Comrades, friends, Balwinder Rana, Varinder and Gurpreet Singh Anand and Sabby. We haven’t met before but a very warm welcome to each and every one of you attending this afternoon.
As Balwinder said, struggle against racism and fascism I suppose, probably pre-dates even us, Balwinder. I know we like to think we’ve been there from the year dot and sometimes feels like it. But I guess, from the time migrants start to arrive in a foreign land they start facing discrimination, and hence, people like ourselves who are not accustomed to putting up with being discriminated against start challenging that discrimination.
That struggle goes on, it started when we arrived, it probably when our parents arrived and or grandparents or even before that. So, its been on going. Its an ongoing struggle and as we entered the movement in our early days, young people indeed we were, and we thought you know in 10 -20 years this will all be over. We won’t have to be doing what we are doing today. And in fact if you study the media and you listen to Party conferences, whether its the Tories or Labour or the Liberals, they’ll all lead you to believe that actually its all over. That we are living in harmony and somehow racism isn’t there any more as indeed class struggle is not there any more. Certainly the class struggle in this country is not there any more.
But you know the reality is somewhat different. And as Balwinder said, our main entry into activism, into community life, into politics came through our struggle against racism. For us in Southall, and although I started my younger days in Leicester, I’ve really grown up in Southall – since the ’70s, early ’70s and 1976 was the murder of Gurdeep Chaggar in old Southall which really started and focused peoples attention. Yes, there is racism out there and it does lead to end result – people losing their lives. Following on from that was the introduction of the race relations act. So, things that happened in this country haven’t happened because somebody snapped their fingers or somebody decided ‘we’ll be good to the new migrants’ – it happened because people took to the streets, people campaigned like yourselves, like ourselves today and said we want to make a difference, we’re not accepting this.
There’s been a slogan throughout our lives: ‘they say go back, we say fight back’. They’re not slogans just because it sounds nice, its sounds snappy or its a media phrase. Its because actually, that’s what we mean. That’s exactly what we mean. We’re here, we’re a part of this society, we’re a part of this multicultural society. Again, the politicians would like to do away with these terms. You know, its not longer necessary to speak in terms of multiculturalism. We sincerely believe that it is still very much there. We need to work very hard on it. I think the communities have enriched British society – all the communities, all the migrants who have come from all over the world have enriched this society. And, I do feel Varinder is right – it does hurt you when you hear your own community being linked to a racist and a fascist organisation. Of course it does, its bound to hurt – whether its form the Sikhs or anybody else. Because its done deliberately to divide our struggle. Our campaign in this country again I think, its still mentioned again today – Blair Peach – 1979.
I was just jesting to Balwinder here, I said ‘were you there?’ – of course he was there. And I remember organising meetings like this in the dominion ball room and people were say ‘no, just ignore it, they’ll go away’. But no, the community decided that they will not go away and we will not go away and we will actually do something about it. And, we protested in a very peaceful manner and we paid a huge price. The highest price by Blair Peach who lost his life. A teacher from New Zealand.
That’s how far and how wide this struggle against racism was and is. That it touches peoples lives and everybody gets involved. 342 people young and old, women and children of all ages and all races were arrested and charged. And that battle took place out here in these streets. On the side streets, all of Broadway. I know there’s a lot of people here, Balwinder, a lot of people from a leadership course who come to study – ‘what is it about Southall?’, ‘what is it about people and communities that makes a difference’. Its the people that make the difference. Its people actually saying – ‘we will fight injustice, we will fight intolerance , we will not put up with the way we have been treated’. It is those people that make a difference.
Two years later when we thought it was all over 1981, the fascists came again to Southall. There’s a pub if you walk right down the Broadway, right through to the end near a bridge called ‘The Hambrough Tavern’. That’s a new building. On that site set an old pub which I believe in June or July, I can’t remember the month. It was very hot summer months and I remember it very clearly because we were there all night -the struggle. These fascists would come to a concert after attacking the shops in the Broadway in a very similar fashion to the video you saw earlier. They attacked people going down, smashing windows, attacking women working on the tills and then got themselves well protected by the police in the Hambrough Tavern. And that was a struggle that ensued pretty much most of the evening and most of the night. And people of Southall rallied around and said ‘not in our town, not while we’re here’.
