Racist propaganda and far right anti-refugee agitation have led to a fire at a hotel and assaults on the offices of a Labour MP in Llanelli, near Swansea.
And on Tuesday Carmarthenshire council said the Home Office had sent it written confirmation that the plan to house asylum seekers at the hotel had been scrapped.
It’s a victory for the racists who opposed refugees, and those who unleashed violence in the West Wales town. Only luck has prevented people from being seriously injured or even killed.
The tactics of some on the left who have compromised and conceded to racist views have only encouraged further violence and cleared the path for the Home Office decision.
Eight months ago the attempt to attack refugees’ hotel accommodation with petrol bombs in Knowsley, Merseyside, was a terrible warning. Now Llanelli has rammed home the danger.
Using classic fascist methods, they set buildings alight and attack social democratic politicians. This is what the steer from the racists in the government, taken up by the far right, has led to.
The Home Office announced in May that the town’s Stradey Park Hotel would be re-purposed for refugee accommodation. That has led to a huge wave of anti-refugee agitation, including a permanent camp outside of anti-refugee campaigners.
The BBC reported last week, “The number of recent arrests related to the Stradey Park Hotel rose to 12 after a stairwell fire at the weekend and days of disorder.” Charges include possessing a weapon, aggravated trespassing and criminal damage.
People directed fireworks against firefighters to hinder them as they tried to douse the flames. At the same time, Labour’s member of the Senedd (Welsh parliament) Lee Waters wrote, “As well as setting fire to the Stradey Park Hotel on Sunday, masked criminals also attacked our office in Llanelli and tried to set it on fire.
“They smashed the windows with crowbars and threw fireworks before running off. This is a situation the Conservative Home Office has allowed to develop in Llanelli and it needs to stop.
“We shouldn’t accept this as normal.” Waters shares the office with the town’s MP, Nia Griffith.
The assault in Llanelli echoes the violence against migrant and refugee hostels in parts of Europe and follows a petrol bombing at a Dover migrant centre a year ago.
That was carried out by Andrew Leak, a far right racist who admired Nazi Tommy Robinson. Emma from Llanelli Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) said that the hatred from the anti-refugee mob is “absolutely disgraceful”.
“It’s a group of bullies who have had a lot of validation from the far right,” she told Socialist Worker.
“Their campaign has been set up like a war effort—people giving food and donations that could’ve been given to refugees. What’s going on is dividing the whole town.” Stacey, another Llanelli SUTR activist, said, “My children have been picked on by the children of those at the camp.
“The disgusting, racist comments they were hearing were so shocking. But the school did nothing.
“There’s an obsession about ‘unvetted men of fighting age’ coming here. For me it doesn’t matter—men deserve to be safe too. But people have had fear instilled into them.
“That comes from Suella Braverman—she uses language like invasion and hurricane. These are things to be scared of, and it’s picked up by far right agitators to feed hate.”
Emma added that racism is opening the door for other forms of hate. “On far right social media people from Llanelli are being horribly transphobic and homophobic. It’s coming from people who never used to say that kind of thing.”
Emyr is a Plaid Cymru town councillor who has been supporting the anti-racist campaign in a personal capacity.
“I’ve suffered lots of abuse online. The latest is a petition to try to get me removed as a councillor,” he said.
“The far right and Ukip have had too much of a say and spread so many lies.”
“Other parties need to start taking a stand and counteracting these now.”
He added, “I have lost friends through this. I’ve been accused of stealing from the foodbank I volunteer for, taking money and being a paedophile.
“My work has also been targeted. But I am still campaigning. Refugees are humans—I would hate to have to flee the country I live in.”
What strategy can turn around the situation in Llanelli? In several parts of Britain there has been anti-refugee agitation outside temporary accommodation. At most, anti-racists have confronted the demonstrations and put forward clear “welcome refugees” campaigns.
That happened, for example, in Erksine, near Glasgow. For seven months “concerned locals” and open fascists tried to intimidate and harass refugees at the local hotel.
