Solidarity is not just for Christmas

Who would choose to trek to a public meeting  on a Saturday afternoon between Christmas and New Year? A few hardened militants perhaps. Or maybe a few meeting junkies who turn up to everything and have no social life. On this day, 28th December, in 1889, the Eastern Post reported that “Some 2,800 were present” at a meeting held at the Great Assembly Hall on the Mile End Road in London’s East End. They were there to try to cement the dramatic workplace victories that occurred in the summer and autumn of that year, by creating a “Federation of East London Unions”.

The poster advertising the event is a fascinating document in itself, and touches on very current arguments about labour issues that have embroiled figures such as Andy Burnham, Diane Abbott and Len McCluskey among others.

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The three rows of speaker names beneath the Chair – Charles V Adams – include the legendary union leaders and activists, Ben Tillett and Tom Mann, who had led the successful strike that year for the “dockers’ tanner”, and popularised the “new unionism”. Also listed is the anarchist-communist Charles Mowbray – who railed against slum landlords as well as factory bosses, – and other trade unionists sporting English, Scottish and Welsh names. The four rows of speakers advertised immediately below them sound more “foreign”: Weinberg, Feigenbaum, Goldstone, Goldstein, Sebersky, Rosenberg… (as a Rosenberg myself, I’m pleased to see one among them.)

These were Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrant activists, part of the wave of migration by pauperised Jews leaving the Tsarist Russian Empire, mainly after 1881, fleeing from persecution and discrimination but also seeking better economic opportunities. Today’s right wing press draws a simple line separating refugees from economic migrants (though it rails against both), but in the face of pogroms as well as economic discrimination, no such simple line could be drawn then. The Eastern Post report of the meeting added that “speeches were made in different languages and translated.”

The well-known phrase, “Workers of the World Unite” that regularly adorned leaflets and banners of this period, appears below the list of speakers. In this case though it expressed the very essence of the venture being undertaken. Workers – migrants, children of migrants and those who could trace their families several generations back to the local area, (“indigenous”) – were uniting across barriers of ethnicity, language, culture and country of origin, for mutual benefit.

The bottom section of the poster reiterated the main details of when and where the meeting would take place in Yiddish, the mame loshn (mother tongue) of many who were invited to atttend. This initiative was driven by a militantYiddish-speaking immigrant  called William (Woolf) Wess. A shoemaker at twelve, he worked as a machinist in Dvinsk (Latvia) before arriving in London aged 20 in 1881. He came with  some already formed socialist ideas, which matured through involvement with the likes of William Morris and Eleanor Marx in the Socialist League, and Freedom, “a journal of anarchist-socialism”.

img_2700Wess and his comrades laid the foundations for activism among sweated immigrant workers by forming unions and establishing an International Workers’ Education Club in Berner Street (later renamed Henriques Street), committed to the “social and political enlightenment of its members”. It provided a venue for shnayders (tailors), shusters (shoemakers) and stolyers (cabinet makers) – the main jobs the immigrant workers did – to eat, drink, read newspapers, play chess and share workplace experiences after long days in the sweatshops and factories.

The club also had a printing press, churning out leaflets, manifestos and a 12-page weekly newspaper, the Arbayter Fraynd (Workers’ friend), which reduced to four pages and came out daily as a bulletin during significant strikes. It was the wave of strikes and militancy in East London from the summer of 1888 through 1889 that this meeting was building on. Karl Marx’s collaborator and sponsor, Friedrich Engels, had been much more pessimistic in a letter of April 1888 to the writer Margaret Harkness, in which he stated: “Nowhere else in the civilized world are the people less actively resistant, more passively submitting to their fate than in the East End of London.” But by the time this meeting took place, women of the Bryant and May match factory had defiantly stood up for their rights winning better conditions and an end to a petty system of fines that regularly stole money from already thin wage packets; gasworkers at Beckton, near West Ham had become the first workers in and around London to achieve the 8-hour day; The dockers had won their tanner and the longer call-on shifts they were demanding and, with the help of a very timely donation from the strike committee of the very same dockers, when their strike fund almost reached rock bottom, more than 7,000 immigrant Jewish tailors had won a 12-hour day instead of a 14-18 hour day.

