AROUND 200 thugs of the far right English Defence League (EDL) came to Manchester last Saturday to stir up racial conflict in the city. This number grew during the day, to up to 600, as police escorted more EDL members into Piccadilly Gardens in the city centre. This gave confidence to the EDL and they acted in a more militant fashion as the day went on.
At least 1,500 anti-fascists, including members of the Socialist Party, opposed them. Among those against the EDL were college and university students and working class young people, part of which was an important mobilisation from Salford.
There were also anti-racist football fans, including a contingent of FC United supporters, (the fans' owned club that was set up as a protest against Malcolm Glazer's private takeover of Manchester United in 2005). More local working class people turned out to confront the EDL than participate in their racist march.
An active minority of Asian youth participated in the protests. However, many felt that it was a lower turnout from the Asian community than expected. This is at least partly the responsibility of Muslim elders who told their youth to stay away from any protests.
But it also reflects an element of a siege mentality now felt in Muslim communities. One Asian youth who did not go to the protest said earlier in the day: "If we turn up we will only be portrayed as terrorists and we do not want that."
The police were hell bent on ensuring the EDL could have their protest. Horses, dogs and riot police were used against peaceful demonstrators. A number of protesters got bitten by police dogs. The police did not care about the safety of innocent bystanders either, at times putting parents with children at risk from being trampled by a horse.
An anti-racist football fan raised a legitimate question: "We know how fast the police can act against football fans, how they can shut down entire towns if they want, how they can keep hundreds of people from entering a town in the first place. Why have they not done so with the EDL?" Some anti-fascists also support the idea of state bans against groups like the EDL.
However, the Socialist Party believes that this measure would also be used by the state to stop working class people, trade unionists, etc, from organising protests against government policies, etc.
EDL were the outsiders that day, having clearly no local roots apart from a tiny number of confused hooligans. However, there were signs that militant far-right groups have started targeting the football match-going youth for recruitment again.
The EDL claim that they are not a racist and far right organisation. Their Manchester appearance proved different. Many in the EDL contingent repeatedly gave Nazi salutes.
The openly far-right appearance of the EDL disgusted many working class people. An angry group of women shoppers chasing a group of EDL members, shopping bags in hand, will remain one of the more memorable pictures of the day!
The day showed both the potential and the current inadequacies of the anti-fascist movement. There is a new generation of youth who want to go out and actively confront any racist threat. However, the current official anti-fascist organisations are not equipped to build on this potential. This is due to their reliance on the police and the pro-capitalist parties, including Labour.
Many youth that day were clearly anti-capitalist. A discussion has started among sections of those who were there about how to move things forward and how to build organisational structures that can both counter the growth of the far right but also take up the issues that concern working class people such as jobs, homes and services.
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