Defiance Fighting the far right- shown on Channel 4. Rogan Productions, GroupM Motion Entertainment/ Left Handed films
Defiance Fighting the far right- shown on Channel 4. Rogan Productions, GroupM Motion Entertainment/ Left Handed films

Arti Dillon, South East London Socialist Party

Defiance is an inspiring and moving three-part documentary. It focuses on working-class community responses to the racist National Front (NF) in 1970s London and Bradford.

Scenes from the series remind me of staying in Southall, West London with my nan and other Punjabis. In contrast to the ‘Black Country’ where I was born, where racist abuse was more overtly hostile – shooting out of mouths like bullets – Southall was different. As a kid, seeing others take action taught me that nothing stops or changes without us taking action, however traumatic the circumstances.


Using interviews, archival and recent footage, lead activists share their experiences of the period. This is contextualised with montages of headlines of how we were ‘swamping’ Britain. It highlights the way the bosses use the media to whip up racism and division. At that time the bosses were also simultaneously inviting migrant workers to fill gaps in workforces, often offering lower wages and conditions.

The infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, delivered by Tory MP Enoch Powell in 1968, opposed to immigration, was part of the backdrop to the events covered. So too the emergence of Thatcher as Tory leader in 1975, and a Labour government carrying out attacks on workers’ living standards during a period of economic crisis.

Episode one starts with the racist murder of teenager Gurdip Singh Chaggar in Southall 1976, and details the openly racist and dismissive response from the police. Those finally prosecuted faced only relatively lenient sentences.

Courageous youth

Those seeking justice were only heard after a major demonstration and other actions across Southall. On one level the programme shows the courageous actions of the youth organising protests. It also shows the different strategies being put forward. Some leaders of the Indian Workers’ Association (IWA), for example, attempted to hold back the community response with the view that they had to ‘cooperate’ with the openly racist police and establishment.

Defiance digs into some of the hidden history of working-class South Asians, challenging the dominant notion of ‘shutting up and putting up’. Strategies used in the struggle for Indian independence, rather than Gandhi’s non-violent version, included widespread industrial action. One example was in the 1946 Mumbai mutiny by Royal Indian Navy sailors – Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs – which involved 20,000 sailors and included a one-day general strike in Mumbai.

The show is more than just nostalgic reminiscence. It is relevant to today.

Sunak, Priti Patel, Suella Braverman, and Labour Mayor of London Sadiq Khan protect and advance the interests of the capitalist class. The bosses continue to incite racial tensions by blaming refugees and migrants for the lack of council housing, NHS and other services. They are more than willing to exploit racism to divide and brutalise already under-resourced communities as a means to maintain their system.


That we have a South Asian prime minister and senior Tory politicians like Priti Patel pushing forward brutal racist rhetoric shows that focusing on ‘representation’ doesn’t provide a means to change society, or end the racism rooted and used within it. Parts two and three cover further far-right mobilisations and community responses, including the Battle for Brick Lane, and the murders of Altab Ali (1978) and Blair Peach (1979).

The struggles shown in Defiance have lessons for today, of the importance of independent, democratically elected anti-racist organisations based in communities, and with the involvement of trade unions.