At least 120 people came to the 'Celebrate & Educate' Black History Month event at Barking College on Saturday.
The event was the biggest and most united anti-racist gathering in Barking & Dagenham since the election in May of 12 Nazi BNP councillors. As well as celebrating black history, the major theme was how local residents and workers can come together to resist further gains by the BNP in the borough, as the Nazis attempt to organise and build on the back of their electoral success. The event, which comprised speeches, workshops, film and music, was opened by Barking & Dagenham mayor Cllr Dee Hunt who thanked the organisers and praised the diversity of Barking & Dagenham as a great strength of the area.
In the opening session, Barking MP Margaret Hodge - who talked about losing family members in the Nazis' Holocaust and of her father coming into Britain as an immigrant - spoke about the fear of local Muslims over BNP activity in the area and attacked the media's role in stoking hatred against Muslim women wearing the veil, which she said plays into the hands of the fascists. Dagenham MP John Cruddas was unable to attend but sent a message of support. The GMB's London Regional Secretary Ed Blissett talked about the need for trade unions to stress the common issues facing working people and that the BNP's attempts to divide working-class communities must be fiercely opposed at all costs.
A standing ovation was given to Jayaben Desai, leader of the Grunwick strike of thirty years ago, when she spoke briefly about the need to organise against the fascists. T&G deputy leader Jack Dromey - secretary of Brent Trades Council during Grunwick - was also in attendance to speak about the contribution of migrant workers to Britain.
There were workshops on Fighting Fascism Today, Islamophobia and Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR). Musician Lisa Moorish addressed the LMHR session along with Lee Billingham, who reported back on recent successful LMHR events in the area with Dirty Pretty Things (DPT) and Ms Dynamite. DPT's Gary and Didz came along to hear from local campaigners about the effect their recent gig had had in the area. Local school and college students, promoters and bands spoke about further major LMHR gigs planned in the area for the coming months - with a call for a major outdoor festival in the borough. Dagenham Working Men's Club and the T&G's Fords Social Club have also offered to host LMHR events featuring two-tone ska band The Beat and other acts aimed also at an older audience.
Lisa Moorish and Babyshambles' Drew McConnell performed for the first time 'White Boy, Brown Girl', a song written by Lisa about her experiences growing up with racism in south London in the late 1970s.
Barking College student and local resident Bradley Coleman, 17, was invited to the event to display his tap-dancing skills, and said 'I'm proud to live in an area where I have black, white and Muslim friends. My Nan fought against Hitler's Nazis and the BNP are just the same. We don't want scum like them in our area.'
The session of fighting racism and fascism drew on the great tradition of previous anti-fascist victories, particularly the ANL and the RAR in the 1970s, as discussed by Barking College principal Ted Parker, one of the leading organisers of the 'Battle of Lewisham' in 1977 when anti-fascists and local black people beat back the Nazi NF, as well as UCU leader Paul Mackney.
In talking about why a minority of local people have supported the BNP, some speakers - including Labour Party members - talked about how people feel let down by the Labour government over issues like housing, the war, jobs and low pay but are misguidedly giving protest votes to the BNP. Others argued that racism is the primary reason for BNP support and must be the focus of anti-fascist activity.
In a serious and lively discussion on how best to take on the BNP, there was general agreement that all anti-fascist forces must work together to be effective.
The audience was a good representation of the range of people and organisations who will form the basis for that united work in the coming months and years. Those represented included both Barking and Dagenham CLPs, the Barking Muslim Association, local tenants' and residents' associations, local and London GMB branches, Amicus, Barking & Dagenham NUT, the T&G, four Barking & Dagenham councillors, members of London Region UNISON, UCU leadership challenger Roger Kline, London Region CWU and local PCS members.
UAF Joint Secretary Weyman Bennett reminded people that the BNP are main beneficiaries of the current torrent of Islamophobia, and called for a united mass anti-fascist campaign to defeat the BNP in the borough.
The day was organised by Barking College, the GMB union's London Region Race Committee and LMHR, and supported by Unite Against Fascism (UAF), SERTUC (Southern and Eastern Regional Trades Union Congress), the London Region of the Unison union, the T&G and UCU unions.