Article on racism, the far-right and the recession, emphasising that the battle against racism and the far-right, is also a battle against the social and economic conditions that are its root cause.
The flight of the vast majority of the 116 Roma from Belfast in June following sustained and co-ordinated racist attacks emphasises the need for effective action against racists in our society. The recent return of 12 of the Roma men in the first week of August with families to follow does not take away from this. While the attackers are unlikely to have been members of any of the British far right organisations seeking to recruit in working class protestant areas of Northern Ireland these actions will be seen as a boost to the fascists and give encouragement to racists.
Reactions to the events have been varied but some have chosen to view the attacks through the prism of sectarianism. While there is undoubtedly widespread and genuine opposition to racism in West Belfast the mural painted on the International Wall on the Falls Road in response to the attacks betrays a smug complacency that is at heart as sectarian as those it condemns for carrying out racist and sectarian attacks.
There is a danger of being blind to the levels of racism right across the sectarian divide, particularly when it comes to anti-Traveller racism. Travellers still find it impossible to get appointments at hair dressers, are barred from pubs and shops and are subject to almost constant racist abuse. That these things, along with last years attacks on Lithuanians, also happen in West Belfast needs to be acknowledged and challenged. The recently published Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey for 2008 found that Travellers faced more prejudice than migrant workers with 51% of those questioned saying they would have a problem with a Traveller living beside them. This is an increase of 10% since the last survey.
While much is made of links between Loyalist paramilitaries and the British far right, many who claim to be opposed to fascism in principle have been silent about reports that Italian fascists took part, alongside nationalists, in recent riots in Ardoyne.
The notion that it is the ‘Prods’ who are racist and sectarian may serve some sort of Republican self-image of its imagined community but it does nothing to challenge or confront bigotry. It is people from within working class protestant communities who are key to taking on and challenging the racists and fascists within those communities and who are carrying out attacks and spreading hate.
Increasing Intolerance: A Shift to the Right?
There is a fear that the current recession is driving large sections of society further to the right. Problems created by slum landlords, cut backs in social housing stock, and seemingly unending announcements of job losses leave migrant workers more vulnerable to scapegoating. Unemployment is rising so rapidly that dole offices have been forced to move from fortnightly to monthly signing, while this may be good news for those of us who are unemployed and sick of the petty harassment that is associated with signing on it is a worrying development. Across the UK unemployment has jumped to a staggering (and under estimated!) 2.38 million - the highest level since 1995. Unemployment in Northern Ireland had increased to 6.1% this May from 4.6% the year before. There was a 159% increase in confirmed redundancies over the previous year. While the Northern Ireland unemployment rate is lower than the average for the rest of the UK it does not take into consideration the staggering 28.6% figure for the number of working age adults who are economically inactive.
The Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey 2008 also found that homophobia and racism are on the increase in Northern Ireland. Anti-gay prejudice has almost doubled in three years, from 14% of people surveyed admitting they would have a problem with a gay, lesbian or bisexual person to 23% in the 2008 poll.
The labour movement in the UK appears to be infected with reactionary nationalist ideas about ‘British Jobs for British Workers’, taking the lead from the media and Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
It should come as no great shock that there will be those who want to deflect from the misery that capital has caused to so many by stirring up bigotry and hatred. The far right could undoubtedly benefit from the current recession and seek to promote its anti-working class agenda by scapegoating ‘easy’ targets.
The BNP have now got two MEPs and are actively trying to build a base in Northern Ireland and have opened a call centre in East Belfast. “B N P” was heard among the chants directed at those who were involved in the recent defence of the Roma in South Belfast.
Governments have also been busy strengthening repressive legislation and clamping down on dissent. The UK government are still trying to force ID cards on us, and have entered into worse than dubious extradition arrangements with the US while Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, has warned that the UK has become a surveillance society. Locally the PSNI are piloting the wearing, as a matter of course, of video cameras by the police while public displays of dissent were publically clamped down upon by the police at the G20 demonstrations earlier this year.
In the south the state has moved to clamp down on workers trying to protect themselves from the worst blows of the recession and has engaged in heavy-handed raids on workers occupying the Thomas Cook outlet in Dublin. Anti-Shell activists have also been jailed.
Of course the conditions described above are the very same conditions that give rise to resistance that is aimed straight at the cause of the social problems we are currently experiencing as a result of capitalism and the state. This issue of the Leveller is full of inspiring examples of workers fighting back and winning! Working class self organisation and solidarity are what are called for in the struggle against racism and fascism and in the struggle against capital and state.
Part of the series of articles on anti-racism and anti-fascism in issue 2 of Organise's The Leveller.