Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2006

Flags of the world – multi-racial symbols?

Flags of the world – multi-racial symbols?

Get behind the flag?

The idea that waving the flag of St George is generally just harmless support for a national team, or even (in Billy Bragg’s view) that it can realistically be a symbol of multiculturalism, is dangerously misplaced.

As a lifelong trade unionist, I am shocked to see that the slogan for Amicus and the T&G’s campaign over the Peugeot job cuts is “Fighting for British workers and British jobs”, under pictures of England flags at a football game. Surely we should fight for all jobs for all workers? To win for all on the best terms, we need to learn French lessons – their campaign won by uniting French and foreign workers and students against cuts in job security.

The “British workers and British jobs” slogan is especially dangerous at a time of media driven hysteria equating foreigners with criminals, and with the fascist BNP gaining support. It will damage race relations, especially in areas of higher unemployment, and/or where the BNP is active, like Stoke, Burnley and Dagenham.

A Stoke head teacher recently asked her school not to use the St George’s flag. She was ridiculed by the Mirror, who quoted Billy Bragg to justify it from the left. I think the head was quite right to do something, especially in an area where the BNP uses the flag as cover to spread its racist poison.

In response to the onslaught of media lies on immigration, most mainstream politicians only agree, thus encouraging the right wing and the media to come back for more, and in turn normalising the lies.

There is a whiff of the late 1970s here, where fascism and anti-immigrant nationalism grew out of bitterness. I know that all of us, including the leaders of Amicus, the T&G and Billy Bragg, are serious in uniting and campaigning against fascism, and in saving jobs. That fight is most effective by steering clear of divisive nationalism and its St George’s symbol. After all Billy, to quote one of your finer records, isn’t “the people’s flag deepest red”?

Paul Murphy, East London

With the World Cup currently under way the entire country seems to be drowning in the red and white of the St George’s flag. But is this really such a bad thing?

Too often the left has a knee jerk reaction. There’s an assumption that all of these people must be racist – and it just doesn’t stand up.

Step into any pub showing the football and you will see fans united – black, white and Asian – wearing their England shirts and waving their flags. Surely this is something we should celebrate and be a part of.

It is right to acknowledge that the flag was for a long time an emblem for the far right in England. But that is not the case today, and we risk alienating people if we take such a crude stance.

Susan Houman, Kent

Fighting racism

The racist handiwork depicted in the photograph accompanying the recent letter from Carol Davis (Letters, 17 June) is a perfect example of the link between criminal behaviour, racism and low standards of educational achievement.

As a newly elected Burnley councillor, I last week had the privilege to hold a surgery for the first time. What did residents come to say?

Other councillors will recognise the complaints, each an important event in someone’s life – over fly tipping, parking and noisy neighbours.

As was reasonable for the venue, all the complainants happened to be white. Less reasonable was the pattern evident in the complaints.

When people made a complaint against a white person, the colour of their skin wasn’t mentioned. But when complaining about someone with brown skin, this took on increased significance and was highlighted. “They don’t look after their houses like we do,” or, “They’re always driving their cars too fast with the radios blaring.”

Several times in the course of two hours, I heard the phrase, “I’m not racist, but...” There’s little more certain than the opposite.

The racists are not fighting for Britishness – which is itself an amalgam of other cultures. No, the racists are against change.

Exploring the new and uncertain is confusing and difficult.

In place of the unexplored unknown they imagine fear. There’s safety in their clan’s numbers, so there they retreat, to breed the hatred.

Are my residents’ allegations false? Do Asian-heritage people look after their houses “as well as we do”? Are “they” as likely to keep to the speed limit or to keep the volume down? Volunteer researchers warmly welcomed. In the meantime, failing to tackle such questions, irrespective of the answers, ferments support for the far right BNP.

Councillor Darren Reynolds, Burnley Borough Council

Nuclear power to solve climate change?

George Monbiot’s recent column for the Los Angeles Times was a significant shift in his approach to nuclear power (

In it he said, “When I tell my ‘green’ friends that I am rethinking nuclear power, they respond with outrage.”

He argues that the only way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions enough is to utilise both nuclear and renewable energy.

In the run up to the government’s energy review towards the end of this year there has been a lot of talk about the possibility of building new nuclear reactors. Tony Blair has made it clear that “nuclear is back on the agenda with a vengeance”. So this is an argument we need to be prepared to have.

Monbiot has not declared himself nuclear’s biggest fan. But he has said that nuclear power is part of the solution.

We have to dramatically reduce the current levels of carbon produced. But nuclear power is not the answer.

We need to fight to make the government invest the money that is needed to develop renewable energy. We need to campaign to force big business to take responsibility for the environmental damage it does.

And we need to do this without creating further problems for future generations.

George Lee, South London

Come to protest against the G8

The G8 is not a legitimate forum of international democracy. Therefore it should be abolished. At the same time important questions of globalisation are negotiated during the summit and in the ongoing G8 process.

That is why it is legitimate to address concrete demands towards the governments participating in the G8 process – like writing off debts, closing tax havens and world trade justice.

This was done around the issue of poverty in Gleneagles last year. This was an issue promoted very well because Tony Blair placed the topic on his agenda.

Despite the fact that it was a window dressing hoax, it enabled the protest movement to link onto it and to develop a common political ground.

Next year the G8 will be held in the seaside resort Heiligendamm, Germany.

The big issue at the G8 may be the environment.

I would ask activists who took part in the protest against the G8 last year to come to Germany so that we can demand they do something about poverty and climate change.

Hugo Braun, Düsseldorf, Germany

Climate and business

According to a recent report on the BBC, big business continues to fly people across the world for meetings because it creates a better image than conducting meetings via conference calls.

One of the major causes of greenhouse gas emissions is air travel.

Under capitalism, organisations can only survive by increasing the rate of exploitation and also by imperial expansion.

As well as being environmentally unacceptable, the fact that workers are made to fly during the night so they can spend the maximum time adding value makes it worse.

Climate change is a trade union issue. It is something that only workers can change.

Jill Moon, West London

A very British welcome

Britain’s “welcome” to refugees should create a wave of resistance like the one recently organised in the US.

Refugees, escaping the devastation that capitalism inflicts, often need to travel secretly. That’s why it is disgraceful that we have people like the Conservative David Davis saying “There is no excuse for not tracking every one of these individuals until they are sure they are out of country.”

Roger Cox, Newcastle

Naive racism in football?

While enjoying the World Cup, I have been extremely annoyed by the undercurrent of patronising racism of commentators and journalists towards the African teams.

Every goal scored against them or defeat is labelled as the result of “naivety” or “naive defending”, rather than the mistakes that naturally happen in a fast flowing game like football.

This is colonial thinking – treating people from Africa as a strange “other”.

We should challenge this lazy, racist language wherever we find it.

Peter David, East London

Asbos are anti-social

I am a mother of two boys who have been given Asbos (anti-social behaviour orders).

Since they received their Asbos in 2004 their lives have been made hell.

One of my boys has tried to harm himself.

Hearsay should not be enough to get these orders and ruin people’s lives.

The police and the media hound these poor kids and make the entire situation much worse.

Many young people who are given these Asbos also have special needs. The government should provide the help they need, not punishment.

Name supplied, by e-mail

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Sat 24 Jun 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 2006
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