If Engels was wrong in his forecast, it was George Lansbury who later wrote about the key role that migrant labour, especially from Jewish and Irish communities, had played in awakening inspiring and mobilising successful workers struggles in the East End. The federation formed in the East End that night helped institutionalise the solidarity that improved conditions for all. These strikes and campaigns were also marked by community support beyond the workplace, public meetings in indoor and outdoor venues, petitions and marches, donations of food for striking workers and their families, and rent strikes, in the dockers’ case mainly led by women, who hung notices around their estates saying “As we are on strike landlords need not call”. But the key feature was a sentiment expressed by Charles Adams, the chair of the meeting on 28 December 1889, who had been tasked by his union, the Alliance Cabinet Makers’ Association, with organising Jewish immigrant carpenters. He told the meeting that,  “…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”.

apostle-ben-tillettThe dockers leader, Ben Tillett, had a well-documented reputation as a xenophobe, and once told a gathering of Jewish migrant workers: “You are our brothers and we will do our duty by you, but we wish you had not come.” He and some of his colleagues expressed concerns that a constant flow of new migrants willing to work long hours for low pay would undermine the conditions won through struggle by trade unions. In the 1890s the TUC called for immigration control. But in practice Tillett saw the solutions in unionising  migrant workers and forming joint struggles. Many of the dockers were in fact of Irish heritage, as was Tillett himself.

In 2009, under economic pressures Gordon Brown mouthed the longstanding call of narrow nationalists, usually associated with the Far Right when he advocated “British jobs for British workers”. While Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn have continued to defend freedom of movement for all workers, in the wake of the EU referendum, Andy Burnham signalled his retreat from this, saying: “There is a feeling the political class hasn’t taken concerns about… immigration seriously and acted on them”, adding more recently, “We need a system that affords greater control. That allows us to bring people to work here and contribute to our economy and society, but also deals with the negative effects of full free movement.”

Unite’s General Secretary Len McCluskey, who has long been active in the fight against racism and fascism, and has spoken up for refugee rights, was criticised by some on the left recently when he appeared at first to be conceding on the freedom of movement argument. But he later revealed his more nuanced position when pressed, that was about trade unions, not border officers, exercising control, or as he prefers to put it, placing “safeguards”. While reiterating his full commitment to refugee rights, he proposes that “any employer wishing to recruit labour abroad can only do so if they are either covered by a proper trade union agreement, or by sectoral collective bargaining.” He argues that this would provide “every worker, wherever they are from, with a decent job and every family with a decent home.” He added that “unions here need to unite with trade unions in other countries to put an end to the playing off of workers in one part of the world against each other, to oppose the power of global capital with the power of a renewed international labour movement… The problem is not cheap labour in Britain – it’s cheap labour anywhere.”

As we move closer to Brexit, and the struggles by the Labour Party and labour movement intensify to defend all workers rights in whatever settlement is achieved, it is important that we recognise the gains made recently through struggle by impoverished migrant workers, such as cleaning workers, and that we remember the gains that were made in the late 19th century for all, when workers already here and migrant workers who had recently arrived  were part of one common struggle. We need to draw on the internationalist spirit that typified that public meeting on this day in 1889 if we are to successfully combine workers’ struggles and anti-racist struggles in 2017.

Labour’s health campaign – time to join more dots

Last night’s NHS rally at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster had one incredibly powerful moment. It was when the chair, Tracy Brabin, the new MP for Batley and Spen, called the fifth out of six  excellent platform speakers to the rostrum. She was an older woman called Aneira Thomas, and if her first name is an unfamiliar one, well, she was named after a man – Aneurin Bevan – the founder of Britain’s National Health Service in July 1948. And Aneira was the first baby welcomed into the world by that Health Service at 12.01am, on the day the NHS was born.

