Fighting racism in the UK: thoughts after being in NZ
By Len Arthur at Nov 26, 2010
I've just read in the NZ Wellington daily paper about the electoral success of the neo-fascist party in Sweden. The article details another 10 European countries where the extreme right is resurgent around the linked issues of racism and immigration. Distance and a different history helps perspective.
Interestingly NZ is a society dominated by immigrants; largely us, in this case. It was only in the 1870s when the numbers of European settlers equalled the Maori population and the Maoris' have a term for us 'Pakeha' which is largely accepted and used by non Maori young people in NZ to describe themselves. The unifying term is 'Kiwi'. NZ has been a bi-lingual society since 1984 and has a Maori language TV station since that time. This is all part of re-negotiating the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi which gave the Pakeha domination, a process that is still continuing and is reflected in a series of Acts of Parliament rebalancing power andownership. Despite this NZ has its own extreme right part ACT which is keeping the Tory National Party in power, confusingly along with the Maori Party.
Fear for the future and a powerless about influencing events associated with the economic crisis is opening the door to the extreme right and neo-fascist organisations across the world. Blaming a stereotyped 'other' for economic problems is not new and is easier than making the effort to understand the economics of the current capitalist crisis. These right-wing organisations appeal to this weakness. But when state power start to act on these fears as with Sarkozy in France and Berlusconi in Italy it is seriously time to start to mobilise to stop them.
Fascist use of the scapgoating of a weaker group by ascribing a fixed and threatening attributes through parties and state power has only one ultimate consequence: the lynch mob and the gas chamber. As Pastor Niemller ends his poem "Then they came for me / And there was no one left to object"
In the UK immigration and Islamophobia are the current grist to the racist mill. As Labour Party members we should do all in our power to oppose this. It can be difficult. Number arguments often don't work. Actually net migration to the UK - the difference between those leaving and coming - is running at about 150 thousand per year and is tiny when set against a population of 62 million and 4.5 million British citizens who exercise their freedom and choose to live and work abroad. The latter figure includes both my children as it happens.
But racist are rarely interested in these figues. Low wages, job loss, lack of housing are not caused by migration but they will argue they are. We have to counter these arguments on the grounds that we all collectively face the same problems and should therefore pose collective answers for example building unity with all workers by demanding of the state such things as an effective living wage for all; an end to discriminatory treatment of agency workers; economic policies that create jobs; the use of resources to build affordable housing. Thereby creating unity through collectively attacking the causes of economic crisis and the sources of inequality.
Actively as local Party members building communication and contact across all divisions - leading and enabling debates for example across community groups and supporting asylum seekers, joining on the street to actively support those threatened by intimidation.
Underpinning this there needs to be some self recognition that even a cursory glance at most of our own family history will show that we too are in part immigrants. A brief look at the experience of our shared historical events over the 100 years reveals that we have all been affected by national and international events: we are all in part Welsh, British, European and international workers of the world. Changing society by challenging the rich and the powerful who have power to shape such events in the future is to deal with a reality: creating myths and demonising the other, the outsider, denying our own shared history and humanity is the foundation of racism and fascism.
Marx proposed around 160 year ago that men make their own history but not under conditions chosen by themselves, and we should, as collectively as possible, work at understanding and changing those conditions to achieve human and civilised change. We should not allow ourselves to retreat into a world of myths that at worse can end with the exclusion of even the deaths of those with whom we share a history and an identity.
1. It is important to always put net immigration figures into proportion with figures such as the size of the UK population.
2. Key economic and social problems are not caused by migration and we should collectively deal with the real causes.
3. Being able to live and work internationally is an important human freedom that 4.5m British citizens take advantage of, we should restrict it with great care.
4. It is a human right to change and be different. The limitation are that this right should not lead to the domination or restriction of the rights of others. We should encourage tolerance, respect and dialogue between all. The re-negotiation of the Treaty of Waitangi is an amazing of society example.
5. Fascist and right wing extremists should be challenged directly to defend our solidarity and human rights.
Len Arthur, written September 2010