Build on crucial anti-racist conference

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Confronting the rise in racism: attendees at the Stand Up to Racism conference. Pic: Guy Smallman

There have been growing signs that forces on the far right are reorganising and making gains of late.

The idea you could go to protest racism and be killed by a Nazi in a vehicle reverberated around the world after Charlottesville in August. At the end of September the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) had 94 MPs elected in Germany. In October the fascist Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) came third, winning just one seat fewer than the Social Democratic Party.

In Britain, having largely seen off the English Defence League, we are faced with the sudden appearance of the Football Lads Alliance (FLA), which mobilised thousands of people on London’s streets in October. Although it is clear that not everyone who has attended an FLA march is racist, the content of the speeches at their marches and the comments on their social media pages have sent a message of racism.

All of this has happened in a mainstream political environment which has at best been about making concessions, and at worst wholly adopting the language and politics of those further to the right. Donald Trump closed the door to Muslims while opening it to far-right news site Breitbart, and then became an apologist for white supremacists. Theresa May has done her best to keep the child refugees out while implementing appalling up-front identity checks for the NHS.
The rich will stop at nothing to keep as many people as possible pointing fingers at anyone but the powerful.

In this context it was very important that 1,300 people from all around the country came together in London for the Stand Up to Racism (SUTR) conference on 21 October. This included many people new to SUTR and lots of significant figures: Azad Ali (Muslim Engagement and Development), Harun Rashid Khan (Muslim Council of Britain secretary general), Roger McKenzie (Unison assistant general secretary), Claudia Webb (Labour Party NEC) and Diane Abbott, shadow home secretary, among many others.

It was a powerful stride forward in building a movement that can help push back the recent blizzard of bigotry, Islamophobia and far-right reanimation. The conference reflected the varied political landscape in front of us which reaches from social cleansing in housing policy through to the rise of neo-Nazis across Europe and the US.

The struggle against racism exists across borders but is moulded to fit a particular reality. Speakers from different countries offered insights based on the development of racist organisation in their countries, which together helped to form a total picture. Cornelia Kerth from Germany placed the opening up within the establishment of a space for far-right parties in the context of social democracy’s love affair with neoliberalism. Petros Constantinou reported about how Greek teachers mobilised schools to welcome thousands of refugee children.

David Neiwert, author of Alt-America: the Rise of the Radical Right, spoke from the US via Skype about the developments over there. He said although on the surface it seemed as though the alt-right had suddenly sprung up there had really been decades of propaganda from media organisations like Fox News, which have elevated conspiracy theories to the new norm.

The workshops tackled some complex questions like the debate about the FLA. An “anti-extremist” force with Nazis at its heart that can mobilise thousands of others on the streets using racist ideas needs confronting. But the response cannot be the same as that for fully-fledged Nazis. Their next mobilisation is on Remembrance Day, which requires a careful approach if we are to divide off the fringe elements rather than harden them up. On top of this it was announced at the conference that a small number of FLA members had marched past the East London Mosque.

There were especially powerful speeches from the workshop on Black Lives Matter. The relatives of victims of police violence made moving and defiant contributions.

In the workshop on the Grenfell Tower fire Diane Abbott joined Grenfell survivor Bellal El Guenuni, London Fire Brigades Union treasurer Lucy Masoud, hip hop artist Lowkey, and others as they raged against the institutional racism and social cleansing that had led to the corporate manslaugther at the tower. As Masoud said, “Every MP should be dragged from the House of Commons and made to look at that building, made to see and understand.”

There was a sense of an increasing breadth to the SUTR organisation; of trade unionists, Labour Party members, students and other young people. Local groups have clearly begun to make headway. Yet there is so much more to do.


Key dates for your diary

Islamophobia Awareness Month November facebook.com/IAMonth
Winter Appeal collect for and organise delegations to Calais on 10 December facebook.com/care4calais
Stand Up to Racism Trade Union conference 3 February 2018 facebook.com/standUTR
Demonstrate on UN anti-racism day, 17 March 2018. London, Cardiff, Glasgow and international

For more information on any of the above and to get involved go to standuptoracism.org.uk