Socialist Worker

Tens of thousands join anti-racism protests

Issue No. 2495

Trafalgar square

The London march in Trafalgar Square (Pic: Aiden Lawler)


Twenty thousand people marched through London today to say refugees are welcome and to reject racism and scapegoating.

It was a march full of anger against the people at the top of society who try to divide us by attacking refugees and migrants.

But it was also a march of people who know they are creating a movement that can grow and make a real difference. 

It was twice the size of last year’s march. And there were many more young people and more trade union banners. Over 3,000 marched in Glasgow and some 300 in Cardiff.

Solidarity delegations to Calais, Stand Up to Racism meetings to build the demo and consistent activity in support of refugees have left their roots.

It was a highly political march. People made the connection between austerity and racism, between the way the system pumps out lies about refugees and other things.   

Now we have to build a bigger anti-racist, pro-migrant anti-Islamophobia movement with socialist politics at the centre of it. 

Weyman Bennett from Stand Up to Racism told Socialist Worker, “It’s been a great day and shows how many people reject the racism and scapegoating of the government. We have to keep campaigning to say refugees are welcome and to put Prevent in the bin.

“Stand Up to Racism now has to establish a permanent presence in every city across Britain. This is only a stage in a much longer campaign.”

Stand Up to Racism has a series of national initiatives:

Sunday 24 April,London: Trade Unions for Calais and Stand Up To Racism have called a conference to bring together trade unionists and others and report back on their recent delegation to Calais.

Wednesday 25 May, Central London rally: Refugees Welcome Here – Racism out of the Referendum

Saturday 11 June, Calais convoy: Stand up to Racism is organising a major aid convoy to Calais in conjunction with trade unions, the People’s Assembly Against Austerity and others.

Saturday 15 October, Central London conference: Stand Up To Racism is organising a major conference on refugees, Islamophobia, defending civil liberties, Prevent and the Extremism Bill, Black Lives Matter and the key issues confronting anti-racists today.


 

15.50

Speakers also challenged the government’s Prevent strategy, which targets Muslims as potential terrorists.

NUS Black Students’ Officer Malia said, “It’s important to remember the state and in fuelling racism. It’s now seeped into our schools and hospitals.

“The Islamophobic Prevent strategy has made us prisoners in our homes, and is targeting Muslims in particular.”

Marilyn Reed spoke about her daughter Sarah, who died in prison. Marilyn said, “My daughter Sarah Reed wasn’t just a person with mental health issues – she was a person with a life.

“She was put into Holloway. Prison is no place for people with mental health issues. I wouldn’t like for her to have died in vain.”


15.30

Trafalgar Square

Listening to speeches in Trafalgar Square


Speakers in London have attacked the hypocrisy of the government. Writer Gary Younge said, “The system is rigged. There are no borders for money but families fleeing for their lives are met with military and borders.”

He added that the real problem in society isn’t migrants or refugees.

“Syrian refugees didn’t rake in credit default swaps and Roma peoples’ wrecklessness aren’t closing our libraries,” he said. “The real scroungers are the bankers.”

Labour shadow minister Diane Abbott agreed. “Far from being a drain on the NHS, without decades of migrant workers there would be no NHS,” she said.

She also took on attacks on the Labour left over antisemitism. “The left has been at the forefront of fighting antisemitism,” she said. “We won’t take lectures on fighting antisemitism from right wing newspapers that supported Hitler before the Second World War.”

Co-chair of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts, Lee Jasper, led the crowd in a chant of, “Black Lives Matter”.

Stephanie Lightfoot-Bennett is co-chair of the United Families and Friends Campaign. Her brother was found dead in a police cell in 1992. She told the crowd, “My brother’s case is not isolated. We’re running at one person every six days dying at the hands of the state.”

Anti-racist campaigner Maz Saleem, whose father was killed by a racist in Birmingham, said she was “proud to be the daughter of Pakistani immigrants”.

She said, “This country was built and nourished by immigrants.”

Iraqi refugee Amna spoke about her plight. She said, “I didn’t choose to be an Arab. I didn’t choose to be an Iraqi girl.

“We only have one nationality – the human nationality.”

Labour MP Catherine West stressed the need for further protests. “This is just the beginning,” she said. “We have to win this argument.”

Labour MEP Claude Moraes hailed the solidarity of the international movement as protests take place across Europe today.


14.57

A number of trade union leaders are among those addressing the rally in London’s Trafalgar Square. UCU general secretary Sally Hunt read a moving poem to the crowd and said, “No one leaves home unless they have to”.

NUT general secretary Christine Blower spoke about the threat of fascism and the far right. “The head of our sister union in Germany has received death threats for saying refugees are welcome and should get an education,” she said.

“We must be vigilant. We must make sure we are bigger and stronger than they are.”

