Brexit – You Reap what You Sow

It’s been a long time since I’ve put anything up on this blog but the historical events of the last week could not go without comment.  I have been surprised by the consternation and gnashing of teeth over the recent referendum result that saw people in the United Kingdom vote to leave the European Union.  Such was the surprise over the result that it is clear that neither the Brexit camp or the government had given any thought or made any plans for the eventuality of an exit vote.  Many of my friends and work colleagues expressed surprise that I believed that there was an inevitability that Brits would vote to leave the EU from the moment that David Cameron, political opportunists extraordinaire, announced the decision to run a referendum.  Why? because it was a cast iron certainty that that referendum debate would not be about the EU at all but about immigration and migrant workers.

As a Black Brit born in the UK in the late 1950’s the debate about immigration and migration has represented the background political mood music of my life.  A product of the illusion of racial and cultural superiority that was ingrained in the population to justify the brutality and excesses of slavery and empire, it served to persuade the working class in these islands that that they shared the interests of the British elite.  Much of this debate it the 1960’s and 70’s represented the undisguised use of racism to try to gain political advantage, a rhetoric that was grounded Enoch Powell’s rivers of blood speech in 1968 which presented the spectre of the dilution of British society and culture by the allowing immigration of Black and Asian workers and their families. Powell advanced the notion that these immigrants would outbreed the Brits and take control, “that in this country in fifteen or twenty years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man”.   The notion that the only way to have good race relations was to limit numbers persisted and became deeply embedded in British political culture.

Whilst such openly racist sentiment in politics in the 1990’s and 21st century became unacceptable the debate about immigration rumbled on in different forms.  In the early 2000’s the target was asylum seekers and the labour government of the time sought to appease hostile sentiment by trying to draw a distinction between genuine refugees and so called economic migrants who were abusing the system to get into Britain to work illegally and claim benefits. A very expensive bureaucratic system was designed that undermined and created inferior rights for asylum seekers and attempted to control every aspect of their lives. These systems were designed to deter people coming to the UK to seek asylum.  Post the 2008 economic crash it was undocumented workers or so called illegal migrants came in the firing line. Politicians claimed they threatened the very fabric of British Society and responded by building removal centres such as the Yarls Wood and stepping up forced removal flights.  Accompanying this was the removal of appeal rights, undermining of legal aid and the establishment of a principle that migrants should pay for the systems put in place to both apply for entry to the UK but also more importantly to access justice, principles that are now being applied to the whole population.  Fast forward to Coalition Government and the age of austerity where free movement was blamed for the pressure on housing, schools, health care and jobs. Even this was racialized with The Sun and other right wing newspapers raising the spectre of hordes of Roma coming to Britain when Bulgaria and Romania finally became full members of the EU.   The fact that the millions of pounds being cut from the public purse seemed coincidental as politicians of all parties advanced the idea that Brits were right to be concerned about the effect of migration not their communities and this needed to be addressed.  Most recently we have seen the hysteria over the so called European asylum crisis, so called because the numbers involved are minuscule compared to those hosted by countries in the global south.  The UK political response was to cut the funding to agency that rescued people fleeing across the Mediterranean until public opinion resulted in from pictures of the bodies of dead children being washed up on the beaches of Greece caused them to relent and agree to take a measly 20,000 people over 5 years but not anybody that had already fled the war zones. This year’s Immigration and Nationality Act it was proudly announced by the Home Secretary Theresa May was created with the expressed intention of making Btitai9n a hostile environment for people to come.

The press and media played their part.  Newspaper campaigns like the one in the Daily Express that declared Britain is Full Up and Fed up, join the campaign to stop the new floods of Romanian and Bulgarian migrants or Channel 4’s failed attempt to run a series called immigration street.  The regular diet of supposed reality TV documentary shows that portray working class people from overseas as ripping of Britain by scrounging off the dole engaging in crime or fiddling the system. Politicians used media headlines to express populist sentiment with Jack straw claiming that women wearing the veil was a threat to community cohesion, or Nigel Farage claiming that “any normal and fair-minded person would have a perfect right to be concerned if a group of Romanian people suddenly moved in next door”.  or the Prime Minister claiming that attempts to enter the UK had increased because “you have got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain because Britain has got jobs or Boris Johnson promising that if he was in charge migrants will be barred from entering Britain unless they can speak good English and have the right skills for a job.  Any rational debate about the nature or reasons for immigration and how we welcome and treat new arrivals to our county became impossible.

