Windrush scandal: a nationalist campaign orchestrated by the bourgeoisie

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During election campaigns political parties often turn to questions of immigration, with false alternatives posed over “freedom of movement”, with arguments over the deportation of “illegal” immigrants, but also a warm welcome given to skilled workers who will benefit the economy. The article that appears here, first published on our website in French, is a reminder that the Windrush scandal is not a matter of historical interest but shows the long-held approach of the bourgeoisie:  for the exploitation of labour power, the attempt to intimidate sectors of workers, the sirring up of xenophobia, and also the thin humanitarian veneer.


After 1945, gravely weakened by the war, Britain had to get on with its reconstruction. Its biggest colonies (India and what became Pakistan) became independent and it was no longer possible to mobilise free labour power and cannon fodder from them as it had done during the war. So it turned to its colonies across the Atlantic, the British West Indies, where there were high rates of unemployment, in order to import the labour force needed for reconstruction.

For capital, migrants are just another commodity

Thus “from 1946, the Royal Commission on Population proposed to bring a ‘replacement population’ in order to renew the British population in the medium term[1]. Thus the 1948 British Nationality Act granted the status of “citizen of the United Kingdom and its colonies” to anyone born on British territory or in one of its colonies. The aim was to quickly and easily get hold of cheap labour power. A few months later, the Empire Windrush set off from the Caribbean with a fresh supply of labour, ready to be exploited by the national capital. Up until 1971[2], nearly 600,000 workers, attracted from the colonies by the promise of employment, prosperity and housing, emigrated to Britain. This was the Windrush Generation.

From the beginning the previously unemployed arrivals were crowded together in air-raid shelters, paid for at their own expense. A large number of them were employed by the state (post, hospitals, transport) for very low wages.

The case of the Windrush Generation came to the surface in 2010, when Teresa May became the Home Secretary with the aim of hardening the country’s policy on immigration. In 2012 she declared that she proposed to install a “particularly hostile climate for illegal immigrants”. As soon as she became Minister she organised the destruction of the landing cards[3] which proved that the workers of the Windrush Generation had arrived in the UK before 1971. The aim was to start a hunt for immigrants who had become “illegal”. Home Office employees, when answering requests for confirmation of arrival dates in the UK, were told to respond that there was no available documentation.

Many of these immigrants, and their descendants, thus found themselves unable to prove that their presence in the UK was “legitimate”. Threatened with deportation, they immediately lost their jobs, access to healthcare and housing, and were then sent to detention centres awaiting deportation to the countries they (or their parents) had been born in.

The scandal broke out in November 2017, by which time May had become Prime Minister, and put a momentary halt to the deportations. Teresa May and Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary (who ended up being the scapegoat and was pushed out) offered their excuses in April 2018 and promised financial compensation and naturalisation for the whole Windrush Generation.

However, the bourgeoisie continues to deport workers to this day. Despite the promises made by May and the whole British bourgeoisie, 30 workers were still deported to Jamaica last February, because they had a criminal record, even though their appeal for regularisation was still under review.

Both the xenophobic and humanitarian campaigns are nationalist

In fact, the state has taken advantage of all these events to carry out nationalist campaigns against the working class, from two different angles of attack.

Initially, numerous xenophobic campaigns came to light, linked to the very aggressive campaign waged by May against the Caribbean workers and their descendants. She was hoping that a number of “undesirable” immigrants would voluntarily leave British territory and that the “hostile environment” would deter others from trying to enter it. Her “hostile environment” was installed thanks to the new law on immigration: in order to work, rent accommodation, or have access to social and health benefits, you had to show your papers. Landlords were from now on obliged to verify the migration status of their tenants, or face severe fines or even 5 years in prison. Doctors were also incited to denounce patients who were not in a “regular” situation. The Home Secretary also made use of NHS data to track down “immigration offenders”, and thus “prevent people with no right to benefits and services from making use of them at the cost of British tax payers”, a government spokesperson explained. This atmosphere of terror, a consequence of May’s shameful campaign, was pushed to its most hysterical level by the official campaign of the Tory government in 2013, aimed at sharpening suspicion and division within the working class. The project involved sending publicity vans around the country with a slogan that was nothing short of an appeal to ratting on your neighbour: “In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest”. For six weeks in mid-2013, a number of these vans toured around London and the surrounding area bearing this message. However, the campaign was far from a success and the government soon had to drop it.

In the face of the indignation provoked by this disgusting policy, the British bourgeoisie was forced to change its tune and give a different slant to the debate on immigration. May herself launched a more “humane” (and thus more pernicious) nationalist campaign. Having kicked out a number of Windrush workers, the May government then set up a hypocritical “Windrush day” which would be “an annual occasion for remembering the hard work and sacrifice of the Windrush Generation”. Windrush Day, which saw a number of official celebrations, also raised a special fund of £500,000 to pay compensation to these workers “who had crossed the ocean to build a future for themselves, their communities and above all for Britain, the country which will always be theirs”. And these are the same workers who still face the threat of deportation.

This scandal is the new face of the nationalist campaign which has enabled the bourgeoisie to drive the working class onto a totally rotten terrain, insinuating that there are two types of migrants: those who are useful (for capital) and those who take unfair advantage of the “generosity” of the nation.

The bourgeoisie has thus instrumentalised the outrage provoked by the Windrush scandal, hiding the fact that the same treatment is being doled out to millions of migrants around the world. While the British government was more or less legalising the situation of workers who have “helped build our country”, it lets Asians die in refrigerator vans or others die at sea, because they are forced to take more and more risks faced with the physical and administrative walls erected by May and company. In a hypocritically humanist guise, the bourgeoisie once again seeks to divide the working class.

Whether its discourse is openly xenophobic or supposedly more humane, the national frontiers of the bourgeoise remain. The British government might establish its day of commemoration, but the bodies will continue to pile up on the beaches or at the barbed wire fences. Only the working class, by fighting for communism, is able to get rid of these murderous borders by putting an end to capitalism.

Olive 1/11/19


[1] “Royaume-Uni : il y a 70 ans, les débuts de la génération Windrush”, RFI (30 April 2018).

[2] After 1971, since Britain no longer needed this type of work force, the migration laws changed: only Commonwealth citizens already living in the UK would have to right to permanently live on British soil

[3] None of the workers of the Windrush Generation had official papers testifying to their nationality, except the landing cards which were held by the Home Office.