On the 23rd April 1979, Blair Peach - a teacher, a trade unionist, a socialist and a father – was killed. Cameron Matthews, chair of FBU’s black & ethnic minority committee, pays tribute to his story and his fight against the far right.
A 33 year old young man, Blair was a lifelong anti-racism and anti-fascism campaigner who opposed the far-right throughout the 1970’s.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s racist nationalistic rhetoric was prevalent and fears were heavily stoked about migrants & immigration; particularly from India and the Caribbean.
As a result many working class immigrants arrived in London and other cities to a hostile environment. Racial discrimination in the workplace was widespread and also even within some trade unions at the time.
The promulgation of this divisive and toxic narrative led to a niche for far-right organisations such as the National Front and BNP to exploit and stand political candidates throughout the period.
It was whilst attending a demonstration in opposition to the violent far-right National Front in Southall in 1979, that Blair himself was killed.
Witnesses at the scene stated that Blair was killed by a blow to the head from a Met Police Officer in the SPG riot squad. Yet no charges were brought.
For decades after, Blair’s family sought justice and were faced with barriers and dismissal.
It wasn’t until 31 years later in 2010 that the Metropolitan Police released a report finally confirming that it could be “reasonably be concluded that a police officer struck the fatal blow" causing the injury to the side of Blair’s head.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Paul Stephenson confirmed that the report made “uncomfortable reading” even finding that one officer had a collection of Nazi regalia.
The lead investigator recommended 3 officers in the riot squad should be charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, yet none were ever charged.
Blair’s death and the many others at the time is a warning of the dangers of nationalistic far-right politics.
It is therefore somewhat disturbing that 40 years on we find ourselves in a familiar climate of dog whistle politics combined with far-right narrative. A dangerous cocktail.
In 2015, British Labour MP Jo Cox was brutally murdered on the streets of the UK. Just last year a conspiracy to murder another UK Labour MP was foiled by the work of Hope Not Hate. With 50 murdered in New Zealand, 11 murdered in Pittsburgh and 9 murdered in Charleston, all were as a result of far-right nationalist ideology presented in a contemporary way.
Against this background, it’s clear that we face a very real threat which must be tackled by all those of good conscience.
All trade unionists must be at the forefront. As humanitarian firefighter trade unionists it is crucial we play a lead part and organise to tackle this sinister threat.
40 years ago today Blair Peach was killed fighting against hate filled far-right ideology that had insidiously permeated many institutions within UK society. We cannot let his death and the many others be in vain. We must stand up to racism wherever it raises its ugly head.