By Weyman Bennett
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Anti-racism: Two steps forward…

This article is over 8 years, 5 months old
Socialist Review spoke to Weyman Bennett, joint secreatary of Unite Against Fascism, about the Stand Up to Racism demonstration on 22 March and challenging the scapegoating of migrants.
Issue 389

The 22 March European-wide anti-racist demonstrations are very important for socialists and anti-racists. Over the past 40 years there has been a migration of people from the Caribbean, south east Asia and Europe into Britain. They brought the flavours and sounds of their communities and have integrated into the working class.

Some of the highest levels of unionisation, for example, are among these migrants. They became part of the heart of the organised working class, and over the same period it has become generally accepted that migration — and migrant communities — has been a positive experience.

A survey showed that in 1964 some 41 percent of people said they would not like a “foreigner” as a neighbour. Today only 7 percent say this. But we face real challenges. There is a neoliberal assault on the welfare state and on wages. These attacks have come with a ruling class offensive against multiculturalism. David Cameron has spoken of it having “failed”.

The key point about the 22 March demo is that the majority of people agree that racism is a bad thing. This is a success for socialists, anti-racists and anti-fascists. And the label “racist” scares even those who oppose us. The far-right English Defence League (EDL) has to deny it is racist, as does Ukip. This is a testimony to the success of our movement.

The 22 March demo gives us a chance to bring together the organised working class with migrant communities to both celebrate our unity and oppose the general assault on migrants and multiculturalism. This is a European wide demonstration, and on the day there will be protests and demos across 17 cities.

In each of these cities the same general formula has been applied — particularly in places such as Greece and Spain. On the day we want to show that class politics are central to overcoming the attempts to sow divisions between “native-born” workers and migrants.

This is a positive development in the face of a great danger presented by, among others, racist populists such as Geert Wilders in Holland, Euro-fascist movements such as Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France, and outright Nazi parties such as Jobbik in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece.

For the past ten years our movement has been directly confronting organisations such as the Nazi BNP and the racist thugs of the EDL. We have in Britain been very successful in pushing these forces back into the margins and limiting their ability to grow and capitalise on the economic crisis.

By doing this we have taken two steps forward. But there is also one step back. There is a daily deluge in the tabloids that says “your problems are caused by immigration”. This anti-migrant propaganda is having an impact, and Ukip, a populist racist party, is trying to capitalise on it. Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, wants to shift the political terrain further to the right, and attract the base of the Tory party.

The Tories want to undercut Ukip by claiming its terrain. But the more the Tories attempt to adapt to Ukip, the more it legitimises its anti-migrant and racist slogans.

Ukip was seen as a party of disenchanted middle class Tory voters. But as the recent Wythenshawe and Sale East election shows, Ukip was able to push the Tories into third. Labour won the by-election with 55 percent of the vote but Ukip’s 18 percent showed that it is able to win over Tory working class voters and some dissatisfied right wing Labour supporters.

This result is likely to be reflected in the upcoming European elections. Ukip could win significant support in these elections; one they think will be a game changer. Ukip does not carry the toxic Nazi label like the BNP does. They are reactionary and racist, but they have been able, so far, to sell themselves as representing the “common person”. We will continue to expose them.

We also have a chance to defeat the two Nazi MEPs, Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons, in the May Euro-elections. That will be a big blow to fascists here and across Europe. It will prove that they can be stopped. The labour movement, which is the biggest bulwark against fascism, needs to step up and challenge the fake “anti-establishment” politics of Ukip. But many think they are simply a danger to the Tories. This is a dangerous attitude.

They peddle the lie that housing shortages, unemployment, low wages and so on are caused by migrant workers. Our movement has to take these questions head on otherwise Ukip election success will create fertile ground for a growth in racism.

It is fantastic that the TUC along with the four biggest unions are backing the demonstration. But what matters is that we turn this into building the demo in our communities, schools and colleges and in the workplace. We want the 22 March demo to be the beginning of a campaign that will challenge the politics of scapegoating.

For the latest details, speakers and transport go to Stand up to Racism and Fascism

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