By Nick Grant
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Radio programme captures the spirit of revolt against racism

A new radio play highlights how communities came together to face the threat of fascism in the 1970s
Issue 2893
racism anti-racism Southhall radio

The National Front organised in Southall in the 1970s (Picture: Socialist Worker)

During the 1970s the fascist National Front (NF) party grew at an alarming rate. 

A new Tory party leader Margaret Thatcher was tapping into the NF’s growth, talking about “alien cultures”.

A general election was called for May 1979 with the James Callaghan-led Labour government sinking in the polls.

The NF decided to stand local Nazi Ernest Pendrous in the staunchly Labour Southall constituency — by then a predominantly Sikh working class community within Ealing borough.

In their obsession with St George’s Day the NF got permission to use its small town hall on a Monday the 23 April for a general election meeting.

Ealing’s Tory council granted them permission with the backing of Labour Home Secretary Merlyn Rees. 

Deep community anger required sharp organisation so that on a wet windy morning buses didn’t leave the Hanwell garage. Factories and stores closed and supporters came from across London to stand with the locals.

That day, the NF were met with furious protests from community organisations, trade unions and willing political parties.  

A new play by writer Satinder Chohan, whose family lived close to where the meeting was held, is a drama about the events of that time period. 

“I wanted to write a drama that marked the 45th anniversary of these events somehow,” she explained to Socialist Worker. 

“I wanted to reignite memories for those who were there or who might remember fragments. But I also wanted to offer a sense of it to those who might know nothing at all about a really pivotal moment in the birth of a multicultural Britain. 

“I thought this would work best as a coming of age story because Southall ‘79 really felt like such a moment for our town. 

“It was when black and Asian residents really began finding their strength, solidarity and voices in a fractured Britain on the cusp of Thatcherism.

“There’s no way an hour can capture all the voices, memories, and stories of that day. At the very least I hope it evokes the spirit of resistance that shaped that day. 

“It features bursts of a banging reggae, punk, bhangra—it’s a late 70s soundscape.”

Turning Point—Uprising by Satinder Chohan Available on BBC Sounds until 9 March

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