The opportunities for anti-fascists to meet and debate the issues facing us are few and far between. The need for such opportunities is intensified by the prospect of 400 British National Party candidates in the coming election and continued mobilisations by the anti-Muslim racists of the English Defence League.
Any honest assessment of the current state of anti-fascism would have to concede both the generally unconsidered failings and the massive potential for the movement.
These considerations were the starting point for a conference of anti-fascists and anti-racists in Nottingham on 27 March. Called by Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire Stop the BNP, the conference was attended by 50 delegates representing groups from south London, Liverpool, Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, Stoke, Manchester, Lincoln, Leicester and Nottingham itself. Others attended in an individual capacity and a delegation from London Transport Region RMT was particularly welcome at the event.
Delegates discussed the current state of anti-fascism, the BNP, EDL and the role of trade unions, and debated three motions covering the fight against the BNP, stopping the EDL, and, most important, the need for a new organisational structure for anti-fascists and anti-racists uncomfortable with and critical of Unite Against Fascism and Searchlight’s Hope Not Hate campaign.
As Dave Matthews from Notts Stop the BNP explained: “The failures of both UAF and Hope Not Hate to either function democratically or to address the real politics behind the growth in support for the BNP mean that current anti-fascism is ineffective. The recent anti-EDL mobilisation in Bolton, where anti-racists were kettled and brutalised by the police whilst EDLers roamed through the city, shows the inability of UAF to tackle this threat also.”
The meeting was united by determination to tackle the BNP’s fascist politics head on, and offer working-class politics as an alternative to race-hate.
Conference goers discussed the production of easily adaptable national leaflets for use by local groups, model motions to trade union branches spelling out the need for a working class approach, and an independent coordination at future anti-EDL demonstrations.
This work, conducted on the basis of sharing information and resources, acting democratically and in solidarity, forms the initial basis of the new network.
From such modest beginnings it is hoped that the network will grow and develop. One major aim should be to reach out to existing anti-fascist groups and help with the formation of new organisations. The formation of independent, more militant groups in both Glasgow and Edinburgh in opposition to the Scottish Defence League shows the potential reach.
The model adopted by Notts Stop the BNP could be more generally useful. Faced with the prospect of a BNP candidate in a small, working-class former mining village, activists from the campaign worked hard to organise and assist local residents into a campaign.
Rather than parachute activists into the village for an afternoon’s leafleting, the Nottingham group knocked on doors, helped locals call a meeting, and assisted them in producing materials. Such efforts, made just a few weeks before the election, were not enough. But had this work been conducted while the BNP candidate was fashioning herself into a “community shop steward”, things could have been very different.
The erosion and in places now-total absence of working class political organisation has given room for the fascists to grow. Whilst remaining realistic, the efforts of the new network could help foster the emergence of an alternative.
For more information on the conference, including motions and amendments discussed, and for updates see nottmstopbnp.wordpress.com.
Gary Lazell is an activist in the RMT:
“I came because I wanted to see how things were going across the country. Activists need to make contact with each other and discuss ideas about how to build and motivate people. Trade unions have to be central to that. In my area, the RMT is building a big anti-BNP meeting in Barking Theatre. You have to get out to the wider community and give people answers.”
Claire Reilly is from RMT East Ham branch:
“We need to coordinate nationally. Instead of having pockets of people working in a disconnected way, we need to unite around some common ideas and campaigning that moves beyond basic differences. Fundamentally it’s about giving people an alternative.”
Sean Redditch is a shop steward in the public sector union Unison:
“I’m active in fighting cuts in my sector; my union’s been incredibly slow to respond to those immediate issues, and anti-fascism is no different. I came to this conference to find out what’s going on; I’m a delegate from my union branch to UAF but I’m completely frozen out. There’s no open discussion or decision-making. I’m hopeful that something more open and democratic will result from today’s discussions.”
J is an activist in Unite, chair of the South London Anti-Fascist Group, and editor of TMPOnline.org:
“The situation is daunting and severe, the socialist left is divided and dwarfed in membership. Working class people are disenfranchised and angry with the free market economics consensus of New Labour, Tory and Liberal Parties. To stop the BNP, socialists must help those who are tempted to vote BNP in protest against neoliberalism. We need a working-class alternative, but before that can happen we first need a united, diverse, democratic and class conscious anti-fascist movement. The launch of this new network is welcome though a bit late. We have less than 40 days before the election. South London Anti-Fascist Group is organising communities against racism and fascism now and also will in future organise against Thatcherite cuts. Black and white must unite and fight!”
Pete Radcliff is a member of Workers’ Liberty and an activist in Notts Stop the BNP:
“For three years now, Notts Stop the BNP has grappled with the problem of how we relate to the existing national anti-fascist networks — Hope not Hate and, particularly, UAF. Undoubtedly, the major success of the conference was to seriously begin the task of organising a new national network of working class anti-racist campaigns.
In particular, the EDL provocations over the last year require us to think through how we can organisationally block this mobilisation of racists, whilst engaging and politically persuading those confused working-class youth who are attracted to them. This is a difficult task but the existing networks are clearly not up to either performing that task or even seeing the need for a debate.”