Socialist Worker

Oldham-government gives ground to nazis

Issue No. 1754

Oldham-government gives ground to nazis

by Matthew Cookson

NEW LABOUR and the Liberals have given in to the Nazi BNP by pandering to prejudice. Representatives from Oldham's Liberal Democrat council and the three Labour MPs for the town met with home secretary David Blunkett last week.

There was no representative from the Asian community at the meeting held the week after 12,000 people voted for the Nazi British National Party (BNP) in Oldham in the general election. Instead of talking about how to stop the Nazis, the political leaders of Oldham and Britain conceded to their racist argument that Asians in Oldham are getting preferential treatment. Funding that has been targeted at Asian areas because they are the most deprived in the borough will now be spread across the whole town.

"We are not talking about extra money at this point," said Michael Meacher, MP for Oldham West. "It is important that extra money which had previously been targeted on particular areas and which had produced a strong perception of unfairness-that certain parts of the community are favoured over others-goes borough wide." This is exactly what the BNP wants. It has played on myths and lies that the council and government ignore white people in favour of Asians.

It has stirred up race hatred against the Asian community, and won a protest vote from white people who have been abandoned by the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Because of this politicians, instead of fighting for more investment for everyone in the town, have said a small pot of money should be spread across the whole population. "They're just responding to 12,000 votes," said Tariq, the chair of the Pakistani Youth Association. "They're playing up to the racists. The Asian community isn't getting all the money. Glodwick, a mainly Asian area, got �5 million from the Single Regeneration Budget. But Fitton Hill, a mainly white area, got �53 million out of the New Deal." Phil Woolas, Labour MP for Oldham West, disgustingly said that racism towards Asians is "in part because the Muslim community has not integrated at a pace which the white population (and many within the Asian population) finds acceptable". He says that "coerced integration" is the way to break down the segregation between Oldham's communities.

The segregation and racism in the town have nothing to do with the supposed failures of Asian people to integrate. They are a direct consequence of the institutional racism of the council. Oldham council has a long history of a racist housing policy that has kept white and Asian communities apart. Schools, as well as housing estates, are virtually segregated into mainly white and mainly Asian. While Woolas is talking about "integration" the New Labour government is introducing 100 new Church of England schools across England and Wales.

Woolas should be turning his fire on the people who have created the racism in Oldham, not attacking the Asian community. The conclusions from last week's meeting have given more fuel to the BNP to use against the Asian community. It is up to black, white and Asian anti-racists to unite to launch a grassroots campaign to stop the Nazis.


Together against the cuts

OLDHAM, LIKE the rest of Britain, has a huge gap between rich and poor. Two wards in the borough are amongst the 10 percent most affluent nationally. Another five wards rank amongst the 10 percent most deprived wards in the country. These are Asian, white and mixed areas.

While unemployment is officially at 4.3 percent, a study in 1998 found that the unemployment rate underestimated Oldham's unemployment by nearly four times. This means that around 17,800 people are really out of work. The unemployment rate in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities is 38 percent. Nearly one fifth of the population, 40,000 people, are dependent upon Income Support, including one in five of the town's children.

Oldham had one of the highest death rates in Britain in the 1990s. The town's rate of illness is 16 percent above the national average. All of this is concentrated in the poorest areas of Oldham. This affects both white and Asian people. The council is planning �10 million worth of cuts in 2002. This could mean the loss of 500 jobs and the restructuring of all council services.

The council is likely to propose the stock transfer of the Fitton Hill council estate to a private company, and a Private Finance Initiative for sheltered housing. This will make things worse for everybody. Poverty and deprivation have already united the mass of people in Oldham The only way to improve lives for all these people is by uniting black, white and Asian people on the streets and in the communities to stop the council cuts, and fight for jobs and investment for the town.


Unity across the barriers

RACIST THUGS are continuing to target Asians in the weeks after the Nazi election boost. Three Asian brothers had to be rescued from the A-Z convenience store on Ashton Road after a petrol bomb attack on Tuesday of last week. Racists forced open a shutter at the back of the building early on Tuesday morning and threw a petrol bomb into the shop.

The Qureshi brothers-Kharish, 33, Anjad, 30 and Shameriel, 15-were all lucky to escape with their lives. This is the second arson attack on their shop in a matter of weeks. "Those lads are just brilliant," said one local woman who was amazed the Qureshi brothers were targeted. "They will carry your shopping if you have got too much and they are really nice with everyone." Within five minutes walk of the A-Z convenience store a racist gang has been terrorising the Asian community of Royle Close.

"For the last month to six weeks, gangs of white youths-sometimes as many as 60-would come into the close through the alley and throw bricks at our houses and our cars," said Arshad Abdullah. The council has now put up a fence across the alleyway, supposedly to keep the white racists out. However, Nick Griffin, the leader of the BNP, recently called for "peace walls" between the communities. "I don't like it," said Arshad. "It divides us, which is not what we want. But we had to ask for something because the problems were not going away."

A white and Asian friend, who live on different sides of the fence, are proof that the divisions in Oldham are not that deep. "It's sad when it has to come to this," said Lee Woolfe. "I've known Asim for a long time and we get on well together. "It's a real shame that a fence has to divide our communities. I think for most people what is happening in Oldham at the moment is very sad. The majority of people want to live together. It's like a cage. It is quite horrible."

"I don't like the fence, none of us do, but we feel it does give us some protection," said Asim Malik. I get on very well with Lee. People like Lee and myself are the majority in Oldham, the people who want to live in peace."


Nazis challenged on the streets

THE NAZI National Front (NF) is also trying to make political capital out of the situation in Oldham. It has attempted to march in the town a number of times over the last few weeks. Every time it has been opposed by anti-Nazi protesters who are intent on stopping the Nazis, whether they are the NF or the BNP, from getting a real foothold in Oldham.

Around 50 anti-Nazis stopped the NF marching in Oldham last Saturday. Only 14 NF members turned up an hour late for their planned march. The presence of the anti-Nazi protest forced the police to arrest the Nazis.


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Sat 23 Jun 2001, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1754
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