At the same time as the political establishment is grudgingly apologising for the horrors of the Magdalene Laundries, in Ireland today thousands of totally innocent people are living in confinement and enforced poverty, without basic rights or freedoms.
It’s always the same: a politician can safely condemn and express horror at atrocities committed in the past, but those happening now are “a complex issue” or “a sensitive matter”.
Today a relatively small but colourful and eager demonstration took place in Dublin, with others happening in other towns and cities.
The march (organised by the Irish Refugee Council) gathered at the Dail and when it set off to Justice Minister Alan Shatter’s office it was around 300-strong. Shatter promised before the election to change the system blissfully known as “direct provision”, aka confinement. Needless to say, two years later nothing has been done.
Well, almost nothing. During the summer hundreds of asylum seekers in the Ibis in Galway were in danger of being forcefully moved to distant parts of the country with the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen, just to save a few euros. Local people stood up for them and so did a TD or two. When the news came through that the relocation wasn’t going to happen some of the residents – or we might say the semi-prisoners – cried and embraced the significant few Irish people who’d come out to stand with them.
A friend of mine observed, or heard somewhere, that one of the reasons Ireland doesn’t have a far right party like the BNP is because while the BNP in England can crib about asylum seekers “taking jobs” and “Islamifying” the country, in Ireland the government just plain locks up asylum seekers for years on end with no right to work, no privacy or independence and a tiny bit of money to live on.
Of course, the establishment gives a reason for this, just as there were reasons given in the 1950s for locking up “fallen women”. The crimes of the present, like those of the past, did not fall from the sky. Terrible things happen because they suit powerful people. The justification is essentially that treating asylum seekers as nastily as possible will mean that other asylum seekers will be reluctant to come here.
It is a tragedy that so many millions of people have to leave their homelands due to poverty, starvation, war, persecution and crime. If the migration from East to West Germany when the wall came down was an indication of the bankruptcy and inherent flaws of Stalinism, then surely the mass migration the world has been going through for the last few decades is the most certain condemnation of Capitalism.
But for some reason a lot of people – including, it seems, the vast majority of government TDs and senior civil servants – see the whole issue from a totally backward perspective. What a terrible thing, say the far-right parties of Europe, that immigration should happen to us! As if the migrants were the culprits for this terrible crime of mass enforced migration, rather than the victims. And even though most of our political establishment – with big exceptions – have held back from overt racism, they see the question in fundamentally the same way. “They” (migrants) are coming “here” (this side of a line on a map inherited from history and geography) – and what are “we” going to do to stop this happening or minimize the effects?
Why do our media and political establishment adopt this inhumane and totally un-intuitive mindset? No rational person will have a problem with people of a different culture or appearance coming to live here.
The real issue is usually that people coming from poorer countries will willingly work for lower wages and be less socially integrated and thus more vulnerable and easy to exploit. So if you’re an Irish worker, your job and wage may be in danger from mass migration.
But this is also an un-intuitive and frankly arseways way of looking at the problem. The criminal here is obviously the boss, the one who’s paying the wages. The state isn’t willing to counter this horrible divisive exploitative behaviour, and the trade union movement isn’t powerful enough to hold the bosses to account. The bosses make a quick buck and whip up racism in the process. Any boss that fails to do this falls behind and risks going out of business. These are totally obvious facts to anyone with a brain in their head.
So why do the media and the political establishment carry on with such a convoluted and anti-human way of looking at the issue of forced mass migration?
Well, let’s look at the implications of what I’ve just outlined. Firstly: that global capitalism is so dysfunctional and cruel that millions of people have to leave their home countries. Secondly: that the undercutting of labour is clearly the fault of the bosses; not of any individual boss but of the capitalist system itself.
Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are funded by… those same bosses. Labour are funded by a cosy layer of bureaucrats at the top of the trade union movement who have no desire to rock the boat. Sinn Fein take an ambiguous position because their status is ambiguous – champions of the workers down south, Tory stooges up North. Why take a position in defense of a few thousand people who have no money and no power if the trade-off is that you alienate the very bedrock of your power? The whole logic of the capitalist system trends in the direction of grinding down and oppressing the powerless and this is just one case in a million.
And some of these politicians, naturally, are just plain racist:
The only way we can end this cruelty is by increasing the power, confidence and organisation of working people of all colours and nations. If migrant workers are actively recruited by a militant trade union movement, we can enforce equal wages. If we all compete to please the boss not only are we pathetic and contemptible creatures, we get less in the end. If we get organised, confident and powerful enough, we can take over and run businesses and services democratically. The riches created by the work people do would not be sucked out into the loot the bosses call “profits” – we could rationally plan how to use this vast wealth. Instead of swimming pools, mansions and fancy restaurants for a tiny few we could have jobs, services and homes for all, and this insane division along racial lines would disintegrate.