John Carlos: "It's not about winning medals - it's about being a freedom fighter"

Submitted by AWL on 21 May, 2012 - 10:36

(In the 1968 picture, John Carlos is on the right.)

There must have been at least seven or eight hundred people at the 21 May public meeting organised by the rail workers' union RMT and the firefighters' union FBU. The meeting was addressed by the legendary John Carlos, one of the black athletes who raised his fist at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics as part of a protest against racism and poverty (see here) - and a number of equally inspiring speakers from anti-racist struggles in Britain, as well as trade unionists. Pretty much the whole room was on its feet again and again for standing ovations.

The audience spanned a huge age range and - fairly unusually for a left/labour movement-organised meeting - was very mixed ethnically, with many Asian and many more black people attending.

Most of the other speakers were representatives of campaigns against police racism, violence and murder - including Doreen Lawrence, Janet Alder and Samantha Rigg-David. The facts, including the fact that not a single police officer has been convicted for any of the many hundreds of deaths in police custody, were not new to most people in the audience, but they still do not fail to shock. Equally the stories of family, friends and activists who have refused to give up in the face of enormous obstacles could not fail to inspire. Matt Wrack of the FBU also spoke very well.

For me, two things stood out about John Carlos. Firstly, he is an excellent public speaker, touching and funny with a lively, memorable style and turn of phrase - a refreshing change from the low standards of many in the British labour movement. The second was the character of his political appeal. Carlos was not very clear politically and does not seem to be a socialist, at least not in the sense that the AWL or SWP - who were present in large numbers and seem to have played some role in organising the meeting - are socialists, but his message was radical and humanist. "It's not about black vs white," he told the audience to cheers. "It's about right vs wrong." It was an appeal to sports people to abandon a supposedly apolitical stance - "My life wasn't about winning medals. It was about being a freedom fighter" - and to young people to get involved in and renew radical organisations and movements.

The meeting unanimously agreed to launch a campaign for an inquiry into police cover ups and corruption.

The last, and in a sense the most important, thing to take note of is that the meeting was explicitly a trade union meeting, organised by two left-wing unions, the RMT and FBU; it was initiated by RMT's London Underground Engineering branch. We have disagreements with some left-wingers in the RMT and with Unite Against Fascism, which sponsored the meeting, about how to fight racism, but this was an excellent initiative which showed the labour movement in a good light.


Submitted by AWL on Tue, 22/05/2012 - 15:30

Submitted by AWL on Wed, 23/05/2012 - 09:54

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 24/05/2012 - 13:46

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