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.
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.”
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.
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”.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
Come back for updates throughout the day