So we come to the referendum where migration was used by all sides as a political weapon to harness the votes of those that had been convinced that their lives were threatened by migrants and those that were just downright racists and surprise, surprise the UK votes for exit.  You tell people that migrants are a problem enough and seek to reinforce their prejudices for your own political advantage and eventually an opportunity arises where they can act on it.  The referendum was that opportunity and as for the result and the increase in racist attack………  well you reap what you sow.

June 30, 2016 at 3:59 PM Leave a comment

Torture, the most evil man in Britain and Phillip K Dick

I have been meaning to get down to write this particular post for a couple of weeks but life intervened. I was reminded that I needed to get this issue of my chest when I saw that they were showing minority report on telly over the weekend.

This particular post was inspired by the news story that appeared last week in the press about three British men who have been held in Dubai for seven months without trial and who are alleged to have been tortured. This story not only hit the right-wing press in the form of the Daily Telegraph, Mail and Sky News, but caused such an impact that the Prime Minister David Cameron, quite rightly, pledged to raise their case with the President of the United Arab Emirates when he visits the UK. Despite this I am not convinced that these particular news organisations and the Prime Minster had seen the light and realised that Human Rights is a good thing. Why, because I can only compare their reaction to this story to the ongoing demonisation of the radical cleric Abu Qatada who is gaining the reputation of being the most evil man in Britain.

The most evil man in Britain

The most evil man in Britain

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not in the business of defending radical Islam and I will not be inviting Abu Qatada round to tea. As far as I am concerned, forget the religion, the bloke promotes a set of politics which are fascist. What concerns me is the use of this case by politicians and the press to undermine the most basic tenants of justice and human rights. Call me old-fashioned but I believe that nobody should be tortured into confession. It is both inhumane and only produces confessions not evidence of guilt. I also fervently believe that people should be treated as innocent until proven guilt and that if there are allegations against them they should be charged and tried in a court of law and their guilt or innocence decided by a jury.

The case of Abu Qatada and the British courts insistence in upholding a semblance of these principles has however resulted in the press and politicians working themselves into a frenzy blaming Europe and the Human Rights Act and claiming that but for them we would have been able to deport Qatada a long time ago. Theresa May has even gone so far as to talk about suspending the Human rights Act. In Qatada’s case it is beyond me why given the plethora of anti terrorism law, we do not seem to have enough evidence to try and convict him in a British Court of law, unless that is, a little fast and loose politics is also going on here. What has got lost in all the frenzy is the decision of the courts which has stated consistently that you can not send somebody to a country where evidence obtained by torture (and they accept that Qatada had been tortured) may be used against them. Now I believe what is good for the goose is good for the gander and if we have a concern about British citizens being tortured in other countries  and that evidence used against them as with the three men in Dubai then the same must apply to Qatada.

So where does Phillip K Dick come into all of this. Well I’m a bit of a science fiction buff and love the stories of Philip K Dick. True he was a drug crazed lunatic, who had some pretty dodgy politics. But the man did have a gift for writing stories that cut to the heart of many of the issues that concern us today. One such story is minority report (made into an atrocious film by Hollywood) which deals with the problems of prescience justice. The idea that you have a criminal justice system based on the idea that you detain people because they might commit a crime in the future. Something that I thought until a few years ago was the stuff of science fiction

Unfortunately in modern Britain this has became a reality especially in the context of the war against terror with men like Qatada being kept under house arrest because they are regarded as dangerous and therefore might commit a crime in the future. Now I know that there is risks associated with letting people you regard as known criminals roam free. However, the risk of enacting prescience justice and discarding other fundamental Human rights only succeeds in enhancing the power of the state to enact arbitary justice against what it regards as failed citizens. Having lived through the days of the use of the SUS laws against young black men because they were profiled as being likely to commit crime, I know first hand just how this can impact on lives.

