Last Friday, 10 February, scenes of violence erupted outside the Suites Hotel in Knowsley, Merseyside, as a crowd – incited by the lies of far-right thugs – sought to intimidate and attack asylum-seekers placed in local temporary lodgings.
This riot was part of a national campaign of racist hate from the fascist organisation Patriotic Alternative (PA), who are targeting locations where refugees are housed whilst they await the result of their asylum application.
PA supporters had leafletted the area and spread slanders on social media, claiming that refugees staying at the hotel were a threat to the safety of the community.
In particular, they used misinformation around one report, which had been investigated by the police, in order to inflame anger amongst local residents. And they made up additional lies about other ‘incidents’. This included the bizarre claim that a migrant had attempted to take a baby from its mother on a crowded bus.
We send our solidarity and thanks to all standing up to the far-right’s violent protest in Knowsley tonight.
The Tories’ dangerous agenda of division and the demonisation of refugees, which has lead to these horrific events, must end immediately.pic.twitter.com/6Q6eFzChQy
— Peace & Justice Project (@corbyn_project) February 10, 2023
I attended a counter-demonstration that had been hastily called by local activists, in order to show solidarity with the refugees. About a hundred of us assembled, including trade unionists from the RMT, Unison, Unite, and UCU, alongside members of the Merseyside Pensioners Association.
The refugees at the hotel include people from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Libya – all countries that have suffered the disastrous effects of British imperialism.
It is the reckless actions of western imperialism that have made life in these places dangerous and untenable, forcing millions to flee for safer shores. Yet far-right mobs, whipped up by the Tories and the racist establishment, are intent on ensuring that they continue to experience a living hell.
We formed up outside the hotel, so that those inside would know we were there. This meant that – although we were separated from the fascist protest – we became trapped on the road, as the building was effectively surrounded.
We were not the target of the far right’s violence, however, which was instead directed at breaking through the police line and attacking this asylum accommodation. I have no doubt that their objective was to set fire to the hotel.
This is ‘disorder’ according to @SuellaBraverman . Imagine if this was Just Oil Protesters… pic.twitter.com/A4tx9Dricv
— Savan Qadir (@savanQadir) February 12, 2023
Worrying numbers gathered to support the far-right demonstration, with estimates of around 400-450 taking part. This included a hard core of fascists from all over the north.
Many locals also turned up, however, such as youth who joined in as the protest became a pitched battle with the police. The racist campaign claiming that foreigners are a threat also gained traction and played a role in mobilising people.
Divide and rule
The divide-and-rule tactics of the Tories are undoubtedly responsible for stirring up anti-migrant sentiments. ‘Stopping the boats’ is consistently raised by Rishi Sunak as one of his key priorities. This is coupled with nakedly racist rhetoric from Suella Braverman, other Tory ministers, and the right-wing press.
Knowsley, however, is one the safest Labour seats in the country, with the party regularly gaining around 80% of the vote in elections. It is also the third poorest borough in the country, represented by a right-wing Labour council and MP.
Tory austerity has cut millions from the community over the last decade or more. But the Labour leaders have offered no resistance to this.
Furthermore, under Starmer, Labour nationally has reverted to attacking migrants, just as they did in 2015 under Ed Miliband.
With all these politicians singing from the same capitalist hymn-sheet – blaming migrants to deflect from the real root-causes for the lack of jobs, housing, and services in society – then no wonder the fascists find fertile ground for their bigotry and xenophobia.
In these conditions, a minority can be susceptible to the poisonous lies of the far right – that the working class are suffering because privileges are given to migrants – and will turn their anger on refugees.
The working class of Merseyside has consistently shown that we know who is really to blame for the crisis in our communities: the Tories and the bosses. And we have demonstrated how to fight back: through united class struggle.
National industrial disputes on the railways and at Royal Mail have received overwhelming support from the local trade union movement and from working-class residents. And the area has also seen militant, victorious strikes in recent months by the dockers, Arriva bus drivers, and workers at the Jacob’s cracker and biscuit factory.
We may have been outnumbered last Friday in Knowsley. But inspiring examples like the Battle of Cable Street show that, if properly mobilised and organised, our movement would easily have the strength to take on the far right and drive the fascists off our streets.
The trade union leaders must show the way forward, and utilise this potential power of the working class to defend migrants and refugees against the Tories and the ‘hostile environment’ that they have cultivated.
Support the demonstration against racism this Saturday pic.twitter.com/dGGFByNWQj
— Socialist Appeal in Merseyside (@RMike1820) February 14, 2023
With copycats seeking to organise similar racist demonstrations in the weeks ahead, including one outside a Rotherham Holiday Inn this Saturday, it is imperative that the leaders of the labour movement mobilise workers and youth to stop the far right in their tracks.
To truly eradicate this fascist menace once and for all, however, our movement must be armed with a clear socialist programme that points to the real source of workers’ problems: the capitalist system, which is responsible for austerity at home, and for the horrors and barbarism of imperialism across the world.
Sheffield MarxSoc statement: Fight the far right in Rotherham!
The Sheffield Marxist Society unequivocally condemns the attack on migrants in Knowsley and the fascist protest planned this Saturday outside a hotel in Rotherham that is housing refugees.
These attacks are the direct consequence of the ruling class’ attempts to maintain its authority by sowing division; of the xenophobic hysteria of the bourgeois press; and of the criminal policies of the Home Office.
As the Sheffield Marxist Society, we will attend Saturday’s counter-demonstration in Rotherham, proudly saying ‘refugees welcome!’
We fight for open borders and the rights of all workers, regardless of nationality. It is capitalism and its representatives who are responsible for crumbling public services, the shortage of jobs and housing, and low wages.
We call for a mass mobilisation of workers and youth from Rotherham, Sheffield, and beyond. Join us and come out in solidarity for those facing these racist attacks!
The working class must unite to defeat fascist groups and fight for socialism – the only alternative to barbarism.
It is the task of the labour movement to defend migrants against aggression, repression, and exploitation. This battle will only be won through the methods of united class struggle.
The ruling class is trying to divide and distract us. Only by standing side-by-side, and fighting for a socialist programme that cuts across all divisions of the working class, will we be able to break our chains and rid humanity of class society – the root of all oppression.
Workers of the world: unite!