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Editorial Britain out of the EU: a chance to turn from colonialism and imperialism

CHAGOS ISLANDERS in their diaspora are demanding £1 billion in reparations for the loss of their living from fishing that resulted from their forcible eviction.

Over five years in the sixties and seventies the entire population of the Chagos Island were expelled from their homeland by the British colonial authorities acting at the behest of the United States.

This brutal act of dispossession which sent the inhabitants of this Indian Ocean island into exile started in 1968, and by 1973 — when the entire population was resettled in Mauritius and the Seychelles — the place became a base for the imperialist encirclement of the Soviet Union and China.

For the ensuing decades death and destruction was rained on the people of the region from an archipelago of US and British bases, with the Chagos Islands repurposed as an unsinkable aircraft carrier.

To this day the base symbolises the threat to regional and world peace posed by an imperialist strategy of tension and encirclement against China and any independent-minded nation.

The Chagossians are a people whose entire history is one of slavery, colonial forced labour and latterly of highly exploited wage labour under particularly harsh and oppressive conditions. Land was almost entirely owned by absentee landlords and no local person had any title.

The one example of official British ruling-class enthusiasm for nationalisation resulted in the ordinance which acquired the Chagossian homeland land for “public” purposes: those purposes being the forcible creation of exiles in the service of the imperial war machine.

No one will be surprised that Jeremy Corbyn has been an unfailing champion of the Chagossians. His 2017 declaration: “The right of return to those islands is absolutely important as a symbol of the way in which we wish to behave in international law.” This pledge was incorporated into Labour’s 2017 election manifesto.

Today is International Migrants Day. United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres put its aims thus: “… let us seize the opportunity of the recovery from the pandemic to implement the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, re-imagine human mobility, enable migrants to re-ignite economies at home and abroad and build more inclusive and resilient societies.”

Lying behind the polite, even opaque, diplomatic language is a recognition that the market in human labour is the source of unending miserly exploitation and oppression for millions.

The Chagos Islanders were driven from their homes by colonial edict. But the millions of migrants the world over are no less coerced into migration by war brought to them by imperial power or by flood and famine flowing from climate change in which their modest labours played no part.

So long as human labour power is a commodity those in power will shape law and custom to the disadvantage of working people while labour market rules and immigration regimes are always at the centre of class politics.

As the transition period towards a negotiated exit from the EU comes to an uncertain end it is worth reflecting on the ways in which the much vaunted “free” movement of European peoples has several aspects, one being the forced movement of labour from economies impoverished by capitalist “shock therapy” and entry into an economic world dominated by big capital.

In 2021 Britain will, unless Boris Johnson surrenders sovereignty, be free of the iniquitous labour-market rules of the EU and the rulings of the European Court of Justice.

Prepare now for a battle for workers’ rights and for a non-racist immigration regime that takes account of the moral obligations that an unsavoury record of colonial exploitation imposes on Britain today.

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