Recently we have seen growth in the use of secret evidence and the introduction of legislation widening the use of secret courts. While many may think that we are safer from dangerous fundamentalist. Ultimately we are more at risk from arbitary justice by the state. Be warned

May 13, 2013 at 8:21 PM Leave a comment

The Price of Food and the disciplining of workers

When I was in my teens I lived in Kent and used to work on farms in the Summer to make a lot of money.  It was backbreaking work especially picking fruit or veg, very long hours and you could not get rich on the pay. As far as career choices go that experience taught me that agricultural labouring was to be avoided and that the various pronouncements that I heard my supposed betters make about the nobility of work were (excuse my french) crap.

When my children were small I was appalled to find out that many of their friends in primary school had no idea were food come from.  Virtually none of them new what kind of bean a baked bean was and most had no conception of how food was grown and produced.  More recently this has made me realise that then implications of this ignorance go wider than the debate about healthy eating. It has made the people who do this work invisible and allowed people to believe that we have a right to (supposedly) cheap food. What’s made their invisibility worse is that  alot of the workers are migrant workers, many of whom are, exploited undocumented workers. But hey I hear Daily Mail headlines scream, they’re illegal workers, scamming their way into Britain and therefore should not be regarded to as being our equals and be treated with dignity and respect, after all their criminals.  What does it matter of they put the food on our table.

Every time  I see a supermarket ad claiming that ex hundred amount of  food products are cheaper than their  rivals I wonder how many people watching  think about the people who slaved to provide it and know in my heart that its probably nobody.  I was consoled by the fact that agriculture was the last bastion where there was an institution that was charged with trying to ensure that agricultural workers were not super exploited by setting a minimum wage for the industry.  This was the agricultural wages board which the Government scrapped in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill last week.  This was despite accepting the evidence that this agricultural workers would lose about £240 million in pay over the next ten years. But who cares, their migrant workers, their invisible and they haven’t got a vote.  This is about scrapping unnecessary red tape to allow the already considerable profit margins of the food industry to grow.  After all in this modern civilised world we grow food to make money, not to feed people.

The only trouble is that if governments don’t protect the workers from super exploitation  than very horrible things happen.  This was the case in Greece late last week when 200 strawberry prickers, the majority of whom came from Bangladesh held a what they thought was going to be a peaceful protest over the fact that they hadn’t been paid for six months. Imagine their shock when their employers took exception to their  audacity and turned guns on them. 28 of the workers ended up getting shot and injured., mercifully none of them were killed.  So much for the  European Union, western civilisation, democracy and the rule of law.  That’s what’s happens when workers become invisible are demonized  because of their migration and  ethnicity as a result dehumanised and treated as outsiders.  I for one will be checking to see if my strawberry’s come from Greece, and if  I have to pay a little more  because they don’t, then I will gladly hand over the money in the hope that some of it might find its way into the hands of a worker who gets paid a semi decent wage and is treated with some respect for their role in getting those strawberry’s from the field into my hands

April 24, 2013 at 2:35 AM Leave a comment

Breaking the Silence

The politics of austerity have kept me busy over the past year. As a result I have not found the time to write a blog post for a year but I could not let this yesterday go past without making a comment. The significance of yesterday was that it was the funeral of Margaret Thatcher. An event which it is being estimated will cost this impoverished (sic) nation £10 million pounds.

Thatchers death has brought back many memories for me and other trade unionists that battled through the 80’s. Some of course are ecstatic about her death and see it as the end of an era. Others, me included believe that the time for celebration will be when we witness the death of her political legacy in the UK.

The Tories and the right wing press have used it as an excuse for a massive propaganda assault, extolling the virtues of Thatchers as a great prime minister and lauding her supposed single mindedness and political conviction, which they claim allowed her to push through the economic and societal changes that were needed. This includes extolling the virtues of and perpetuating the myth of thatcherism to underpin their current assault on working class communities and wholesale appropriation of the public purse.

For my part I do not believe that there is such a thing as Thatchersim. What we witnessed from her government was the first European example of Hayek’s neo-liberal project. The project of unfettered corporate capitalism, suppression of workers rights, free reign to use public assets to create profit for private interests and authoritarian government that acts on behalf of corporations instead of the electorate. These are all features of the neo-colonisalism that has been practiced in the global south since the end of the second world war, either through the world bank, global trade agreements or failing these, the installation ot backing of military/fascist dictators.

