Socialist Worker

Barrage of racist filth fuels Wrexham riots

Press, politicians and poverty are to blame for the anti-Iraqi violence in North Wales

Issue No. 1858

A HOUSING estate in Wrexham, North Wales, hit the headlines two weeks ago when it erupted in two nights of rioting. One of the Iraqi Kurds living on Caia Park estate was in a relationship with a local woman. A dispute over this led to a gang of local white thugs attacking another Iraqi's house. They severely beat him when he stepped outside.

The 19 year old victim was rushed to hospital with serious injuries. Angry Iraqis gathered on the estate and targeted a nearby pub, which local people report had a reputation for attracting racists. The next night around 200 people tried to march towards the area where the Iraqis lived.

They were stopped by a heavy police presence, and the white youths began fighting with the police. Police chiefs and leading figures on the council are keen to play down what happened. But the events are not separate from the barrage of racism against refugees in Britain pumped out by press and politicians. This climate means a dispute on an estate can become a focus for hatred.

The Iraqis are a tiny minority on the estate. Around 20-30 of them lived in Caia Park, which houses around 11,000 people on one of the biggest estates in Britain. They were beginning to establish roots in the area. They had full refugee status, meaning they could find work and get somewhere to live.

The Iraqis chose to move to Caia Park after getting work in local factories. They had not been 'dispersed' there under New Labour's scheme for refugees. They were offered 'hard to let' council flats, so called because they are often in the worst condition and nobody wants to live in them.

'Nothing had happened over the last 12 months since the Iraqis moved in,' said Jackie Trommelen, a Labour councillor for Queensway ward, which covers part of Caia Park.

'I've never had any complaints, phone calls or comments. It seemed to be working really well. But without a doubt we are battling against the stuff the national media like the Sun puts out about refugees. This is a poor area by any measure - unemployment, educational opportunity, the number of people on income support or getting free school meals. The Iraqis were working so they were able to get cars and nice clothes, and why not? These are young men, aged between 18 amd 31. Some local people are then saying, 'We can't get anything, they have everything.'

'People are fed nonsense and rubbish about refugees. It's a real problem. Talk like that just gives the thugs an excuse. Then there has been the war on Iraq. That has put a further nail in the coffin in terms of my relationship with the Labour Party. A few of the Iraqis are still living round here. Many of them were moved out when the violence first happened. Some of them have lost their jobs because they weren't able to get to work.'

Now the Nazi British National Party leader Griffin, who owns a farm in North Wales, is desperate to seize on what happened to build in the area. The Wrexham events show the dangers of New Labour fuelling the anti-refugee climate.

Caia Park is not radically different to many other estates round Britain. It is a warning that the continued scapegoating of refugees can suddenly boil over into violence.


An estate of resentment

THE RESIDENTS of Caia Park are people who look back and see opportunities to get a better life fast disappearing. In Wrexham the Brymbo steelworks shut in 1990, leaving over 1,000 people without jobs.

The site is derelict. Locals were promised a shopping complex and then houses would be built but the acres of land are decaying behind barbed wire fences. 'There's people round here who never got a job again after Brymbo shut,' said one resident. 'I mean, they were 50 years old - what chance did they have?' Bulldozers are also tearing down the old Wrexham brewery that employed 500 workers. Other workplaces like the former pit have been turned into heritage sites.

The town now attracts companies in the food packaging industry. The pay is low, with agencies advertising minimum wage jobs where lucky employees might scale the heights of £5.50 an hour. The jobs are long hours, working shifts, and often in bad conditions processing food.

John Marek is the member of the Welsh Assembly for Wrexham. He is the assembly's deputy presiding officer, elected as an independent after the Labour Party chucked him out. He explained, 'Wrexham is close to the north west of England, and it is economically joined with that area. It has been affected the same as places like Liverpool. Unemployment was never as bad in Wrexham as the South Wales valleys. However, this general sense does hide pockets of severe deprivation and Caia Park is one of those.

'Wrexham council used to have 23,000 council houses. Now its has 10-11,000. The most desirable have been sold. What's left is in the deprived area with around 3,000 in Caia Park. What happened recently was in the most deprived part of Caia Park, an area from which people wanted to escape, as opposed to council tenants wanting to go there. Caia Park has the highest unemployment in Wrexham. When people find work it's usually low paid, unskilled and part time. The jobs lost from the Brymbo steelworks were well paid steel jobs. Then you have other places like ASW Steel not protecting people's pensions. Some culpability has got to fall on the government. They are not interested in preserving workers' rights or pensions. When they talk about flexibility they mean making it easier to sack workers or pay less.'

That's the future for many young people and families on the estate. It can breed a feeling of insecurity and deep-seated resentment that they have been let down by Labour locally and nationally.


Wrexham voice

'What has happened is a warning'

I WORK 12-hour shifts alongside some of the Iraqis at the Dairy Crest factory. People heard what happened the first night and there were loads of rumours going round. One guy said he heard an Iraqi had been killed and people were scared. They are ordinary workers like the rest in there. Many of them started out getting a job with an agency, then got taken on full time like me.

They have a laugh and a joke at work. They seem glad to have a job and live a normal life. It's become a mixed workforce with people from all over Europe there too. There are Portuguese workers and foreign students. There are some Filipinos whose wives came over here to work as nurses.

As more have come in it has helped change attitudes in the factory which a few years ago had a reputation for being racist. I have to say papers like the Daily Mail don't help. They help spread rumours that refugees are getting this, that and the other.

I even heard someone say they couldn't buy a headboard for their bed from a shop in town because they were all earmarked for Iraqis! There is poverty round here. There are things for the kids to do but it involves spending money.

But there is also underlying racism. You'll hear people say 'I'm no racist, but I don't like the Kurds.' What's happened is a warning. We don't want racist thugs round there to get confidence.
Maurice Jones


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Article information

Features
Sat 5 Jul 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1858
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