Fighting racism in Newcastle

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Far from being a city of sanctuary as the Newcastle Labour council likes to claim, it is a city where

  • immigration raids regularly take place in predominantly migrant-owned businesses, targeting migrant workers with irregular immigration status;

  • asylum seekers frequently have their front doors kicked in during the early hours of the morning to be bundled into immigration vans and then imprisoned or deported;

  • the same asylum seekers are forced to live in privatised, severely overcrowded housing, with leaking ceilings, broken boilers and cookers and bed bug infestation, and are often tagged and put on curfew by the Home Office.

However, this repression has bred resistance, and migrants, asylum seekers and other working class people in Newcastle have joined forces to fight back. They face not just state racism, but the forces of the opportunist left, which in the guise of the SWP censors the views of migrants and seeks to restrict the fight against racism to a shouting match with the EDL.

On 12 August, supporters of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! North East joined a Newcastle protest against Home Office-imposed tags and curfews on asylum seekers. The protest was organised by the Migration and Asylum Justice Forum (MAJF) in support of Jalloh, one of its members who had been put on a curfew by the Home Office and is pursuing justice through the High Court. The Court of Appeals ruled in May 2016 that such curfews were unlawful. MAJF opposes both tagging and curfews on the grounds that, as part of Britain's racist immigration laws, they are used to monitor and restrict the freedom of movement of migrants.

Dozens of people attended the demonstration. However, the English Defence League (EDL) had organised a counter-mobilisation to make political gains out of recent convictions in Newcastle of a grooming gang, and constantly harassed MAJF supporters. In response, MAJF protesters sought help from the local Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) who were holding a nearby stall with Newcastle Labour councillor Mick Bowman, along with a group of SWP members. MAJF appeals were rejected, with the SWP claiming that FRFI were causing disunity on the left.

However, after a period of time, it became apparent to the PSC and the SWP that their stance was untenable, and they joined the MAJF demonstration. However, rather than support MAJF, the SWP members in particular tried to turn it into a political circus by engaging in a shouting match with the EDL, with continuous chants of ‘Nazi scum’. When Jalloh, the victim of unlawful curfew, tried to use the open mic to speak about state racism and immigration detention, Daniel Kebede, a leading member of Newcastle SWP, complained that he shouldn't be talking about such issues and concentrate only on the EDL.

In response to the success of the Migration Forum protest, the SWP called a protest a week later on 19 August in order to reframe anti-racist action in Newcastle as purely anti-EDL. Its concept of protest was politically utterly backward and opportunist. For more than an hour from its start at 12pm, the event involved blasting out Bob Marley with no speeches whatsoever. FRFI supporters spoke to the SWP, arguing that a lot of people had turned out (about 100), and that there were migrants who wanted to speak about their experiences, so when were there going to be any speeches? The SWP responded that the EDL were due to show up at 1pm and so they weren't going to start any speeches until then. Jalloh and a woman migrant, both MAJF members who have experienced the unrelenting racism of the British immigration system, had to argue with the SWP and Shumel Rahman, leading member of Newcastle Unites, for their right to speak at the rally. Shumel told a woman migrant that she could speak, but only about rape, and he told Jalloh he could speak for a mere 30 seconds, and only about the EDL. Both ignored these restrictions, and emphasised the need to strike racism at its roots in the British state. In the end the EDL did not bother to show up. The SWP claimed that there was the odd EDL member on the fringes whom they had scared off and at 1.30pm, unilaterally ended the protest.

The SWP and its Labour allies are determined to prevent any serious action against the racism of the British government, media, police, armed forces and businesses like G4S and Jomast. On two successive weekends they have shown complete contempt for migrants who have suffered such racism. They would not allow any mention of the role played by Labour politicians in reinforcing state racism: people like Sarah Champion, until recently Labour minister for women and equalities, who used The Sun to declare that ‘Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls... These people are predators and the common denominator is their ethnic heritage.’ Their position is completely reactionary. MAJF will continue to fight state racism in Newcastle, and will not tolerate any censorship of its views and activities by either the Labour Party or the SWP.

Newcastle RCG

North East Events coming up..

We have street actions and political educational meetings in Newcastle every week – for details call 07858346276 or email frfinortheast@gmail.com

For more information on events in the North East you can also join the FRFI North East e-mail list and the mailing lists of campaigns we are involved in on the following pages:

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! North East:
https://lists.riseup.net/www/subscribe/frfinortheast

Tyneside Community Action Against Racism:
https://lists.riseup.net/www/subscribe/tcar

Palestine Action Group:
https://lists.riseup.net/www/subscribe/palestineactiongroup

Viva Cuba! Rock Around The Blockade:
https://lists.riseup.net/www/subscribe/ratbnortheast

or add us on Facebook.com/FRFInortheast

Contact North East FRFI

078 5834 6276
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