A call to build a mass movement against racism went out from the Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) conference in central London on Saturday.
A sense of urgency ran through the 1,300-strong conference. It came against the backdrop of Donald Trump and Theresa May ramping up racism against migrants and Muslims—and the threat of the renewed threat of the far right across Europe.
Kevin Courtney, NEU education union joint general secretary, said, “It’s everyone’s obligation to be part of the movement—we can end racism.”
The conference brought together activists from across Britain who've been organising against racism.
Usman, a health worker from east London, has been involved in an SUTR workplace group. “I’ve been interested in left wing politics, but haven’t been to anything like this before,” he told Socialist Worker.
“But I decided to come because there’s a difference between sitting at home and coming here and doing something about it.”
Anna agreed. “I follow Stand Up To Racism on my Facebook feed, but today is about finding out how to mobilise and do something practical,” she told Socialist Worker.
At the conference the loudest cheers went to speakers who called for resisting Islamophobia and the police killings of black people.
Esa asked why the police officer who restrained Rashan in east London is still working. “I’m going to take this further,” he said. “You’re going to see my face regularly.”
Janet Alder pointed to how her family had been humiliated after Christopher’s death. She linked his death directly to racism. “Racism kills,” she said.
At one workshop speakers from Austria and Germany spoke about how they’re resisting the far right in the wake of the Freedom Party and Alternative for Germany’s election breakthroughs.
David Albrich argued that mainstream parties, such as the Labour-type SPO, making concessions to racism had helped the far right grow. “There is no middle ground on racism,” he said The problem is not political Islam.
“The problem is that racism has penetrated deeply into mainstream parties—this needs to be opposed.”
Other workshops discussed the rise of Islamophobia, the threat of the Football Lads Alliance (FLA) and the need to defend freedom of movement and migrants’ rights.
Diane Abbott, shadow home secretary, told the closing plenary that a future Labour government would fight racism.
“We cannot allow the politics of hate to prevail,” she said. You can't take progress for granted and there are some who want to push the progress back.
“Fighting racism will be at the heart of my work as home secretary when Jeremy Corbyn is prime minister.”
The left in Britain has grown in confidence—but the threat of the right and racism has not gone away. That means we have to build a mass movement against racism that resists all the attempts to divide us.
As Weyman Bennett from Stand Up To Racism said, “We need a movement that can give us strength. We need to build local Stand Up To Racism groups.
“When the right is on the march across the world, we need to stand up and we do that by organising.”
Voices from the conference
Mohammed Yaqub spoke to Socialist Worker about his fight to get justice for his son Yasser.
Police shot Yasser dead in a car on the M62 in January this year.
Mohammed said, "It's been ten months since my son died. We've travelled hundreds of miles to be here today. We've had to perform our own ballistics report because the police have been so unhelpful.
"I will stop at nothing to get justice."
Many were heartened by the conference. Rafayet, a student at London South Bank University, said, "Today reminds me of the protest against the Tories in Manchester, it's so amazing to see everyone coming together.
"Racism has definitely affected my life. Equality laws are supposed to tackle racism but they're not enough."
Amarjit Singh is the CWU union's national race advisory committee chair. He told Socialist Worker, “We need the national campaigns against racism and we also need the unifying power of action such as our campaign and coming strike against Royal Mail.
"But we also need to take up issues in the workplace. When I started in the mail centre there were just five black workers even though it was situated in a very multiracial community.
"In 1989 as a union we worked to change this and it is now much better. But still black workers don’t get the lush jobs. They get the hard ones, the last choice ones.”
Bristol student Prarthana Krishnan told of how she received Islamophobic abuse despite not being Muslim, and said that showed how Islamophobia was about more than religion.
She told Socialist Worker, "I was on a Stand Up To Racism stall when someone came up to me and said 'what are you?'
"I didn't respond and she started saying 'you're the people who are causing all the problems in this country.'
"She stopped when she realised I'm not Muslim but it made me realise what Islamophobia can feel like. It's more intrusive, more intense than any other form of racism I experienced.
"I started Stand Up To Racism society at Bristol. We're going to have panel discussions with other cultural societies during Islamophobia Awareness month"
- November - help SUTR build activity during Islamophobia Awareness Month. Go to Islamophobia Awareness Month UK on Facebook
- December - winter appeal for refugees. Build solidarity and support for refugees alongside Care4Calais. You can also join the delegation going to France on Sunday 10 December. Go to Care4Calais on Facebook
- January - Holocaust Memorial Day is on 27 January. Help your local SUTR group organise an event and go to Holocaust Memorial Day Trust on Facebook
- February - SUTR trade union conference takes place on Saturday 3 February. Go to Stand Up To Racism on Facebook
- March - SUTR national demonstrations in London, Glasgow and Cardiff will take place on Saturday 17 March. They will be coordinated with international protests