Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Revolutionary Communist League of Britain

Fight for Democratic Rights for National Minorities
Build Unity of the Working Class

First Published: Class Struggle, August 1978
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.


In the coming election both Labour and Tory will argue about “reasonable immigration controls” and “sensible quotas”. They are attempting to divert attention from the main issues and further divide the working class by stirring up racism. We must understand the immigration controls are simply “legal” racism, a weapon used by the state against the working class; and look at why people from the Third World come to Britain to work and live. It is no accident that the majority of national minority workers here come from countries that have been direct colonies of British imperialism.

In the 1800’s, the main source of labour outside Britain for expanding industry here was Ireland. More recently people have come from India. Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Caribbean islands mainly. All these countries were British colonies. Even after independence, they have not become self-reliant economically and are still exploited by imperialism. Often Britain has been replaced by the US as the main exploiter.


From the 1500s on, Britain competed with other European powers for control of the Caribbean islands. Originally they stole silver and gold. Later, fortunes were made by conquering islands and producing sugar on plantations. This led to the slave trade which was profitable to British capitalism, because the main problem was lack of labour. Bristol, Liverpool and Glasgow all became wealthy trade centres – Bristol based on the sugar profits and Liverpool on slavery. Slavery was abolished not because the profiteers underwent a change of heart but because it was too expensive a form of labour. The fortunes made in the sugar and slavery trade financed the industrial revolution in Britain. When colonialism grew into imperialism other areas like India were more important to British capitalism. But it was this history of exploitation that led to the poverty and unemployment in the Caribbean which forces its people to emigrate.


In the days of merchant capitalism, India’s hand-loom weaving industry was more advanced than methods in Britain. Indian products were bought cheaply and sold in Europe. When the British weaving industry developed, Britain used its colonial power in India to plunder cotton, and force the Indians .to buy British manufactured goods. Weavers who continued work had their hands cut off. Peasants in Bengal were forced to grow a dye needed for British industry: they were taxed if they did not produce it. The result was the 1776 famine in Bengal, an area which had been self-sufficient in food, in which a third of the population died. Imperialism in India prevents industry growing, kept the economy backward as a source of raw materials and superprofits for British capital. India’s developing local industry cannot cope with transnational monopolies like ICI, which holds back India’s industrial development.

Imperialism still dominates India and is the basic cause for emigration.


Since the Second World War, the state has used immigration controls as a weapon to benefit capital. When labour is needed, people are encouraged to come. Enoch Powell recruited for London Transport in the Caribbean. The textile industry in West Yorkshire pays low wages and employs mainly women. When they needed to work 24 hours, they recruited Asian men to work the night shift. Asians were recruited for the foundries in Leeds and smaller firms round the car industry in the Midlands. At times of crisis and high unemployment, these workers are discriminated against and made a scapegoat.


A discussion with a group of Bangaldeshi workers in Leeds illustrated the general points made above. They have all worked for West Yorkshire Foundries for over ten years, owned by British Leyland. 75% of the work force is Indian, Pakistani, Caribbean, Bangladeshi, Polish or Irish. British Leyland’s profits increased between 1966 and 1975 nearly 100%. All the Bangladeshis are unskilled workers and the basic wage is well below national average. They all come from Sylhet, a poor area in Bangladesh: they were all poor farmers who could not support their families from farming. They stressed that even with sending money back home, their families were not well off. Some of the older workers had been seamen before settling to work here. They feel increasingly oppressed by racism and discrimination – attacks in the street, poor service in hospitals etc., but are particularly angry about difficulties with immigration. “We’ve worked here, paid taxes. We have a right to know where we stand”, they said. If they go back to visit their families they are harassed on the way in and out. It can take up to five years to get a dependent child or wife into Britain legally. Imperialism, they said, “has sucked us dry for 300 years”.

Immigration controls are a weapon used by the ruling class against the whole of the working class and we must fight for the rights of Third World people to live and work here.

This is part of the struggle for unity of the British working class and the oppressed peoples and nations of the world in the common struggle against imperialism.