An eyewitness report – introduction
Apparently the ‘race’ issue is now back on the agenda for the General Election according to the newspapers writing in the wake of the recent Oldham events. Sadly we don’t think it was ever allowed to go away thanks to the ever opportunistic agenda of those in power who are desperate to point the finger at any possible scapegoat to avoid discussing the real issues behind their policies. As for these very same newspapers – and the wider media – they have always been happy to play the ‘race’ card rather than ask the difficult questions that a genuinely ‘free’ media would have to ask of the criminals who now parade before us as potential elected representatives.
The fascists will be crowing at what they feel they have started. But they shouldn’t crow too loudly. Like the puppets they are – they have simply continued stirring the pot created by the more successful ‘democratic’ politicians.
But what is the reality of the Oldham Riots. Here are some reports and comments from eyewitnesses present before, during and after the events [that] reply to the hand-wringing confusion of the media. Our basic conclusion is simple – these events were started by the media – particularly the local Oldham Chronicle, by the Police and stirred by their friends in the National Front and British National Party.
Background to the events
In the weeks leading up to the Oldham Riot the National Front (NF) had been trying to capitalise on an attack on an old white pensioner which the local police had described as a ‘racial attack’ despite the victim and his family saying this was not true. The NF have tried, not very successfully, to organise provocative marches while the British National Party (BNP) had hoped to capitalise on the street activity through standing their leader, Nick Griffin, in the local constituency [election].
The police lies have been enthusiastically taken up by both the local and the national media. The main local paper, the Oldham Chronicle has been in the forefront of spreading the racist agenda of the local police force for months.
When questioned about the truth behind the attack, after asking the views of local Asian community members, the local police bod said "you must have been talking to the only two people who can read and write". Police statistics on ‘racial incidents’ – all very debatable, you only have to look at who are making them - were loudly and uncritically trumpeted for showing supposed increases in ‘racial crime’ by a layer of young Asians. Such statistics – even if true - could equally be presented as an increase in the willingness to fight back when provoked.
This same media forgot to mention that it was the Asian community who caught and turned the idiot muggers in. They also forgot to mention the rising tide of physical attacks local Asian people have been facing. Just one instance – recently, a local Asian taxi driver only narrowly escaped with his life after being forced to get in the boot of his own car which the racists then tried to set alight. Asian taxi drivers say they are regularly attacked or robbed –by white pick-ups going home late at night and by call outs from the more racist estates in the area - many have given up out of fear. But this story obviously wasn’t ‘juicy’ enough for the press and radio.
While the NF and BNP were able to do what they wanted, anti-fascists leafleting in opposition to the electoral campaign have been constantly stopped and harassed by the Police for weeks. As for the local Asian community – they were informed by Police (which the Police now deny) that they should stay out of the centre of town during the NF march days. This was the opposite reality behind the media created myth of a "no-go" zone [for local white residents].
As a member of the Bangladeshi Youth Association says:
"For the past fortnight Asian kids feel they have been asked to stand back while skinheads walk around town handing out literature".
On the Monday prior to the riot, outside a local school - Breeze Hill - a small group of white former pupils arrived at the school gates, taunting Asians and blacks and threatening staff. We do not know the role that far-right propaganda campaign had played in this. This continued until the Thursday when Police were called in. It was a group of Asian pupils who had decided to retaliate that were arrested. This was not a new experience for Asian youth in Oldham when Police were called to 'racial' incidents.
Despite this, on the previous cancelled NF march, 200-300 Asian youth turned out to greet the elusive street fighters of the ‘master race’ alongside other anti-fascists. The planned rally was then cancelled by the self-appointed ‘community leaders’ and the Anti-Nazi League on the basis that they had already been ‘victorious’.
Report on NF Oldham march - 5th May 2001
Events in Oldham just went to prove that anti-fascists can’t rely on the Police to tackle fascists. Despite a ban on all political marches, the Greater Manchester Police declined to stop around 40 members of the National Front from marching in Oldham.
It was anti-fascists and not Police who prevented the NF holding their planned rally in the Civic Centre. The NF were forced to rally in a garage car park outside of the city centre (what is it about fascists and car parks lately!?!). What’s more, it was only a massive Police presence that prevented a ‘full and frank discussion’ between anti-fascists and the NF.
It’s plain enough to us that without massive Police protection the fascists are unable and unwilling to work publicly. Rather than banning a march and then granting them Police protection, if the state was really interested in stopping the fascists it would remove all Police protection from the start. That way local anti-fascists and perhaps more significantly the local Asian youth would ensure that the fascists could not march.
