UNISON response to the far right after Woolwich

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2013 National Delegate Conference
1 January 2013

Conference condemns the brutal murder of Lee Rigby, a serving soldier, in Woolwich on Wednesday 22nd May. Conference pays tribute to the family of Lee Rigby who have appealed for no reprisal attacks to take place in his name and pays tribute to the many people that attempted to intervene before the emergency services arrived.

Conference condemns the actions of those that carried out this murder and reject the stated motivation for their actions. Conference rejects the methods of terrorism which are portrayed by some as an alternative method of struggle because the mass movement failed to stop these wars. Our current coalition government must recognise any occupation of a foreign state cannot be rubber stamped when the protection of the nation is put at risk. Conference believes UNISON, alongside many other trade unions, was right to oppose both wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and also demand that foreign military forces in those two countries were withdrawn immediately. UNISON took part in demonstrations and mass action to stop these wars. The mass movement had the support of the majority of the population, peaking at 90% opposition. During the mass movement against the wars, right-wing Islamist groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir and Al-Muhajiroun, advised Muslims not to participate in the mass demonstrations to oppose those wars. Conference believes that had the mass movement, which included the trade unions, followed the example of mass walk-outs and strikes by young people in schools and colleges that took place on the day war broke out against Iraq then the movement could have stopped the war.

We do not hold Norwegian Christians responsible for the actions of the fascist Anders Breivik, whose 2011 rampage left 77 dead. We do not hold white people collectively responsible for Timothy McVeigh, the US neo-Nazi whose 1995 Oklahoma City bomb killed 168 people, or for David Copeland, the former BNP member who planted bombs across London in 1999. Nor should anyone suggest that Britain’s Muslims are collectively responsible for the 22nd May attack.

Conference is deeply concerned at increasing attacks, verbally, physically and on social media on Muslim people in the following weeks. Fascist organisations such as the English Defence League (EDL) and British National Party (BNP) are trying to use the murder to whip up racism and direct hatred against all Muslims. Faith Matters reported a 15 fold increase on attacks being reported to their ‘Tell MAMA’ project including attempted firebombings, smashed windows and bacon being left outside a mosque.

The English Defence League rushed to capitalise on any resulting tensions by organising marches in Newcastle and London on 25 and 27 May 2013. Conference notes that the underlying economic conditions coupled with this murder could lead to an increase in their support. Their disgraceful actions included violent intimidation, inflammatory chants including calls for the repatriation of all Black people and giving Nazi salutes at the Cenotaph.They do not care about Lee Rigby, his family or the interest of any community. They want only to see Muslims attacked and a race war on our streets. UNISON condemns them and opposes their attempts to call “demonstrations” to exploit these issues. Further, conference applauds the anti-fascist demonstrators who prevented the BNP from marching to the Cenotaph war memorial, chanting, “They shall not pass” on 1st June 2013.

While the vast majority of the people that the EDL claims to speak for have rejected their activities, Conference believes that our Black, Muslim and migrant worker members and their communities are facing an increasingly intolerant climate where they are vulnerable to discrimination and abuse.

Conference further recognises, but does not believe is a defence for those who carried out this and other similar attacks, that there is a growing alienation of a layer of Black and Asian youth from mainstream society. More importantly the trade unions are also failing to connect with or have a positive influence over the lives of these alienated youth who are becoming angrier about their condition. A TUC survey reported that unemployment amongst Black young men stands at 50%, amongst Asian young men it stands at 30%. Conference believes that the policies of this and previous governments have condemned a whole generation of young people because of their attacks on working class communities in favour of big-business.

It’s time conference also call into account the media coverage for its insensitivity and sensationalism.

Conference believes that we have a responsibility to ensure the British media take a responsible and sensible approach when reporting acts of violence on our streets and that they, along with politicians must stop using inflammatory language that feeds the fascists and racists. We must reject those who want to divide our communities and set them against each other, and stand fast to the ideals of anti-racism, multiculturalism and respect for all.

Conference is also concerned that, fresh from their recent success at the local elections held on 2 May 2013, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) stand poised to benefit from perceptions that they are the respectable face of the populist anger being generated against immigration and migrant workers. UKIP campaigned for the May elections on a platform that blamed immigration rather than the Coalition government for the effect of austerity policies. Their actual policies on the workplace involve repealing almost every statutory protection for all workers, massively increasing job insecurity, encouraging bad practices by managers and damaging workforce morale across the private sector.

Conference notes that a ComRes poll conducted between 22-24 May found that among those certain to vote in next year’s European elections, UKIP would come first overall with 27%. Conference fears that long after the dust settles on marches by the far right, policies that worsens life for migrant workers, immigrant communities, Muslim and Black people will be its lasting legacy. UKIP’s entrance into mainstream politics gives added impetus to those who seek to slash public service, deregulate industries and privatise schools and hospitals.

UNISON is in a key position to organise opposition to the cuts and play a key role in the fight against racism. UNISON’s activists in recent years have organised and campaigned successfully to check the far-right at the ballot box, on our streets and in our workplaces and communities. In the North West, UNISON activists working closely with Hope not Hate finally freed Burnley from the grip of the BNP in May, the culmination of an 11 year campaign. Activists distributed specially targeted materials throughout the year, informing people about the activities of the BNP and their utter failure to improve the lives of voters. HOPE not hate materials also featured examples of positive campaigns by others to improve people’s lives locally.

Conference believes that the lessons learned from the campaigns to tackle the BNP, engaging with communities and their disillusionment with politics in a positive way, should be transferred to the new challenges that face us following the rise of UKIP and the resurgence of the far right street activity.

Conference calls upon the National Executive Council to:

1. Work in conjunction with the National Black Members Committee to organise a high profile anti-racist campaign together with other trade unions that demonstrates the benefits of united struggle in the workplace and in working class communities, including our political education and communication strategies;

2. Supports trade union action to defend working class communities against racist attacks;

3. Work with HOPE not hate, Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and other trade unions to oppose the far-right’s attempts to organise either on the streets or electorally;

4. work with HOPE not hate to produce new materials addressing the issues raised by the motion in preparation for the 2014 European Parliament elections;

5. encourage UNISON members to join the HOPE not hate campaign, particularly its collaboration with the Daily Mirror ‘No place for hate’ wall where voices of hope can speak out and call a meeting with HOPE not hate in conjunction with national Black members’ committee to address specific issues of racism and Islamophobia;

6. work with Labour link to discuss these issues with MPs;

7. organise a fringe meeting at the 2014 Conference on these issues and report back through UNISON media throughout the year on the campaign strategy;

8. provide renewed support for our members facing racist harassment and abuse in the workplace;

9. campaign vigorously against cuts and for apprenticeships at trade union rates of pay with a full-time job at the end, free education at all levels with a living grant whilst studying and to fully fund services for young people, alongside other trade unions;

10. campaign alongside young people and other trade unions to help organise in those communities where youth alienation is potentially high;

11. oppose any new measures aimed at reducing our democratic rights, such as the right for security forces to read emails and texts.