Joe Hayns looks at the context in which Byron Burgers collaborated in the deportation of its employees and the next steps for our movement.
On Monday 1 August up to 400 people demonstrated outside the Holborn, central London, branch of Byron Burgers against management’s collaboration with the UK Border Agency (UKBA) in the deportation of employees. It was the seventh, and counting, since last Thursday. The range of organisations that called the protest reflects the enduring recognition of the adage ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’: Unite Hotel and Restaurant Workers Branches, United Voices of the World Union, London Latinxs, Black Dissidents, London IWW, Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, South London Solfed, War On Want and Global Justice Now.
Byron’s management lied: they called employees across 12 London branches to a meeting ‘about a new recipe’, locked them in a room and watched as UKBA and police took them out of the building. 25 have been deported. Others wait in detention centres – imprisoned without charge – across the country and still others are in hiding. Those deported weren’t even allowed to retrieve personal belongings. They were forced to leave everything they’d built for themselves.
Byron started selling burgers in 2012, and quickly turned into a nation-wide junk food chain. They are now owned by a hedge fund, and recently attracted investment of £12 million. Every branch forced to close – every negative story about them – hurts the company: pressure on Byron is pressure on all employers to treat their employees differently.
At a bare minimum, Byron management could have told their employees to simply not come to work (this doesn’t carry a fine). More humane would have been to support their employees’ getting papers, as they easily and legally could have. Instead, they treated them – us – like animals.
Byron’s management are the first enemies; demonstrations will continue. The second is the racist 2016 Immigration Act, brought in by Theresa May – who deported 50,000 foreign students during her time as Home Secretary – which makes it a civil offence to employ an ‘illegal worker’.
This means that not only the cops, but also your landlord and now your boss, are all UKBA guards. Every street, school and workplace is a potential detention centre.
Less reactionary newspapers mention that some had worked for Byron for four years, and that all paid income tax and National Insurance. For sure, this only shows that employers can now use and then discard us – especially people who are made illegal by racist laws – as and when they need.
But, we need say that all of us, regardless of our nationality or work history, should – like British passport holders – be able to live in any country we like and work without the fear of deportation. The idea that immigration lowers wages is a straightforward lie (here’s a Marxist take-down of it): ultimately, the current border regime benefits the very richest, not working-class people.
The racism of the EU referendum’s Remain and the Leave campaigns has renewed the need for radical anti-racism, pro-migrant politics; liberal cosmopolitanism was never enough.
Racist, anti-migrant politics are the new normal from politicians across the parties (excluding, at the moment, the Labour leadership). The only way we can defend ourselves is to organise our solidarity with EU and non-EU migrants, refugees and anyone else that suffers under the current border regime. How?
The migrant-led activist group Movement for Justice (MFJ) are doing amazing work, including organising demonstrations at Yarl’s Wood (the next is on 10 September). The Anti-Raids Network organise against the UKBA’s brutal attacks. And on August 13 a number of groups are organising an anti-racist, pro-migrant workshop under the banner Everyone Who Is Here Is From Here.