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The Movement for Justice - Who we are and what kind of movement we need.


The Movement for Justice has recognised the urgent need for an anti-racist movement that is prepared to struggle for justice for all. Why do we need a Movement for Justice, why should you join and help build a movement now? We must begin by saying something about the history of the Movement for Justice and how it came about.

History of the Movement for Justice

The Movement for Justice was set up in 1995 by a number of anti-racist activists, particularly those then involved in leading Kingsway College Student Union. The Student Union had become the most active and militant in Britain. It was organised in a Further Education college in the London Borough of Camden with a high concentration of black, Asian and asylum, seeker students. We had been involved in numerous campaigns against racism.

Many youth first became involved following the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, an 18 year old black youth brutally killed by racists in South East London in 1991. We organised large contingents on demonstrations to close down the Nazi British National Party (BNP) headquarters in the area. We helped the YRE (Youth against Racism in Europe) and build an anti-racist campaign through this. Later the same year, in a campaign with the YRE and local community, we drove the BNP off Brick Lane, in the heart of the Bengali community in East London, where they had provocatively held a paper sale every Sunday for years.

In 1993 a popular student at Kingsway college, Shah Alam, was nearly killed in a vicious racist attack in Poplar, East London. He was set upon in broad daylight by a gang of white youths using knives, baseball bats and a hammer. He was left for dead in the streets and only recovered after hours of emergency surgery. The attack on Shah created anger and determination to fight amongst students in Kingsway College and Tower Hamlets. We organised the Justice for Shah Alam Campaign which later organised a march of 500 mainly Bengali youth through Tower Hamlets, public meetings, press conferences and court pickets. We attempted to get the racists who attacked Shah convicted and jailed.

During this campaign we found out that four Bengali school students were facing prison sentences after their headteacher had handed over their names and addresses to local police and alleged they had beaten up a local white racist. No evidence existed against the four except the word of the headteacher who was widely regarded as a racist in the Asian community. We organised the Langdon Park 4 Defence Campaign which got the charges against the four thrown out. In the face of libel action to prevent us distributing leaflets, police intimidation, BNP, racist threats and violence against those who took a stand against the headteacher and an attempt to sack one of our members, a teacher at the school, we were the only anti-racist group to stick our neck out and demand justice. Other groups demanded we moderate our campaign so as not to alienate local racists, they said we were wrong to demand the headteacher be sacked, but we spoke the truth and fought for the local Asian community whatever the consequences. A strong campaign built up, organised and led by the community, involving school student strikes and demonstrations which got the four cleared, saved the teachers job and made the head much more scared to behave in the same way again. Most of all it gave confidence to an Asian community living in an area with the highest level of racist attacks in Britain. Top

Community Defence

When the British National Party said they would stand candidates in Shadwell, an overwhelmingly Asian district of Tower Hamlets, we organised Shadwell Community Defence with local youth. The group was led by local Bengali youth who visited hundreds of flats preparing support for action to drive the BNP off the streets. A high level of organisation and persuasion of local residents made it impossible for the BNP to do election work in the area. On the last Saturday before the election, when the BNP planned to turn up in force in Shadwell, local Asian youth and Shadwell Community Defence controlled the streets. The BNP didn't dare step foot in Shadwell and the police were too scared to attack the youth, who had the community behind them. Top

Brian Douglas

The brutal death of Brain Douglas at the hands of the police led to angry demonstrations across South London. Brian Douglas died after being hit across the head by the police with the side-handled batons. We helped get Lambeth Unison (public service workers union) and Kingsway College Student Union to make the campaign a national one. We organised a local worker/community tribunal where local people put the police on trial, and after hearing evidence from witnesses, found the police guilty of murder, declared its results publicly and demanded justice be done. Top

No Justice in British courts

Meanwhile our campaign for Shah Alam led to a new prosecution of those accused of attempting his murder. This was one of the first times the Crown Prosecution Service agreed to prosecute the same people again after the judge had thrown the case out. It was a direct result of our public campaign. However, despite strong evidence the judge, for a second time, would not allow the case to go to full trial. The accused walked free, without having to answer a single question. Outside the court in East London one of them attacked Shah's brother under the nose of the police who claimed they were powerless to act!

