As soon as I heard about the “Reinstate Stalin” campaign, I knew it was a cause worth supporting. No, not the mass-murdering Soviet psychopath, but Joseph Stalin Bermudez, an Ecuadorian migrant worker who had been working at the School of Oriental and African Studies.
Despite being a respected member of staff, and ten years of work with a previously unblemished record, Stalin was summarily sacked by the SOAS management after a disagreement with a colleague. UNISON, of whom Stalin was the SOAS Branch Chair, believed that the disciplinary process carried against him was deeply flawed and unfair, and so voted for a 24-hour strike action on Thursday 28th May. I decided to go down to show my support.
I’ve never been to SOAS University before, but from what I have heard it sounds like a great place to study. As I arrived at the front entrance, I saw two UNISON people with a sign that said “Official Picket Line”, and for a second I thought the strike had been a miserable failure. Luckily, and completely by chance, I happened to turn the corner into the Uni, where I found a much more promising crowd gathering.
I often find that it is only when you come down to the front line of a struggle that you hear the full story. It turns out that Stalin and a colleague really didn’t get on, but management had failed to put them in different departments after a row several months ago. In the more recent disagreement, this colleague had accused Stalin of threatening to kill him, a claim vehemently denied by the only independent witness present at the time.
One of the things that had always attracted me to SOAS was what I perceived as an institution which rejected racism in all forms. Nevertheless, they didn’t hesitate to dismiss the testimony of a black member of staff as “not credible”.
I have always felt, particularly whilst studying the Palestinian Nakba, dismayed at the willingness of one oppressed people to turn around and impose the same kind of discrimination on another people. Last night I stepped into the newsagent across the road from my house, which is run by a Pakistani family. Outside a mixed-race girl was hanging around outside, directing abuse at the shopkeeper for reasons I really couldn’t fathom:
“Oi Paki, Pak Pak Pak. Can’t you tell I’m from India as well though!”
“OK… well, I’m not.”
As usual, no-one was going to speak up for him. Apart from me.
“Excuse me, don’t you think that’s a bit racist? What are you, some kind of BNP supporter?”
She just walked away, but the disunity of our ethnic minorities really frustrates me. I was reminded of a line in Bashy’s revolutionary track, “I See People”:
“So it don’t matter if you’re Black, White, Asian /
Or whether you’re, Catholic, Christian or Muslim /
It’s us against the government, poor people against them /
Fight the power! Fight the power!”
The campaign for an Ecuadorian migrant worker, although a small struggle, shows the kind of solidarity we need, which is why I thought it was such a beautiful thing.
Here’s the real reason Stalin was sacked – he was an outstanding trade unionist, and consistently stood up for the rights of poorly paid Latin American workers, including a successful campaign to get the London Living Wage for cleaners at SOAS.
So like Bashy says…
“Worst comes to worst, my people come first!”