National Windrush Day and beyond

A Windrush mural in Bristol (image: Duncan C/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0))

Make this the first step in a mass campaign for migrant rights!

Yes, it is the third annual #NationalWindrushDay, and no Chartist reader will have any difficulty in raising a glass of good cheer to celebrate the presence of the remarkable community of Caribbean-origin people in the UK.  

But it is also a moment to consider the impact of days intended to mark something about a moment in the cultural life of GB, and ask why it has so little consequence for the way politics is done in the country. The members of even this Tory government will have no difficulty praising the hard work and fortitude of a group of immigrants who, on this day, they will concede have contributed a lot to British society, but much less is on offer when it comes to relieving the hardship inflicted by racist policies.

It was never intended by the people who began the lobby for a special Windrush day, but there is a real danger that it can be forced into the narrative of the ‘good immigrant/bad immigrant’ which underpins current immigration policy. If it is to escape that fate, National Windrush Day will need to make it explicit that it marks the contributions that all migrants, past and present, have made to the world we live in today, and is ruthless in speaking out against the cost that has had to be paid by hundreds of thousands of migrant people for the supposed privilege of being allowed into the country.

The messages that come out of the Black Lives Matter generation will, no doubt, vanish any complacency from the elites that it has all worked out rather well for the West Indian migrants and their descendants, hasn’t it? And, with the news supplying us with details of the miserable performance of the Home Office in settling claims for compensation from the people who lost their jobs, homes, health and who, in many cases, had their family life destroyed by racist immigration control practices, the balance of the argument is overwhelmingly on their side.  

Add to this the evidence of the deep suffering of BAME communities during the Covid-19 crisis – not just in terms of the higher numbers of virus infections, but also individuals and communities impoverished by exclusion from the support given as standard to people with the status of citizens – then the charge sheet grows and grows.

“Get the compensation claims settled immediately” is the most obvious demand to set out on this National Windrush Day. But if we can be confident that the lessons of all these past years really have been learnt, we will see cultural celebrations turn quickly towards a political movement that demands an end to the discrimination and violence directed at migrant people which has arisen from 70 years of racist immigration control policies.  

This is a good time to formulate the demands that reverse the direction of policy, building what is to replace it on the firm foundation of positive rights, covering the spectrum of social and economic experience which needs to be purposed to provide traction for the assertion of equality and justice.

Clearing the decks for this reform of immigration policy will require, as a first step, ending the idea of the rightless, ‘illegal’ immigrant whose presence justifies the exceptional, hostile environment that has come to encompass all migrant people. Regularisation and papers for all now! Settle that matter, and we can begin the discussion about the immigration policy we are going to need for the years that are to come.

Don Flynn is working with the Steering Group of the London Hearing of the Permanent People’s Tribunal on Violations of the Rights of Migrants to set out a Manifesto for Migrant Rights. If you would like to know more, tweet him at @donflynnmrn.

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