Anti-racist protests last Saturday, called by Stand Up to Racism, were young, angry and highly political. In London the march was twice the size of last year’s and there were many more trade union banners.
Miriam and Isabela, Polish Muslims living in London, marched to show solidarity with refugees. Miriam said, “Whenever something goes wrong with economics they use Muslims, refugees and migrants as scapegoats.”
Isabela added, “It all has to change. Politicians are in it for themselves, not to help people. They should have been prepared for refugees—they know what happens when they go to war.”
The PCS union samba band beat out a lively marching pace on the London protest. Marchers chanted, “David Cameron—shame on you. Refugees are people too.”
Rashas Hussein came to the protest with his family from Tooting in south London. He told Socialist Worker, “This is to try and make the powers listen. Britain should be taking more refugees.”
Health workers marched as a bloc, and a large student bloc chanted, “Brick by brick, wall by wall, racist borders got to fall.”
Eleven year old Owen joined the march in Glasgow. He said he went because “the refugees haven’t done anything to us”.
A group of around 200 Eritreans led the Glasgow protest, including Estifanos Massias. He told Socialist Worker, “The Home Office is saying, ‘Your country is safe, you should go back’.
“But why are so many running away from there? People are living in fear here because our families are being kidnapped and tortured.”
He added, “I’m in Glasgow because people fought for me as a human being. Politicians don’t seem to have this basic humanity.”
Mulugeta Asgedom was helping to steward the march. He said, “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.”
In Cardiff 18 year old student Will was one of many furious at government policies that murder refugees. He told Socialist Worker, “If what you’re doing is getting people killed, you should rethink what you’re doing.”
Pharmacy student Janeece Taj was also on the Cardiff demonstration. 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.”
Many marchers were determined to protest after visiting refugees and meeting them face to face. College student Emma from Wakefield joined a solidarity visit to refugees in Dunkirk, France.
She told Socialist Worker, “So many people got involved and showed support for the refugees. It definitely made an impact. I’m marching today because I want to give them a voice.”
NHS worker Lyle agreed. “I went to Dunkirk in January,” he said. “The conditions for people there are atrocious. I came back reinvigorated and wanting to do more.”
Marchers rejected Tory lies that Britain doesn’t have the resources to help those seeking refuge.
Dom from Bedfordshire said, “We’re a country of 60 million people where the vast majority of land is undeveloped. Taking 20,000 refugees is negligible.”
Mohammed Kozbar from Finsbury Park Mosque told the London protest, “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.”
Protesters also knew that migrant workers aren’t their enemy. Dom from Oxford said, “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.”
Protesters also wanted to challenge state Islamophobia. NUS Black Students’ Officer Malia Bouattia said the government’s Prevent strategy had “made us prisoners in our homes”.
Sabby Dhalu from Stand Up to Racism told the London protest, “Muslim women who wear the hijab and niqab have the right to walk down the street without fear of attack.”
Dr Ramzi from London brought a homemade placard against US Republican 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.”
Trade unionists stressed that organised workers can play a key role in pushing back racism.
Manchester CWU union division rep Ian Taylor was on a delegation of CWU members on the London march. He told Socialist Worker, “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.”
Leeds postal worker Sean added, “Unions fight for working people—that includes migrants and refugees.”
Justice campaigners, trade union leaders, refugees, Labour MPs and others addressed marchers.
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.”
Writer Gary Younge pointed out that Syrian refugees didn’t cause the financial crisis and Roma people aren’t the ones making cuts.
“The real scroungers are the bankers,” he said.
Labour shadow cabinet minister Diane Abbott spoke against right wing lies about migrants being a burden on the health service.
“Far from being a drain on the NHS, without decades of migrant workers there would be no NHS,” she said.
Iraqi refugee Amna said, “I didn’t choose to be an Iraqi girl. We only have one nationality—the human nationality.”
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.”
Union general secretaries including Sally Hunt, Christine Blower and Dave Ward spoke to the crowd in London.
Assistant general secretary of Unison Gloria Mills said, “Refugees are not commodities to be traded.”
Marches took place in almost 20 countries
Anti-racist protests took place in almost 20 countries last Saturday following a call by Greek anti-racists and anti-fascists for an international day of action.
There was a huge turnout for a march on the European Union (EU) office in Athens—one of eight marches in Greece.
Refugees and migrant communities took part, as did many trade unions. One soldier said, “We refuse to guard the borders against refugees”. Rows of riot police were brought in to protect the EU building from protesters.
Refugees chanting, “Open the border!” led the march in Greece’s second city Thessalonica, where many are being evacuated from the island of Lesvos.
On Lesvos several hundred demonstrators had to wait for torrential rain to let up before marching to the harbour.
One of the biggest marches was in Austria—which has pushed for the closure of Greece’s border. Some 16,000 people marched through Vienna to the parliament building then the EU office.
The Spanish state saw several protests. The largest was in Barcelona, where 15,000 people marched chanting, “No more death in the Mediterranean.” Nobel peace prize 2015 winner Ahmed Galai of the Tunisian Human Rights League joined the march.
Around 2,000 people marched in Paris including refugees and undocumented migrant workers.
The trial of racist politician Geert Wilders and a spate of far right attacks on refugee centres lent urgency to a march of 2,000 in Amsterdam.
Protesters were outraged at Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte’s comments the previous day that refugees should “just stay home”.
They marched past the monument for Kerwin Duinmeijer, a young Antillian man stabbed to death by a Nazi in 1983.
Thousands protested in Geneva and Zurich in Switzerland.
The Swiss government regularly deports refugees to other European countries under the Dublin agreement, violently separating families and friends. But there has been a surge in resistance, with a church in Lausanne occupied as a refuge.
Australia saw marches in several cities and a rally of almost 500 detainees inside the notorious Nauru island detention camp.
Protests also took place in Turkey, Lebanon, Poland, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, Slovenia, Cyprus and Germany.
Everyone should get organised
Saturday’s protests showed the anger against those 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.
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 other campaigning groups.
- 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.