While the 14 July mobilisation of anti-fascists to oppose the rally in support of former EDL leader Tommy Robinson was significantly better than that on 9 July, it was still smaller than that of Robinson’s supporters.
Some 5,000, many part of an organised far right gathered in Whitehall.
Around 3,000 anti-fascist marchers were initially split into two contingents, the majority meeting at the starting point organised by Stand Up to Racism. Others congregating near Waterloo were organised by London Anti-Fascists. The two groups merged on Parliament Street (the approach to Whitehall). However the police stopped the anti-fascists from getting anywhere near Robinson’s rally.
The pro-Robinson rally was addressed by a rogues’ gallery of the international far-right, including Geert Wilders by videolink. It was compared by former Nigel Farage special advisor and Breitbart London editor Raheem Kassam.
The right-ward shifting UKIP had their leader Gerard Batten address the crowd. In a rambling speech that incorporated vicious anti-Muslim bigotry he also compared Tommy Robinson to Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. Supporters of the right pan-European group Generation Identity and people declaring support for Trump mingled with an increasingly inebriated, overwhelmingly male crowd.
While the protest was ongoing a more serious attack occurred on a group of RMT members who had gone from the demo to a nearby pub. Several members, including Senior Assistant General Secretary Steve Hedley, were attacked with tables and glasses. Fortunately no one was seriously injured but it underlies the fact that the far right will seek to attack and intimidate the labour movement as part of their strategy.
Earlier in the day a bus was stopped by Parliament Sq and held up while far right thugs shouted, and waved placards and flags at the hijab-wearing bus driver.
The far right plan to hold these demonstrations every month until Tommy Robinson is released. Those demonstrations may dwindle in size but we should not rely on that happening. The far right have serious financial backing and the support of the international far right, including within the Trump administration.
The global connections of this movement are growing and have been bolstered by Trump and a growing network of alt-right figures across Europe and the USA. The Middle East Forum a “counter-jihad” organisation based in the US and counted as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre has said it helped organise and funded both this demonstration and the 9 June.
The lessons for the labour movement and left are clear. We need to crank up our mobilisation and quickly. The turn-out on 14 July was still disappointing from many major unions; only a handful of local Labour Parties tried to mobilise.
Activists in the RMT committed its Annual General Meeting to mobilise members both against Trump and the far-right; we need that kind of commitment in every union, nationally and locally and in every Labour Party.
Senior union officials signing statements and letters is not enough.
They must turn out members and provide political education on why the labour movement must oppose fascists when they take to the streets.
Attacked by far right thugs
By an AWL supporter
By an AWL supporter
I and another comrade left the counter-protest when we felt things were winding down, and met other comrades for a drink.
When we got to the pub our friends told us they had seen the final flurries of a serious attack on RMT members, including on Steve Hedley in a pub nearby.
Shortly afterwards, a group of around eight men came round the corner, saw us and came towards us. They had been drinking and were looking for a fight. I learnt from our comrades that this was the same group they’d seen attacking RMT people.
Our group was a mix of men, women, young and old people, many of them Labour Party activists, and we were by no means prepared for a confrontation.
One of the “Free Tommy” lot grabbed a banner pole.
Miraculously, one of our number managed to wrestle it off him before he could do any damage. Very shortly afterwards the attackers retreated due to the simultaneous arrival of the main anti-fascist march and the police.
The man with the pole got beaten by anti-fascists and then arrested. We are very lucky things didn’t turn out much worse. We need to be more prepared.