Assistant general secretary of Unison, Gloria Mills, slammed the EU’s “one in, one out” deal with Turkey. She said, “Refugees are not commodities to be traded. They should be greeted with a warm welcome, not warships.”

Dave Ward, CWU general secretary, said we are seeing “the biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War”.

He denounced David Cameron for turning “away from people who need our help”.


14.40

poland

Standing up to racism in Poland


Protesters in Greece are rallying ahead of a march to the European Union headquarters. Demonstrator Manolis Spathis told Socialist Worker the turnout is “huge”.

He said, “There is participation from immigrant and refugee communities, and also from the trade unions. A soldier from the “Spartacus – network of free soldiers” said, ‘We deny to guard the borders against refugees’.”

The day of global protest was kickstarted by an appeal from anti-racists in Greece, who are resisting the fascist Golden Dawn.

Daskalakis Dimitris told Socialist Worker that “thousands” are protesting in Zurich and Geneva in Switzerland. Union members, migrants and refugees have joined protests there.

Daskalakis said, “The Swiss Confederation may not be building physical fences. But it is wholeheartedly participating in every single racist mechanism that Fortress Europe has invented.

“Application of the Dublin Agreement means that every day refugees and migrants are abducted and sent back to the country where they first asked for asylum. This violently separates families and friends.

“But these last months have seen a surge in militant anti-racist actions and demos against the Dublin Agreement. In Lausanne a church has been occupied and is being used as a refuge for migrants who are officially to be expelled.”


14.00

Miriam and Isabela, Polish Muslims living in London, joined the march to show solidarity with refugees.

Miriam said, “Whenever something goes wrong with economics they use Muslims, refugees and migrants generally as scapegoats.”

Ash

Ash from Leceister (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Isabela added, “It all has to change. Politicians are in it for themselves, not to help the people. They should have been prepared for refugees – they know what happens when they go to war.”

She wasn’t the only one drawing the links between Western imperialism and the refugee crisis. Marcher Amy from London said, “A lot of the problems driving people to become refugees are to do with our foreign policy.

“We should be accountable for that.”

Mohammed Kozbar from Finsbury Park Mosque told the crowd, “Refugees deserve better. They didn’t choose to leave their country.

“I’ve just come back from visiting camps in Lebanon. If Lebanon and Jordan can take millions of refugees then Britain and France can take a lot more. It’s hypocrisy.”

Marchers are making their way through central London chanting, “Let them in”.

Ash from Leicester is marching with the Unison black members’ banner. He said it was the “moral thing to do” to help refugees.


13.47
Rotherham 12 Defence Campaign on the London march

Rotherham 12 Defence Campaign on the London march (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Eleven year old Owen is on the march in Glasgow. He said he came because “the refugees haven’t done anything to us”.

He added, “I don’t want this to happen in other countries – it’s not fair.”

His mum Debbie said, “We came out today mostly because Owen wanted to come. We’ve been on a few anti-racist marches.

“I think anti-racism is a good lesson for Owen to learn.”

a message from Glasgow

A message from Glasgow (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Charlotte Ahmed from Unite Against Fascism spoke at the Glasgow rally. She said, “Cameron wants to teach British values but what are these Tory values?

“Greed, attacking the poor, the disabled, the homeless, the refugees. The European demonstrations are answering a call from anti-fascists in Greece countering the fascist Golden Dawn.

“We are here today in solidarity with them.”

PCS union samba drums are beating out a lively marching pace on the London protest. A large and loud student bloc is chanting, “Brick by brick, wall by wall, racist borders got to fall.”

Fiona came on the march after being given a flyer for it. She told Socialist Worker, “Refugees have been made a scapegoat for everything that’s going wrong in Britain.”

Alan was on a delegation from the Rotherham 12 Defence Campaign. He told Socialist Worker, “I’ve only found out about the campaign this morning, but it’s disgusting.

“Twelve Asian people are facing charges after defending their community.”


13.35

Speakers in London at a rally before the march set off reflected deep anger at the government.

Zak Cochrane from Stand Up to Racism said, “Our rulers lie to us. They’ve got money for tax breaks for their mates and Trident but not for refugees.”

Morris Rent from the Refugee Council of Great Britain said, “Our government is complicit in supporting the squalid, shameful deal between the EU and Turkey.

“We forced the government to take refugees last year when it didn’t want to. This year we’re more organised. We can force it to take more.”

Others spoke about the need to confront Islamophobia. Sabby Dhalu from Stand Up to Racism said, “Muslim women who wear hijab and niqab have the right to walk down the street without fear of attack.”

Dilowar Hussain Khan from the East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre said, “Islamophobia is a new form of racism. We need to rise up and stand together. Britain First is trying to target our mosque and we need unity to stop them.”

