Labour leadership - Islamophobia - EDL - Right to Work
With the Tories now ruling through a Con-Dem coalition thousands of people who want to oppose them have joined the Labour Party (Feature, Socialist Review, June 2010). Trade union delegates to the summer conference fringe meetings were enthusiastic for John McDonnell with his strong record of supporting trade union struggles.
But in the election to become Labour Party leader only the Labour MPs decide who can be considered. They did not want John McDonnell. The central Labour leadership did, however, "arrange" for Diane Abbott to be on the ballot paper. Deciding the "left's" candidates shows how strong the grip of those who ran the last Labour government is over the Labour Party today.
Now Abbott is the left candidate in the Labour leadership election. She is clearly the anti-war, anti-racist candidate, and she is not one of the Labour gang that promised "cuts worse than Thatcher" in this May's general election. It is to be welcomed that during the leadership debate there will be some space for discussion on what Labour should do now.
The decisive test of left leadership will, however, not be in this leadership election. It will be how people lead in the workplaces, in the communities, and in mobilising onto the streets. Already there are reports of Labour Party members joining the fightback in local campaigns - over hospitals, in opposition to academies and at budget day protests. We will need to work together. A big vote for Abbott would be a boost for everyone on the left. But the decisive force in opposition to the Tories will be the strikes and demonstrations that hold the power to force through real change.
See CCTV? No longer
Measures like the recent installation of security CCTV cameras around Muslim areas in Birmingham only fuel Islamophobia, making an already victimised community feel even more under attack (Feature, Socialist Review, June 2010).
The recent decision by Birmingham City Council and local police to cover up the cameras is a victory for people in the city. The cameras have come at a time when the local council are announcing millions of pounds worth of further cuts to our local services and are cutting more jobs. The police claim that these cameras were put up to prevent crime in crime ridden areas. However, they were put up in areas where crime is reasonably low, but with a large Muslim population.
I am proud that local residents from all backgrounds stood together to oppose this racist move. At a time when Islamophobia is on the rise, we must continue to stand together to oppose moves like these.
The real face of Tyneside
We have a small Muslim population in Newcastle. Only an idiot would associate the problems of our area - mass unemployment and low wages - with militant Islam (Feature, Socialist Review, June 2010). When the English Defence League (EDL) said they were coming to Newcastle, Unite Against Fascism (UAF) got organised. It has established itself as the main anti-fascist organisation in the area with a good relationship with the Muslim community and the support of local trade unions.
We produced 25,000 flyers and posters and leafleted everything that moved! We targeted big workplaces at Longbenton and Tyne View Park where over 5,000 civil servants work, and did Newcastle and Gateshead Civic Centre three or four times. We did stalls in all three Newcastle colleges and students got publicity to lectures and halls. Local union branches took bundles of flyers; pubs, clubs, record shops and cafes were covered in UAF material.
We explained to people that this was our city and we wanted a peaceful but effective protest - important, as the police toured mosques suggesting that the UAF march would be violent.
Building our demo was not straightforward. We had to contend with a section of the local trade union bureaucracy choosing to organise a static event away from our march. This attracted less than 100. We urged support for both events and most trade unionists chose to join our march. On the day 1,000 mainly local people turned out, with the largest turnout from the Muslim community since the early days of the Iraq war. It was a great sight: young and old, black and white, trade unionists and students - the real face of Tyneside.
The EDL had boasted 3,500 to 5,000 would march. In the end the 700 EDL who protested were mostly from outside the area.
We now have a more rooted UAF with new people active. What we did everyone can do. It just takes effort and plenty of imagination.
Workers all in this together
Many working class people feel daunted by the scale of the attacks they face (Feature, Socialist Review, June 2010). While we may resist here or there we all know that we cannot match the threat purely with sectional organisation. Last autumn the feeling that we are all stronger together clearly manifested itself in Sheffield when firefighters and bus workers came out on strike locally alongside post workers in their national dispute. The front page of the local paper said "Three strikes and we're out".
So when we began to build for the 22 June budget protest - initiated by the Right to Work Campaign - the FBU and CWU signed up before it was raised at trades council. At trades council the Labour Party chair also agreed to support the event and went to get the support of the Sheffield Labour Party executive. From there it was just a matter of knocking on doors and they all opened, with local branches of PCS, NUT, UCU, Unison, Unite, GMB, Napo and NUJ all signing up alongside the Green Party and the Pensioners' Action Group.
There is an emerging feeling that we are all in this together, but not in the sense the Tories mean. We need to be together in standing up to them.