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Year 2001 Number 6, January 15, 2001Archive Search Home Page

Twentieth Anniversary of Deptford Fire Bombing Commemorated

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :

Twentieth Anniversary of Deptford Fire Bombing Commemorated

Oppose the Racist Murders and Racist Attacks against the National Minority Community!

Car Workers News In Brief
Workers Reject BMW's Pay Offer
Support the Vauxhall Workers

Israel and Palestine:
Women Demand: No to Occupation, Yes to a Just Peace!

Demonstrations against NATO in Greece

Sanctions Challenge Visiting Baghdad to Investigate Depleted Uranium Poisoning

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Twentieth Anniversary of Deptford Fire Bombing Commemorated

Twenty years ago, the outrage took place of the death of 14 West Indian youth in a firebomb attack on a house in New Cross, South London. More than 50 young people were at a party when the blaze took hold. Some were trapped and others jumped from upper floors to escape.

Yesterday a memorial service was held to commemorate the victims of the fire, and a public meeting is to be held today at the House of Commons, attended by the families of those who died, as well as survivors of the tragedy.

A few days after the attack, more than a thousand people had attended a commemoration meeting, after which they marched to the house where the young people perished. Such was the sentiment at the murders that at the beginning of March over 10,000 people took part in a demonstration through London. They marched for over seven hours from New Cross right to Fleet Street, finishing with a rally in Hyde Park.

The police at the time refused to treat the crime as a racist attack. They said that it was "not proven to be racially motivated", and spread rumours to suggest that the West Indian youth "may have started the fire themselves" or that it was "an accident". The demonstration itself was harassed by the police, with the aim of preventing it from reaching Central London. Furthermore, the monopoly-controlled media then tried to label the demonstration as a "race riot" and to whip up racist hysteria against the West Indian community. When some nazi elements announced that they would march past the burnt-out house, the people responded with plans for a counter-demonstration to prevent such an insult, at which the government, in order to dampen down the anti-fascist upsurge, placed a ban on all demonstrations.

In 1983, an inquest returned open verdicts on those who died, and in 1985 the Director of Public Prosecutions announced that the file on the deaths was being closed, saying that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute anyone. It was not until a review of the original investigation was ordered after the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 that Scotland Yard was forced to reopen its inquiry into the case in 1997. The Metropolitan Police’s Racial and Violent Crimes Task Force took up the investigation. Only days ago, it was announced that Scotland Yard are offering £50,000 for information about the deaths. But how little the attitude of the police has changed can be gauged from a Metropolitan Police spokesperson who stated that the police believe the fire started in an armchair in the living room of the house and it is still not clear whether the fire was accidental or started deliberately.

That the police have been condemned as "institutionally racist" and forced to set up a "Racial and Violent Crimes Task Force" and undergo training to supposedly eradicate racist attitudes, has not altered the racism of the state and its agencies. While William Hague and the Conservatives are to be condemned for suggesting that the police are now afraid to stop and question black youth and calling for a return to more overt harassment, the fact remains that it is the state as a whole which is built on a racist and other division of the polity, and divisions amongst the people promoted on this basis.

At the very time that the firebombing took place in 1981, the British Nationality Bill was going through parliament. It is this Act which deliberately mixes up the notions of nationality and citizenship, and demonstrates the racist nature of the British state which will not grant equality in law to all nations and nationalities. The hysteria that is promoted by the government over the whole question of "asylum seekers" is part and parcel of the racism of the state against the people and the attempts of the government to besmirch the dignity of national minorities and brand them as second-class citizens.

WDIE once again expresses its outrage that this horrendous crime has not been solved after two decades. We join with all those commemorating the young West Indian people who tragically lost their lives in the fire.

For the information of our readers, we are reprinting herewith the editorial that Workers’ Weekly carried at the time of the firebombing in 1981.

Article Index

Oppose the Racist Murders and Racist Attacks against the National Minority Community!

Editorial from Workers’ Weekly, Vol.8, No.6, February 7, 1981

THE MURDER of twelve West Indians in a firebomb attack on a house in New Cross, London, is a crime of great proportions against the people, a most vicious racist and fascist crime against the West Indian community and all working people.

On January 25 more than a thousand people attended a commemoration meeting in Deptford, South London, held for the victims. After the meeting they marched to the house where the murders took place.