The shocking denial of justice for Shah Alam mirrored the outrageous failure of the state to punish the racist killers of Stephen Lawrence in South East London. The police and courts showed they didn't care about the lives of black or Asian people. Weeks before, police officers who admitted suffocating Joy Gardner, a black mother in North London, walked free from court and returned to their jobs. Brain Douglas, Shiji Lapete, Joy Gardner, Ibrahima Sey and Wayne Douglas all died at the hands of the police and not one single officer served one single day of prison. None of these innocent black people were armed and their killings were totally unnecessary. No officer was dismissed.

The most shocking thing was that the police and courts were allowed to get away with murder because their was no mass movement of ordinary people making it impossible for such abuse of justice to take place. A murder would take place, their would be a campaign for justice for the victim, in the end it would get caught up in long usually futile legal cases and meanwhile another murder had taken place. Nothing was being done to join up all the campaigns, fight against all manifestations of racism and injustice, and build a movement that could win. In the summer of 1995, following a spate of these injustices, we decided we must launch a movement that could do this. We knew too well that everything appeared against us, our size, our lack of resources, people's demoralisation and despair; yet we knew we couldn't wait any longer, however difficult and small at first we had to act to make a change. The idea of the Movement for Justice was born. And it was to be based on the same bold traditions of fighting racism expressed in the Kingsway College Student Union, the Justice for Shah Alam Campaign, Langdon Park Defence Campaign, and Shadwell Community Defence. Top

Attack on Refugees

Immediately we turned our attentions to the attack on refugees and asylum seekers. Rumours of government proposals surfaced through the summer. The government were looking at bringing in legislation to make workers act as immigration police, informing the Home Office of so-called illegal immigrants. Asylum seekers would find it harder to stay in Britain, and many could be denied basic services such as health care, housing, education and welfare benefits. Deportations would increase as would the powers of police in harassing suspected illegal immigrants - Joy Gardener died of suffocation when immigration police used 'normal procedures' in an attempt to deport her to Jamaica.

No anti-racist or left organisation had even commented on these proposals which we saw as the most important political development in Britain. Firstly, the proposals represented an attack, not jut on those fleeing from tyrannical and oppressive regimes, but on the black community as a whole. People with foreign surnames or black skins would be less likely to get jobs if employers were scared of being caught employing "illegal immigrants", more black and Asian people would be stopped in the street by police, or snooped at by headteachers or benefit clerks. In highlighting immigration as the problem facing public services, and proposing to withdraw basic services from asylum seekers, the government was encouraging racism in the same way groups like the BNP do when they say, "3 million unemployed - 3 million immigrants", or claiming that the housing shortage is cause by black and Asian people "taking all the council houses". Secondly, by trying to get public service workers involved in snooping and grassing on asylum seekers the government would be dividing the working class, turning one section of it against another. Workers would be told to act like racist immigration police or loose their jobs. The proposals were an attack on the whole working class. Finally, because of this it was possible to smash the proposals by working class action. Trade unions, students, working class communities and the black communities, particularly asylum seekers would have to lead the fight against racism to defeat the proposals. It was in the interests of all these groups to unite and they had the ability to win if they did so.

Non-co-operation

The idea of mass non-co-operation with the Asylum Bill was the best way to defeat the proposals. We argued that if ordinary people refused to implement the proposals, in the same way as they refused to pay the poll tax, the proposal would be defeated. In September, 1995 the Movement for Justice published a pamphlet "Howard's Racist Immigration and Asylum Bill - What it is and how to fight it". This was the first detailed account of the proposals available, along with being a vital source of information for anti-racists, the 16 page pamphlet outlined why and how non-co-operation could beat the Asylum Bill. The pamphlets sold out at the TUC march against racism in Manchester, and dozens of trade unions adopted our standard resolution committing them not to co-operate with the legislation. Before the Conservative's had even announced their bill, we were beginning to build a mass campaign capable of defeating it and, if successful, developing into the type of mass anti-racist movement necessary. We led an angry section of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) march against racism in Manchester demanding that Labour and the Trade Union leaders get off their knees and take action against the government's racist proposals. We led the heckling of then shadow home secretary Jack Straw who has styled himself on Michael Howard, desperate to appear pro-police and 'tough' on law and order. Trade Union stewards attacked us and smashed our megaphone whilst the 'official anti-racists', the National Assembly Against Racism (NAAR) tried to ban us from attending their conference because we had upset their friends who run the Labour party and the unions (NAAR were forced to let us in when well over half their conference demanded they stop their ban). The angry launch of the Movement for Justice reflected the growing discontent with a desperate, discredited government whipping up racism as a last attempt to hold onto power. But the controversy was nothing compared to what was to come..... Top

The paint attack on Brain Mawhinney MP

On November 15, 1995, the Movement for Justice campaign against the Asylum Bill entered into every household in the country. The paint attack on despised Tory Party Chairman and Cabinet member, Brian Mawhinney MP made instant headlines. The protest took place right outside Parliament during the most important political and security event of its year - the state opening and Queen's speech.