She exudes warmth and commitment to the causes she believes in, and her top priority is the NHS. She spent a lifetime working as a mental health nurse. When she spoke with such passion I melted, and I am sure others around me felt the same emotions. Many in the room gave her a standing ovation. I don’t know if the moment was captured on the News last night, but if the media posse, out in such force for Peter Tatchell’s stunt a few days ago, were there, they were pretty well hidden.

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There were many very good aspects to the rally beyond Aneira’s exceptional contribution. Alongside Tracy Brabin, there were three MPs. The first to speak was Sarah Champion, Shadow Minister for Women’s Equality, who set out very clearly the negative impact that cuts to health and social care were having on women of different generations, forcing many to give up work to take on caring roles. Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, who represents Leicester South, but comes from further north, had strong words for UKIP’s great white hope Paul Nuttall – proud to be a working class northerner, and proud also to be an NHS privatiser given half a chance. Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, gave a storming speech – which tore into the Conservatives’ agenda of selling off the health service, placed the life and death cuts being made to it alongside the huge handouts for the Tories’ mates through cuts to Corporation Tax, and argued forcefully that health care was not a privilege but a right. For everyone in Britain.

Alongside the national politicians, was  the Labour leader of Greenwich Council, Denise Hyland who described how the cuts played out at local level, and Eleanor Smith a theatre nurse at Birmingham’s Women’s hospital,  and the first black woman to be president of UNISON, reporting from the front line, where she has been for the last 39 years.

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The event was slickly presented – music in the room before and after, a short powerful set of images on a screen before the speakers appeared representing Labour’s achievements in recent decades. The unity of purpose among the speakers was abundantly clear. The warmth and mutual appreciation between Jeremy Corbyn and his fellow MPs on the platform, despite the strained relationships in the PLP, constantly highlighted by the mainstream media, shone through. And yet there were also missed opportunities.

A wise fellow socialist , sadly no longer with us, always told me that when you look at government spending on education and health, don’t fix your gaze only on where the money goes in but check where it comes out too. One of the scandals of the  health service inTory hands is the huge profits made by the pharmaceutical industry. One Big Pharma company , Pfizer (yes, the one Owen Smith used to work for), has just been caught out, and fined £84.2m for overcharging the NHS. They are the tip of the iceberg, but none of the speakers mentioned the pharmaceutical industry, or asked who they will pay the fine to  (government or NHS?), or said how Labour might regulate these profiteers.

And while Jeremy Corbyn was absolutely right to highlight the obscenity of cuts to corporation tax, he and other speakers could have spelt out precisely what the government is choosing to spend money on. For example, the £369m project to refurbish Buckingham Palace. These are arguments that activists need to be armed with.

The biggest omission, though, was in relation to UKIP. Jonathan Ashworth presented half the argument here, exposing UKIP’s pretence at standing up for working people when they want to dismantle the NHS and sell it to private capitalists, yet it is the very service that working class people most need to be able to depend upon.

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But UKIP’s key message to working class people at the moment has a different emphasis. it is to encourage them to blame immigrants and refugees for the difficulties they encounter. They are ramping up racism against a range of targets, thinking this will play out well among struggling working class people. While some in the Labour Party are buckling, Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott, in particular, have made strong statements against racism, and in defence of free movment, and the contribution migrants make.

This could and should have been reiterated powerfully last night in the context of defending the NHS. The NHS is our strongest example of the benefits of immigration, as a service that so many migrants, from the Windrush generation on, have dedicated their working lives to for the benefit of all. When racists moan that migrants are affecting the health service, we can say with confidence “Yes they do, they make it work!”

