All leftists of a certain age will remember Grunwicks. In 1977, 90 Asian women working for this photo processing plant joined a union and went on strike against appalling pay and conditions. For this they were sacked. A bitter dispute followed, in which Grunwicks’ management were aided and abetted by a shady organisation called the National Association for Freedom. This far right bosses’ club had been founded two years before by the ultra-reactionary McWhirter brothers (of Guinness Book of Records fame); besides its strike-busting activities, the NAFF were wholehearted supporters of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Indeed, one of the NAFF’s founders, Alec Bedser, was the man who left mixed-race cricketer Basil D’Oliveira out of the England team to appease the South Africans.
In 1980 the National Association for Freedom became the Freedom Association. With Thatcher doing the NAFF’s work in crushing trade union rights, they could afford to keep a lower profile. After the Tories lost power, however, the Freedom Association was back on the march, defending the right of fascists to free speech and parents to hit children; opposing immigration, climate campaigns, ‘political correctness’, EU membership and atheism.
It’s a general rule of thumb in politics that anyone who includes the word ‘freedom’ in their name is an enemy of it. The Freedom Association, a capitalist organisation with strong links to the Conservative party, care only about their freedom to exploit; when they defend civil liberties, it is their own right to conduct their own affairs in secrecy with which they are concerned.
Which brings us to the campaign against ID cards, No2ID: a campaign uniting Respect, the Green Party, Liberty, the SWP front Globalise Resistance, the Scottish Labour party, a wide variety of socialists and anarchists and. . .the Freedom Association.
It is a fair bet that many of those involved in the campaign against ID cards are unaware of their far right allies. That’s not surprising when No2ID has no national events and exists as little more that a lobbying organisation. But then, when a campaign is trying to hold together totally incompatible political forces, how else could it operate?
Nor are the Freedom Association the only far-right bigots involved in No2ID. UKIP are on board, as are the so-called ‘English Democrats’, featuring one Gary Bushell, who believe every town hall should be forced to fly the flag of St George and that asylum seekers should effectively be banned from the UK.
Only the most myopic single-issue campaigner could believe the fight against ID cards justifies unity with such forces.
While the introduction of ID cards would undoubtedly be a significant erosion of our freedoms, they have to be seen in the context of a generalised attack on civil liberties which is a universal feature of modern capitalism. In order to prosecute neo-liberal policies, the capitalist class had first and foremost to shackle the ability of workers to fight back. Partly thanks to the intervention of the NAFF, UK workers lost the right to call immediate walkouts, to mass picket, to secondary picket, to call solidarity action, or to hold on to their funds if they defied the law. The loss of these rights have fundamentally shaped the world we live in today and paved the way for further attacks.
It is essential that anyone concerned with defending civil liberties recognises the enemy: not just the Brown government, but the capitalist class it serves. If Labour are trounced at the next election, Cemeron’s nice-guy image will vanish overnight, and the David Davises of this world will happily take up the baton to whip up the fear of terrorists and hatred of asylum-seekers in order to justify greater state surveillance of its potential enemies. The Tories may well decide ID cards can be sacrificed – but the database state will march on, the Forward Intelligence Teams will continue to video demonstrators, and the anti-union laws will if necessary be strengthened.
Apologists for the involvement of the far right in No2ID might also cast a glance at the situation in Italy, where the far-right Northern League and National Alliance are coalition partners in Berlusconi’s government. Their commitment to the civil liberties of Romanies currently involves fingerprinting every one of them.
This Friday in Cardiff a number of artists and bands are playing a gig in support of No2ID. PR are unequivocally opposed to ID cards and believe in effective action in stopping their introduction. That will not occur while the campaign lends credibility to the class enemy and is hamstrung in the process. We have contacted all those involved in the No2ID gig to ask if they are willing to make a statement against the FA, EDP etc. We have also contacted the organisers who have defended the links with the far right. We need to cause them to think again.