anti-EDL demo shows urgent need for AntifascismTagged as: anti_edl anti_fascism anti_racism migration repression social_struggles workers_struggles
Neighbourhoods: boar_lane city_square headrow leeds library ls1
On Saturday 31 October the fascist English Defence League held another racist rally against Muslims with hundreds of EDL supporters causing havoc in the gay district of Leeds. They did so despite over a 1,000 anti-fascists holding a rally nearby – a clear majority of whom wanted to march against the EDL and stop their rally. So, what went wrong?
(repost of http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2009/11/441055.html )
The antifascist counter-demonstration on Saturday 31 October began with feeder marches from the Harehills and Hyde Park areas of the city.
The Hyde Park march in particular was strong in numbers and determination as 350 college and university students along with local youth chanted loud antiracist slogans on their way into town.
But as with the previous anti-EDL demo in Manchester, which took place on 10 October, community leaders had organised a massive campaign to discourage youth from joining the anti-fascist demonstration.
A facebook group was set up called “DO NOT GO TO THE EDL DEMO TOMORROW – nothing but blood will be shed!”
Some Asian youth on the demonstration told Workers Power that the mosques had even gone so far as to organise a trip to Alton Towers theme park to keep young people away.
“Our community is under attack”, one young protester said, “and our leaders are telling us not to defend ourselves”.
Unite Against Fascism (UAF) first tried to lobby for the police to ban the Leeds EDL march, with the list of signatories including Socialist Workers Party (SWP) member Sally Kincaid.
In the past, this tactic has seen the police prohibit antiracist marches whenever the fascists have been banned. In the run up there had been a lot of argument in the local anti-fascist movement over the letter. Many comrades, including some from the SWP, correctly identifying the problems inherent in such a tactic, because it fosters illusions in the idea the state can stop the rise of the fascist menace when in truth it is down to us to build a mass antiracist and antifascist movement.
On the day protesters were in high spirits. This was despite repressing policing as the Hyde Park march entered the city centre. Pushing and shoving took place as police attempted to forcefully channel protesters away from the EDL and into a pen with a Unite Against Fascism rally.
The police crushed several antifascists in the process and confiscated flags and placards. They were clearly going to defend the EDL march and rally at all costs. This is not surprising for socialists and anti-fascists with any experience of such protests – the police will invariably deal out the most repression to the anti-fascist radicals while defending the fascists.
But crucially on the Leeds demonstration, hundreds of people who had joined the march wanted to defend themselves and saw the need to break the police lines if we were to march on the EDL.
The force of numbers was there; the militancy and determination to fight was there; so what was missing – why did the EDL rally unchallenged? In two words: appalling leadership.
Enemy of striking bin workers speaks on UAF platform
The Hyde Park feeder march received warm cheers and applause from those at the rally as it arrived, but the rest of the day was to be marked by a lack of action.
Principally to blame for this were the UAF stewards and in particular SWP member and leading UAF organiser, Weyman Bennett.
The rally became increasingly frustrating as speaker after speaker spoke on the microphone when lots of protesters knew that just round the block, the EDL were demonstrating unopposed – the frustration became unbearable when news that the EDL were moving to break out of their police cordon reached the UAF rally.
The proverbial “straw that broke the camels’ back”, was when a Lib Dem councillor was invited to speak. The Lib/Con run city council is in a battle to smash the pay and conditions of city refuse workers who have been on strike for two months.
REVOLUTION and Workers Power members shouted, “support striking workers!” with many others joining in. Quite incredibly, SWP member and UAF steward Hanif Leylabi retorted angrily, “You don’t have to be in favour of strikes to be against fascism!”
In one line Leylabi had summed up the bankruptcy of the UAF strategy. Instead of developing a militant, class struggle movement that can link the fight against the far right to the battles to stop the working class pay for the crisis, UAF and Leylabi are determined to ensure the anti-fascists are seen as the defenders of the status quo: defending the same political mainstream that is attacking our jobs, our pay and conditions.
The EDL and BNP are growing because many people quite mistakenly see them as a radical alternative to these mainstream parties. What message does it put across to have this councillor who is involved in a bitter struggle against a section of workers? Any of these workers who had sympathy for the BNP would see this as the perfect confirmation of their views. While work mates who had been challenging them would find it march harder.
Once again, we saw how UAF’s idea of unity is not one of working-class solidarity against racism and nationalism, but of populist unity: one struck between workers and the very same bosses that attack them day in, day out.
Militant anti-fascist challenge
Younger SWP members were becoming openly more ashamed and embarrassed of the UAF leadership as the day went on. Soon after chants of “We want to march!” and inaction by Bennett & Co, the pen was broken and several hundred protesters, including many SWP and REVOLUTION members charged towards the EDL rally.
Numbers were not quite sufficient to get there as police formed lines and led baton charges, but the challenge to the EDL was made visible, and the determination was there for all to see.
As protesters, outnumbered, went back to the city art gallery pen, Bennett was heckled when he welcomed the march. The marchers shouted at him, “Where were you?!”
There was more frustration as speeches went on, and even after the Harehills feeder march arrived at the art gallery, the momentum was lost. After more chanting to march, and heckling of rally organisers’ failure to lead action eventually led to Bennett asking for a show of hands on who wanted to demonstrate.
The overwhelming majority did and formed at the edge of the pen. But police refused protesters’ exit and then the most shocking thing of all happened.
UAF stewards worked with the police to push them back. Some Asian youth wearing yellow UAF jackets threw them off in disgust when they saw this take place.
UAF organisers planned to march later on with police permission, presumably after the EDL had left the city but it was clear to most people at this point that the opportunity had been missed as a result of appalling leadership. News came shortly after that groups of EDL thugs had broken off from their rally and were threatening Halloween partygoers in the Leeds gay district.
This disastrous result gave antifascists plenty of “food for thought” after the demo as discussions took place about the day’s events.
Lots of activists agreed that the Leeds EDL demonstration has shown concretely and decisively: that we need to form an Antifascist Defence League that is capable of taking on and defeating the EDL menace.
As for the EDL they've managed a repeat of Manchester with hundreds marching in the city centre.. They are a violent fascist organisation with the perspective to become a mass movement. But we can stop them if we make a 180 degree turn away from the bankrupt UAF strategy.
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