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Racism and resistance in Burnley

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Issue 1756

Racism and resistance in Burnley

By Theresa Bennett and Sam Ashman

TWO LANCASHIRE towns, two big votes for the BNP, two “riots” as Asian communities are attacked by racists and the police do nothing. Recent events in Burnley and Oldham (and Accrington last weekend) have revealed the deep bitterness that exists at the base of society.

They have also shown how a small minority of hardcore racists can feed off that bitterness and try to push people’s despair in a right wing direction. The number of Nazis in Burnley and Oldham is tiny. Yet they have succeeded in conning bigger numbers into voting for them, and have deliberately hidden their true face to do so.

They have presented themselves as those with the solutions to the problems of white working class families who feel abandoned by national and local politicians. The Labour council in Burnley has done nothing for ordinary people for years. More than that, a clutch of right wing “independent” councillors in Burnley-many of them ex-Labour-have helped lay the ground for the BNP.

They end up making racism respectable by repeating lies in the local press about “preferential” treatment for Asians. Unfortunately the absence of left wing opposition means those lies have not been systematically challenged.

But the rise of the right wing is not inevitable. The Nazis can be beaten. The vast majority of people in Burnley, Oldham and across Britain are for unity. They are against violence and division. The Nazis’ foothold can be smashed, but only if people organise. Beating the Nazis means two things.

It means anti-Nazi activity to expose their true face. The BNP is a Nazi party that follows Hitler and admires the Holocaust of the Jews. Campaigning to expose the Nazis can divide hardcore Nazis off from their softer supporters.

But united action is also needed to demand real solutions to real social ills. Black, white and Asian people fighting together can win more resources. It can also begin to tackle the bitterness and misery the Nazis want to tap and turn anger against the real enemies-the rich and their system.

‘Large numbers live in poverty’

MANY PEOPLE living across the north west feel abandoned and betrayed. Little wonder. Once prosperous mill towns, places like Burnley and Oldham, have seen jobs, housing and the local environment decimated.

The area still has heavy concentrations of manufacturing industry. But big local employers have shrunk to a fraction of their former size. In Burnley the biggest employer is now Burnley Heathcare Trust with 4,500 workers.

Average pay in Burnley is 16 percent lower than the national average. Thousands are trapped on poverty pay levels in unskilled dead-end jobs. The Greater Manchester Low Pay Unit has done studies of the pay on offer in job centres across the north west of England.

Its survey of jobs available in Burnley job centres in 1999 found that the average pay on offer was 4.37 an hour. It also found that:

  • 41 percent of all advertised jobs paid less than 3.86 an hour.
  • 53 percent of all advertised jobs paid less than 4.20 an hour.

A similar study for Oldham last year found that 43 percent of jobs paid less than 3.99 an hour. Some 61 percent of jobs were below Income Support rates for a couple with two young children. That is less than 151.17 a week (excluding housing costs).

The Low Pay Unit says, “The extent of low pay across the north west means that large numbers of people and their families are living in poverty, unable to take a full part in our society.”

Many people are trapped on benefit with no escape. And what is the response of local politicians to this situation?

Burnley Borough Council is trying to attract call centres to the area to replace the jobs that have been destroyed. These are notorious for offering long hours without breaks for low pay.

Three areas in Burnley have record levels of poverty and deprivation-Daneshouse, Barclay and Bank Hall wards. These are precisely the areas the Nazis are trying to pit against each other. Daneshouse is the area with the highest concentration of people from an Asian background.

It is in the poorest 1 percent of wards in England in terms of income, employment, health, housing, education and geographical access to services. The Bank Hall ward in Burnley, predominantly white, is in the poorest 2 percent of wards.

And the Barclay ward, again predominantly white, is in the poorest 3 percent of wards. Burnley also has appalling levels of child poverty. Daneshouse ward is the sixth worst ward in England for child poverty. Three areas of Burnley are in the worst 20 wards for child poverty in Lancashire-Daneshouse, Bank Hall and Barclay again.

500 attend anti-Nazi meeting

SOME 500 people attended an electric Anti Nazi League (ANL) meeting in Burnley on Thursday of last week-despite the efforts of the police to stop the meeting. Burnley police not only cancelled the venue that was booked for the meeting, but threatened to close it down if the meeting went ahead. But a local Asian councillor approached a nearby mosque which opened up an enormous room. Julie Waterson, national ANL organiser, spoke to the meeting along with Mohammad Arif, a Burnley taxi driver.

There were four trade union banners at the meeting. Janet Alder, whose brother was killed in police custody, joined in the discussion from the floor.

So too did Shahid Malik, the Labour Party NEC member who was beaten up by the police last week, and his father, the deputy mayor of Burnley. An anti-Nazi demonstration and carnival are now planned in Burnley for 1 September.

There are also plans for a major anti-Nazi carnival in Oldham, probably in October. This is backed by the North West Region of the TUC.

Voices of discontent

A TENSE atmosphere existed in Burnley in the aftermath of the riots last week. Most takeaways, restaurants and corner shops were closed. On St James Street near Burnley town centre a local man explained, “These shops are boarded up because their owners have been told by the police, ‘We cannot guarantee when we’re going to come if you call us for help’.” Asian people own these shops, and they were targeted and attacked on Sunday night.

Stores in the main shopping centre are all white owned. They are not boarded up and were not touched. The BNP is trying to feed off the deep bitterness that exists in many poor areas of Burnley.

