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Len McCluskey & Lutfur Rahman uniting the community of East End battleground

There are two stories here. The first is that Unite the Union’s strategy of taking trade unions into the community was launched yesterday in a particularly tangible way with the opening of the first Unite Community Centre. The second is that it represents a collaborative enterprise between Len McCluskey and Lutfur Rahman, independent Mayor of Tower Hamlets, both of whom have been vilified by many on Labour’s right.

The scene, appropriately enough was Cable Street, where in 1936 up to 250,000 people gathered to defend London’s East End  from Mosley’s blackshirts. The battle that ensued (commemorated in the mural on the side of the building that houses the centre) drew an alliance of the Left and the immigrant communities that then lived in one of London’s poorest neighbourhoods, the Jews mainly but with many Irish too. The political leadership then came from those to the Left of the Labour leadership, and for many years that is where large numbers of the Jews of the East End returned their loyalty, electing Phil Pratin as a Communist MP in 1945. There may of course be a lesson there for someone.

Some things do change – the battle of Cable Street was not part-funded by Barclays Bank. Unite has opened this centre, however, with support from Tower Hamlets Council and a capital grant from Barclays to fund a state of the art ICT learning suite. The total project will cost £254,000 over two years, made up of £140,000 from Unite, £64,000 from Tower Hamlets Council and £50,000 from Barclays.

For Unite, this is about taking the union into the community, participating in campaigning on local issues and helping young people to find work. In that way, it seeks to take trade unionism to people who would otherwise not be reached by it. As Len said:

We are near what were once the great London docks, which until the late sixties, employed tens of thousands of dockers. But times have changed. Tower Hamlets has changed. The dockers have been replaced by finance workers in Canary Wharf. But alongside the wealth of this global finance centre is great poverty. That is why this centre is needed and that is why our partnership with the mayor of Tower Hamlets and Barclays Bank will provide a vital resource to the local communities.”

For Lutfur Rahman, the centre delivers an important service, as he says: “job creation is one of my top priorities and this centre is going to play an important role in helping people find work.” However, for him it also a matter of trade union rights:

I am particularly pleased to be working in partnership with Unite. As the recent terrible tragedies in the garment industry in Bangladesh have shown, and as the struggle of workers to be organised in the old sweatshops here in the East End have also demonstrated, trade unions play a critical role in ensuring people enjoy safety, security and fulfilment at work.”

And, of course, it is important to Lutfur, politically. This is an opportunity to show that he is more Labour than many in Labour. Next year, he faces an election contest with recently selected John Biggs, Labour’s prospective mayoral candidate as well as the local member of the London Assembly. And Len certainly rewarded Lutfur when he observed that he didn’t deal with many politicians who were so keen to do something positive about trade union rights.

And as for Barclays… £50,000 is a smal price to pay for a little bit of goodwill amongst the unemployed who live a stones throw away from its 31-storey global headquarters.


  1. Jon says:

    Len should fund Luftur’s re-election campaign

  2. Gerry says:

    This union-backed community centre is a good thing, and all unions should be even more visible in local areas, especially hugely deprived areas like Tower Hamlets.

    Mayor Rahman has unequivocally done a good thing supporting this too, and maybe this might offset some of the huge damage he has done from his links with and support from the horrific Islamic Forum of Europe…

    But John Biggs is a good Labour GLA member, and would be a very good Mayor who should be the best choice for any truly progressive Tower Hamlets voter

  3. F Kafka says:

    Sorry, what links?

    If John Biggs’s supporters are going to libel Britain’s only black mayor with Islamophobic smears, then that makes me worry very greatly indeed about what sort of candidate Biggs is.

    What terrible things has he done for these horrific people, Gerry?

    Things like this:
    – best council in London for LGBT people every year since he took over in 2008, according to Stonewall
    – first council leader to go on Gay Pride
    – set up anti violence against women programme
    – hosted a dinner for the Bishop of Stepney

    If those horrific extremists did support him, do they still after all this stuff? I mean, where’s the sharia law? They can’t be that happy with him

    Here’s how he responded to the last Islamophobic slurs:

  4. Gerry says:

    F Kafka – Ted Jeory, Nick Cohen and Andrew Gilligan have extensively documented the close links between the IFE and the Mayor, and the fact that Mr Rahman – in your ownlink – claims that the IFE is a “mainstream” organisation should have any socialist or progressive person very worried indeed.

