Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/408/4899
Socialists fight for workers' unity
SINCE THE London bombings on 7 and 21 July, Socialist Party branches have been fighting for class unity, against the war and terrorism and against racism, sometimes in situations where a racist backlash could have developed.
Socialist Party members in West Yorkshire where some of the alleged bombers came from and in Lambeth where Jean Charles de Menezes, an innocent Brazilian was shot in a police shoot-to-kill incident, explain how they responded to these events.
THE LONDON bombings had a profound impact in West Yorkshire once it emerged that the alleged bombers came from Leeds and Huddersfield. The Al-Qa'ida video showing a bomber from Dewsbury threatening to wreak revenge on Britain's population brought further shock waves.
Mike Forster, Kirklees UNISON
Some Muslim women from Savile Town in Dewsbury approached a local Unison steward in Kirklees, Sabera, as they felt threatened by the inevitable backlash. UNISON organised a local meeting attended by around 70 women.
Almost all of them had suffered abuse and threats, especially those wearing traditional Muslim dress. The Peace and Unity Group set up an organising committee to plan local activities, including a public rally and peace walk through Dewsbury.
Kirklees UNISON members faced some backlash in their own workplaces. The Dewsbury bomber's mother in law, a well-known community worker in her local school, was forced to leave her home and remains in hiding for fear of reprisals. The Huddersfield bomber attended another local school.
Workers at both schools feared tension between pupils and even parents. Union meetings were held to talk through all the implications and make sure the union had a unified response.
Scandalously, the national and local press besieged the schools for salacious gossip, photos, or titbits, offering big money for any story, fictitious or otherwise and made stories out of nothing just to grab headlines. Many people now refuse to talk to the press unless they can guarantee everything they say is printed.
Our group gets the same media treatment. Under the headline 'Stirrers', a local Tory councillor accused the Socialist Party of manipulating the group and the women in particular. Then a series of press articles suggested that there is no problem in the community and that the women have been deceived. Even the BNP tried jumping on the bandwagon!
Despite this, the local public rally was a great success and gave further impetus to the campaign. Unfortunately, the local mosques leant heavily on the women to call off the walk and many of them had privately decided not to attend because of pressure from their husbands. The walk was reluctantly postponed. However the Group's work will continue and is desperately needed.
At a local BNP public meeting, their leader Nick Griffin pledged to make Kirklees their 'jewel in the crown'. He has made disgraceful, inflammatory attacks on the Islamic faith and local Asian population.
An anonymous letter from parents publicly called for the removal of a Muslim teacher in a Huddersfield school. In another school, a Support Staff member was told she will be suspended if she does not remove the veil.
These underlying sentiments have to be directly challenged, which will be the Peace and Unity Group's brief. Local politicians look the other way, claiming the community has weathered the storm and that talking about the bombings only makes matters worse.
Local Labour MP, Shahid Malik, demanded that Muslim mothers challenge extreme ideas expressed by their children by boxing their ears! Only the Peace and Unity Group publicly links Blair's support for the Afghan and Iraqi invasions to the recent emergence of suicide bombers.
The Socialist Party will continue to give this fledgling Group the support it needs to make its imprint on events and challenge any dangerous drift to racism and division.
No to shoot-to-kill
AFTER THE July bombings, Lambeth Socialist Party took to the streets calling for class unity, no to war and no to terrorism. We called for an immediate demonstration against the attacks and any racist backlash to build unity and put the blame firmly at New Labour's door.
Rob Macdonald, Lambeth
When the news came through that a man had been shot at Stockwell tube station, local members suspected this could be an innocent man. There is a history of police killings of innocent people in Lambeth.
When we heard that the man was Jean Charles de Menezes, a completely innocent Brazilian, Lambeth branch members held an emergency meeting. We called for a genuine, open public inquiry led by trade unions and community groups. We warned against repressive anti-terror laws, demanding 'No shoot to kill', 'No to war and terrorism' and calling for the unity of the working class.
There were reports of other wrongful arrests and police harassment in the name of anti-terrorism. We called for an immediate demonstration through the local area to combat these acts. We produced a local bulletin - translated into Portuguese by members of Socialismo Revolucionario, the Socialist Party's sister organisation in Brazil.
We put out thousands through local trade unions and local communities particularly Portuguese and South American, of whom there are 40,000 in Lambeth. We held a Socialist Party public meeting to discuss both the shooting and struggles in Latin America which 40 local people attended.
At a vigil organised by the Stop the War Coalition (STWC), the angry protest turned into an impromptu demonstration that tried to march to Parliament. At this, we made links with community activists and other groups.
From the start we called on the local Stop the War group to organise a meeting to plan a response. Unfortunately due to the top-down style of some in the STWC leadership, democratic plans were overturned and planning meetings were cancelled above activists' heads.
Instead of a demo, a STWC public meeting was held in Brixton. At this we called on the Stop the War Coalition nationally to call an immediate national demonstration. Many at the meeting responded positively but the national STWC argued it was the holiday period so it couldn't be built for.
An opportunity was lost here for a vital demonstration.
We explained the need to build solidarity in the local community and that a show of strength was needed to counter the media and government propaganda.
Despite the STWC trying to cancel a local organising meeting, the Socialist Party with other local activists at a local STWC meeting agreed a united position and sent delegates to a London-wide organising committee.
Delegates called for the 24 September national demo to start or end in south London due to the shooting of Jean Charles and other repressive acts in the area. If this wasn't agreed to, we called for there to be local feeder marches, which was eventually agreed.
WE THEN began to organise for the 24 September demonstration. It was very important that a campaign for the demo be built in working-class estates around Stockwell. We produced 6,000 local Socialist Party bulletins, some in Portuguese, which went out across Lambeth's estates.
The bulletins made anti-war propaganda but also raised the idea of a socialist alternative. This gave us the opportunity to discuss with local people and build the idea of class unity.
Socialist Party members in Lambeth College students union organised student meetings on the college's sites - the first meeting had 60 there.
Campaign stalls were held outside the college and so far 55 young people have joined Socialist Students. We had many stalls in the local area - two new members have already joined the Socialist Party and many more are interested.
Socialist Party members moved a resolution at Lambeth UNISON to support the demo which got overwhelming support from the 100-plus workers present. A local Socialist Party tube worker got support for the demo and the distribution of our leaflet through the RMT union branch covering Stockwell tube.
We are pleased at the role we played in pushing for this demonstration locally. It is unfortunate that it took so long to come about, which shows the need for more democracy within the anti-war movement.
We will keep linking the anti-war message with deaths at police hands and the social conditions that people face locally. These all show the need for a socialist alternative which can unite working people to cut across racism and challenge the capitalist system which creates so many problems in the world.
In The Socialist 22 September 2005: