Anti-fascists tactics – What happened in Newport?

ON 24 October, Newport Communities Against Racism (NCAR) organised a rally of 600 local people against the far-right English/Welsh Defence League (E/WDL) that shut the League out of Newport.
Des Mannay, Newport SWP, subsequently sent the letter below to The Socialist to criticise publication of a letter sent by NCAR to Unite Against Fascism (UAF).
Dave Reid of Socialist Party Wales replies.

FIRST LET us congratulate all who attended, for a great victory over the Welsh Defence League (WDL) in Newport. Unfortunately important misinformation about the Unite Against Fascism (UAF) march against the E/WDL was put out publicly on facebook.

It was therefore disingenuous of the Socialist Party to republish an ‘open letter’, to UAF even though it had been removed from the Newport Communities Against Racism (NCAR) facebook group after a representative of South East Wales Race Equality Council (SEWREC) complained about the negative posts about splits.

There was pretence that the UAF march was a rival event – this is not true. It was a short, feeder march to join the demo in John Frost Square. Feeder marches are common – they happened in Manchester and Harrow without any accusations of disunity.

UAF, a well-respected Muslim group and SEWREC originally proposed a feeder march. The proposal was rubbished by NCAR, and the Muslim organisation withdrew from the campaign.

The facebook statements and further emails suggested it was not safe for Muslims to march. This could have conceded the streets to the fascists – had they turned up. The march showed our support for the Muslim community and encouraged Muslims and others to join in protest against the Nazi thugs.

Hundreds were on the UAF march from Pill [a district of Newport – editors] – which became the main focus of local press coverage. This included students from the local university, the executive of the local lecturers union, members of various PCS branches including the local passport office, Stonewall Cymru, Torfaen Trades Council, members of Unison and the RMT, and of course an impressive turn out from the local Muslim community; which had requested a march in the first place. There were also a number of politicians present – including Labour AM John Griffiths and Bob Bright; Labour group leader.

We had a great reception from shoppers clapping us – shaking hands – and joining along the way. We were also welcomed to John Frost Square by people lining up to applaud the feeder march as it entered the square. As one observer stated, “In the morning the police had forced the NCAR rally into a small corner of the square but by the end of the afternoon the crowd had taken over the whole square”.

To be sure, our various groups had different responses to fascism. These different responses converged in John Frost Square like the fingers of a mighty fist…. Or at least a two fingered salute to the morons.

Des Mannay (Newport SWP)

DES MANNAY’S letter raises important points. Hundreds of working class people took part in a very successful rally that dealt a serious blow to the far right in South Wales. But unfortunately this is despite the role of the leaders of Unite Against Fascism.

The Socialist was not ‘disingenuous’ in issue 598 to publish a letter passed unanimously by NCAR to UAF criticising the UAF’s decision to organise a rival march to the NCAR rally against the W/EDL.

NCAR was set up as a broad response to the calling of the W/EDL protest. NCAR included Socialist Party members, SWP members, trade unionists, environmentalists, ana-rchists, representatives from Newport’s Muslim community, local residents, religious leaders and representatives of the South East Wales Race Equality Council (SEWREC).

Inevitably there was a diverse range of views at the meetings, but a clear majority opposed the idea of a march and supported the idea of a rally in John Frost Square.

Suddenly, out of the blue, NCAR dis-covered that the UAF/SWP had organised a march to John Frost Square without consulting, or even informing, NCAR.

The SWP claimed the march was organised in response to concerns from the Young Muslim Community Organisation and SEWREC. But these concerns were merely used as pretexts for the SWP to organise the march.

SEWREC did not take part in the UAF march but concentrated on making the rally in John Frost Square a success. Nor did the young Muslims, who had expressed concerns about the danger of confrontation with the W/EDL and its ramifications for Muslims in Newport if the rally in John Frost Square went ahead.

Des’s claim that the UAF march was a feeder march is itself ‘disingenuous’. If it were so why did no UAF representatives participate in the NCAR to inform us of their ‘feeder’ march?

Few local people joined the UAF rival march – the bulk of their march was made up of UAF members bussed in from outside Newport and was clearly outnumbered by the NCAR rally in the square. Wales TUC put its full weight behind the NCAR rally and instructed its members to go directly to John Frost Square – effectively bypassing the UAF.

A large contingent of local youth from Pill, where the UAF march began, did not join their march but later joined the NCAR rally, swelling the numbers in the square. UAF/SWP stewards’ attempts to lead chants to drown out NCAR speakers also came to nought.

Socialist Party members will continue to campaign with UAF and many other organisations against racism and fascism. But the SWP leadership in UAF needs to accept that it is one of many anti-fascist organisations and that, without betraying any principles, there has to be an honest and fraternal spirit of co-operation between them to allow a united response to far-right organisations.

Dave Reid, Socialist Party Wales