Those of us who aspire for a better future for all are faced with a dilemma in the forthcoming council and European Parliament elections; who should we vote for?
If we look back on some major campaigns fought by the community over recent years, and are willing to learn from these experiences, we might be in a better position to make the right choice.
The Gas Works Campaign
Overwhelming community support forced Ealing Council to back down when they put forward the proposal to develop large scale housing on the Gas Works site. But sabotage by local leaders sadly allowed Boris Johnson to use his mayoral power to give the green light to this development. Piara Khabra and Virendra Sharma both played dirty politics during this campaign.
It would have been fairly simple to treat the contaminated soil in the ninety one acre site, resulting in about 70 acres of usable land. If there had been the will, this site could have become the hub that would have uplifted the whole of Southall. Land that could have housed a medical university (with accommodation for staff), a community leisure centre, a large library, or much needed green space to enrich the air with oxygen. Instead this site was sold for peanuts to private developers under the pretext that Southall will benefit from a billion pound investment. Now we will be lumbered with nearly four thousand additional homes adding to the congestion and a big strain on the already poor infrastructure. Read our article here.
Bio-Fuel plant at the Gas Works Site Campaign
With huge support from the community, we won the campaign to prevent building of this plant, saving local residents from further poisoning of the already oxygen depleted environment. Read our article here.
Southall Community Centre Campaign
Labour initiated the proposals to sell the centre to private buyers (verifiable from minutes of council meetings). When the Tories came to power, the same Labour leaders blamed them for the sale. In the end, both Tory and Labour are driven by the pursuit of serving private interests and handing over public assets to private ownership. Had we won the campaign, our youth would still have had accessible and affordable community centre facilities. Creative activities help keep young people off the streets and away from the lure of drug peddlers. When it comes to a choice between the welfare of our youth and winning votes, it is clear where our politicians and community leaders stand.
The Dominion Centre campaign
The Dominion Centre was originally a huge freehold community-owned property, paid for collectively by thousands of our hard working parents. It became a focal point for community action against racial discrimination and against social injustice. Sadly, internal power struggles amongst selfish leaders competing for positions of power, led to its demise. Ultimately it was sold to Ealing Council for peanuts. The previously powerful Indian Workers Association had gradually become a tool for the self-serving aspirations of these opportunists. Operation of the Dominion Centre is now being passed into the hands of a private company. The facility for care of our aged folk is also heading in the same direction. Read our article here.
Save Ealing Hospital Campaign
Thousands of Ealing residents marched from Southall to Ealing Common on two occasions to save the hospital from closure. Mass meetings were held in Ealing and Southall mainly by efforts of local activists. Tens of thousands of petitions were signed. The Labour and Tory leadership kept control of the stages to manage what messages were given out to the community by local activists, and even denied prominent activists time to speak. In one such public meeting in Southall, organised by GMB with support of Labour leaders, phone calls were made to prevent leading community activists from attending. People received a phone call not to attend. Why?
Labour leaders organised token meetings designed to appease the community, and issued press releases to put themselves in a popular limelight. They tried to limit the campaign run by local activist groups to keep down large scale participation. Julian Bell and his loyal friends are masterminds in this subtle game of deceit; they have managed to turn the save Ealing Hospital campaign into an electoral opportunity instead of standing with us.
Now there are plans to build flats on the main building site of Ealing hospital. The maternity ward is likely to face the axe first, followed by closure of the Accident & Emergency along with other parts of the hospital. A scaled down basic emergency care may survive the slaughter.
Our voice is being ignored, and we are being constantly duped by pretentious arguments for closing our hospital. It is clear that both Labour and the Conservatives are happy with the privatisation of the NHS. True to their political psyche, they both pretend to be opposed to the closure of our hospitals. Both parties have similar policies, and both are keen to keep mass opposition in check to ensure their own self-serving schemes and policies face minimum public opposition. The real beneficiaries will be private health providers reaping millions pounds of profit.
Council officers are well versed in the art of meaningless consultations, designed to approve policies and measures without any real say from the people of Southall. These consultations, or sham consultations are either not well publicised or in a format difficult for ordinary members of the community to understand and respond to. Officers and councillors then have the gall to blame the community for being apathetic. We are very much interested in issues affecting us, but it is hard going when self serving representatives are intent on imposing this sham democratic process on us.
Despite these token consultations, members of our community have attended many such consultations and opposed council proposals. When people have put forward their own ideas, these have been repeatedly ignored under various pretexts. The reality is this modes operandi is used to “sell” to the community what has already been decided in favour of private interests. Private companies have benefitted from taking over public assets at pittance prices, and then proceeded to build developments in pursuit of maximum profits. To win our votes, these leaders continue to give us sham consultations, a mere lip service to real democracy and an opportunity for media coverage. Our community voice has been, and continues to be ignored.
People should be the decision makers in policies that are going to affect their lives. They should set the agenda and help shape policies to pursue this agenda. The community should be allowed to put forward candidates who are willing to uphold an agenda that serves the majority, rather than one that is driven by the interests of a minority of businesses corporations and financial institutions. Selection of candidates should take place at public meetings, where the community is able to question prospective candidates. The elected representatives should give a commitment to fight for the community, and be subject to recall if they fail to fulfil their duty. This will be real democracy, a democracy that serves peoples real needs.
Wake Up Call
Dr Louise Irvinne and her colleagues in Lewsisham have shown how victory can be achieved. A key element in the campaign was genuine care for the patients. Patients who could lose their lives, patients who would suffer with lack of accident and emergency care, mothers and children suffering from lack of maternity care, and many more. The welfare of people, rather than the desire to win votes was always at the forefront. The reality is that sadly, in our leaders minds residents welfare is very low on their list of priorities.
It is no secret that our local representatives themselves have become accustomed to selling their souls in-order to safeguard their nominations from their respective mainstream parties and to hold onto positions of power for self gain. Those who resist in playing the fiddle get punished by not being selected, or being de-selected. These are internal power struggles within their camps. Let’s have a mass public debate so the truth comes out!
It is high time we bring forth our community minded youth and turn things around. Our youth rose to the challenges of the times when we were suffering racist attacks, and smashed the National Front in Southall. This victory had a ripple effect throughout the country, leading to the demise of the National Front.
The promotion of a culture of excess drugs and alcohol abuse has been used to break the spirit of our youth. Young people are the spine of our community, and the system is intent on breaking our spine. No one can deny that our youth are entrapped in a dangerous culture of drug abuse. We need to win back the strength that our young people once had.
Let’s unite and take our future into our hands and bring forth a new force amongst our youth and turn the tide in favour of our community. A new force committed to serving our community. The time is calling for such a change. Only we can bring it about!
Article submitted by Salvinder Dhillon, Ghadar International