Labour Party members debated the rise of racism and fascism—and what sort of movement can challenge it—at a Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) meeting on Monday.
The meeting—a fringe event at Labour’s annual conference in Liverpool—came amid ongoing discussions on the left about the best way to challenge growing far right street movements.
Some speakers linked support for racist ideas to austerity. One speaker from the floor linked a rise in hate crime to cuts to children’s services.
“When the Sure Start centres and early years funding was taken away there was a huge rise in hate crime,” she said.
Miriam Yagud of the Jewish Socialists’ Group said it was important to challenge racism on the streets. But she added, “Every day in every community the vast majority of people want security, they want safety.
“Most people aren’t engaging with political agendas—it’s having a reliable railway, or a house that’s decent that engages people every day. And that’s where our anti-racist struggle is built.”
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott blamed governments and politicians for stoking racism—such as the Tories’ “hostile environment” for migrants policy.
“You really shouldn’t be a sucker to the myth that migrants drive down wages,” she said.
She said a Labour government would not have “arbitrary numerical targets” for immigration. Yet she said it would instead have “criteria for the type of migration we want to have.”
“Where we are now is a nonsense position where there are shortages of doctors and nurses all around the country. But doctors are not allowed to enter the country because of arbitrary numerical targets.”
This is a dangerous concession to the false idea that there are some industries where migration is a threat to pay and conditions. It can feed an impression that there are “good” and “bad” migrants.
Other speakers stressed that it’s important to tackle racism head on. Labour shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon told the meeting, “It’s true that the appeal of racism and the danger of the far right are increased by an economic crash. But it’s not the only reason.”
He argued that the British National Party had grown with the help of Islamophobia used by politicians and the media to justify wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The economy plays an important role, but also the propaganda being put out by the state and the big business press on the right to justify their other policies at home and important,” he said.
“The ruling elite don’t need scapegoats just in periods of economic crisis.”
He also challenged the idea that racist street movements could be undermined by adapting to their racist arguments. Some people—such as the Unite union’s assistant general secretary Steve Turner—have suggested this could win away their supposedly working class supporters.
Others said the best way to challenge the growth of the far right was to organise a mass anti-racist movement. John Carr from Liverpool said recent attempts to march through the city had been stopped by mass opposition on the streets.
“We managed that simply because we had the numbers to do it,” he said. “We had gone out and built local campaigns in the communities. We had leafleted hospitals and on the streets. We leafleted ward meetings and mosques.”
Another speaker, James Griffiths, described leafletting football grounds as part of SUTR. “It’s groundwork that needs to be done,” he said.
And one speaker from North Devon Labour Party called on other Labour Party members to get involved in SUTR. “We can’t have division or factionalism,” she said.
SUTR chair Steve Hart said, “We need to reflect on what’s worked in the past.
“You don’t defeat fascism by fighting austerity. Of course we need to fight austerity. But of itself it doesn’t defeat fascism or racism.
“What defeats fascism and racism is fighting racism. We fight racism wherever we see it and at all opportunities and that’s what Stand Up To Racism is all about.”
And SUTR convenor Weyman Bennett said, “Our job is to get all the people the Nazis hate together in a unified way and march against them. If we can do that, we can defeat them.”