Llanelli has a similar story to other former industrial towns across Britain. Once the mining and steel industries were ripped apart by Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government in the 1980s, the West Wales town didn’t recover.
And, for all the promises of “regeneration” and “recovery”, Labour and Plaid Cymru councils have implemented austerity and left the town to rot (see below).
Llanelli has been like this for years. What’s different now is that, in an area called Furnace, some new neighbours are expected. The Stradey Park Hotel is set to become the temporary home of at least 200 refugees, potentially more.
The 77-bedroom site has for weeks been at the heart of protests by new fascist group Voice of Wales, far right party Ukip and local racists. Out of the despair, they hope to grow by deflecting people’s anger away from those in power and onto refugees.
Their racist lies—fuelled by the Tories, pandered to and unchallenged by Labour and Plaid Cymru—have spread like wildfire across the town. After a violent, racist protest on Monday of last week, a dedicated cohort now camps outside the hotel’s entrance with gazebos and flags. Neighbours have laid claim to the driveway and put boulders on it to block refugees or supplies entering.
People drive up to Furnace, park their cars and join the group—young and old and families. They have included a deputy head, nurses and firefighters.
Some outside the hotel say they’re not racist, just concerned locals. Yet those concerns are rooted in deeply racist myths—for example, that refugees are violent or pose a unique threat to women and girls.
Over a month ago the council posted that the hotel would house “family groups”. Yet some residents of Llanelli are convinced that men of “fighting age” will be coming to tear up their town.
“It’s a sad situation,” one shop owner told Socialist Worker. “We don’t have the infrastructure to deal with that many people. We don’t have enough police for when it all kicks off, and it will.”
“These people coming here are not what we need,” she added. “We don’t look after our own here enough. People are scared. It would be different if it was families, children as an icebreaker.”
The hotel owner Gryphon Leisure Limited has handed it over to Home Office contractor Clearsprings Ready Homes. Some 40 weddings and functions were cancelled as a result, with over 95 job losses—at least 50 full-time.
Some people say they want to save the hotel, and don’t mind refugees being kept somewhere that won’t affect them. A hardcore don’t want refugees in Llanelli, Wales or Britain.
Some are rightly angry at the state of the world—but are wrongly directing their frustration at refugees. The woman said that life in Llanelli is difficult, like most places. “There’s no mental health services and trying to get help for things like autism is near impossible. People don’t have any money. Things have gone down significantly since the mines were shut 30 years ago.
“There’s a lot of job losses and unemployment. That’s not helped by the hotel shutting—all those job losses and weddings cancelled. It’s really bad for local businesses. There’s lots of problems. And the people in charge aren’t fixing it like they should, but raking in loads of money instead.”
But she also conceded there has been scaremongering. “We’re like mushrooms, we’re always kept in the dark,” she added. Facts about asylum seekers—that they are not able to work or do not get bumped to the top of NHS waiting lists—aren’t common knowledge.
Marie lives near the hotel and has been campaigning against the fascists and racists with Stand Up To Racism (SUTR).“I feel that this group of refugees should be welcomed. But a lot of people are going against that,” she told Socialist Worker.
“Some people joining the group outside the hotel don’t fully realise what they’re aligning with and are just going with the crowd. Voice of Wales aren’t just racist, they’re homophobic and sexist too.”
Marie added that the far right “has got a lot to answer for”. “They’ve whipped people into a frenzy,” she said. “Voice of Wales is instilling fear and stories that children won’t be safe, men will be sitting in parks and looking to rape people.
“It says they’re not fleeing war, they’re invaders here for benefits. But even if they are all men, aren’t they deserving of being safe? This language is intended to scare people,” she added. “And people don’t want to admit they’re listening to hate speech.”
Marie also thinks that Llanelli being a small town that has seen limited waves of migration makes it easier to “other” asylum seekers. “That’s why refugees are so easily scapegoated,” she said.
“People know we’re in a cost of living crisis, NHS waiting lists are long and there’s a lot of homelessness. But those problems already exist. They’re not caused by asylum seekers.”