Over all, the rally last night gave me hope that Labour can fight back against the Tories, after a gruelling year, because it has the basic arguments that the bulk of the people can identify with. We must strengthen these arguments, wherever and whenever we can, by joining the dots together, to undermine Tory hypocrisy and waste, and expose UKIP’s shallow opportunism.

 

Fighting antisemitism or aiding it?

In 1981, a wise Israeli journalist called Boaz Evron observed that the Jewish people endured two tragedies in the 20th century. One of course was the Holocaust. The second, he suggested more controversially,  was what he termed “the lessons drawn from it” by those in power in Israel. These were the narrow nationalist lessons that “Never Again” applied to the Jews alone, rather than humanity in general; that antisemitism was different from other forms of racism; that threats to Israel were always existential; that critics of Israel were always motivated by antisemitism, and many of them really wanted to perpetrate a second Holocaust. In Evron’s view, the main aims of Holocaust awareness perpetuated by Israeli politicians and mainstream media, and through Israel’s education system, were “not at all an understanding of the past  but a manipulation of the present.” (my emphasis)

My mind drifted back to Evron’s wise words when I heard that Theresa May has decided that she wants to adopt a definition of antisemitism drawn up by a grouping called the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and turn it into law in Britain. She says this will enable the government to tackle rising antisemitism. But you wouldn’t draw much confidence when you look down the list of 30 countries that have also signed up to this approach. These include several where antisemitism is rising in terms of incidents, and in some, such as Austria, Poland, Greece and Hungary, politicians and leading commentators seem to indulge in antisemitism themselves.

It’s not very international either. The 31 countries signed up to the alliance are, with just four exceptions, confined to Europe. Those four exceptions are Argentina, Canada, Israel, and the USA. The USA  has just elected a president not only endorsed enthusiastically by  dozens of far right organisations in America, but who has personally indulged his antisemitism in his election campaign, and appointed individuals widely accused of antisemitism and other forms of racism to key posts. Is this coalition saying that African and Asian countries (other than Israel), despite long histories of exposure to racism and its terrible outcomes, and the fact that several have diasporic Jewish communities, have nothing to contribute on tackling antisemitism?

But returning to Evron’s points, this definition by the IHRA is also an act of manipulation. It draws heavily on an earlier attempt in Europe, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) definition of 2005, which was dropped by the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency in 2013 because of the way it had stretched and twisted that definition to include various forms of criticism of Israel and opposition to Zionism. The IHRA seeks to revive the worst aspects of the EUMC definition, for the main purpose, I believe, of defending the Israeli government’s increasingly indefensible policies from attack by supporters of human rights, by anti-racists, and by growing numbers of dissident Jews in Europe, America, South Africa, and also in Israel! If you can label such critics as antisemites, you can hope to nullify their impact among the wider population and on political actors who might challenge the continued oppression of the Palestinians.

