Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/726/14856
The politics of fighting the racist EDL
A Waltham Forest Socialist Party member
"We Are Waltham Forest" (WRWF) campaigning group has been meeting regularly since it was discovered that the English Defence League is planning a march in Walthamstow on Saturday 18 August.
The EDL's choice of an area with rocketing unemployment and over-crowded housing is even more provocative since the large Muslim community will be celebrating the end of Ramadan on this date.
The EDL, a pernicious racist organisation that feeds off the desperate conditions of poverty and hopelessness, claims to be standing up for English workers, even, in a few cases, trying to support workers' protests over job losses.
In fact they are thugs. They act like a tool of big business, whose real aim is to ruthlessly create divisions amongst the working class, so that the 1% - the billionaires and millionaires - can rule without challenge and drive all workers' living standards even further into the dust.
It is ABC that racism can thrive in times of austerity unless it is effectively fought. Racist organisations explain poverty by pointing the finger at immigrants, whilst socialists point the finger at the bankers and the bosses' system, which raids the wealth of the country for their own pockets in a relentless orgy of greed.
It would seem, therefore, obvious that a fight against the EDL would go hand in hand with a fight against austerity.
Not one act
Defeating fascists is not one act, ie of blocking their path on a certain day - important though that is - but also, it is an urgent campaign to undermine and answer racist ideas; at the same time to win all workers to a socialist banner, and prepare now a real political alternative to the three main parties of the rich.
It is only a matter of time before the EDL, or another far right outfit, create a political party in Britain that will stand in parliamentary and council elections.
This process has happened in a very graphic way in Greece. The PASOK government let down the working class by behaving like a bosses' government and carrying through savage cuts.
The fascist Golden Dawn party exploited this situation and have now captured 7% of vote from less than 1% four years ago.
The Tories, on the foundations laid for them by New Labour policies, are creating similar conditions here. The struggle against cuts is central to the struggle against the far right.
One might imagine that this proposed march would give socialists in Walthamstow an opportunity to highlight the real culprits for the austerity cuts and how to fight them.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. The organisation heading this group is Unite Against Fascism (UAF), largely influenced by the Socialist Workers Party.
Their emphasis is on mosques and faith groups. This might be useful if the main thrust was a class appeal to Muslim workers in particular.
They also say that the trade unions are central to their campaign. However, their actions unfortunately tell us a different story.
At one of the earlier meetings of WAWF a motion from Waltham Forest Anti-Cuts Union was put forward:
The publicity surrounding this event could reinforce racial bigots from all communities, who, confused and mistaken, direct their anger at deteriorating living conditions, towards fellow workers, instead of at those who have caused all these problems, namely the bankers and the 1% rich and powerful, in whose interests the Con-Dem government operates.
We reaffirm the commitment of the Anti-Cuts Union to:
- Raise a campaign of ALL workers in a common struggle to stop ALL cuts to jobs and services locally, and
- Fight for the £750 billion in the vaults of the banks and big bosses to be put to use to provide a job on a living wage, and a home with an affordable rent for all.
We call on local trade unionists, community campaigners and workers of every heritage to join with us in a campaign to:
- Stop the EDL gathering in Walthamstow
- Help end the conditions of poverty and hopelessness that give rise to racism
The motion was overwhelmingly defeated, opponents claiming it was at odds with the WRWF declaration:
"The EDL is a racist and fascist organisation dedicated to attacking Asian people and Muslims. Islamophobia or bigotry against Muslims is as unacceptable as any other form of racism. Its aim is to divide us by making scapegoats of one community, just as the Nazis did with the Jews in the 1930s. Today they threaten Muslims. Tomorrow it could be Jewish people, Hindus, Sikhs, black people, lesbians and gay men, travellers or Eastern Europeans.
"The EDL have held countless demonstrations across the country, where they have rampaged through towns, attacking mosques, businesses and individuals. More recently, they have begun to attack peaceful demonstrations and multicultural and trade union meetings. Their leader, Tommy Robinson, who has a string of convictions for violence, appeared on a recent Channel 4 programme praising Anders Breivik, the fascist terrorist responsible for killing 76 people in Norway. Each time the EDL assemble, minorities and trades unionists are subjected to threats and racial/religious abuse."
