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Year 2001 No. 91, May 29, 2001 Archive Search Home Page

The Trouble Which Has Been Stirred Up in Oldham

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :

The Trouble Which Has Been Stirred Up in Oldham

Editorial:
Politically Motivated Racist Attacks

What is Meant by Realising the Talent of All?

Teachers Falling Ill for Longer

Iraq Government Rejects British-US "Smart Sanctions"

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The Trouble Which Has Been Stirred Up in Oldham

Hundreds of youth took to the streets of Oldham as the police adopted a policy of "zero tolerance". Bricks and firebombs were thrown at riot police, and more than 30 people, including 15 police officers, were hurt on Saturday night, while 37 youth were arrested.

According to police reports, a gang of white youth attacked a home in a district where most residents are of Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Indian origin. Soon after, a group of about 100 youths from the district attacked a pub which, according to the same reports, is mainly frequented by those of English origin. At the height of the clashes, 500 youth fought with police in full riot gear. The clashes lasted for seven hours.

On Sunday, police in riot gear turned out in large numbers to prevent further rioting. Police vans were parked at every corner, while police officers with surveillance equipment monitored cars carrying young people. As evening approached, the police reported that further fights had broken out.

Judith Swift, of the organisation Oldham United Against Racism, said far-right activists had been in Oldham for most of Saturday. "There has been a lot of tension in the town over the last few weeks," she said. "There is a real feeling among Asian shopkeepers that it’s not safe for them any more."

Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said on Monday that the situation was "serious, and it is unreservedly to be condemned". New Labour leaders urged politicians to avoid remarks that might inflame racial tensions.

A police spokeswoman said, "We managed to contain the situation using zero tolerance and a massive presence." She added, "It’s Asians and whites involved in the troubles generally."

Oldham Council leader Richard Knowles said that the riots started after an initial attack by white men. He blamed far-right groups for causing trouble in the town.

Asian youth leaders condemned the rioting, saying that it was due to frustration at policing methods. Ashid Ali, chairman of the Oldham Bangladeshi Youth Association, accused the police of being heavy-handed with Asian youth who were reacting to provocations. He said that the long-term solution was to invest money in the town. He said, "The trouble started in the Glodwick area, which is mainly Pakistani, but it could just as easily have happened in the Westwood area, which is predominantly Bangladeshi." He went on to say, "Right wing extremists and members of the National front have been trying to stir trouble every Saturday for five weeks and, for the main part, the police response has been adequate. But when a gang of white people came into Asian areas and began assaulting people and smashing up homes and businesses, the Asian youths felt they had to protect their community. We had tried to avoid trouble but when it came to our doorstep people defended themselves and the police were extremely heavy-handed in their response."

Ashid Ali added, "The problems of Oldham have never been a race issue for us. It is about social inclusion for both white and Asian youths. What we are asking if that the police give community leaders time to control the situation before they wade in with their vans and dogs and shields. If we fail them of course they have their job to do but they should give us time. It was us who dispersed the crowd last night, not the police. We do not want to fight the police." Elaborating on the role of the police, Ashid Ali explained how they treated the white and Asian youth differently during the clashes. He said, "For example, in the Westwood area last night there was a gang of white men at a pub shouting racial abuse and trying to cause trouble. They were confronted by a group of Asian youths but then the police arrived and escorted them away peacefully. Then the police came back and charged the Asian youths with riot gear."

Tony Blair on Monday backed the police saying they had his full support amid a difficult situation.

Article Index



Editorial

Politically Motivated Racist Attacks

The racist attacks, billed as "race riots", in Oldham bear the hallmarks of the state stirring up trouble at this time during the election campaign.

It is increasingly widely appreciated that the state forces at the behest of the English bourgeoisie divide the polity in Britain on a racist basis, as well as on religious and other bases. These forces have been attempting to stir up trouble for some time on this basis. Their aim has been and is to divert attention from the anti-social offensive being carried out against the people by Tony Blair and New Labour, a programme allegedly humane and tolerant, a programme of "opportunity for all", but a programme to carry out the neo-liberal agenda of "Making Britain Great Again".

Just as the threat of "violence" of the May Day demonstrations was utilised to divert attention from the anti-social offensive and prepare the ground for criminalising and banning political protest, so is the threat of "racial violence" being used to divert attention from the anti-social offensive and target the national minority communities as the problem in society.

The state has ensured that the main parliamentary parties have all pledged not to "play the race card" during the election campaign. At the same time, two other things have happened with regard to the political parties. One is that Tony Blair and New Labour, with the collusion of those forces in the labour movement which conciliate with the apologists for the "Third Way" programme, have focused in on the Tory Party as a party of the "right wing" or the "centre-right" as using the issues of asylum seekers and immigration as a thin disguise for the race card. The other is that the state recently has fostered openly racist parties to spearhead the attacks on national minority communities in order to make out the only racists are those of the "far right" and let the Labour Party and the other parliamentary parties off the hook for their consistent racism using the pretexts of "bogus asylum seekers", "terrorist organisations", and other pretexts.