The basic definition that the IHRA works from is rather wordy but not so contentious: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred
toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed
toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish
community institutions and religious facilities.” Immediately after that, though, it leaps to: “Manifestations might include the targeting of Israel conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”
That is quite a catch-all. So it then steps back to reassure those of us who may be less than enthusiastic about the actions of the Israeli state, that “criticism of Israel  similar to that levelled against any other cannot be regarded as antisemitic”. But there are reasons why Israel attracts a qualitatively different kind of opprobrium to most other states, and it is not about antisemitism. It is about Israel being an ethnocracy and an occupying power. There is no doubt that many social democratic states around the world have a long way to go before we can say that their minority populations are treated equally. There is much institutionalised and indirect racism across the world but in most countries it is against the law; in Israel, though, discrimination is built into many of the laws. Palestinians within the pre-1967 borders of Israel are second class citizens, and those in the Occupied Territories are ultimately under Israeli state control and suffer daily acts of repression despite a certain measure of autonomy given to the Palestinian Authority.  Palestinian political activists (including children) fill Israel prisons, many of them under administrative detention with no date set for any process of justice.
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The IHRA definition  gives eleven examples of antisemitism, five of which mention Israel, while one refers to “it” meaning the State of Israel. This conflation of Israel and Jews has the potential to outlaw perfectly legitimate pro-Palestinian human rights campaigns as antisemitic. It is also dangerous for Jews. If opposition to Israeli policy and state action can be defined as antisemitic in such a manipulative way, those who will quite rightly continue to stand up for Palestinian rights will become less frightened of the label “antisemite”; as a result, the targets of their actions might spread from those directly identified with the Israeli state to more general Jewish targets. Theresa May deliberately added to the blurring of Jews and Israel by announcing her plan not at a Jewish community gathering, but at a luncheon organised by the Conservative Friends of Israel – a body that brings together right wing non-Jewish and Jewish supporters of Israel, no doubt, with more than a fair sprinkling of Islamophobes among them. It was not an anti-racist gathering
One of the sleights of hand which fuels that conflation is this clause:
“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
Let’s unpack this. Jewish people live in many different countries where they exercise their self-determination. They live as Jews, practising their Jewish life in each of them in their own way, in almost every single case with very few or no restrictions.  Most Jews in the world already have one homeland and don’t see the need for another. For many decades now, almost every Jew who wished to do so could go to Israel where they would automatically be granted citizenship to exercise their self-determination there, something denied to Palestinian refugees. The majority have opted to stay in the diaspora, and that diaspora has been swelled by a significant number of Israelis who find it much more tolerable to live outside of Israel.  Most Jewish self-determination therefore takes place outside of a “Jewish State”.
As for the accusation that the existence of Israel is a racist endeavour, you don’t have to believe that those who founded Israel were inspired by racism to recognise that racism has been an indisputable outcome of the creation of Israel, and that this racism has had more horrible manifestations  in each succeeding decade. Neither do you have to define all Zionists as racists  to acknowledge as a fact that Israel’s creation involved the displacement, the ethnic cleansing, of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.
The creation of Israel solved a problem for many Jewish Holocaust survivors who languished for years in Displaced Persons camps in Europe with no countries offering to take them. But as their problem was solved by moving to Palestine/Israel, another tragic problem was being created for another people who had just as much or more right to live there.
Many Jews who settled in Israel were in fact left wing, anti-racist, anti-fascist  idealists who settled in kibbutzim and believed they were creating a new and just society. They sincerely  believed that they were striking a blow against antisemitism in the world, but they were blind to its impact on the Palestinians.
Israeli society is not monolithic, and there are a small but growing number of groups in Israel who challenge the status quo, who monitor human rights abuses, who stand up for Palestinian rights, who engage in solidarity activity despite repression from the authorities, and who are not afraid to call many actions of the Israeli state “racist” endeavours. It would be the height of absurdity to label these people and groups “antisemites” but that is where definitions like the IHRA’s take us.
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What kinds of attitudes towards Holocaust remembrance are likely to be engendered when a body whose very name commits itself to that, but in practice uses that name as a shield to defend an ethnocracy, a heartless occupying power, from perfectly legitimate censure? It will undoubtedly engender attitudes of cynicism and even hostility. That is bad for humanity.
Holocaust remembrance gains, rather than lessens, in its importance in a world that is sliding further and further away from the Declaration of Human Rights established just after the horrors of the Nazi genocide. Whether it is the treatment of longstanding minorities, newer migrants, or refugees, we see unambiguous processes of scapegoating, discrimination, exclusion, and dehumanisation unfolding in front of our eyes. Processes that must feel very painful to those, such as Boaz Evron, now nearly 90 years old , and to so many human rights campaigners, who have made an effort to learn and apply the lessons for humanity from the Holocaust.

Those lessons implore us to stand up and unite against all forms of racism and intolerance, whether directed against Jews, Blacks, Gypsies and Travellers, Muslims or, indeed, Palestinians.

