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Ciaran Mulholland & Peter Hadden

Fighting racism

(May 2004)

From Socialist Voice (Dublin), May 2004.
Transcribed By Ciaran Crossey.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The wave of racist attacks that has blighted Northern Ireland in recent months has continued and may have claimed its first life. Worryingly, the recent murder in Moneymore may have had a racist motive or at least racist undertones.

Racist attacks appear to have three sources locally. Most are probably organised by no group or organisation in particular but arise from the racist attitudes which is present amongst certain layers of society, though not held by the majority of working class people. This racism is fuelled by poverty, disadvantage and alienation in deprived areas. Similar racist ideas have been evident for decades in attitudes to the travelling community and more recently have emerged in the South as more immigrants settle there.

To counter this racism it is necessary to go into the areas both to protect those under attack and to challenge the ideas of those who carry out the attacks. Poverty is not caused by immigrants but by the capitalist system and it is the system that we should direct our anger towards.

Some attacks were directly carried out by paramilitary groups. The UVF in the Donegal Pass area have attacked a number of members of the Chinese community. Whilst these were partly motivated by racism they were largely to do with gangsterism and protection rackets. The UVF leadership eventually stamped down on these attacks though elements within all the loyalist paramilitary groups are probably still involved in racist attacks.

Many of the attacks have been organised by the various small fascist groups currently trying to develop a base in the North. These groups include the White Nationalist Party (WNP) and C18. They probably have overlapping memberships and only a handful of activists between them. The WNP are a splinter from the British National Party. They think the BNP, with its turn to political action, has gone soft.

Confront fascism

Whilst the fascist groups are small at this stage they are dangerous both to members of ethnic minority communities and the organised labour movement. They use violence as a political tool, picking on those who they see as easy targets. Fascism has to be confronted from the outset before it puts down firm roots. In 1985 the National Front was stopped in its tracks when it was met by 800 counter demonstrators in Coleraine. It never recovered. Similar tactics are required today.

Earlier this year the Fascists OUT! Campaign confronted WNP members and prevented them giving out fascist material in Portrush. The Campaign is based on the labour movement and has mobilised over 50 activists to a number of recent events. The Campaign has also held a day of action in Ballymena. It received widespread support from people in the area who are disgusted by the activities of the fascists and welcomed the Campaign’s approach.

A Fascists OUT! Campaign spokesperson has commented:

“The material we took from the WNP in Portrush shows the real nature of this group. There were leaflets and stickers showing swastikas and slogans such as ‘Keep Ulster White’.

“Since Portrush the WNP and Combat 18 websites have carried threats against the people they presume organised the activity against them in Portrush.

“Their website is also full of quotes from Hitler. One posting states: Adolf Hitler said the white race was a master race. We have got to keep our own countries white.

“There is no support in North Antrim for this racist and fascist filth. We got an excellent response in Ballymena with quite a few people contacting us to offer help to make sure that the Nazis do not get a base in the area. We are going to do the same in other areas. We are for the democratic right of groups to organise, put out material, hold meetings etc. But we do not extend that right to fascists.

“Racists and fascists like the WNP go on about social problems and then try to scapegoat immigrants, blaming them for these problems, just as Hitler blamed the Jews. Their real aim is to smash democratic rights and especially to destroy the trade unions and other organisations of the working class. That is why we need to stop them organising.

“The lesson of the rise of Hitler is that the German labour movement made a mistake in not confronting and smashing the Nazis when they were small. Millions died as a consequence. We must never make the same mistake again.”

Youth Against Racism

Another group active in the struggle against racism and fascism is Youth Against Racism (YAR). YAR is linked to Youth Against Racism in Europe which has affiliates in a dozen countries. YAR has campaigned on the streets, in Queen’s University and has held a series of meetings in schools across the North. Hundreds of young people have joined YAR at these meetings. YAR highlights the root causes of racism and calls for jobs and decent housing for all.

