Solidarity Rally: We Are Not Alone

Report by Devi

The rally, which was the last event of the day, was one of the most anticipated sessions of Solidarity Day and was highly significant in highlighting the importance of Tamil Solidarity’s work with trade unions.

Chairing the rally was Tamil Solidarity’s own Isai Priya. John McDonnell MP was not able to attend as he was at the Trades Union Congress conference, but he sent a statement of support, in which he described Solidarity Day as a chance to “display our solidarity with all those that are campaigning for truth, peace and justice in Sri Lanka”. He insisted that we continue to demand an independent inquiry into the horrific war crimes committed in Sri Lanka, as well as asserting that Tamil workers in the UK are “such a valuable contribution to our community”, and deserve the support of trade unions.

Nick Crook, an international organiser for the largest public-sector union, Unison, also sent his apologies, as he had just arrived back from South Africa, along with a message wishing every success for the Solidarity Day.

The first speaker was April Ashley, a national executive member of Unison, whose Southwark branch affiliated with Tamil Solidarity in 2012. She spoke of her branch’s particular work to help Tamils, including against CHOGM 2013, when they wrote a protest letter to the Home Office condemning Cameron’s attendance in Sri Lanka. They have also had Tamil Solidarity members speaking in local workplaces to raise awareness of Tamil struggles in the community. April vowed to continue to support the call for an independent investigation into the genocide of Tamils, and to end their oppression.

Glenroy Watson of the RMT echoed April’s condemnation of the British government, including the need to “expose the dirty dealings” of the MPs who spend thousands of pounds visiting Sri Lanka and come back pretending that their hands are clean. He articulated strongly that the RMT will continue to fight for international justice.

Martin Powell-Davies of the National Union of Teachers has been a long-term supporter of Tamil people’s struggles and Tamil Solidarity. He spoke of how his love of educating children in Britain “from right across the globe, including Tamil-speaking pupils” has been getting more and more difficult by the year, as resources used to teach children for whom English is a second language have seen massive cuts. He encouraged Tamil parents in the audience to join the teachers in the battle for education, and encouraged Tamil youth “not to be silent about their struggles”, but to vocalise and explain the struggles that have been, and still are, going on.

A fellow teacher, Oktay Sahbaz, spoke on behalf of Day-Mer, which is a campaign that links the struggle of Kurdish and Turkish communities with the struggle of workers in the UK. The organisation further works consistently to mobilise activities and campaigns against the barbaric attacks faced by the Kurdish community across the Middle East, which have similarities with the horrors faced by Tamil people in Sri Lanka. Oktay stressed the value of standing together in solidarity in common struggle. This was further reiterated by George Atwall of the Baker’s union who, among emphasising a number of other vital points, drew attention to the power that can be created if large masses stand together.

Hannah Sell, deputy general secretary of the Socialist Party, sincerely highlighted the importance of the Socialist Party’s work in supporting the Tamil struggle. She spoke of the Committee for Workers International which has branches in more than 40 countries across the world. In Sri Lanka, they are fighting for the rights of Tamil people. One of the most important recent campaigns was the motor cavalcade against the brutal attacks on Tamil Muslims by Buddhist nationalists, including Buddhist monks. The Socialist Party has supported the Tamil struggle over the years by mobilising people for demonstrations, publishing articles by Tamil Solidarity in its weekly newspaper, The Socialist, and by encouraging trade unions to take up the struggle of Tamils both nationally and internationally.

The closing speaker of the rally was Tamil Solidarity’s own joint national secretary, Manny Thain. He started his speech by describing in one sentence what Tamil Solidarity stands for: “A campaign which identifies its allies as being other oppressed people and workers’ movements”. Trade unions organise millions of workers, so working hand-in-hand with them results in potentially millions of allies for the struggle of Tamil rights. Tamil Solidarity has worked hard this year, with its members travelling across Britain speaking to thousands of trade union members at union conferences, both to raise awareness about the Tamil struggles in Sri Lanka, and to discuss how trade unions can be taken to Tamil workers. This coming year will see that work continue.

Over the last year, Tamil Solidarity has also stood alongside Day-Mer in backing the struggles in Turkey, supporting the Kurds in their long-term struggle for the right to self-determination, and in support of Palestinians in Gaza. For the first time, Tamil Solidarity brought together Tamil and Chinese activists in a protest outside the Chinese Embassy to mark the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, where thousands of protesters were slaughtered by the Chinese state.

The rally came to end by encouraging people to get involved with Tamil Solidarity, both actively and financially, to help the Tamil struggle. The rally was a huge success. There was strong participation of the trade union movement which worked to educate the crowd as to the importance of Tamil Solidarity’s approach of working collectively to create a unity, a solidarity, which gives Tamils the strength to continue to fight the struggle: we are not alone.