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Unite to stop hate

Carolyn Egan

March 14, 2018

I had the opportunity to take part in a conference in London put on by Stand Up to Racism, an anti-racist coalition with local groups throughout the United Kingdom. It was geared specifically to trade unionists and its focus was to build opposition to the growth of racism and the far right. There is no doubt with the neo-liberal attacks on working people, the increasing gap between rich and poor, and the political volatility the world over, we are witnessing the growth of right wing organizations.

They are making inroads at all levels of society including within working class communities. We have seen in parts of eastern Germany with significant levels of unemployment, laid off  underemployed workers voting for the right, breaking traditional electoral patterns. The Social Democratic Party and Die Linke have both lost support to the far right, and for the first time since World War Two there are neo-nazis sitting in the Bundestadt. In Austria, the far right is in a coalition government, and in France Marine LePen of the National Front was in a run-off for the presidency of the country. 60,000 nazis marched in Poland. This is extremely worrying, and is the reason why trade unions in the UK are taking it very seriously.

There is a tremendous amount of scapegoating taking place, blaming immigrants and refugees for worsening living conditions. The neo-liberal agenda embraced by governments globally has at its heart cutting health care, education and social services, making life harder and harder for the working class and the poor while profits soar for the wealthy. There are at the same time attacks on unions, weakening their ability to fight back and defend the most basic rights of their members. Racialized people, women, the LGBTQ community are the target of many of these attacks. It is up to labour to fight back, defending not only its own members but all of those who are under siege.

The conference was organized to do exactly that. One of its tasks was to build for the demonstrations planned across Europe on March 17 to mark the Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This was called in 1966 to commemorate the Sharpeville massacre that took place in South Africa in 1960, when police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration. Rallies and marches are taking place throughout Europe and it is important that trade unions be there in solidarity.

Activists from many different unions, teachers, painters, fire fighters, members of Unite and Unison spoke about the work they were doing in their workplaces to mobilize their fellow workers for this important demonstration. There were passionate speeches from both the podium and the floor from leaders and rank and file members calling for unity and solidarity. There was a clear understanding of the importance of organized labour in the fight against racism in all its manifestations, and against the far right. This was very inspiring and many unions provide financial support and resources to Stand Up to Racism.

The workshops that took place allowed the trade unionists there to speak more specifically about the work they are doing on an ongoing basis, sharing strategies and experiences. They dealt with topics such as the Football Lads Alliance which works as a transmission belt for angry white workers, mostly men, to the far right. It has soft supporters and hard supporters. There was an excellent speaker from the Fire Brigades who spoke of the type of talk that he has heard from them, about how life is getting harder and harder, jobs are scarce, kids have no opportunities etc.,  and of course who are they blaming? Refugees and immigrants. He talked about how to counter these arguments, and the importance of putting alternatives forward to bring workers to a different vision of society without oppression and exploitation.

The conference was extremely useful, showing concrete ways to build the unity necessary in the working class to fight this racist cancer and stop it in its tracks. It has to be taken on directly and not allowed to fester without a mass response. The demonstration of 4,000 that took place a number of months ago in Vancouver shows what is possible. The Toronto and York Region Labour Council, the Urban Alliance on Race Relations and the National Council of Canadian Muslims are planning an event entitled Unite to Stop Hate at Toronto City Hall on March 21 which will bring people together in the fight against the far right. These are the type of events we must continue to organize as we put real alternatives forward so that workers see that another world is actually possible.

Join the event Unite to Stop the Hate, March 21 at 7pm at Toronto City Hall.

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