These murders are on the scale of the fascist atrocities carried out in Europe recently, in Bologna and in Paris, when the press and TV gave full coverage to these nazi outrages and the connections between the fascist organisations and the state in Italy, in France and in Germany. But when such murders as these are carried out in Britain there is a deafening silence on the part of the press, on the part of the government, etc. And yet the murders of the West Indian people in New Cross were carried out just after racist marches were organised by the nazis in various parts of the country, directed against the West Indian community in particular. They were carried out just after the racist campaign in the press and racist attacks by the policy against "West Indian parties". They were carried out after the exposure of a campaign by British Movement fascists calling for West Indians, Indians and Jews to be "wiped out", when a large cache of arms and explosives was found in the houses of the nazis. As the evidence of local people indicates, just before the firebomb attacks racists were seen outside the house, while just after the same gang were seen outside the house laughing. And yet in the face of this evidence, the surrounding events, the climate of racism being whipped up, there has been no sign of condemnation, no recognition of the possibility of the murders being racist – either by the government, the police, or the press. (Only now many days after the murders are the police prepared to raise the slightest possibility that they might be racist.) In the same way, when Mrs Gautam, a 76-year-old Indian woman, was burnt to death by racists who were seen leaving the house by neighbours, the police maintained that the death was "suicide", part of an "old Indian custom" and even went so far as to try and force the dying woman to admit to this.

The police and press have gone out of their way to spread confusion on the murders, and a rumour was started that a West Indian was seen leaving the house just before the fire started or that "paint thinner" was used inside the house, etc. When Altab Ali was murdered in East London by racists, when he was able to tell someone in the street that he had been stabbed by white racist youths before he died, the police and press rumoured that a West Indian youth had been seen at the spot and was possibly involved, and therefore the murder could not be racist.

The question must be asked, why is this so? Why is there such a lack of "interest" on the part of the bourgeoisie, on the part of the government, on the part of the press, on the part of the police and so on, when twelve West Indian people are so brutally murdered and when such obvious conclusions are forced in upon one? The answer is that the same connections which were so readily drawn when the fascist bombings occurred in Europe can also be drawn here. But the bourgeoisie chose not to have such conclusions about Britain popularised concerning the connections between the bourgeoisie, the fascist organisations, the racists, the police, etc. who are all parts of the bourgeois state and its plans for racism and fascism. How can one expect those who are responsible either directly or indirectly for such crimes as the racist murders and violence carried out in society, to take any notice of them, to take measures to ensure that they are wiped out forever, that they never occur again?

The evil actions of the monopoly bourgeoisie, and of its fascist instruments, the silence of the bourgeois forces and institutions must be resolutely opposed. But there is no use waiting on any part of the state, or the bourgeoisie for action against the racist murders and racist violence which are daily carried out in Britain, for it is these, the bourgeoisie, the state, the police, the nazi gangs who are carrying out the racist violence against the people.

So what must the people do? The people must get organised, relying on their own organised strength and not on the state, to oppose the racist violence and to shoulder the responsibility of seeing that such fascist outrages as the murders of the twelve West Indians cannot occur. Besides the grief and anger which the people feel when such crimes are committed stands out the absolute necessity of the entire working class and people getting organised to put an end to racist and fascist violence.

Article Index

Car Workers News In Brief

Workers Reject BMW's Pay Offer

Car workers at the BMW plant at Cowley, Oxford, where the new Mini will be built, have rejected their latest pay offer, which has been called the "Final Pay Offer".

A ballot of the workforce voted to reject BMW's offer pointing to one particular area of disagreement, which was the flexible working arrangements that BMW want to employ.

Union negotiators are hoping that workers will reconsider their decision.

Support the Vauxhall Workers

Everyone is invited to come and join the National Rally and March against the decision to close Vauxhall, Luton, and to support the Vauxhall workers.

The rally and march will take place next Saturday, January 20.

Assembly is outside the Luton Plant on Kimpton Road, at 10am. The march will start at 12 noon. The plant is signposted from Junction 10, M1.

All are welcome and are invited to bring families and friends for support. Banners of support are also invited.

Speakers are as follows: TGWU General Secretary Bill Morris; AEEU General Secretary Sir Ken Jackson, MSF General Secretary Roger Lyons; TUC General Secretary John Monks; Margaret Moran MP, Kelvin Hopkins MP, David Madel MP. The Chair is Tony Woodley of the TGWU.

Article Index

Israel and Palestine:

Women Demand: No to Occupation, Yes to a Just Peace!

