In last year's European elections the British National Party (BNP) got just under a million votes, 6.4% of the total votes cast. Its highest polling areas were all traditionally Labour voting, working class areas - Barking and Dagenham, Stoke-on-Trent, Thurrock, Barnsley and Rotherham. On 6 May the BNP are hoping to take control of Barking and Dagenham council. Party leader, Nick Griffin, is also standing for parliament in Barking, one of 326 parliamentary seats that the BNP will be contesting. Regrettably, it is no surprise that the number of working class people voting BNP has increased over recent years. Workers are faced with a choice between three major parties that stand in the interests of big business and not of working class people. These are parties that have supported bailing out the 'banksters' while expecting us to pay for the crisis. No wonder many workers cannot bring themselves to vote at all and others express their anger by voting for the BNP. But the BNP does not stand in the interests of working class people. On the contrary, its ideas are a recipe for defeat and despair.
Public services are already inadequate, underfunded and overcrowded. But, whichever party wins the general election, Tories, New Labour or LibDems, they will take an axe to what is left of our services, with proposed cuts of 15% or more over the coming years. Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP, is not campaigning to defend public services, but the bankers! As a member of the European parliament he has argued that the European Commission does not understand "the City of London's role in world markets and that it is a leading economic and commercial asset in Great Britain." Far from being an 'asset', the rich bankers in the City of London bear responsibility for the dramatic increase in public debt. Deregulated under the Tories and then New Labour, the City enjoyed a massive party of profits. When the hangover came, it was taxpayers who propped them up. Now the bankers are partying again and our services are being cut to pay the bill. Socialists demand nationalisation of the major banks - with compensation paid only on the basis of proven need. Instead of being run by and for the profiteers, a nationalised finance sector could be run by and for the mass of the population. The BNP, by contrast, not only opposes nationalisation, but even demands increased deregulation of the City!
The BNP's programme for the economy does not include one proposal to make the rich pay more - either in taxation or by other means. Nick Griffin may pose as a friend of working class people, but nothing could be further from the truth. Where they have councillors they have consistently supported massive cuts. In Barking the BNP moved an alternative budget, which not only accepted all £14 million in cuts proposed by the New Labour-led council, but added its own cuts of several million - including £0.8 million from the school buildings budget. In Stoke-on-Trent the BNP supported the council budget, which proposes savage cuts in jobs, closure or further privatisation plus an almost 3% council tax increase. In Kirklees the BNP voted for a huge £400 million worth of cuts over the next five years. A BNP councillor called for public sector jobs to be slashed by 25%, even more than the cuts that the Labour council was proposing. Only councillor Jackie Grunsell, a member of the Socialist Party, is actually fighting the cuts.Defending our services will require a united mass movement. To be successful, like the movement against Thatcher's poll tax 20 years ago, it will need to unite as many working class people as possible - men and woman, old and young, migrant and those who were born here. The racist and pro-cuts BNP will never lead such a movement. It creates division not unity - and supports the cuts!
Five million people say they want social housing. But as a result of government policy over the last 30 years, there is virtually none available. 20 years ago there were more than five million council homes, now there is barely half that number. In Barking and Dagenham alone there are 8,000 people on the council house waiting list. The number of council homes in the borough has fallen by 22,000 in the last 20 years. Now the Labour council, frightened by the growth of electoral support for the BNP, is building its first council houses for 25 years - all 32 of them! From 1949 to 1954 an average of 230,000 council houses a year were built. The Socialist Party campaigns for a programme on a similar scale now that would refurbish existing stock and build enough new homes to genuinely solve the housing problem for all. Such houses could be built to the highest environmental specifications but, unlike the eco-housing Brown is proposing, be public and affordable. The BNP has gained support in Barking and Dagenham as a result of anger at the terrible housing situation, for which it has no solution. BNP councillors propose to take a council site in the borough and bung 1,000 caravans on it - worth £1,000 each. That appears to be as far as their 'Steptoe and son' solution to the crisis goes!
At the same time the BNP actually opposes a major council house building programme in Barking and Dagenham, ignoring the huge drop in the number of council houses. Completely wrongly they argue that if indigenous families are prioritised, it will be possible for them all to get housing without building new homes. Given capitalism's and, in particular, New Labour's failure to provide council housing it is inevitable that tensions will exist about who does, and who does not, get council housing. These tensions are exacerbated in areas like Barking, where there has been a recent and significant increase in the population, including increased numbers of immigrants. The lack of an open, democratic and accountable system of allocations, that would be accepted by most workers, also increases anger. The Socialist Party believes that the right of families to be housed in the same community, if they wish to be, is an important one. The struggle to achieve this, and to satisfy the housing needs of other categories of applicant, has to be linked to both the fight for a mass council house building programme and for democratic control of the allocation system.
