When I listen to Boris Johnson and hear Oswald Mosley

 

Political labels frequently deceive. In Austria, a populist-right, conservative nationalist party , formed initially by ex-Nazis, calls itself the “Freedom Party”. in Russia, a Far Right party that is neither liberal nor democratic calls itself the Liberal Democratic Party. When Oswald Mosley, a charismatic but typically arrogant member of the British upper class, founded the British Union of Fascists (BUF) in October 1932, he at least gave his party an honest, accurate name. They were fascists who advocated dictatorship. The party did exactly what it said on the tin.

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New Party leaders June 1931

During the extraordinary turmoil that has gripped British politics in the last few weeks, I have listened to Boris Johnson and heard Mosley. Not Mosley the Conservative, nor Mosley the Fascist, but Mosley of the New Party, the oddly named and rather menacing outfit he created and led for nearly 20 months after he left the Labour party and before he founded the British Union of Fascists.

Johnson has pursued a career in parliamentary politics for 18 years but is clearly tiring of democracy and willing to use all kinds of devices to subvert it, and try to rule and get his way without any effective scrutiny or accountability. Mosley pursued a career in democratic parliamentary politics from the end of 1918, first as a Conservative, then as an independent, then as a Labour politician until 1931. He had failed in his first attempt to win a seat for Labour in 1924 but succeeded in 1926, and resumed his career as an MP following democratic conventions, until February 1931, when he suddenly ditched Labour and almost overnight announced the New Party.

This increasingly nationalist party, with left of centre economic instincts, became

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New Party newspaper

obsessed with “strong” government and paranoid about the threat of communism. it was the vehicle through which Mosley honed his critique of democracy. For him it was the worst of all systems, one in which the state paid one set of politicians to make policy, and paid the other set to obstruct policy. The New Party spoke of creating “effective government”, one that was “unencumbered by a daily opposition.” Just pause for a moment and say that sentence aloud: “unencumbered by a daily opposition.”

Is that what Johnson seeks in his pro-rogue state? You can be sure that in the five weeks in which parliament in prorogued Johnson will be making statements and trying somehow to enact law-making. I don’t rule out him and his guru Cummings manufacturing a crisis and declaring some kind of state of emergency.

Before prorogation, he carried out a ruthless purge of dissidents within the Tory Party. People often talk of Farage and Johnson in the same breath. Farage though, for all his own nationalism and racism, is obsessed above all with deregulated capitalism, loosening any constraints upon it. Johnson is more interested in state power, under his control. He is much more authoritarian and much more dangerous.

But he has a difficult opponent in Jeremy Corbyn who is rooted in unshakeable commitment to democracy, and knows constitutional matters inside out.

We must expect a barrage of the most filthy propaganda against Corbyn and his close allies over the next five weeks, from the elements of the right wing press that are overwhelmingly pro-Johnson. (Not all of them are any more). And it is going to require Corbyn’s close allies, and his supporters at one remove on the centre-left, especially those on the front bench, to step up.

Jeremy Corbyn Delivers Speech On BrexitThey will need to defend Corbyn against lies and smears, push the case against all expressions of authoritarianism and for democracy in our politics. And crucially, they need to spend the next five weeks showing the same energy and commitment as Corbyn does, in visiting the marginal constituencies, especially in the leave-voting working-class areas of the Midlands and the North. There they need to make the case for socialist policies that will be needed to rebuild and regenerate communities for all, policies which are anathema to both the Conservatives and to the Brexit Party.

In a strange sort of way, Johnson’s authoritarianism has succeeded in moving the arena of struggle into communities and into the streets, rather than Parliament. We can win that struggle.

 

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When the people of Stockton fought back

In September 1933, the people of Stockton-on-Tees had a famous anti-fascist victory when around 100 members of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists attempted to march and rally there, but they were chased out of town by socialists and communists in a violent physical confrontation. Last year a plaque was unveiled to honor this battle. I spoke at last year’s event and returned today. This is what I said:

I’m honoured to be here, and so honoured to follow Laura (Pidcock MP), who I have heard speak on several platforms but not had the privilege to share a platform with yet.

Last year’s event where the plaque was unveiled was a truly memorable occasionIMG_6805 (1) – and a testament to the fact that the struggle against fascism was won by the collective efforts of people all around the country. Here in Stockton, you were ahead of the curve. Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists were barely in existence for 11 months when you showed that you understood the threat that fascism posed to the working class and to the country. I know they were not in a hurry to come back here.

I bring greetings to this rally as the convenor of Cable Street 80 – the campaign that organised a celebration three years ago of the iconic battle against fascism that took place in London in 1936, a battle that involved hundreds of thousands of people.

I also bring greetings on behalf of my MP. I am lucky to be a Labour Party member in Islington North. My MP is Jeremy Corbyn. He sent me this message last night:

“The Battle Stockton was one of many heroic efforts to prevent the rise of fascism in our society. Their fight brought people together to achieve progress and not allow racists to divide them by use of antisemitism or any other form of racism. Today we need that same unity as racists promote division and hatred and attack asylum seekers looking for safety. Thank you to all commemorating The Battle of Stockton. From our history we equip ourselves for the future.” Jeremy Corbyn

My final greetings are on behalf of the Jewish Socialists’ Group – an organisation I joined as an 18 year old in 1976, but which had been formed earlier by older working-class Jewish activists in Manchester, who had cut their teeth politically in the fight against poverty and fascism in Manchester in the 1930s.

And I placed “poverty and fascism” together deliberately, because in our history, and in the history of other countries, the only time the fascists can get a hearing at the base of society is when that base – the working people, the wealth creators – suffer pernicious social inequality, subsist on starvation wages, are frequently unemployed, when they struggle to pay the rent, and are disparaged, ignored and neglected by those with power and wealth. People who lose their self-worth, their hope, and their identity, become prey to demagogues who offer to make the country great again, who speak a language of national salvation and redemption. Mosley presented his Fascist movement as a movement, in his own words, that would “mobilise energy and manhood, to save and rebuild the nation”, that, as he put it, “offered young people the chance to serve their country in times of peace not just in times of war.”

Donald-Trump-Nigel-Farage-Boris-Johnson-APAnd those who speak that language of national salvation today, whether it is Johnson or Farage here, Bolsanaro in Brazil, Orban in Hungary, or Trump in America, are also those who have never, and will never, know hardship.

A few months after the fascists were battered and chased out of Stockton in 1933, when they tried to exploit the suffering of ordinary working people in the North East, Mosley made his first big push in London with a series of huge indoor rallies, their largest one being in Olympia Exhibition Centre, filled with 15,000 people.

That number included 1,000 stewards in Blackshirt uniforms some of them armed with knuckle dusters. It also included 150 MPs – mainly Tories – who went there looking for political inspiration. A few members of the House of Lords turned up wearing Blackshirt uniforms. You needed a ticket to get in – the cheapest ones were snapped up by workers and the pricier ones were bought up by those arriving in evening dress in Rolls Royces, Daimlers and Jaguars.

The anti-fascists understood who was in charge.  One of their slogans then was “Mosley has the millionaires, but we have the millions”. It’s a slogan worth updating today. You only need to change the name.

At that time, though, the anti-fascists here had thousands rather than millions but they were used very effectively. In Britain in 1934, the most organised political groups active in anti-fascist work were the Communist Party and the Independent Labour Party. Despite their differences they held a noisy united demonstration outside Olympia all evening. Mosley knew that would happen. What he hadn’t counted on was anti-fascists getting inside the hall. But they did that with the accidental help of a strong Mosley supporter – Lord Rothermere, owner of the Daily Mail. Rothermere had offered to give £1 and a ticket to a Mosley rally to a certain number of people who got their letters published in the Mail. The caveat was – they had to begin: “Why I like the Blackshirts”.  (the competition is closed now by the way.) Some clever anti-fascists sent spoof letters about why they liked the Blackshirts, got tickets, forged more and dozens of anti-fascists were dotted around the hall.