So for me the death of Thatcher is not significant because she was not a significant figure, just one of the many the we have had to fight against and will continue to face in the fight for justice and freedom from economic and political exploitation.

April 24, 2013 at 1:45 AM Leave a comment

What Price Justice?

Bizarrely, the Conservative/Liberal Coalition believe that doing away with regulation will result in more employment opportunities for ordinary people, or that’s what they say. This was the driving force behind the Red tape challenge which was designed to draw people into the process of deciding which rules and regulations should be scrapped.

 However the reality is that the government are not committed to  doing away with all regulation, but just those rules protect workers. They are of course happy to introduce regulations that advantage employers. As David Cameron stated in his introduction to the Red tape challenge “these regulations cost businesses time and money”.

 What such initiatives as the Red Tape challenge expose is the ideological basis on which this Government is operating. The belief that the market can solve all problems and that rules to make employers behave decently are unnecessary because, as pro free market theorists espouse, treating workers badly is not a rational way to build a successful business. They also believe that workers do not need to be protected from employers and if they do suffer injustice at work then it is their responsibility as individuals to solve the problem. Of course there is no recognition that some employers can be exploitative, discriminatory and just plan nasty. It is therefore no surprise that the system that gives workers access to seek legal redress is now under assault.

 Employment Tribunals and Employment Appeals Tribunals were originally established as a semi formal system where workers could get access to justice easily and quickly without having to resort to the expensive route of civil litigation through the magistrates and high courts. Unfortunately over the last thirty years, driven by market philosophies, successive Governments made the system increasingly formal and more difficult to access in a drive to save money and keep employers happy. With the extension of the free market into all areas of our lives justice increasingly has a price tag.

 Under the guise of austerity the latest assault on workers ability to seek justice through the tribunal system has come in the form of proposals from the Government to introduce fees in order to access industrial tribunals. The Government has come up with two charging options.

In option one; a claimant will pay an initial fee of £150-£250 to begin a claim, with an additional fee of £250-£1,250 if the claim goes to a hearing, with no limit to the maximum award. The second option requires claimants to pay a single fee of £200-£600, with the maximum award limited to £30,000. Claimants seeking a higher award will pay an additional fee of £1,750, paying up to £2,350 in total.

 In proposing these changes the government is relying on contradictory arguments that are not backed up by evidence. Jonathan Djanogly MP – the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Justice opened his justification for these proposals in the governments consultation document by arguing that they are confronting the structural barriers that impede competitiveness, employer confidence and hinder the creation of jobs. He went on to identify cost and employer attitudes as major influences for proposing these reforms.

 In putting forward arguments about cost the government has conveniently forgotten that the role of Industrial tribunals was expanded from their original remit of dealing with training levy disputes to other areas of worker/employer dispute as a way to provide an alternative route for workers to deal with grievances at work. With civil litigation being too costly for ordinary workers the only alternative was industrial action and with the number of working days lost through strikes reaching an all time high of 12.9 million in the 1970’s it was seen as prudent to provide a less costly way of settling employer/worker disputes.

 What is worse is the government’s reliance on the nonsensical views of employers, many of which have no basis in the reality of what takes place in the Employment Tribunal system. The government has accepted the employer’s favorite argument that Employment Tribunals are hostile to them and likely to find in favour of workers complaints without challenge. In reality in 2010/11 only 8% of unfair dismissal cases were successful and when it comes to equality the likelihood of success is even more marginal with the number of successful cases dropping from 7% in 2009/10 to 3% in 2010/11. Alongside this employer assertions that workers submit tribunal claims in claims to at the drop of a hat are treated seriously but, according to the Governments’ own figures only 218,100 claims were registered in 2010/11 which is less that 0.8% of workers given that the UK workforce numbers 29 millions.

