By New Worker correspondent
THE GREENWICH Council for Racial Equality was formally wound up last Tuesday evening at its annual general meeting in Woolwich, after a long and successful fight against racism and discrimination in the area.
And it was still functioning fully until the end, providing services ranging from keep-fit classes for elderly Asian ladies to cultural groups, giving advice and support in discrimination cases at work and in schools, advice in immigration, benefits, health and many other issues – and providing a powerful counter to racist abuse and violence.
Its downfall was a tragedy. An internal audit last year threw up a suspicion of embezzlement. Instead of covering up the matter, as they might have been tempted, the organisation’s officers did the correct thing and informed the local council – GCRE’s major source of funding.
The council immediately suspended funding and undertook its own investigation. In the meantime it instructed GCRE to implement a major structural and management overhaul and advised them to use a consultant to draw up a new business plan.
GCRE did this but the consultant, though very expensive, failed to come up with a new viable business plan. The council agreed that GCRE officers – with the exception of two who have now been formally charged by police – had all acted responsibly and followed the council’s instructions.
But as Con-Dem government cuts policies began to sink in, the mood of the council changed. The suspended funding was not restored. The business plan was rejected out of hand.
And with the investigation in progress it was impossible to seek funding elsewhere.
The organisation soldiered on using reserves to pay staff and running costs until it reached a point where liabilities equalled assets and winding up was the only option.
Now the staff – with a wealth of experience and specialised skills – are all redundant.
It was a sad and shocked meeting on Tuesday night, the end of an era and the end of a powerful campaigning organisation that has fought fascism and racism in the area for decades.
It supported the families of race murder victims Rolan Adams, Rohit Duggal and Stephen Lawrence; it battled with serious racist attitudes in the local police; it led the fight for the closure of the BNP office in neighbouring Bexley and it set examples of how to fight racism in the community that have been followed around the country and internationally.
GCRE officers pioneered the tactic of countering racist attacks and abuse on estates by knocking on doors, talking to people from all backgrounds about their concerns, getting them all together in meetings, introducing them to each other so that black, white and brown could find out that they all had the same problems and that the minority of youths who were carrying out the racist attacks were also responsible for a lot of other anti-social behaviour.
GCRE lawyers won landmark cases against the police over the ill-treatment of young black people while in custody and GCRE officers ended up teaching police officers how to handle racism effectively and build community harmony – not once but over and over again as police officers were re-assigned, moved on and new ones showed up who had to be taught from scratch again.
Recently GCRE officers had been doing pioneering work to end the isolation of elderly Asian women, many of them with poor English, improving their access to health and social care.
The offices were always buzzing. If you visited on any week day there were singing groups, health classes going on all around. GCRE supported small cultural groups from many local ethnic communities and being under one roof enabled them to be aware of each other and build a truly multi-cultural community.
Now that must all go – and at a time when so many other services are being withdrawn and Islamophobia is growing into a serious danger.
But, as ever, the struggle goes on. A new organisation will be formed. It will have no funding at the start. It will only be able to provide a tiny fraction of the services that GCRE provided.
But it will be free to campaign in a much more political way and put pressure on the council, on the police and it will have a wealth of knowledge and experience to do this.