The Socialist 13 July 2006 |
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Fighting the far-right BNP
THE FAR-right British National Party (BNP) achieved significant
advances in the May 2006 local elections, where they won 33 more
councillors bringing their total to 55 nationally. Their gain of eleven
councillors in Barking and Dagenham hit the headlines most but this was
not an isolated development.
Andy Bentley, Stoke Socialist Party
Standing 23 candidates in Leeds, they received an average vote of
16%. In Sandwell, in the Black Country, their average was 33% across
seven wards. Nationally almost a quarter of a million people in total
voted for the BNP.
There are a number of reasons why the BNP made these gains. Firstly,
the idea pushed by the media that hundreds of foreign criminals were
"running amok" undoubtedly won them votes. Secondly, the revelation that
80% of people in Margaret Hodge's constituency had considered voting for
the BNP gave them a certain legitimacy and took away some of the stigma
of voting for a far-right party.
But the fundamental reasons for the growth of the far-right, racist
and populist BNP are the betrayal of working-class people by Blair's New
Labour government and the delay in the development of a new mass
workers' party which could give a class-based political opposition to
the onslaught of New Labour attacks on living standards, pay, conditions
and our communities.
A large element of the BNP vote is a protest vote against all the
three main parties and Labour in particular. But, by falsely claiming to
support the interests of "British, white" workers, they have built a
certain electoral base in some areas and are taking on the outlines of a
serious political force in the minds of a layer of workers.
For example, in Stoke, they received a significant vote in the
Euro-elections. In May 2005 in the mayoral election they doubled their
vote to 15,766 and in the general election scored an average 7.8% across
three constituencies. In local elections this May, they won three more
councillors with an average vote of 30% across seven wards bringing
their total to five councillors.
Whilst the increase in support for the BNP in the recent local
elections is a dangerous development, they also suffered some setbacks.
In Sunderland, in 21 of the 25 wards where the BNP had also stood in
2004 their vote went down. In Gateshead all eight BNP candidates got
lower votes than in 2004. In Kirklees their vote fell in 13 of the 15
wards where they had previously stood.
In Burnley they won one seat but with a lower vote than in 2004 and
in Oldham their vote was down in both wards where they stood in 2004. In
Calderdale their vote was down in all six seats which they had contested
in 2004, even in the seat which they won.
EVEN IN Stoke, alongside the growth in electoral support for the BNP
mentioned above, the Socialist Party has also increased its share of the
vote over the last three years from 3% to 12% and now up to 17% (from 61
votes in October 2003 to 508 in May of this year).
But even more significant is the growth in the authority and
influence of Stoke Socialist Party after playing an important and
sometimes key role in fighting alongside "white British workers" and all
workers in a number of industrial disputes. At a certain stage, this
factor will prove far more significant in winning the hearts and minds
of working-class people than the temporary electoral support being
gained by the BNP.
In the last few years, we have seen a small but significant growth in
workers taking action to defend their interests. An increase in class
struggle helps to cut across the growth of the far right and builds the
working-class unity necessary to defend living standards.
When First Bus drivers in Stoke took strike action, Czech, Polish and
Hungarian drivers stood alongside British drivers on the picket line.
Filipino and Indian nurses also marched on the marvellous 5,000 strong
march of NHS workers in Stoke on 29 April. In both cases a key role was
played by Socialist Party members in giving a lead and support to these
However, although it's generally true that industrial struggle of
this type as well as the conscious intervention of socialists will cut
across the growth of the far right, it is not an automatic process.
For example, some NHS workers facing the threat of redundancy at the
University Hospital of North Staffordshire, who took part in the march -
incensed at the betrayal of New Labour and with no serious alternative
in their area - voted for the BNP one week later in the local elections.
Similarly, some council workers who took one-day strike action only
weeks before the local elections still voted for the BNP, such is their
anger towards New Labour.
Character of the vote
WE NEED to understand the character of the BNP vote in order to cut
across the BNP's recent growth in support, particularly in working-class
areas. The outlook of working-class people is rooted in their daily
experience. Workers have suffered years of constant attacks on jobs, pay
Daily life in many areas has become increasingly difficult as a
result of the capitalist class' wholesale destruction of manufacturing
industry and the systematic decimation of services. Schools, youth
clubs, shops, cinemas, banks, libraries, etc have disappeared.
Many areas no longer have social clubs, pubs or post offices where
people can also meet socially. Even doctor's surgeries, dentists and
care homes have closed. Communities feel under siege from this
Many workers are totally repelled by the BNP's policies. But, mainly
by scapegoating asylum seekers and foreign workers, the BNP has gained
many votes as a protest against these worsening conditions. Clearly,
opposition to an influx of foreign workers or asylum seekers has an
element of racism and partly explains the increased vote for the BNP.
However, if for example, it was suggested that thousands of "British
white" workers from other parts of the country were to move to some of
these blighted areas then the reaction would not be much different. Many
people's attitude would be, "our services can't cope with people here
now. How can we cope with another thousand, wherever they are from?"
Cutting across BNP support
A KEY question therefore is how do we win these workers away from
supporting the BNP? Some anti-racists or anti-fascists concentrate on
denouncing the BNP as "racists, fascists and criminals" but this is no
longer sufficient to stem their growth.
