Hundreds of anti-fascist protesters blocked the English Defence League from having a free run of Bradford today, taking on and battering the most militant racists – despite no support from Hope Not Hate, Unite Against Fascism or the leadership of the local labour movement. We proved that it was right to counter-demonstrate against the EDL.
Hope Not Hate, Bradford TUC and the city council held a cultural festival miles outside the city centre – attended by less than a hundred and fifty people and described by one visitor as “more councillors than human beings”. (The police threw left-wingers out because it was “not supposed to be a political event!”) Five hundred UAF and SWP members gathered in Exchange Square, to listen to hip hop and hear speeches urging “respect” for the police and praising Tory Home Secretary Theresa May for banning the EDL’s attempts to march. Meanwhile many hundreds of people, a mix of leftists (mostly unaffiliated - the only two visible groups were the AWL and Workers Power) and self-organised youth, mostly Asian, rallied and counter-demonstrated, without police permission, metres from the EDL protest.
There were far fewer EDLers than the racists had predicted – about eight hundred, not the many thousands they boasted they would have. They shouted chants including "Allah is a paedo" and "We love the floods" (a reference to the disaster in Pakistan).
When a group of one or two hundred broke out from the EDL demonstration to rampage around the city, they got a nasty shock. Most of the counter-demonstration chased them through town before trapping some of them in Forster Square railway station and giving a few a good kicking.
We received reports that attempts to attack a local mosque were also beaten back, and that some of the EDL coaches were stoned and had their tyres slashed.
Even as it was, with the dominant forces in the labour and anti-fascist movements working with community and religious leaders to prevent a counter-demo, we gave the racists a seriously hard time. We don’t care about the imams, police and Blairite councillors. But trade unionists and socialists who did not even join the counter-demonstration once it began should be deeply ashamed of themselves.
In contrast, supporters of the Stop Racism and Fascism network, including AWL members, argued for a counter-demonstration in the city centre from the very start. Bradford United Against Racism went door-to-door, mainly in Asian areas of the city, working to get people out. We are not pretending that the protest was organised by us; but we do feel proud that we argued for it and played a full role in it on the day. Ironically, the ban on marching praised by UAF speakers was also the reason why many Stop Racism and Fascism activists were stopped from leafleting by police, in some instances being threatened with arrest.
Events in Bradford demonstrated vividly the necessity of challenging UAF and Hope Not Hate’s stranglehold over anti-fascist activity, particularly in the labour movement. Both campaigns have once again shown themselves to be profoundly inadequate – in their lack of class politics and their advocacy of reliance on the police. As an absolute minimum, we need to insist that it is right to counter-demonstrate against militant racists and fascists - just as right as it was in the 1930s and 1970s. We would urge trade unionists and local anti-fascist campaigners to back and get involved in Stop Racism and Fascism.
Part of this is building links with workers and youth Asian and Muslim communities at the sharp end of the fascist and racist threat. The demonstration in Bradford today was largely an amalgam of distinct elements: the only common chant was “Black and white, unite and fight – smash the EDL” (and sometimes only the second part); most of the Asian youth did not take up leftist chants, and chauvinistic comments against EDL members and sexist chants including against female police officers were heard repeatedly. The fact that hundreds of youth defied self-appointed community leaders to challenge the EDL on the streets is positive. But the left, which is largely white, has to stop treating Asian people as an ‘other’ that can only be organised on the basis of religion or communalism, and make the arguments for working-class unity and anti-capitalist struggle.
Don’t let the SWP lie about what happened!
Predictably, the bourgeois media is reporting clashes between the EDL and... UAF. We expect such ignorance from them. But we should not allow UAF itself, or the SWP, to lie about what happened on the day. We raise this because they have done so, many times, in the past.
There were, at most, a dozen SWPers on the counter-demonstration – and not on the front-line – while hundreds obeyed the police - or more to the point the central committee - and stayed in the square. Comrades, ask yourself why your organisation behaves like this – and then ask your organisers and leaders!