Issue 283 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published March 2004 Copyright © Socialist Review





Last Refuge of the Racists

The Roma face persecution in eastern Europe and vilification in Britain
The Roma face persecution in eastern Europe and vilification in Britain

Where the Mail and the Daily Express lead on migration policy, home secretary David Blunkett and Tony Blair are sure to follow. After weeks of mounting hysteria in the gutter press declaring that every Roma in eastern Europe will move to Britain in May, Blunkett announced 'tough' new measures to restrict legal migration of workers from the ten east European countries that are about to join the EU. The measures, in direct response to demands from the racist press, the Tories and the BNP, will force migrant workers to carry ID cards (which, we are told, will then be extended to all EU citizens in Britain, presumably including British nationals). All access to social housing and benefits is to be denied for at least two years. Workers will also be forced to register on work schemes and, chillingly, Blunkett tells us that people will be sent back if they cannot find work or if migrants 'put pressure on communities'.

These measures come alongside the latest assault on asylum seekers--the last legal route for Third World migrants--and are an attempt to curb the growth of the BNP by stealing its clothes. But, like the anti-asylum measures, they will only fuel racism by giving the Daily Express and the BNP a licence to whip up scares. They will create the impression that Blunkett's measures are needed to prevent 'us' from being swamped by tides of benefit-seeking economic migrants. Studies have shown that the more politicians talk of migration as a problem, the greater the number of people who feel that immigration is a threat--the direct opposite of Blunkett's stated intention of calming fears. Already opinion polls show that many believe the numbers of asylum seekers to be ten times higher than they really are.

Britain is far from being alone in greeting the expanded EU with new racist measures--across the fortress ever more vicious measures to control migration are coming into force. The Dutch government, despite criticism from the UN High Commission on Refugees, has recently announced that 26,000 are to be forcibly deported to countries like Afghanistan, Somalia and Chechnya which are admitted to be unsafe. Many have lived in Holland for up to eight years.

Under the EU expansion deal, the freedom of movement granted to citizens of the richer west European countries is to be denied to citizens of the poorer new nations for up to seven years. Germany, Austria, Belgium and Finland led the way in announcing a ban on any migration of workers from the ten countries, and one by one the other governments have announced restrictions on entry or social rights.

Thus the brunt of the latest attack will be borne by the Roma of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania. In all of these countries the old racism against the Roma has reignited into a new round of scapegoating with vicious attacks, economic exclusion, and in Romania the building of new ghettos, as neoliberal measures have smashed already fragile economies. Now they will be welcomed to the west with the kind of racist attacks and screaming headlines that greeted Asian migrants in the late 1960s and 1970s or Caribbean workers in the 1950s.

All the old characteristics of that racism remain but there is a new note on the curbs both on the east European Roma and on asylum seekers. Both social democratic and openly right wing governments across Europe talk with one voice, not of universal human rights or even universal restrictions on entry, but of a two-tier workforce--one in which migrants may come on a temporary basis, just so long as they are extra-cheap and useful--and can have their roots torn up and families thrown out as soon as they cease to be a source of supercheap profit.

The asylum measures and the new restrictions form part of Blunkett's irrational attempt to balance conflicting pressures, that of the racists' demands for stricter immigration control to which Labour has always bowed in office and the needs of the CBI, which is demanding easier access to a cheap and flexible workforce.

According to the Economic and Social Research Council, the decline in fertility and the ageing of the population will reduce the effective labour force by 5.5 percent across the EU by 2020--one of the reasons behind the attack on pensions and the attempt to make us work till we drop. The need, the think-tank concludes, is to create a more flexible pan-European labour force--a point Blunkett echoed in announcing the new restrictions. Britain, he tells us, is not banning all entry from the ten states, because we need to fill 550,000 jobs and the expansion gives a new pool of cheaper workers in shortage areas such as teaching, medicine, engineering, science, and social work--jobs that cannot easily be filled by the most flexible and exploited workers of all, the undocumented Third World workers, many of them registered asylum seekers.

The CBI and Blunkett are hoping the new workers will both create a downward pressure on the wage bill for all of us, by filling shortages and removing some of the unions' bargaining power, and cut the social wage. They aim to do this by creating a category of workers who do not burden the state with the cost of their education, and can be denied unemployment benefit and pensions when they are older. This is an extension of the role currently filled in the murderous twilight zone of undocumented Third World migrant labour, many of whom are asylum seekers banned from legal work.

The attacks on migrant workers are Labour's new divide and rule--an attempt to further the neoliberal agenda by attacking welfare. But it is an attack couched in the language of race--the better to confuse our class and weaken resistance. There is only one way to protect the living conditions of all workers in Europe--migrant or not: open the borders and let us live and organise together!
Elane Heffernan


  • IBM has invented a television set that helps you to avoid annoying commercials. It automatically recognises the initial frames of adverts you've decided to block, whereupon the screen goes blank or switches to another channel. Perhaps Michael Winner isn't unstoppable after all.

