Sam Morecroft and Chaz Lockett
A small group of BNP supporters gathered heavily out-numbered by anti-BNP protestors in London's Whitehall , 1 June 2013,, photo Paul Mattsson

A small group of BNP supporters gathered heavily out-numbered by anti-BNP protestors in London’s Whitehall , 1 June 2013,, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

On 8 June as many as 2,000 local people turned out to oppose the far-right English Defence League (EDL) marching in Sheffield.

In a national mobilisation 500-600 EDL supporters were desperate to expunge their humiliation the week before, when anti-racists stopped them entering Barkers Pool in Sheffield city centre.

The EDL were cynically exploiting the death of Lee Rigby, killed in Woolwich in May, to stir up racism and division.

But their mobilisation was vastly outnumbered by trade unionists, students and young people in a strong display of unity against racism.

The most visible street force, however, was the police. 1,000 officers were there from eight counties and police refused to allow counter-protesters to enter Barkers Pool and confront the racists.

Disrupt the EDL’s plans

The police could not clear a route through protesters for the EDL the previous Saturday, and were determined to obstruct any attempts to confront the far right.

But with the huge number opposing the EDL, it would still have been possible to disrupt the EDL’s plans.

However, Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and One Sheffield Many Cultures made it far easier for the police to protect the EDL march.

Less than 24 hours before the march, they ditched demonstration plans, calling instead for a street party some way away. This dashed any possibility of a serious, organised opposition to the EDL.

Most activists were dismayed at the change and many tried to gain access to the square. But these alterations meant they entered Barkers Pool at different times and from different directions.

The police could stop them getting through, and the anti-racist mobilisation became divided around the city.

Under the SWP leadership the UAF fails to raise the need for a positive, class-based alternative to the far-right.

It insists on giving a platform to councillors carrying out draconian cutbacks to working class communities without any opportunity for anti-cuts activists to raise criticism. This approach will not provide a lead for militant, working class anti-racism.

Socialist Party members had many positive discussions with people keen to confront the EDL, and remain determined to argue for building genuine class-based anti-racist organisations.

Nazi-style salutes

As EDL marchers entered a fenced-off area around the War Memorial to lay their wreath, the EDL raised a Nazi-style salute, with outstretched arm and Churchill’s ‘V’ sign, to the memorial dedicated to those who died fighting in World War Two.

After they had been allowed to lay their wreath and were ushered back to the starting point of their route, some running battles between police, pockets of EDL and anti-racists broke out across the city.

Anti-racists and local youth prevented EDL members from entering Broomhall, an area with a significant Somali population. Outnumbered, the EDL were eventually driven away or kettled by police.

If the UAF had not bowed to pressure to turn the protest into a ‘celebration of multiculturalism’, another humiliation could have been inflicted on the EDL, further shattering their ridiculous claims to represent Britain’s ‘forgotten working class’.

Instead, chants of ‘Whose streets? Our streets!’ rang hollow.

Anti-racist activity must expose the EDL’s lies and show a way to fight austerity. Working people are disgusted at their current situation with living standards under attack in Foodbank Britain.

We must show that the cause of this misery is not immigrants or Muslims, mostly in similar or worse situations to ourselves.

Our enemies are the bankers, tax-avoiding fat cats, the Tories who are gutting public services and Labour councils smashing local libraries, children’s centres and youth services.

Confronting the EDL also requires building a mass, fighting, class-based political alternative to austerity and the system that breeds it.

Muswell Hill, London

Socialist Party members attended an emergency protest called less than 24 hours after the EDL-linked arson attack on the community centre in Muswell Hill, north London. Hundreds, many from the local area, attended this vigil.

The centre mainly serves the Somali population in the area, including hosting Islamic religious events.

John Reid, RMT union transport regional secretary, spoke about the need for working class opposition to racism and to austerity, which can lay the basis for division. John got a great response. Socialist Party leaflets and placards went down very well.

Ben Robinson