Steve Cohen 1945-2009

Tributes - Steve Cohenoriginally published: 26th March 2009

The anti-racist movement has lost one of its foremost fighters.

Steve Cohen was not the easiest of men or the least controversial of campaigners, but he has left behind him a host of tangible achievements that few can rival.

Unusually for today, he extended his notion of personal oppression, as a Jew, into an understanding of the racist treatment of all migrants in a globalised world. And, yet more unusually, he married theory and practice.

In 1983 Steve was one of the first to suggest in the UK the surreptitious emergence of a form of anti-Semitism on the Left and, though I could not agree with many of his interpretations in the pamphlet That’s funny you don’t look anti-Semitic (he was always one for a jokey aside), it was certainly a brave broadside.

But it was in the field of fighting immigration controls that Steve’s legacy really should be celebrated. Numerous individuals from Nasira Begum and Anwar Ditta to Viraj Mendis and Florence Okolo owe much to his campaigning and even to the fact that we remember those names even today.

What he realised very early on when working (he was a trained barrister) at the North Manchester Law Centre was the need to combine community campaigns with the legal battle. It was this understanding that led him to help establish and coordinate the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit for many years.

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