  • The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has announced that it will give medals to journalists who were 'embedded' with British forces during the Iraq war. Armed forces minister Adam Ingram says, 'The medal recognises... the personnel who risked so much to remove Saddam Hussein's oppressive regime.' And to think we doubted their objectivity...

  • Wind farms
  • The MoD has also blocked almost half the applications for wind farms, saying any within 74km will affect its radar. This is 69km further than in Germany and 74km further than in the rest of Europe.

  • Michael O'Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, recently described the major threats to his business as 'nuclear war in Europe, a major accident or believing our own bullshit'. Ratner's would be proud.


    The spies who bug me

    Former MI5 officer David Shayler spoke to Socialist Review about whistleblowing on the intelligence services.

    Why do you think the Director of Public Prosecutions dropped the case against Katharine Gun?

    The issue first is whether the attorney general had a conflict of interest, because any Official Secrets Act (OSA) prosecution has to have his formal permission. This is where a government minister, someone who quite often stands to be embarrassed by what is being said, is making a decision about whether that person should be put in front of a jury. The attorney general decided to prosecute initially, and now has pulled out. What appears to be the cause is the threat that Katharine Gun would try to get disclosure of the legal advice about the war, and that she would be able to use that for a defence of 'necessity'.

    That defence of necessity came about because of your case, didn't it?

    That's right. The appeal court said that somebody charged with a breach of the OSA could have a notional defence of necessity. There are three elements to it: there must be an imminent threat to life and limb; it must be a proportional response; and I think it's got to be against something illegal as well. So it's quite tightly defined. I'm not sure that she would have been able to use it--just the threat of her using it was enough to get the attorney general to back down.

    Are you at all surprised by the current allegations about bugging?

    Not at all, it's well known in the services. I can't really say much on the record, because I might get prosecuted again--but I can say that Richard Tomlinson said that MI6 had a spy in the Bundesbank. It also wouldn't surprise me if they were bugging the EU. Read into that what you would like.

    The question that's got to be asked again and again is, why did the intelligence services sign that Joint Intelligence Committee paper off when they knew that the 45 minute claim referred to battlefield munitions and not WMD? If a desk officer made that kind of mistake they would get a black mark against their record, maybe for years. So why should there be a different rule for the heads of service? The heads of service should be sacked for making a mistake as fundamental as that.

    The 45 minute case has revealed an enormous amount that people didn't know about this country. How people could go from Number 10 to the Evening Standard, demand the headline, and get it. That reflects on my case. Someone briefs an intelligence correspondent, says to them, 'Put this shit in about Shayler,' and they put it in, because otherwise they don't get it next time. They have to put in stuff they know may be false in order to stay within the charmed circle.

    The whole thing creates a false historical record. For instance, MI6 went to the Sunday Telegraph and invented a story about Colonel Gadaffi's son. Now, I know it's made up, because the MI6 officer who briefed me told me that. But I wouldn't have known otherwise.

    Do you think the Butler inquiry will give us any answers?

    I don't think there can ever have been an inquiry that's been so attacked for its lack of independence. We used to joke in MI5 when people called for a full and independent inquiry, 'As opposed to what--a half-baked, biased inquiry?' But all the inquiries about the war have been biased and half-baked. The Foreign Affairs Select Committee: you weren't allowed to call certain people or see certain documents, so they got it wrong about Kelly being the source. The Intelligence Security Committee: we've seen bits of the report, and we don't know who they interviewed. In the Hutton inquiry at least we've seen the evidence, because we've got the internet, thank god. But he chose to ignore great swathes of it. He didn't recognise the fundamental importance of free speech. And our judges never do, because they're so establishment-minded. Now we have the Butler inquiry, which is chaired by a man who's famous for saying 'half the truth is the truth'. Sometimes I think we're living in Alice in Wonderland.


    Placing the poor before the palace

    Heloisa Helena sticks to her principles
    Heloisa Helena sticks to her principles

    Heloisa Helena was one of the Brazilian Workers Party's most popular figures when it won the presidential election 15 months ago, and used to be leader of its group in the senate. But last month she announced she was throwing herself into the attempt to build a new socialist party in opposition to the government.

    This follows her expulsion from the party along with three parliamentary deputies. Her crime? Voting against a government law to cut public service pensions virtually identical to one the Workers Party fought against when in opposition.

    Here are some extracts from an interview in the Jornal de Brasil, where she explained her decision:

    'We want to work together to build alternatives, to safeguard the socialist and democratic left. We will defend the historic demands and points of reference of the working class. We could be feasting on the rich banquet offered by the establishment at the Planalto presidential palace, but we prefer to build this alternative.

    'The Lula government has encouraged people who think it would be very dangerous for Brazil to break with the IMF. But there is nothing dangerous about it.

    'Relations between Brazil and the international community should not be determined by submission to foreign capital, represented by the vampires of the IMF and by the other multilateral financial institutions. The IMF is not a philanthropic entity--it presides over the pillage committed by the international bankers. It is, in fact, nothing but an appendage of the US Treasury.

