compilation of collective impressions and feedback from Plan C members, all of whom were involved in the ‘One Day Without Us’ day of action.
Where did it come from?
The ‘One Day Without Us’ campaign was arranged following the U.K.’s decision to leave the E.U. It was a spontaneous coalition of grassroots movements, responding to a surge in anti-migrant rhetoric and violence.
In its early stage ‘One Day Without Us’ (1DWU) aimed to replicate days of migrant action that have historically taken place in the U.S. Like the 2006 ‘Great American Boycott’ the plan called for migrant populations to boycott work, take to the streets and join highly visible mass marches. As discussions moved forward, however, there was a concern that this plan put migrants at a significant level of risk. Instead of calling for workers, whose positions were often precarious and who faced deportation, to take illegal strike action, organisers opted to move organising in a less radical direction. A plan emerged for a series of local actions that included panel discussions, workshops, protests and social-media campaigning.
This day of action was a welcome show of solidarity with migrants. Post-Brexit the government has continued to make reducing immigration it’s trade-mark policy. Trump’s series of anti-immigrant executive orders was an unforeseen addition. The political moment certainly demanded a pro-migrant response.
Continuing to build on this attempt at organising, though, needs to be done according to an important critique. One of the problems that emerged from the decision to take less radical direction was a corresponding change in the language used to present 1DWU. Much of the discourse turned towards emphasising the ‘contribution’ of migrant labour to the UK economy and culture, effectively bypassing consideration of free-movement as something to be considered independently of the interests of capital.
This approach legitimises the treatment of migrants according to the logical of capital, quantifying ‘rights’ according to ‘contribution’. In Plan C we think it’s important to build this kind of organising towards a broader critique of the systemic function of borders in capitalist society. The currently very tangible political outcome of that function is that immigrants operate as objects for a displaced resentment among struggling communities. Countering that resentment with notion of ‘contribution’ can only go so far and does little to engage directly with the conditions from which it has arisen.
How this struggle played out on the day varied, with an array of different events and actions taking place across the UK.
Feedback on the Ground
To get insight into how all this translated on the day Gloria and Gabriella, two members of Leeds Plan C, have provided the following reflections:
Overview of the day
There were three parts to the day of action in Leeds – an event at Leeds University, a photo-opportunity, events and stalls in the shopping area of the city and a rally and march at the end. In total the action went on for around 7 hours. It began with an event staged in the main ‘entrance’ hall to the main library at the University of Leeds.There were mini-lectures, poetry and films on the subject of borders, migration and Europe. Over 100 people attended. There was a sombre feeling but also a feeling of strangeness about being so political and so angry in the heart of the university, which is usually a very de-politicised space. It felt good to be sharing knowledge in a different way, meeting people from different departments, breaking the silos.
A large group then moved down to the main shopping street in Leeds for a series of events on a stage, stalls, food and music. This section of the day was mainly speeches, delivered from a wide range of migrant support organisations, to a passive public. Similarly actions like forming a ‘human chain’ felt symbolic and flat. The feeling of ‘we’re all the same’ / ‘we must celebrate diversity’ felt false and performative. There was very little engagement with the politics of free movement, borders and the real hard political consequences of Brexit. Instead the focus was on culture and the cultural contributions of migrants.
Some councillors were present and supporting the NGOs organising the event but it did not feel like co-option, since Leeds has a framework of being a ‘City of Sanctuary’.
Then at 5pm, the ‘socialist left’ arrived, partly in the form of Stand Up To Racism, who had organised a Stop Trump march for the same day but were somewhat sidelined by ‘One Day Without Us’, who led the march with the banner, not the SWP. This meant that 1DWU organisers got to monopolise the public messaging, which was ‘Migrants [rather than just refugees] are welcome here!’, ‘free movement for all!’ and ‘no borders, no nations!’ We note that this last slogan, once an anarchist and marginal demand and prefiguration, has become far more mainstream in Leeds demos and action supporting migrants and refugees.
Was it a strike? No but…
As far as we know, a few EU migrants did actually go on strike, which resulted in cancelled lectures and meetings, so there were elements of strike action but most people who did take action merely deferred work, causing only minor disruption. It’s clear the city didn’t come to a stop. When we went to businesses employing migrant workers, like cafes they said they couldn’t come. Some didn’t stop work till 8 so couldn’t even come to 5pm rally. Similarly migrants working for agencies popped by but could not say no to the shifts that they were offered on the day. One-day ‘strikes’ only have limited capacity but within the University the day did cause some disruption and certain increased the visibility of this struggle.
One big win was the establishment of stronger connections between certain white ,European migrant organisers and black, minority ethnic groups, who gathered on the day. Additionally, during the organising process, which lasted 3 weeks, activists were put into contact with migrant communities they may not have otherwise met. These meetings also allowed people to voice their frustrations about being scapegoated and attacked. So it was achievement to get all these different (and similar) people in the same place. It also feels like we’re part of shifting a discourse in this city towards absolute and uncompromising defence of everyone’s freedom to move, to stay, to live without harassment.
There are also now discussions about creating a non-sectarian migrants group in Leeds (called something like Migrant Action Leeds). However we still get the feeling that struggles are compartmentalised, as ‘the migrants’, ‘the women’, ‘the students’ etc. We who work at the university want to carry on politicising this space, as they contain so much of what is happening in security, the border regime, good and bad migrants, policing, etc.
Finally, we wanted to note the emotional quality of the day. It felt significant that there was an atmosphere of people wanting it to work together, being caring and respectful towards one another. For both of us it was quite emotionally affecting – the atmosphere in the University building moved from angry to sombre to very openly loving; people hugged and held each other who hadn’t before. We think this is important to say.
In it for the Long-haul
In summary, there were some important things that came out of 1DWU, despite its limitations. Firstly, and most simply, the day brought people together and established new networks that make the potential for further organising a promising prospect.
More fundamentally, it highlighted the situation that for many the language and politics surrounding immigration is restricted by the logic of capital. Consequently, while justifying the presence of migrants on the basis of contribution is often done with the best intentions, it continues to legitimise the same premises that reserve the power to violently remove them. Most promisingly, the reports collated suggest that people were receptive to this message when the space was made for it. Those involved have therefore stressed the need to continue building these coalitions against anti-immigrant politics, working to shift them towards a more radical critique of how borders operate in relation to capitalist society.