Respect for all, with Mandela's blessing

26th July 1996 at 01:00
There were those with spectacular hair: blue, green andor orange dreadlocked heads of it. And there were those with a spectacular lack of hair: scalps smooth as babies' bottoms or punctuated, some of them, with witty plumes of Day-Glo pink.

Some were semi-clothed, some were dressed in army fatigues and bovver boots. Some lay senseless, others danced the day away. It may have been 90 in the shade, but the TUC's Respect Festival last Saturday was as cool as you're likely to get in north London on a sweltering July afternoon.

Just how many union members were there was impossible to tell. Many looked barely old enough to have a national insurance number.

But for the most part the crowd had come to Finsbury Park to hear groups like Credit to the Nation, Honky, Gregory Isaacs, Right Said Fred and other bands, many of them indies.

The festival was put together by the TUC as part of its three-year-old United Against Racism campaign. It takes its name from the song, written by Otis Redding and immortalised by Aretha Franklin. The TUC has sponsored a re-recording of under the banner United Against Racism Choir.

The day-long event was supported by all the major trade unions, including the National Union of Teachers, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers and the Educational Institute of Scotland as well as the Commission for Racial Equality, Marks and Spencer, Ford and the Body Shop.

But as far as the punters were concerned, the most impressive testimonial of all came from South African president Nelson Mandela. Although he could not be there on the day, he gave the festival his blessing in the festival programme: "Imagine this ... A day where people enjoy each other's culture and celebrate our common humanity ... I really hope you have the most wonderful day that will shine as a beacon of hope to show us what we can achieve when we put our hearts and minds to it."

What that "it" was, what the day achieved, will probably not enter the annals of activist folklore.

The event didn't have the bite of Rock Against Racism, but judging by the good nature and the relaxed mood of the many thousands of black, white and Asian people for whom multicultural Britain is their Britain, it was a day to look back on with very warm memories.

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