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Leicester: Build a united campaign for community resources
Leicester Socialist Party
Over a year ago an Islamic charity, As-Salaam, tried to buy a disused scout hut on Thurnby Lodge estate in Leicester, intending to use it as a prayer room and community resource, for Muslims and non-Muslims.
As-Salaam was initially told by the council, who owns the land, that it had succeeded in the tendering process.
Thurnby Lodge is mainly a white estate, but has a growing Muslim community of Asian origin. An organisation was then set up by some local residents, called "Forgotten Estates" which campaigned against the scout hut going to the Muslim group. They said they wanted it to be used for other purposes in the community.
The leadership of this campaign included members of the English Defence League (EDL) who are a far-right, racist organisation.
The EDL have no real interest in defending local community facilities, but used the genuine feelings of people on the estate about the lack of community facilities to build some initial support.
As-Salaam suffered protests, threats and intimidation. The latest example is a frozen pig's head being left by the door of the community centre they currently use.
The response of the Labour mayor of Leicester was to prevaricate. Months passed before a decision was reached.
Meanwhile members of the Muslim community had to endure daily racial abuse and harassment. This also impacted on others who used the community centre, such as the pensioners at the bingo club.
Local Labour MP, Keith Vaz went even further and sided with the protesters, writing to the mayor putting pressure on him not to grant the scout hut to the Muslim group.
Finally, after months of inactivity, the mayor proposed a "solution". As-Salaam was offered an alternative building, and the "Forgotten Estates" group have been given use of the scout hut rent free for the next two years.
However, this apparent attempt to resolve the deadlock is not as even-handed as it seems. Instead of being given use of a building rent-free, As-Salaam has been asked to pay £192,000 upfront for a 150-year lease or alternatively £19,200 a year!
As-Salaam would be happy to compromise on the building, but it cannot afford this ludicrous figure.
Members of Leicester Socialist Party recently attended a 50-strong public meeting organised by As-Saalam with the support of the trades council anti-racist committee.
There was a unanimous demand that As-Salaam be given suitable premises at an affordable rent.
Socialist Party members proposed that we organise mass united lobbies of the mayor to achieve that.
We have also pointed out the need to campaign against Labour cuts and to fight for decent community facilities for all the people in the area, regardless of their race or religion.
To build such a movement, we need to unite people from all backgrounds, to cut across the lies and racism of far-right groups like the EDL.
With the support of Leicestershire Against the Cuts and the local trade union movement, we must campaign for a political alternative that argues that there is no need for cuts to community services and puts forward socialist ideas.
In The Socialist 23 January 2013:
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