Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2236

New Cross Fire deaths that led to a revolt against racism

Thirty years ago last week, on 18 January 1981, a fire in New Cross, south east London, killed 13 young black people during a birthday party.

Many people felt that the fire had been started deliberately by racists.

It was two years after Margaret Thatcher had been elected. She had made an infamous racist speech about people being afraid of others “swamping” Britain.

It is shocking to remember that many young people felt that they couldn’t go to public venues to celebrate birthdays. They were excluded simply because they were black.

Many resorted to having blues parties as an alternative—and also to listen to the music they wanted to hear.

The newspapers kept up a daily diet of stories of the “noisy black neighbours” disturbing the Queen’s peace. Tories talked about banning them. The Nazis of the National Front (NF) promised to bomb them.

The indifference of the police and the press to the deaths detonated deep anger. Mass meetings took place all over London.

Mass demonstrations against the NF and Rock Against Racism carnivals during the 1970s helped to give confidence to the black community to fight for our rights.

On 2 March a mass demonstration of 20,000 mainly black people took to the streets. We marched for eight hours.

The march was peaceful—until the police attacked it and split it up.

They hated seeing the confidence and the raw anger of young black people set to the backbeat of dub sounds and soul music.

They had lost control and we knew it.

It was the first time, but not the last, I saw real fear in policemen’s faces. After years of being stopped and searched, it was good to see.

Something had changed and things were never going be the same again.

One of the slogans on the demonstration was “Blood Ah Go Run If Justice No Come”. This was a political movement—we hated the Tories, we hated the police.

Here was a generation of young people sentenced to years of unemployment and we were going to fight back.

In 1981 Britain’s streets exploded into the most violent and extensive disturbances since the war. From Brixton to Liverpool’s Toxteth, black and white people took to the streets against racism and unemployment.

We need to remember what happened and how people fought for justice—because we need to do it again.

Weyman Bennett, Joint secretary, Unite Against Fascism

Floods are ‘profitable’

“There are more helicopters from the press than the rescue service.”

This is a statement from Hudson Correa, a reporter from the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper talking about the floods in Rio de Janeiro.

The phrase is revealing.

The need to put on a show for the big media to exploit is more important than saving lives.

Coverage of the floods has been full of emotion—but the sensationalism created about the tragedy buries some important numbers.

Around one thousand people died as a result of “natural” disasters in Brazil between 1990 and 2010, mostly in floods and landslides.

But in 2011, there are already nearly 700 dead in Rio Janeiro. There will be ten times more victims than the annual average.

There were ten natural disasters in Brazil in 2009. The majority were the result of the rains causing landslides and floods.

Brazil suffers more of these types of disaster than many other countries—although not without warning.

The federal government spends 14 times more on repairs than on prevention—because prevention costs more and contractors can make more profit out of repairs.

They spent only 3 percent of R$442 million in the reserves of the budget for the prevention of natural disasters.

Meanwhile more than R$112 billion has disappeared in the torrent of interest payments on public debt.

Half of the federal budget is sucked out and paid without delay to the big money-lenders.

This is a pact with the devil that sacrifices large parts of the population to the logic of neoliberalism.

We have to break with the slavery imposed by the free market.

We need to combine the reform of the cities with the reform of the countryside.

Both need to be radical and sustainable, against the rights of property and for the rights of life.

Sergio Domingues, Rio de Janeiro

Cameron—Don’t make a casualty of our NHS!

David Cameron says that his health reforms are about saving lives and improving efficiency.

At the same time, Cameron’s government is responsible for spending the equivalent of 125 new NHS hospitals per year on an inefficient occupation and war, wreaking death and destruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We need a health system that meets health needs—not one that spends £2 billion to place our health needs into the market. And not one in the hands of private businesses intent on making a profit from our ill health.

Individual GPs are not trained in, nor should they spend their time on, management. This again puts our health service at risk.

Meanwhile local primary care trusts are attempting to impose a disproportionate burden of health cuts on mental health services.

One third of mental health beds are being cut in my local primary care trust.

