South London marches against racist policing

Rob Owen reports on a local march in solidarity with courier riders targeted by police and immigration officers.

Protestors marching in Tooting.

Sunday saw over 80 local trade unionists and anti-racists march through central Tooting in protest at the actions of police and immigration officers two weeks previously. On 18 May, police and immigration officials had been stopping fast food delivery drivers and checking immigration status under the guise of ‘Covid compliance’. Two courier drivers were arrested for ‘immigration offenses’. Drivers seem to have been racially profiled as part of the Tories’ ‘hostile environment’ policy.

The local Labour MP, MP, Dr Rosena-Allin Khan tweeted:

This looks like racial profiling, and I am concerned […], this may amount to indirect discrimination due to its disproportionate impact on ethnic minority groups.

If it’s not unlawful, then it’s definitely immoral and I cannot defend it.

The march passed along the busy main roads leafleting the public as we passed to raise awareness of the police’s actions and profile of the local anti-racist movement. The protest was a highly visible act of solidarity passing through a large and diverse area of London which includes a large Asian population who have been at the sharp edge of mainstream racism over the past two decades. Banners were present from the riders’ union IWGB (International Workers Union of Great Britain), Labour Campaign for Free Movement, Lambeth Unison and Wandsworth Stand up to Racism (WSUTR). Protesters initiated discussions along the route challenging the actions of the police and showing the left locally is organising in solidarity.

Building local roots

However the march did not mobilise locally as much as it should have. The protest was initiated by supporters of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement who are viewed with hostility by some in the Labour Party. This, and issues surrounding how the march was organised, was used as a rationale to stay away by a layer of local activists who have supported previous anti-racist actions in the area.

The largest local contingent was brought by local anti-racists, organised as part of WSUTR.

Wandsworth Stand Up to Racism (WSUTR) have been reaching out to local courier riders affected and the march was led by riders with their union organisers from the IWGB. Socialists within WSUTR have pursued a strategy of patient work building roots within the Labour party and local workplaces around both the #BlackLivesMatter movement and against the impact of the Tories hostile environment policy on migrant workers, holding a series of local events which have repeatedly mobilised large numbers of residents onto visible protests through the centre of Tooting.

Glasgow shows what’s possible

The mass action in Glasgow earlier in May shows the sort of solidarity action that is possible when campaigns have longstanding roots within communities. In Glasgow hundreds of local residents surrounded immigration vans for seven hours forcing the release of two migrants seized in a raid. This action didn’t spring from nowhere but was the result of patient work by local organisations over a period of time.

People in Glasgow turned out in their hundreds to stop an immigration raid.

Replicating the actions in Glasgow requires being willing to both take radical action when needed but also the willingness to develop meaningful local networks over longer periods of time. Activists within WSUTR have attempted to apply such a patient approach – building on the energy of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and the openings within Labour generated by Corbynism, but reaching out to sink roots into local workplaces and communities.

Sunday’s demonstration was a visible display of the type of solidarity we need when the Tories’ hostile environment targets some of the most precarious workers in our communities. The pressing task is using the momentum from Sunday to consolidate a wider base of the anti-racism movement in Wandsworth.

Whoever lives here, is from here.

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