- Created: Friday, 01 June 2018 14:30
- Written by Sam Mcgill
Local people in the Consett area of County Durham and environmental campaigners from far and wide have launched a spirited campaign against open-cast mining on their doorstep.
Local people in the Consett area of County Durham and environmental campaigners from far and wide have launched a spirited campaign against open-cast mining on their doorstep.
On 23 March, the Migration and Asylum Justice Forum (MAJF), which is supported by Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! North East demonstrated outside the tribunal where Home Office housing subcontractor Jomast were challenging a number of Environmental Health orders issued against them by Newcastle City Council over conditions in asylum housing. The campaign ensured the issue of overcrowding and unfit conditions in Jomast properties came to national prominence with coverage in The Independent. We also got a chance to challenge Jomast owner Stuart Monk (wealth in excess of £185m) as he left the tribunal.
On 17 February, some 600 fascists led by Veterans against Terrorism (VAT) marched through Newcastle city centre. While Newcastle has been a frequent venue for such racist demonstrations over the years, this occasion saw the smallest mobilisation ever of anti-fascist forces, and one which was dominated by reactionary Labour Party politics.
The fascists paraded under a plethora of banners: Football Lads Alliance, People’s Charter, Gays Against Extremism, Multiracial Alliance Tackling Extremism and Mothers Against Radical Islam And Sharia, mostly fronts for the English Defence League (EDL).
Victory! Following public pressure from the Migration and Asylum Justice Forum (MAJF) including FRFI supporters, Newcastle City Council has begun to take legal enforcement action against private housing and construction company JOMAST for breaking overcrowding regulations under section 139 of the Housing Act 2004. Hiding behind outdated housing law, JOMAST expect unrelated same sex adults to share bedrooms and cram multiple families into flats and hostels. Months of consistent protests, collecting testimonies and documenting asylum housing conditions have begun to yield results: several JOMAST residents have now been given their own bedroom after pressure from the campaign led to properties being inspected by Newcastle city council. This victory shows that asylum seekers and their supporters can organise to improve housing conditions.
The Home Office has contracted out the provision of housing for asylum seekers to the notorious G4S, which in turn has subcontracted private company JOMAST in the north east. JOMAST is making a fortune for housing people in run down, overcrowded accommodation. Newcastle City Council passed a policy against forced bedroom sharing in March 2017 but JOMAST ignored this. In response, MAJF rallied at the council in June to highlight the continued practice and demand the policy be enforced. Cabinet member Councillor Kilgour committed the council to 'inspect and if necessary take appropriate action in cases of forced room sharing against the wishes of the occupants'. Taking up this commitment, MAJF has knocked on doors and leafleted drop-in centres and has supported scores of residents to complain, leading to several victories. The campaign is calling on other councils to take similar action.
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.
Your Homes Newcastle (YHN) - the Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO) that runs Newcastle council’s housing stock - have been caught lying by their residents. Following the Grenfell fire, YHN issued letters to tower block residents claiming that they have smoke detectors installed in the communal areas of their blocks and self-opening windows at the top of every stairwell. In many instances, residents have neither of these things. The letters also claimed that children have not been housed in tower blocks 'since the turn of the century'. This prompted young mothers and other angry residents to take action, demanding YHN retroactively fit sprinklers in all of their blocks and address other fire safety concerns, which include badly fitted fire doors, bin chutes and sufficient evacuation procedures for young families, disabled and elderly residents.
On Saturday 24 June, the North East branch of the Revolutionary Communist Group hosted a successful speak out in Newcastle city centre to demand housing that is habitable, safe and affordable for working class people.
Our demands were for ending forced room sharing in migrant housing, for more housing at social rent in Newcastle, and for an end to the racist ‘right to rent’ scheme, which discriminates against black and migrant people seeking to rent accommodation. We were joined by local housing campaigners who live in Your Homes Newcastle accommodation, a property management service which administers council housing.
In recent months the Migration and Asylum Justice Forum has been working hard to expose the conditions faced by asylum seekers housed by Jomast under the Home Office COMPASS contracts. Following a protest at Jomast’s local offices, press coverage and complaints to the housing and environmental health departments of Newcastle council, the campaign won the right to address representatives of G4S and Jomast directly. Following the meeting the campaign released this statement:
‘Sharon Holmes (G4S Head of business services), Juliet Halstead (G4S Head of housing), Charlie Cleverly (G4S Head of technical services), and Stuart Monk (CEO of Jomast), who has personal wealth of £175 million, met with representatives of the Migration Asylum Justice Forum on 22 May. Eight current Jomast tenants spoke about the problems they have been facing, including bedbugs, cramped conditions in the mother and baby hostels, issues with reporting repairs and getting them fixed, room sharing and being moved without sufficient notice. We have won some commitments to resolve specific problems and improve the reporting system for repairs. However, we know it is an uphill battle and the accommodation conditions will need continued monitoring by tenants and their supporters.
