For most of its existence, since its founding in 2003, Unite Against Fascism (UAF) has done little or nothing. With no democratic structure, and few active branches, UAF is normally only visible around election times.
The UAF has no history of mass pickets of BNP events. Politically, it subsists on “Uniting everyone against the Nazis” — including government ministers and Tory politicians.
UAF has been successful in gathering up trade union support and money. Whilst remaining — obviously, ostentatiously — an SWP front, UAF has been endorsed and tolerated by union leaders as a convenient, tokenistic gesture. UAF affliation neither disturbs the unions’ kowtowing to the government, nor risks pulling them into radical action that might cause them embarrassment. The union bosses can continue to pretend they were fighting fascism — by giving great amounts of money to the UAF/SWP.
To spice up UAF a bit, on marches over the last few years, such as the RWB in 2008 and the Stoke demonstration after that, the SWP has engineeed fruitless minor confrontations with the police, usually miles from the BNP. The simple purpose seems to be to make the protests a little more exciting for possible SWP recruits who might attend, and to disguise the fact that UAF had put little work in preparing a more serious protest.
At this year’s RWB the SWP made a turn. They now seem to believe that more radical action on the streets will help them to relate to “angry youth”.
Sadly, rather than try to persuade UAF’s union sponsors that such action could be justified for reasons other than aiding SWP recruitment, the SWP has faced in two directions. At RWB they promised the local TUC that there would be no direct action, but organised it anyway.
Following this “turn”, we might have hoped that there was now a possibility of co-operation between UAF/SWP and local campaigns — but no!
At the one meeting that Weyman Bennett of the UAF attended, AWL members in the local Notts Stop the BNP group tried to coordinate a blockade of the RWB festival. We even outlined to Bennett the very same tactic later used by the UAF. No response.
UAF may now claim that it was just adopting the necessary secrecy to make their action effective. But organising effective anti-fascist actions cannot be the secret work of a fraction of the SWP.
What UAF did this year was far better than the UAF did last year — yes! But the turnout was insufficient to hold the streets for long. We need far larger turn-outs if pickets are to get close to doing what they need to do, and shut such events down!
Members and supporters of UAF should demand honesty from the near-as-damn-it unelected leaders of the organisation. They should demand that the UAF/SWP recognises that there are a lot more people “out there” prepared to physically confront the BNP, but they are not prepared to accept them as unelected, unaccountable leaders.
They should accept that democratic anti-fascist campaigns should be built in each locality, with the right to debate the right and wrong way of organising and not just be occasional appendages of the SWP.
They should demand discussion about whether it is right to call for a vote for just anyone — including Lib-Dem, Tory, UKIP — against the BNP.
A serious, united and democratic working-class anti-fascist movement is needed now. Let’s start a debate on the left about how to get such a movement. UAF certainly is not it.