The Socialist 13 June 2018 |
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15,000 on far-right march
Build an anti-racist workers' movement
Socialist Party members on the anti-'Free Tommy Robinson' demo 9 June, photo London Socialist Party (Click to enlarge)
Paula Mitchell, London Socialist Party
Social media and the press are full of images of clashes with police and Nazi salutes from the 9 June 'Free Tommy' Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA) march. It was called in support of jailed former-EDL (English Defence League) leader Tommy Robinson.
Many people are very alarmed at the size of their demonstration, with estimates of 15,000. The counter-demonstration called by Stand Up to Racism, which faced them on Whitehall behind police lines, was small.
There is no question that when any far-right organisation tries to get a foothold they must be countered. Where they organise they can give confidence to a racist minority to carry out racist attacks. Following a DFLA march in Leeds, a mosque and a Sikh temple were set on fire.
Tommy Robinson's jailing for contempt of court - filming defendants and posting comments while a trial was in progress - is potentially pulling together racists and fascists. They had been in disarray after defeats of the British National Party (BNP) electorally and by community mobilisations against the EDL.
But the people demonstrating were not all 'fascists'. A lot of them are football fans, some thugs, but a lot of them are also angry young working class men, deeply alienated by austerity and by decades of capitalist neoliberal policies of cuts and privatisation, low pay, poor housing, and a hollowing out of decent jobs.
Where there were well paid manufacturing jobs in the past, there are now zero-hour contract, minimum wage service jobs. Where there were council homes there are now high-rent private sector homes.
They have been betrayed by all the establishment politicians. In particular abandoned by the betrayals of Blairite New Labour that has pursued pro-capitalist policies of cuts, privatisation and austerity-lite in councils up and down the country and in government.
As rail union RMT assistant general secretary Steve Hedley correctly said on the counter-protest, it is essential to build an anti-racist workers' movement that fights for jobs, for council homes, for pay, benefits and decent public services. A programme to unite and mobilise working class people.
Jeremy Corbyn's anti-austerity manifesto began to do that job. A million previously-Ukip voters switched to vote Labour in the 2017 general election.
But as long as Labour councils continue with Tory austerity, slashing essential services, large numbers of working class people will feel nothing has changed. Similarly, it is essential that Corbyn supporters organise to deselect the Blairites who continually undermine Corbyn in order to strangle his policies. These are the same politicians responsible for the betrayal over the last years.
Many people who have seen the social media coverage will be alarmed at the size of the Free Tommy demo. They could be put off participating in small counter-protests that rely on the police for their defence. Police who on other occasions have been used to kettle students, snatch protesters from crowds, and force anti-racist protests off the streets to allow the far right to march.
However, if the far right attempt to invade a local community, rather than just skulking in city centres, it is essential that we fight for a massive mobilisation of the community to defend itself. The Socialist Party has played an important role in organising such community protests against the EDL in Waltham Forest, Leicester and elsewhere.
The protests played an important role - not just in protecting working class communities but in demoralising and defeating the EDL. The same was true of the defeats of far-right organisations such as the BNP and National Front.
The trade unions can be crucial in this. With an energetically built campaign in the workplaces they can mobilise members. They can provide crucially-needed stewarding - instead of just relying on the police to keep people safe.
Workers have power. Imagine the effect if transport workers closed stations and refused to drive transport.
And the trade unions can not only mobilise people to counter a far-right march, but crucially they can hold out hope and an alternative to those small numbers of people who may be attracted to far-right ideas.
Up to 15,000 marched to 'Free Tommy' on 9 June. But in March 2011 750,000 marched under the banner of the TUC when people believed the trade unions were going to fight austerity.
If the trade unions mobilised with energy and with clear demands to fight for jobs and homes and to kick out the Tories, we'd have hundreds of thousands on the streets.
Many trade unions donate money to Stand up to Racism. But instead of franchising the struggle out to other campaigns, it is time for the left trade unions to act.