At the time when the trend is for people to refuse to be diverted by the election campaign, but to use it to participate in political life to fight against the anti-social offensive and for their rights and interests, the state is utilising the racist attacks to further ghettoise the national minority communities both physically and politically. It can even be said that this is part of the arsenal of the state to discredit "fringe" parties by labelling small parties as parties either of the "ultra-right" or "ultra-left". This is so since it is the BNP, which is standing in both Oldham East and Oldham West, which is calling for "Belfast-style peace lines", because "multiculturalism has not worked".

These "race riots" have erupted right at this time of the election when the bourgeoisie is once more aiming to bring New Labour to power and when the workers’ opposition to the "Third Way" programme is gathering pace. This cannot be said to be a mere coincidence. The secretary of the Pakistan Cultural Association in Oldham pointed out that "it is the first time I have ever seen anything like this and I have been living in Oldham for more than 30 years". He added, "People have always been living in Oldham in harmony." These "race riots" have on the one hand enabled the police to say, "We managed to contain the situation using zero tolerance," in a context where the Home Secretary had banned all political marches in Oldham. On the other hand, it has enabled the big parliamentary parties to speak on the need for "tolerance" and the just treatment of all citizens, and New Labour in particular to call for party leaders to avoid using asylum seekers and immigration to "whip up" racial prejudice, as though the problem lay in the different communities in Oldham.

The warranted conclusions must be drawn by the working class and people. The state wishes to keep the people marginalised from political life. It wishes to convince the national minority communities that the problem facing them is not fighting for their rights, in particular the right to participate in the polity on an equal basis and not as second class citizens, but a problem of racism between different communities. The racist attacks must be condemned as inhuman and as politically motivated. At the same time, the people are being given no way to turn to solve their problems, and the communities are being devastated. Meanwhile, the state refuses to accept that citizenship and nationality are two entirely distinct entities, a confusion which it utilises to enflame the situation, and it continues to beef up its forces of "law and order", which are especially directed at the vulnerable and those that are developing a consciousness of the need for an alternative.

All communities must refuse to accept their ghettoisation and must advance together in defence of the rights of all. They must demand their right to participate in political life by ending its domination by the big parliamentary parties and selecting candidates to participate in governance from among their own ranks. The national minority communities must continue to uphold and fight for their dignity and take a stand against the intervention of the violence and interference of the police, strengthening their consciousness and organisation that they themselves must decide their own future.

Our Party vigorously condemns the state and its organising of politically motivated racist attacks against the people, and calls on the working class and all democratic people to ensure these reactionary tactics of the state to divert and divide the people and undermine their resistance to the anti-social offensive are not allowed to succeed.

Article Index



What is Meant by Realising the Talent of All?

Labour’s theme on education in the election campaign is "Realising the talent of all".

The Labour Party’s plans for education came in a mini-education manifesto launched by Tony Blair and David Blunkett on May 23. The Education Minister said he wanted to "ensure schools meet the talents and aptitudes of every pupil". He continued, "We have laid the foundations in primary schools and we will build on those for success in radically modernising our secondary schools."

Once again, New Labour is claiming to have "laid the foundations". As in the economy, so in education, the foundations are demonstrably those of implementing the neo-liberal agenda. To build on these foundations in education means to turn education, particularly secondary education, into a training ground for an elite, while denying resources for the mass of ordinary children, and inculcating values of "citizenship" and "responsibility" which serve the needs of a pay-the-rich, meritocratic society.

Although New Labour in its mini-manifesto claims to have plans to introduce 10,000 additional teachers in its second term, this is set into perspective by David Blunkett’s claim that there are 7,000 more teachers now than in 1997. In the last four years, the stress on and illness of teachers has increased and the blame-culture, which plays on the good intentions and hard work of the teaching profession, has been shamelessly utilised by the government.

Of particular note is the Labour Party’s emphasis on "vocational education". This is a way of saying that education is market-led, that it suits the narrow needs of business, rather than educating children to take their place in an enlightened society.

Are we to believe Tony Blair when he paints an ecstatic vision of the children of a Labour government’s second term: "But they ought also to learn the joy of life: the exhilaration of music, the excitement of sport, the beauty of art, the magic of science"? Where is this transformation to come from, where are the resources, where is the magic wand? The real point is that the children of Labour’s second term must learn the value of life: "what it is to be responsible citizens who give something back to their community". The children of the next five years must only ask what they can do to help themselves, to make Britain great again. They must not make their claims on society, particularly on a Labour government.

