‘We shall overcome’ racism and the divisive and destructive politics of hate. That was the message from UNISON’s national delegate conference in Brighton this morning – a message that it ultimately delivered in song.
Claire Williams from the Northern region told conference there has been a shift to the right across Europe: “UKIP have exploited people in their daily struggles,” she said.
“At times, I felt that the BBC was Farage’s agent.”
She also highlighted anger with “the establishment” and the problems with the related political disengagement that, in cutting election turnout, makes it easier for extremists to win votes.
And Ms Williams stressed that, in spite of the pretence of being an ‘ordinary bloke’, Nigel Farage was “an ex-Tory, arch-Thatcherite, free marketer, banker”.
Debbie Potter from the South West told the hall that she wanted “to highlight how fatal this racist culture can be”.
And she told the story of Bijan Ebrahimi – the Iranian refugee who was kicked to death, then doused in fuel and set alight on a working-class estate in Bristol last year.
He had been wrongly accused of being a paedophile after filming children vandalising his garden after the police and council had ignored his please for help and protection.
“When Nigel Farage says that all Romanians are criminals, that is racism – pure and simple,” noted one delegate.
Gordon McKay for the NEC told conference that, while UKIP is racist, “not everyone that votes for UKIP is racist.”
And he warned the Labour Party leadership that it would not beat UKIP by going to the country with a message of: ‘Vote Labour and vote for more austerity’.
Manjula Kumari for the national women’s executive said that she herself was the sort of person that UKIP was wanting to attack – as the daughter of immigrants, as a mother who took maternity leave, as a worker in the public services.
Glen Williams from the North West reminded people that BNP leader Nick Griffin was elected to the European parliament with just 7 per cent of the vote.
He said that, for this May’s elections, the community and unions all came together to get rid of Griffin and replace him with UNISON regional organiser Theresa Griffin, of which he joked: “Why do we make it so hard for ourselves?
“What do we want? Griffin out! When do we want it? Now! What do we want? Griffin in! When do we want it? Now!””
But he went on to explain that, in all the campaigning work in the region, we “reminded the working-class communities that ‘Ucrap’ wanted to out-Thatcherite Thatcher”.
Alan Williams from Aberdeen City told conference of his own origins, which UKIP would dislike.
The son of a Czech refugee mother, who met her future husband when he was a teacher with the British Army on the Rhine in the Cold War, Mr Williams himself was born in Germany, before the family moved to Wales when he was nine.
Now married to an Australian, he pointed out that he wanted his own children to grow up in a country where they were valued for who they are and not their ethnic origins.
For the national Black members’ committee, Bev Miller cited measures that the government has introduced to ‘manage migration’, with the informal introduction of categorisation as ‘bad migrants’ and ‘good migrants’ picked up by much of the mainstream media.
She said that, given the state of the economy, it was not difficult to see why people were looking for scapegoats.
But “there is only one race,” she told delegates: “the human race”.
Margaret Greer from Hammersmith and Fulham said that it “sends a shiver down my spine … to see so many people turn away from the mainstream parties and vote UKIP”.
“It is time that all political leaders – particularly Labour – stand up to the politics of hate or we could see a rise in far-right groups,” she added.
And Ms Greer invited conference to join her in a rousing rendition of the iconic spiritual, ‘We shall overcome’, which brought the hall to its feet.
Conference set the national executive a lengthy work programme on the issue, including:
- evaluating and learning from the 2014 elections to prepare for next year’s general election;
- working with Hope Not Hate to scrutinise and monitor UKIP councillors;
- continuing to work with Unite Against Fascism, Hope Not Hate, Show Racism the Red Card and appropriate local campaigns on fighting the far right and exposing the myths around migrant workers to young people.