Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Kick the BNP out of City Hall

On the way home from work this afternoon, heavily burdened (rather appropriately) with papers relating to a race discrimination case, I joined the protest at City Hall called by Love Music Hate Racism.

A good few hundred of us had gathered at very short notice (I had received an email alert from our Trades Council this morning) – speakers included UNISON Local Government Service Group Chair, Jean Geldart, who spoke of the experience of the Tower Hamlets branch in the early 1990s, and Andy Reid from the National Executive of PCS.

I had picked up some reservations that this protest was simply a “knee-jerk” reaction to the election of the BNP Assembly member. Perhaps it was – but if your knees don’t jerk that could mean you have no reflexes and are therefore dead…

The challenge now has to be to carry forward the campaign of opposition to the political far right. In general this is a campaign which seems to be holding back the electoral advance of these vile forces, but in parts of London they seem to be taking root.

The trade union movement needs to restore to our polity a political voice for working class people if we are to reclaim the political spaces into which the far right can insert themselves (for other reasons too this is an important project and one to which I will return in subsequent posts).

However we do also need actively to contest the legitimacy of the far right at every opportunity – and that means support for public protests that give no ground whatsoever to the argument that the political far right have any right to a platform for the politics of hate.

UNISON as a trade union in the workplace has a vital role to protect the interests of workers facing the hazard of having to work with the hatemongers. We also have an interest as a representative organisation of citizens, committed to equality and the interests of working people, in driving the BNP and their ilk back into the sewers.

It is important therefore that we arm our members with accurate information about, for example, the legal rights of public servants to join political protests (the political restrictions which apply to senior local government officers for example do not prevent people attending demonstrations – they have to be read alongside the Human Rights Act!)

It is also important that those in positions of authority in our movement use those positions to support and give well-founded confidence to trade unionists who want to act to implement our policies of opposition to the far right. It was great to see the UNISON Regional Banner outside City Hall last week – and I hope to see it there next time there is a protest against the unwelcome presence of organised racism in a building which ought to symbolise the diverse unity of London.

I remember the last time a member of the British National Party made an impression near where I work – and I refuse to tolerate the fact that a London Assembly member represents the city in which we fought back against their vicious hate.

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