For the first time the governments proposals on Asylum were made public. Mawhinney had been on BBC Breakfast TV that morning to promote the new racist Asylum Bill. His deliberate use of emotive and misrepresentative language about 'British people fearing immigrants flooding the country' were a direct incitement to racial hatred. Even the former Head of Conservative Party Communications acknowledged that it was standard practice for the party to 'play the race card' - whip up fear of immigration - before an election.

At 1pm the same day, as Mawhinney strolled across Parliament Green to give a series of interviews to the assembled national and international media he was hit by a shower of bright orange paint and flour bombs. His suit drenched in orange paint, his face white with horror, he scuttled off into the BBC mobile studios 'for protection'. Movement for Justice supporters, responsible for the attack, unfurled banners, chanted and gave interviews about the new racist bill and how mass non-co-operation was the way to defeat it. It was half an hour before the police finally arrived - on this high security day! - to rudely interrupt our ad hoc press conference.

Making headlines on News at Ten, BBC and all the papers, the Movement for Justice had succeeded in highlighting the proposed racist law to everyone. The Sun warned of a 'Poll Tax style campaign of mass non-co-operation to defeat the law'.

Every militant refugee, student and anti-racist identified with us. One month later we jointly led an unprecedented illegal demonstration of nearly 1000 angry refugees outside Parliament protesting at the bill. The nervous riot police present felt constrained not to arrest a single person. We became the focus for the sort of anti-racist movement we had always said was needed.

Court action, expulsions and repression

It was inevitable that we would come under a torrent of repression by the authorities. Witch-hunts were launched in the tabloid (and not so tabloid) press, our supporters were dragged through the courts, expelled form college and university and had their jobs threatened. The state calculated that by throwing all they had at us whilst we were still small and just beginning they could stop us developing into a movement that really threatened their authority.

Naturally, the repression created difficulties for our movement and contributed to the decrease in our activity later on. But as a whole the Movement for Justice was able to turn the situation around to our favour, and to use the attacks on us to strengthen our campaign. We used the trial of the paint attackers to put the government on trial. We put Mawhinney and other Tories in the dock and questioned them about their false statements, we called refugees as witnesses to give evidence as to the effect on their lives of the government proposals. And despite having the leaders of the Movement in Kingsway College expelled and banned from ever entering again by injunction, and having the Student Union effectively shut down by the management, we have re-built a strong Movement for Justice group in the college with its leader elected as President of the Student Union. Top

Labour allows Asylum Bill through

The Labour opposition in Parliament allowed the bill to go through Parliament. They didn't want to be seen opposing the bill; they were scared the Tories would accuse them of being 'soft' on immigration in the run up to an election. So, like true hypocrites, they quietly said they were opposed to the bill then made sure they didn't turn up to vote against it, or, when the legislation had some trouble getting through the House of Lords they helped the Tories out. Before the election they made vague promises to repeal it, since they have stayed silent. If Labour had supported a campaign against the bill, or if others fighting against it had pushed Labour to do more, then it could have been defeated, or at least talked out so it couldn't be dealt with before Parliament shut down.

The 'official' Campaign against the Immigration and Asylum Bill (CIAB) run by NAAR and Labour MPs did everything to stop any pressure on Labour that might embarrass them. CIAB shut down the struggle against the bill and allowed Labour of the hook, since then re-incarnated as NAAR they have tried to stop us and other refugee groups demanding Labour repeals the bill -they say that's 'unrealistic'! Top

Increased Police Powers

Riding high after getting his racist law on the statute books, Michael Howard went on to stampede the Police Act (1996) through Parliament. The Act was one of the most repressive ever, allowing Police to telephone tap, bug and raid peoples houses or offices with only a superior's permission, circulating a list of everybody with a criminal record (whatever it was for) to employers etc. Even the conservative Daily Telegraph attacked the law as an attack on civil liberties. So did the right-wing Economist magazine, many Conservative MPs, judges, bishops, lawyers, doctors, the Liberal Democrats and former Labour leaders now in the House of Lords. But this time Jack Straw got Labour to back the bill, to vote for it and enthusiastically support it in Parliament!