It was dark in the hall with only a spotlight trained on Mosley as he mounted the podium. He was three minutes into his speech when a heckler stood up and shouted “Down with Mosley, Down with Mussolini, down with Hitler. Fascism means hunger and war” – and sat down again. Mosley was thrown off his stride, but he picked himself up again. Other hecklers stood up at three minute intervals making similar interventions. Eventually Mosley gave a signal and the next hecklers were pulled out of their seats by stewards and viciously beaten up inside the hall in front of everyone Mosley wanted to impress, taken outside into a corridor for further beatings then thrown down the stairs and shoved out the building. Around 80 anti-fascists, who showed the same courage that your community had shown here in Stockton, needed medical treatment that night.

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Mosley Saluting some of his members

But remember that heckle: “Fascism means hunger and war”. It did then. It does now. The ingredients of fascism often include ultra-nationalism, racism, misogyny, eugenics, authoritarianism, militarism, scapegoating…  We have to recongise the signs, expose them and fight back on all these fronts, but we must always be aware of where fascism leads to if it succeeds – hunger, oppression, destruction.

The love affair between Mosley and the Daily Mail  peaked in 1934, and cooled a bit after the violence at Olympia. As much as Rothermere loved the ideology – he did not want to be publicly associated here with violence.

I emphasise here, because he was a dedicated fan of Adolf Hitler right through the 1930s, knowing full well not just the vicious abuse and discrimination that Jews suffered in Nazi Germany but also the brutal physical violence meted out to them. In the wake of Kristallnacht in 1938, Britain reluctantly took in just under 10,000 Jewish child refugees, looked after not by the state, but by voluntary oprganisations, and that was in the face of the most horrendous newspaper campaigns by papers like Rothermere’s Daily Mail, and the Sunday Express that had headlines claiming that “Alien Jews” were “pouring in the the country” that “Refugees get jobs while Britons get dole”. And when Hitler invaded the Sudetenland, Rothermere sent him a telegram congratulating him and saying he looked forward to the day when “Adolf the Great” was recognised as such in Britain.

The Rothermere family remain in charge of the Daily Mail. They and other titles of the right wing press continue to scapegoat immigrants and refugees – vulnerable minorities – who pay with their blood on our streets for the racist incitement in newspaper headline. That same right-wing press also tries to divide anti-racists, by posing, for example, as friends of the Jewish community and trying to link modern antisemitism with the left rather than the right, where it has traditionally flourished.

They might fool some people but they don’t fool me. You only have to look at the bigger picture around the world to see where antisemitism lives and where it is thriving. It is thriving within the populist right and far right in central and eastern Europe where Holocaust revisionism is increasing and conspiracy theories about the Hungarian Jew George Soros are spreading. Antisemitism rides in tandem with Islamophobia and anti-Roma prejudice. It is thriving among the more deeply ideological members  of the populist right wing groups in Germany, France and Sweden, and among our very splintered far right forces here in Britain. We have also seen its murderous impacts from ultra-nationalist, white supremacists in America. Trump has emboldened these well-funded fringe white supremacist forces.

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Vigil in Cable Street for Pittsburgh victims of neo-Nazi gunman

Last October 2018, Just a few weeks after our commemoration here in Stockton, I was at an equally moving event in front of a huge mural in East London celebrating the Battle of Cable Street. That seemed to be the most appropriate place to gather to enact an act of solidarity with a Jewish community in Pittsburgh America where a neo-Nazi gunman, inspired by theories of world Jewish conspiracy had just massacred Jews in a synagogue. Within 24 hours we mobilised 250 people there. There are of course, many synagogues in America, but the location for the massacre was not random. It was a synagogue that was known for the support it gives to projects that defend and assist beleaguered refugees. It was one of several armed attacks that far right gunmen have perpetrated in different countries since we last met in Stockton. Even more people were killed in the massacre at a mosque in Christchurch New Zealand where the same far right ideology was present.

So what do we do? We remember our history, not only to honour those who fought before us, but to learn from their determination, sense of purpose, and the principles and practice of earlier generations of anti-racists and anti-fascists. Those key principles were unconditional solidarity with victims of racism, and striving to build an anti-fascist majority in every locality to show that fascists were not welcome and make it impossible for them to organise.

I want to finish around 10 years and 1,000 miles from Stockton in 1933. Here, because of the efforts of local people, the fascists were defeated. That was eventually replicated in other towns and cities, in Britain. Both physical resistance and ideological struggle. It was also about practical solidarity patiently building unity among disparate communities, to not allow racist divisions to flourish. But in other part so Europe the fascists were victorious.

In April this year, 12 of us from the Jewish Socialists’ Group went to Warsaw, in Poland, for a week. We timed our visit to coincide with the commemoration of the Warsaw ghetto uprising of 1943. We visited museums and memorials, and the death camp at Treblinka. We also took part in a very moving ceremony and march organised by today’s anti-racists and anti-fascists, leftists, trade unionists, socialists in Poland across different generations, and came away so uplifted. The anti-racist and anti-fascist  values we encountered there were the very same ones we are expressing here today. Our struggle must be local and it must be global, and we must believe in a better world. Solidarity!

 

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Left to right: Paul Weston (co-organiser), speakers – Laura Pidcock MP, David Rosenberg, Paul Holborow, Shabana Marshall, Harry Gallacher, plus Sharon Bailey (co-organiser)

The “hidden irony in the dockers’ fate” in 1889

Industrial struggle has been back in the news this week with the strikes and protests by ASDA workers, whose punitive new contracts require them to work on bank holidays and take unpaid breaks. 130 years ago, this week, all eyes were on East London where the Great Dock Strike was just beginning. Its leading personality was an extraordinary but flawed character called Ben Tillett, who grew up in the most difficult circumstances. This extract from the new edition of my book, Rebel Footprints, tells the story of that strike and gives an insight into his character

BenTillettBen Tillett… began working young. At seven years old he worked long days at Roach’s brickyard in Bristol, though he was probably relieved to get away from home, where his alcoholic father and a succession of stepmothers mistreated or neglected him. After two failed attempts to run away, he escaped with a circus troupe, who taught him acrobatics. He took a stray dog with him. The circus troupe gave him a Shetland pony to look after. At night he slept next to the pony, and the dog kept the rats away. One of Tillett’s five sisters tracked him down and took him to relatives in Staffordshire, where he had two years of schooling before being apprenticed to a shoemaker. At 13 he joined the Royal Navy, visiting various European ports, Philadelphia and the Caribbean, and learned to read and write with the help of a Scottish friend. Fittingly, in terms of his future activism, he sailed on one ship called Resistance. Between voyages he stayed with his sister’s mother-in-law in Bethnal Green, east London. He finally settled there at 16 years old, working at Markie’s boot factory, and joined the Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives.

Tillett married Jane Tompkins and they shared her mother’s flat in Hunslett Street. Determined to expand his intellectual horizons he became the librarian at his local church, taught himself basic Latin and Greek, and attended lectures at Bow and Bromley Adult Education Institute. He struggled to overcome a stammer by reading Dickens to Jane in the evenings.

He began working on the docks, describing the humiliating ‘call-on’ system in a powerful speech at Whitechapel in 1887, later published as A Dock Labourer’s Bitter Cry.

‘We are driven into a shed, iron-barred from end to end, outside of which a foreman or contractor walks up and down with the air of a dealer in a cattle market … choosing from a crowd of men, who, in their eagerness to obtain employment trample each other under foot, and where like beasts they fight for the chances of a day’s work.’

