Letters: White working-class attitudes to immigration

When a racist working class defied Mosley's Fascists

Tuesday 13 January 2009 01:00

In response to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's article, Phil Hamshare (letter, 6 January) is right to highlight the positive achievements of the white working-class. It would be good to have these celebrated in a national labour history week and in the school curriculum.

But for the record it was Irish immigrants who formed the backbone of British trade unionism among unskilled and semi-skilled workers, and it was Jewish immigrants who enriched our political thought with anarchist and Marxist ideas. However it is also the case that antisemitism was rife in many working-class areas such as the East End of London, where the majority of Jews settled, as well as in the wider labour movement.

The increasingly insular, defensive character of established working-class cultures and communities from the 1880s onwards meant that immigrants and other "outsiders" usually got a hostile reception, but this also prevented more people from joining the British Union of Fascists during the 1930s, because the organisation was perceived by the majority to be an alien presence.

This ambivalence was well illustrated during the Battle for Cable Street, when one white working-class family, notorious for its antisemitic views, was seen tearing tiles off the roof of their Jewish neighbour's house and chucking them down at Mosley's Blackshirts, shouting, "They may be Yids, but they are our bloody Yids" – thus managing to attack Jewish property and defend their neighbourhood against fascism at one and the same time!

As this example shows, white working-class attitudes to immigration are extremely complex, and defy neat pigeon-holing into racist and anti-racist positions.

Phil Cohen

University of East London

Empty defences for Gaza assault

Some pro-Israeli correspondents' justifications for the onslaught on Gaza, though repeated often, have no validity.

The Israeli action is always described as a response to the Hamas rockets. Yet the rockets were a response to the suffocating economic and physical stranglehold which was imposed on Gaza by Israel. Few now seem to remember the destruction of Gaza in 2006 by land and by air, killing at least 260. This left the people on the edge of starvation, with little clean water and little electricity.

Israel did not pull out of Gaza as a gesture of goodwill "for which they got nothing in return". They left because too many soldiers had lost their lives trying to protect the settlements. If goodwill was the intention, why did they at the same time set about expanding their settlements in the occupied West Bank?

David Simmonds

Epping, Essex

There is only one reason why far more Palestinians are killed than Israelis: size of population. The Gaza Strip has one of the highest population densities in the world. Give me one good reason for Hamas terrorists to use this area as a base to fire rockets at Israel. Then they complain about their own casualties. How dare Hamas use their own people as pawns? My heart goes out to the hostages held by their own leaders.

On the other hand, Israel's region around the Gaza Strip is not very populated. The locals suffer primarily from psychological damage. Whenever a rocket is fired, an alarm is sounded. People run for the nearest shelter or the safest room in the house. Theoretically, every rocket could be their last. If rockets hit houses, cars, or "just" open spaces, no one hears about it. But the people there feel every rocket.

Try living like this for one week, let alone eight years.

Amos Fabian

Ramat Gan, Israel

While I wish the international arms trade could be completely stopped, I do wonder why the import of arms into the Gaza Strip through the Egyptian border is always described as "illegal smuggling", when the democratically elected Hamas government in Gaza has presumably authorised it. What right has Israel or any other country to describe such imports as illegal?

John Read

Saffron Walden, Essex

I see that Blair surfaced, 10 days after the assault on Gaza, with his considered opinion that what is required for a solution is for the tunnels between Egypt and Gaza no longer to be a conduit for arms. Very laudable. However, what of the Israeli choking of Gaza over the last three years; the closure of border crossings for personnel and medicine? Blair is silent. The fault is entirely on one side. How reminiscent of his stance over the Israeli incursion into Lebanon when PM. In the interests of a peace process, Obama should fire him – but he won't. And so the cycle continues.

John R Bailey


What a pity being Jewish isn't like being a member of a club. The shame I am experiencing over the senseless slaughter of the Palestinians in Gaza and the frustration I feel with the unwillingness of organisations such as the Board of Deputies to criticise Israel would demand that I resign my membership.

Thomas Eisner

London SW14

Jack Cohen (letter, 5 January) asks all of us who demonstrated on behalf of the Palestinians to be clear which Palestinians we support. I was one of those demonstrators and I am very clear that I am supporting the rights of the innocents in Gaza to continue to live without danger from bombs raining down on them.

Catherine Brownsword

Upminster, Essex

After the ban, hunting goes on

I wish to clarify a number of points in the letter from Becky Hawkes at the RSPCA (Letters, 6 January). Many hunts are still hunting within the Act as there are exemptions which allow the wild-mammal population to be managed. No wild mammals have been saved as a result of the Hunting Act.

There has never been any evidence that hunting is any less humane than other methods of controlling the wild- mammal population. Lord Burns, who chaired the government enquiry into hunting with dogs, stated in the House of Lords: "Naturally, people ask whether we were implying that hunting is cruel . . . the short answer to that question is no."

In the four years since the Hunting Act there have only been three instances where individuals connected to organised hunts have been convicted. The vast majority of prosecutions are for poaching, which was illegal before the Act came into place but now can be controlled under the new Act.

