- Created: Sunday, 07 August 2011 17:08
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 222 August/September 2011
Bradford 12: the right to self-defence
The article remembering the 30th anniversary of the Bradford 12 (FRFI 221) was very welcome. It is important that new generations learn about their historic victory that affirmed the right of self-defence for communities under racist attack.
As a former resident of Bradford, campaigner for the 12 and FRFI correspondent, I feel I need to address some of the inaccuracies in the article.
The Bradford 12 were not ‘members and supporters’ of the Asian Youth Movement, but belonged to an organisation called the United Black Youth League. Their banner is actually shown in the photo accompanying the article.
The articles states that the victory was achieved by the organisation of an ‘inclusive and non-sectarian defence campaign’.
When the Bradford 12 were arrested and remanded on the serious charges of conspiracy, there was a tremendous outpouring of support for them and a huge public meeting was held in an Asian cinema in the city. Many people wanted to get involved and be active in defending them. This energy was unfortunately lost in the weeks after the arrests.
A strong defence campaign was built with great difficulty. Various groups wished to control the campaign and indeed would not participate at all unless they could do so. There were few open meetings for people to attend and actions that would have sustained momentum and participation such as pickets, leafleting and demonstrations were opposed or poorly organised. There was such little sustained campaigning activity while the prisoners were on remand, that Tariq Mehmood was forced to write from his cell demanding unity and a broad-based campaign.
It is simply not true to say that the Bradford 12 campaign had ‘no truck with opportunists and trimmers’, who aimed to ‘confine the anger of the people.’ The reality was that anyone involved at that time had a constant struggle against opportunists and sectarians and it took literally months for a national demonstration to be called.
The campaign that was eventually built was indeed crucial to the victory, but the first rate legal defence was also a huge factor. Legal representatives included Gareth Peirce, Michael Mansfield and Geoffrey Roberston.
It is a shame that the article ended with an earlier quote from Manjit Singh of the Asian Youth Movement. Manjit Singh, also known as Marsha Singh, was one of the biggest blocks to building the Bradford 12 defence campaign and opposed at every stage open, democratic and participatory meetings. He joined the Labour Party in the 1980s and in 1997 became the Labour MP for Bradford West. His voting record shows he supported more restrictions on those seeking asylum, opposed an inquiry into the Iraq war and was in favour of Labour’s anti-terrorism measures.
Response: self defence is no offence
Bill Bolloten’s letter is a most welcome addition to the historical record. He played a central role in the defence campaign and was arrested himself at a street meeting in March 1982 on the charge of ‘blemishing the peace’ while petitioning for the Bradford 12 (FRFI 17, March 1982).
Bill is right to draw attention to the first rate legal defence that the case attracted and the names of Helena Kennedy, barrister for Saeed Hussain, and Leeds solicitor Ruth Bundey should be added to his list.
On the matter of organisations, it is true that the photo in FRFI 221 shows the banner of the United Black Youth League (UBYL). This was a breakaway group from the Asian Youth Movement (AYM) but whether all the defendants in the Bradford 12 case were members is not certain, nor are the political affiliations of the 68 young Asian men arrested at the same time. Nevertheless it was an error not to identify the UBYL.
I was unaware that Manjit Singh of the Bradford 12 Campaign is today Marsha Singh, MP for Bradford West. Bill does FRFI readers a service in drawing attention to this Labour MP’s record of grovelling conformity to Labour’s racist and imperialist record in government.
While accepting Bill’s clarifications, it remains politically important to state that the defence campaign had ‘no truck with opportunists and trimmers’. It is true that the campaign was subject to the usual sectarian bickering over leadership, even to the point of nearly destroying any action, which is the historic record of the British so-called ‘left’. Nevertheless the significance of the Bradford 12 campaign is that it could only be supported on the grounds of the right to self-defence. This was not a campaign about a miscarriage of justice, like the Guildford 4 or the Birmingham Six. It was not a campaign mourning the killing by police or prison guards of innocent victims, like Roger Sylvester. Supporters could not rally around banners proclaiming ‘The Bradford 12 are innocent – Free them now’. The opportunists and trimmers could not dilute the facts of the case, that the accused had met together to plan and carry out making 38 petrol bombs which were later found hidden in the grounds of a Bradford hospital with the fingerprints of two of the 12 defendants on them. Campaigners had to accept the view that resistance to state and racist attacks includes a whole range of political actions not limited to the confines of peaceful protest, the trade unions or the Labour Party.
