Solidarity with refugees was a central to the protest against the Tory party conference in Manchester

Thousands raged at the Tories in Manchester on Sunday to mark the start of the Conservative Party’s annual conference. Protesters from different campaigns united to chant, “Tory scum,” “Fuck the Tories,” and, “Refugees are welcome here.” 

The march came in the wake of home secretary Suella Braverman’s speech in the US last week where she echoed the language of the far right. 

Manchester SUTR organiser Nahella Ashraf told Socialist Worker, “This week Braverman didn’t just go for refugees but multiculturalism across Europe. Anyone who looks like me is a target for racists.” 

“A lot of people from across the country have come to join the anti-racist bloc. Two banners next to each other were from Dorset and Dundee.“It’s a clear message that this government is racist through and through—lots of people are angry. 

“Today we’ve seen lots of trade union banners as well as climate activists and a massive student delegation.”

Braverman claimed immigration is “an existential challenge” to the West and that multiculturalism “from Malmo to Paris, Brussels to Leicester” has failed. Fascists have praised her speech, such as Patriotic Alternative leader Mark Collett who said it was a “good thing”. 

Jackie, a Unison union member, is part of Leicester SUTR. “We’re appalled to hear Braverman call our city a failed example of multiculturalism,” she told Socialist Worker.  “We’re here to tell her that’s rubbish.” 

Jackie said the unity among strikers, anti-racists, socialists and others at the demonstration was “fantastic”. “This energy makes us believe we can get rid of Braverman and the Tories,” she said. 

She added, “They’ve all got to go. I’m in Unison and we’ve seen our cities and services cut to the bone. We’ve got to go all out in our fight or we’ll have no health service, social services or public services.” 

On the same day, over 300 people joined a Stand Against Suella protest in London called by Pride in London and African Rainbow Family. 

Other blocs in Manchester included the NEU, Unison, PCS, RMT, CWU, GMB unions, and Unite and UCU union members. They were joined by climate protesters, Stop the War activists, as well as students, LGBT+ activists and Palestinian solidarity campaigners. 

Nasrin came from Tower Hamlets in east London to join the march. “No human being is illegal,” she told Socialist Worker. “Everyone should have fair rights, and LGBT+ people shouldn’t be under attack.

“The energy today made my blood feel hot—it’s inspired me and shows that many of us know what the Tories are doing isn’t right.”

Rayan, a student from UCL in central London, said they came to the protest to “show support for people like myself who are under attack”. “The student bloc was empowering,” they told Socialist Worker. 

“I’m frustrated at the constant crisis, but we showed today we have the power to do something about that.” 

Connor, a young teacher from Manchester, told Socialist Worker, “From trans people to refugees, the Tories are attacking the working class. The Tories are all our enemies. So we all need to unite, and strike, to make the Tories weak and get them out.”

Protesters weren’t just furious with the Tories—they were angry at Keir Starmer and Labour for cosying up to the bosses and joining in with the right’s bigoted attacks. 

Connor wants the Tories out, but he said that fights have to continue under a Labour government. “We’ve seen zero promises from Starmer that we can rely on,” he said. “He’s trying to outflank the Tories from the right. We need to push him just as much. Labour isn’t fighting for us.” 

Nahella agreed, “We have the power to bring change, people can’t wait for a general election and are here to fight now. And where is the Labour Party today? Or the trade union leaders? We’re the real opposition, not Labour. We have to be from the ground.” 

Debbie, an NEU member from Wakefield, said the demonstration would have been “been even bigger without the rain and rail strikes”. “But it was a good thing there were strikes called while the conference is on,” she told Socialist Worker. “We can’t sit back and let the Tories get away with what they’re doing.” 

Aslef train drivers’ union members struck on Saturday, which scuppered many delegates’ plans to reach the conference. They plan to walk out again on Wednesday as the conference ends alongside consultant and junior doctors. 

Consultants and junior doctors were also set to strike on Monday and Tuesday—with a big rally in Manchester on the second day. 

The strikes in the last year have shown the power of workers to take on the Tories and bosses. But they’ve also shown how the trade union leaders hold back struggle and push bad deals—and the need for grassroots organisation to challenge them. 

The Tories are in crisis. But it will take a much higher level of struggle, with a sharp escalation of strikes, to force them out. And as the Tories ramp up divide and rule to divert from their own failures, anti-racism has to be central to the struggle. 

Sign up for SUTR’s national conference on 21 October at bit.ly/SUTRConf23

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