Trade unionists, anti-racist campaigners and local community activists will be joining a demonstration in Dagenham, east London, this Saturday to protest against a racist rally organised by the fascist British National Party (BNP).
The counter demonstration, called by Unite Against Fascism, is supported by a range of trade unions including the London regions of the GMB, T&G and Unison, as well as the South East Region TUC and the CWU nationally.
The Nazis took 12 council seats in Barking & Dagenham in the May elections.
Since then they have gone on the offensive in the borough, galvanised by the climate of anti-Muslim hysteria in the media and the acquittal of BNP leader Nick Griffin on race hate charges.
“We need as many anti-fascists as possible at the counter demonstration to show the scale of opposition to the BNP,” said Weyman Bennett, joint national secretary of Unite.
“The Nazis have pumped out racist lies blaming immigrants for housing shortages in the area. At the same time we’ve seen a 30 percent rise in racist attacks over the past two years.”
Justin Bowden is the GMB’s senior organiser for east London and Essex. “We back this protest. It’s fundamentally important that we challenge the far right and their politics wherever they are,” he told Socialist Worker.
“Barking & Dagenham is one of the GMB’s highest membership areas, both in terms of people working here and members who live here.
“We’re very keen to see the BNP driven out and we’re expecting a good turnout from our local branches.”
The BNP has avoided public marches and rallies in recent years, preferring to focus on elections and cultivating a “respectable” image in the media.
This makes it all the more imperative that anti-fascists turn out in force on Saturday to drown out the Nazi’s first major public mobilisation in east London.
“All who defend the common interests of East Enders for housing, jobs, dignity and respect should stand together to stop the race hate, and violence promoted by the BNP,” said Abjol Miah, leader of the Respect council group in Tower Hamlets, east London.
“The people of Tower Hamlets know all too well how the BNP racists promote division, hatred and violence. East Enders wiped this poison out of Bethnal Green and the Isle of Dogs by uniting against fascism in the early 1990s.”
The fascists have grown by exploiting social problems in this area
Local activists in Barking & Dagenham spoke to Socialist Worker about the struggle against the fascist BNP in the borough – and the pressing need to tackle the underlying social problems that the Nazis are exploiting.
Sam Tarry is a member of Barking constituency Labour Party and the anti-racism officer for London Young Labour. He says the BNP has been “massively on the rise since the council elections in May – they’ve stepped up their activism by focusing their resources here”.
The rally called by the fascists this Saturday is the latest escalation of their activities, he adds. “The BNP put out a leaflet promoting its rally with a racist cartoon on the front. It targets immigrants in general and Muslims in particular.
“It reminded me of cartoons from Germany in the 1930s – foreign looking people with hooked noses, and Margaret Hodge and Jon Cruddas – the two local MPs – handing piles of cash to them. It’s really vile.”
The decision to call a counter demonstration against the Nazis has acted as a spur to action locally, says Sam. “The Unite protest is supported by local faith organisations, as well as trade unions. The local Labour Party will be there too.”
Jake Wylie is a tube worker in Barking and chair of the RMT union’s East Ham District Line branch. “I think we were all complacent before the May elections – it was a wake up call for us and for voters,” he says.
“Now there is a growing movement against the BNP in the area. Unite has held meetings that have drawn in a good range of people.”
But all these local activists stress that tackling the BNP involves understanding how the Nazis pick up on and exploit social problems in the borough – chief among them being housing.
“The problem is that the BNP is picking up on real issues and giving them a racist twist,” says Sam. “People believe their lies about black Africans getting grants to buy homes. This is a complete lie, but people get sucked in.”
Jake echoes this. “On the housing issue, we have to expose the BNP’s lies – there is no ‘preference for immigrants’, there is no ‘Africans for Essex’ programme.
“But the problem is that though social housing is being built, there still isn’t nearly enough – there are 20,000 units available, but far more people who need them. Council houses have been sold off under right-to-buy and haven’t been replaced.”
This shortage of cheap housing combines with the London housing market to create an explosive situation, says Sam. “Dagenham is the poorest area in London in terms of housing – but the cheapest place in the London area to buy a house.
“That’s why you get people from across London, including ethnic minorities, moving here. So five years ago there was a very small immigrant population in the borough, less than 5 percent. That’s now grown to 15 percent.”
All the activists Socialist Worker spoke to, including those in the Labour Party, were highly critical of government policies on housing. “New Labour has failed to deliver on the housing issue,” says Sam.
“Labour has shifted so far that it is not representing working class people.”
Justin Bowden from the GMB union agrees. “The fundamental issue is housing – that’s what needs to be addressed,” he says. “We’re putting in a lot of work locally, but we’re trying to combat national issues – and that needs national input as well as our work on the ground.”
He is also critical of the role Margaret Hodge played during the council elections this year when she claimed that eight out of ten white working class families were thinking of voting BNP.
Justin says these comments set back local efforts to drive the BNP out of the borough:
“Most people in Barking & Dagenham who voted BNP did so in order to catch the attention of mainstream politicians – and it’s hard to deny they did so. The cry they were making needs to be listened to and responded to.”
The issue of racism also needs to be tackled, but Justin warns against stereotyping local people as racists and writing them off.
“I’ve been full-time official here for over ten years – it’s a decent, working class area,” he says. “People in Barking & Dagenham can be won away from the BNP.”
Protest against the BNP
Saturday 9 December, 1pm assemble Central Park, Dagenham
Nearest tube: Dagenham Heathway
For more details call Unite Against Fascism on 020 7833 4916
Supported by: Sertuc, GMB London, T&G London, CWU and Barking & Dagenham Alliance