Justice for the Windrush Generation

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2019 National Delegate Conference
1 January 2019

Arriving in UK between 1942 – 1971 from the Caribbean islands, at the invitation of the then government, came the generation named the ‘Windrush Generation’. The name came from the MV Empire Windrush, which arrived at Tilbury Docks, Essex, on 22 June 1948, bringing workers from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other islands, as a response to post-war labour shortages in the UK.

The entry in to the UK ended with the 1971 Immigration Act, when Commonwealth citizens already living in the UK were given indefinite leave to remain. After this, a British passport-holder born overseas could only settle in the UK if they firstly had a work permit and, secondly, could prove that a parent or grandparent had been born in the UK. It was also not clear that citizens needed to change their Caribbean passport to a British one.

The way in which the Windrush Generation has been treated is truly appalling. They were invited to the ‘Mother Country’, as law abiding British Citizens, to help to rebuild Britain 70 years ago, post-Second World War. Having worked hard and delivered what they were invited to Britain to do, some returned of their own free will to their homelands, while others chose to remain. They came on the promise of equality, carrying the same passports as an individual born in the United Kingdom, Colonies and Commonwealth countries. They did not, however, realise that a ‘hostile environment’ awaited them.

Some of the Windrush Generation were heartlessly deported to places they left all those years ago. Others, often children of the Windrush era who came to Britain on the passports of their parents have been forced to stop working, without recourse to public funds. Cases are mounting up of individuals seeking NHS treatment, passports, jobs or housing only to find themselves having to prove their right to live in the country where they have been legally resident for more than 50 years, or risk being deported.

Traumatic stories have emerged of individuals being made homeless, jobless and refusal of medical treatment, after they failed to produce proof they were never given in the first place. A Londoner who been diagnosed with prostate cancer, was refused NHS medical treatment because his immigration status and billed £54,000.

Evidence that might have put a stop to this mistreatment is the landing cards that recorded arrivals from the Caribbean until the 1960s. These were destroyed by the Home Office in 2010.

In 2014, Theresa May, the home secretary produced a new immigration policy which created a hostile environment toward illegal immigrant by forcing landlords, employers, banks and NHS services to run immigration status checks. It also allowed people to be deported more quickly and avoid lengthy appeals processes. The policy was further extended in 2016 to enforce penalties to any employer who did not follow through with the new policy and further distress to those who cannot prove that they have rights to work/live in the UK.

The Tory government has created a racist hostile environment in which if you cannot prove you are British from specific paperwork you are in fact classed as an illegal immigrant and will be deported.

Conference condemns the Tory government’s actions as institutionally racist and holds Home Secretaries in particular, responsible for the many individual tragedies. Those targeted had their rights further eroded as the appeals process effectively made them guilty until proven innocent. They withstood the racism whipped up by politicians like Enoch Powell and stood through many ensuing struggles. They changed both the labour movement and society for the better. It is a betrayal and an insult that in retirement they have been told they don’t belong.

UNISON made submissions to the government’s Compensation Scheme and Lessons Learnt in October 2018 and made it clear that the government should seek to make this a non-contentious, helpful process to those who have been affected.

UNISON have also supported no cap on the compensation scheme, given the scale of the damage inflicted includes deportation, lack of access to vital cancer treatment, loss of home, loss of livelihoods and even loss of life.

UNISON will continue to work with Labour Link and the TUC to protect the rights of workers including migrant workers against exploitation from bosses, deportation and loss of access to public services such as health and education and all racist immigration controls.

We welcome the Movement for Justice’s ‘Widen Windrush’ Campaign to include the descendants and relatives of the Windrush generation who came to Britain as adults after 1973, in the government’s ‘Windrush Scheme’ thereby offering them a route to citizenship. At its launch Janet Daby MP, David Lammy MP, Eleanor Smith MP and Baroness Hamwee all spoke in support of this campaign.

Conference calls on the National Executive Council to

1) To continue to support UNISON members who are part of the Windrush Generation to ensure their immigration status is settled;

2) Continue in raising awareness of the issues facing the Windrush generation in all UNISON media;

3) To build and strengthen alliances with other charities and organisation such as the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) who are supporting victims of immigration crisis;

4) Explore with Labour Link how Labour can support the call to reform the immigration system when it gets elected into government;

5) Request Labour Link seeks to ensure Labour’s policy on immigration reflects UNISON’s position.

6) Campaign for a fairer immigration system that recognises the vital contribution migrants have made, and continue to make, to public services and UK communities;

7) Work with other Trade Unions and through the TUC Race relations Committee to continue to campaign against the hostile environment, and help establish a network of support for Black workers/members subject to these hostile policies;

8) Work with all appropriate campaign groups and stakeholders’ including the Widen Windrush Campaign to challenge the racism of immigration legislation and its impact on the descendants of the Windrush generation;

9) Prepare and circulate information to all branches about the Windrush campaign, support available from the union for members affected, and how they can access this;

10) Work with the Movement for Justice Campaign and other affiliated organisations to campaign for the removal of ‘immigrant’ status of the Windrush generation and descendants in recognition of their British Citizenship, even before arriving in the UK.