On 24 May, a crowd of five hundred rioted in Luton city centre, seeking out and terrorising people whom they thought were Muslims and attacking Asian-owned businesses. We carry a report in the centre pages of Solidarity 3/152.
The European Parliament election results will come out after this paper has gone to press. The fascist BNP may win a Euro-MP. If it doesn’t, it may well be only because it been gazumped by the richer UK Independence Party, which has run a high-profile campaign focused heavily on agitation against immigration.
The economic crisis, the failure of the mainstream parties' policies to protect much other than bankers’ bonuses from the crisis, and the scandal about MPs’ expenses, are all creating fertile ground for demagogues with spurious “simple” answers — look after “our own”, blame the immigrants. The Luton riot shows where that leads.
Some postal workers have given a lead in fighting back, by refusing to deliver BNP leaflets. Left-wing activists have been out campaigning against the BNP in the Euro-elections. But, in most areas, there have not been enough of us, and the leaflets have not been ones dealing with the social issues which the BNP and UKIP feed on. They just say “use your vote to stop the BNP”.
The aim is explicitly to mobilise votes for any of the mainstream parties, regardless of politics, in order to reduce the BNP's percentage of the turnout. The leaflets must tend to come across as “stay with the status quo rather than going BNP” — a message which backhandedly strengthens the spurious image that BNP are trying to build for themselves as a radical alternative.
Other left-wingers have been out seeking support for a “No2EU” slate which denounces what it calls “so-called freedom of movement of labour in the EU” — actually, the real, and welcome, freedom of workers to cross borders in the EU — by calling it “social dumping”.
Instead, socialists need to unite our efforts round a positive answer to the social issues which the fascists and the racists feed on.
Instead, we should be looking to rebuild something like the Socialist Alliance — a coalition of all the main activist-left groups, which was able to get across a socialist message in 98 constituencies in the 2001 general election.
That Socialist Alliance was broken up by the Socialist Party seceding on the pretext of disagreements of detail on how the alliance should be organised, and the Socialist Workers' Party seceding to set up “Respect” with the tainted ex-Labour MP George Galloway and start campaigning on communalist lines as the best “fighters for Muslims”.
That was a mistake. We should unite again; and unite not just, or even mainly, for electioneering.
We should unite in day-to-day activity to support actions like the postal workers', and put forward basic working-class answers to the crisis: jobs for all workers; open the books; nationalisation under workers' control of firms cutting jobs; full nationalisation and democratic control of the banks and finance system.
If unity is not possible at national level, we should form local coalitions and unite in local working-class campaigns.
The economic crisis creates tremendous pressures towards protectionism and the raising of economic barriers between countries. The governments want to resist those pressures in the sense that each capitalist government wants every other capitalist government not to raise barriers; but how far they will hold the line remains to be seen.
To deal with this crisis, workers need unity, across borders and across differences of origin. And to promote workers' unity, we need unity of the socialists — a new socialist alliance.