The poll conducted on behalf of the RSPCA by Ipsos/Mori is based on a biased question. The last time Ipsos/Mori were commissioned to carry out research into public opinion on hunting by an independent organisation (the BBC) it found that less than half the population supported a ban on the hunting with dogs.

By involving itself in quasi-political animal rights campaigns the RSPCA will only diminish its reputation and drive support away from its vital and important role in promoting animal welfare.

Tim Bonner

Countryside AllianceLondon SE11

As a member of the RSPCA, and a hunt monitor, I read Becky Hawkes's letter with disbelief. One thing is certain, she has no experience of monitoring hunts. Otherwise she would know that hunts are breaking the law by hunting and killing foxes as before the ban. I speak as someone who lives in rural Somerset and regularly monitors fox hunts .

It makes me very angry that hunts continue to enter their hounds into thick gorse and bramble cover, thick hedges and other places of refuge for foxes – places too thick to lay a trail.

MPs voted in good faith for a ban on hunting, and they would be just as angry as I am if they witnessed how hunts arrogantly disregard the will of the people and Parliament. This is why the Hunting Act needs strengthening by adding a recklessness clause.

Helen Weeks

West Coker, Somerset

Trail-hunting still leads hounds to live foxes, which the hunt is content to see rent asunder; while the 30 convictions to which Becky Hawkes refers are mainly for hare-coursing; only three hunts have been taken to court.

Anyone who identifies with the philosophy that all creatures which have the capacity for suffering deserve protection against it can support the political party Animals Count in its call upon the Government for clarification of the Act, greater resources for law-enforcement, and increased penalties.

Rob Whitehall

Wakefield, West Yorkshire

Unseen victims of economic crisis

As the economic situation worsens, is anyone thinking about the animals? Animal charities are being bombarded with requests from owners who cannot afford proper care. The greatest impact is on those charities devoted to horses and ponies because of their high cost in feed and veterinary attention. To make matters worse, charities are receiving fewer donations.

An increasing number of horses are being neglected or abandoned by owners who have simply run out of money. Our charity takes in sick, injured and abused horses and ponies but the number which we can accommodate is limited. Furthermore, as each one in care costs around £100 a week, we have to make very difficult decisions as to which we can and cannot help. Most distressing are the many cases where we have no option other than to advise an owner that the right thing for them to do is to have their animal put to sleep, a course of action which, to add to the misery, is itself expensive. However the alternative of selling a well-loved horse or pony at a time when prices are at rock bottom can, all too often, launch the animal on to the slippery slope so that it ends up going for meat or as a serious case of neglect needing urgent help from a charity such as ours.

Our sincere hope is that intelligent and responsible breeders will not put their mares in foal this season and add to an already flooded market.

J S MacGregor

The Society for the Welfare of horses and ponies,


The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea should be applauded for its announcement that the authority would be handing out a £50 "recession gift" to thousands of residents (report, 9 January).

In these difficult financial times it is just the kind of innovative measure that local authorities should be introducing and echoes steps already taken by Essex County Council in November last year, when we announced a package of measures designed to support families and businesses struggling in the economic downturn.

Among them, was a scheme to provide around 30,000 of the county's most vulnerable households – particularly the elderly – with £100 support towards their Council Tax bills.

I would urge other local authorities to follow the example set by ourselves and Kensington and Chelsea and consider what measures they can take to help this country through the difficult times ahead.

Lord Hanningfield

Leader of Essex County Council


Harry's gaffe

I would hate to be caught defending royalty, but could someone explain the difference between a "Paki" friend and a "Brit" friend as an insulting sobriquet?

Pete Parkins


God's works

Sam Ross (letters, 6 January) quotes the Rt Rev Nick Baines as claiming that God is working through thousands of people who have been sacrificially working to resist Robert Mugabe and asks whether God is also present in the devoutly Christian Lord's Resistance army in nearby Uganda. Jesus answered the question when he said, "By their fruits you shall know them" (Mat 7:16 – 20).

John Athanasiou

Basingstoke, Hampshire

Counting crowds

Why is it that whenever there is a large demonstration in London no one is able to give an accurate figure as to how many people took part? Take the protest against attacks on Gaza on 10 January. The police claimed 20,000 took part, the organisers from the Stop the War Coalition said 100,000. Neither number was correct. It should not be beyond the realms of investigative reporting to calculate the number of people on such a demo. It is only a matter of standing at the front and counting the number who walk past.

Paul Donovan

London E11

Blairite resurgence

I wonder if the Prime Minister is embracing senior figures from the "Blairite" faction of the Labour Party because he can foresee a massive election defeat on the horizon, and is thus preventing them from being able to point the finger and say "All your fault Gordon"!

Malcolm Wild

North Sheilds, Tyne & Wear

Water at airports

Your recent correspondents will be pleased to hear that when flying from Bristol airport the other day, despite not being able to fill my empty water bottle because of a lack of drinking fountains, I was given a new free bottle of water with my purchase of The Independent. Could I have a cup of tea next time please?

Justin Brodie


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