The NF also failed to make contact with around 100 hooligans who had turned out on the day and who were corralled by Police in the centre of town. Yet again, the NF reliance on Police support to bus them in and out of town meant that they were unable to make much political ground.
Clearly though, the British National Party (BNP) will pick up votes on the basis of the NF and, more significantly, local unattached racists’ activities. This clearly underlines the fact that anti-fascists need to tackle both the street activity of the fascists and their more ‘political’ activities.
No Platform congratulates those anti-fascists who turned out and welcomes the great response from Asian communities determined to defend themselves from fascist intimidation. Unfortunately it looks like this intimidation is set to continue throughout the election.
National Front March, Oldham - 5th May 2001
How many car parks can you march round in one pathetic election campaign? NF are trying to make capital out of the vicious beating of an old war veteran although his own family have stated this was not a racist attack. Here at No Platform we a beginning to wonder if the fascists should not retire and leave it to the 'professionals' in the police force. It is the coppers that stated that what happened was racially motivated and who will turn out in their hundreds to try and allow the criminals to march. If only there was such concern for this veteran and all pensioners forced to live in insecurity and poverty.
The NF still intend to march in spite of the Home Secretary's ban. They are organising to assemble outside Oldham and march to the Civic Centre. Terry Blackham, convicted gun runner and leader of the NF is boasting: "our transport is arranged and we will be coming from all over the place." The NF claim they no longer recognise the authority of Greater Manchester Police we are sure they will be only too glad of being defended by them in practice as usual.
Oldham riot: the timetable of immediate events
We’ve taken the times from the Oldham Chronicle’s "timetable of key moments in weekend mayhem" – but added the bits they conveniently missed out - with the help of local eyewitness reports. We are not making any judgement on these evens – just reporting what happened.
Saturday 26th May:
Morning and Afternoon – NF / Combat 18 bussed in for planned march. BNP leaflet in a constituency. Allowed to move around with impunity. Fascists gathered in local Yates and Wetherspoons pubs in centre of town around 7.00pm.
8.00-8.30pm – Racists attack an Asian family’s house in Roundthorn Road, Glodwick. Two carloads of racists arrive, apparently, after a minor incident between two teenage boys outside the local chip shop. Seven of them brick the windows and try to smash the door in. A car with a pregnant Asian woman and child inside was attacked and windows put through. Police are in force only five streets away where Asian youth have gathered yet fail to turn up when called by terrified Asian family. They eventually arrive as local people gather and arrest Asian men – some who are, apparently, still being held days later.
9.10pm – Local youths, angry at hearing of police response gather and attack Live and Let Live Pub where NF supporters had been allowed to drink earlier in the day.
10.00pm – At least 200 youth try to march towards centre of town through Waterloo Street but are turned back by Police.
11.00pm – The Live and Let Live Pub is attacked with bricks, bottles and a petrol bomb. As police move in, cars are torched as barricades and a street battle rages
Sunday 27th May:
1.00am – Running battles between protesters and police escalate on the streets of Glodwick. The youth responded to riot cops, CS gas, helicopters and dogs with petrol bombs, fireworks and bricks – they had had enough of being victims. While the rioters’ violence is widely reported there is absolute silence about the level of police violence. As usual, victims of police violence have no recourse as they are afraid of being stitched up. CCTV cameras are targeted – some burnt down. Police tactics of using vans driven at speed against the crowd gathered in the street backfire under a hail of petrol bombs, leaving one van ablaze.
4.30am – Police manage to "restore calm" after seven hours. Local youths make themselves scarce as Police occupy area.
4.45pm – 1.40am on Monday morning – sporadic fighting in area. Police swamp area with hundreds of riot cops. Youths stopped searched and questioned throughout day. A young probation worker we spoke to joked ironically how he had been released - unlike his friends - when police found out what his job was.
Monday 28th May:
2.15am – Oldham Chronicle offices in Union Street are firebombed.
Report on the mood in the wake of the riots
The Saturday of the uprising had "become known as 'no-go day' or 'National Front Day' among Oldham Asians and blacks" according to the Independent. The Asian youth knew what they were fighting.
Talking to local youths it is clear that any illusions in the neutrality of ‘law and order’ and the police - that some community "leaders" have tried to impress upon them in the past - have been completely shattered. Politicians – of all major parties - were also attacked as hypocrites.