Ghettoes of the mind

Last week I was re-reading an angry but meticulously argued pamphlet, from 1980, by my late friend, colleague and comrade Ken Leech: Brick Lane 1978: The events and their significance. It focused on the Bengali community in the East End, many of whom had arrived in the previous 10 years. They were struggling economically, and under siege from racists and fascists. Their daily concerns merited little attention from the police or the press. They lived close to each other, not just for safety in numbers but as a result of discrimination and social exclusion. Among them, and nearby, lived other struggling East Enders, black and white. In social commentary about the Bengali community, the word “ghetto” cropped up repeatedly, but Leech told his readers:

“Brick Lane is not a ghetto in the racial sense. But it is a ghetto of the poor, of the marginalised, of the oppressed. No attempt to deal with racism alone will be adequate any  more than will the attempt to evade racism. The attack on racism, whether in the form of organised racist groups or in the more pervasive form of our institutions and laws, must not be watered down. However it is essential to widen the attack into one on the oppression of the urban poor… Brick Lane is a community disfigured by unemployment, by racial discrimination by deprivation of resources.”

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Leech challenged “the commonly held white mythology of the oppressed, victimised Asian, passive and fearful, helpless…” and showed how that community  helped and organised itself and found allies in the diverse, wider community locally.

Yesterday I read the 18-page executive summary of Louise Casey’s “Review into Opportunity and Integration”, which talks of “ghettoes” and “segregation”. I was so glad I had read Ken Leech’s pamphlet first. Their approaches and assumptions are like chalk and cheese. Everything that is so insightful in Leech’s work is missing in Casey’s.

Casey says quite candidly: “I approached this review with an absolute belief that we are a compassionate, tolerant and liberal country” with “a media that exposes corruption and injustice whoever you are, and a legal system that treats everybody as innocent until proved otherwise”. For Casey, “Creating a just, fair society where everyone can prosper and get on is a cornerstone of Britain’s values.” The Britain she knows “has developed some of the strongest equalities legislation in the world, and provided greater freedoms to be different.” It has made “great strides in gender equality.”

Nothing that Casey  encountered during her review seems to have challenged her own narrow assumptions. But let’s look at some truths here about this “compassionate, tolerant and liberal country”.

Since the 1970s, under both Tory and Labour governments and a Tory Lib-Dem coalition, the wealth gap between rich and poor in Britain has grown enormously, homelessness has mushroomed, gentrification is enacting social cleansing, while rights to protest and wider civil liberties have been severely eroded alongside the removal of legal aid channels for many who need it to challenge injustices. Meanwhile the discriminatory Prevent Strategy spreads unease within Muslim communities.

The media, with occasional exceptions, gives a free pass to those who have cornered most of that wealth for themselves, praising their entrepreneurial spirit, treating them as celebrities, preferring to scapegoat the poor for poverty, targeting immigrants and refugees for social problems, and whipping up Islamophobic prejudices.

As for gender equality, there is still a gap of 14% in Britain between the earnings of men and women in full-time employment. Men are still more concentrated in senior roles and women more likely to be working in low paid, low skilled jobs. Women are also less likely to be working full time, partly because of spiraling childcare costs, with women taking on the main burden of childcare.

In this period since the 1970s, segregation and ghettoisation has occurred, but not the segregation Casey notices.  As one of our foremost Human Geographers, Danny Dorling, has pointed out, the most aggressive moves towards geographical ghettoisation, have come from mainly white people within the predominantly middle and upper income bracket, housing themselves within gated communities; guarding their wealth and power by limiting their physical contact with people from less privileged classes and especially from ethnic minorities within those poorer classes, while ensuring that their children are educated in schools  largely devoid of those minorities. They may not mind Sajid Javid living next door but might not be keen on having his poorer relatives living on the other side

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Casey’s focus on ghettoes is not here. She avoid questions of class and accumulation of substantial wealth,  but notes that Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities in particular, are generally not keeping up. She hints that some are held back by prejudice, and “social exclusion”, but remarks that they  “tend to live in more residentially segregated communities than other ethnic minority groups”. In these communities, she says,  “economic inactivity levels remain unusually high among women”. Arguing  that “English language is a common denominator and a strong enabler of integration” (and social mobility), she states that:  “Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic groups have the lowest levels of English language proficiency of any Black or Minority Ethnic group… and women in those communities are twice as likely as men to have poor English.”

