Thursday, May 13 will go down in Glasgow history. Attempts by the Home Office to detain two Indian men – chef Sumit Sehdev and mechanic Lakhvir Singh – prior to deportation, provoked a massive community mobilisation. For eight hours the men were held in the detention van, surrounded by protestors blocking the vehicle from leaving. After a prolonged stand-off, the men were freed. This was a massive victory against the racist immigration laws and practices of the Tory government.
The following is an eyewitness report by Andrew, a member of Socialist Party Scotland (CWI Scotland), who was at the protest.
At approximately 10 am on Thursday 13th of May, the Home Office called for the police to help to complete a raid on the home of two Indian men living on Kenmure Street, Pollokshields, Glasgow.
Neighbours had intervened, with one man lying under the Immigration Enforcement van (he would continue to do this for about eight hours), to prevent them from leaving with these two members of their community.
Word quickly spread through the area and the crowd grew. Within an hour or so, refugee activists had spread the news of the situation on social media. This meant that what had started as a small-scale stand-off with immigration officials became a fully-fledged demonstration, with an estimated 200 protesters by noon. By this time, politicians of various stripes, excluding the Tories, were already denouncing the actions of the Home Office.
Throughout the day, the numbers continued to increase on both sides. Initially, the van was guarded by some 20 officers from Police Scotland but they were gradually accompanied by an extensive caravan of riot police and horses posted on standby in the various streets adjacent. Likewise, the protest grew from 200 by noon, doubling and tripling in size into the evening, possibly reaching past 1,000, as people from all over the city joined Pollokshields and the working day came to an end.
Local residents, as well as some anarchists, were distributing soup, water, and apples to prepare protesters for the long haul. However, at around 6 pm, Police Scotland eventually capitulated on the grounds of covid safety and released the two men to cheers of triumph and waving of Palestinian and red flags.
Activists and residents, alike, shouted chants through the day of “Let them go”, “These are our neighbours”, “Cops go home” and “Refugees are welcome here” and sang various songs of protest. They would give proud speeches about the communities’ welcoming environment, which contrasted with the “hostile environment” policy from Tory minister Priti Patel and Westminster.
The more recent revelation that it is very possible that neither of these men was breaking any kind of law, immigration or otherwise, just demonstrates how needless and soulless this policy is. It is nothing short of systematic intimidation of migrant workers, on no other basis than their being foreign workers.
At the protest, some were keen to keep these actions ‘a-political’ saying that the lives of immigrants should not be used as a football passed around by government ministers. But it is exactly the actions of such ministers as Priti Patel that make the lives of immigrants ‘political’ and create the need for community organising and the need for community defence. It is actions like this in which working class communities spontaneously express their political agency against those who would kidnap and disappear their friends and neighbours.
Many of the speeches attempted to express an ‘inclusive [Scottish] nationalism’ and spoke about how this situation proved the need for an independent Scotland. The demand that the Scottish parliament either takes or is granted powers over immigration is very popular and away from the Home Office with their standing orders from ruling Westminster Tories. But as other activists point out, the police are already a devolved power in Scotland and they play a key role in immigration enforcement. Even in an independent Scotland – if it was still a capitalist state – repressive policing and laws would be used against the working class. That is why socialist policies, including trade union and community control of the police, is essential
Home Office Immigration Officers in these raids are in a uniquely weak position. Their authority to arrest and detain does not extend to UK citizens. This means they are forced to call the police to help complete raids, should they be hindered by the local community or activists. What made the actions on the 13th of May become so successful was how quickly the community was able to mobilise.
However hard the police try to distance themselves from the actions of the Home Office, it is they who enable and supervise these raids, and it is they who were preparing to disperse protesters and residents with horses. Indeed they arrested three protesters throughout the day. The real test of character for Police Scotland, and by extension the Scottish parliament that grants them legal powers, will be in how they respond to future raids. Will they pre-emptively increase their presence in these raids or will they let communities resist?
All in all, this was an example of the power of working-class communities in defending their own. It points to the type of mass action that can achieve victories and cut across racism in society. But it also means we cannot let up in the fight to remove all racist immigration laws and practices and fight for a society – socialism – that will end such barbarism.