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Unite Against Fascism and Searchlight

Searchlight's letter of resignation from UAF

30 June 05

Dear Friends,

We are writing to you to resign our two places on the steering committee.

It has not been a decision that we have taken lightly but feel that it is better for both parties if we go our own ways.

From the outset there has been a difference of strategy with regards to our own local campaigning and UAF's national strategy. In the spirit of unity we hoped that the contradictions would work themselves through and that the differences would eventually not matter any more.

In reality things have gone from bad to worse. The situation has come to a head in the last month with the fact that UAF staff accused us of pandering to racism at the GMB conference in June with regard to our work in Keighley. More recently, UAF supporters accused us of "using the language of the BNP" in our campaign in Barking & Dagenham (in regard to the slogan: "We are Dagenham, the BNP are not") at the Unison conference.

In our view the opposite is true, we believe that by taking up difficult issues that we are challenging the racists.

It is not our intention to get into a sectarian row with UAF. Indeed we hope that on the ground the differences between people in London will make little difference, as has often been the case in the past.

We recognise that there are good anti-fascists within UAF, but feel that our own involvement helps neither Searchlight nor the UAF.

We wish you all well and will no doubt continue to work with many of you in the future.

In solidarity,

Steve Silver


UAF statement in response to Searchlight's resignation

We regret Searchlight's decision to walk out of the UAF. The lesson of history is that unity is essential in the fight against fascism. Within that unity it both possible and necessary to discuss the most effective strategy and tactics in the light of experience.

It is true that there have been differences with Searchlight. These are not, as they suggest over "Black leadership". Our view is that the anti-fascist movement and its leadership must encompass all of those threatened by the fascists the trade unions, Asian and minority ethnic communities, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh and other faith communities, lesbian and gay organisations, disabled people, the anti-racist movement and, indeed, all democrats.

The movement must try to unite all opponents of the fascists irrespective of, and including, differing views on other issues such as the Middle East.

In discussing strategy we believe the anti-fascist movement should be guided by one simple criterion what works in defeating the BNP. That is not a matter of speculation as we now have extensive experience of what works and what does not work.

What Searchlight fails to sufficiently realise is that the main political cutting edge of the BNP's campaigning today is racism particularly directed today against Muslims, refugees and asylum seekers. Again and again, we have seen the BNP gain a foothold in areas where mainstream institutions or politicians have legitimised racism.

In Millwall, it was the racist "sons and daughters" housing policy, which discriminated against Bangladeshis. In Oldham, it was the false claim that there were more racist attacks by Asians on whites than vice versa. In Keighley, it was the suggestion that there was a large-scale phenomenon of Asian men grooming white school girls for sex and the suggestion that there was disproportionate crime in the Asian community due to low educational achievement linked to trans-continental marriages bringing in people who cannot speak English.

In Millwall and Oldham the TUC led national campaigns which confronted the racist myths upon which the BNP were feeding head-on and made an alliance with the local Asian communities central to the campaign. The result was that the BNP was driven back. Some time ago the TUC asked the UAF to focus on the North West and the results have been spectacular by far the worst setbacks for the BNP occurred in the Oldham constituencies.

In Keighley and Bradford, credence was given to the BNP's racist myths and the local Asian community were not central to the campaign. The result is that the BNP now has four local councillors and nearly 10 per cent of the vote at the general election. At the request of local politicians the UAF did not organise a campaign in Keighley where Searchlight was influential in the strategy and has run articles giving credence to the false "grooming" stories.

Our contention is very simple where the anti-fascist campaign, in which the trade unions must play a central role, takes on racism and allies with those targeted by the fascists very often Black, Asian and Muslim communities it has pushed back the BNP. Where it has failed to fight racism, or made concessions to it, and failed to centrally involved the communities targeted by the fascists, it has been far less effective or failed.

These are important issues which merit serious and considered debate. We regret Searchlight's decision to leave the UAF. But these issues will continue to be debated by anti-fascists all over Britain and we will not allow Searchlight's departure to weaken the unity in action which must accompany that discussion.

The far right has stronger electoral support than ever before in British history. If we do not succeed in reversing the trend of the last five years they are on the verge of a major breakthrough. That is why we have to learn from experience of what is most effective in stopping them, debate these issues openly, and, at the same time, sustain unity in action of everyone opposed to the BNP.

The BNP's attempt to exploit the tragedy of the London bombings to whip up racism and divide the people of London for electoral gain backfired spectacularly in the Becontree council by-election on 14 July. The Labour candidate resoundingly defeated the BNP with 60% of the vote and to the BNP's 19%. This was achieved by precisely mobilising an anti-BNP majority on the lines outlined above.