Article Index



Teachers Falling Ill for Longer

According to the latest official figures, more than half the teachers in England took sick leave last year.

On average, those who went sick were off work for 10 days during the year, one day more than in 1999. An estimated 275,600 full-time or part-time teachers had some sick leave in 2000, about 56% of the total. The total days lost amounted to 2.5 million in 1999 and 2.7 million in 2000.

Those absent for five days or fewer amounted to 37% of the total, while 19% were away for between six and 20 days, with 45% absent sick for more than 20 days.

Nigel de Gruchy, the general secretary of NASUWT, said: "I am surprised the increase is not higher. The relentless pressure applied upon teachers from many quarters, including the government and Ofsted, with very little additional support, is bound to produce figures like this. So long as the government remains reticent in seriously tackling the twin issues of excessive workload and pupil indiscipline then the figures can only get worse."

Doug McAvoy of the NUT said: "Teachers are vulnerable to illness brought into school, but the tiredness they feel from over-work makes them more prone to sickness. There has also been a probably increase in stress-related illness because of that workload and the continuing and growing demands placed upon them. Government targets for reducing illness are blowing in the wind – it would be far better to reduce the constant stream of initiatives to cut the pressure."

Although the government claims it is concerned about the sickness absence levels and it is something it wants to reduce, the conclusion regarding the burden on teachers of New Labour’s 1997 election priority of "education, education, education" is clear. The direction in which the Labour government took education in the context of its anti-social programme for society is of benefit neither to pupils nor to teachers. The lack of resources and the gearing of education to meet the needs of business and the demands of the labour market is putting intense pressure on the education system, and the conception that education should fit pupils to progress society is nowhere to be seen.

Article Index



Iraq Government Rejects British-US "Smart Sanctions"

According to an Iraqi radio report on Monday, the Iraq National Assembly has unanimously rejected the British-US draft resolution submitted to the UN Security Council on so-called "smart sanctions".

The National Assembly issued a statement in which it stressed that the United States was responsible for the draft, especially after failing miserably to enforce its blockade and the fact that it is now in a weak and desperate position. It pointed out that the draft resolution does not entail an easing of the sanctions as it is rumoured and circulated. On the contrary, this draft resolution carries new restrictions and imposes an eternal blockade without any hope of lifting it in the near or distant future.

It urged neighbouring countries to take a stand and voice opposition to and reject the draft resolution.

The statement called on all parliaments in the world to voice their honest position on the draft resolution and play an appropriate role in this regard, including putting pressure on their governments to reject and denounce it through activities that they deem appropriate.

According to a TV report, also on Monday, the Iraqi Information Minister, Muhammad Sa’id al-Sahhaf, has said that the "smart sanctions" aim primarily to undermine Iraq’s stability. In a special interview with the Qatari television station Al-Jazeera, the Information Minister said that the sanctions plan requests the neighbouring states of Iraq to work against their own interests.

He said, "The assumption is founded on twisting the arms of other states, which means blackmailing them and then forcing them to implement inspection regimes that infringe their sovereignty and undermine their interests." He also said that the sanctions plan wants the neighbouring states "to agree to implement something that infringes on Iraq’s sovereignty." He continued, "It wants them to confiscate Iraq’s funds and not to engage in any proper trade deals with it. As a result of their arrogance and strange way of thinking, the Americans think that these states would say yes, we will accept your orders since you are masters of the world, and we are prepared to sacrifice our interests and sovereignty and repress Iraq."

The senior under-secretary of Iraq’s Oil Ministry, Taha Hammud, said that Iraq would halt oil exports if the UN Security Council adopted the British-US draft resolution. He argued that Saudi Arabia would be unable to make up for this loss of Iraq’s oil in the international market.

Part of the objection to the "smart sanctions" resolution is that it enables Britain and the US to determine what goods are still banned to Iraq or classed as "dual use". The Iraq Health Minister, Umid Midhat Mubarak, said in conversation with the Iraqi News Agency that the aggressiveness of the US and Britain is depriving the people of a free and decent life. He said that Iraq is being prevented from importing 27 contracted machines for early detection of breast cancer. He explained that Iraqi patients are suffering from this disease as a result of the depleted uranium and other internationally banned weapons used during the aggression and are in dire need of this equipment.

Meanwhile US imperialism and the British government continue to impose the "no-fly zones" on Iraq. This is a systematic policy in line with its imposition of sanctions to trample on Iraq’s sovereignty and damage its people, infrastructure and civilian facilities. Between April 23 and May 3, British and US warplanes carried out 241 air sorties, according to the Acting Foreign Minister of Iraq, Tariq Aziz.

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