    Look at their own website, and the speakers they have invited! This group believes in, and actually practises, gender apartheid at meetings; their goal is to “spread sharia” as widely as possible; the East London mosque, which they control, has hosted myriads of extremist preachers and speakers – I watched Undercover Mosque and Britain’s Islamic republic, and it was truly chilling.

    This group is the brother organisation of Banlgladesh’s main Islamist parties, the same ones who committed horrific war crimes during the Independence war of 1971, the same ones who have waged war on secularists, socialists, communists and atheists in Bangladesh, who want an Islamic state,murderous blasphemy laws, full sharia law, and punishments for so-called apostasy. This is the same agenda of the IFE, who are doing all they can to spread this extremist Wahhabi/Salafi version of Islam throughout Britain’s Muslim communities..and they have been very successful in doing just this.

    To be in alliance with this hard-right group of Islamic extremists is truly disgraceful, F Kafka (good name, by the way!)

  5. F Kafka says:

    I don’t think Gilligan has yet finished cleaning the blood of David Kelly off this hands.
    As for Nick Cohen, that I’m posting on a site called ‘LEFT Futures’ probably suggests I take the musings of racist neocons with a pinch of salt.
    I had a look at their website and couldn’t see anything wrong with them. But it’s immaterial anyway as Lutfur Rahman has said he is not associated with them. If you have any evidence he is, pray share it with us.
    And perhaps think before you give us your next dose of bigoted venom how it feels to have brown skin and get called an extremist or a terrorist all the time. You didn’t answer my question btw – if he were in league with horrific extremists, they wouldn’t be too happy with his policies would they?

  6. Gerry;While going along with the broad context of your post I think that we have to hope that F.Kafka is right and that Luftur Rahman is reaching out to the whole of his community/electorate, which is of course his role as mayor of Tower Hamlets. If I seem a little vague on this post and subject matter, hopefully it’s because I live in S.Yorks(Doncaster, Milliband is my M.P.)While John Biggs may be a good GLA member, this is the area that spawned Oona King and the New Labour coterie that seems to have such an influence in that part of London(and why Galloway was successful in 2005)
    Were I to be doing any sort of work/research on London Laobour Party, Islamic community politics/affairs, Nick Cohen and Andrew Gilligan(maybe even Dan Hodges for a bit more impartiality and integrity) woul d be very low on my list of sources, Gilligan for anybody on the left should be a pariah. Cohen, whatever he was before 9/11(and considering his upbringing in a socialist household) is an absolute disgrace as someone who claims to be an objective, leftist commentator, nothing but an arch-zionist and unashamed apologist for Bush and Blairs disastrous Iraq war. Ted Jeory I know nothing about, but I’ll guess that as you bracket him with Cohen and Gilligan tells me all I need to know.

  7. John p Reid says:

    Any evidence Cohen is a racist, he’s criticised anti semeticism, and when he criticised Saddam Husain, he was accused of racism, as for the filling ham ,comment, he was the first to criticise Blair and WmD’s – but it was Kelly who helped Gilligan expose that there were lies told, he hardly killed Kelly, ,it was suicide, it was Blair and Saddam himself saying that he had WMDs that. Made Kelly look small,

  8. bob says:

    All funded by Barclays who avoid paying almost any tax in this country, and avoid paying more tax by funding community organisations like this to clean up their image

  9. Gerry says:

    F Kafka – I am sure the IFE are very pleased to have a Mayor who backs them, calls them “mainstream”, and is in alliance with them..

    But as socialists we must tell the truth, and I am sorry genuinely if it hurts you, but the IFE is an extremist hard-right Islamist grouping committed to a hardline religious is, in fact, way more right-wing than either UKIP or the BNP, and for the Mayor to be in alliance with them is appalling: we should oppose all fascism, be it the BNP or the IFE or Muslims Against Crusades or a hundred other hard-right islamist groups.

    Francis – you put the boot into Cohen et al, and I would agree with you re: Iraq which was a vile and unjustified war, but on the IFE he is correct.

