Standing Up to Racism in Edinburgh

Like many other activists in the trade union movement, I’m involved in Stand Up to Racism (SUtR), and over the last few weeks I’ve been convening meetings in Edinburgh, in order to build for a local event on UN Anti-Racism Day, 20th March.

This year, there is no let up in the challenges faced by anti-racists, with politicians and the media continuing to use racism in their attempts to divide opposition in response to the government’s mishandling of the pandemic. We have seen the stoking up of Islamophobia with the scapegoating of refugees and migrants.

There are refugees locked in camps, for example in Penally in West Wales, and in the Napier army barracks in Kent, living in overcrowded accommodation which is especially dangerous during the pandemic, who are cold and not being given enough to eat. This is a deliberate policy by the Tories, who believe that better accommodation would undermine confidence in the asylum system.

In Scotland, we have Dungavel, which acts as a detention centre for people from across the UK who face deportation after failed applications for asylum. In October, hundreds of inmates were left there after a Covid outbreak.

The existence of these detention centres is just one example of the institutional racism built into the system we live in. There are of course many other examples. From action on disproportionate Covid impact, to scrapping Section 60 Stop and Search, from challenging Islamophobia and antisemitism, to defending refugee and migrant rights, SUtR believes we can make serious inroads into the struggle against racism.

The scapegoating of east-Asian communities has led to an increase in hate crime, which has manifested itself in vicious racist attacks in Edinburgh. One such attack happened in December when a 17 year old student was physically attacked, racially insulted and hospitalised by a group who clearly blamed people who they perceived to be Chinese for Covid-19.

On a positive note, the past year has seen prominent protests against racism, most notably led by the Black Lives Matter movement. In Bonnyrigg, Midlothian, I played a central role in organising a 180-strong socially-distanced protest after a resident of the town, who had come to Scotland from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was subjected to ongoing racial harassment and courageously decided she wasn’t going to put up with it.

We were also part of the campaign to remove the statue of Henry Dundas, who was instrumental in deferring the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade. Our actions were inspired by the toppling of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol. Although the Dundas statue remains, it is now accompanied by a plaque dedicated to the memory of the more than half a million Africans whose enslavement was a consequence of his actions.

Later in the year, I was pleased to coordinate the support of SUtR, with our banner, for a rally by students at Edinburgh University who were protesting against the aforementioned racial assault on one of their colleagues. Around 100 people attended.

It’s absolutely crucial that we have as many locally-organised protests on 20th March. In Edinburgh we have a number of trade unionists, campaigners and local politicians attending our organising meetings – including the Chair of the Edinburgh Council Equalities Committee, who has shared with us a motion she intends to move, calling on the council to support the World Against Racism day of action on March 20th, and to take a lead in tackling racism in our city.

We have written to trade union branches and other organisations offering to provide a speaker to address meetings on the issue of why UN Anti-Racism day is so important, and how they can participate.

Donations have been received from local trade union branches, including UCU, EIS, PCS and the Edinburgh Trade Union Council, to help fund the resources needed by SUtR to ensure that, whether it be physical protest or an online event (which we might have to resort to as safety is clearly paramount), we have the most well-attended, diverse protest possible with speakers from the wide range of communities who make up the population of Edinburgh. We will show that racism has no place in our city, nor anywhere else.

The TUC and SUtR are hosting a conference Fighting for anti-racist workplaces on Saturday 27th February.

Steve West

Steve is standing for the DWP GEC as part of the Left Unity slate. Click the image for more information.

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