The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Great Britain:
The riots in Bradford Youth trapped between social marginalization and racism

Jul 30, 2001

Translated from an article in Lutte Ouvriere, a French Trotskyist weekly, issue of July 13, 2001.

The town of Bradford was the latest scene of riots July 7 through 9, following riots in Oldham and Burnley at the end of June. During three nights, there were violent confrontations between hundreds of Pakistani youth and the "anti-riot" squads sent from all over the north of England.

Just as had taken place in Oldham and Burnley earlier, the conflict in Bradford broke out after a small group from the extreme right-wing British National Front acted provocatively in a racially charged atmosphere. The explosion was set off when a group of drunken racists in a bar decided to beat up a young Pakistani. One hour later, more than a thousand youth from the Pakistani neighborhood of Manningham armed themselves with Molotov cocktails and slingshots to face the anti-riot police who had been called to protect the bar where the beating took place.

Against poverty as well as racism

What was different in Bradford was the decision by the young Pakistanis to pull back into their neighborhoods rather than simply battling with the police. They threw up barricades made from whatever they could find, and burned and looted different buildings.

In this sense, the rage of the Bradford rioters resembled the explosion some 20 years ago of the West Indian youth in England who revolted in the poor neighborhoods of large cities all over England. In both situations, the youth took aim not only against the overt racism and the anti-poor attitudes and actions of the police, but also against symbols of the wealth which has always been forbidden them.

Towns like Oldham, Burnley, and Bradford have become economic deserts, thanks to industry pulling out and leaving behind a chronic level of unemployment. Those who are the most affected are the poorest – in this case the minority Pakistani population (which makes up about 15% of the population), but also a whole part of the native white population.

It is this same layer of the poor population which has paid a heavy price for the austerity programs imposed during the last 20 years by successive governments, whether headed by the Conservative Party or the Labor Party. The degeneration of the urban infrastructure, housing and schools, helped exacerbate jealousies, resentments and the racist prejudices which were inflamed by the politicians' anti-immigrant demagogy.

A policy which feeds racism

These same politicians contributed in other ways to reinforce racial ghettoization. Ever since the riots of l981, successive governments acted to reinforce so-called “community leaders” – giving them subsidies and big new titles. Those who were put on a pedestal were usually the most conservative people of a town, very often the religious leaders. Labor Party leader Blair not only continued this policy, his government actually turned over the control of state schools to the hierarchy of religious minorities.

The poor immigrants, obviously, gained nothing from these supposed gifts which benefitted only a few “important” people. But the giving out of state funds for such projects as the construction of mosques, for example, did not go unnoticed by those in the white population who shouted out in vain for needed funds to fix the plumbing systems in their public housing projects.

These government policies which put the poorer immigrants more under the domination of the reactionary apparatus while seeding the racism of the poor whites, facilitated the development of reactionary currents among the victims of this racism. In particular, it encouraged the development of the fundamentalists among the Pakistani immigrants. In Bradford, the riots were accompanied with fundamentalist slogans written on walls and the burning of a "workingmen’s club,” a kind of bar run by a workers cooperative which has been one of the traditional symbols of the workers movement in England. And this cannot but widen the false gap between different sections of the poor. Indeed, doing so is one of the objectives of the religious fundamentalists.

For the moment, the youth in towns like Oldham and Bradford, while revolting against the effects of government policies, end up beating their heads against a wall. They find no real direction forward for their anger. It would be completely different if the British working class would become conscious of its force and pass over onto the offensive against government policies which make the workers pay a very heavy price. Such an offensive could unify the ranks of the entire working world, and in particular could influence all the poor youth, no matter what their skin color, pulling them to join a battle which could take them out of the current impasse.