It is also massively reducing what it calls “low priority” treatments—including common medical procedures like tonsillectomies, hysterectomies and grommet insertions.

We need money to be spent on health, not death—on public services, not private profit. Don’t make a casualty of our NHS!

Shirley Franklin, Chair, Defend the Whittington Hospital Coalition

FCUM says: don’t deport our Mehdi

The FC United Manchester club has come out in force to join the fight to keep my friend Mehdi Mirzae at home, safe and alive in Manchester.

Mehdi is a 26-year old Afghan national currently in detention in Tinsley House, Gatwick.

The authorities in Afghanistan murdered Mehdi’s family. He was imprisoned and tortured before he fled to Britain and fears for his life if deported.

I was overwhelmed at a pre-match members’ meeting a few weeks ago as I listened to Andy Walsh, our general manager, talk about my friend not as a problem but as a person.

He talked about Mehdi as a football supporter, a coach and a community partner.

Mehdi gave up playing football after being stabbed. With the support of FCUM, he went on to train as a coach.

Mehdi is in constant pain and needs neurosurgery, which he couldn’t get if deported back to Afghanistan.

Mehdi’s life is football. His home, his family, his friends and his army of campaign supporters are here in Manchester.

Go to and follow us on Twitter: Mehdi_Must_Stay

Jenny Lomas, Campaign coordinator

Lansley has no mandate

No one in this country voted to see Tory health secretary Andrew Lansley’s healthcare reforms.

We the people gave no mandate for the shrinking of the NHS to make space for new private healthcare providers.

Increasing market mechanisms in the NHS will kill the health service—and it’s being done with Lib Dem votes.

This is the biggest restructuring since 1948 and, if passed, may see the end of free healthcare for all.

Robin Stuchbury, Buckingham

Are our homes too big for us?

Tory housing minister Grant Shapps says older people should move out of their council homes when their children leave because they “become places to endure, not enjoy”.

Will he take his own advice and move into a tiny home when his kids leave?

Highly unlikely.

Kate Fielding, Newcastle

Dorries attack on students

Nadine Dorries, the Tory anti-choice bigot MP, has laid into poor kids.

The Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) helps poorer students pay for things like books and travel.

But not according to Dorries, who claims they skip classes to spend it on clothes.

Once again, she has shown how far removed the Tories are from, and how little they care about, the reality of ordinary people’s lives.

Rachel Kirkpatrick, Liverpool

Unemployed do have power

The unemployed live at the sharp edge of capitalism (Letters, 15 January).

Benefit and job cuts may have been approved by parliament.

But in the spirit of our student comrades, we should say “what parliament does, the streets can undo”.

As the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement in the 1930s showed, the jobless are not some amorphous mass to be pushed around, nor do we have to wait for some Labour Party messiah to ride in and save us.

Unemployed people are very much like students—poor and lacking the power that comes from being in the workplace, but having the flexibility, time and rage to organise a fight.

Richard Donnelly, St Albans

Profiting from shark fin soup

People may have seen Gordon Ramsay’s TV programme on the shark fin industry in China and Taiwan.

It pointed out the destructive nature of the industry.

But there’s a danger that “uncivilised” and “barbaric” people in poorer countries could be blamed.

Ramsay blames “Chinese demand” for shark fin soup.

But who creates this demand? Who profits from it?

And why are such industries often the only means workers have of making a living?

Unite against the real enemies of the planet—rich bosses.

Sam Butterworth, Sheffield

Pakistan: the real solution

A Khan asks whose side socialists are on if Pakistan collapses into civil war (Letters, 22 January). Liberals or Islamists?

The answer is neither. Both are unable to give a lead.

The only class which has both the interest to fight for justice and the power to make it happen is the working class.

Thousands of Karachi electricity supply workers went onto the streets this week fighting for jobs against the bosses of the now privatised KESC.

These workers are not only fighting for themselves—they are fighting for all who want an end to exploitation, corruption and profiteering.

Geoff Brown, Manchester

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Article information

Tue 25 Jan 2011, 18:35 GMT
Issue No. 2236
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