A ‘day’s work’ was usually less. Dockworkers often walked great distances to a job, unloaded cargo non-stop for two hours, and were then told to go home. Tillett himself recalled a 40-mile round trip on foot. Beatrice Potter noted the ‘hidden irony in the dockers’ fate’, touching all things but enjoying none as ‘ … the luxuries of our elaborate civilisation pass familiarly through the dock labourer’s hands’.

The supply of dock labour constantly outstripped demand, driving wages down. One contemporary account describes how dockers ‘faint from over-exhaustion and want of food … are ruptured, their spines injured, their bones broken, and their skulls fractured … to get ships loaded and unloaded a little quicker and a little cheaper’. This was not a socialist propaganda leaflet but the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet.

Tillett was working as a tea cooper at Monument Tea Warehouse in spring 1887 when a dispute broke out among counterparts at Cutler Street Warehouse. They sought Tillett’s advice and he helped them to form the Tea Operatives and General Labourers’ Association (TOGLA) – a union that would help to challenge the main companies exploiting the dockers.

Tillett was elected as TOGLA’s Union Secretary and spent most Sundays speaking and recruiting at the dock gates. His personal diary from 1888 recorded disappointments and successes: frustratingly small meetings in March, when snow still covered the ground after a harsh winter; optimism in April when he met well-organised stevedores and sold copies of Bitter Cry. In June he noted large meetings at the dock gates, while ‘enthusiastic crowds’ attended indoor evening meetings. When industrial disputes broke out among some dockworkers in October and November, he invited Annie Besant and Herbert

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Burrows and Besant (centre) at the founding of the Female Matchmakers Union

Burrows to talk to them about the matchworkers’ successful struggle [in the summer of 1888]. These dock disputes ultimately failed, but Tillett glimpsed the prospect of wider action. His final diary entry in 1888 recorded, ‘Cold worse than ever. Went to chapel. Old year out. Like to live next year a more useful life than last.’  He would. By early 1889 momentum was building. Hundreds of TOGLA members paid regular union dues and thousands of dockers expressed growing enthusiasm in meetings around the docks. TOGLA established branches in Tilbury, Poplar and Canning Town.

Participants and historians dispute when the Great Dock Strike began. Will Thorne described a meeting at South Dock gates on Monday 12 August 1889 when he and a stevedore, Tom McCarthy, addressed a large, disgruntled crowd before the eight o’clock call-on. McCarthy listed their grievances and Thorne urged them to form a union and refuse to work. The workers unanimously supported a strike. Simultaneously, dockers unloading the Lady Armstrong in the South Dock basin of West India Docks were withholding their labour because a promised bonus had not been paid. Their leader wrote to the dock authorities on Tuesday 13 August with demands that included a minimum four-hour call-on (instead of the usual two or three); wages to be sixpence an hour (eight pence for overtime), and an end to piecework. Ben Tillett had sent similar demands the previous week, but the dock authorities had not responded. On Wednesday 14 August, Tillett met the Lady Armstrong workers. On Friday that week the Amalgamated Stevedores Union announced that dock labourers were on strike, and appealed to ‘engineers, fitters, boiler-makers, ships’ carpenters, coal heavers, ballast men and lightermen’, for solidarity action, and for help from the community.

Eleanor Marx

A collective leadership emerged. Tillett, Tom Mann, John Burns and Tom McCarthy mobilised support. Eleanor Marx took on key administrative tasks and Henry Hyde Champion… acted as press officer. Will Thorne described Tom Mann as ‘human quicksilver, here, there and everywhere, commanding, pleading, cajoling, enthusing’, while Tillett possessed ‘a spark of genius’ and ‘planned a picket system for the whole 50 miles of London’s docks’. As well as demands over hours and pay, the strike committee crucially demanded union recognition throughout the port. Without it, companies could break agreements without being held to account.

In the last week of August many East End industries were idle. That week the female workforces of Frost’s Ropemakers in Commerical Road and Peek Frean’s biscuits in Bermondsey walked out. Women also collected donations and organised rent strikes. In Hungerford Street, near Watney Market, a banner defiantly declared: ‘As we are on strike landlords need not call.’

Neither TOGLA nor the Amalgamated Stevedores Union held substantial strike funds, so the committee focused on sustaining the strikers’ families through meal tickets redeemable at certain shops. The Salvation Army’s hall on Whitechapel Road supplied thousands of loaves of bread each day to strikers’ families. Local churches opened soup kitchens. Following the matchwomen’s example, striking dockers marched through the area and beyond, holding meetings on open spaces.

On 25 August 1889 a spectacular parade, 50,000 strong, headed for the City. Brass bands, banners proclaiming ‘Unity and Victory’ and horse-drawn boats carrying strikers in fancy dress, lent it a carnival appearance. Street theatre players contrasted dockers’ and employers’ lives: plates with a director’s dinner piled high next to a docker’s crust of bread and a tiny herring; puppets represented a docker’s scrawny child in rags and a well-fed, well-dressed director’s child, and their cats – one thin, the other the director’s ‘Fat Cat’. [The expression ‘fat cat’ may be based on this. Others claim it was first used by political commentators in 1920s America.] They returned with donations of hundreds of pounds. Weekend marches ended in huge rallies, some at Tower Hill, others in Hyde Park, where at the end of August, 100,000 people gathered around twenty speakers’ platforms.

On 27 August the Evening News estimated that 130,000 workers were on strike, and it was spreading: ‘ … [E]ven factory girls are coming out. If it goes on a few days longer, all London will be on holiday … the proverbial small spark has kindled a great fire which threatens to envelope the whole metropolis.’

That spark had been lit by the 1,400 women who walked out at Bryant & May’s Fairfield Works the previous year and became role-models for their brothers, husbands and uncles, many of them dockworkers.

As August drew to a close, the strike entered its most critical period. The extraordinary

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Dock strike march 1889

effort and sacrifice by workers, with solid community backing, had not persuaded the dock employers. Daily collections could not feed all the strikers’ families. Hunger was sapping morale. The strike committee considered calling on workers across the capital to come out indefinitely in solidarity. A general London strike might pressurise the employers to settle, but could risk losing a significant section of public and press support and be difficult to sustain. On 29 August the committee took that risk and issued the ‘No Work’ manifesto, which appealed to ‘workers in London of all grades and every calling’ to stay at home from Monday, ‘ … unless the directors have before noon on Saturday … officially informed the committee that the moderate demands of the dock labourers have been fully and finally conceded’.

Key members of the strike committee expressed misgivings. Within 24 hours the manifesto was withdrawn but with a face-saving appeal to London’s workers to contribute generously towards the strike fund. On the other side, frustrated ship-owners pressured the dock companies to compromise, and the dock employers scented victory, believing time favoured them.

Suddenly a game-changing donation of £1,500 arrived – from the Brisbane Wharf Labourers’ Union of Australia – with a promise that more would follow. Over a relatively short period, their Antipodean counterparts telegraphed thousands of pounds to the dock strike committee, collected though unions and amateur football clubs. The prospect of the docks remaining idle for several more weeks forced the companies to negotiate. The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Manning, mediated, and the strike was settled by mid-September, with the dockers winning their ‘tanner’ – sixpence per hour (and eight pence for overtime), and a minimum four-hour call-on in most cases.

Within a short time Tillett’s pioneering efforts at dockside unionisation had helped to create a Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Labourers Union with 18,000 members. By 1890, in the light of the matchworkers’, gasworkers’ and dockers’ successes [Gasworkers had won the 8-hour day that year], commentators acclaimed a ‘new unionism’ born of rebellion, not only against their employers but also against earlier inward-looking trade unions representing what Engels termed ‘the aristocracy of labour’. East London was the cradle of these struggles.