Gerry Gable from Searchlight said only solidarity could beat racism and fascism.

Lindsey German from the Stop the War Coalition said, “Refugees are victims of the West’s wars. If five million refugees came to Europe, that would be 1 percent of the population of Europe.

“The EU should be ashamed.”


London

London march sets off


The London protest is on the move and set off to chants of, “David Cameron – shame on you, refugees are people too”.

Abrar joined it with a delegation of mostly women from the Egyptian Revolutionary Council. She told Socialist Worker, “We’re here to demonstrate against Islamophobia and to raise awareness of the situation in Egypt.

“The military has taken over in Egypt. It’s related to the refugee issue – sometimes when people are denied freedom in their own country they have no choice but to leave.

“Egypt needs democracy again. We only had it for one year.”

Ndella Paye from Stand Up to Racism said, “This is about resistance. We’re showing the state that the population stands on the side of refugees. We’re against the racism and Islamophobia that’s behind the way refugees are treated.”

In Glasgow Amal Azzudin, one of the “Glasgow girls” who stopped their schoolmate being deported in 2005, spoke from the stage. She said governments are showing a “shameful” lack of humanity.

Glasgow

Glasgow


13.15

Around 300 people have joined the anti-racist march in Cardiff. Janeece Taj, a pharmacy student, was among them.

She told Socialist Worker, “Something needs to be done and the government needs to listen. They need to stop scapegoating and passing the blame.

“It’s up to everyone to make a stand and say we’re not accepting their racism.”

A delegation of CWU union members joined the London march, including CWU Manchester division rep Ian Taylor.

Ian told Socialist Worker, “It’s extremely important to send a strong signal that we won’t let the capitalist system divide us over race and immigration.

“A lot of people are fed rubbish from the right wing press. But there’s another side and it’s the role of trade unions to put it forward.

“For example, people read that immigration undercuts the labour market. But that only happens when people exploit immigrants, it’s not natural.”

Stand Up to Racism member and Amnesty International activist Ulrike Schmidt is also marching. She told Socialist Worker, “Refugees face a humanitarian disaster and the European response has been shameful.


13.08


12.52
Portsmouth

Portsmouth coach arrives (Pic: Jon Woods)


A full coach brought protesters from Portsmouth to the London march. College student Mataio asked, “Why are they spending millions to keep refugees living in filth rather than letting them come here?

“I think it’s about creating a permanent sense of threat to keep people scared so they won’t oppose cuts. Racism isn’t natural, it comes from capitalism. It’s divide and rule.”

Rashas Hussein came to the protest with his family from Tooting in South London. He told Socialist Worker, “What’s happening to the Syrian people is very sad. People who are desperate will do anything.

“How long can they be expected to stay in a warzone when they’re being bombed in make shift tents?”

Rashas said he hoped the protests would make a difference. “This is to try and make the powers listen,” he said. “Britain should be taking more refugees.”

Rashas Hussein

Rashas Hussein and family on the London march (Pic: Socialist Worker


12.38
Leicester

A message from Leicester


A delegation from Leicester has joined the London march with a Love Leicester Hate Racism banner. Protester Jane told Socialist Worker, “We’re here to support refugees and stop racism.”

Another demonstrator, Mark, was among many who challenged the government’s propaganda over immigration. He said, “They say we’re full up, but we’re a developed country. It’s the moral thing to help refugees who are in need.”

James from Oxford was inspired to march after seeing the conditions refugees face in Europe.

Jedi

Housing campaigner Jedi


He said, “Open the borders, give them safe passage and look after the children.”

Health workers plan to march as a bloc on the protest. East London health worker Niamo told Socialist Worker, “I’m marching to show my support to all the refugees caught up in the crisis.

“It’s to send a clear message of solidarity.”

The action won support from Jedi, a homeless housing campaigner camped outside All Souls church in central London. He said, “We support the demonstration today. It’s great to see people protesting about racism.

“I’ve got a cut the Tories could make – we could get rid of all that lot in the House of Commons.”


12.23

Thousands of people are starting to line up for the demonstration in London as a sound system plays Bob Marley.

southampton coach

Coach from Southampton arrives (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Two coachloads of protesters came from Birmingham. Birmingham Unison union member Abby Gulliver said, “We need to show support for refugees, and what better way than coming here today?”

Postal worker and CWU union member Sean came to the protest from Leeds. “Trade unions are there to fight for working people,” he said. “That includes migrants and refugees.

“Bosses want to exploit them – we’ve got to organise together in unions.”

Marchers have rejected government claims that the resources aren’t there to support refugees.

Dom Maelzer from Bedfordshire said, “The British government’s policy is unacceptable. We’re a country of 60 million people where the vast majority of land is undeveloped. Taking 20,000 refugees is negligible.”

Many marchers slammed the Tory and European Union policies that are murdering migrants.