Despite the stark attack on our civil liberties, there was no attempt to by any organisations to build a campaign involving ordinary people that might help stop this bill. In the run up to the general election most political groups wound down their activities and just waited for a Labour government. But, the Movement for Justice and the Crossroads Women's Centre did try to initiate a campaign against the bill. We held a public meeting and invited all other concerned groups to get involved - nobody else did - we organised a picket outside of Parliament as they discussed the Act. The failure of others to do anything about such an important attack on our civil liberties allowed the government and police to get their way and the people to loose more freedoms; but it also showed how important it was for us to build the Movement for Justice, not just to wait for others. Top

Oscar Okoye dies after arrest

The death of Oscar Okoye who went into a coma after being arrested by police and subsequently died, provoked a new wave of anger in the black community in South London at deaths in police custody. The Movement for Justice built a campaign for justice for Mr. Okoye with his family and other supporters. We tried to get the inquest to find a just verdict about the real circumstances of his death, we countered the police lies and propaganda which attempted to justify Mr. Okoye's death by attacking his character and we exposed the police cover-ups in the case. The campaign built up steam and through patient work the Movement for Justice was relaunched. Those getting involved wanted us to fight over al incidents of local harassment and murder, we agreed to have a march through Brixton against police harassment and murder on November 15.

Our renewed campaign put us, and others from a black church, under renewed attack from the frightened authorities. This time it was Lee Jasper, one of the leaders of NAAR and the National Black Caucus who sits on the Lambeth Police Consultative Committee as a self-appointed representative of the black community. After hundreds of black people had gone to the meetings and attacked the police for their cover-ups, Jasper stepped in to save the police. He arranged new solicitors to take over the Okoye case, said it was now under his control, and then insisted the Police Consultative Committee ban any further discussion or questioning of the police over it. He received lavish praise from local police chiefs for his kind services. Since then the case has been so badly handled that the Okoye family were cheated by the system of any justice for the untimely death of Mr. Okoye at the hands of the police.

Fighting for Rights

But the campaigning had built a new, vibrant Movement for Justice prepared to fight police harassment and racism whatever the cost. And by any means necessary. After the community demanded it, we responded and produced thousands of bust cards and legal rights information to help those arrested by police. We found out good lawyers and refereed those in need to them. We have taken up numerous individual complaints against the police however minor. We have tried to provide a service that emboldens those communities in the front-line of police attack, communities all too often left isolated today. Top

By Any Means Necessary

Malcolm X once said we must fight using any means necessary. For us that means using all means to further the cause for justice. By providing legal rights information and pursuing individual cases of injustice we help to get more people involved and raise consciousness, but we know this alone is only a tiny bit of the picture. We must build militant campaigns for justice which link up all the injustices perpetuated by the state. We must work for victories in these struggles, whether getting police suspended and prosecuted for their acts of violence, getting charges dropped against those framed by police, preventing deportations or stopping racist sackings and victimisation's. These victories have to be used to inspire more people with the confidence that we can make a change by fighting back.

The Movement for Justice has never been afraid of a little controversy. Those fighting oppression have always been attacked by the powers that be and their agents. Today, with a Labour government, more and more people want and expect a change, yet the government is continuing to attack our rights. Many anti-racists and campaigners have been bought off or shut up now the government has changed. Not so with us. We fight for justice whoever is in power.

The march we are organising on November 15 is a beginning not an end. All too often separate campaigns have developed around individual cases of injustice, like police brutality or a deportation, and they have ended waiting for lengthy legal procedures. People got involved and then drop out, and nothing changes. The Movement for Justice wants to build a permanent campaign which fights over every incidence of injustice and racism as it emerges. We want to link up all campaigns to strengthen them and fight over the wider picture. We are building Movement for Justice campaigns in different localities or schools, colleges, and workplace We have groups either going or starting in Kingsway, Lambeth and Lewisham Colleges, and in Lambeth Unison amongst local government workers. We have regular meetings in Brixton open to anyone to decide which campaigns to take up and how to win them. We will use our magazine to let people know about all the different campaigns and issues and how to get involved. We are now on the Internet to help spread our message.

We need you to get involved with the Movement for Justice. Come to our meetings, take our legal rights cards and hand them out to your friends, start to build a movement that can fight for our rights and change all of our lives. Top

Updated version (4/2/1998) of editorial from the Movement for Justice magazine, November, 1997.

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