May Day – Bangladeshi Workers Council

Yesterday I spoke at a MayDay celebration organised by the Bangladeshi Workers Council.  There were strong speeches from across the British trade union and Bangladeshi left.

We have been through a lot in Tower Hamlets politics, and I know that one of the aims of the organisers of the event was to renew our connection with our political roots and purpose.

When I spoke, I said something about what I have learnt from the Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets about how to do politics.

The first, is that we stand up for ourselves when under threat. That is the lesson of Cable Street and of Altab Ali, as well as the lesson of the match women, dockers, suffragettes and labour movement stars through the generations.  It is why the neo fascist EDL or Britain First have to be dealt with decisively by the police – because this community has had to defend itself against fascists before, and will again, if authorities fail.  That cultural memory stands behind our resilience to the 2011 riots – our community policed itself.  It is why east end politics can be fractious, but it is how a poor and diverse area has made progress.

The second is more specific to Bangladeshi culture.  When there is a tension within the political family, a senior or trusted individual can bring people together and ask them to find a way of making peace, through a structured open dialogue where each have the opportunity to have their say, and the person leading the conversation seeks to find common ground.  “Deal making” is often the result of deeply rooted desire to avoid conflict through negotiation.

It is this tradition that I hope we can learn from as we move forward in Tower Hamlets.  We have been through a tough time in our politics, and the wounds are still visible.  We need more open and frank conversations, to understand one another better, to move Tower Hamlets forward.