Closing the road to fascism, opening discussion in UAF?
NEW LABOUR minister John Denham upset some liberals and anti-racists when he claimed that being from an ethnic minority in Britain no longer automatically meant you were disadvantaged, whereas inequality now had more to do with class, and this must be tackled next.
Some made the tritely obvious point that Denham must be worried about votes, others pointed out that though educated and talented individuals may no longer be denied opportunities by blatant discrimination, and some Asian businessmen are doing well, we still see poverty in black and Asian areas, and nothing to justify complacency.
What seems to get left out by agreement from this discussion is that class has always determined what you get and where you stand in British society, that immigrant workers from Asia and the Caribbean were brought in to fill low-paid, menial jobs in the boom years, and expected to remain down the bottom of the heap. Those Asians who had risen to be a middle class in East Africa had to take a step down when they came to this country. Meanwhile, though some have worked hard and managed to get on, the overall decline of British industry has had a devastating effect on whole areas, and communities, hitting the prospects of young people in Bradford or Oldham as surely as in the mining villages, on outlying housing estates as in inner city ghettos. Insofar as many have realised they were in the same boat you do get the ebbing of old-style racialism and the beginning of wisdom.
But New Labour, trusted to reverse the Thatcher years, has embraced her dogma of privatisation, and even as the gap between rich and poor grew wider, Tony Blair insisted the class struggle was over, indeed that we had a classless society. Coming up against shortages in housing and health provision, while authorities only seemed concerned with tinkering and ethnic monitoring, some poor white people asked bitterly whether anyone cared about them. Seeing the media pundits only discussing trivia and personalities, and MPs apparently busy grabbing perks and privileges, some have fallen for the wide boys and suited thugs of the British National Party, who mix prejudice and popularism by appealing to "the white working class", while also benefiting from the media's constant theme of blaming everything on "asylum seekers" and immigrants.
The fascists have not had it all their own way. They did well in some Euro and council elections, and have tried stirring anti-Islamic hysteria into their anti-immigrant propaganda. But twice now the anti-Islam campaigners have promised to march on the mosque in Harrow, which John Denham rightly compared with to Mosley's pre-war marches, and yet unlike Mosley's blackshirt columns, they could only manage about fifteen people. Still, across London in Barking and Dagenham, Nick Griffin is planning to challenge Labour's Margaret Hodge for her seat, and the BNP thinks it can take over the council.
Unite Against Fascism(UAF), which deserves credit for mobilising people to oppose the far Right in Harrow, is holding its national conference in London on February 13, and a leaflet I've been handed promises speeches from Margaret Hodge MP, Peter Hain MP, Billy Hayes of the Communication Workers Union, Edie Friedman of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, and other distinguished people.
While warning of the BNP's rise in the current economic conditions, the leaflet boasts that "Unite Against Fascism has organised dozens of high-profile protests, rallies and campaigns against the Nazis. We helped disrupt Griffin's pres conferences, blockade the BNP's annual rally in Derbyshire ...organised a huge protest outside the BBC studios when Griffin appeared on Question Time."
I had the feeling that chucking eggs at Griffin was poor consolation after he had just gained his Euro seat. It seems a waste of good eggs (unless they were rotten), and though I have no objection to increasing the BNP leader's dry cleaning bills, I wonder how it went down in Burnley, or Barking and Dagenham? I know that UAF is encouraging supporters to go down there campaigning soon, but there are already other activists working there, under the Hope not Hate logo.
Accepting that the Left can never organise on any issue without at least two competing organisations being set up, I originally thought the establishment of Unite Against Fascism was going to change all that. I was pleased by the united turn out soon after it was formed when we packed the pavements outside the NUJ in solidarity against a threatened fascist anti-union demonstration. Alas it was not to last, and I am not going to apportion blame. When Searchlight and some union branches demonstrated at an east London tube where the fascists were gathering, there was no one from UAF. And I did not see anyone from Searchlight (promotor of Hope not Hate) when I joined UAF supporters at a demo outside Newham cemetery over antisemitic grave desecrations. Though, come to think of it there were local friends who do sometimes work with Searchlight. Perhaps these divisions owe more to old rivalries and suspicions than to grass-roots differences.
There are different ideas being argued now, though they do not neatly correspond with organisational divisions. Nor need differences on policy or approach divide and weaken the movement. On the contrary, if openly discussed they can clear away misunderstandings, clarify issues and raise consciousness of what we're doing.
The UAF conference might be the obvious place for discussion, except that friends who have tried to present resolutions or papers before say there was no opportunity to do so. Nor can I find anything on UAF's leaflet or website suggesting that it is inviting motions or discussion. Once again, it seems, people are being asked to attend a rally of the faithful, listen to speakers including one ex- and one current ministers and two leading SWP members; and go away satisfied they know what they are doing and we have done something against fascism.
Undeterred, but inspired by experience particularly in north-west London this year, long-standing activist Alf Filer has been circulating papers for discussion, and has come up with a set of proposals for UAF to be democratically run, and have its policies decided, by its supporters, including affiliated trade unions, local groups, and activists. I hear Cambridgeshire branch of the National Union of Teachers has adopted a resolution on these lines and is submitting it to the local trades union council. Trades unionists are after all experienced with management calling meetings called "consultation" where we are told what to do. We may also have the odd idea that fighting against fascism is not unconnected with restoring confidence in democracy.
Anyway, Alf asked me to help spread word of his proposals, which look reasonable and constructive to me, so here is what he wrote:
The UAF has played a key role in providing support, resources and leadership in the various anti-fascist campaigns. In ensuring that the BNP and others are defeated in the General Election and challenged effectively where ever they raise their message of hatred, we call on the UAF to:
a. To continue to mobilise mass action on the streets and elsewhere in denying the fascists and racists any opportunity to spread their message of hatred and division.
b Organise a representative delegate based conference open to all who are actively supporting the struggle against fascism and racism.
c. Adopt a democratic national and regional structure which is made up of elected delegates and representatives from the whole of the movement.
d. Encourage UAF groups to be established within unions, workplaces, campuses and community groups.
e. To arrange regional and national conferences with workshops to discuss wider issues related to the fight against fascism and racism.
f. To jointly sponsor an international conference uniting the wider international struggles against fascism both in the UK and elsewhere. ‘