Newcastle Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! activists have been campaigning with the Migration and Asylum Justice Forum to demand decent housing for asylum seekers, exposing the despicable conditions of housing provided by Jomast under the private COMPASS contract. In 2012, notorious subcontractor G4S won a big chunk of the Home Office contract to provide housing for those waiting for asylum case decisions. Across the north east, G4S has sub-contracted this service to property developer Jomast, whose tycoon owner Stuart Monk is worth an estimated £175 million.
On Saturday 25th March 2017, supporters of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! North East joined the Durham teaching assistants’ march to defend their wages and contracts. The teaching assistants have been engaged in a heroic 18 month struggle against Durham Labour council who, in 2016, voted unanimously in favour of cutting wages by 23%. The campaign has forced the council (who were due to be sacking the workers and rehiring them on the new contracts on 1st January) to temporarily back down and go back to the negotiating table.
On the 21st of January, a speak-out was organised by the Migration and Asylum Justice Forum (MAJF) as part of the two weeks of action organised by Movement for Justice By Any Means Necessary. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! (FRFI) supporters are affiliated with MAJF and this speak out was seen as a good opportunity to campaign together against the secret mass deportations on chartered flights to countries such as Nigeria and Jamaica.
On 14 September Newcastle Unites - a coalition between the Labour Party and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) - published a statement on their Facebook page banning the Socialist Party (SP) from attending a forthcoming demonstration against the racist English Defence League (EDL) on the grounds that an SP member is secretly affiliated to the British National Party. Newcastle Unites has published no evidence to support its claim, and until the SP says otherwise, we assume that it has either taken action against the member, or cleared him of the allegation. In these circumstances, we condemn the ban of the SP as both sectarian and anti-democratic.
On Saturday 6th August supporters of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! North East held a picket of the Byron Burgers restaurant in Newcastle. The picket was against the recent immigration raids, which Byron and the Home Office orchestrated, when Byron workers were pounced upon by immigration police in a phoney health and safety meeting called by Byron, and subsequently 35 workers have been arrested and deported.
On Saturday 25 June, two days after the EU referendum, the Migration and Asylum Justice Forum marched through Newcastle against the racist 2016 Immigration Act. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! North East is centrally involved in the Forum and played a key role in organising the demonstration. Anti-racist and migrant-led organisations from all over the country joined the Forum’s protest: the Edinburgh Migrant Solidarity Network, Manchester Migrant Solidarity and the South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group from Sheffield, the Newcastle-based Angelou Centre, Beyond Borders, Keep Our NHS Public, Amnesty International and Peace of Mind, as well as supporters of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle and Nottingham.
The Immigration Act is intended to deepen the oppression of migrants from outside the EU, making it even easier for the government to deport them, restrict their access to jobs, health services and housing, and increase powers of surveillance with immigration checks ordered at every level of society. The purpose of this is to force migrants into accepting super-exploited, casualised, poverty pay jobs. With the post-Brexit rise in xenophobia and racism, now is the time to redouble our efforts in the fight against state racism, and, despite EDL threats, we went out onto the streets confidently, loudly and defiantly marching down the roads and stopping traffic from the heart of Newcastle's West End, a working class community, home to many migrants and black people who will be subject to the Immigration Act.
Statement from Revolutionary Communist Group/Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! North East (a member of the Migration and Asylum Justice Forum)
On Saturday 25th June, the Migration and Asylum Justice Forum will march in Newcastle upon Tyne against the racist 2016 Immigration Act. We will assemble at 12pm at the top of Stanhope Street, NE4 (intersection with Dilston Road) and march to Grey’s Monument for a rally. There are anti-racist and migrant-led organisations and individuals travelling to Newcastle to march with us from Sheffield, Manchester, Edinburgh, Teesside, Sunderland and Gateshead.
The British state has the power to impoverish, incarcerate and murder migrants and black people on a daily basis. The Immigration Act intensifies this government repression in order to intensify the hostile environment for migrants. We are clear: state racism is the principle threat to migrants and black people in Britain. We urge all committed anti-racists to march with us on 25 June to oppose this racist Act.
On Wednesday, 2 March, Newcastle Labour council will vote on its next cuts budget. Another £30m will be cut from the city’s public services, bringing the total to £220m since 2010 - £785 per person living in the city. The list of proposed cuts is the stuff of nightmare.
