Residents stopped the police van from leaving the estate, despite police violence. Photo: Deji Olayinka
Residents stopped the police van from leaving the estate, despite police violence. Photo: Deji Olayinka

Deji Olayinka, South West London Socialist Party

The people of Peckham, South London, scored a victory of defiance against immigration raids on Saturday 11 June, forcing the release of their neighbour held by immigration officials.

After receiving a message on my trade union branch group chat, me and fellow Socialist Party member Andy Tullis (with his fractured foot!) made the journey from our campaign stall in Stockwell over to Peckham.

We joined a diverse group of people from the local area who were determined to stay in the road until the man was freed from the immigration van.

The protest began peacefully with regular chants of “let him go” and the occasional boos to drown out the police megaphone warning us that we were obstructing the arrest. As if we didn’t know!

But this peace was broken when a new group of police marched from the main road through to the van and launched an attack. Kicking, punching and pushing the peaceful protestors as many of us fell to the ground.

In response, the crowd bunched closer to the front, holding each other to stop the police breaking through. Chants of “there’s no need for violence” emerged from the back and this was joined with a wave of people sitting down.

This wave moved to the frontlines, we didn’t want the police to make it look like we were instigating the violence. We understood that we still held the power with our peaceful protest and the police couldn’t drag all of us away to arrest us.

Ten people stopping an immigration van from leaving a neighbourhood eventually grew to a crowd of 200. The police were forced to accept defeat.

The Lewisham section of the national Anti-raids network played a key role in organising the resistance through WhatsApp and Twitter. Details of how events unfolded can be read on their Twitter feed. The final victorious tweet announced: “After four hours of resistance and a crowd of 200 people they’re letting our neighbour go! People power wins. We’re shouting: ‘Don’t come back to Peckham!’”

The 2020 Black Lives Matter movement was a clear sign of the broad anti-racist consciousness among the working class. It birthed a new generation of activists and groups ready to fight against the racism capitalism creates. It wasn’t just a “moment”, as Labour leader Keir Starmer dismissed it.

And the crowd in Peckham wasn’t just ‘your typical activists’. One man described how he was asking strangers from the high street to join the resistance and they did!

This isn’t the first time a community has come together and forced the police to release an immigrant; similar events have been seen in Glasgow and Edinburgh. And this certainly won’t be the last!

But beyond demonstrating in reaction to immigration raids, we need to build a mass campaign against the racist immigration laws.

The Tories are ramping up their racism to distract from the cost-of-living crisis, ‘partygate’ and cronyism. All capitalist parties promote division in the absence of real solutions to people’s deprivation, including Labour.

We need a new mass workers’ party to unite the working class with a fighting socialist programme against the racism, poverty and imperialism that capitalism breeds. 

We say

  • End the hostile environment. End all racist immigration laws. No deportations
  • Justice for the Windrush generation and all other victims of the state
  • End stop and search
  • Rebuild the police to be under democratic control of communities and trade unions