The vile racism that’s found at the entrance of the hotel is seeping into classrooms. Local children whose parents are anti-racists have been bullied in many schools. “Children are saying to my children, ‘How would you like it if the refugees came and raped your sister’,” Marie explained.
“A lot of them go with their parents to protest outside the hotel. But I want to show my children how we should treat people, and help give a voice to those who don’t have one.”
Anti-racists are making a stand on Saturday against Ukip and other far right groups’ attempts to grow out of the protests.
The SUTR counter-protest is backed by the Wales TUC union federation, the FBU firefighters’ union in Wales, Race Council Cymru, BLM Wales, Asylum Justice, Ethnic Youth Support Team and Race Alliance Wales.
It’s vital to oppose the far right and racists, say refugees are welcome here, and direct people’s anger against the Tories and bosses.
Join the anti-racist protest, Sat 15 July, 10.30am, Stradey Park Hotel
A place gutted by the Tories—and abandoned by the rest
Llanelli’s town centre has more boarded up shops than open. Walking through it, most people you catch eyes with will give you a friendly smile. The small number of people out and about chit-chat in the streets to friends, in both Welsh and English.
But the main colours of the town are grey and beige—with the odd Welsh flag—and rows of drab terrace houses. A new shopping park two miles outside the city helped kill off the town centre, along with years of underfunding and austerity.
Furnace itself is caught between being a tiny village or part of Llanelli. Up the hill from the Stradey Park Hotel is a small estate—with one street completely derelict. The majority of houses in the closest vicinity are detached and big.
There’s anger and disappointment everywhere. Anger at the Tories for running the main steel industry into the ground. Anger at the Welsh Labour government for not providing any opportunities. Anger at Carmarthenshire council for ploughing funds westwards into the county. And anger at the council for failing to meet people’s needs.
Residents rightly feel forgotten and abandoned. That’s made fertile ground for the fascists to spread their hate. Dylan, an activist with the town’s SUTR group, told Socialist Worker, “The left and trade union movement locally has been hesitant about taking on the arguments over refugees.
“We need them to say refugees are welcome here—and dispel the myths that refugees are bad for working class people. The main argument made by trade unionists and local politicians is over resources—and that refugees will impact services.
“Trade unions can’t be drawn into this. Instead they’ve campaigned around the jobs losses, rather than the wider racism. That’s why we’re in the situation we’re in now, where sections of workers have been pulled in.
“We stand with those who have lost their jobs and suffer because of the Tories and Labour. But we have to show that working class people are with refugees and against the fascists and racists.”
Megan is also an anti-racist activist, with three children living in Furnace. She told Socialist Worker, “There is far too much intolerance happening in the town. As a family, we agree that the refugees should not be housed in a hotel—ideally. But ideally, they wouldn’t be seeking refuge at all.”
Megan was in agreement about wider problems in the town that have angered people. “Llanelli needs more funding for public services. The council needs to address the homelessness issues.
“There shouldn’t be children living in poverty. All of this and more is because of the lack of funding from the government. I feel that if the people of Llanelli were educated on the actual truth behind the whole refugee situation, then their opinions would shift.”
Alison, another SUTR campaigner, said the racist rumours have been affecting local people. “There was a rumour about two Muslim women who were covered with veils and tried to grab two children in Tesco,” she told Socialist Worker.
“Obviously that turned out to be a lie. Another was someone trying to grab a girl in a park, or of big, black men loitering. This area has had lots of different people move in and out, gradually it’s become more multicultural. But racism is on the rise.
“There’s people who think Voice of Wales is doing the best for the town. Yet all the fascists want to do is stir up as much trouble as possible.”
Alison hopes the anti-racist presence “will convince more people to come forward and help”. “After speaking to some local people, some of their ideas can change,” she said. “Some even say they’re pleased when they receive our leaflets in their door.
“The fascists and racists are a loud minority, and the fascists certainly will show their true colours. We will carry on protesting.”
Names have been changedOriginal post