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As fascism rises again history offers a valuable lesson to us all

Seafarers who busted the fascist blockade of Spain during the civil war should be an example to all those fighting fascism today, writes Mick Cash

TWO weeks ago I had the honour of being present at the unveiling of the memorial (pictured) organised by RMT Glasgow shipping branch to those who fought and died breaking the fascist blockade during the Spanish civil war.

The memorial recognises the bravery and sacrifice of the Scottish seafarers who helped to defy the British government’s policy of non-intervention during the battle for democracy in Spain and brought crucial support to tens of thousands of refugees in Spanish cities isolated by Franco’s insurgent forces.

After 15 years of hard work the memorial now stands on Glasgow’s Clyde walkway to those 35 Merchant Navy and eight Royal Navy seafarers who died, along with scores more who were injured, while penetrating the blockade of Spanish republican ports by the combined forces of European fascism.

We learn from our history and RMT is pleased that the courage and solidarity of the seafarers who took huge personal risks to break the fascist blockade of Spain is at last acknowledged with a permanent memorial 80 years on. Their commitment to the anti-fascist cause is a beacon and an example to us all.

For the Spanish civil war stands as an example of what happens when the world stands aside and allows evil and barbarism to flourish.

Today RMT members will join trade union colleagues and the wider community at demonstrations in Cardiff, Glasgow and London to show that the anti-racist, anti-fascist majority is on the march and we will not stop until the rise of racism and the far right has been defeated.

These UK marches are part of a partnering of anti-racist and anti-fascist campaigners for demonstrations in at least 22 countries and 60 cities around the world under the banner #WorldAgainstRacism.

The marches in Britain will bring together people united in opposition to the threat of the far right in the UK. And they will show solidarity with people organising against the spread of the far right globally.

For RMT members racism, and associated hate crimes, are a daily reality. All of the statistics show a rise in violence, abuse and threats across the transport network with racism an ever-present issue.  

We have had members attacked by racist thugs who feel emboldened in the current climate and we have picket lines threatened by groups associated with the far right.

RMT members have taken strike action over the past three years in a barrage of disputes across the country where the fundamental issue has been defending the principle of a safe, secure and accessible railway for all. Where services are de-staffed in the name of profit racially motivated yobs feel that they have a green light to spread their poison.

Every survey of RMT members that we have conducted during the campaign to protect safe staffing levels has shown that racially motivated incidents are now commonplace. That is the kind of environment that we are marching today to challenge and reverse.

We have even had members racially abused and attacked on the front line of the transport system who have ended up on disciplinary charges for taking action to defend themselves.

RMT will stand up for any member who finds themselves in that nightmare scenario but is down to employers to take responsibility and show a genuine duty of care to workers left vulnerable and exposed while criminals prowl the shadows.

I started this article with a reference to the Glasgow blockade runners. We need to draw inspiration, courage and strength from all those who have stood firm against racism and fascism down the years.

In the words of the great Christy Moore: “let us all remember them tonight.”

Mick Cash is general secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT).

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