The North East as a region has the highest suicide rate in England and is second to Wales for Britain. There were 13.8 suicides per 100,000 people in the North East in 2013, compared to a London rate of 7.9 per 100,000. The council’s proposed cuts strip away support on an inordinate level. 100% of ‘non-statutory’ mental health services are to be cut. With nothing left to cut, they go further: the mental health recovery team will cease to function unless alternative funding can be found, 21% will be cut from adult social care and 28% will be cut from care in the home services.
Alongside this, the council will begin its assault on the elderly. In September, 2015, Newcastle Labour council leader Nick Forbes stated, ‘We are at a dangerous time for the city, where the next round of spending cuts risk being so severe they could undo decades worth of work helping the disadvantaged and the elderly.’ He wasn’t lying. Preventative services for the elderly - for example, the council providing a handyman to repair items in the home - will cease entirely. Lunch clubs for the elderly will be cut by a third. Byker Lodge - a 20 bed dementia care home - will close. No discussion as to the fate of its residents has been made public.
And still, the budget goes on. Libraries across the cities will face a reduction in opening hours of over half: from 400 hours per week to 181 hours. The assault on the city's leisure services, which resulted in the closure of Elswick pool last year, is set to continue: Newburn Leisure centre and Kenton Park Sports centre will both face a reduction in support, amounting to a total cut of £145,000.
Family and women’s services will suffer dire blows. Presently, the council partially funds domestic violence services, in partnership with volunteer-led services. Its contribution, which amounts to £20,000, will cease: a 100% cut. All childcare available in statutory homeless accommodation will be cut. The council will introduce a charging policy where it does provide childcare. This is on top of cuts to Sure Start of 65%, agreed in 2014.
The list does not end here. Cuts will also be made to learning disability services (3%), early help and inclusion services (61%), youth services (22%) and the education service Connexions (13%). Public museums will be gutted, their pieces sold to the highest bidder. 240 jobs will be lost. To top it all off, council tax will increase by 3.9%.
On Saturday 19 December, Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! supporters in Newcastle attended a march organised by Stop the War Coalition against British airstrikes in Syria. Around 100 people assembled at the city’s Centre for Life and proceeded through the city, to Grey’s Monument. FRFI led chants of ‘Hands off Syria!’ and ‘1, 2, 3, 4, we don’t want your bloody war! 5, 6, 7, 8, Britain is a racist state!’ Once at Monument the demonstrators were addressed by speakers representing various organisations and trade unions.
On Tuesday 1 December, supporters of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! North East joined the rally called by Newcastle Stop the War Coalition against Britain bombing Syria. In a great show of strength hundreds of people joined the rally in the city centre of Newcastle. There was a lot of anger and a lot of energy for taking further action.
After only 45 minutes, Tony Dowling, leading member of Stop the War attempted to halt the protest. Given the energy of the protesters, FRFI supporters insisted it should continue. A clear division emerged as Dowling not only wanted to limit the duration of the protest, but also decided he should defend Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to allow Labour MPs a free vote on airstrikes. We argued that Corbyn had effectively placed Labour unity before the need to oppose imperialist war. We were met initially with hostility from staunch Labour supporters but quickly were able to keep the protest going with the help of all of the people who did not want to call it a day, and who could see through the deceit of Labour Party apologists. We set up an open mic for everyone, and many of the protesters used it.
On 12 September 2015 supporters of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! joined hundreds of people on the ‘Newcastle Welcomes Refugees’ march. This was part of a national day of action in response to the on-going crisis faced by refugees and migrants across Europe.
FRFI supported the demands of migrants in Calais to open the borders and to grant safe and legal passage to Britain, and called for an end to deportations and the closure of all immigration prisons. A leaflet with the text below was distributed:
On Saturday 22 August, over 30 local residents came to a meeting in Elswick pool. The meeting was organized by local activists, Parents Against Cuts and FRFI supporters to discuss the planned closure of the pool in late October. At time of writing, an online petition to save the pool, launched earlier in the week, has over 2,100 signatures. Many residents have commented that this is one of the last remaining facilities in Elswick, one of the poorest areas of the city. Meanwhile the council has recently announced plans for a £45 million refurbishment of its own offices in the Civic Centre.
On Monday 15 June, over 100 people marched in North Shields, North East England, to demand justice and dignity for refugees and asylum seekers. The protest was organised by Beyond Borders and was supported by several other organisations.