The self-appointed community "leaders" and local Asian councillors, who now call for ‘calm’ and ‘peace’ spent much of their time in the centre of Oldham working to ‘coordinate’ police strategy alongside the law. There was anger at these individuals, especially those who turned out for the media in their best suits to condemn the riots (alongside with just about everyone else it seems!!).
The big question now in the minds of all those involved is what now? While younger ones may be happy just boasting about their role in the riots, many others are now looking at how they can continue to defend their communities. While the role of the both fascists and the police in sparking these events is clear to them a number of the youth we talked to are already saying that these issues must be linked to the wider ones effecting both Asian and white people in Oldham Unemployment, poor housing and lack of youth facilities where all mentioned. The burning anger against the fascists is just the final straw after years of feeling treated as second-class citizens.
It was very encouraging that a layer of the youth involved in recent events are already saying that they see campaigning on these wider issues as a way of cutting across divisions. The cuts presently being made in Oldham will inevitably make matters worse – although we suspect that the police budget will not be affected! The danger is that without a clear opposition working class people will end up fighting one another over the few crumbs that are left.
Report from Schnews Newsletter:
"When Oldham erupted on Saturday, it was not a riot. That word does no justice to the desperation and righteousness of young Asians. What happened was an uprising - an intifada against persecution by media, police and fascists, and self-defence is no offence. There will be no peace in Oldham without justice." - Ally Fogg, activist and journalist.
The problems in Oldham go back at least thirty years when Oldham council decided, unlike Manchester, to keep the Pakistani, Bangladeshi and white communities apart, and in ghettos. There's always been a history of conflict between the groups, but guess whose side the local media and police force have usually been on?
The Oldham Evening Chronicle was fire-bombed on the weekend. Random vandalism? Well the paper has always towed the police line about racism in the town, and published bigoted letters from BNP members. In 1998 Chief Superintendent Eric Hewitt gave an interview saying that "the majority" of racist attacks in Oldham were by Asians on whites. Last year they published the figures that 60% of racist attacks, that were reported, were on whites. Asians claim that they have given up reporting attacks because the police either don't arrive, or if they do, the complaints are dismissed.
Recent escalations go back to April when pensioner Walter Chamberlain was severely beaten in Glodwick, and the police told the media that it was a racist attack by Asians, making "a No-Go area for whites". Mr. Chamberlain's family insisted it wasn't race related but police still charged four youths with racially motivated offences (as opposed to the Leeds footballers who attacked an Asian lad some months ago - and the word 'racism' wasn't allowed to be mentioned in court). The attack gave the NF and BNP an excuse to 'reclaim the territory', and there were reports of numerous racist attacks on Asians, but no arrests. Things were getting worse last week when a group of ex-pupils arrived at Breeze Hill school to chant slogans and intimidate Asian pupils, but despite appeals from teachers, the police refused to intervene. The following day a group of Asian pupils fought back and the police arrived immediately, and there were four arrests - all were Asian.
For four weeks police had attempted to keep a lid on the cauldron of anger in Oldham. Despite their claims that they 'had no idea' that anything on the scale of last weekend was likely, they have been throwing around Section 60 stop and search orders like confetti in anticipation of 'serious public disorder.' Furthermore, on four consecutive Saturdays, when fascists have threatened to gather in town, residents of whole estates have been restricted to their ghettoes under public order legislation. A group of 30 anti-Nazi activists travelling from Manchester to leaflet on Saturday 19th were stopped on the outskirts of town, searched, photographed, videoed and then escorted to a back street behind a disused bus station where they were told they could have 'a rally'. Attempts to hand leaflets to members of the public were blocked on the basis that it was 'behaviour liable to cause a breach of the peace.' This was only two weeks after a group of 50-70 fascists were allowed to march unhindered through the town centre in flagrant defiance of a Home Office ban.
Whatever started the violence, the fact is that by Wednesday, 33 whites and 16 Asians had been arrested and given the police bias this speaks for itself. Meanwhile Nick Griffin, is standing as BNP candidate in Oldham West in the coming election.
Oldham Riots: Media Hypocrisy & Police Lies
Asian Youth say -This far and no further!!
For weeks the Asian community of Oldham have waited with patience at the behest of community ‘leaders’ and police despite far-right provocation. Local racists buoyed up by media and police lies, electioneering politicians and Nazi propaganda thought that Saturday night was the night to make their mark. They got more than they bargained for after a gang of white youths attacked Asian homes and women in the Glodwick area of the town. Asians - defending themselves and their communities - were arrested while the racists walked free. Local Asian youth could not sit by any more.
