Archive article from The Socialist Issue 403
Workers' unity needed against war, terror and racism
THE SECOND wave of attacks in London on 21 July fortunately did not cause any injuries and deaths. But they greatly increased fear, insecurity and tension. Former Met Police Commissioner Lord Stevens has warned London is "under attack" and could remain at risk for the next ten or 20 years.
The police shooting the following day of an innocent Brazilian man at Stockwell tube station in south London further intensified the fear and tension throughout Britain. This 'shoot-to-kill' policy is extremely alarming to people in London and elsewhere, but particularly to Muslims who already feared an increased racist backlash and will now think the police could resort to killings of innocent members of their community.
Following the second London bombings and the huge bomb attack on tourists in Egypt, but before the news that the police had shot an innocent man, the British tabloid press had been chillingly whipping up hysteria on the way terrorist suspects should be dealt with. "Shoot all bombers ...demand grows for suicide fanatics to be shown no mercy", cried the Daily Express. "One down, three to go", was The Sun's headline commenting on the shooting at Stockwell.
The Socialist Party has totally condemned the bombing attacks, as have the vast majority of people - including Muslims. The attacks indiscriminately killed and injured ordinary people from many of London's communities. Nonetheless, the fact that very small groups of alienated Muslims have felt motivated to carry them out is connected to the war on Iraq, the treatment of the Palestinians and to many other areas of the world where the imperialist powers have worsened the situation of poor and working-class people through their drive for economic domination.
However, the terrible actions of the suicide bombers only plays into the hands of the enemies of working-class Muslims and all working people, because they allow the government to respond by attacking civil liberties, and the right-wing media and far-right parties to respond by whipping up racial tension.
Blair got through the fortnight following the first attacks by leaning on the reaction of shock and horror, and by preparing further repressive legislation. He desperately attempted to establish a unity of people behind his response, but denied any connection between the attacks and the events in Iraq and the Middle East.
There is growing incredulity and anger at this ludicrous denial. A Daily Mirror/GMTV poll has shown that 85% of people link the Iraq invasion with the London bombings.
Blair's position was fraying even before the second wave of bombings, with the publicity surrounding reports from right-wing think tanks and his own security services which warned of the increasing likelihood of terrorist attacks in Britain. The right-wing Chatham House organisation, formerly loyal supporters of Blair's foreign policy, said that the key problem is that Britain is "riding as a pillion passenger with the United States in the war against terror" and that the conflict in Iraq "gave a boost to the al-Qa'ida networks".
The day following the 21 July bombings, Blair was coming under increasing scrutiny and pressure. Writers in the Mirror, normally pro-Labour if not pro-Blair, put the matter succinctly. Kevin Maguire said: "Blair still refuses to accept a connection, sticking his head in the desert sand like an ostrich. The Premier should change his holiday plans and stay in Britain to do some hard thinking. Sending MPs on an obscenely long 80-day holiday in the midst of a crisis smacks of complacency and avoiding difficult questions. Politicians need to ask what is fanning the flames of terrorism and what can he do - what can we do - to reduce the likelihood of further strikes?" And Paul Routledge said that Blair's "new standing as a leader of national unity was coming apart at the seams".
Working people know Tony Blair has lied yet again. His actions, far from bringing stability and peace, have made the world a much more dangerous and insecure place. In particular, as long as British troops remain in Iraq, innocent British people, many of whom opposed the war, will be living in fear of attack.
But, apart from a huge sense of shock, especially in London, a mood is also beginning to develop amongst working people that something more needs to be done to stop further terrorist attempts - more than just the government and the security forces creating a state of siege in some areas and ratcheting up the fear factor.
There must be closer scrutiny and questioning by the workers' movement of the way the police and security forces are reacting to the terror threat, given the history of their actions and the miscarriages of justice like the Birmingham six and Guildford four in the past.
People question whether the terrorist attacks will go away as a result of pushing ahead with draconian security measures and bringing in new laws that greatly erode already curtailed civil liberties. Nor do they think that matters can be resolved by desperately trying to force people to show 'unity', or a 'stiff upper lip' and carry on 'as normal'.
The intensification of events means there are many issues which will have to be urgently addressed by the workers' movement in the coming days and weeks. With the realisation that there could well be further attacks to come, it is now more urgent and necessary that there is an organised workers' response.
Unity - in whose interests?
LONDON'S WORKERS are being urged after each terrorist atrocity to show they will not be intimidated and to display the 'Dunkirk Spirit' and the 'spirit of the Blitz'. However, workers, whilst not sympathising with the terrorist attacks and wanting to display unity against them, are asking questions about what interests are being served by the 'unity' the Blair government and London Mayor Ken Livingstone are demanding.
After the 7/7 bombings, Blair worked hard to play on the mood for unity, in order to bolster his own standing and the position of his government in supporting US imperialism. And the bosses in London also attempted to utilise the mood of unity to protect their class interests and ensure the bombings did not affect the London economy or their profits. The Stock Exchange, for example, carried on regardless, ensuring the multi-billion pound transactions and profits of financial capital were not threatened.
But it is ordinary people who are being asked to shoulder the most risk and insecurity in the efforts to "keep London moving".
On 7 July tube drivers at a depot on the Northern Line refused to go back to work on the line until it was declared safe to do so. Their refusal prompted a tirade from a manager, who said they were "all cowards", followed by a racist remark that "they should all be wearing turbans"! Whilst the workers correctly still refused to go back to work, a worker from a Muslim background was threatened by the manager.