A more traditional trade unionist, George Shipton considered ‘new unionism’ too militant. His critical article in Murray’s Magazine in June 1890, however, gave Tom Mann and Ben Tillett – respectively President and Secretary of the post-strike dockers’ union – the opportunity to explain the difference between old and new unionism to its readers. Tillett and Mann said the old unionists ‘… do not recognise, as we do, that it is the work of the trade unions to stamp out poverty from the land … We are prepared to work unceasingly for the emancipation of the workers. Our ideal is the Cooperative Commonwealth.’

Although Mann and Tillett cherished the new means of struggle, that transcended the narrow confines of individual workplaces, they valued and honoured the courage of ‘old union’ activists, whose day was passing. To be a unionist then ‘was to be a social martyr … with the hue and cry against them of police and Parliament’.

By 1892, Engels… described the new unionists as ‘rough, neglected’ toilers, ‘looked down upon by the working class aristocracy’, but with an immense advantage, as their minds ‘were virgin soil, entirely free from the inherited “respectable” bourgeois prejudices which hampered the brains of the better situated old unionists.’

The rebels who triumphed over powerful economic forces and revolutionised struggles for workers’ rights, created new possibilities for those following in their footsteps into the twentieth century. The first significant branches of the suffragette movement in London grew in the east, where female matchworkers had fought for their workplace

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James Keir Hardie

rights. Close to Beckton Gas Works, West Ham returned a pioneering socialist MP in 1892, James Keir Hardie. Tom Mann’s grassroots organising in workplace struggles prepared him for a pivotal role in the growth of the syndicalist movement that believed true political advances would come only through economic struggles.

Ben Tillett developed his self-confidence and showed courage in the face of powerful enemies. He urged the next generation of activists to be brave and radical, telling students at Ruskin (trade union) College in 1913: ‘I don’t want you to be statesmen, don’t for God’s sake be politicians: they have always been evils. I want you to be idealists.’ Unfortunately, he failed to follow his own advice. He  became the MP for Salford, Manchester, in 1917,  and moved to the right politically, but others continued the grassroots rebellion.

Afterword from the following chapter in the book:
(One of the many industrial disputes that took place during the time of the 1889 dock Strike was a strike by immigrant Jewish tailors for a 12-hour day – instead of 14-18 hours. Ben Tillett had a very positive role to play here but one that stood in contradiction to his  oft-stated views about Jewish immigrants.)

Four weeks into the tailors’ strike, employers refused to compromise and strike funds were almost exhausted. Stitchers, cutters and pressers faced the grim prospect of returning to work having won nothing. But, emboldened by the ‘Strike Fever’, a tailors’ delegation headed for the Wade’s Arms, in Jeremiah Street, Poplar, to lobby the Docks Strike Committee.

Many dockers were immigrants too, or sons of immigrants – Catholics from the Emerald Isle. As Jews swarmed into Whitechapel, the Irish community shuffled closer to the docks. Stepney became a patchwork of mainly Jewish and Irish enclaves plus seafarers from India, China and Somalia; Italians and Greeks selling food provisions; and German bakers and sugar refiners. But this was no melting pot. Communities kept to their own familiar streets. Physical confrontations, like today’s postcode wars, were commonplace among young Jews and Catholics

Late in life the former dockers’ leader Ben Tillett told [a gathering of] Jewish trade unionists that he first became an agitator in Riga, in 1877, where he disembarked with other sailors. At the market square, local police grinned while young wealthy Russians intimidated Jewish stallholders. Tillett saw an old Jew thrown to the ground. ‘As the young Russian lifted his foot to kick [him] I lifted it higher and got him down,’ he recounted. The British sailors cleared the police from the square, too.

Tillett saw how Jews suffered under Tsarism. Yet, in the late 1880s, he described Jewish

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Ben Tillett speaking alongside and in support of Jewish workers

immigrants as the ‘dregs and scum of the continent’ who ‘make more foetid, putrid and congested, our already overcrowded slums’. He told one gathering of Jewish workers: ‘You are our brothers and we will do our duty by you, but we wish you had not come.’ However, after the tailors’ delegation outlined their case, the Dock Strike committee promised £100 – the largest donation the tailors received throughout their dispute. With their strike fund refreshed, they now had the upper hand. Their employers could not afford to suspend production much longer and caved in by the beginning of October. Despite Tillett’s antipathy towards immigrants, Irish Catholic dockers’ solidarity helped to secure victory for immigrant Jewish workers.

…(T)wo months later… a Federation of East London Labour Unions was launched at Mile End’s Great Assembly Hall. The Eastern Post reported: ‘2,800 were present … and speeches were made in different languages and translated.’ Non-Jewish union leaders, such as Tillett and Mann, spoke alongside Jewish militants representing tailors, cap-makers, stickmakers, furriers and carpenters. The Chair, Charles Adams, was tasked by the Alliance Cabinet Makers’ Association with organising Jewish immigrant carpenters, chaired. He said ‘ … if ever labour is to rise successfully … it must rise as a whole … This new organisation must be composed of people of all creeds and of all nations’, and never let employers ‘exploit one against the other’.

• Order a copy of Rebel Footprints not from Amazon, but from here

 

 

Evidence of anti-Jewish hate in 2019

In the first six months of 2019 there were 85 separate incidents of physical assaults on Jewish people in Britain, the highest figure recorded in the last 11 years. In 25 of these cases the victims were punched or kicked, In 23 cases objects were thrown at the Jewish victims, such as stones, bottles or eggs. In 53 of the 85 cases antisemitic verbal abuse occurred too.

In most of the years since 2009 the figures for assaults for equivalent 6-month periods were in the 20s, 30s and 40s, although a similarly high figure (80) was reached in 2017. For all the screaming newspaper headlines in the last four years which mainly relate to wild and counter-intuitive accusations of antisemitism against the Labour Party, for which actual evidence is usually severely lacking, this stark description of physical assaults in the half-yearly report of the Community Security Trust (CST), at least gives us a real snapshot of antisemitism in British society.

First, though, a health warning. On its own website, the Trust claims that it “represents the Jewish community on a wide range of Police, governmental and policy-making bodies dealing with security and antisemitism.” But as the Jewish historian Geoffrey Alderman points out “the CST represents no one but itself and is mandated to espouse the views of none other than its own trustees”. Those trustees are appointed by the CST itself and include a number of Tory and Blairite political figures and some connected with pro-Israel lobbying. It grew out of a body called the Community Security Organisation, which was originally attached to the Board of Deputies, but went independent in the 1980s and was run by various individual businessmen, some of whom had a background in political and even physical anti-fascism.

Before it became CST, the CSO was already on a trajectory where it had started to locate threats to Jews as emanating more from the left than the right, or from “Muslim extremists”. But unlike the Board of Deputies or the Chief Rabbi’s office it has not become obsequiously tied to the Tory Party and right wing Zionism.

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Display at Polin Musuem, Warsaw

The CST are not apologists for Netanyahu, but they divorce “Zionism” (which in their parlance is simply the legitimate expression of “Jewish self-determination”) from its utterly devastating and disastrous impact on Palestinian people, people who they rarely if ever mention. They state that not all anti-Zionism is antisemitism, but behave as if it is. They barely acknowledge the legitimacy of religious anti-Zionism and airbrush right out of history the long and noble traditions of secular Jewish anti-Zionism (including Bundism) which are as old as political Zionism itself, and acquiring new adherents. They ignore the completely justified and perfectly rational anti-Zionism of Palestinians, whether under occupation, in exile, or living as second class citizens in Israel.

Despite the CST’s severe political limitations, it nevertheless takes the gathering of information on antisemitic acts seriously and, at the moment, is our most reliable source of information on actual antisemitic incidents that occur in Britain. The CST does not independently seek out cases to put into its 6-monthly reports but bases its figures on instances reported to it by members of the public. They do careful analysis of these reported incidents, and regularly reject a considerable number of them in which Jews have seen themselves as victims of antisemitism, but for which they could not find any evidence of antisemitic motivation, language or targeting. So in addition to the 892 cases CST recorded  during those first 6 months of 2019, they rejected a further 270 that for these very reasons.