Protesters held an open microphone and chanted 'Justice for immigrants! Freedom for refugees!' as they went from the metro station through North Shields. Although met by a counter-protest of half a dozen racist thugs from the English Defence Leafue, the mood was high. After an hour, the march arrived at the Home Office Immigration Reporting Centre and held a rally. A march organised by Sunderland City of Sanctuary met us at the centre, having walked the 13 miles from Sunderland. The reporting centre is place of fear for many asylum seekers, with reports of frequent racism, intimidation and harassment when they go to sign. Immigration enforcement teams operate from the centre to snatch migrants and take them into detention or to be deported. But on Monday the mood was one of anger and defiance.
On Saturday 28 March Palestine Action Group (PAG) and local supporters of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! (FRFI) picketed Marks & Spencer in Newcastle city centre in solidarity with Palestinian resistance and against British support for apartheid Israel. M&S is Britain’s biggest corporate sponsor of the Zionist settler-state and a company that supports the occupation and colonisation of Palestine ideologically as well as economically. Their economic support alone amounts to an estimated £250m worth of trade each year.
On Saturday 21st February supporters of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! (FRFI) in Newcastle joined Parents Against Cuts for a lively city-centre protest against cuts to SureStart and family services – taking their message of ‘No cuts to SureStart – No cuts at all!’ to the streets and holding a ‘People’s Referendum’ on austerity. Below we reproduce a report of the event from Parents Against Cuts:
Labour Council Leader Nick Forbes claims that the Parents Against Cuts campaign, which is fighting the proposed cuts to Sure Start children's centres in Newcastle upon Tyne, is a front for the 'Revolutionary Communist Party' (RCP) ('Cuts, cuts and more cuts', Evening Chronicle 18 December 2014). Given that the RCP was disbanded in 1997, we assume Forbes is referring to the Revolutionary Communist Group. We are proud to be part of Parents Against Cuts, but Newcastle parents didn't need us to tell them to organise a campaign: they understand the devastating impact these cuts will have on their families, and they know that determined resistance is their only chance of stopping them. It seems that Nick Forbes is getting desperate and is trying to split the campaign. What he is really afraid of is any working class opposition to the cuts he is implementing – but as a Labour politician he cannot say people are wrong to oppose the cuts without looking ridiculous, so he concentrates his fire on communists. We will continue to support campaigns like Parents Against Cuts that are building genuine resistance to austerity and encourage others to do so.
Revolutionary Communist Group, Newcastle branch
The Parents Against Cuts campaign confronts Newcastle's Labour Council Leader Nick Forbes
On Friday 12 December Parents Against Cuts and supporters of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! (FRFI) in Newcastle confronted Labour Council Leader Nick Forbes as he spoke at a ticket-only event organised by The Northern Correspondent magazine. Taking the meeting entirely by surprise, the campaign arrived, banners-in-hand, took to the stage and proceeded to question the Council Leader on the proposed cuts to Sure Start and family services.
On 27 November 2014 Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! (FRFI) supporters in Newcastle joined with local residents alongside Anarchist Federation, SolFed, Socialist Party and other activists in opposing an attempt by Newcastle’s Labour council to evict a local man with disabilities from his home for bedroom tax arrears.
On Saturday 25 October Parents Against Cuts and supporters of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! (FRFI) in Newcastle gathered outside the councillor surgery of Labour Council Leader Nick Forbes for a lively protest against cuts to Sure Start and family services.
On Saturday 11 October supporters of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! picketed outside Marks & Spencer on Northumberland Street, Newcastle. M&S is Britain’s biggest corporate sponsor of Israel and a company that supports the occupation and colonisation of Palestine ideologically as well as economically. Their economic support alone amounts to an estimated £250m worth of trade each year.
In Newcastle FRFI supporters have played a central role in building the Parents Against Cuts campaign to challenge council plans to cut Sure Start children’s services by 65%. Sure Start was set up by a Labour government as part of an attempt to shift the responsibility for problems caused by poverty onto the behaviour of parents. But regardless of Labour’s intentions, Sure Start has become a valued resource in many working class communities, offering a range of free activities that parents and other carers can take children along to. The proposed cuts come on top of other cuts in recent years to play and youth services, libraries, swimming pools and leisure centres. Following cuts to the play service last year, some centres are only being kept open through Sure Start, and these could now face closure or privatisation.
Below we repost a report from Richie, a member of Parents Against Cuts, about a protest against cuts to Sure Start in Newcastle on 1 October 2014:
A pleasant evening (well timed for those with small children - Wednesday 6pm) at the council offices tonight. After Annie Rutter was generously allowed 100 words to comment on the cuts by the council, all parents with children who turned up to give support were held at the doors for twenty minutes on the grounds that children were absolutely not allowed in! To a meeting directly concerning children and parents of children.