If you are expecting details about the drastic cuts to ESOL classes, and the widespread and unchecked discrimination that keeps minority ethnic women in casualised, low-paid work or more prone to unemployment, you will need to look elsewhere. Casey looks mainly for explanations within those struggling communities themselves. If this sounds familiar, it does appear to dovetail  with David Cameron’s assertions in 2016, which cast women from Muslim communities as “traditionally submissive” and blamed them for not integrating, rather than giving due weight to the direct and indirect racism they suffer, including regular abuse and frequent physical attacks that blight their lives and hamper their desire for equality.

What those of us fighting for equality should take more seriously, even if it is uncomfortable and tricky territory, is when Casey talks of  “regressive cultural and religious practices”, and “religious, cultural and social barriers” preventing women “from accessing even their basic rights”. She refers explicitly to “criminal practices, such as female genital mutilation, forced marriage and so called ‘honour’ based crime”, and also claims that “lesbian, gay and bisexual groups who suffer discrimination in mainstream society… are affected twice over when they also belong to a community that can be culturally intolerant of non-heterosexual identification.”

Apart from the massive generalisation/stereotype of the range of attitudes within Muslim communities, those of us who have grown up in traditional Jewish or Christian communities or attended faith schools within these religions, will know that practices of cultural intolerance towards LGBT individuals can be equally repressive. Casey’s almost exclusive focus on Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslim communities is suspect, to put it charitably.

Some anti-racists are wary of acknowledging and tackling human rights issues within minority communities. We shouldn’t be. Human rights are indivisible. If we support the most vulnerable, oppressed and marginalised within society in general, then we must also support the oppressed and marginalised within minority communities.

What does bother me is that Casey does nothing to enlighten us as to how these issues have been and continue to be  challenged by courageous individuals and groups within the minority communities she homes in on, such as, for example, by Southall Black Sisters, at the very same time as they are challenging economic discrimination, social exclusion, institutional racism and racist attacks.

Casey’s executive summary  gives no agency to those she sees as passive victims. Instead she informs us that “Too many public institutions… have ignored or even condoned regressive, divisive and harmful cultural and religious practices, for fear of being branded racist or Islamophobic.” It is a complacent and blinkered attitude that may result her review itself being branded as racist and Islamophobic. That would not be wrong, but that is not the only problem with it, and it would be tragic if that meant that progressives outside these communities do not support women and sexual minorities within them who are taking up these human rights issues at the same time as they expose the prejudiced class ridden perspectives that Cameron and Casey seem to embody.

In one small section of the Executive summary, Casey seems to refer to communities other than Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslims, when she turns her attention to immigration in general.  She talks of the “unease” felt by “traditional White British communities” (as if all white people are of one mind) adding that “in a situation where the country has been through an economic downturn, it is understandable that the pace and scale of immigration has felt too much for some communities.”

But who are these “traditional White British communities”? Immigrants have been coming to Britain for thousands of years. They have tended to settle in towns and cities, predominantly among the working class. And while in some areas a majority or even a large majority of them may be white, working class communities have long been diverse. Which brings us back to Ken Leech’s observation about the oppression of the marginalised and oppressed urban poor – the diverse urban poor. Casey, like Cameron is locked into a set of “us and them” perspectives without, apparently, even being conscious of how narrow a perspective it really is. The ghettoes of Britain today are to be found in the growing gated communities of the privileged.  They are also to be found in the walled-in mindset of elite commentators such as Cameron and Casey.