The Coalition of Women for a Just Peace organised a mass rally, vigil and march through the streets of Jerusalem on December 29, 2000. This joint Israeli-Palestinian event was the largest rally for a just peace that has been held since the outbreak of the intifadah three months ago. Gilva Svirsky of the Coalition writes:

"Women came in droves from all over Israel – Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Druse. And despite the ‘closure’ that Israel had imposed on the Occupied Territories, Palestinian women and men also managed, by means only they know, to cross the Green Line and reach us.
"The day began in the Notre Dame conference centre located symbolically on the border of Jewish and Palestinian Jerusalem. The walls carried two huge banners in Hebrew and Arabic: Women Demand: No to Occupation - Yes to a Just Peace! We opened with greetings from three international women peace leaders who flew in especially for the occasion – Luisa Morgantini from Italy, Simone Susskind from Belgium, and June Jacobs from the UK. The co-moderators – Hannah Safran from Women in Black and Nabeha Murkus from Tandi – reported to the crowd about solidarity demonstrations being held throughout the world, and of greetings from organisations and individuals from a long list of countries.
"Women then took the podium one by one, Palestinian and Israeli alternately, to speak movingly and passionately of both the suffering as well as the determination to end the bloodshed between our peoples. This was a conference ‘of the people’, but we were glad to see in the audience three Israeli MKs (Tamar Gozanski, Naomi Chazan, and Muhammad Barake) expressing their support for the grassroots work. The simultaneous translations into Hebrew, Arabic, and English allowed each woman to speak in her own language. I will just quote two: Michal Pundak-Sagie, activist in New Profile: Movement for the Civil-isation of Israeli Society, called upon soldiers to refuse orders that their conscience does not allow. And Zahira Kamal, leading grassroots spokeswoman in the Occupied Territories, declared that the principles of the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace provide a sound basis for peace between our peoples.
"From the conference centre, waiting buses moved the entire crowd to Hagar Plaza, the location of Jerusalem's Women in Black vigil, and an estimated 2,000 women filled the entire plaza and spilled over onto the side streets carrying the traditional black hand signs with "End the Occupation" painted in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. This silent one-hour vigil was an even more dramatic sight than usual, and TV crews from all over the world – even from Israel – were there to capture it. The extreme right wing did their best to infiltrate the ranks, to provoke us and draw attention to themselves, and finally ended up exchanging blows with the police, but they were overcome and moved behind barriers – out of sight, mind, and media.
"At 2:00 pm, the crowd poured out of the plaza and from every corner and sidestreet, we began our march toward East Jerusalem. Men and women who had joined us from other organisations – Gush Shalom brought its own busload of activists – held aloft their own collection of banners and signs for peace. The sight was overwhelming, as the street filled with marchers and voices. Nabila Espanioli from Nazareth grabbed a megaphone and led responsive chanting: ‘Peace?’ ‘YES!’ – ‘Occupation?’ ‘NO!’ doing renditions in Hebrew, Arabic, English, and even Italian for the delegation of 35 who had flown in for the action. Flying high were signs and banners saying ‘Palestine Side by Side With Israel – On the '67 Borders’, ‘Jerusalem - 2 capitals for 2 states’, ‘The Age of Generals is Over’, ‘Fund the Poor, Not Settlers’, and ‘We Refuse to be Enemies’.
"It was breathtaking to be part of that march. But the moment that brought tears to my eyes was when I greeted a man being pushed in a wheelchair beside me, and asked if he wanted to hold a sign. In response, he unbuttoned his collar and pointed to a deep scar just below his neck. The man pushing the wheelchair explained: ‘We're from Hebron. This is one of the victims of the massacre by Baruch Goldstein. He wanted to join you today." A victim of the violence who harbours no hatred in his heart. I shook his hand wordlessly.
"As we finally all assembled in the park beside the ancient walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, people spread out on the grass on this unusually warm and sunny winter day, exhilarated and awaiting the closing ceremony. Because of the traffic jams we had caused, the sound system had not yet arrived, but the crowd waited patiently. Meanwhile, four brave young women took banners and actually managed to climb to the top of the wall from inside the Old City – some by stairs, but also by one quite daring leap – and made their way to the top of the wall just over our gathering, beside two armed soldiers ‘protecting’ us. From here, they unfurled four banners down the height of the wall saying Shalom, Salaam, Peace, and End the Occupation in the three languages. The crowd roared its approval and the Old City was crowned the city of peace for one brief moment – until the soldiers assaulted two of the women and their banners. The women wisely threw the other two banners down to the crowd – to save them, and probably themselves, too. But that was a great moment in modern history. Thank you Naama, Tali, Moran, and Micheline.
"Finally, the sound system was set up, and Halla Espanioli spoke movingly of our longing for peace. Nabila called for a minute of silence in memory of all those who had been killed in recent months, and the stillness in the crowd was palpable. Following this, I made a slightly modified Jewish prayer: ‘May the Divine Presence give strength to all her peoples, and may she bless all her peoples with peace.’ And we all ended by singing ‘We Shall Overcome’.
"There is much to do to turn this moment into a revolution. We invite all of you to join us."

