Recent events at Stradey Park Hotel in Furnace, a village on the outskirts of Llanelli in South Wales, have once again highlighted the rottenness of the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ strategy.
This policy, intended to deter refugees from coming to the UK, is a classic case of divide-and-rule tactics on part of the ruling class.
On the one hand, the government is forcing asylum-seekers into substandard, prison-like accommodation.
At the same time, the Tories are whipping up anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric, in order to distract workers from their real class enemies: the capitalists and their political representatives.
Stradey Park Hotel is owned by property investment firm Sterling Woodrow. After being offered what must have been a large sum, the company agreed to the Home Office’s proposals to end the hotel’s ordinary operations.
Instead, the site is set to house 241 asylum-seekers, crammed into just 77 rooms, for what could be a number of years. If this is anything like similar schemes in the past, then living conditions for the refugees will be as bare as the government thinks it can get away with.
As part of this plan, the hotel’s bosses announced that 95 workers – mostly non-unionised and on precarious zero-hour contracts – would be made redundant, in order to protect profits.
Given the lack of any consultation, and the negative impact of these job losses on the workers’ livelihoods and families, this move has resulted in a great deal of resentment within the local community, leading to protest.
Lies and opportunism
The far right, encouraged by the reactionary vile spewed out by Tory ministers and the gutter press, have been quick to jump on the issue: blaming the job cuts on the refugees; and spouting all kinds of crackpot lies to smear and demonise migrants.
The flood of misinformation has been constant. All the while, the genuine voices of the workers at the hotel – many of whom are migrants themselves – have been drowned out.
Opportunistically taking advantage of the situation, and emboldened by the initial lack of opposition, Voice of Wales, a far-right outfit, were able to hold an open recruitment meeting in conjunction with UKIP.
People of Llanelli saw the mining and steel industry taken away from them. Locals now rely on tourism. They have just lost 25% of that due to the Govt housing 241 asylum seekers in Stradey Park Hotel.
This isn’t a war on immigrants, It’s a war on the working class!@Iromg @TalkTV
— Andrew Bedford (@andrewabedford) July 11, 2023
As is always the case, in reality, those stirring up racist division are only a handful of loud voices on the fringes of the community.
In the absence of a proper organised response to the hotel job losses from the wider labour movement, however, these far-right layers have managed to hijack this local issue, and have temporarily gained some support.
It has therefore been left to local left-wing and trade union activists – including members of Socialist Appeal – to mobilise and fight back.
On Saturday, for example, a rally was held in Llanelli to oppose the far right’s antics. Our comrades intervened energetically: helping to send the far right a clear message, whilst also discussing with local residents, passers-by, and others on the counter-demo.
Comrades also came prepared with flyers and placards, with bold slogans like: “Don’t fall for the bosses divide and rule”; “fight job losses with class struggle”; and “refugees are not the enemy – workers of the world, unite”.
It was clear from conversations with young workers and students that, in general, many in the community do not blame refugees for the job losses, and are against the far right’s presence in the area. Notably, there were many more car drivers beeping support for our side.
Furthermore, over 5000 locals have signed a petition saying that the refugees are welcome. Instead of cramming them into a small village hotel, however, they are in favour of dispersing the asylum-seekers throughout the community.
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Saturday’s action was not the end of the struggle, however.
Yesterday, Monday 10 July, the day that the refugees were supposed to arrive, the far right managed to mobilise much more strongly. This included bussing in supporters. In this case, those incited by toxic anti-migrant slanders greatly outnumbered the anti-racist counter protest.
By no means is this a true reflection of the real balance of forces in society. The working class, if properly mobilised and organised, is extremely powerful. The labour movement could easily turf out the far right. The problem has been the lacklustre leadership and coordination at the top.
This is a clear example of the far right being given an inch – in terms of a lack of organised opposition – and taking a mile.
The Plaid Cymru council is taking a timid, legalistic approach, which was always bound to fail. The local Labour MP Nia Griffiths, meanwhile, has been focussing on the hotel bosses’ Russian links, without taking a clear stand against the far right. Indeed, the Labour Party is nowhere to be seen.
And finally, the Wales TUC has failed to properly mobilise against the far right, with no organised trade-union presence on the ground.
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It is clear that the far right does not really care about these job losses, or about the conditions of the working class more widely.
They have not had anything to say about the closure of local railway ticket offices and associated jobs, which the RMT has been fighting against.
They were quiet when civil servants, organised in PCS, went on strike to save 90,000 jobs nationally, including many at large workplaces in South Wales.
And even now, healthcare equipment manufacturer Biomet UK is threatening to close its plant in Bridgend, putting hundreds of high-skilled jobs at risk.
Unsurprisingly, there is not a peep from Voice of Wales and these other charlatans about any of this. They don’t give a damn about ordinary working-class people.
Rather, their role is to act as useful pawns for the Tories and the bosses – sowing lies amongst the working class in an attempt to divide communities and divert attention from the real capitalist culprits.
These events in Llanelli are a wake-up call for the left. The labour movement must coordinate a genuine fightback against the far right. If given a militant lead, workers and youth would quickly mobilise to drive out these reactionary thugs.
Action to sweep the far right off our streets must be accompanied by clear socialist policies: to engage with workers’ grievances, like those at Stradey Park; cut across the far right’s lies; and provide a real answer to the problems facing working-class communities.
We must take a clear stand against right-wing demagogues wherever they try to raise their heads and cynically hijack local issues.
Instead of blaming refugees and migrants for the ills in society, anger must be channelled against this criminal Tory government.
Only mass struggle – organised and led on a class basis, and armed with a bold socialist programme – can combat the racist drivel and shenanigans of the far right.
This means fighting to put workers in control over workplaces and communities, and over industry and society more widely.
Such methods and demands could unite workers and the broader community against the bosses and the Tories, in order to defend jobs, pay, and conditions – while also protecting the rights of migrants fleeing the misery of capitalism, seeking a better future on these shores.