Large demonstrations organised by Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) last Saturday show the potential to build a mass movement against racism.
Some 30,000 people marched in London—10,000 more than on a similar march last year.
There were also 3,000 in Glasgow and up to 1,000 in Cardiff—a dramatic increase on last year’s Cardiff march.
The demonstrations were part of an international day of action with other events around Europe and beyond.
Mohammed Kozbar, vice president of the Muslim Association of Britain, told marchers, “The racists are on the rise.
“But the good news is they can be defeated if we unite, if we stand together, if we have a strategy that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”
Many marchers had suffered racism. Marwa from Islington, north London, said, “An adviser at the job centre told me I wouldn’t get a job in this country because I wear a hijab.
“But my hijab is part of my identity and I’m not going to take it off for anyone.”
Jonahan, a refugee who has been detained, said politicians “don’t give a damn about refugees, but we’re not criminals and must have rights.”
European Union (EU) migrants marched to defend their freedom of movement—a right that Theresa May refuses to guarantee.
Polish worker Dagmara came on the SUTR coach from Leicester. “We’ve lived here and worked here and built up a life for ourselves,” she said. “But now we’re being asked to leave.”
There was a big, diverse turnout of students and young people. Becky, a sixth form student and Young Labour member from Darlington said, “After the election of Donald Trump as US president there’s been a lot more racist rhetoric around. We have to stand up in solidarity with people around the world.”
In Glasgow, university student Nabila said, “The march can show those that don’t feel brave enough to speak out that there’s something we can do.”
Former NHS worker Seonaid Robertson was marching for the rights of migrant workers. “We can’t have an NHS without migrant workers,” she said.
“Friends of ours who have come here from Hungary are very worried about what the Tories are saying. Theresa May is dangerous—we have to oppose her.”
Activists danced on Whitehall around the Love Music Hate Racism sound system truck.
Workers marched with their trade union branches and SUTR workplace groups.
Rose Brown, Birmingham Unison union secretary, said, “We affiliated to SUTR. We’re saying people are welcome, and that the contribution migrants have made must be recognised.”
Alan Chinn-Shaw, secretary of Essex FBU union branch, agreed. “Unity doesn’t stop at the border,” he said. “We should be looking out for the whole working class regardless of nationality.”
The TUC union federation and many unions backed the demonstration. They need to step up their anti-racist campaigning.
The demonstrations’ success underlines that despite the frightening rise of the racist right, there is an audience for building resistance.
'No more divide and rule’
In London, TUC union federation general secretary Frances O’Grady demanded, “No more divide and rule”.
She said, “We need solutions not scapegoating and we demand the right to remain for EU citizens.”
Several Labour MPs and union leaders also spoke.
Speakers in Glasgow included Labour MSP Anas Sarwar and Scottish government minister Alasdair Allan. Labour MP Jo Stevens and Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood addressed the Cardiff demo.
In a video message Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told protesters, “There could not be a more important time to redouble our efforts in the fight against racism and Islamophobia.”
Local groups can keep up momentum
After Saturday’s demonstrations Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) must keep up the momentum and become an even larger movement.
SUTR said, “Over the next year, with your help, we’ll be working tirelessly against Trump’s Muslim Ban, our government’s neglect of child refugees, the vicious wave of anti-migrant scapegoating and the alarming rise of hate crime.”
Several areas have already planned regional conferences to develop the next steps.
They include Birmingham and the West Midlands, Manchester and the North West, Sheffield and South Yorkshire, and Bristol and the South West.
Donald Trump’s visit, reported to be planned for 5-8 October, will be a major focus.
Socialist Worker believes that SUTR groups will be most effective if they meet regularly, hold campaigning stalls, and take up local and national anti-racist campaigns.
One example comes from Bristol where SUTR supporters have joined with others to confront attempts to police who receives NHS treatment.
Now three local trade union branches with members in the NHS have agreed to defend any member who refuses to check passports.
Protesters take on state bigotry across the world
Over 10,000 people demonstrated in Paris on Sunday against racism and police violence, following marches across Europe on Saturday.
Senegalese worker Lhadji told Socialist Worker, “We are told that our ‘way of life’ causes problems.
“But this is a racist excuse to divide and isolate migrants.”
Saturday’s biggest demonstrations outside Britain were in Greece. Refugees were a huge part of them.
Up to 15,000 people marched on the European Union office in Athens.
On the island of Lesvos refugees walked 7km from the notorious Moria camp for a 2,000-strong march in the town of Mytilini.
Around 4,000 people marched on the Austrian parliament, angry at a proposed headscarf ban and draconian new asylum law.
Around 1,500 protesters marched through Amsterdam in the rain, agitating against the right wing outcome of the Dutch elections (see page 17).
Up to 1,000 people protested in Warsaw. Hundreds of people also held protests in Catalonia, Denmark and South Korea.