Article Index

Demonstrations against NATO in Greece

Massive demonstrations took place on January 11 in Athens, Thessalonika and other cities of Greece. The slogan was raised: "The struggle against NATO is a struggle for life".

Thousands of protesters gathered together in Athens, Thessalonika, Patra, Serres, Chio, Verioia and other places and marched to protest against the crimes perpetrated by the aggressive NATO alliance of US imperialism and its allies. In Athens, the protesters marched past the Greek parliament and the offices of the European Union and ended in front of the US Embassy. In Thessalonika, after various cultural activities, the protesters marched through the city to the port where NATO vessels dock, ending at the Stability Pact building.

Thousands of protesters gathered together again in the afternoon. As when protests took place against the war on Yugoslavia, taking part were young and old, trade unionists, workers, members of the peace movement, students, lawyers for peace, pensioners, clergymen, mothers with their children, and Greek students that study in Yugoslavia. In Athens a delegation of soldiers dressed in uniform also took part in the demonstration. All united to shout: "Murderers of the people – Americans!", "NATO out of the Balkans!", "In Kosova they die from leukaemia, we won't fight for USA-Germany!", "Greek soldiers are not for sacrifice, bring them back from Yugoslavia!". The protesters demanded that Greek soldiers should be withdrawn from Yugoslavia.

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Sanctions Challenge Visiting Baghdad to Investigate Depleted Uranium Poisoning

Former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark left on January 12 with 50 people on his International Action Centre’s fourth Iraq Sanctions Challenge for Baghdad. This is the first flight of Americans to Iraq. This delegation, which is bringing solidarity medical aid to Iraq, will have as a major project an investigation of illnesses in Iraq caused by depleted uranium.

Ramsey Clark wrote an international appeal to ban DU weapons in 1996 that is now circulating widely. The Challenge participants include Damacio Lopez, a New Mexico activist who has written extensively on DU since the early 1990s, and IAC Co-director Sara Flounders, who co-edited the book Metal of Dishonour: How the Pentagon Radiates Soldiers and Civilians with Depleted Uranium Weapons. This book has been translated into Arabic in Iraq and in Jordan.

Ramsey Clark said, "The Sanctions Challenge will perform a service by interviewing Iraqi scientists and doctors who have investigated DU's impact on the Iraqi population. The sanctions have isolated these scientists from their colleagues around the world, prevented them from obtaining the proper equipment and stopped them from publishing their results internationally."

"Our government is responsible for enormous suffering in Iraq and should be made to pay for the cleanup and care of the population," Ramsey Clark said.

"It is important," said Ramsey Clark, "that we invite the scientists and doctors from Iraq to come to the United States and to Europe to take part in the investigation of DU poisoning. They have the experience. But they have been isolated for 10 years by the sanctions. We can invite them to come and speak of their experiences."

Sara Flounders, who is IAC co-director, said, "The Pentagon left 600,000 pounds of DU in the Gulf region, and smaller but still large amounts of DU in Bosnia, Kosovo and other parts of Serbia. They left it in armour-penetrating shells, land mines, in ‘smart bombs’ and other munitions."

"The first step," Sara Flounders said, "is to bring out the truth. This will also help the people of the Balkans and the troops who served there."

Sara Flounders noted that European troops who have been occupying Bosnia and Kosova have leukaemia. About a dozen or so have died. Other troops have reported strange illnesses. People have been outraged about the possibility that the residue from US depleted uranium weapons has caused these illnesses.

Sara Flounders also said that Palestinian organisations had demanded an investigation of possible Israeli use of DU to repress the Intifada that started last September 28. The IAC had raised this issue in November.

(Released by the International Action Centre, New York, January 11. Web

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