The race-hate election: Why don't unions answer Tory racists?

Submitted by Anon on 3 May, 2005 - 11:32

Unison, one of the UK's biggest unions recently sent a broadsheet to its members, "Labour Link News", reminding them of the bad things the Tories did when power. One of the bad things it chose to highlight was this: "The total number of asylum applications increased by 45% between 1993 and 1997, while Michael Howard was Home Secretary".

An influx of asylum seekers is bad? Is that Unison's policy? No. Officially Unison would prefer Labour to be more liberal about asylum. But Unison's leaders don't answer the Tory racists - other than by trying to label them too liberal! - because to answer them properly would mean taking on the Labour racists. And their choice for this election is to go along with Blair-Labour vote-grabbing, by any means, however vile.

Roy Hattersley, writing in the Guardian, said it had been the "nastiest election campaign in his lifetime." Nastier even than the 1964 election campaign when the Tory candidate in Smethwick adopted the slogan, "If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour".

Already vile Tory policies have translated into fists and knives, broken bottles and missiles. In the last few weeks there has been a reported rise in racist attacks. The far right BNP is recruiting.

The Tories' vilification of refugees and dehumanisation of travellers has been sickening to watch, the more so for Labour's near-agreement with the populist ranting. The more so for the unions' failure to mount a defence of the victims.

Where were the union leaders on the recent London demonstration by travellers calling for more rights? Not there. Where are the union leaders when 12,000-odd people are deported each year? Not at the airports protesting.

Many union members are black or Asian, are refugees, are immigrant workers, are facing deportation. Most union leaders at their conferences say many warm words about fighting racism. But now they are muted at best. Why?

The union leaders are now so much under the thumb of the Labour machine that they don't dare to challenge Labour policy, even when it means the most vulnerable in society are attacked.

When the election is over, rank and file trade unionists will need to call their leaders to account. Why did they stand idly by in this election?

We must make them organise a proper fight against racism and for asylum rights. Campaigns which are about more than rallies and glossy leaflets, which make links with anti-deportation campaigns, which go out and win arguments in local communities. We need them to fight to reverse the privatisations and cuts which have done so much to stoke up the resentment and divisions on which the racist arguments feed - and to fight for a proper independent workers' voice in politics.

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