Bob Crow, leader of the RMT railworkers' union, said on 22 July: "We are seeking an urgent review of what should happen in an Amber Alert. When yesterday's attacks happened we expected the network to be closed down and re-opened once it was deemed safe, as it was two weeks ago, but our members were put under enormous pressure to continue as normal when it was still far from clear what was happening
"We have made it clear that any of our members who refuse to work in such circumstances on safety grounds will have the complete support of the union".
For raising this issue on regional TV news on 21 July, Bob Crow was glibly dismissed by some media commentators and London Underground management, with the suggestion that he was trying to capitalise on the bombings. But, the Socialist Party, and many of the millions of workers who use London Underground, would support these necessary and urgent demands. At the same time there should be a call for the return of conductors on buses.
As well as helping to create a more secure environment and ensuring better safety provision in event of emergency, organised workers can also help ensure that there is no whipping up of hatred and paranoia towards ethnic minorities.
Even before the second wave of bombings, there were terrible attacks, including murder, on people from a Muslim background.
However, the vast majority of workers, particularly trade union activists, instinctively understand the need for workers' unity and there have been some marvellous examples at local level of working-class solidarity and protection of people from the threat of racist attacks.
Blair appealed for no division amongst different communities, but this is like an arsonist calling for fires to be put out, as his domestic and foreign policy have added to divisions rather than countering them. His motive in trying to stop a racist backlash is to avoid blame for it from being laid at his own door, and he wants to avoid further tension in society over-stretching the police and security forces.
Trade unions in Britain have an important, even crucial role in giving a lead that can cut across the fear of terror but which will also keep workers united in opposition to Blair and the effects of the Iraq war. In the first place, a national demonstration against terrorism and against war should be called.
Such a lead could develop the mood for workers' unity against the bombings, while linking in the demand for the withdrawal of troops and opposing any attempt to divide workers through a racist backlash. The way to stop the threat of further terrorist atrocities in Britain, that lead to indiscriminate mass murder, means first of all bringing the troops out of Iraq.
Such a movement could develop if the trade union and anti-war leaders were to give a lead and call for the ending of Britain's role in the oppression of the peoples of Iraq and the Middle East and for the removal of Blair and his neo-Conservative apologists in government.
Trade union lead needed
The trade union movement has to act decisively and effectively to protect and safeguard the interests of working-class people, and to ensure that the government is put under the maximum pressure to withdraw the troops from Iraq.
The worst thing that could be done at this time is to give the impression that the working class and all those who opposed the war are passive bystanders in the current events. The labour movement cannot afford to be fatalistic about the terrorist threat and the continuation of the occupation of Iraq.
As well as the trade unions having a responsibility to act, by at least calling a national demonstration of workers against the bombings, the Stop The War Coalition (STWC), could also play a role in providing leadership. However, the STWC has unfortunately not given an effective lead in recent weeks. Some of this ineffectiveness stems from the fact that some of their leadership - in particular members of the Socialist Workers Party - refuse to unequivocally condemn terrorist attacks that strike at ordinary people, and also fail to pose an alternative way forward.
It is necessary to recognise that from whatever section of society mistaken and damaging methods of struggle arise, the only way to combat them is for all working people to unite in opposition, and to support a programme that counters the divisive and anti-working class policies of the main capitalist political parties.
Disgracefully, the Morning Star headline of 22 July was: "Damp Squib... Underground evacuated but second wave of bombs fails to detonate". Any tube worker, bus worker or passenger on London Underground would have rubbed their eyes in disbelief at such a glib headline.
The US defence department and John Reid, the Secretary of State for Defence in Britain, have made it clear that whilst they may consider scaling down troop numbers in Iraq within the next year, which seems increasingly unlikely given the continuing descent into civil war there, nevertheless there is likely to be a troop presence in Iraq for at least a decade.
The trade unions have to campaign for the immediate withdrawal of troops and for an alternative to the chaos and threat of civil war inside Iraq, as well as helping to prevent further bloodshed in Britain.
The unions will have to urgently address how to assist the development of genuine, independent, mass trade unions in Iraq which oppose the occupation and provide workers' defence to cut across any attempts to divide the working class on religious or ethnic lines and a descent into civil war.
If the British trade union movement fails to give a lead in Britain and campaign for the removal of Blair and his government - largely responsible for the current troubles - then the tension and pressures in British society could intensify to the point where local trade unions and community representatives will need to organise democratic bodies to defend all sections of the community.
Urgent measures are needed immediately at a local level, in the form of demonstrations, union activists meetings and material propaganda to cut across any racist backlash and to ensure the safety of working-class people is guaranteed.
But all the local activity needs to be brought together in a national demonstration, mobilising tens and possibly hundreds of thousands to show working-class unity against terrorism and against the war and occupation, against racism and in defence of civil liberties.
The growing instability in Britain and on a world scale shows the need to struggle to build a socialist alternative of all working people to Blair and Bush and the capitalist system they defend. Theirs is a system that rides roughshod over the national, religious and democratic rights of whole peoples. Only by ending capitalism will it be possible to begin to build a society, based on need not profit, which is capable of meeting the aspirations of all humanity.
It is increasingly urgent to fight to build a mass workers' movement to oppose terrorism, imperialist wars and to struggle for a socialist world.
unity against war and terrorism won't prevent terrorism marchers demand justice drivers say safety is paramount