The police provoked this riot just as they had provoked the original ‘cause’ for grievance from a layer of the white community in Oldham which the NF have been trying to stoke ever since. A vicious assault on a white pensioner was presented as a ‘racial attack’ by the police and their media dupes despite the man and his family saying the incident had nothing to do with racism.
Yet again any illusions in waiting for state laws - the ‘authorities’ and the ‘law’ to ban Nazi marches and provocation have been shown to be an illusion and a waste of time.
We say Self-Defence is No Offence.
No Platform support the youths who are defending themselves against fascist provocation and racist / police attack. No Platform supports work towards building a genuine united self-defence campaign alongside the Asian community to support all those held and to support the active defence of the local community against further attacks. We call on all anti-fascists and anti-racists in Oldham to extend their hand to build this.
The kept media will now be spouting off about the need for ‘peace’ and ‘understanding’ and crudely presenting this as ‘Asians v Police. Maybe they should of thought about that before spreading the propaganda and lies on which the far-right have been feeding. The Asian community in Oldham did not want this and did not start this but they have shown that they are willing to finish the fight if forced to. So the police got a bloody nose – they deserved it. As Malcolm X would have put it: "The chickens have come home to roost"
June 2001: General Election - BNP results in Oldham: a warning to the anti-fascist movement
The British National Party (BNP) election results has shown that it remains the real threat for anti-fascists in Britain. They gained 6,552 (16%) in Oldham West and Roydon and 5,091 (11%) in Oldham East and Saddleworth. This is a threat to working-class unity. It is a threat to all the forces that are trying to take on the attacks on our communities by the politicians and big business interests.
The BNP have gained electorally from the street activity of the NF and the media coverage of events in Oldham which followed the misleading lies about 'no-go areas' etc. A further increase in tensions in the area is likely. The street thugs have already launched attacks on Asians in Oldham. This is a strategy designed to provoke a defensive response from Asian youth whose portrayal in the media of a 'race riot' then played on white peoples’ fears and prejudices and into the hands of the fascists.
The BNP's electoral support is also based, in part, upon disillusionment with the establishment - the New Labour government. The BNP have exploited the climate of racism, elevated by the comments of both New Labour and the Tories over so-called "bogus asylum seekers".
Despite this result though the other areas where they have been concentrating their resources - the West Midlands, East and South-East London - haven't been that good. They are still forced to cover up the real face of fascism to gain electoral 'respectability'. The electoral-right remains divided. Despite this we cannot be takes thousands of votes for fascist candidates for granted.
The need to confront fascist at all levels is more obvious in the wake of the election. The need for a real alternative to the politics of big business "consensus" - recognised by the millions who refused to vote for any of them - is now more necessary than ever. Alongside this, no platform direct action is needed to supplement the campaign to expose the real agenda of fascists and fellow travellers.
The other main lesson of the votes in Oldham is that real unity within working class communities will only be recognised and built upon in struggles to defend those communities - struggles that bring people together against the real common enemy - not in liberal sentiments and appeals to 'reason'.
Oldham Update - July 2001
Events in Oldham have grabbed news headlines across Europe. The Observer described Oldham as the "capital of racial tension". Since mid-March there have been seven threatened fascist marches, a BNP national conference in the Tory club in Oldham, NF threats against the local National Union of Teachers president, and over 11,000 votes for the BNP in the General Election. In response, anti-fascists have mobilised against all fascist events. But what was splashed across newspaper front-pages was the rioting toward the end of May.
In the wake of these events No Platform has established a group of supporters in Oldham, in addition we are keep informed of developments by a number of active anti-fascists and community activists in the area. Below is an edited report from some Oldham activists we are in correspondence with along with their comments on the background and on the developing situation which we think are worth reproducing here for information:
Oldham is a former industrial region, very few factories left today. Over 60% work in low paid service sector jobs, another 30% in manufacturing. This is going to decrease together with the decline of British manufacturing. There is up to 40% youth unemployment. Bad, run down youth facilities, closed most of the time. The town is the 33rd most deprived area in England. The death rate is nearly one third higher than the national average. Most of the population live in deprived, badly maintained council housing estates.
Tensions have been on the increase for years. Hooligan gangs exist in some of the working class council estates; particularly - Fetton Hill and Holz – mainly white areas. Fascists have been trying to recruit from these layers. Drug dealing is a big issue, so is general violence and other petty crime – involving a layer of both white and Asian youth.
