On 10 October, the far-right English Defence League got more than 500 people onto the streets of Manchester, and had more or less a free run of the city centre. That set a very dangerous precedent.
Estimates of the number of anti-racist protesters differ. There were many outside the 400 or so cordoned into Piccadilly Gardens by police, but those outside were unorganised. Photographs taken from local skyscrapers make claims of 2,000 anti-racists difficult to credit.
There was little presence from trade unions, ethnic minorities, and even the Asian community. The anti-EDL mobilisation was mostly one of leftists and students.
By the end of the day, the EDL:
• Had marched through a mile of busy city streets, with chants like “Muslim bombers off our streets”, intimidating and threatening both people of ethnic minorities and anti-racist shoppers and town workers.
• Had pulled in not many young and not-so-young hooligans.
• Had attracted to them other young people who may initially think that the EDL are not racists but who are excited by their street activity.
The opposition to the EDL on the day, organised by Unite Against Fascism (UAF), had been corralled to half of Piccadilly Gardens. Outside there was no organised anti-racist presence.
Meanwhile gangs of hooligans, making their way to join up with the other EDL supporters, circled the northern areas of the city centre, eventually starting a well-organised march with dozens of placards. They linked up finally with the initial EDL contingent that had established themselves in Piccadilly Gardens soon after midday. All finally marched down to Victoria Station from where they were bussed out. By that time they had grown to more than 500.
There can be no room for complacency about our response to the planned EDL demonstrations in Leeds on 31 October and Nottingham on 7 December.
Fascist websites and discussion lists show not only competitive envy and hostility to the EDL, but also a belief that the older and more established organisations could and should do the same sort of thing. Now the National Front and eventually the BNP may again take to the streets. In Leeds and Nottingham, in every town, working-class activists must organise serious counter-protests.
Activists should not ask the police to ban the EDL. Appeals for police bans disorganise those who should be mobilising and not lobbying. When they “succeed” in getting a ban, as in Luton, the ban leads to the same restrictions on anti-racists as those who they oppose. And the EDL and other fascists are capable of defying it. Activists must make connections in working class communities, explain the nature of the racist organisations we face, and promote activities based on class answers to the problems of working-class youths rather than racist or communalist ones.
A campaign has to inform and explain what the EDL is about.
We need to physically confront fascists and violent racists to stop them organising and linking up with naïve and alienated working-class youths.
We should not just champion the status quo. Anti-racist protests shouldn't just “celebrate multi-culturalism”. They should build multi-racial working class unity for democracy and against the injustices in society; especially racism, but also for rights for women, for gays, and for working-class people denied jobs and housing. We should defend individual rights to practise religion, but not defend political-Islamic clerical fascism, Sharia law, etc.
An anti-racist organisation should be well informed about what the EDL are doing.
The lack of effective stewarding, information gathering and thought-through organisation of the UAF counter mobilisation in Manchester indicates that the organisational base of that mobilisation was too narrow.