TRADE UNIONS in the north east of England are at the forefront of local campaigns against the Nazi British National Party (BNP). This was shown at the TUC Northern Region's anti-racism training day held in Sunderland last Saturday.
The Northern TUC stressed in its guide to the conference, 'Trade unionists are in the unique position of being able to reach out to millions of workers, their families and friends. 'Equipped with genuine facts, information and arguments, trade unionists can take on and dispel the poison spread by racist parties such as the BNP.' Some 70 trade unionists attended from a range of unions including the TGWU, Unison, GMB, Amicus and the NUT.
Throughout the day there were workshops where people shared ideas about how to take on the BNP's arguments. One workshop included countering the myths about refugees. One TGWU member spoke about how he tackled the claim that 'immigrants take British workers' jobs'. 'You have point out that things like the health service would fall apart if it wasn't for workers coming into Britain,' he said.
'Then you have to say the government doesn't let asylum seekers work even though there are skills shortages. Some of them have to work to survive and have unscrupulous employers. They do jobs that no one in Britain would touch.'
In a workshop on racism in the community NUT member Linda Carruthers explained the important role trade unionists can play. 'During the recent by-election in Walker in Newcastle the BNP stood a candidate. 'I went round with a GMB shop steward from the city works department who was born in the area, knew people and argued with them not to vote BNP. Trade unionists are not just in workplaces, they can be rooted in local areas too.'
Frank Dobson, the former cabinet minister, also spoke at the conference. He is trying to counter the threat posed by the BNP. Those at the conference applauded his commitment. Dorothy Pearson, a TGWU member, was one of those who felt that government policies have caused the deep bitterness which the BNP is trying to capitalise on.
'Frank Dobson said there was a vacuum in politics that Labour should be filling, not the BNP. I can't see much difference between Labour and the Tories. I'm a lifelong Labour supporter and still in the party. But they have been blowing up children in Iraq. I think the spirit of what Frank Dobson said was right. We need to draw in people in communities, but not on a party political basis. We need to get back to grassroots campaigning.'
Hayley Green, a Unison member, said, 'I thought it was good Frank Dobson came but we can only do so much when the Labour Party feeds the BNP propaganda. I speak as a Labour Party member. We need to do campaigning work against the BNP and also the government's policies that are not helping us.'
Kevin Rowan, secretary of the Northern TUC, added, 'Our members have done good campaign work around the elections against the BNP. We demand the same level of courage and leadership from our politicians and I'm not convinced the government is doing that.'
Health worker and Unison convenor Claire Williams, said, 'Trade unions have been working with local people around election campaigns. But we need a longer term strategy for challenging the BNP. The model is the campaign in Walker. There was a meeting of over 30 people who live in the ward and they told us what they wanted to put in the leaflet to hand round their area. Last week there was a meeting in Chester-le-Street, where another by-election is coming, and there were 30 people at it. Again they have written their own leaflet. They know the particular points they want to put across. Trade unions have been able to help supply resources so local people can be armed with the arguments.'
More meetings and events have already been organised across the north east to continue this successful campaigning work and develop networks to beat back the BNP.
ACTIVISTS IN Oldham had a successful day of meetings and discussion over asylum rights, women's issues and defence against racism last weekend. Over 20 people turned up and it was agreed that we organise monthly events to bring together local asylum seekers and supporters and host a big music and food event in November.
AROUND 50 people came to a meeting in Camberwell in south London to launch a campaign to defend asylum seekers on Thursday of last week. They came together to oppose Section 55 of the Asylum and Immigration Act introduced by the government earlier this year.
Asylum seekers who fail to make an application for asylum 'as soon as reasonably practicable' once they enter the UK will be refused basic support. This has led to many people sleeping on the streets of Brixton without food or shelter.
PAULINE NANDOO, Campaign to Defend Asylum Seekers
For more information phone 07949 321 349 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
UNISON UNION shop steward Alex Owolade won a unanimous verdict against Lambeth council in south London at his industrial tribunal on Wednesday of last week. The industrial tribunal decided that Lambeth council had breached the Race Relations Act. It also decided that the council had unfairly dismissed him in 2001 because of his union activity.
The tribunal ruled that Alex Owolade had 'not only the right but the duty' to campaign against the 'wide background' of discrimination in the council. Alex said, 'This decision opens the way for every black worker in Britain to stand up against racism and change for the better the working environment.'
AROUND 40 people from across the Manchester area met on Thursday of last week to discuss a response to the recent gains made by the BNP in local elections. The meeting was called by a group of people who have been working together on anti-racist and anti-Nazi activities over the last 18 months. The meeting attracted a broad spectrum of individuals representing a number of trade unions, political parties, youth and other organisations. They were united in their enthusiasm for a collective response to the BNP.
A number of key issues were raised and there was widespread agreement on strategies for the future. It was agreed that the government's treatment of asylum seekers and refugees has helped to make racist views more acceptable and that this must be countered at all turns.
The meeting agreed that a leaflet exposing the true nature of the racist BNP should be prepared and disseminated as widely and as soon as possible. There was a call for a network of people willing to work with the media. They should make a concerted effort to counter racist views through a campaign of letter writing to the local press.
It was also agreed that there would be a launch of Manchester Against Racism some time in November, that a rally should be held at the town hall and that major national and local speakers should be invited. Those present spoke of the meeting as a breakthrough of anti-racist campaigning in the area.
The positive contributions and the enthusiasm to work together gave those who attended a real boost. There is a further meeting of Manchester Against Racism planned for 2 October to plan future events.