‘Civil liberties, from a working class point of view, are about having the space in which to engage in political struggle – to organise alternative bases of power which can lead to the transformation of society, to record the struggle as it progresses and to express, in theory and in practice, an independent class position. This space is always contested and the occupation of any part of it carries no security of tenure.’
This quote from the immigration and human rights lawyer Ian Macdonald QC captures the historical significance of the Asian Youth Movements (AYMs) in Britain, which helped to define and reconfigure the political culture in the 1970s through to the late 1980s. Anandi Ramamurthy has ensured, through her study of the AYMs, that the politics they made would not be written out of the history of post-war Britain and of the growth of South Asian communities in the UK.
The official line in policy circles was that traditional values would make the Asian workforce more pliable, and would keep Asian youths in check so that they would be less of a ‘threat’ to social order than their West Indian peers. Meanwhile, government could continue to whip up racist hostility to Asians, especially in response to the mass expulsions of Asian families from Kenya (1968), Uganda (1972) and Malawi (1976).
In just over 200 pages, Ramamurthy describes and analyses the origins, development, political practice and internal and external challenges facing the AYMs. She situates their political trajectory very much within the racialised politics of the political parties, of successive governments and of the trade unions. Young Asians organised themselves to redefine the political narrative and demonstrate to the state that they stood in a different relationship to Britain, as their home by birth or by adoption, than their parents.
They had to confront both consensual politics and the police, who were emboldened by the racist stance of parliament itself, as were the National Front, Column 88 and other neo-fascists who propagated racial hatred against Asian and African communities and intimidated residents. Racist murders, firebombing of homes and places of worship and the destruction of property were commonplace, as was the pastime that became known as ‘paki-bashing’. The book provides a most helpful account of how the AYMs organised to resist state oppression and fascist attacks alike. This includes the activities of the fledgling United Black Youth League that led to 12 of its members being charged with making and conspiring to make an explosive substance. The ‘Bradford 12’ were acquitted, having successfully argued that it was their right to organise themselves to act in self defence against neo-fascists.
The book deals with internal issues such as the role and profile of women in the AYMs, the relationship between them and the ‘leadership’ within Asian communities that was very much a construct of local and central government, and the AYMs’ relationship with African grassroots movements. The author makes the entirely valid point that the predominantly male leadership and members of the AYMs did not join the dots between the discriminations and forms of oppression that women members faced. Acknowledging and dealing with their own patriarchal tendencies was clearly not high on their agenda.
That said, I must take issue when Ramamurthy argues that male AYM members who had mobilised widely and frequently in support of women facing deportation as a result of fleeing domestic violence were focused on racist immigration policies and not so much on the domestic violence that had traumatised the women facing deportation. This is not my recollection.
I was chair of the Black Parents Movement (BPM), Manchester, from 1976 until 1987 and jointly led with the AYM (Manchester) anti-deportation campaigns on behalf of Nasreen Akhtar, Jaswinder Kaur and Nasira Begum. Two things were uppermost in our minds: the need to ensure that the women’s safety was never compromised, and the need to emphasise that they had a human right to be treated with dignity and to be free from violence. They were not the property of their husbands and therefore their right to stay in the country should not depend upon them continuing to put their lives at risk in an abusive and harmful marriage.
The relationship between the BPM and the AYM was solid – the latter were fully supportive of our campaign against the deportation of Cynthia Gordon. Indeed, one of the strengths of the book is that it accurately depicts the African and Asian solidarity that BPM and AYM (Manchester) and Bradford Black Collective and AYM (Bradford) represented.
The story Anandi Ramamurthy tells is a far cry from today’s discourse, which is epitomised by the ghastly moniker BAME: black, Asian and minority ethnic. We can only hope that young people and their parents, of whatever ethnicity, demand this book is included in the school and college curriculum. It shows that, even before the ‘war on terror’ and Islamophobia, South Asian communities needed to engage in a defensive war on a neo-fascist and state terror that was relentlessly visited upon them.
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
The under-30s could be decisive in the general election. Frances Grahl meets young people hit by Tory austerity and looks at what's driving their support for Labour
“To them it’s just another number, someone else being sent back. But when you’ve got three children being left without their dad … it’s quite major,” writes Rebecca Omonira-Okeykanmi.
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker
In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing
After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry
Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again
Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood
7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.
After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani
If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945
On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.
Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow
The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself