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From The Socialist newspaper, 13 July 2001

Oppose The Bosses' Divide And Rule

JUST TWO decades after the 1981 riots, clashes such as those in Bradford last weekend show the deepening anger and bitterness amongst Britain's Asian population about hostile policing, racist attacks and poor social conditions. RAPH PARKINSON (UNISON National Executive Council and North West UNISON Black Members' Committee - personal capacity) looks at the issues affecting Black and Asian people in Britain today and how to build a united mass movement against racism.

DURING THE last few months we have seen disturbances across Lancashire and now Yorkshire with British born Asian youth battling on the streets with white youth and the police. These riots are taking place almost exactly 20 years after the riots in Brixton, Toxteth and Bristol.

What are the main differences between the incidents during the 1980s and current developments? At the time of the 1980s riots the mainstream press screamed about 'race riots'.

In reality, while those riots took place in inner-city areas with large black and Asian populations, they were not race riots. Rather, they were explosions of anger at poverty, unemployment, and, most immediately, brutal racist policing policies.

While it was primarily young black people involved, the focus of anger was against the police, and substantial numbers of white youths also rioted alongside young blacks.

Today the Financial Times, newspaper of the British capitalists, admits the nature of the riots of 20 years ago and draws a contrast with recent events when they say: "But the 1980s riots took the form of a violent revolt against heavy and discriminatory policing. Street fighting between racial groups on this scale [of the recent riots] has not been seen since the 1950s."

Many of the underlying reasons for the recent riots are similar to those of 20 years ago. In the ex-mill towns of Lancashire high unemployment, poor housing and hostile policing have resulted in widespread anger and resentment among all communities - Asian and white. However, this is being expressed differently to the way it was 20 years ago.

Segregation increasing

IN OLDHAM, in particular, there is a high degree of segregation between different communities. For example, one school in Glodwick has a 98% Bangledeshi roll. Oldham council's own figures show that Asians have been discriminated against in public housing; spending longer on waiting lists, often being offered lower quality housing, and being segregated on specific estates.

This has played a significant role in the segregation of Oldham. A supplementary role has been played by estate agents that have been found to be limiting the areas where Asians could buy.

The segregation is not between a rich and a poor community. The destruction of manufacturing industry has left both communities among the most deprived in the country. In this situation the neo-Nazi British National Party (BNP) have stepped in to attempt to stir up racism.

The lack of service provision, poor housing and unemployment, combined with the failure of all the mainstream parties to offer a solution, has created fertile ground for the BNP to put across their simple solutions to white working-class youth, who feel ignored by both central and local government.

The public statements made leading up to the general election by leading New Labour and Tory politicians around asylum and immigration issues added fuel to the neo-Nazis' propaganda.

The Observer newspaper (1 July) reported that eleven organisations have produced a damning report to the UN Human Rights Committee. They say that politicians and the media have encouraged racist hostility in their public attitudes towards asylum seekers.

These politicians must therefore share the blame for what is currently taking place and should take steps to prevent these disturbances spreading across the country.

Asian fightback

THE REACTION and fightback from within the Asian community has surprised most people. The older generation of the Asian community are stereotyped as being passive and subservient.

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The Socialist Party's anti-racist programme stands for:


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However, second and third generation youth are as militant as the black youth during the 1980s and prepared to defend their communities against the racists and the lack of support from the police.

Twenty years on I don't believe that the defence of black communities will be left just to bricks and stones. We need a response based on labour movement and community residents' united action and self-organisation.

We need a struggle that links the fight against racism to the fight for decent, well-paid jobs and affordable housing.

The role that could be played by the trade union movement was highlighted at UNISON conference where an emergency motion was supported unanimously calling for a demonstration to be held during the autumn in greater Manchester.

Socialist Party and other United Left members played a leading role in putting this motion together. We must now fight to ensure that this policy is not allowed to remain on paper, but is acted on and is a success.

UNISON members should be made aware of this demonstration and other trade unions and trades councils should be approached for support. We also build for the demonstration among the public - at schools, colleges and in communities.

The issue of racism is now starting to be addressed within UNISON and as part of an action plan developed by officers and supported by the National Executive Council.

In November 2000 UNISON asked the Labour Research Department undertake a survey of employers of UNISON members and of UNISON branches to see how they had responded to the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report.

End discrimination

The aim of the survey was to identify good practice, which UNISON could then use in its negotiations with other employers. The results of both this and another survey show that ethnic minorities are under-represented in many UNISON-organised workplaces, and that only a third of employers had changed their policy in the light of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry report.

I believe that the findings of this report would be quite similar if other unions conducted a similar type of exercise. However, it is not enough for the union leaders to document racism, we also need a fight against it.

To be effective, this must be done alongside a battle to defend and improve the wages and conditions of all union members.

Twenty years on since the inner-city riots it may be true to say that we now have more Black and Asian members of the police as well as more Black MPs and national trade union officials.

However 40% of black children live in poverty, 56% of Pakistani and Bangladeshi children live in poverty. In inner city areas up to a third of black youths are unemployed. Black and Asian workers earn three-quarters of the average wage of whites. Black and Asian workers continue to be bullied at work.

New Labour's minimum wage hasn't lifted anyone out of poverty, so-called economic success has meant increased exploitation of Blacks and Asians.

Children from Caribbean, Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin leave school under-achieving by 20%. In fact school harms Caribbean children who arrive at school achieving 20% higher than the average.

Black children are three times more likely to be excluded and are less likely to be selected for GCSE exams. A narrow curriculum pushing children to the limits so that schools can climb league tables is damaging black children's educational opportunities.

The Socialist Party campaigns against exploitation of all workers. For example, we have organised workers to fight against poverty pay, privatisation of housing estates and school closures.

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In The Socialist 13 July 2001:

Unite Against Racism

Racist Match That Sparked Growing Anger

Support the Merseyside firefighters: Defend Public Services

Lilley The Pinko?

Northern Ireland 'peace process': Sliding Into Sectarian Conflict

Solidarity with Turkish political prisoners

Stop The Ilisu Dam!

Racism: Oppose The Bosses' Divide And Rule


 

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