"Only A Game!"

A protracted campaign to deny AFA a voice on Glasgow’s Refugee Committee saw a leading SWP member offer the extraordinary explanation that it is: "Only A Game!"

When a militant anti-fascist was denied the opportunity to stand for a position on the Glasgow Campaign To Welcome Refugees committee, it was the latest and most public attempt to prevent Anti-Fascist Action having any influence in regard to the tactics for working in communities in which refugees have been dispersed.

From the beginning, AFA has tried to play a positive part in the campaign but has met with opposition and obstacles from the outset. Obviously AFA’s position of putting forward the idea of some equity between the issues relating to the refugees, and the issues relating to the community, is rejected by all other organisations. When the very first public meeting was announced, AFA attempted to get a speaker, but were informed by Dave Sherry (SWP) that there were ‘too many speakers’. Even when three failed to show, AFA was still denied a platform. Then a public meeting in Partick was cancelled with 30 minutes notice. The AFA members -the only ones who turned up - were informed by the caretaker!

At the next meeting in Govanhill, AFA was accused of being “boot boys”. Unsurprisingly this smear came from a SWP member. On leaving the meeting an AFA member was even asked as to how he “became an anti-fascist”. (Perhaps the absence of a caftan confused this enlightened lefty?) Our next encounter came at the first meeting of the Glasgow-wide campaign. When AFA attempted to raise the matter of working on the ground, and also to ask for an explanation for the Partick cancellation, the response was to ignore us, and for the Chair to continue through the set agenda, with no reference to the points AFA had raised. Due to this attitude the AFA members left the meeting.

In response AFA decided to produce a leaflet. Titled “Are Refugees Welcome Here?" and distributed it at the next meeting. In it, we laid out where the blame really lies for increased race attacks, highlighting the difference between locals who were racist, and those who were merely reacting to their communities suffering shortages of services. It also commented on the all important shortfall in government provision for the refugees, which naturally brought class into the equation. Taking into account the success of far-Right parties in both Europe and Britain, it asked whether the campaign should be based on some Left-wing idea of ‘morality, or on concrete political realities’.

For example when it was raised that refugees had been physically attacked in the Red Road area of Glasgow by local youth, AFA asked what the campaign would do about it and whether it might be necessary to physically defend the refugees. The temporary chair of the meeting, Angela McCormick (SWP), stated that “the campaign will have no part in the use of force”, but then added “that if AFA felt it wanted to carry out this course of action it should as an alternative”. Needless to say AFA declined the invitation to carry out an action. The campaign’s decision, was to hold a public meeting to raise the issue of the attacks within the local community. Up to the point of writing (3 months) no public meeting has taken place. Interestingly. At the end of the meeting AFA members had a discussion with some refugees from the Red Road area under attack. Ironically, given the attitude of the chair, the common ground between AFA and the refugees, and the solutions to the position they found themselves in was immediately apparent.

At the next meeting the election for positions on the committee was on the agenda. When the matter was previously discussed, the ‘desperate need for people to step forward’ was stressed. Two people were then proposed as joint Secretary (even though one was not present) and were voted in. AFA then put forward its candidate for press officer, and were taken aback when the chair insisted “this could not be voted on and would have to be remitted to the next meeting”. When asked why AFA were denied the same rights as others proposed for the committee, the response was a barrage of abuse from the floor of the meeting. Everything from being ‘too aggressive’, to having 'no involvement in the campaign’ was voiced. Funnily enough the woman who stated that “we were unknown to those at the meeting” then proceeded to propose two others who she admitted “she didn’t know too much about, but who she thought had said some good things”. It may have been a coincidence that both were black, but in any case both declined to stand.

Although the debacle of the Committee election was the most striking aspect of this meeting, it was not the only thing that happened that evening. Once again the issue of attacks on refugees came up, with Wynford being the area focused on this time. When again it was suggested that the solution to the attacks was to hold a public meeting, inviting the local Labour MP Maria Fyfe to speak, AFA asked why a member of the party mainly responsible for the position that both the refugees and the host community find themselves in was being invited’.

The response from the floor was that Maria Fyfe was the elected representative and was ‘personally okay’ ‘If the area was represented by the BNP or the Tories would it still be felt necessary to offer them a platform?’ it was then asked. That they were anti-racist “no matter who they represented” was the only criteria that mattered we were informed. When again it was proposed that it would be a better idea to try to find a speaker from within the Wynford area who could speak ‘to and was from the local community’, the idea, that this could happen was ridiculed. At the end of this meeting heated discussions took place between AFA members and the SWP. Interestingly, AFA were told that these meetings ‘were not intended for political debate’, and anyway, the SWP ‘were sick of the internet debate between Red Action and the Left’ then underway. Red Action were ‘political purists, aggressive, middle-class haters’ etc. When challenged that such obvious sectarianism was unlikely to benefit the campaign, the SWP chair brushed aside the criticism with the extraordinary comment that “it’s only a game”

M. Kenny

Reproduced from RA Vol 4, Issue 9, November/December '00