Indian workers in Britain

Fifty years of the Indian Workers' Association in Greenwich and Bexleyheath: looking back and looking forward.

Harpal Brar

The Indian Workers Association (Great Britain), has played a significant role in the British working-class movement over the last 60 years. The Grenwich & Bexleyheath branch of the IWA (GB) held this meeting to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of their branch.

Harpal Brar, National Organiser of the IWA (GB), and chairman of the CPGB-ML, gave a landmark speech reflecting on the history of the IWA (GB). The organisation was able, in its time, to organise demonstrations of tens of thousands of workers, and regularly held meetings of 4-5,00 members and supporters throughout the country.

The IWA was a vibrant organisation because its programme was correct, says Harpal.

Indian workers, like other immigrant populations, were driven from their homes by the economic poverty (and, in many cases, by political chaos and violence, as with Syria, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan) created by the stranglehold of monopoly capitalist domination of their economic and political life at home.

The IWA (GB), therefore, was from its inception an anti-imperialist organisation, giving solidarity and support to all other anti-imperialist movements, including the Irish republican movement, the South African and Zimbabwean anti-apartheid struggles, the struggle of the Korean and Vietnamese against US and UN imperialism, and the struggle of the Palestinian and Arab peoples against zionism and colonialism, as well as the wider the anti-war movement and the struggle against occupation of the people of Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Ukraine.

On arrival in Britain, Indian workers faced racism in the street, in employment, in institutions and from the state. The IWA mobilised not only Indians and the black community but also wider sections of the white British working class in the fight against racism. This was its great strength.

Guided by the IWA, the indian community took a stand against black separatism, emphasising the communality of interests of the working class. It mobilised to prevent the National Front from holding an ‘election rally’ in Southall in 1979, where the police defended the racists, beat hundreds of demonstrators, and murdered Blair Peach.

In 1993, the IWA chaired an anti-racist march of 100,000 in Welling to oppose the presence of the BNP bookshop that was a central organising point for racist gangs and murders in the area – including the killers of Rohit Duggal and Stephen Lawrence.

Last, the IWA (GB) recognised that Indians in Britain were first and foremost workers, and that Indians were playing their part in the wider trade-union struggles for the rights of workers, with such honourable examples as the Grunwick strikers, the Timex strikers and the Hillingdon Hospital workers.

During the great miners’ strike of 1984/5, the IWA mobilised support, money, clothes and toys for the striking miners. The organisation held meetings at which miners’ leaders spoke up and down the country, and it fed visiting detachments of miners and marched with them on demonstrations.

This real demonstration of class solidarity and support did more to educate the working class of both communities than a thousand lectures on the importance of anti-racism.

Indians living in Britain must play their role in the British working-class struggle and political movement, says Harpal. British capitalism in crisis is again stoking the fires of racism and anti-immigrant sentiment in order to distract workers from the anti-capitalist struggle.

It is not enough to hope that the election of a left leader – Jeremy Corbyn – will transform the Labour party and solve all our problems for us. The Labour party cannot change its nature as a party of imperialism, and workers will have to learn this lesson.

We must build a truly revolutionary alternative, and the CPGB-ML with your support can become such an organisation.