Local and international events show need to unite against racism and defend migrant workers

August 9, 2011

This article, compiled by writers for The Spark, looks at two anti-migrant events that occurred in July 2011 and asserts the necessity of defending migrant workers and advancing the socialist principle of open borders for working people.

Prime Minister John Key last month displayed an openly hostile attitude towards asylum seekers. The Elysia was carrying more than eighty Tamil asylum seekers who were detained by Indonesian maritime authorities near Sumatra. Many of those on the boat were videoed with hand written signs and New Zealand flags signaling that New Zealand is a desirable destination for them.

Key stated blankly, “Our very simple message is they are not welcome”. He continued, “It confirms what I’ve been saying for some time; it’s only a matter of time before large vessels, steel-hulled vessels capable of navigating their way to New Zealand… or far away parts of the world would try to make their way here. They would not be allowed into New Zealand.”

Key’s uncompromising position went further than other mainstream politicians - such as former Prime Minister Helen Clark and Key’s own immigration Minister Jonathon Coleman - who both asserted that it’s unlikely that such boats as the Elysia could make it down to New Zealand. It’s likely that Key’s position was driven by electoralism and an attempt to galvanise amongst non-liberal voters.

Some commentators though like to portray New Zealand as fair and decent. The Helen Clark-led government won some liberal sympathy when New Zealand took in some of the asylum seekers involved in the Tampa refugee ‘crisis’ in 2001. Such liberal sympathy towards that government was misplaced. In parts of Australia refugees are being kept in inhumane conditions for years in detention centers. It’s both morally deplorable and against the interests of working people. But the reality in 2001 and today is that the New Zealand government is in many respects worse than others. It accepts less asylum seekers than does Australia. It has a commitment to the UN to take up to only 750 refugees per year, a comparatively small number, and even then it usually accepts less.

It is increasingly important for the international workers movement to defend migrant workers.

Whilst New Zealand does have a tradition of deep conservatism, it doesn’t have strong traditions of fascism or right-wing extremism. The presence of the far-right in Europe has been highlighted by the terrible events in Norway.  

The bombing of government buildings in Oslo which killed seven people was carried-out by right-wing extremist Anders Behring Brevik as a decoy to distract authorities whilst he went about massacring 85 young people and injuring a further 67 at a social democratic youth conference on Utoya Island. Being a right-wing extremist, he blamed the social democratic youth for contributing to what called ‘cultural Marxism’ and     ‘Islamic colonisation’. Brevik’s ideology appears to be a blend of rightist conservatism and Nazism.

It is said that Brevik’s careful planning of the attack, including the financing of the attack, was carried out over a number years. This shows that he was a focused right-wing extremist, and it wasn’t the case that he is simply psychopathic. Whilst Brevik’s action is amongst the most extreme carried out by far-rightists in Europe in the post-war period, it shouldn’t be seen as a one-off act of violence.

Far-right activity carried out by boneheads and more organised right-extremists regularly occurs in Europe and in Russia. It consists of violence towards immigrants, leftists, and intellectuals, and has resulted in murders of immigrants. Organised groups on the far-right in Russia have achieved the capacity to execute people in the legal system who have prosecuted or convicted far-rightists.

What should be taken from both centre-right politicians like John Key and from far-rightists who are galaxies to the right of the political centre, is that the most predominant form of racism today is contained in theories against immigration. John Key displays none of the signs of a typical conservative racist. He works with the Maori Party and shortly before the Elysia asylum seeker saga he was touring India participating in sound-bite-sized activities which he probably hopes will shore-up support amongst conservative Indian voters in New Zealand. However, what we’ve seen from the ruling class in New Zealand is that it’s always at the ready to adjust its position on migrants when the economy contracts. Europe, which obviously doesn’t have the type of insulation as does New Zealand against the global financial crisis, is seeing heightened activity from the far-right. As Socialists, no matter what level of persecution is being meted out, we stand up for migrant workers and argue for them to have full access, full opportunity, and no lesser wages, conditions, or income than New Zealand-born citizens.


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