AUSTERITY AND RACISM are very much entwined; racism increases whenever times are at their hardest. In the deep depression of the 1930s, Oswald Mosley and his blackshirts targeted the Jews. Today, in the middle of one of the worst periods of austerity and depression since the 1930s, brought on by the financial markets playing Monopoly with our money, it is the migrants and refugees who are portrayed as the problem.
Migration has always been with us and always will be. Austerity is not the answer to today’s problems. As Secretary of Bromley TUC, I have seen first hand over the last few years, since austerity has kicked in, how racism and xenophobia have increased in our area.
Our trades council has tried to fight, and support those fighting, against a heavily biased Tory Bromley Council – with over 40 Tory councillors hell-bent on cutting and privatising council services, even though they have over £600 million in cash reserves and investments which they refuse to use. As a result we have seen many services cut or withdrawn altogether, for example Sure Start Centres and Youth services, often in the most deprived areas.
And in the last council elections we had for the first time two UKIP councillors elected in one of the poorest areas of the borough - proof that UKIP don’t just take votes from the right. Over the last few years there has been an increase in support for UKIP in the Bromley area. They certainly add to the lies, myths and the blame culture that it is the migrants who are the problem, arriving from overseas taking our jobs and sponging off the state. During the council elections UKIP even opened an office in Bromley High Street and made it a base of operations in the South East, such is their support in the area.
Of course, like others, we have tried to counter the biased propaganda and the right wing press with leafleting and other methods and I thank War on Want for being supportive and sending us materials and help. We also designed and developed our own leaflet to try to focus attention on the real issues - the Tories’ plans for more cuts and privatisation, which of course did not get a mention in their manifesto.
However something that did get a mention was to reduce the number of councillors in the borough. Bromley councillors are one of the most expensive group of councillors you will find, but of course this promise has not materialised. What a surprise!
As others have no doubt experienced too during these austerity years, we have seen an increase generally in far right and fascist activity. Lunar House at Croydon, which is an immigration centre, has regular demos by the far right. Our trades council has supported Croydon TUC and other anti-fascist protestors in fighting this. We have also supported Brighton TUC against the far right marching in Brighton on St Georges’ Day, again something that started with austerity. Because of the strength of local opposition, this has now been stopped.
Dover is now a prime target of the far right, with its close proximity to Europe and Calais. Again Bromley TUC has been proud to do what it can to support local residents in Dover and Kent. I pay tribute to KARN, the Kent Anti Racist Network, which has created a great grass roots anti-racist network of people who are committed to fighting racism in all its forms.
The recent increase in levels of racism, xenophobia and far right activity has happened during one of the worst periods of austerity and poverty we have experienced. Bromley TUC will continue, along with others, the fight against austerity and racism, which go hand in hand. We are a relatively small trades council but we all have to try to fight the biased right wing press and government who blame the minority groups, the poor and the disabled for the problems of today - instead of the real culprits who are the Tory government and their ideology of austerity.
is Secretary of Bromley TUC