Oldham's population by ethnic background consists of: White 86.6%, Pakistani 6.7%, Bangladeshi 4.4%, Black 0.9%, Indian 0.7%, Other 0.5%. The Pakistani community is in reality divided into Pakistanis and Kashmiris (from Pakistani-occupied Kashmir)
Massive alienation exists among the youth, both white and Asian, and especially among young men. Youth unemployment is high, particularly among Asian youth and there is a serious lack of youth facilities. This leaves little long-term hopes or aims beyond low-paid exploitation.
Oldham council, controlled by Labour for decades, was won by the Liberals because of disillusionment with Labour around two years ago. In power, the Liberals have been no different - now apparently selling off council housing. This has increased alienation from the establishment altogether. Fear of crime, especially violent crime, runs high and is rising among all communities. These fears are exploited by the media, by the police to justify brutality, by careerists for their own advancement, and by the NF and BNP to whip up further racism.
The depths to which the fascists will sink is shown by a pre-election comment by BNP boss Griffin, that white and Asian communities should be totally segregated - literally behind stone walls! This lunatic sees the divisions in Belfast as the model! This sounds insane, but in such a deeply polarised situation such ideas exert an influence on the most desperate people.
Older people, workers and middle class people, are shocked and afraid by the violence and looked for any answers, any solution. In a political vacuum, the BNP have cynically used this to bolster their support among whites.
In the Asian communities the so-called community leaders and elders can give no active answer. No constructive channel has been given for the rage and frustration felt by the youth; this is fuelled by biased media coverage. There is a strong sense that a new generation of Asian youth, born here and grown up here, will not accept racism and will fight back. Out of this exploded the riots.
The BNP vote in Oldham
The majority of BNP voters used it as a protest vote against the mainstream parties who they perceive as being out for themselves, divorced from ordinary people's lives, and responsible for the privatisation and cuts that are destroying public services. Many openly oppose the BNP - the feelings of a wide layer of BNP voters is summed up in two letters to the Oldham Chronicle (31/6/01):
"I used my vote, as no doubt other people did, as a protest vote in the hope that someone might take notice of the feeling of many of us who fear for the future of Oldham …. I am neither racist nor xenophobic"
"I also voted for BNP in the elections not because I agree with them. I loathe and detest what they stand for. I did it as a protest."
It is the mainstream parties who have opened the door to the BNP and NF in the first place and no credit will go to Oldham Council, who in the wake of the BNP result announced that, instead of increasing resources to all sections of the community, they would divert them away from Asian areas into white areas. It’s basically saying that if you vote BNP you may get a few more of the crumbs from the rich man’s table. Such a policy is a recipe for increased racism and tension and a potential boost to the BNP in the 2002 elections. This shows the true colours of Oldham council.
It is possible that the BNP could win one or more council seats in Oldham in 2002, particularly if there is no effective local opposition to them built. We need anti-cuts candidates standing in the 2002 council elections to give people in Oldham an genuine alternative to the BNP. This could involve trade unionists, community activists, socialists and anti-racists.
There is a recent history of trade union candidates standing in opposition to local authority cutbacks and working conditions not far from Oldham. The Tameside care workers stood in the local elections in 1999 to defend public services. They stood six candidates and won between 108 to 316 votes each, coming second in one ward.
Building opposition in Oldham
We oppose giving Nazis any platform to spread their poisonous propaganda. But we cannot depend on the police or the government to do this. We campaign for local people to get organised in any area the Nazis are targeting and drive them out together, by mass actions.
The recent strike by Taxi Drivers against racist attacks is particularly important. We supported this and have been discussing possible initiatives with the taxi drivers and solidarity for their struggle. Among the taxi drivers, who are losing money hand over fist through customers’ fear of fascist violence and the very real no-go areas for Asian taxi drivers, there is a serious need for unionisation. Linking the private-hire and black cab drivers is important - all face the same problems of racial abuse - and a well-organised active union branch of taxi drivers will be a force to be reckoned with and would be a concrete example of the need to unite white and Asian workers because they share a common enemy.
We are putting forward the idea of a motorcade of taxi drivers through Oldham against racist attacks and loss of income through fascist activity.
We support Oldham Trades Council demanding a Council-funded centre for the unemployed. We fight against all council cuts, for real resources to be made available and used on the basis of democratic discussion and decision by local communities, workers, and organisations such as the unions.