‘They shall not pass’
In 1933 the people of Stockton stopped a rally of Mosley’s fascist Blackshirts. Unite’s Barry Faulkner reports on a new Unite campaign on what their solidarity can teach us in today’s fight against racism
“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again” Maya Angelou
I was reminded of this quote when I heard last year about the Battle of Stockton. I have to say at the outset, that despite having studied political history and in particular the struggle against fascism across Europe, I had not encountered this hidden history.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that the events of that day in 1933 in a town in Teeside, had ended up obscured from view. Like many examples of the struggles of everyday people against injustice, they are all too often buried beneath the acts of the “great and the good”, yet these are the very tales we do need to share, in order to inspire people to always stand against injustice and right now that need is as great as it ever has been.
Unite is proud to support the Battle of Stockton campaign and the fantastic events they have been involved in bringing to the community. Unite’s own Unity over Division campaign was established nearly two years ago, to challenge the volume of far right voices and the intolerance which emanates from them across Britain and Ireland, where our members live and work.
We recognised an increase in incidents of discrimination and were being told by our representatives that the language of division was becoming much more commonplace in workplace canteens and even on the shop floor. A simple browse around social media paints a similar picture, with incidents of racial, religious, homophobic and gender bigotry flowing into our homes via these platforms.
Our union decided to launch a campaign, spearheaded by an education initiative to challenge the rise of the far right and far right views in our workplaces and communities and to develop the knowledge, skills and confidence of our representatives in challenging them. We felt it was no longer enough to just shout insults at people who posted on social media or marched on demos organised by far right dominated organisations. We needed to learn why people were listening to these voices and to develop our own clear narrative of unity.
There will still be occasions when we need to challenge fascists on our streets, just as the brave people of Stockton did, and to chase them off those streets, but we also need to confront their arguments and provide our communities with a message of hope.
For too long communities like Stockton have been left behind. It is no wonder that when hope disappears the vacuum is easy to fill with anger and despair. People have a right to be angry, for decades they have seen living conditions deteriorate, well paid jobs replaced with poorly paid ones and they have felt the effects of years of cuts in services which have impacted on housing, health and even the education of their children.
This fertile ground of recession has its parallels in history as the people of Stockton would have known all too well in the 1930s, as did the people of Berlin and other cities around Europe. Then, it just took men such as Oswald Mosley and Adolf Hitler, to point their fingers sideways at the refugee down the road being the source of all our ills, rather than to point those fingers above them to the real enemies of ordinary working people, to see the seeds of hatred and division.
Racists turn worker against worker
The same lessons need to be re-learnt today. Racist and bigots will always turn neighbour against neighbour, worker against worker, while the bosses, the ruling class, the establishment and the economic system we live under, continue to wreak havoc on all our lives and tear apart our communities.
The central lessons the people of Stockton taught us in 1933 and continue to teach us today, are those of unity over division. When we stand together we are always stronger, when we allow ourselves to be divided we are always weaker.
The other lesson I learnt from my Mam and Dad was that every human being is as valuable as the next and that we should always protect those who are vulnerable. Or as Nelson Mandela put it “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People are taught to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
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By Barry Faulkner, Unite political education co-ordinator