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Stand Up to Racism conference hitting back at the racist offensive

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The Stand Up to Racism international conference last weekend saw hundreds of activists discussing the rising tide of racism and fascism. Isabel Ringrose reports on the sessions and talks to some of those that came
Issue 2827
SUTR conference

Anti-racists gather at the Stand Up To Racism international conference in London. (Picture: Guy Smallman)

A cost of living crisis and a Tory government in trouble are fertile ground for the rise in racism. But the ­resistance can also undermine scapegoating and division, and focus the anger in society against those at the top.

Stand Up To Racism’s (SUTR) ­international conference last Saturday was an opportunity for anti-racists to discuss how to right back against the threat of racism and fascism. Over 900 people registered to join the conference—with some 300 ­attending in person in central London and lots more online. The conference highlighted that at the heart of struggle has to be anti-racism.

In the session Cost of living crisis—unity and solidarity, Jane Loftus, the chair of the CWU union postal executive, said, “When workers are in struggle together it brings together black and white, gay and straight, women and men. Our picket lines and the RMT picket lines are examples of unity.

“This is what we need to build on and to raise the political issues at the same time as the workplace ones. Support the strikers, and raise anti‑racism at the same time.” 

Kudsia Batool, the TUC union ­federation’s head of equalities said, “For more than a decade the Tories have deliberately weakened and divided us, attacking workers’ rights and pitting workers against each other. Today’s working class is multi‑­ethnic. We have to resist the narrative that this is a threat to the working class.”

Charlie Kimber, Socialist Worker editor, said that among the dangers are new possibilities. “Trade unions and working class people are saying that they won’t take it anymore”.

He added that “as struggle rises, we need to talk more about anti-racism. What we don’t need, when home ­secretary Suella Braverman has her dream about sending people to Rwanda, is a Labour shadow chancellor that thinks we haven’t had enough people deported.

“And we don’t need people who ­pretend fascists aren’t fascists. Successful ­struggle is what we really need.” Otherwise, Charlie warned, defeat “can lead to people being more divided”. 

Paula Peters from Disabled People Against Cuts pointed out that the Tories are “united on demonising claimants and disabled people”. “They’re calling us scroungers, ­workshy and fraudsters. The real scroungers are big CEOs, shareholders, tax avoiders and MPs.

“Disabled people are rationing energy use, but we are high energy users. This is putting disabled people’s health at risk.”

Paula called for energy companies to be nationalised “and a fully funded social security system from cradle to grave.”

Ameen Hadi, Unison union’s north west black members’ committee chair, reminded the conference that “black people suffer disproportionately”. “We’re not looking for allies, but ­solidarity. Black and white fighting together is how we achieve real change in our society.”

From the floor, anti-racist David Karvala from Spain warned that fascist Vox party is trying to link with the far right in Latin America. “We need more trade union ­involvement in other countries in the movement against racism and fascism,” he said.


Fighting state racism

The first session, From Black Lives Matter to Child Q and the killing of Chris Kaba—resisting institutional racism, heard from activists, MPs and justice campaigners.

Weyman Bennett, SUTR national co-convenor, told the conference, “Racism comes from the top of society. I’ve never seen a government do so much damage to people’s lives—and it’s being led by black ministers.”

He stressed the importance of organising, saying, “We have power when we’re on the streets, and the picket line together.”

Sukhdev Reel’s son Ricky was killed 25 years ago last week. She told the conference, “Racism kills, and it’s on the rise.

“Crucial errors were made, even the most basic investigative procedures. Assumptions were made about Ricky’s death because of his race, and instead of using their resources to find his killer, they spied on my family.

“Justice was treated as a privilege that we had no hope of achieving. We cannot accept this. If we don’t raise our voices, we won’t get anywhere.”

Kevin Courtney, joint secretary of the teachers’ NEU union, pointed to growing academisation in education as “a part of the problem we need to overcome”. “League tables treat children as commodities and treat schools as brands,” he said.

He also announced that the NEU and NASUWT union are balloting together over pay. “We will be united, black and white on the picket line.”

Victims of police racism shared their experiences. Brooklyn McFarlane was shot while unarmed in 2018 by police, who were later found to have lied about the details of the shooting.

His cousin said, “The police are the largest gang in Britain. The Independent Office for Police Conduct is 40 percent made up of ex-cops. Who is policing the police?”


Confronting the fascists

Angus is from Leicester Stand Up To Racism. He joined his local group after attending mobilisations in Telford called by SUTR to confront fascist Tommy Robinson in January, May and September.

“I saw the counter‑demonstrations advertised on Twitter. It was great to see someone doing something to confront the fascists.”

Angus said the conference was “very informative”. “Hearing from different voices in the unions showed me how much solidarity is needed to counteract the threats we’re facing.

“It’s vital we inform people more, so they don’t believe the propaganda they’re fed. And we have the march next year we need to start building for now—getting everyone we know involved even if they’ve not been in anti-racist organisations before.”


We must tear down the racist borders that  kill

As the Tories push forward with their Rwanda deportation plans, a key focus of the conference was the battle to open the borders. Speakers from the refugee charity Care4Calais and the PCS union discussed their high court case against the barbaric plans.

Julita from Care4Calais said the Home Office ignored warnings against the scheme. “The motive of the Rwanda plan is not about saving lives or even reducing numbers of people who will try to come to Britain,” she said. “It is simply a callous assault that will be used to intimidate people and strengthen the hostile environment regime.”

Julita was clear that the Rwanda scheme won’t deter migrants. Instead it will drive more vulnerable people into the hands of smugglers.

But thanks to the work of anti‑racists not one flight has taken off. And the Home Office has withdrawn a notice to deport Delina—a pregnant refugee from Eritrea who had been raped to Rwanda.

Speakers pointed out the differences between how Ukrainian refugees have been welcomed, compared to those from the Middle East and Africa. Mohammad Asif from the Afghan Human Rights Association said this is because there is not a migrant crisis, but a racism crisis. He slammed the West’s logic of bombing countries but then refusing to help refugees.

“The colour of your skin will determine if you are welcome or not. We need solidarity against this morally bankrupt Tory regime.”

Activist and socialist Trevor Ngwane described how anti‑migrant and xenophobic measures were growing in South Africa. Groups there are organising to bring together trade unions and social movements to say, “No human is illegal” and to contest imperialist borders.

Speakers also agreed that scapegoating migrants increases as capitalism spirals into chaos. And as other crises such as climate change worsen, more people will become vulnerable.

  • United Families and Friends annual demonstration, Sat 29 Oct,  12 noon Trafalgar Square, London
  • March Against Racism on 18 March 2023 see standuptoracism.org.uk

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