They used the same fake arguments as in Llanelli—supposed concern about the suitability of the accommodation, fears about jobs and services, the impact on a run-down area and so on.
But anti-racists took them on directly and built a broad campaign that could occasionally turn out hundreds of people to show solidarity with the refugees.
The clear message was—there are many problems in this area, but they are not caused by refugees but by the people at the top of society. We need to unite against them, not be dragged off into racist hate, which will weaken us all.
And that means taking on the racist lies, not accommodating to them. Last month the anti-racist work came to fruition as SUTR and others pushed racists from the spot where they had gathered each week for months.
Local people joined delegations from the Unison, FBU, Unite and PCS unions delegations, and refugees to occupy the space.
None of that has happened consistently in Llanelli. Instead many people have given ground to the idea that refugees shouldn’t be welcomed there or that the cops will provide a solution.
Waters and Griffith, now facing attacks, have themselves bent to these arguments. After the assault on his office, Waters wrote, “A legitimate local protest has been infiltrated by very extreme elements.”
He added that he and Griffith had “said all along this is the wrong place and the wrong plan”, and he urged Braverman to rethink and stop “wasting money”.
After the hotel failed a fire inspection last week, Griffith said, “The Stradey Park Hotel is nowhere near being fit for use as accommodation.
“It’s yet another very strong reason, in addition to the access issues, why the Home Office should drop all plans to use it for asylum seekers.”
This encourages the racists. The police are no help at all. After the wave of arrests last week, Superintendent Ross Evans called on demonstrators “to resume peaceful protest” at the site.
He went on, “I’d like to take this opportunity to appeal for calm to resume and to urge anyone planning to join the protest to follow the example that has been set by local residents, who have demonstrated peacefully over the past few months.”
But the fires and the attacks flow directly from the logic of the “peaceful” protesters—opposition to and scapegoating of refugees.
When people blocked the hotel entrance in June, the Furnace Action Committee, which calls itself a group formed to “debate the asylum seeker plan”, said it was “always likely that there would be random, independent acts to disrupt the plan”.
Its spokesperson said, “From the point of view of the Furnace Action Committee, it may get them to see sense.”
Some unions have opposed the racists, but others have used mealy‑mouthed excuses to oppose them coming to Llanelli.
The local Unison branch said housing the asylum seekers at the hotel would put “significant pressure on council and health services locally that have been cut to the bone and underfunded for many years”.
Campaigners have organised a “unity event” for Sunday to bring people together. But many of them strongly rejected the slogan “refugees welcome” to build it.
Local campaigner Stacey said, “There are a lot of nice people in this town who possess empathy and kindness. We’re trying to bring these people together.
“Hopefully we can give people confidence and reassurance that there are others who feel the same as them, and not everyone in this town is a massive racist.”
Anti-racist Owen said, “The situation we’re in is clearly because of concessions made at the beginning, with no opposition to the camp.
“The council has stood back throughout this process—and now can’t tame the beast. It’s vital that the council and politicians start to speak out. But it’s worrying that they’re barely speaking out about an attack on their own office.
Owen added, “It’s been difficult to hold anti-racist events in Llanelli. But we want events where we can talk about refugees. Otherwise the situation will be made worse.
“We need to unite the anti-racists in Llanelli to show we are a force here and beyond.
“It’s good that there’s union backing for the unity event. Now we need them to raise the profile of our campaign.
“This is the Tories’ offensive we’re dealing with. It hit home in places like Llanelli. The problem is the opposition has been far too limited.”
The racists can be defeated. But it means a change in strategy by the unions and anti-racists everywhere.
Meanwhile Ukip, whose membership now includes members of the fascist Voice of Wales and Patriotic Alternative, is holding its annual conference in Newport next Saturday.SUTR activists plan to confront them.
Names have been changed. Join the SUTR protest outside Ukip conference on Sat 14 October in Newport. Go to standuptoracism.org.uk
Protesters told Socialist Worker why they were marching