  10. F Kafka says:

    Are you going to stop being racist and show me some evidence that the Mayor is ‘in alliance’ with the IFE?
    All he’s said about them is what I’m saying: I’ve looked at their website and I can’t see anything extremist or fascist. Does that mean I’m in alliance with them too?

  11. Gerry says:

    F Kafka – we are clearly not going to agree! you and Lutfur Rahman say that the iFE are “mainstream”.

    To me and most other progressive people they are a hard-right islamist grouping whose ideology and politics are to the right of the BNP

    Noone who calls themselves a progressive or a democrat or socialist should be in alliance with such a horrific hard-right group, and it is silly of you to use words like racism and Islamophobia to people like me who have opposed, and will always oppose, ALL fascism, including the Islamist fascism

  12. F Kafka says:

    I’m not asking you to agree with me.
    I’m asking you to show me some evidence.

    I don’t know much about the IFE but what I do know is based on evidence. I’ve looked at their website, and it’s not like anything Hizb-ut-Tahrir or the nutcases in Al-Muhajiroun (or whatever they are calling themselves nowadays) put out.

    I know a fair bit about Lutfur Rahman. It’s based on evidence too. That Stonewall have compiled evidence to tell us that his council is the best in London for gay people. That his council is building more social housing than any other. That his council is the only one in Britain to bring back EMA, and was the first to pay the London Living Wage. This all sounds pretty progressive to me. And he’s repeatedly and unreservedly denied being ‘in alliance’ with this group.

    You are truly the embodiment of the post-modern form of racism that threatens us today more than any other. I hope you will look yourself in the mirror some day soon.

    Until then, maybe stop ignoring my requests for evidence for your wild and paranoid insinuations – have you got any at all?

  13. Gerry says:

    F Kafka – I don’t want to prolong this thread forever but for evidence read my post of 15 May 12:36, every statement is factual…why you deny their clear extremism is a mystery, but I will repeat it all for you again…

    The IFE is the British arm of Jamaat-e-Islami, the Bangladeshi party in the news everywhere for the war crimes its leaders and members committed in 1971, for its call for Bangladesh to get rid of its secular and liberal constitution, for implementation of “full sharia” in the law, the family, education, society, for the introduction of harsh blasphemy and apostasy laws, for the elimination of secularists, atheists, socialists and communists! The IFE’s latest press release calls for support for its Bangladeshi mother party, and for the release of the convicted Islamist war criminals….

    No exaggerations, no inaccuracies, these are cold hard facts

    The IFE agenda in the UK aims to convert Muslims to this same Wahhabi/Salafi agenda, is 100% committed to a gender segregated society, and targets young Bangladeshis esp those alienated and “vulnerable to crime” young people, turning them towards this hardline, hardcore version of Islam..they are without a shadow of a doubt non-violent extremists, just like the equally horrific Hizb-ut-Tahrir or the Muslim Patrols or the Federation of Student Islamic Societies.

    F Kafka – instead of defending hard-right anti-socialist anti-secular Islamist extremists like the IFE, why don’t people like you support and encourage progressive and decent groups like British Muslims For Secular Democracy?

  14. F. Kafka; I think that you are being a bit harsh on Gerry in this post. While you build a good case for Luftur Rahman, and on the examples provided, it’s as good and progressive programme that any socialist/progressive/Labour Mayor or councillor woul be proud of, particularly in these days of horrendous cuts to local authority budgets, imposed by Cameron and Osbourne and their gang of millionaires and class warriors.
    Regarding the IFE, I personally dont feel I can comment on them, because I/we don’t seem to come across them too much in our area(Doncaster. S. Yorks) not saying that they aren’t active in our area, but the Muslims we seem to come across tend to be of the progressive strands of the Islamic community, i.e. Hope not Hate, Councils for Racial Equality etc.
    Therefore, if you look at the posts that Gerry puts on here, I don’t think that anyone could doubt that he is a socialist and progressive, and not by any stretch of imagination a racist or fascist. Surely we can find plenty to unite and fight on, rather than getting bogged down in a sterile debate about the darker, reactionary side of the Islamic community.

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