While we might take issue with their politically-inflected interpretations, their information is quite sound and should be taken seriously by those who seek to challenge all racism in British society.

So, apart from physical assaults, what were the other kinds of incidents? There were 38 instances of damage and desecration of Jewish property. In one appalling case which CST received a report about in April, an elderly couple, both Holocaust survivors, returned from a holiday to find their home burgled, ransacked and desecrated with antisemitic graffiti reading  “Cunt Jews” scrawled in large letters across their living room wall.

In five of the cases where Jewish property was attacked, Jewish schools suffered damage, and another five involved damage to synagogue buildings. There were also 106 examples where antisemitic graffiti was scrawled on non-Jewish property.

The most common incidents of antisemitism, though, consisted of verbal or online abuse and threats. In 225 cases the victims were random Jewish individuals (or individuals believed to be Jewish) in public places. In just under half of these incidents, the victims were visibly Jewish, on account of their religious or traditional clothing, Jewish school uniforms, or jewellery bearing religious symbols. These kinds of incidents closely parallel Islamophobic incidents that target hijab-wearing women and girls.

How serious are such incidents? Might they just be carried out by youngsters messing

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Hasidim in Gateshead

around, finding a vulnerable target? By and large they are not. Where perpetrators have been identified, 83% of them were adults, predominantly male adults. As in previous years the bulk of the incidents have taken place in the two big Jewish centres – London and Manchester – though numbers of incidents are growing in Hertfordshire, Merseyside and Northumbria, which has an ultra-orthodox Jewish seminary in Gateshead. Some of the physical attacks have been on those Jews in Gateshead.

Some categories of incidents have been reducing but are more than replaced by the increase in online abuse and threats, which in this 6-month period counted for more than a third of the incidents. This is a much trickier area. There is a very big difference between abuse and threats on the one hand, and strongly worded political commentary, on the other.

Their report acknowledges that they pay particular attention to “conspiracy fuelled sentiments… stereotypical tropes about Jewish people’s power, influence, money…”.

The figures include 55 online incidents in some way linked to the hotly contested arguments that have been flying around alleging antisemitism in the Labour Party.  One example that is specifically cited does not give confidence that this judgement has always been made accurately. Presumably in the context of an online argument the following comment was made:

“The Israeli lobby is relelentless and powerful but we now know they are there and the key is to stand up to all tyranny regardless of what cloak it wears or web of lies that it spins. They’ve overplayed their hand with the Corbyn witch-hunt”.

It cannot seriously be denied that Israeli government and media interests have helped to fuel the “witch-hunt”, or, more accurately, the all-out war against Corbyn-led Labour, though I regard them as junior contributors in a war led by powerful domestic interests especially the Tory Party and the Tory-supporting press, who are fighting this principally for domestic political goals. We always have to be alert to conspiracy theories, and many conspiracy theories around politics and economics are antisemitic, but I would not place this comment above unequivocally in the category of antisemitism.

While I was finishing writing this blog  I became aware of a further report released just today by the CST called Engine of Hate: the online networks behind the Labour Party’s antisemitism crisis, which has fuelled my doubts still further about CST’s judgements of alleged online cases of antisemitism. This further report mixes together clear examples of antisemitism on twitter accounts with those that make perfectly legitimate statements that in many cases the allegations of antisemitism are unsubstantiated by evidence, distorted and exaggerated, and made in bad faith for factional political purposes.

CST also repeats the phrase “the Labour Party’s crisis of antisemitism”. Antisemitism in British society is real. Antisemitism by a small number of Labour members and supporters is real. These should be exposed and challenged, but the so-called “crisis” is an invention by right wingers, including some Jewish right wingers, with a political axe to grind. The Engine of Hate seems to completely ignore the network of ultra-right-wing Zionist trolls targeting left wing Jews, and spreading disinformation.

To come back to the 6-monthly collection of incidents: if there is any comfort to be drawn from the report it is the reduction in one category of recorded incidents that should be of great concern to all anti-racists. That is the incidents of antisemitism perpetrated by people from other minorities who are themselves victims of racism. In recent years that has grown and has been hovering around the 40% mark. It is only in a minority of cases that ethnic identification is possible but the percentage of such perpetrators from other identifiable minority groups in incidents over this 6-month period has reduced to 32%. That is still a considerable number, and suggests that Jewish community groups should direct efforts towards strengthening relations between Jews and other minorities against common threats of racism, especially from the far right.

Screen Shot 2019-08-04 at 18.55.41That task gets harder every time that prominent spokespersons in the Jewish community align politically with the very forces who created the “Hostile Environment” for long settled Caribbean citizens, for migrants and refugees, or align with those forces whose austerity policies impact disproportionately on marginalised minority communities.

When the Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard, looks at the serious contents of this report and then tries to blame the rise on antisemitism in British society on Jeremy Corbyn he merely displays the most pathetic and transparent political animus against the Labour Party, and proves that Pollard himself is part of the problem. Total dedication to “defending Israel” from completely justifiable political criticism, has moved many of those who define themselves as Jewish community “leaders” politically closer to the very forces in the world that are spreading Islamophobia, anti-migrant and anti-refugee prejudice, without apparently noticing that these prejudices are riding in tandem with a renewed antisemitism.

But it is also incumbent on the anti-racist movement as a whole to acknowledge the reality of antisemitism today, the different ways it is being fuelled, and the range of perpetrators. And that movement must once more prove itself, through its practice, to be the Jewish community’s most reliable ally in the fight against antisemitism.

 

There is another way to resolve Labour’s toxic wrangles around complaints

Oswald-Mosley-is-saluted-by-members-of-his-British-Union-of-Fascists-before-beginning-the-march-to-Cable-StreetCharles Wegg-Prosser, a law graduate and product of Downside Independent Catholic School, enthusiastically joined the British Union of Fascists (BUF) in 1934  taking at face value Oswald Mosley’s propagandist arguments about how he would build  “A Greater Britain”. Wegg-Prosser believed that the fascist movement was a radical force for social progress and national unity. At one time he was director of its large Shoreditch branch  and later stood as a BUF candidate in the 1937 local election in another of its strongholds – Limehouse. Labour won the seat comfortably as a very strong fascist campaign was decisively rejected. Wegg Prosser left the fascists later that year. He wrote this to Mosley:

“Your methods have become increasingly dictatorial… You are sidestepping the whole issue of social betterment by the anti-Jewish campaign… You introduce a movement imitating foreign dictators. you run it as a soulless despotism, you sidetrack the demand for social justice by attacking the Jew, you give people a false answer, and unloose the lowest mob passions.”

Many people who have given their heart and soul to a cause, and then discover there is poison running through it, retreat  into political paralysis, or become cynical. To his credit, Wegg-Prosser did not. He made discreet contacts with anti-fascists and then spent the last years of the 1930s vigorously campaigning against the British Union of Fascists, Screen Shot 2019-07-24 at 11.32.52especially exposing and opposing their anti-Jewish hatred. After the war he was active in the Labour Party and stood unsuccessfully four times at elections for the Labour Party in Paddington South. He continued his legal career and became the first chair of North Kensington Law Centre – a centre that has done so much to support migrants, refugees, the vulnerable and powerless.

