THE PROTEST against the far-right, racist British National Party’s “red, white and blue festival” in Derbyshire will go ahead on Saturday 16 August from 9am as planned. Hundreds are expected to participate, including residents from the surrounding areas and many trade unionists.
James Newton, Notts Stop the BNP
This is a major step forward from the situation last year when there was no organised protest and local residents had to register their objections and complaints individually. This year the BNP are under much more pressure and have been denied the easy cooperation they had from the police and local authority last year.
They have been refused a licence for selling alcohol and playing live music. Local residents told the Nottinghamshire Stop the BNP campaign (NSBNP) that this was entirely down to its campaign which had included a 60-strong protest and a formal objection (although ruled out) to the licence, and which led to objections too from East Midlands Unison and Derby UCU.
Trade union support for the campaign has been strong, particularly from East Midlands Fire Brigades Union and rail unions RMT and Aslef. The national RMT conference supported the NSBNP protest and the RMT national executive donated £1,000 to the campaign. The Aslef executive, a regional officer and two branches donated funds to sponsor a coach from Derby.
The police have invoked sections 14 and 14a of the Public Order Act for what we understand is the duration of the BNP’s event, which gives them enormous extra powers. It is rumoured they have cancelled all police leave in Derbyshire. They identified an ‘official’ protest area about 1.5 miles from the BNP site. Footpaths are being closed and anyone caught ‘trespassing’ will be subject to arrest.
To arrange such an exclusion zone is a denial of our democratic rights. The police aim to try to limit and control the anti-BNP protesters, and agreed with Unite Against Fascism (UAF) – who had announced their own separate protest – a march from the ‘official’ protest area to a place nearer the BNP site, though still almost a mile away from it.
In the interests of unity, NSBNP will support this march. The police also agreed with UAF that 30 people will be escorted to near the entrance to the site for a token protest and photograph opportunity, whilst the main body of the protest marches back.
THE STRONGEST opposition to the BNP festival would be a united protest, which Notts Stop the BNP has campaigned for over months. However the national UAF leadership, led by members of the Socialist Workers Party, chose not to cooperate with the local campaign, calling their own protest instead, and even, it appears, campaigning within the trade unions for support for the NSBNP protest to be withdrawn in favour of the UAF one.
There is justifiable anger in the local campaign that UAF has tried to elbow our campaign aside. NSBNP has made numerous attempts to contact UAF, including travelling down to its national conference in March and sending emails.
It was only on 25 July, after announcing their own protest that UAF was finally prepared to meet members of the campaign, but they did not make a commitment to holding a joint protest rally on 16 August. At the time of writing, NSBNP is still campaigning for a united protest and rally where both campaigns can have invited speakers.
On 8 August UAF negotiated arrangements for 16 August with the police without involving NSBNP. They arranged a protest assembly time of 11am and for the rally to conclude at 1.15pm. When NSBNP subsequently met with the police, the police stated that the protest could continue to 5pm, so it appears that the UAF (together with Midlands TUC) deliberately arranged a very short event.
Is this because UAF’s last-minute demonstration is more of a photo opportunity to gain media attention and justify the trade union resources they are given, than a serious attempt to oppose the BNP and build up solid, local anti-BNP campaigns?
Their actions are in contrast to the NSBNP protest which was called well in advance and has been publicised and built for consistently in the local area, amongst the trade unions and in the anti-racist movement.
To build a successful, strong campaign against the BNP, the anti-racist and union movement needs to consider whether the UAF is suitable for support. As well as its lack of cooperation with the local campaign, there are other questions to consider.
For instance, in order to keep the trade union-Labour relationship smooth, UAF does not raise that a major reason for growth in the BNP’s support is the alienation created by New Labour’s policies. Meanwhile we are suffering under those policies.