Socialist Worker

Respect leads fight in Bethnal Green

Issue No. 1955

Trade unionists joined the protest at Bethnal Green fire station on Tuesday.   (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Trade unionists joined the protest at Bethnal Green fire station on Tuesday. (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Around 200 people protested outside the Bethnal Green fire station, east London, on Tuesday morning.

They came to oppose attempts by the London fire authority to remove one of the station’s two engines.

The protest was called by Respect and local MP George Galloway, with the support of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).

It was an example of the militant campaigning Respect is encouraging throughout the East End following the party’s breakthrough at the general election.

George Galloway told protesters, “Tony Blair is strutting round Washington as if he’s the president of the G8 and the European Union.

“Is he really saying that the fourth richest country in the world cannot afford to keep a fire engine in a very busy station in the heart of its capital city?

“This is a further indication that New Labour no longer represents the interests of working people. When they come to take this engine, they’ll have to move it out over our bodies.”

East London FBU official Ian Leahair said there will be blood on the hands of London’s chief fire officer for any deaths caused by this cut to the service.

Mark Harding spoke for the London region of the RMT rail workers’ union.

He said, “These cuts will endanger the travelling public, local residents and RMT members who work on the tube and who depend on a properly funded fire service. My union pledges to support the firefighters and their campaign.”

The promise of a serious fight against New Labour’s Tory policies has brought a surge of interest in Respect.

Russ Davey, a teacher in north London, told Socialist Worker about colleagues joining Respect at work:

“There was already a good atmosphere around Respect after the general election, but George Galloway’s performance at the US senate was the clincher for a number of people at work.

“I talked about it with two colleagues and they both joined Respect. I wasn’t able to go to the big central London meeting that George spoke at on returning from the US.

“One colleague went off his own bat. He was really impressed by it and so he signed up to Respect on the web.

“I was arranging to meet someone this week to see if they would be interested in joining.

“I think I’ve only just scratched the surface. I’m sure there are many more teachers at my school and across north London who will join.

“There are others who are sympathetic, but won’t join at the moment. They’re important too.

“One colleague has been in the Labour Party for 28 years and says he won’t leave it. But he voted for us and is very supportive.

“We’re holding a lunchtime meeting to discuss mobilising for the G8 protests. People want to be involved in a party that is active.

“My advice to any Respect member would be to think about who you know and start asking them if they want to help build the party and join it.”

Paul Sillett from Liverpool also described how Respect’s breakthrough has inspired activists:

“Among my friends are several people who have been on the anti-war marches but have thought it unlikely they would be in any political party again because of past experiences.

“I was knocked back by how enthused they were by Respect’s results in east London, Birmingham and particularly George’s result in Bethnal Green & Bow. My post election exhaustion quickly wore off as Pam, Steve and Mary asked, ‘Where are the membership forms?’ ‘Respect is for us,’ and so on.

“They had sat up and waited for the Galloway result and were ecstatic that Respect had confounded the critics. All said essentially, ‘Now is our time.’

“Five minutes later there were three new Respect members who are full of ideas.

“We drew up a list of over 40 people we thought might join Respect in Toxteth. Pam is organising a barbecue as the first step to getting people together and meeting other local Respect members.

“Now we’re looking forward to the Respect rally in Liverpool, which is a great chance to involve new people.”

To join Respect phone 020 8980 3507 or go to www.respectcoalition.org

For details of Respect rallies go to Forums, events and film showings

See Respect’s Salma Yaqoob on BBC2, 7pm, Sunday 12 June


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Sat 11 Jun 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1955
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