He was not alone in switching sides in the 1930s. One of the very impressive achievements of the anti-fascist movement in Britain in that period was its record of winning individuals away from fascism and persuading a number of them to join the ranks of the anti-fascists. They were able to do that because they understood  that fascism, rather than individual fascists was the core of the problem. They recognised that people who travelled on a journey towards fascism were in many cases not motivated by hate (though no doubt their leaders and a hard-core around them definitely were). They were often people with real difficulties in their lives socially, economically, psychologically, who were desperately looking for solutions, but could not see it coming from mainstream politicians they feel had let them down. Ever more hopeless and embittered, they were becoming easy prey for far right demagogues pushing solutions based on blaming the Jews.

But a number were persuaded, especially by anti-fascists in the Communist Party, to switch sides and gain a new understanding of the forces really responsible for their problems. People do change, given the space to change. And sometimes, like Charles Wegg-Prosser, they show deep remorse. Up to a certain point on their journey people are receptive to alternative, better arguments. In 2010, four years after the British National Party won 12 council seats in Barking and Dagenham, they not only lost every seat, but lost a significant number of votes in every ward. despite a higher voter turnout. Many first time BNP voters changed their minds and returned to the Labour fold.

We live in different times to the 1930s. Social media times – which can be very useful for identifying particular patterns of behaviour. But at the same time we are more likely to damn people forever for one thoughtless social media post, typecast them as a dyed in the wool, racist/Islamophobe/antisemite/homophobe etc and see them as totally irredeemable, even if it is just one, seemingly out of character, post.

In the last few days, in addition to the other big political goings on, there has been a focus once again on Labour’s procedures for handling complaints of antisemitism. Jeremy Corbyn steered a careful path this week, which won support from the shadow Cabinet and then the Labour NEC. It defended the improvements since Jennie Formby became General Secretary, agreed an approach that involved tightening up and speeding up the procedures, and acting decisively in the most absolutely clear-cut cases, while protecting rights of appeal and allowing people to show remorse.

In a rebuff to the  venomous behaviour of Tom Watson, many members of the PLP gave Jennie Formby a standing ovation earlier this week. The usual gaggle of pro-Zionist Jewish Labour MPs together with the obsequious non-Jewish members desperate to stay close to very right wing, anti-Labour Jewish “leaders”, are fuming: “not enough expulsions”, “we need an independent process”, “we need to involve the Jewish community”, which for them means its right wingers who claim to speak for the rest of us.

ChakrabartiShamiThey have been pushed back. the detail will be discussed more and refined before Labour Conference. And it has been confirmed that antisemitism will not be separated out but these processes will apply to all complaints that discrimination/abuse has occurred against members across the range of protected characteristics. Good. But this is a time when Labour members need to get their voices heard. We need to be stressing the need to resurrect an important document that has got more and more obscured – Shami Chakrabarti’s excellent report from 2016.

That report contained many key principles and firm recommendations. For example, she argued that although “expulsion may no doubt be necessary in some cases of gross, repeated or unrepentant unacceptable behaviour”, her clear preference was for resorting to a greater “range of disciplinary sanctions short of expulsion”, using education.

She argued that “It should also be possible (in the interests of proportionality) for some concerns to be addressed informally without the need (at least initially) to set in train a formal investigation. Some members may have used inappropriate language in complete ignorance of its potential harm. An informal discussion may create an opportunity for resolution and learning in such circumstances.”

She sought to replace the paranoid and toxic atmosphere that was felt at times in the party with an atmosphere “for learning, positive consensus and progressive change” where members “discussed and debated difficult issues and differences, in an atmosphere of civility and a discourse of mutual respect”. For her that also meant “a moratorium on the retrospective trawling of members’ social media accounts and past comments.”

And in relation to those, it seems, desperate to expel as many members as possible, as quickly as possible, and whose actions facilitate trial by media, she wrote:

“The Labour Party should seek to uphold the strongest principles of natural justice…it is important to remember that the beginning of an investigation into alleged misconduct is just that. The making of a complaint marks the beginning, not the end, of a hopefully fair process that might end in a warning, admonishment, some further sanction up to and including expulsion from the Party, or exoneration and no further action whatsoever.”

She urged party disciplinary bodies “to consider greater use of a wide and creative range of sanctions. These may include a warning, the requirement for apologies and/or some other form of sensitive reparation to another member or person or persons, a public warning or reprimand”.

If that was still not considered sufficient then they may have to use “suspension from the Party for up to two years, and expulsion.” But, she added, “I do not recommend lifetime bans from the Labour Party. Present or future members of the NEC should not be robbed of their discretion to consider how someone may have changed their attitude”.

These are very wise words. And as the discussions continue on Labour’s policies for handling complaints it is time to rehabilitate the central themes of the Chakrabarti Report. I suspect the one time fascist, Charles Wegg-Prosser, who gave three of his years to Oswald Mosley, but decades afterwards to the Labour Party and to the defence of the rights of the most vulnerable, would strongly agree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hunt v Johnson: Battle for the grubbiest corner in the moral basement

I’m not that interested in the Tory leadership race in itself. Two wealthy, over-privileged, servants of the ruling class, both educated well beyond their intelligence, battling each other over who can offer more tax breaks to their friends.
 
10045527Though, until yesterday, I would have said that Jeremy Hunt would be hard pushed to make a statement as cynical, as inhuman, and as abusive of the experiences of ethnic minorities as anything Boris Johnson has managed.

Obviously I underestimated him. This is what Hunt told the Jewish News in an interview:
 
“When I went to Auschwitz I rather complacently said to myself, ‘thank goodness we don’t have to worry about that kind of thing happening in the UK’ and now I find myself faced with the leader of the Labour Party who has opened the door to antisemitism in a way that is truly frightening.”
 
What kind of a person could requisition and abuse the memory of the million + women, men and children gassed to death then reduced to ash in furnaces in Auschwitz Birkenau to score the very cheapest and grubbiest of political points?
 
I suppose one answer might be: a representative of a government that is allied with someScreen Shot 2019-07-03 at 12.29.42 of the most antisemitic, Islamophobic, homophobic and anti-refugee governments in the world; a government that created its own scandalous hostile environment, complete with “Go-Home” vans, that had such a devastating impact, especially on the Caribbean community in Britain, and continues to blight the lives of migrants.
 
I happen to know that Jeremy Corbyn visited Auschwitz before he became Labour leader (and has visited Theresienstadt since becoming leader). He did so to bear witness, to learn, to absorb its lessons for humanity; lessons that he has used in his continuing, decades-long, campaigns against all racism and injustice.
 
What a contrast.
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A cure for the summertime blues

Last summer was Labour’s most difficult one since Jeremy Corbyn got elected leader. Politics had been paralysed by Brexit. That paralysis was a deliberate Tory strategy to diffuse the energy and passion of the insurgency through which Labour won back millions of voters in the 2017 election campaign. The Tories used that Brexit-focused paralysis to stifle debate of any other contentious issues. Corbyn’s “centrist”, ie right wing, opponents within the party played along to weaken Corbyn’s position. In spring 2018, a “crisis” around accusations of historical antisemitism deliberately timed and engineered by a diverse range of pro-Tory and pro-Zionist  forces, drew in various anti-Corbyn elements ,

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Defector Berger

(especially Luciana Berger who has since defected, having inflicted maximum damage). This limited the impact Labour could make in the local elections in May 2018. Gains that they made nationally were offset against relatively poor results in a small number of councils and particular wards. These were repeatedly attributed by mainstream media to Labour’s “failure” to stamp out antisemitism.

Once those elections were done, the accusations magically started to fade. Newspapers who apparently had no trouble finding several “antisemitism” stories a week to generate screaming front page headlines in the run up to those elections, were running out of material by June and were just recycling tired, old accusations. Labour were lulled into thinking they were over the worst for the moment.