    'The majority of us argue for an investigation into the debt, to discover how it was built up, who has profited, its legitimacy. The parties of the left and many important militants in the social movements have raised the issue with the public during elections and with petitions in the past. I don't understand how these people think the opposite today--unless it indicates cynicism and a lack of political scruples. To be against such an investigation of the debt and to defend its payment is a conservative, reactionary position.

    'We have to put an end to the ridiculous persecution mania [against those calling for non-payment of the debt]. It is a terrorism which is about promoting fear. It only serves to legitimise a failed model that has never worked anywhere in the world. This model allows the proliferation of parasites who appropriate the fruits of the labour of the majority of people.

    'The government has decided to raid the budgets of the social ministries to ensure a budget surplus. It's not magic. It is this economic policy which meant the failure of the government on its Zero Hunger campaign, on land reform, on education and health. To fill the stomachs of the bankers they have to empty the plates of Brazilians.

    'We are convinced of the need to work together in the building of a party which can be an alternative which helps the left and which will not be imprisoned by forces that hold real power.

    'The new party will not be born by decree, nor by the will of this or that political personality.

    'We are open to everyone. The only people who will not have a place are neoliberals, Nazis, racists and political delinquents.

    'First there was a working meeting of several left wing groupings to define the points of agreement, such as internal democracy. Now there will be general meetings to prepare forums of debate which will take place from the beginning of March through to June.

    'In the first week of June we want to hold our first congress, and afterwards we will have to gather the 500,000 signatures needed for registering as a party. It is a Herculean task, but I am used to toiling in the burning sun.

    'We know the difficulties. We are survivors. We have spent all our lives swallowing our own fears, but we have learned to keep going. Those who have lived through what I have lived through in the state of Alagoas to build the Workers Party, risking my life and humiliation, cannot fear anything. Getting 500,000 signatures is not much compared to the challenges we have faced already.'

    The full interview is available in French on



    Pay as you learn

    Huge protests have united students and lecturers
    Huge protests have united students and lecturers

    On 25 February the National Higher Education Shutdown, called jointly by the National Union of Students (NUS) and the Association of University Teachers (AUT), turned campuses all over Britain into scenes of protest.

    Student and lecturer demonstrations hundreds strong marched through the cities of Sheffield, Leeds and Bristol; Warwick University, whose vice-chancellor is one of the prime top-up fees lobbyists, was hit by a huge protest; students in Essex spontaneously went into occupation; and pickets and walkouts shut campuses across the country.

    The day was important for two reasons. Firstly, it is the first time that higher education students and lecturers have ever been on strike at the same time. Secondly, it demonstrates the high level of political significance that education funding has taken on for so many people.

    The joining of forces between the two unions is crucial. The NUS is continuing its fight against top-up fees; the AUT is engaged in a struggle against regional pay. Figures in the AUT have argued that the issues are unrelated (or even contradictory), but this has not been swallowed by the activists.

    What is at stake in higher education is not just a simple economic question about the debt incurred by a student or the exact wage of a lecturer. Combining variable top-up fees (and few people seriously believe the government's claim that the initial cap will be maintained) with regional pay, New Labour is completely dismantling higher education. Under the enforced elitism of the proposed new system, the wealthiest students will pay to get the most prestigious degrees taught by the most prestigious academics. The rest of us, at best, can only hope to struggle through newer, underfunded institutions to be taught by underpaid and demoralised staff. That is why the shutdown needs to be the springboard for an extensive programme of action.
    Kieran Crowe

    Marxism 2004

    Open or shut?

    Millions of Windows computers infected with the My Doom virus, major security flaws exposed in some systems and the leaking of some sections of the Windows source code will probably mean that among Microsoft executives February 2004 will be remembered as a bad month.

    All this will also make many people question what it is about Microsoft's software that makes it so vulnerable. The answer lies partly in its practice of rushing software out so flawed that it requires huge updates as soon as it is installed.

    This is why later versions of the Windows operating system continually check Microsoft's website for automatic updates--errors, bugs and problems are so common that it is simpler for Microsoft to build in a self update system rather than attempt to release better code.

    So what's the solution? Well, it's doubtful that Microsoft will improve--its virtual monopoly on software across the globe guarantees that.

    Many people point to Open Source software[1] as an alternative. As the name suggests, the idea behind Open Source is that everyone can access the basic computer code that makes up the computer program. Problems can then be worked on by anyone who owns the software. This leads to another benefit that Open Source enthusiasts often point to--its collective nature.

    The internet teems with sites dedicated to people working together like this. The most famous Open Source operating system is Linux[2] . Many websites dedicated to Linux attest to the volume of people who have collaborated on the final product with no financial ambition.

    Microsoft's monopoly on computers means that you can't simply run a computer that ignores other products. This is where free software like Open Office[3] comes in. Developed originally by a company horrified at the cost of purchasing Microsoft's products, this is a free system designed to open all those Word documents without requiring you to shell out to Microsoft.

    Of course, nothing is perfect. Increasingly some companies see using Linux as a way of breaking the Microsoft monopoly, but at the very least the Open Source movement shows that it is possible to produce software on a collective, not for profit basis.
    Martin Empson
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