Decisions should be taken on the basis of need, including the right to be housed near relatives and friends, not by unelected council officials, but by elected representatives of local community organisations, including tenants' associations, trade unions, community campaigns and councillors. The struggle for decent housing has to be linked to the election of councillors who stand in the interests of working class people. That means socialists - not the BNP. From 1983 to 1987 the socialist-led Liverpool City Council mobilised a mass campaign to defy the Tory government and built 6,000 new council homes, as well as massively improving local public services. We need councillors who are prepared to do the same today. Since Nick Griffin was elected to the European parliament (less than a year ago) he has claimed £200,000 in expenses, in addition to his £82,000 salary! So much for standing up for working class people! Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist explains how Socialist Party MPs and MEPs would be different: "I was a socialist MP for nine years and, unlike the current money grubbing MPs, I only took the average wage of a worker. "I lived the same lifestyle as my constituents. Any Socialist Party member elected to parliament will take the same principled approach that I did."
Over the last decade in Britain big business has moved might and main to keep wages down. One way that they have done this is by using workers from other countries as a supply of cheap, highly-exploited labour. The BNP has no solution to this problem. This is understood by workers who are fighting to defend their pay and conditions. Last year, during the victorious construction workers' strikes at Lindsey Oil Refinery (LOR) against the race to the bottom, BNP members tried to visit the picket lines - but the workers sent them packing. The oil refinery workers understood that the only way they could defend their pay, conditions and jobs was by united action - demanding the rate for the job for every worker, regardless of their national origin. The vile racism of the BNP would have divided the workforce and led to a defeat. As Keith Gibson, a leading member of the Lindsey strike committee put it: "The workers of LOR, Conoco and Easington did not take strike action against immigrant workers. Our action is rightly aimed against company bosses who attempt to play off one nationality of worker against the other and undermine the NAECI agreement. "The BNP should take heed; UK construction workers will not tolerate another racist attempt to sever fraternal relations with workers from other nations."
The LOR workers' strike has lessons for the trade union movement. The only way to prevent big business driving down wages is a united struggle to demand that all workers - regardless of national origin - are paid 'the rate for the job'. To do this successfully means appealing to immigrant workers for a joint struggle. Otherwise big business will continue to use the tactics of 'divide and rule'. The same applies to the struggles in local communities to defend public services. It is also important for the British trade union movement to support struggles of workers in other countries against low pay, cuts in services, etc. The BNP claim that they are not a racist party, but this is a lie. Until the courts forced them to change their rules, only people of "Caucasian origin" were allowed to join their party. To give another example, the BNP councillors in Barking and Dagenham voted against congratulating British athletes on their success at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. They do not consider athletes such as Amir Khan and Kelly Holmes to be British! The leadership of the BNP has a long record of supporting neo-fascist ideas. Now, to try to gain votes, they are attempting to present a respectable gloss. However, as recently as 1998 Griffin was found guilty of inciting racial hatred for holocaust denial.
In 1995 Griffin wrote: "The electors of Millwall [who elected the BNP's first and short-lived local councillor in 1993] did not back a post-modernist rightist party but what they perceived to be a strong, disciplined organisation with the ability to back up its slogan 'Defend Rights for Whites' with well-directed boots and fists. When the crunch comes power is the product of force and will, not rational debate". Mark Collett, previously BNP director of publicity and general election candidate for Sheffield Brightside, has been sacked by the BNP for allegedly threatening to kill Nick Griffin. However, he was never sacked for supporting Hitler. In 2002 Collett was filmed saying: "I honestly can't understand how a man who has seen the inner-city hell of Britain today can't look back on that era of Hitler's Germany without a certain nostalgia and think 'yeah, those people marching through the streets and all those happy people in the streets, saluting and everything, was a bad thing'." The BNP is growing because of the lack of a mass party that stands in workers' interests. New Labour is a party of big business, yet most trade unions continue to fund it to the tune of millions. Meanwhile New Labour continues to kick working class people in the teeth. The trade unions should stop funding New Labour and begin to build a party that stands in their interests.
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition - supported by trade union champions like Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, Brian Caton, general secretary of the POA, and others - will contest seats in the coming general election as a step towards an independent political voice for working class people. In addition to calling for a vote for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition wherever it is standing, the Socialist Party supports a vote for genuine, left, anti-cuts and anti-privatisation candidates. Only a party that genuinely stands in the interests of working class people will be able to successfully expose and undermine the BNP. That is why we are campaigning for the development of a party that, instead of backing the 'banksters', fights to defend the NHS, stands for a living wage for all, for a mass programme of council house building - a party that stands for the millions, not the millionaires.
A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.