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‘We will build a mass movement to stop racism,’ vow activists at 1,300-strong conference

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As world leaders ramp up racism against Muslims and migrants, hundreds of anti-racists met in London last week to discuss building the resistance
Issue 2577
There was a sense of urgency to up the fight against racism
There was a sense of urgency to up the fight against racism (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) conference in central London last Saturday was a key event for all those wanting to build a mass movement.

There was a feeling of urgency —and a desire for unity.

The 1,300-strong conference resolved to up the fight. Speaking at the final plenary Birmingham anti-racist activist Salma Yaqoob said, “It’s important like minded people get together, and strengthen and invigorate each other.

“After the marches earlier this year Trump was too intimidated to come. We’ll be ready whenever they try and sneak him in.”

The conference took place against the backdrop of Donald Trump and Theresa May ramping up racism against migrants and Muslims.

There is also a renewed threat from the far right across Europe.

Kevin Courtney, NEU education union joint general secretary, said, “It’s everyone’s obligation to be part of the movement—we can end racism.”

The conference brought together activists from across Britain who’ve been organising against racism.

And many spoke of the need to build an anti-racist movement that could stop a state visit from Trump.

Maryam, a student at Queen Mary University in east London, said that, “If Trump were to come tomorrow, we’re ready for him.”

Some people came in delegations from trade union branches. And activists from the Trade Unionists 4 Calais group were collecting donations for a trip to Calais on Sunday.

The need for international solidarity was a key theme of the conference.

Greek anti-fascist Petros Constantinou said the rise of the racist right meant the anti-racist movement had to be international. And that means fighting against immigration controls.

He said, “There’s lots of walls in Europe. There are walls from Turkey to Hungary to Germany. We have to bring down all those walls. We have to open the borders.”

Usman, a health worker from east London, has been involved in a SUTR workplace group. “I’ve been interested in left wing politics, but haven’t been to anything like this before,” he told Socialist Worker.

“But I decided to come because there’s a difference between sitting at home and coming here and doing something about it.”

The conference saw workshops on themes including defending free movement, fighting Islamophobia and Black Lives Matter among others.

Hundreds joined a workshop about how the anti-racist movement has responded to the Grenfell Tower fire.


Grenfell survivor Bilal said, “We’ve been experiencing institutional racism for years.

“If the tower hadn’t been full of minorities would they have ignored it in the same way? People from deprived areas are ignored.”

Bilal described how the mainstream media has used racism in its reporting of the fire and demonised people in North Kensington.

“It doesn’t stop here,” he said. “What counts is what happens when we leave this room today.”

The loudest cheers at the conference went to speakers who called for resisting Islamophobia and the police killings of black people. Esa Charles, father of Rashan Charles, and Janet Alder, sister of Christopher Alder, told the opening plenary that they were determined to fight for justice.

Speakers from Austria and Germany told one workshop how they’re resisting the far right in the wake of the Freedom Party and Alternative for Germany’s election breakthroughs.

David Albrich from Austria argued that mainstream parties, such as the Labour-type SPO, had made concessions to racism which had helped the far right grow. “The problem is that racism has penetrated deeply into mainstream parties—this needs to be opposed,” he said.

Other workshops discussed the threat of the Football Lads Alliance and the need to defend migrants’ rights.

Diane Abbott, shadow home secretary, told the closing plenary that a future Labour government would fight racism.

“We cannot allow the politics of hate to prevail,” she said. You can’t take progress for granted and there are some who want to push the progress back.

“Fighting racism will be at the heart of my work as home secretary when Jeremy Corbyn is prime minister.”

The left in Britain has grown in confidence—but the threat of the right and racism has not gone away. That means we have to build a mass movement against racism that resists all the attempts to divide us.

As SUTR joint convenor Weyman Bennett said, “We need a movement that can give us strength.

“We need to build local Stand Up To Racism groups.

“When the right is on the march across the world, we need to stand up and we do that by organising.”

Maryam, student in London

It’s heartwarming being here. When you’re a minority you’re used to being the one to stand up and say something in response to racism–but that’s really draining.

Today has been great because people are here to organise. It’s been about practical steps and you can see how we could change society.

Black leadership matters and working together in unity matters. Corbyn is our best hope at the moment—he’s not perfect but he’s the best chance we’ve got.

Nizar Khan charity worker

Racism is increasingly ignored. It’s important that Stand Up To Racism has space to grow.

I want people to be activists. I don’t just want them to click the sad face on Facebook.

The government knows what’s going on with the Rohingya Muslims and allows it to happen.

When Muslims are on the receiving end the government turns a blind eye.

We’ve got to actually solve the refugee crisis, not just keep on sustaining them through aid.

Prarthana Krishnan, student in Bristol

Bristol student Prarthana

Bristol student Prarthana

I was on a Stand Up To Racism stall when someone came up to me and said, “What are you?”

I didn’t respond and she started saying, “You’re the people who are causing all the problems in this country.”

She stopped when she realised I’m not Muslim but it made me realise what Islamophobia can feel like.

It’s more more intense than any other form of racism I have experienced.

We’re going to have panel discussions with societies during Islamophobia Awareness month.

Olfa, Leicester activist

Leicester activist Olfa

Leicester activist Olfa (Pic: Socialist Worker)

I lived in Greece for eight years and I’ve seen what racism was like there.

When I moved to Britain I didn’t experience racism as much.

But that began to change in 2013.

I’ve seen gestures against Asian people on the bus.

And racist things are said in the street.

But we can’t take it any more.

We’ve got to make sure the good people stay united.

They are very good at keeping us divided and we can’t let them.

Amarjit Singh, CWU national race advisory committee chair

We need the national campaigns against racism and we also need the unifying power of action.

But we also need to take up issues in the workplace.

When I started in the mail centre there were just five black workers even though it was situated in a very multiracial community.

In 1989 as a union we worked to change this and it is now much better.

But still black workers get the hard jobs, the last choice ones.

Mohammed, west London

Institutional racism is endemic. If you’re black and ethnic minority (Bame) you see racism on a daily basis.

Because Bame are a minority in this country there’s not much awareness outside of those communities.

In the Asian community people don’t know avenues for justice when the police do something. In the 1920s some women couldn’t vote but great women stood up and did something about it. We often don’t understand the power we have.

If you believe in something you’ve got to stay until the end.

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