Its a bit like the people in Spain – ‘no pasaran’. And, they did not pass. They were protected and huddled out of Southall and people have been fighting since then again and again. Last year we saw it again, you saw images throughout London. They weren’t racist attacks, but they are peoples reactions to being either discriminated against or people saying no, this is a push too far and reacting. I’m not condoning that incidentally, so don’t say I was condoning that sort of thing. All I was saying is those images are very much there, but the peoples reaction is what I’m alluding to. The peoples reaction in Southall saying no, we don’t want that violence in our town. We will unite together.
A lot of Sikhs, I think they were highlighted for very very positive behaviour in the way that they came out together and said: ‘we will protect our town, we will protect our property’. So again, that is very positive and I do totally empathise when we say yes, Sikhs have a history of fighting injustice as indeed many other communities have a history of fighting injustice. I had an opportunity to go to South India, just very recently. Because I come from Punjab and I know about Bhagat Singh. You know, the martyr that we all speak about – Shaheed-e-Azam. And, I went down south and in 1948, a year after independence, eight of their people were actually shot by the police, fighting against injustice and improving their lot.
So, people have been struggling throughout history and we continue to do the same. I think the demonstration in Luton – and Balwinder said ‘well, I think its unfortunate its on the 5th’ – you know the fascists aren’t going to ask us Balwinder, you know does it fit in with your diary? They organise, we have to counter organise but more importantly the community in Luton – they have to have the widest organisation because obviously, we can be a solidarity action from here but we cannot be a replacement or a substitute for the people themselves coming together and saying: ‘we will challenge this, we will not accept this’. And what we have to say quite clearly as a solidarity, as a campaign that’s growing and we need to widen the scope as much as we can and I think we all understand that. The Sikhs alone, the Muslims alone or anybody else alone cannot fight racism by their self. We need the widest unity, we need to get each and every one of us whether its about the religion, the race, caste – it doesn’t really matter if you’re from, its a belief. Its a belief to fight against injustice. Its a belief to say we want the widest unity of our people for a better world and I think we deserve that, our young people deserve that.
I mean, you just see it today, the attacks that are being perpetuated. They’re targeting young people more than anybody else. First they invite the young youth over here to come and attend Universities. Come and attend the schools. And now, they actually offload them and say either you pay more because some of the colleges and Universities turn out to be bogus. So, those people are put on the streets. They’re not allowed to work the hours they were being promised. They’re not allowed to work, the bar is being moved up to a higher level for higher skilled jobs. So where are those people supposed to go? They’re being targeted. They’ve been made scapegoats of a recession that they had nothing to do with. Like indeed we will be.
I think we’ve seen many name changes. We’ve seen the National Front, the BNP, the EDL – whatever they are, essentially the ideology remains the same. The ideology is one of racist and fascist behaviour and fascist ideology is something we have to fight. And when I’m hurt, like you’re hurt with Sikhs being associated, I’m deeply hurt by the fact when from my background as a Socialist and from a Communist party or a background, when I hear this – that Communists are being equated with fascists it hurts me. Because to me that is also wrong. Because it was the people who belonged to the Communist movement who were fighting against fascism and were very very instrumental in the defeat of fascism in 1945 otherwise we would be seeing a different Europe today. But, people like to forget that. They would like us to forget that and rewrite the history, somehow Communists are same as fascists, they cannot be. One side is for progress the other is take us back. I’m very much for progress and I think the Indian Workers Association up and down the country. I’m very pleased that we’re back up on the growth again and you know something that always happens to all movements – we all go into growth when we’re under attack.
Unfortunately, when people get return of a certain party, they get rather comfortable and cosy in thinking all our world is okay. But whenever there is a recession on, whenever we have these sort of parties in power ’79 was similar, we had Margaret Thatcher, now we’ve got David Cameron and his posh boys. Whenever that happens all communities are targeted. We are made a scape goat in any recession, because its the easy option – we stand out. ‘Lets target them’, lets target these people who are perhaps not in their natural habitat here. And I beg to differ with them. I have two children, grand children and third – fourth generation, where else are they supposed to be if not here? We are here to stay, we are here to fight and fight we will and we shall succeed.
With these words I thank you for attending and all solidarities with those on the 5th of May and I think we will try to rally as much support wherever the fascists are, we’ll be there.