 For Black workers, these proposals will further undermine their chances of obtaining justice through the Employment Tribunal system. Firstly, because in the proposals for option 1 the government is arguing that equality cases should attract a higher fee because they take more time and are therefore more expensive. This in effect will have a directly disproportionate effect on black workers and other minority groups as claiming discrimination will be more expensive. Secondly, because option 2 proposes the introduction of a £30,000 threshold and cap for compensation and a proposal that Employment Tribunals are prevented from making an award of £30,000 or more if the claimant does not pay the higher level fee. In practice this will this be the equivalent of a cap for compensation in higher value discrimination cases.

 The government is seeking to present this as a fair system by using the cover of proposals for a remission system. Applicants would be entitled to claim back some or all of the fees depending on their level of household income. However in proposing a remission system the government have fail to take into account that the time limits for filing claims with an Employment Tribunal are shorter than for many other legal proceedings and that it will be difficult to operate the complex fees and remission scheme in time. There would therefore be significant risks that claimants will be unjustifiably barred from an Employment Tribunal.

 Governments claim that a remissions policy will ensure claimants on low incomes will be able access to justice are misplaced and do not bear scrutiny. Many workers will not want to give detailed financial information about their household to their trade union or anybody else in order to claim remission. Also in reality many will have to initially pay the fees in order to access the tribunal because there will not be time to complete the remission procedures before the tribunal claim has to be submitted. Research commissioned by the TUC also suggests that a significant proportion of claimants who are paid at NMW and living wage rates will still be required to pay fees. Even the governments own figure suggest that 36% people who are part of households where the national minimum wage is paid will not be entitled to remission.

The government’s initial equality impact assessment does not deny that this is likely to have an impact on disadvantage groups but argues that it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, i.e. saving money and that the remissions system will protect access to justice for those on low means and argument that the TUC rejects.

For black workers, the effect of the introduction of fees along with the government’s recent decision to lengthen the qualifying period before unfair dismissal can be claimed will make the prospect of dealing with racial discrimination in the workplace through claims to an Employment Tribunal even more difficult. Currently 18.7% of black workers miss out unfair dismissal rights because they have less than 12 months service. This will rise to 32% of all Black workers have less than 2 years service with their current employer compared to 25% white from 6 April 2012 when the Government lengthens the qualifying period for making a claim of unfair dismissal to the employment tribunal from one to two years.

 The introduction of market mechanisms to regulate the ability of workers to access justice is after all no surprise when considering that governments attitude to the unemployed is that they are feckless and lazy and who believe that the low paid should be grateful for having a job. Black workers should not be surprised by the fact that the government are in effect erecting barriers to protect employers and that they are not concerned by the disproportionate impact that this will have on dealing with race discrimination in the workplace. Eric Pickles recently published race equality strategy quaintly entitled “Creating the Conditions for Integration” spoke volumes about the Government’s view of black communities when it omitted tackling discrimination as one of the five key factors on which their integration strategy is based.

These changes are part of a concerted attack on the individual and collective rights of workers. They are a clear indication that black workers cannot look to government or rely on the law to deal with the problems they face. More than ever black workers need to collectively organise within the trade union movement to deal with the systemic discrimination meted out by employers as the price for justice and equality through the courts is becoming out of reach.

March 6, 2012 at 3:56 PM Leave a comment

The Great Pension Robbery

Wednesday 30th November 2011 will see the largest set of co-ordinated industrial action by trade unions in a generation over the Government’s proposals to change public sector pension schemes on the basis that the public purse can no longer afford them.

In the past pensions have not been burning issues for members of black communities who have been struggling against racism. This has partly been because the number of black workers in the UK black community at pensionable age has been relatively small and for younger workers the need to plan financial security in their old age is not at the forefront of their minds. However a recent report by the Runnymede Trust demonstrated that this is rapidly changing and forecasted an increase in the number of Black people over 65 (in England and Wales) from 230,000 in 2001 to 2.7 million by 2051.

More recently however debates at the TUC Black Workers’ Conference and increased involvement of black workers in the recent industrial action show that this is becoming an important issue. This interest is not just because a larger proportion of the black population are getting older, but also because in the public sector where significant numbers of Black workers have gained employment the public sector pension schemes paid into over the length of their working lives are now under attack.

