Gayaal Iddamalgoda is Legal Organiser for FIRST Union, and Wellington Central candidate for the Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign (Aotearoa/NZ). We interview him on why he’s standing for Wellington Central.
Why do you support migrant/refugee rights?
Because I believe that what is good for refugee and migrants is good for all workers in Aotearoa. Blaming migrants and refugees for the social and economic problems is a total farce. It protects the wealthy and powerful and deflects blame from the real problem which a system of growing inequality which puts workers of all nationalities and backgrounds at the bottom of the heap. Refugee and migrant workers are at the bottom of the heap, they are workers like everyone else but bosses use their isolation from the rest of the working class to drive down rights and conditions for all workers. We need to unite with migrants and refugees in order to make sure that all workers get the same rights and dignity. We need workers struggle to ensure that all workers have rights and dignity. I support refugee rights for similar reasons, wars caused by greedy imperialists disproportionately affect working people but while the rich are able to travel freely with their money wherever they please, ordinary working people’s movements is not free! Refugee rights is about freedom of movement and the basic right of all people to seek refuge from war and destruction wherever they chose.
How does your whakapapa inform your political perspective?
My family were Sri Lankan migrants. While they were lucky enough not to come here as part of any refugee quota, they did flee war and political strife. Growing up in New Zealand I saw first hand through my parents the deep psychological scars that come with dislocation and war. It gave me a deep sense of human rights and social justice. Migrants like my family are not only hard working, they also have a deep sense of resilience and a strong will to resist injustice. I really do feel that these experiences have been passed down to me and I am grateful for it.
How does your experience as a trade unionist inform your understanding of migrant/refugee rights?
As a trade unionist, I have the honour of being a part of the closest thing we have to a democratic movement. While the trade unions have a long way to go in living up to this potential, I firmly believe in the principle of workers organising together and fighting for political, social and economic power in a system that promotes the interests of a wealthy and greedy elite. I see the power of workers organizing together and I see that the interests of working people are aligned, despite any differences of race, gender, sexuality etc.
I have also had first hand insight into the oppression of migrant workers [many of whom have refugee backgrounds] and have become dismayed by the inability of these workers to access even the most basic protections as workers. Everything seems slated against them, from social prejudice and racism to unfair visa restrictions that tie them to their employers in ways that New Zealand workers are not. Refugee and migrant workers bring a net benefit to the economy and produce wealth and jobs, yet they are scapegoated by their fellow workers and kept down by racist employment and immigration policies.
What do you think of Andrew Little’s recent call to cut immigration by ‘tens of thousands’?
I think it’s appalling coming from a party that claims to represent the interests of ordinary New Zealanders. Instead of pointing the finger at bosses and corporates who increase their wealth and power at the expense of these ‘ordinary people’, Andrew little prefers to play into unfounded xenophobic scapegoating. It is sad that the so called Labour party cannot find the guts to stand up for labour, which includes the thousands of migrants working in New Zealand in near slave like conditions. It is also completely callous that Andrew Little makes this posturing in a time when we face one of the greatest refugee crises of human history.
Andrew Little’s posturing is also really absurd in light of the actual flow of immigrants into the country. It is a unsubstantial comment which seeks to sensationalise beyond any reason the real nature of immigration and make immigrants look like a dark and sinister force. It reminds me of old racist paranoia from the 19th century. It astonishes me that we have not really moved past that.
What do you hope to achieve by standing?
I hope to draw people into debates about refugee and migrant rights. I hope to challenge the causal xenophobia and expose the racist myths that lie under them. I hope to start a conversation among workers, their organisations and their unions about the importance of migrant and refugee rights and I want to make the point: ‘What’s good for migrants/refugees is good for everyone’.