How different was this determination to fight back to the farce acted out in September 1978 by the Anti-Nazi League when it led 80,000 people away from Hyde Park to a festival in Brixton, in full knowledge that the same day the National Front was marching in the East End of London under the protection of 5,000 police. The call for help from the Hackney and Tower Hamlet’s Defence Committee and the community of Brick Lane was rejected because the International Marxist Group and Socialist Workers’ Party did not want violence: ‘such a movement on the empty streets of London facing 8,000 police might not have broken through and beaten the Nazi marchers’ (Socialist Worker 30 September 78). These cowards chose to make common cause with Tony Benn (Labour cabinet minister) and Sid Bidwell (MP for Southall) rather than Asian people being assaulted by the police. ‘After all, the fact that a Labour Cabinet minister and a major trade union leader are speaking at Hyde Park is not an unimportant fact’ (Socialist Challenge 21 September 1978). This was the opportunism and trimming that characterised the British left at that time and that still today puts the interests of the British Labour Party before those of the most oppressed.
Today the English Defence League and British National Party, encouraged by the war chauvinism of consecutive British governments, threaten communities with violence. A raft of new laws on terrorism combined with the Prevent Strategy and undercover surveillance suppress and control opposition. It is under these circumstances that we remember and celebrate the victory of the Bradford 12 who against great odds showed how necessary is the fight for justice.
Support Terry Allen
For over three years I have been waiting for the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) to authorise an essential DNA test – and I am still waiting.
I have been in prison now for 26 years. For 23 of those years, I was told that all the forensic evidence relating to my case had been destroyed on police orders in November 1985. I was ready to go back to the appeal court in March 2008, when suddenly my missing forensic samples were ‘found’.
To date only one DNA test has taken place, and that was over two years ago, but the CCRC refused to give my solicitor the results on the basis that it needed to be confirmed by a second DNA test – which we’re still waiting for them to authorise!
DNA tests will enable the capture of three known killers, whom I can name, who left their DNA behind, and possibly another two. Those bastards have had 26 years of freedom they should never have had. Can you help embarrass the CCRC into allowing the second DNA test to go ahead?
TERRY ALLEN (A6119AD)
Torture inquiry boycott
As you will know, my appeal against conviction was refused, with two points of law about complicity with torture being referred to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court did not give me leave to appeal, so I am taking my case to the European Court of Human Rights.
Regarding the ‘independent’ inquiry which David Cameron announced [into British complicity with illegal rendition and torture] all the detainees and human rights organisations will most probably boycott it. This is because the inquiry will not be conducted according to international law and there are a lot of things they want to cover up by doing them in private.
Thank you for your support.
RANGZIEB AHMED (A6326AC)
HMP Full Sutton
Fight for real collective action
The headline on the Socialist Worker newspaper of 9 July read: 30 June strikes across Britain: This is just the start – now we need a general strike. If you are someone who has just lost their job, or are part of a service that is being cut, or know that anyone who leaves your work place will have their post frozen, or if you have lost benefits or if you know that your union is more interested in negotiating decent terms for those taking voluntary redundancy rather than fighting to save the job – then that headline would make you laugh out loud. The SWP is living in a fantasy world. What we need to do is to oppose the individualism that pervades our society and fight for collective action in all workplaces, so that no jobs and no services are lost without a fightback.
Control units in the US
I read Nicki Jameson’s article on Muslim prisoners in Britain (FRFI 221) with interest. The US is doing much the same here with the units at Marion and Terre Haute, and the ADX prison in Florence, Colorado. We are not even sure how many US secret prisons overseas there are where the conditions are reported to be even worse. The US began control units in an experiment on the activists of my generation. That exploded into isolation units, largely for the mentally ill, via Supermax Prisons. The federal government then subsidised the building of isolation units (pre 9/11) known as Security Threat Group Management Units, which were for purported gang members. The latest are the Communications Management Units which are for those of the Islamic faith. They are now ‘integrating’ them racially with imprisoned Environmental Liberation Front people (who have little grounding in revolutionary politics).
American Friends Service Committee Prison Watch Project