Eighteen year old student Will has joined marchers who are gathering in Claire Gardens in Cardiff. He told Socialist Worker, “If what you’re doing is getting people killed, you should rethink what you’re doing.”


12.10

The refugee crisis in Europe has pushed many people to protest today. Many of the migrants coming to Europe have fled bloody war in Syria. Others have escaped the authoritarian regime in Eritrea and the Western-led wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

Glasgow

Glasgow gets ready to march (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Estifanos Massias from Eritrea is joining the protest in Glasgow. He told Socialist Worker, “The Home Office is saying to us, ‘Your country is safe, you should go back’.

“But if that is the case, why are so many running away from there? People are living in fear here because our families are being kidnapped and tortured. It’s hell.

“I’m here in Glasgow because people fought for me as a human being. Politicians don’t seem to have this basic humanity.”

Many others spoke of the solidarity ordinary people have shown with refugees.

Melanie from Oxford travelled to the demonstration in London. She told Socialist Worker, “My small town started a group called ‘Host Abingdon’. We have our first Syrian refugee who now has five English teachers.

“Lots of neighbours cook and take him meals. There are loads of spare beds just waiting to take refugees.”


 

 

Eritrean activists in Scotland

Eritrean activists in Scotland (Pic: Socialist Worker)


11.50

Protesters are beginning to gather in London, Glasgow and Cardiff for today’s anti-racist protests.

Mulugeta Asgedom is helping to steward the march in Glasgow.

He and other Eritrean activists in Scotland have been building the demo and have mobilised over 200 people to join it.

Dr Ramzi

Dr Ramzi with a message for Trump (Pic: Socialist Worker)


"Stand Up to Racism is fantastic," Mulugeta said. "The only way we can overcome racism is through unity and solidarity. We are sending a clear message that racism has no place in society.

"But we also want to raise the injustice in Eritrea. We want the world to know the driving force behind refugees from our country.

“People are held hostage by a repressive government - torture is an everyday thing in Eritrea. People have no human rights there and they are just searching for safety."

In London people are beginning to gather outside the BBC.

Dr Ramzi from London had brought a homemade placard against Donald Trump. He told Socialist Worker, “Trump is the biggest racist and would not be a good president. We’re very worried as Muslims that Britain could go the same way.

“But we have to show we’re united today – and that everyone, especially refugees, are welcome.”


chesterfield

Chesterfield coach on the way to London


11.35

Many of those protesting today have been spurred into taking action after visiting refugees in Calais and Dunkirk in France.

Campaigners have organised several trips to refugee camps and collected food, clothing, money and other essentials to support people there.

College student Emma got involved in the We Are Wakefield group that supports refugees. She told Socialist Worker, “I starting teaching English to refugees where I live. Then I went to Dunkirk and organised solidarity with refugees there.

“So many people got involved on social media and showed support for the refugees. It definitely made an impact.

“I’m marching today because I want to give them a voice.”

Lyle, an NHS worker, is travelling to London on a coach from Leeds, west Yorkshire. He told Socialist Worker, “I went to Dunkirk in January. The living conditions for people there are atrocious. I came back reinvigorated and wanting to do more.

“I hope the march will raise awareness. And we also need to be active in defending refugees, not just passive.”


11.15

Solidarity to everyone who is marching against racism today. Protesters are preparing to march in London, Glasgow and Cardiff – and many more will demonstrate across the globe.

They are standing up to the racist scapegoating of refugees, attacks on migrant workers and the Islamophobia facing Muslims.

Many marchers are travelling to London to take part. Norman is on a coach from Oxford. “I’m concerned about the way that fascism and racism are on the rise,” he said.

“The last time this happened was in the 1930s – and that led to concentration camps.”

Dom was also on coach. He told Socialist Worker, “We’re always being told by the right wing press that we can’t support immigrants and that they’ll take our jobs.

“I’m here in solidarity with those who are desperate and to say they’re welcome here.”

Chloe is travelling to London from Lancaster. She told Socialist Worker, “Apparently somebody here was so passionate about the cause that they woke up at 4am to travel to the coach.

“I’m here because I am sick to death of seeing elitist Tories acting scapegoating innocent migrants.”

oxford

Oxford coach (Pic: Kate Douglas)

Several trade unions, including Unison, the RMT and Unite, funded a coach from Norwich. Protester Amber told Socialist Worker, “I am marching to show my solidarity with refugees, asylum seekers and every marginalised group.

“I hope that my generation will be remembered for giving the truth a voice.”

Amber’s mum was also on the coach. “I was inspired by my daughter to re-engage with protesting,” she said. “I am proud to demonstrate beside her today for equality and tolerance.”

Also as anti-racists gear up for protests, housing campaigners say no to scaremongering

Come back for updates throughout the day


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