All those involved in the anti-racist struggle need to discuss concretely how we organise to defeat the fascists and the racists. This means working out how to go into working class areas where they have a base. The most effective way to defeat them is by mobilising the people of these communities along side the trade unions and ethnic minority organisations, rather than relying on sectarian politicians or the police.

The Anti Racism Network (ARN), initially established as an umbrella organisation bringing together various campaigns, groups, political parties and individuals, has done some good work over the last few months. However, rather than concentrate on going into the communities the ARN leadership tends to court the support of the politicians and look to the police.

The way to defeat racists and fascists is by mobilising the working class in the workplaces and communities to isolate and defeat them. To be effective a campaign needs also to deal with the conditions that can give rise to racism. It needs to fight for an end to poverty, lack of housing, low wages and the other social problems that can breed resentment and can be used by racists to whip up anger against ethnic minorities.

Allegation of “institutionalised racism”

Paul Kalla is a teacher in Orangefield High School in East Belfast. As a member of an ethnic minority, he has been the victim of racial abuse in the school. He was recently suspended over an incident in which he was alleged to have assaulted a pupil. Paul claims that the real reason for his suspension has much more to do with institutional racism. He explained to Socialist Voice:

“Last year I reported a very serious issue of Child Protection involving a senior teacher to the school Principal. A number of pupils who, in my opinion, were influenced by this teacher then stepped up the systematic racist abuse directed at me. The incident, which led to my suspension, began with an attempted assault by several of these pupils on me. I pushed one of them out of the way for self protection and ended up suspended.

“Meanwhile the very serious allegations I have made have not been dealt with. Nor has the issue of racism in the school. I have brought the allegations to the Belfast Board but nothing has been done. I have also gone to the police but see no sign that they are prepared to deal with it.

“I am not prepared to let this rest and will make sure that the whole truth about issues that concern the well being of children in the school, as well as the tolerance by school authorities of racist abuse is brought out into the open.”

Youth Against Racism will be contacting Orangefield about this case.

Sectarian tensions in Sandy Row

The confrontation over the recently built Whitehall Square apartments on the edge of Sandy Row comes on the back of the spate of racist attacks that have taken place in South Belfast over recent months.

The 200 strong march on the flats and the graffiti painted on the walls had a clear sectarian theme - Catholics were moving in and were not welcome. The anti Catholic sentiment was added to by unionist councillors like Bob Stoker who gave credence to the rumours that were being spread about missiles being thrown from the flats at residents and a tricolour being hung from a window.

Alongside the sectarianism there is a strong racist undertone to the protests. The slogan carried on the march and daubed on the side of the building, "Sandy Row is Sandy Row" refers as much to the members of ethnic minority communities living in the new apartments as it does to the Catholics, from North and South, who also live there.

These incidents have been whipped up by sectarians and racists and unionist politicians have jumped on the bandwagon. The vast majority of ordinary residents of Sandy Row and of the neighbouring Donegall Road/Village area have taken no part in these actions and are opposed to people being singled out because of their race or their religion.

This is not to say that there are no issues that cause concern to residents of traditional inner city working class areas like Sandy Row. This area, like many communities that ring the city centre, has been blighted by redevelopment and gentrification. Sandy Row has been pared back by development, leaving less room for housing. Meanwhile house prices have risen so that it is increasingly difficult for young people from the area to afford to live there.

This has nothing to do with religion. The lack of social housing and lack of affordable housing also affect areas like the Short Strand and lower Ormeau. A campaign to stop the attacks needs also to address these issues. There should be democratic control of inner city development so that the needs of residents and of the wider working class community, not the profits of speculators and investors, are put first.

Some of the land that the speculators earmark for luxury flats or for businesses and supermarkets should be put aside for social housing. This would go a long way to ease the tensions, not just in Sandy Row, but in the Short Strand where the need for extra houses for the confined population is a constant source of discontent.

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