sign in shop window alerting to strike Chinatown businesses closed their doors in protest against heavy-handed raids. Photo: Clare Solomon

Lawrence Wong reports from Soho’s Chinatown, where heavy-handed raids have been responded to with protests

Tuesday 24 July 2018 saw a five hour ‘strike’ in Chinatown, Soho. 

The strike was to protest immigration raids, the most recent of which saw immigration officials almost running over a deaf and mute woman.

The protest made the BBC 6 o’clock news, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, and many other news outlets. It began in Chinatown, from where 700 of us marched to the Home Office where a letter, asking for only search warranted raids and special immigration status for restaurant staff, was handed in.

The protest was organised by Chinatown’s employer’s association and all but one restaurant closed its doors on the day. Staff were paid as usual for the day. One reason for this is that almost no one lives in Soho’s Chinatown and the employers knew that if their staff were not paid they would not march.
There are now no cheaper workers from Hong Kong in the UK. The flow of mainland Chinese workers has slowed drastically.

This is not the first time that the Chinatown employer’s association have organised a protest. They organised one in 2013 over the identical issue of immigration raids. Ironically, earlier during Chinese New Year, I saw a leaflet from a Chinese Advisory Service advertising their ‘service’ to help overstayers return.

The first British Chinese MP is a Tory. Many restaurant owners are caught between their own conservatism and the shortages caused by the Tories’ hostile immigration policy. I approached the organisers twice, saying that I brought solidarity greetings from Stand Up to Racism and from our President Diane Abbott. Interestingly, they weren’t interested either time.

I recognised only one person from the Chinese left and wondered if the left were ignoring this employer organised protest? There are Unite members in Chinatown but there was no invited union speaker. So should the left support this employer organised strike?

The answer is an emphatic yes. The organisers may not intend to challenge the government’s hostile immigration policy – they may want to keep their staff, mostly mainland non English speaking Chinese, isolated from wider British society. However, staff do not see remaining isolated as being in their interest.

Despite the employer’s intentions, the strike is reported as being against the government’s immigration policy. The primary problem is the Tories’ hostile immigration environment.

Socialists should always be fighting to unite different campaigns. Breaking the government’s hostile environment means uniting with Windrush migrants, with Calais refugees, with other documented and undocumented migrants, which also challenges the employer’s desire to keep their workers isolated.

Lawrence Wong

Lawrence Wong is a socialist active in the trade unions and in the anti-racist movement. He has been a lay officer for the National Union of Teachers and is a mathematics teacher.

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