Far from it. Their opponents used June and July 2018 to store up potential cases, just as they are surely doing right now. When last year’s summer recess came, the Tories breathed a sigh of relief. They were still standing, battered and disunited, but without excessive scrutiny of their lack of progress on key domestic issues as well as Brexit. And whilst the antisemitism allegations were almost entirely focused on social media posts, attributed shutterstock_1086217508to Labour or Corbyn fans (often without proof), the Windrush scandal which surfaced in early April, and claimed Amber Rudd’s scalp, was all but drowned out. This scandal was so much bigger than loose or OTT language in a tweet that could be labelled as “antisemitism”. Windrush reflected cruel government policies over several years, the Hostile Environment, centrally implicating Theresa May, which had devastating and dehumanising real life impacts especially on Britain’s longstanding Caribbean community.

No doubt Labour was looking forward to getting out and about during last summer and creating a stir in the marginal seats, exposing the government ‘s failures and putting forward its own clear and costed transformative policies. But it didn’t work out like that.

Tory politicians went off for their holidays but left a key task for the Tory-friendly media: to find and publish as many new smears around Labour and antisemitism as possible. The national newspaper headlines and the BBC radio headlines were dominated almost every day through the summer recess by distorted and invented slurs against the Labour Party viz-a-viz Jews, which in most cases had little substance, but spread the poison.

This summer it is essential that Labour is well prepared for a similar onslaught, has a strategy to manage that inevitable attack, and finds a way to get its own positive agenda and radical policies into the headlines. At the same time it needs to re-invigorate its younger constituency, whose energy and commitment has been sapped by the stifling effect of the stalemate over Brexit and the failure of Labour to articulate its complex but principled policy in relation to Brexit in a convincing and positive way.

Labour needs to be confident about quickly identifying and dealing with real antisemitic incidents (there are some), while also being confident about condemning the cynical way that its opponents are trivialising it by using it as a factional political weapon.

Labour needs to call their bluff.  It needs to show that whilst the Labour Party has been speaking out against racist and fascist tendencies nationally and internationally, antisemitism in society has grown on Theresa May’s watch as have much more frequent instances of racism against Muslim communities and several other minorities. It needs to seize the moral high-ground and say this is hardly surprising given the alliances the Tory Party has with Trump and with very right wing antisemitic and Islamophobic parties in Europe. The Labour Party needs to emphasise that they wish to work with the Jewish community and other minority communities in tackling the threat of the Far Right together. And if the self-proclaimed “leaders” of the Jewish community are so blinkered and prejudiced that they refuse to play ball, then Labour should not plead with them, but go over their heads and build links with grassroots Jewish bodies who will.

Labour has to speak loudly and directly about the problems directly facing young people ZeroHoursImage– knife crime, zero-hours contracts, student fees, housing problems, and tap into the militancy they are showing especially around climate change. Labour’s positive statements towards the school students striking over the climate emergency, and their determination to lead a green industrial revolution have shown the way to go.

Labour has developed a set of great policies in the last three years, but hasn’t always promoted them as sharply as they could. These have to be promoted in ways that play up the fundamental class divides in British society, that illustrate the real fault lines which are much bigger and more significant than Leave/Remain. Labour needs to be controversial. Corbyn got a brilliant response when he talked before the 2017 election about the “rigged system” and how he would refuse to “play by the rules”. He got a similar response when he said more recently that the bankers are right to be scared of him. We need so much more of this, and not from Corbyn alone.

In this respect the likely coronation of a blunder-prone, racist liar, right wing populist and fan of Trump, as leader of the Tory Party, opens new opportunities to challenge forcefully his cutting and privatising agenda around the NHS, education, social care, youth provision, the environment, workers’ rights, council housing, legal aid, public ownership etc as well as challenging his racism head on and promoting a range of serious plans on equalities issues.

But, if Johnson wins, it also creates new dynamics around the Labour strategy re Brexit. We are in the endgame now, faced with an opponent who is actively seeking a “No-Deal Brexit” that will inflict enormous damage on ordinary people’s livelihoods. Labour has to champion those people. Its challenge is to do so in a way that enthuses, energises and draws in enough support across the Remain/Leave divide, while sidelining the purists, the “ultras”, on either side who stereotype their opponents but offer no solutions. And it must fully

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Laura Pidcock

utilise the most powerful emerging talents such as Rebecca Long -Bailey, Laura Pidcock, Richard Burgon and Dan Carden, alongside stalwarts such as Dianne Abbott and John McDonnell in doing so.

If Hunt wins the Tory race, and tries to show he is more moderate and less personally obnoxious than Johnson, much of this still stands. Hunt represents class privilege and a privatising agenda too, but the key now, whoever Labour face, is to sharpen up Labour’s messages and take them out to the public, especially in the key Tory/Labour marginals in the Midlands and the North of England. This time, there is a cure at hand for the summertime blues, and the prize will be a government of social justice sooner rather than later.

 

 

 

Never forget – except when it comes to Trump?

US President Donald Trump arrived in London today. Labour politicians, such as Jeremy Screen Shot 2019-06-03 at 12.00.18Corbyn, Diane Abbott, Emily Thornberry and Sadiq Khan have led the way in decrying this invitation to him on the basis of his record of racist statements and actions.

Leading figures from minority communities have spoken out, but there is a strange silence from those who regard themselves, and are treated by the government and media, as Jewish community leaders.

These include organisations who show a special interest in digging out antisemitic material posted on social media, and Facebook posts, tweets and memes in relation to Israel (often contested) that they regard as antisemitic.

Do they not remember the social media behaviour of the US President in the run up to the vote that elected him?

trump meme clinton star of davidHave they forgotten the meme he used from a far-right/white supremacist site showing Hilary Clinton against a backdrop of dollar bills with the comment “most corrupt candidate ever” encased in a 6-pointed Star of David?

Have they forgotten that in November 2017 he was retweeting Islamophobic tweets from Britain First – a fascist group that splintered from the BNP, not to mention the several times he retweeted from far-right neo-Nazi accounts such as @WhiteGenocideTM, whose profile locates the account holder in “Jewmerica”?

Have they blanked out of their minds his astonishing comment about “very fine people” at the Charlottesville protests, where alongside anti-black racism, hundreds of marchers were chanting “Jews will not replace us”?

Do they not recall one of the last videos that Trump put out just before the presidential Screen Shot 2019-06-03 at 11.50.27election that fingered three wealthy Jews — George Soros, Janet Yellen and Lloyd Blankfein – in which he railed against “those who control the levers of power in Washington”, the “global special interests” who “do not have your good in mind”?

The silence of the Board of Deputies, Jewish Leadership Council, the Chief Rabbi, and the Campaign Against Antisemitism over Donald Trump’s visit is absolutely shameful.

“…like me, a little bit controversial, but that’s okay.”

Ahead of Donald Trump’s state visit to Britain, I gave a speech to an event hosted by Stand up to Racism and Unite Against Fascism, called:How can we stop Trump and the far right across Europe?”

In order to talk about Trump I want to link back to the discussion about the populist right in Europe. Six weeks ago I was in Poland, and have been several times in recent years. In Poland the Law and Justice Party is in power and they were strengthened through the European elections. They are an authoritarian, national-conservative, racist party, whose rule, like Trump’s America has given permission to far right forces to come in from the margins. While some Law and Justice politicians had involvement with far-right groups in their youth, they keep a distance from out and out Nazis – though they swim in some of the same ideological waters pushing antisemitic, Islamophobic, anti-Roma themes.

There seems to be a friendly competition going on between Poland’s Law and Justice party and Victor Orban’s governing Fidesz party in Hungary as to which can be more right wing and authoritarian.

Which brings us back to Trump.

800x-1Just a couple of weeks ago, Orban was Trump’s guest of honour in Washington. Trump was very happy to put the official welcome event for Orban on the web. He said: “It’s a great honour to have with us the Prime Minister of Hungary… Viktor Orbán has done a tremendous job in so many different ways.  Highly respected.  Respected all over Europe.  Probably, like me, a little bit controversial, but that’s okay… You’ve done a good job and you’ve kept your country safe.”

