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From The Socialist newspaper, 24 March 2010

Far-right EDL outnumbered in Bolton, police try to even the odds!

When the far-right English Defence League (EDL) brought their racist bandwagon to Bolton in Greater Manchester on Saturday 20 March they were significantly outnumbered by anti-EDL protesters. Unfortunately, the disgraceful role of Greater Manchester Police meant that police violence dominated the day.

Socialist Party members, Greater Manchester

The BBC claims there were about 2,000 protesters on each side but this is possibly an over-estimation, certainly on the EDL side. The police barred anti-EDL protesters who arrived on coaches from other areas from reaching the demonstration. But as a result of the counter protests, the EDL left dispirited.

Reports indicate 74 arrests, mainly of anti-EDL protesters. At least two anti-EDL protesters were hospitalised by police, while an elderly WW2 veteran was knocked flying by riot police, and a retired council worker was floored and battered with truncheons.

Prior to the demonstration local groups worked together to formulate a plan of action and to organise stewards. The plan was to occupy Victoria Square and prevent the EDL from holding their rally.

It appears that the police decided to help the EDL by assigning them half the square, despite promises by the council that anti-fascist demonstrators would have access to the entire square. Heavy-duty barriers and cordons enforced this.

At around 11am the police allowed a small contingent of EDL supporters into the anti-EDL area and refused to eject them. Local stewards evicted the EDL, who retreated a small distance down a nearby street where the police allowed them to remain, taunting anti-fascist protesters. This situation was worsened by the SWP-dominated Unite Against Fascism (UAF) who established their own PA system from which they sought to instruct their own stewards. There was no attempt to coordinate with the local stewards.

Typical of police behaviour on demonstrations against the far-right, the police appeared to be more concerned about containing and attacking anti-EDL protests than dealing with the racists. The police later brought in dogs, horses, reinforcements and snatch squads, penning in or 'kettling' the demonstration, and brutally attacked it for the rest of the day.

Protesters were further angered when heavily armed riot police with dogs broke through the anti-fascist lines to arrest UAF/SWP members Martin Smith and Weyman Bennett. Many other activists were snatched, including two Socialist Party members, released hours later without charge. Legal observers and solicitors acting for the anti-racists did excellent work throughout the day and night.

Class-based approach

In the Socialist Party leaflet, which was very well received on the demonstration, we explained that: "Youth against Racism in Europe (YRE) built a huge movement in the 1990s which pushed back the BNP for years, through mass action by young people and workers under the slogan of 'Jobs, homes and services - not racism!'

"We organised community defence against racist attacks... That is the kind of organisation we need to rebuild... Anti-fascists have to answer the problems faced by working-class people, such as unemployment, low pay and poor housing..."

When mobilising support prior to the anti-EDL demonstration Socialist Party members in Greater Manchester raised this kind of approach and will continue to do so in the debate among activists about where we go next. We contributed to the stewarding and are serious about opposing the far-right with mass demonstrations. However, a mass movement cannot be built without putting forward the kind of class-based slogans YRE used, especially in the current economic situation.

We also pointed to the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) and Youth Fight for Jobs as the kind of initiatives which can provide real answers and a real alternative.

TUSC should be raised within anti-racist campaigns to show that working class struggle is needed to deal with social problems and to put a real political alternative to the far right. Such an approach could significantly undercut the far right and deter it from street mobilisations.

Eye-witness report

"First of all on our side it was a disciplined demonstration. It's being portrayed in some of the press as an anti-fascist riot and that the police were the good guys but that just wasn't the case.

"There were several attempts by the police to drive us from Victoria Square and there was an awful lot of police brutality, including punching and kicking of protesters. And there were a lot of police dogs there as well.

"One person on our coach got arrested by the police for shouting something at them about protecting the EDL. They gave him an 80 fixed penalty notice, which he is disputing. This was on our way back to the coach."

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