I was fucking angry when I wrote this post in the early aftermath of the referendum and I’m sorry if I offended anyone. Of course not everyone who voted Remain was part of the pampered middle class and some of the racism from the Leave campaign was as vile as anything we have seen in decades. I should have mentioned that, and equally that Remain were all too happy to exploit racism when it suited them. And I forgot to mention that Nigel Farage is a cunt.
I was angry though, at the sneering abuse from a metropolitan elite that assumed working class communities were racist, thick or uneducated because they refused to vote in the interests of the privileged. I was furious, and astonished, that a vote for an institution that would rather non-Europeans fleeing war drown in the sea than cross its hallowed borders was presented as the anti-racist choice. And I was dismayed that EU imposed austerity, that has brought such devastation to so many lives, was air-brushed away in favour of some sentimental notion of harmony that is apparently so flimsy it will fall apart unless it is imposed by an authoritarian neo-liberal superstate.
As ever, there was little thought for the poorest in the EU referendum, wherever they came from. No cares at all for the EU migrants set to face a four year freeze on benefits in the event of Remain winning. A wilful ignorance of EU rules that were already leading to the deportation of homeless migrants and which are soon to be used to attack those who have come from Europe and can’t find a job – or who don’t earn enough money. And of course these rules are set by an EU Parliament that has little more than a handful of Black or ethnic minority MEPs but dozens from the far right. Fortress Europe as a force for anti-racism? Don’t make me fucking laugh.
It is clear that class, and perhaps more precisely income, was one of the largest drivers of the vote to leave the European union. As voices from the forgotten North have pointed out, there are many communities that have nothing left to lose and who hope, as we should all hope, that any significant change could be a change for the better. That just for once the powerless could seize some control and inflict a crushing blow on the bankers and bureacrats that have driven so many into destitution.
Of course many of these voices were drowned out as television crews scoured the poorest parts of the UK looking for the most racist person they could find and giving them unprecedented air time in a bid to smear the entire working classs. Yes, immigration was a factor in some people’s vote, but rarely the only factor. The Remain campaign though, and the media that supported them, were intent on portraying this as the sole reason anyone could possibly want to leave the decaying monstrous European Union.
It is true that immigration often leads to economic growth and that this can increase jobs. There is ample evidence to support this. But to claim that these benefits are felt uniformly across society is a deception. The sad fact is that austerity plus the current neoliberal management of migration has impacted on housing, wages and services in some areas, and in particular in places that were already desperately poor to begin with. These impacts may be relatively small in economic terms, but when you’ve got fuck all then relatively small can be the difference between keeping a roof over your head or not.
This may be an uncomfortable truth for the left, which is rightly committed to anti-racism, but it is a truth. To insist that people are liars or racists when they describe what is happening in their lives is a path that will divorce the left from the poorest members of the working class completely. In many cases it is multi-cultural, multi-ethnic communities that are raising these concerns, places far more diverse than the latte-slurping metropolitan enclaves where white middle class self-styled anti-racists only ever speak to a migrant when they are at the check-out in Waitrose. It is time to listen, without pre-judging, to what many working class people in the poorest parts of the country are saying.
That does not mean pandering to racists, in fact the opposite urgently needs to take place. More than ever racism must be confronted, whether that’s organised fascists or loud mouthed dickheads who’ve deluded themselves that just because the UK voted out of the EU it means we all agree with their spiteful bigotry. But it does mean having difficult conversations, and thinking difficult thoughts and recognising that having concerns about immigration policies, at a time of savage austerity, does not mean someone is automatically a closet nazi or swivel-eyed extremist.
There has been no attempt by the government to mitigate the scarcity caused by austerity in deprived areas that have also seen high levels of migration. In fact they have done the opposite with vicious cuts to benefits and vital services. If that causes divisions in our class then that is all the better for their neoliberal aims. Migration – a normal human phenomena – has been weaponised by capital across Europe to drive down the living standards of the working class. Free movement was not granted so we could all have nicer holidays, but to create a flexible, mobile, precarious workforce to allow the continent to compete with China, India, Brazil, or whoever this week’s scary foreign bogeyman is.
That doesn’t mean free movement is automatically bad just because it has been imposed by capitalists – the ability to live, visit and work in any Euopean country is truly a wonderful thing. It is a freedom that is certain to continue even with the UK outside of the EU. But it costs over seventy quid these days just for a fucking passport. That’s a week’s money for someone on the dole before they even step on a boat. And if they do get on a boat they’ll lose their benefits because you aren’t allowed to go abroad if you’re claming Jobseeker’s Allowance. At a time of such rampant inequality this freedom to travel across the continent is invisible to the poor. Many who voted Leave will have never set foot in another European country – not because they are racists, not because they don’t want to, but because they can’t afford it.
The dream of a truly integrated Europe, or indeed world, will never be anything but a middle-class fantasy under current economic policies and whilst the poorest are suffering like never before. Fascism is stalking many countries despite their membership of the European Union. If there is one thing that is certain it is that they are organising here as well. The political chaos that has ensued in the wake of the referendum is creating a vacuum at the heart of the UK’s political system. That is a fucking opportunity. The far right know this and the more the liberal left sneers at the thick racists who didn’t do what they wanted then the stronger fascism becomes. There seem some who will almost relish any increase in far right activity, as an opportunity to say ‘I told you so’. This is a truly treacherous position. There is no excuse for standing on the sidelines now, whichever way you voted.
The UK is facing a period of political instability that has not been seen in generations. There is barely even a government at the moment and the Tory party are just as split as Labour. We are about to see an unelected, inexperienced Prime Minister trying to hold onto power during a period of enormous turbulence. Meanwhile austerity continues apace with the introduction of Universal Credit set to cut the incomes of the poorest even further. It is easy to generalise, and I have done, there were many subtleties at play during the EU referendum. But what can’t be ignored is that a large proportion of the working class demanded change and politicians are terrified. The working class is back in the game, let’s make sure we stay there.
And that means taking real action, not just shouting slogans or marching pointlessly behind ever more irrelevent leaders. It means those that may have concerns about immigration policies standing side by side with immigrants themselves against racism and benefit cuts because we are always stronger together – and there is a difference between policies and people. It also means those from more affluent areas listening to and trying to understand what many people in the North, Wales and parts of the South, have been saying – despite being ignored – for over three decades.
It will require doing the hard work, the boring stuff, and an anti-fascism that not just engages in set piece punch ups with the far right but addresses the reason those cunts even exist. Most of all it means a class united, whatever people’s race, colour or creed- with no tolerance for bigotry, including the elite, liberal sneering at the poor that has been all too evident the last few weeks. Because then we might actually start to fucking win some stuff. And that will mean another Europe really is possible.
Here’s some things coming up that are taking place in London and elsewhere over the next few days. Support DPAC’s national day of action against disability assessors Capita this Wednesday (13th July), in person if you can or online – events have been organised around the UK. Groups organising under the Black Lives Matter banner are also holding protests this week against racist policing, including one in London tomorrow (10/7/16) beginning at Oxford Circus at 10am. There’s another solidarity protest with the migrant cleaners currently on indefinite strike doe to the shit wages paid by property vultures CBRE being held on Wednesday 13th July from 5pm at 100 Wood Street, EC2V. On Friday 15th July Class War will be marching on Boris Johnson’s house in Islington because why should that wanker get away scot-free after the chaos he has caused in the capital and beyond. Then there’s a boring as we make it People’s Assembly demo in central London next Saturday 16th July. Get along to everything you can and let’s seize the initiative. Our time is now if we choose to live it.
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