The current attack on pensions is nothing new. Back in the 1980s Margaret Thatcher’s Government, keen to help their friends in the city develop a financial services industry, went on a charm offensive to persuade public sector workers to move their pensions from secure final salary schemes to personal pension plans. What they didn’t say was that a personal pension plan costs lot more because of administration cost and that the value of your final pension would be dictated by how well the stock market was doing at the point of retirement. They also failed to warn those that left pension schemes that the sales patter fed them by banks and insurance agents that they would get a better pension on retirement was lies. Unsurprisingly by the end of the 1990s it was discovered that thousands of public sector employees had been mis-sold personal pension plans. Many firms that were involved in this scam went out of business to avoid having to pay compensation to the victims and it was left to the taxpayer in the form of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme to pick up the tab.

Attacks on private sector defined benefit (final salary or career average) schemes came in the 1990s when employers decided that they would prefer not just to take pension holidays by not paying the employer’s contribution into company pension schemes, but not have schemes at all and force workers, at least those that could afford it, to rely on personal pension plans bought from financial services companies, unless of course you were a top executive. This little trick was accomplished by asking financial actuaries in the city to change the way that they calculated the long term values of pension funds investments. The calculation was changed to calculate the risk of the funds over a much shorter period and based on investment values just after there had been stock market crash.

Not surprisingly the result was that what had been once financially viable pension funds were found to have large pension gaps as the assets in the schemes were drastically downgraded and liabilities increased. This of course provided employers with the excuse to either close pension final salary pension schemes to new employers or close them down completely thus devastating pension provision for ordinary workers in the private sector.

With pension provision in the private sector devastated the current Government has turned its attention to the public sector where workers are accused of having the benefit of gold plated pension schemes. This is despite the fact that roughly half of public service pensioners receive less than £5,600 a year. Recent changes to the public sector pension schemes since the coalition Government came into power mean that those in public services are already paying a 3% increase in their contributions and seeing the value of their pensions drop because index rating of pensions has been moved from the retail price index to the consumer price index, which will mean smaller annual pension rises.

This means that members in public services are already paying more for less, but the Government is not stopping there. Future proposals for changes to the schemes include:

• Increased contributions – by 50% or more

• Raised Retirement Age – to 66 for those over 42, 67 for those between 34 and  42 and to 68 for those under 34

• Replacement of final salary schemes with career average – less money for our • retirement.

These changes are likely to make being in the pension scheme, if you work for public services, prohibitively expensive and result in many current workers opting out of their current pension schemes and future workers not joining the schemes.

Public sector unions are quite rightly vigorously campaigning against this outrageous robbery. Pensions are deferred payment for old age in terms of the workers’ contribution and the employer’s contribution. The fact that the Government believes like their friends in the private sector that they are entitled to renege on schemes that workers rely on for their retirement is outrageous.

For the Black community the context for the current attacks on public sector pensions is one in which many Black people endure pensioner poverty and where the number of older Black people is growing rapidly. Runnymede’s recent report, Ready for Retirement?, shows that people from all Black backgrounds are more likely to experience pensioner poverty than the wider population. Statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that half of older Pakistani and Bangladeshi people live in poverty, as do almost a third of Indians and African Caribbeans, in comparison to one in six older people overall. Black people are also more likely to experience poverty before retirement. For example, 65 per cent of Bangladeshi people live in poverty, compared to 20 per cent of white people (DWP figures). There is, therefore, huge risk that many in the growing population of older Black people will have insufficient income to maintain a decent standard of living.

Many young black workers who work in the service industries such as finance, media, IT or the arts and don’t understand the importance of pensions do not have access to a decent occupational pension scheme. Many others who work for agencies, in call centres or doing temporary work are not covered by occupational pension schemes. For women, not having access to an occupational pension scheme to supplement their state pension is disastrous. They already suffer because of career breaks to raise children and make up an overwhelming proportion of those that work part time. Recent research revealed that women lose out both ways as they often fail to pay enough contributions to receive a full state old age pension. As a result 16% of newly retired women have a full basic state pension as against 78% men. Luckily many black workers are relatively young compared to the population as a whole with 32.39 per cent in the 22–44 age group and 15.18 per cent in the 45–64 age group. This means that the spectre of mass pensioner poverty in black communities is some way off. However in 20 – 30 years there will be a tenfold increase in numbers of pensioners in the black communities and if we do not wake up to the realities of old age then our communities will be heading for a disaster. Those that believe that culturally we will be alright because younger relatives will look after us, or that they will go back home where it’s cheaper to live are deluding themselves. If we are to avoid the scenario of black pensioners dying because they haven’t got enough money to keep their houses warm or eat decent meals then action is needed now.