At the end the speaker agreed it had been a good discussion, but it was "time to put politics to bed and get on with preparations for the march"! Since then, whenever we have raised similar issues, the strong message has come from UAF members, irritated by having to confront this point of view, that, yes, we are all against cuts, discussions about cuts are "fine for the trade union branch, but not here"!
Keep things simple?
The theory that apparently underpins the UAF fight-back policy is that the EDL are very bad people. They beat up Muslims and on occasions attack trade unionists.
Campaigners, on the other hand, want to reinforce peace, harmony with Muslims, and celebrate cultural diversity - all very laudable aspirations.
However, defeating fascists will require more than this. Appealing to cultural tolerance will not answer the rage of the kid with no job, or the family eking an existence on benefits.
The UAF keep repeating: "We want everyone against the EDL on one side of the line, and the EDL on the other." We understand how people new to mass struggle want to keep things simple.
But, whilst sounding attractive this policy is fraught with potential danger for the working class, and it is incredible that the SWP, who claim to be a Marxist party, are the leading force promoting this position. The reason it is potentially dangerous is that, from this declaration flows actions.
In particular this view has informed the selection of speakers at public meetings. From the Anti-Cuts Union and the Socialist Party we have made it clear that all are welcome in the campaign, even councillors and MPs.
They are welcome if they want to attend campaign meetings, leaflet on the streets, or even link arms on the counter-demo.
But when it comes to offering them a platform with no other speakers prepared to confront them, it is a different story.
Imagine the reaction of black, white and Asian workers who have lost their council jobs when they see the very same councillors - who disgracefully carried through government cuts without a pipsqueak of resistance - afforded a place at the top table where they can pontificate about good and evil!
One Labour councillor, when lobbied at the town hall to vote against £65m worth of cuts, gasped: "Oppose them? I am the one proposing them!"
Imagine the reaction of public sector workers to an MP who refused to back their strike to stop the pensions robbery; or the MP who refused to intercede with councillors from his own party to do something to help stop sackings of council workers.
The UAF think that these people can be invited, with a grudging proviso that they can be called to account only "where possible".
We have had experience of this attitude in a previous hospital campaign, where similar leaders were given a platform without any criticism.
We say if they are on a platform we will use any opportunity to take them to task on this score.
Fight racism, fight all cuts
And further, by inviting such collaborators in cuts, the UAF then go on to compound their mistakes by firmly rejecting real local fighters on the ground.
A speaker from Youth Fight for Jobs, an organisation backed by seven major trade unions, was rejected - at a time when the TUC itself is positively embracing young workers in the fight-back.
The local TUSC candidate, who is a sacked library worker, and who is continuing the campaign to create an electoral political alternative for jobs and homes, was also rejected.
The London Transport Regional Organiser of RMT, Steve Hedley who has been instrumental in winning pay increases for workers of all backgrounds like the underground cleaners, and prising an Olympics bonus out of a ruthless private company for all tube staff, was amazingly not considered as worthy as a trendy Labour author!
It is hugely important that the trade unions, anti-cuts campaigns and the labour movement generally involve workers hailing from all countries and living in London to come together to defeat the EDL.
We appeal to all workers, black, white, Asian, East European to get to Walthamstow on 18 August. The EDL must be blocked.
However, it is just as urgent is to combine this battle with the fight in the unions to defeat this government who offer nothing but increasing austerity for years to come.
They are one and the same fight, not separate issues. Initially we in the Socialist Party felt uneasy that this group, first off the mark to spearhead the campaign to stop the EDL, chose a slogan so devoid of political or class content as "We Are Waltham Forest". Now we realise why such an anodyne slogan was chosen!
We hope, and will work for this campaign to address the issues of stopping all cuts as part of the fight to defeat racism.
There are many sincere and hardworking activists involved in the campaign. We might have expected that SWP leaders could have given their comrades on the ground more of a class understanding.
We hope that this non-political trajectory does not continue. It would not bode well for successful intervention in workers' battles in the future when the situation is likely to be even more serious.
Kick the racist English Defence League out of Bristol
Saturday 14 July
Anti-racist demonstrators meeting at 11am at The Fountains, Central Promenade, City Centre, BS1 4XG and Temple Meads Station Approach, BS1 6QF
In The Socialist 11 July 2012:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party editorial
Youth Fight for Jobs and Education feature
Workplace news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party reviews and comments
Socialist Party news and campaigns