By Charlie Kimber
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How Labour governments boosted racism

The history of Labour Party governments show racist ideas being boosted
Issue 2912
The fascist National Front grew in the 1970s under Labour governments. Police protecting NF in Lewisham 1977

The fascist National Front grew in the 1970s under Labour governments

Will struggle against Labour boost the racism of Nigel Farage or at some point pave the way for the Tories’ return?

In fact far from strengthening the right, recognising the need to struggle against Keir Starmer is the only way to beat back the potential acceleration of racism.

Anger grows at Labour governments as they trample on their supporters’ hopes of a better life.

That fury can go to the left or the right. But always a portion is stolen by foul racist forces.

Labour fed a rise in racism in the 1960s. After the Second World War British capitalism needed a bigger workforce, so the party opposed new immigration laws.

But by 1964 the party’s manifesto said it “accepts that the number of immigrants entering the United Kingdom must be limited” and new laws would be needed.

Looking for scapegoats for its failures, a Labour cabinet minister wrote of the need to “out-trump the Tories by doing what they would have done”.

This was when a toxic collection of fascist group formed the Nazi National Front (NF). In 1968, the rancid Tory Enoch Powell made his anti‑migrant “rivers of blood” speech predicting race wars.

For over two weeks, prime minister Harold Wilson made no comment. He then made some liberal remarks against racism.

In 1976 the government in Malawi, east Africa, expelled a group of Asians and they came to Britain. The press savaged them as spongers and robbers from honest Britons.

In local elections in Blackburn the NF and a competing fascist outfit the National Party together seized an average of 38 percent of the vote.

In Deptford, south London, in July 1976 the two parties together won 44 percent of the vote. Instead of opposing racism, Labour Party leaders pandered to it.

Bob Mellish, Labour’s chief whip, spoke at a meeting on the “influx’ of Malawi Asians. “I say ‘enough is enough’,” he ranted.

The next speaker was Powell, who took up Mellish’s phrases and weaponised then further against migrants and black people.

In the May 1977 elections for the Greater London Council (GLC) the NF stood 91 candidates and grabbed 119,063 votes beating the Liberals for third place in 33 wards.

It took mass united anti-fascist action and confrontation to beat them back.

But when the Socialist Workers Party and others took on the Nazis in Lewisham in 1977 Labour’s Michael Foot denounced the socialists and another leading party figure called them “red fascists”.

Some Labour MPs and activists were involved in the Anti Nazi League (ANL), which was launched at this time, but not the party leaders.

But the ANL was crucial to the collapse in the NF’s electoral support and the opposition to its street mobilisations. It underlines that it’s possible to hurl back the fascists.

Tony Blair’s government also hounded refugees when it came under pressure. In 2002 it turned on refugees with a vicious new bill and Blair stopped asylum seekers being able to work.

Frustrated Papers released after showed he was frustrated this did not deter enough people and he called for more “radical” ideas.

Officials presented him with schemes such as a detention camp on the Isle of Mull and breaking international law.

Other suggestions presented to him included processing refugees overseas—or even abolishing the asylum system entirely.

As the BBC comments, “Some of the ideas have strong parallels with the policies of the Sunak government.”

The antidote to the rise of racism in the past and now is specific anti-racist agitation and class struggle.

This can turn the fire on the bosses, the rich and the politicians that support them.

When black, white, Asian, migrant and non‑migrant workers unite on the picket line it can challenge people who have accepted racist ideas—or who voted for Reform UK. None of this happens automatically.

But strikes, protests and mass campaigns create the most favourable conditions in which to make arguments for unity.

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