In Burnley Wood a disabled pensioner in his seventies said, “People are joining the BNP, even older people, because they are fed up with Burnley. I’ve considered voting BNP. I’ve lived here for 40 years. I used to vote Labour, but they’ve done nothing for us on the council. In 1974 I used to run a residents’ action group here fighting to save people’s properties from demolition plans. I fought it and I wish I hadn’t bothered.” He isn’t alone.

Jayne, a community worker in Burnley, said, “A lot of support for the BNP is to do with misrepresentation. So many people misunderstand where money has been spent. I’ve warned the council loads of times that they need to pull their finger out and explain. People who are sympathetic to the BNP feel they are ignored. This is leading them to believe they have no say because they’re white. Where the council has spent money in areas where Asians live in Daneshouse and Stoneyholme, it really has been truly warranted. Until recently the highest investment has been in the south west of Burnley on the Stoops estate, which is predominately white. Yet the local papers are always printing letters complaining about the investment going into Stoneyholme and Daneshouse. People criticise the mosque in Daneshouse being built with council money, but it isn’t. Burnley Borough Council aren’t challenging this misinformation. Instead media coverage is presenting the whole town as racist and the BNP are getting the exposure they want. I do find it understandable how people can be taken in. It really does feed on people’s fears and vulnerabilities. Their hopes and fears for the future are not being acknowledged. They feel they can blame it on someone else. The national media coverage of asylum seekers has also fuelled people’s anxieties with false claims that asylum seekers are given nice jobs and nice houses. The real problem in Burnley is the decline in the council services because there is just not enough money around for anything.”

It is only together that the people of Burnley, both white and Asian, can fight for more money, which the area desperately needs.

Empty houses

THE COUNCIL admits there are 4,000 empty properties in Burnley. But people think it’s much higher than that. In the Burnley Wood area, which is predominately white, there are rows of two up, two down houses. On each street there are loads of empty, boarded-up homes.

A couple with five adult children who still live on the street told Socialist Worker, “We have been here for 20 years. Eight years ago our home was worth 20,000. Now we can only get 4,000. We can’t afford to move.”

They are not alone. In poor areas people abandon homes that need repairing because it isn’t worth spending money to fix them.

‘Politicians let us down’

“I DRIVE a taxicab because I can’t get another job. I have a family to feed. Most Asian people are in jobs they have to create because there aren’t any others. The hourly wages work out at about 50p per hour. I work 12-hour days driving a taxi. Going into a pub to pick up a fare is something I try to avoid, you just get picked on. Drinkers shout “Ayotallah” or “Salman Rushdie” at you. Passengers may say something nasty, poke you as they’re sat behind you or hit you a bit. What can you do? I’ve called the police when a taxi driver is being attacked and they have taken 20 to 30 minutes to arrive. It demoralises me and makes me go back to my cultural roots. It’s the same for the youth-the more deprived you are the more you go back to your roots. My parents came here from Pakistan to work in the cotton industry in the early 1960s. Even in those days Asian people were allowed to be spinners and weavers in the cotton industry but they were not accepted as “tacklers”, the people who maintained the machines. Things have gone wrong here now because William Hague and other politicians have been irresponsible. The media have spread lies and fears about Muslims and asylum seekers. Over a number of years all the politicians-Conservative, Liberal and Labour-have let ordinary people down and they have helped the extremists to come out of their shell. I have heard that in Oldham a wall has been put up dividing people. That’s terrible. Separation is not the answer. Integration is the only solution.”

  • MOHAMMAD ARIF, Burnley taxi driver

Tackle the real problems

“WHEN I left school 40 years ago you either went into engineering or you went down the pit-that’s if you went to a secondary modern school. Lucas engineering in Burnley employed more than 6,000 people 30 years ago. There used to be 3,500 at Rolls-Royce. The local economy boomed as a result. Today all three Burnley pits are long gone. Lucas and Rolls employ less than 1,000 workers each. A lot of skilled jobs have gone. Unskilled work has increased on new industrial estates. Apprenticeships have been cut. There are few of the new employers in the area that provide opportunities for people to learn real skills, so they can never get out of the poverty trap. There is a widening gap between those who have and those who haven’t. The BNP vote is because people are disenchanted with New Labour. When things go wrong people look for somebody to blame. It is easier to attack the Asian community than to tackle the real problems that people face.”

  • JOHN BOARDMAN, AEEU convenor Rolls-Royce

Myth of privilege

THE NAZIS have pumped out filthy lies that Asian people in Burnley get “privileges” and “special treatment”. But the opposite is true.

  • The unemployment rate for white people in Oldham is 4 percent. It is 16 percent for Pakistanis and 25 percent for Bangladeshis. It is 40 percent for young Asian men.
  • Asian people make up around one eighth of the population of Oldham. Only 1.7 percent of the council’s workforce are Asian. In Burnley only 24 out of a total council workforce of 672 are non-white.
  • Oldham council attempted to smother a 1990 council housing allocation report which exposed how Asian people spent longer on council waiting lists, were more likely to be offered lower quality housing, and were segregated on specific estates around the town centre. The same year a Commission for Racial Equality report found that at least two private estate agents in the town were “redlining”-deliberately confining white people and Asian people to certain areas.
  • Burnley’s housing stock needs at least 150 million invested in it, according to local Labour MP Peter Pike. The government’s latest regeneration budget gave just 3 million.

MARY IS a middle aged woman who has lived in Burnley Wood for over 20 years. She helped her Asian neighbours when their homes were attacked recently. “These attacks on Asians have been organised for weeks. People want someone to blame,” Mary told Socialist Worker.

Stop the Nazi National Front march 

Saturday 7 July, assemble 12 noon, 

The Tyrls, outside police station, Bradford

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