THE BNP were beaten in a council by-election in Walker, Newcastle, last week. Kenny Bell, deputy regional convenor of Unison Northern Region, explained how unions are at the centre of a model campaign to beat the BNP.
'There is no room for complacency,' he said. 'The BNP still got 17 percent of the vote in Walker. They have pledged to stand in every by-election, and next year's council elections. They plan to stand in a by-election on 2 October in Chester-le-Street, just south of Newcastle. We managed to stop the BNP getting any seats in the May elections. But we realised a more sustained and serious campaign was needed. Unison and the regional TUC took the initiative to call a meeting which launched North East Unites Against the BNP. This is an umbrella organisation for campaigns across the region. The idea is to have broad-based campaigns uniting community activists, churches, Labour Party members and members of other political parties, and in particular trade unionists.
'We have campaigns going in Sunderland, Newcastle, Gateshead. A key aim is to work with the communities in the areas targeted by the BNP. In Walker we had only three weeks after the by-election was called. Our first meeting had around 30 people-leaders of community groups, churches, Labour Party and trade unions in Walker. Two days later 15 people came to a second meeting and drafted a leaflet to put out. And many of these people then leafleted the area. Dealing with the BNP needs longer term work. There is no doubt that in working class communities there is prejudice against asylum seekers. At our next regional meeting we will be looking at how we can effectively challenge the myths around asylum. The trade unions have a key role to play. The regional TUC is organising a training day on 20 September on asylum. The keynote speakers are former cabinet minister Frank Dobson and the TUC's race equality policy officer Roger McKenzie. In Newcastle and Sunderland we are calling meetings for those working with young people.'
Kirklees United Against Racism and Fascism brought together 30 people from Huddersfield, Dewsbury and Batley last week after the BNP won the Heckmondwike by-election in north Kirklees.
Roger Keeley said, 'The meeting included Labour Party councillor Mehboob Khan, the Liberal Democrat leader of the council, Greens, Kirklees Unison, and NUT and CWU union members. Widely differing approaches were suggested. But there was no mistaking the closing of ranks against the BNP. Kirklees Unison have called a demonstration outside Huddersfield town hall when the BNP councillor is due to make his first appearance.'