Let’s unpick this: safe from whom? I think this is a reference to Orban’s Islamophobic and anti-refugee stances.

Respected by whom? Not by the workers in Hungary who have taken to the streets to protest the new Labour Law (or “Slavery Law” they call it, which forces them to do hundreds of hours of overtime. Not by civil liberties campaigners fighting authoritarianism. Not by progressive students at universities where Orban has shut down women’s studies courses,

When Trump says “A bit controversial – but that’s OK” – what exactly is OK?

Is it Orban’s classic antisemitism expressed about the Hungarian Jew, George Sof67592c1b92044db850d41d0b405fd26_18ros?
“We are fighting an enemy that is different from us. Not open, but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base; not national but international; does not believe in working but speculates with money”

Orban replied to Trump’s welcome: “… I would like to express that we are proud to stand together with the United States on fighting against illegal migration, on terrorism, and to protect and help the Christian communities all around the world.

Again – protect Christian communities from whom? Trump responded: “You have been great with respect to Christian communities, you have really put a block up. And we appreciate that very much.”

In Hungary, Poland and other neighbouring states where right wing populists rule, defence of the Christian family coupled with attacks on women’s equality are playing out very well among working class voters, as well as more economically comfortable supporters.

Trump is also constantly trying to please his ultra-right-wing Christian fundamentalist supporters.

As anti-racists and anti-fascists we have to broaden our scope to acknowledge how important these themes are alongside more obvious racism, and reflect that on our platforms, in our campaigning literature, and in the broad alliances we seek to build.

Trump-worship-1-750x400Trump’s warmongering foreign policy, his devotion to the most right wing elements in Israel,  and his attempts to inflame and undermine Palestinians, owe as much, and probably more, to lobbying from Christian evangelical fundamentalists as they do to the hard-right Zionist segment of the American Jewish community.

The Jewish community in the US voted overwhelmingly against Trump. It is on Trump’s watch that we have had murderous neo-Nazi attacks on American synagogues, and marchers in Charlottesville combining their open anti-black racism with chants of “Jews will not replace us”. These are the violent, hardcore fascists that Trump included when he spoke about “good people”

Jewish organisations must certainly be included in broad-based coalitions against Trump along with the other groups he has spoken and acted against: (in alphabetical order) Blacks, climate change activists, human rights campaigners, Latinos,  LGBT, migrant children, migrant workers, Muslims, refugees, women… and more.

In terms of the work we do here in Britain, it is really important to expose all aspects of Trump’s ideas and actions and to understand the direct connections he has here, and the relationships he is building. His strongest links are with Farage. They are natural allies on several key issues. In my view, it is wrong to describe either Trump or Farage as “fascists”, though they both benefit the fascists, and give them more space and more air to breathe in.

It interests me that Trump is more keen on Farage and Boris Johnson, than on TommyScreen Shot 2019-06-01 at 18.57.54 Robinson and Gerard Batten, who have flirted more openly with fascist street movements. Though this might just be a smokescreen masking a division of labour. Trump’s former close aide, Steve Bannon, the alt-right, white supremacist and antisemite who didn’t want his girls attending a school which had Jewish girls in it, is working more closely with Robinson and Batten

Trump and Farage are fundamentally free-marketeers dedicated to making the rich richer. They are both deeply racist, and openly share conspiracy theories with regard to what they call in code: the “globalists” or “global elite”, personified for them by people like the Hungarian Jew George Soros, a financier of many progressive migrant/refugee/social projects.

Like Trump, Farage is a great admirer of Orban. And Trump is now also strengthening his connections with Boris Johnson, another racist free marketeer.

What is crucial for us is to understand is the attraction that Farage and Trump (and, to some extent, Johnson) have among people whose economic interests they absolutely do not represent. And that is where we need to consider clever and effective ways of campaigning involving face to face conversations, and not just think in terms of large rallies. In our heads we can conjure up all kinds of abusive words to describe Trump and Farage but simply calling people “racists” doesn’t change one mind.

in the conversations we need to have, we need to get inside the hearts and minds, and recognise the day-to-day material problems and fears of those who are being seduced by wealthy right wing nationalists and racist populists: the first-time Brexit Party voters. We need to talk with them in ways that will win them away from that thinking, and develop the kinds of campaigns around  local as well as national issues that can shift their perspective.

All out against Trumps’s visit: Assemble 11am, Trafalgar Square, 4th June

Lib-Dems – worth a punt?

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Lord Balfour

In 1905 A Tory government, led by Lord Balfour, passed the Aliens Act – Britain’s first major modern day Immigration law in peacetime – principally directed against Jews fleeing pogroms and discrimination in the Tsarist Russian empire. The opposition party – the Liberals – had, it seemed, taken a principled position during the debates around this in 1905 strenuously opposing this racist and discriminatory legislation, aimed at impoverished Jewish migrants.

Every key principle enshrining racism and discrimination, and the inhuman attitudes towards and treatment of migrants encouraged through such laws, is right there in that Act, that came into effect in 1906. It created Immigration officers, including medical officers who could turn back migrants on medical grounds. One of the first to be turned back was a 9-year-old Russian Jewish girl in January 1906, because she was deaf and mute and therefore thought likely to be a burden on the rates.
It divided migrants seeking entry into the categories “Desirable ” and “Undesirable” – as every piece of British immigration legislation has continued to do. And it provided powers of deportation. Even if a migrant had been allowed entry, if they were found wandering the streets six months or more after entry, without any visible means of support, they could be rounded up and summarily deported. More than 1,000 such Jewish migrants were deported on those grounds in the first four years of the Act.Only, by then, Balfour’s Tories were no longer in power. The Liberals defeated them, forgot about their previous opposition to such horrible legislation and set about implementing it themselves, not wanting to be seen as “soft on migrants” or accused of “letting them all in”.

If this hasn’t rung any bells yet with the behaviour of the Liberal Democrats today it 1181652e Politics Coalitioncertainly should have done. Theresa May, as Home Secretary, announced her shameful and cruel “Hostile Environment” policies  in 2012 – two years into the Tory-Lib-Dem coalition (or the Con-Dem nation as it came to be called). The Tories knew that they could absolutely count on the Lib–Dems for support.

In May 2013, Theresa May spoke proudly at Tory Conference proudly of her modus operandi: “Deport first and hear appeals later”. That same year saw the first of the despicable “Go-Home-Vans” appearing on the streets of areas with significant migrant populations.

Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 12.30.48We now know with absolute clarity the terrible human cost of such policies as played out through the Windrush Scandal. The government’s junior partners cannot escape their culpability for this. They knew of every inhuman act that was being done by the Home Secretary that impacted on migrants and refugees. Today we are still learning of the further devastating impact it had on longstanding British citizens who were born overseas but came to live here as children.

Even before the Windrush Scandal broke politicians of all parties were aware of how Theresa May’s Hostile Environment was translating into street-based racial abuse and assaults. Yet the Lib-Dems chose to continue propping up that government, so they could continue to play some part in government, and delude themselves that they had influence, whatever the cost to those who were marginalised and made more vulnerable by such inhuman policies. Their collusion was scandalous.

There is a real threat that the even more blatant racists Tommy Robinson, Nigel Farage, Gerard Batten, are going to make advances this week in the European elections. I have met decent people who seem to have quickly forgotten the Lib-Dems support for the devastating cuts to welfare and social care enacted by the Tory-dominated coalition government, their u-turn on tuition fees, and every act that deepened austerity and suffering. But I would hope that any principled anti-racists would not seriously entertain voting for the Lib-Dems this week to express some kind of disappointment, disagreement or protest over Labour’s complex approach to the Tory/UKIP created mess that is Brexit.