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We cannot allow working people to be divided by racism

WEYMAN BENNETT looks ahead to UN Anti-Racism Day and explains why it’s so important to hit the streets and march against racism on March 16

ON SATURDAY March 16 tens of thousands of people will take to the streets of London, Glasgow and Cardiff on the “Unite Against Racism and Fascism” marches initiated by Stand Up To Racism and supported by the TUC, most major trade unions, faith and campaigning organisations. 

This year’s demonstrations are part of a genuinely international day of action with events in London, Glasgow, Cardiff, Washington, New York and many cities across Europe and Australia. 

The wave of UN Anti-Racism Day demonstrations is not just some annual ritual (although any event that marks the Sharpeville massacre in apartheid South Africa would be worthy of remembering).

It is an attempt to co-ordinate opposition to the growing threat of racism and fascism on an international scale at a time when, inspired by Donald Trump’s presidency, the far right is on the march. 

Opposition to migrants, refugees and Islamophobia has been their rallying cry. But anti-semitism and the kind of racism we saw at Charlottesville, reminiscent of the pre-civil rights US, have followed on behind. 

This new racist and fascist right claims to oppose the system that has spread austerity and misery over the last decade, but from Viktor Orban in Hungary to Matteo Salvini in Italy, its anti-union and racist politics are never too far beneath the surface. 

The upcoming European Parliament elections are likely to see racist populist and fascists parties making massive gains. 

The likes of ex-Trump White House chief of staff Steve Bannon are attempting to co-ordinate and strategise with far-right groupings, including those around Tommy Robinson but also right-wing Tories such as Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Michael Gove in Britain. 

Internationalism is not just an ideal or an abstract notion. If we’re to halt the growth of the far right, anti-racists and progressives have to co-ordinate and learn from one another too. 

The events in Britain come at a time when the Brexit crisis is dividing British politics as never before. Many politicians on both sides of the debate have scapegoated migrants and refugees to win support. 

Sajid Javid’s rush to deal with the “emergency” of a few dozen refugees crossing the channel in small boats at Christmas showed just how willing the Tories are to use this scapegoating to deflect attention from their own troubles. 

The renewed deportation flights to Jamaica and the persecution of the Stansted 15 shows that the Windrush scandal was no mistake, it was policy. 

The far right in the shape of Tommy Robinson, Gerard Batten’s Ukip and a rag-tag of fake “yellow vests” are trying to grow out of what they describe as Theresa May’s Brexit betrayal. 

Many workplaces and communities are divided over Brexit, but whether you voted Leave or Remain we cannot allow working people to be divided by racism. 

We have gained massively from the multicultural nature of our society. Far from undermining wages and conditions, migrants are the cornerstone of institutions like the National Health Service. 

The vibrancy of our culture is centred on the coming together of the experiences of waves of immigration into our towns and cities. 

Some in the Tory Party want to drive us back to some mythical white Britain. But the vast majority of people oppose this rubbish and want to defend their friends and neighbours from scapegoating and slurs. 

At present, despite the best efforts of the Tories and the right-wing press to fan the flames of racism, we are almost the only European country without a major far-right movement. 

The thousands-strong “free Tommy Robinson” demos of the summer show, however, that we are not immune to the political polarisation that has brought the far right off the political margins in Brazil, the US and across Europe. 

We have defeated our home-grown fascists before. From Cable Street to the battle of a Lewisham, to the defeat of Robinson’s English Defence League in Tower Hamlets and Walthamstow, we have built united movements like the Anti-Nazi League and Unite Against Fascism that have driven the far right back. 

The echoes of Rock Against Racism (RAR) are still being felt in British culture. That’s why it’s so important that the UN Anti-Racism Day events are now being supported and promoted by Love Music Hate Racism, the organisation that has taken on RAR’s mantle. 

It’s time to show the strength of feeling among the vast majority of ordinary people who reject racism, anti-semitism and Islamophobia. See you on the streets on March 16.

Weyman Bennett is joint convener of Stand Up To Racism.


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