It is not an issue that can be left to others outside our community to campaign on. If we want to rectify the historic disadvantage that is faced by black pensioners, have access to decent occupational pensions and ensure that there is an adequate basic pension provision for our retirement then we have wake up to this issue now. We need to educate communities about pension issues, get involved in the union campaigns and industrial action to defend public sector pensions and fight to secure occupational pensions for all. This is not a choice, we can’t afford not to.

November 29, 2011 at 7:20 PM Leave a comment

The Anti Rascist festival – Now and Then

A couple of weekends ago over 3,000 people enjoyed the anti racist UpRise festival which was heavily sponsored by trade unions took place on the streets of Dalston in Hackney. The festival emanated from the Rise (formerly RESPECT) festival that was originated by the TUC in 1996/97 and revived by the Mayor of London in 2001. UpRise has been organised for the last two years by a small group of community activists and was a response to the current Mayor deciding that an anti racist festival was not something that was needed. This year’s festival called ‘Community is Home’ was a development of the idea that UpRise is a festival for the community put on by the community and more in keeping with the tradition of the anti-racist festival which started with the historic Rock Against Racism festival in 1978 an event I will never forget.

The date was 30th April 1978 the place was Victoria Park Hackney, the event a free all music festival and amazingly by the early afternoon what threatened to be a washout turned into a warm sunny afternoon. The crowd had come from all over the UK with over 40 coaches coming from Glasgow a trainload of people from Manchester and at least 15 coaches from Sheffield. I was 19 at the time and had got involved in Rock against Racism through some friends of mine. We formed a group in Islington and I then got involved with helping to organise the Victoria Park event. I had a great view of the crowd and the stage as I was in put in charge of the press phgotographers.

A music festival was not something unusual but his festival was truly unique as its purpose was to promote anti racism. Organised under the slogan of Black and White Unite and Fight the event was put together by Rock against Racism a grassroots organisation that had emerged two years before in response to Eric Clapton’s declaration at a gig at the Birmingham Odeon that we should send them all back and that Enoch Powell was a prophet who was needed to keep Britain white.

Local Rock against Racism groups had emerged all over the country putting on gigs in pubs and small local venues and a magazine called Temporary Hoardings had been established and the distinctive Rock against Racism star was to be seen on badges of all kinds of young people. Central to the philosophy of the movement was that there is more that unites than divides us. Gigs were organised on the basis of music that reflected the emerging rebel youth cultures of both black and white youth at the time, punk and reggae, with the express intent of attracting mixed audiences.

The Victoria Park festival was organised partly in response to the rising electoral success of the National Front who and more generally to put anti-racism on the map as an integral part of youth culture. It was preceded by a march organised by the Anti Nazi leagues which assembled at Trafalgar Square and made its way to Victoria Park.

When the event kicked off there was a lot of apprehension about whether enough people would come to fill the area we had been given in Victoria Park. There were only about 100 people in the park at the time and although we knew there were 10,000 people on the march it was important that this festival was successful if our aim to put Rock against Racism on the map nationally was to succeed. In the event we should not have worried, by the early evening 80,000 people had gathered in the Park, Rasta’s, skinhead’s Punks, Hippies people from every walk of life, to listen to the music and to affirm the message opposing racism and fascism.

This was a landmark event it established anti racism as part of British youth culture, brought together black and white music in a way that had not happened before a paved the way for a tradition of anti racism and anti fascist events with popular music at their heart.

For me the main lesson is that ordinary people inspired by a just cause can achieve anything and that the need for black and white youth and communities to unite to fight the twin evils of racism and fascism that pervades our communities is need as much now as it was in 1978. I for one am delighted that UpRise is carrying on that tradition.

October 3, 2011 at 2:54 PM Leave a comment

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