Fighting against racism in Britain


JACKIE GRUNSELL is a member of Militant Labour in Sheffield. She was interviewed for Green Left Weekly by WENDY ROBERTSON. Can you tell me about the situation with racism in Britain and the campaigns that Militant has been running against it? One of our biggest campaigns has been the organisation of Youth Against Racism in Europe. The campaign took place in the context of a huge increase of racist attacks, and in London itself several racist murders took place, which inspired a mood of anti-racism amongst youth. The police in Britain are infamous for their brutality towards blacks and Asians in prisons and on the street. The asylum and immigration laws are some of the most stringent in the whole of Europe; they perpetuate the idea that black and Asian immigrants are taking our jobs. Militant was one of the main organisations to harness that anger against racism. Most young people are anti-racist. The problem is that they see it as very much a moral issue. They don't see it as a class issue; they don't make the connection between capitalism and racism. The main slogan of our campaign was, "Jobs and houses, not racism". The capitalists are very fond of blaming immigrants for our loss of jobs and the lack of houses. We are saying that it's the capitalists' fault that there aren't jobs or that houses aren't being built. We attempted to make the connection between looking towards an alternative society and the causes of racism. Question: How has the campaign been received? We had a huge response to these ideas, several huge demonstrations in London, particularly around closing down the headquarters of the BNP (British National Party). They were responsible for a lot of the attacks and also created an atmosphere of racist tension and racist hatred. We organised by going into schools, by trying to organise discussions in classes and having stalls outside schools and universities. In the morning we would hand out leaflets about a meeting at a school, then we would get up in the cafeteria and start talking about the campaign. Question: What have been the other campaigns? The Criminal Justice Bill, which has now become an act, mobilised thousands. This is an extremely repressive piece of legislation which allows the police to stop and search anybody. It gives them an excuse to harass youth and minority groups. It also prevent us from being able to demonstrate legally. The act prevents gatherings of more than 20 people in any area. You are also not allowed to protest in sight or hearing of the people that you are protesting against. So a picket line at a workplace is illegal, because it is in the sight or hearing of the people that they are protesting against. Question: Is it true that young people today might be involved in single issue campaigns but no longer see the need for a socialist organisation? In Britain, as in many other countries, there is a movement to the right by the Labour and trade union movements, because of the collapse of Stalinism. The general disillusionment with politics means that the youth, in particular, tend to focus on single issue campaigns like the environmental campaigns, anti-road protests, anti-racism, the Criminal Justice Act. This is one of the reasons that we tried to use the anti-racist campaign to broach wider issues which affect youth, saying that we need to transform society along socialist lines if we are going to get rid of racism, if we are going to have sufficient jobs and homes for people. Recently, the formation of Arthur Scargill's new Socialist Labor Party (SLP) shows the changing mood. The collapse of Stalinism in a way has cleared the slate for what real socialism is about. People can no longer point to Russia and say, that is what these socialists want. Socialism is now what we say it is. However, although the SLP's constitution says that it is committed to the overthrow of capitalism, that in itself does not make it a revolutionary party. The other problem with it is that its constitution excludes members of other political organisations, the same people it would hope to attract. The formation of the SLP is bringing socialism back onto the agenda. Since the Labour Party has dropped Clause Four, which was their commitment to state ownership, the SLP is addressing these socialist ideas and bringing them to a wider audience than we could reach. I think it shows a lot of pressure from below. Spontaneously, strikes are occurring all over Great Britain. Industrial action is increasing. The events in France have had a huge effect. Workers will come up to you on stalls and say, "A bit of what is going on in France is what we need here!" All these things are increasing workers' consciousness. Electoral work is another way we bring our ideas to a wider audience. We don't enter into elections to win, although that would be a good thing. We enter into elections to put discuss our ideas with as many people as possible and recruit people to our organisation. In Sheffield, we have been really successful, getting over 22% of the votes in the last local council elections. In those elections we beat the Tories. In other constituencies our party has been coming second to Labor and in Scotland we have a couple of council members. At the moment we are concentrating on building united electoral fronts. The shift to the right of the Labour Party has left a huge vacuum that needs to be filled. In Scotland, there has been the Scottish Socialist Alliance, an alliance between ourselves and other groups on the left, the environmental groups, single issue campaigns and also the left of the Scottish National Party. As a small organisation, we need to use the idea of a united left to try to spread the ideas of socialism to a wider audience.