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Anti-fascist backfire

Craig Owen relates a cautionary tale from Sheffield

Since its relaunch last year the Anti-Nazi League (ANL) has had a hard job identifying a fascist threat in Britain. So when the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight unearthed a member of the British National Party (BNP) working in a Sheffield job centre, the ANL seized the opportunity with both hands.

In October 1992 the ANL launched acampaign in Sheffield to get Simon Chadwick, identified as the Chesterfield organiser of the BNP, sacked from his job in the Employment Service. The ANL approached Chadwick's union branch, which in turn demanded that management suspend him pending an investigation.

After management refused to suspend Chadwick, the ANL stepped up the campaign. It got local Labour MPs to back the call to sack him, gave the story to the media, and mounted a picket outside what they thought was Chadwick's workplace. (In fact he had been moved to another office.) Soon after this, management suspended Chadwick and two weeks later sacked him. The reason given was his failure to disclose a previous criminal offence.

If the ANL thought this was reason to celebrate, it had a surprise coming. Immediately following Chadwick's suspension, 16 employees of the department received adisciplinary letter accusing them of placing undue pressure on management. The media coverage had clearly embarrassed the Employment Service. And management now found itself with a chance to deal with a union branch which had long been a thorn in its side.

In December the 16 were subjected to a series of intimidatory interviews. They were interrogated as to whether they held political meetings in facility time, who else was involved in the campaign and who had contacted the press. In February the 16 were given final written warnings, which means instant dismissal for the slightest misdemeanour in the future. Two union representatives were demoted to a lower grade with a big pay cut, and moved to different offices. Not only had management got rid of two 'surplus' posts, it had also broken up a difficult union branch.

What's acceptable?

The Chadwick affair illustrates the danger of appealing to management to sack racists or to sort out any other problem for us - especially since the collapse of the old labour movement.

By demanding that management dismiss Chadwick, the ANL campaign handed the employers the moral authority to decide what is and is not politically acceptable in the workplace. It was inevitable that management would turn that authority against what it really considers unacceptable - effective trade union organisation.

At a time of mounting attacks on our jobs and living standards, we need a strategy which helps us stand up to the employers, not helps them to sack more workers. As for racism in the workplace, that is a serious problem we will have to sort out for ourselves (and not by wasting our time chasing a handful of fascists). Asking management to do the dirty work for us will always mean giving them the chance to do the dirty on us.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 55, May 1993



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