By Ed Maltby
The police murder of Mark Duggan, which has acted as the spark for huge riots across London and now in other cities, is not an isolated incident - barbaric as it was. Violence in custody, predominantly against black people, is routine. Deaths in custody, under restraint, or in raids, are obscenely widespread and regular. Stop and search is used as a daily form of humiliation. Police brutality against demonstrations and any form of political dissidence has increased. We demand the disarming of the police, an end to stop and search, the disbanding of special riot police units like the TSG, and of political police units, and greater democratic oversight and control of the police – not the cynical insult which is the IPCC.
But the riots are not just about police violence.
The Labour Representation Committee has released the following statement:
“In March Haringey Council approved cuts of £84 million from a total budget of £273 million. There was a savage 75% cut to the Youth Service budget, including: closing the youth centres; Connexions careers advice service for young people reduced by 75%; and the children’s centre service reduced. Haringey has one of the highest numbers of children living in severe poverty, and unemployment in the borough is among the highest in the UK. In London as a whole, youth unemployment is at 23%.
“On Thursday 4 August a local man was shot dead by police. The circumstances of the death are still not clear, but – similarly to many previous cases – it appears the version of events fed to the media by the Metropolitan Police is a tissue of lies. The Independent Police Complaints Commission has opened an investigation, but given their histories of cover-ups no one can have faith in either the Metropolitan Police or the IPCC. On Saturday 6 August a peaceful demonstration marched from the Broadwater Farm estate to the local police station to demand answers.
“In Haringey, you are three times as likely to be stopped and searched if you are black; and over two-thirds of those stopped are under 25.
“Young people are suffering the brunt of the economic crisis, the cuts and, in many parts of the country, police harassment. The student protests in November and December 2010 highlighted the growing frustration and anger among Britain’s youth.
“It is in this context of unemployment, public sector cuts, and police violence and harassment that the riots on the 6/7 August must be understood.
“Some will used the riots and looting to call for further police powers, but instead the police need to be made more accountable to the communities they serve – and held to account when they kill. The IPCC has clearly proved itself unfit for this purpose…”
As the working-class youth of London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds, Nottingham, Bristol have been subjected to every humiliation the New Labour and then Tory-Liberal governments could think of, already deep wells of alienation and despair have grown deeper still. The police have made themselves the symbols of those attacks, and in many cases, have carried them out directly. We shouldn't be surprised either at the outburst of anger, or that the police are the targets.
Neither can we be surprised that among young people subjected to such deprivation, in a society that rubs consumerism in their faces while making them poor, some will loot shops – and we understand that not only “luxury” goods have been taken, but also food and nappies. But what is their looting compared to that practiced by bosses who cut jobs, loot whole firms or whole regions, or force people to work for less than a living wage in order to enrich themselves? What is the thuggery of young men smashing up shops in a rage, compared to the thuggery of a police force that metes out random violence and racist humiliation in their communities?
Socialists should not moralise about the rioting – and in a confrontation between working-class black youth and the police, socialists should not have to ask which side they are on. But the riots have terrified many people, and left others homeless. Burning homes and shops will further depress poor areas, and give the Tories confidence to push forward with a reactionary crackdown. There have been attacks on firefighters and medical personnel. It is not a question of moralising. These things divide and weaken the working class, when it needs unity and strength to fight back.
An organised, political response would be a thousand times more effective than the undirected – and sometimes misdirected - explosions of anger of the last few days. But what organisations exist that could channel that anger? The blame for the lack of a more effective form of organisation must be laid at the door of the labour movement. The labour movement has a responsibility towards angry, alienated young people and towards communities that are being left to rot. But we see a litany of failures; from years of social partnership, the shutting down of any real Labour Party youth movement, the sluggish, conservative attitude of unions to organising and fighting in low-paid, insecure jobs, to the failure of the labour movement and the left to create a dynamic, fighting movement that could attract - or be anything other than totally invisible to! - young people. Tonight, Labour politicians have rushed to echo the Tories and simply condemn the rioters. This is not surprising, but it is a total disgrace.
If we had a dynamic, aggressive, democratic labour movement, which could organise and inspire young people, through a political movement which could mobilise around concrete, ambitious demands and dispel the feeling of disenfranchisement and despair that characterises the desperate actions of the rioters, then we would have seen a different kind of social explosion. Socialists must redouble our efforts to make that happen. Workers’ Liberty invites activists to work with us to build such a labour movement, and help lay the groundwork for an uprising powered by hope, not despair – which could win genuine human liberation.