What's the truth about Oldham?
Myths pushed by media and police
BBC RADIO 4's Today programme last week reported that the mainly Asian area of Glodwick in Oldham, Lancashire, is now a "no-go" area for whites. Oldham police had released figures that said of the 572 racist attacks in the city last year, 60 percent were against whites, mainly by Asians. This led much of the media to claim that there are gangs of racist Asians in parts of Britain who are attacking white people.
MATTHEW COOKSON visited Oldham to discover the reality for Asians and whites in the area.
THE MINUTE you enter Glodwick you realise that it cannot be a "no-go" area for whites. Most of the people who live there are of Pakistani origin, but whites live there as well. In the heart of Glodwick is a pub called Live and Let Live, in which many white people drink. There were no signs saying "Whites not welcome", as the papers reported, and no threats towards me or any other white person.
"We don't mind if white people come to Glodwick," Arfan, a 16 year old Asian who took me round part of the estate, said. The message from Asian people was, "We're not stopping whites from coming to this area-but we're not going to tolerate racism any more." Saleem said, "I've always worked with and got on with white people-I don't believe in racism. In the past our parents got beaten up by racists, but us youngsters know our rights. We won't accept it. If an idiot comes into Glodwick looking for violence we've got to defend ourselves."
There are virtual "no-go" areas in Oldham though. "We can't go to the mainly white area of St Mary's on our own," said Arfan. "There are big risks going there."
Asians make up about 11 percent of Oldham's population. They suffer racism, and there has been a deliberate attempt by some of those at the top of society to divide communities. In 1992 a Commission for Racial Equality report found that Oldham council had "discriminated against Asians on racial grounds by segregating them from other applicants" in its policies of housing allocation.
It also found that the council "had directly discriminated against Asian applicants by disproportionately allocating them to poorer properties." This racism even extends to the way the central shopping area views them. "If four Asians go into the town centre they get split up by the security guards because we're seen as being 'suspicious'," said Arfan.
The local daily newspaper has a record of sensationalising attacks on whites and not reporting racist attacks.
"If someone beats up an Asian then it's just another crime and hardly reported, but if an Asian beats up a white person it's on the front page," Saleem told me.
Together against the nazis
ASIAN AND white people in Oldham demonstrated against the National Front on 31 March. This unity needs to be built on now, as the Nazi BNP leader says he will stand in Oldham
Black, white Asian united
ALTHOUGH THERE are divisions between the different communities in Oldham, recent events showed that black and white can unite. When the Nazi National Front (NF) planned a "Rights for whites" march through Oldham on 31 March, community activists and trade unionists organised to stop them.
Around 1,000 anti-racists, including councillors, MPs, and black and white people, rallied in the centre of the town in protest at the planned Nazi march. The Nazis failed to turn up and the anti-racists were jubilant. A big step forward had been taken.
"We proved there was a link between ordinary people," says Tariq, a local anti-racist activist. "We sent out our message loud and clear." Jason Travis, the president of the Oldham NUT teachers' union, adds, "The rally was a complete victory. The mood was disciplined and peaceful, celebrating our right to march through the town centre, and showing in action the principle of black and white, unite and fight."
Several mass meetings of hundreds of people in various communities had shown the widespread disgust at the NF. In contrast to the response of ordinary people, the police stressed the NF's "good behaviour".
Police sergeant David Cooper of the Racial Incident Unit said of the Nazis, "The group appeared to be well organised, well disciplined and coordinated. There was nothing particularly racially inflammatory about what they said.
"They demanded positive action and asked the Asian community to extract the small number of hooligans from their community." Oldham has a long tradition of fighting racism.
When Nazis daubed racist graffiti at Counthill School three years ago, thousands of local people signed the petition against the attack. The Nazis were beaten back. Now local people have to unite again to fight racism, media lies and police scare stories.
They will also have to campaign against the Nazi British National Party (BNP), which is standing in two seats in Oldham in the coming general election.
Sack this cop
WHEN TOLD that Asian community leaders rejected the idea of Glodwick being a "no-go" area for whites, one of Oldham's senior police officers, Superintendent Dick Crawshaw, replied, "You must have spoken to the only 12 people in the area who can read and write."
Crawshaw should be immediately sacked for that outrageous comment. Police statistics claim that the majority of racist attacks are by Asian people against white people.
But this doesn't take into account the number of Asian people who have suffered racist attacks but have no confidence in the police, so don't report them. It is also clear that a number of supposedly "racist" attacks by Asians are in fact the result of violence by whites.
"Sometimes drunken white gangs come into Glodwick and make trouble," says Mohammed. "They shout abuse and throw bricks at people. The police don't do anything. It is up to Asian groups to protect their community. After these white gangs have been kicked out of the area the police say to them, 'Who beat you up?'"
These incidents are then written up as racist attacks. The police also encourage white victims of crimes committed by Asian people to report it as a racist attack, even when the victims themselves have not suggested racism.
BOTH ASIANS and whites in Oldham suffer high levels of unemployment and poverty. The two electoral wards that Glodwick is in, Alexandra and St Mary's, have unemployment rates of 8.6 percent and 9.6 percent.
The mixed area of Coldhurst has an unemployment level of 11.2 percent. In Werneth, a mainly Asian part of Oldham, 10.4 percent of people are unemployed. An Oldham Labour Force survey in 1997 found that 13.1 percent of Pakistani and Bangladeshi males between 16 and 24 were unemployed, as were 9.1 percent of white males of the same age.
Only 12.6 percent of all Pakistani and Bangladeshi young males were in what was defined as a "well paid job"-of over 150 a week! This compares to 30.3 percent of young white males.
Why I'm voting socialist
"I JOINED the Labour Party in 1984-5 during the miners' strike. In 1995 I became a councillor in Bristol. But the party moved more and more to the right. Once Blair was in as leader the whole structure of the party was being destroyed. I was reselected to stand as a councillor again in 1998, but I felt increasingly betrayed by New Labour. I was expelled from Labour for backing a socialist candidate in the 1999 elections. I joined the Socialist Alliance in Bristol last year-it stands for my values."
- ANN WALDER