Even when there was in the past a greater understanding about the
role of fascist organisations, it was still necessary for socialists to
use slogans and demands which dealt with the root causes of racism and
fascism, linked to the need for socialist change.
Others call for campaigns to "Smash the fascists" without explaining
how this applies for example to elected BNP councillors. Even if
"smashing the fascists" was successful in removing a BNP councillor it
would still not necessarily convince BNP voters not to vote for them
Of course, there are elements within the national and local
leadership of the BNP who are fascists and it is necessary to expose
clearly that one key role of fascism is to break up the unity of
workers' organisations. However, during the inter-war years fascists
like Hitler in Germany and Mussolini in Italy used electoral successes
to legitimise the power they had already built on the streets through
The BNP is not, at this stage, a paramilitary organisation which is
physically trying to break up the organisation of workers but is
primarily an electoral phenomenon. However, where fascists attempt to
carry out physical attacks in our communities we need to organise united
Despite the honest intentions and hard work of many anti-fascist
campaigners, neither will calling on workers to "Vote hope not hate" cut
across the increase in support for the BNP.
This is particularly the case in "British white" working class areas
where this in reality means carrying on the tradition of voting for
Labour whose policies are the reason why many more are turning to the
far right in elections in the first place. The use of
anti-racist/anti-fascist pop concerts, whilst playing a useful role,
again do little to counter the root causes of the growth in racist
Despite the divisive policies of the BNP offering no solution to
working-class people there is a danger that that they can become a
semi-permanent feature in Britain. They will be defeated not by vague
calls to "smash the Fascists", "Vote hope not hate" or by pop concerts
It is necessary to oppose Labour's anti-working class policies with
active campaigns which alleviate the problems faced by working-class
people in the workplace and communities and bringing together different
communities - asylum seekers, migrant workers, white working class and
ethnic minority workers - around a common struggle.
For example, fighting for local councils to agree budgets based on
the needs of the community instead of passing on government cuts, for an
increase in the minimum wage, to defend jobs, or for affordable housing.
New workers' party
THE TRADE unions have a key role to play in building the maximum
unity among workers. Most trade unions have anti-racist or anti-BNP
campaigns. But those trade unions who continue to hand over £millions to
finance Labour's neo-liberal onslaught on our jobs, pay, conditions and
living standards are funding a party whose policies are contributing to
the BNP's growth.
The fight within the trade unions to stop the financing of Labour
must be stepped up. This money should be used to finance instead a new
workers' party that can give a political voice to ordinary working class
people and an alternative to the policies of Labour, Tories and Lib Dems
who all represent the interests of big business.
IT IS vital to consistently expose how the BNP's defence of "British
white workers" is confined to empty words only. In Stoke this has been
proved on many occasions. For example, the BNP did nothing to help the
overwhelmingly "British, white" First Bus drivers when they were
striking for a minimum wage of £8 an hour.
In March 2006, the BNP councillors refused to vote for the Socialist
Party alternative council budget which would have ensured no cuts in
council workers' jobs or much-needed services. This is a strange way to
protect "British, white" working class people!
The BNP claim on their leaflets that they are, "the only party that
opposes the year on year rises in council tax", and it, "should only
rise by the rate of inflation". But, in Stoke, the BNP have twice voted
for council tax increases of 4.9% and refused to support the Socialist
Party alternative budget which would have ensured no rise in council tax
The BNP have played no part in the campaign to save the jobs of 1,200
NHS workers at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire (UHNS).
How could they when their divisive and racist policies could never build
the unity necessary to unite NHS staff which includes a variety of
nationalities and workers from different ethnic backgrounds.
When Socialist Party councillors, Dave and Paul Sutton forced the
Labour-controlled Council Scrutiny Commission to question Antony Sumara,
Chief Executive of the UHNS, in front of the media, no BNP councillors
even bothered to turn up to take their place on the Commission!
Nationally, the BNP did nothing to help millions of public sector
workers fighting the government's attacks on their pension rights. When
the firefighters were forced to take strike action in 2002 the BNP
demanded that they, "must be placed on the same level as military
personnel and police officers and forego... their ambiguous position of
using strike action".
In other words, the BNP would act as strike-breakers by denying the
rights of firefighters and other public sector workers to take effective
action to defend or improve living standards!
Countering the BNP's programme
GIVEN THE growth of the BNP it is also necessary to expose their
programme in more detail to demonstrate the blind alley which it
represents. For example, in their "What We Stand For", the BNP use
radical-sounding policies which in reality if implemented would do
nothing to solve the fundamental problems faced by working-class people.
The section on the "Economy - British workers first" says, "we will
restore our economy and land to British ownership". But, "British
ownership" of our economy hasn't prevented British bosses sacking
British workers by the million in the past. British bosses have also
carried out a remorseless attack on the jobs, pay and conditions of
British and other workers in the recent period.
British Prime Minister, Churchill used British troops against British
workers taking strike action. British Tory Prime Minister, Margaret
Thatcher, mobilised all the forces of the British state in an attempt to
starve British miners back to work in 1984-85. Successive British
governments since have conducted a crusade against public-sector jobs,
pay, pensions and are trying to privatise our public services like the
NHS and education.
The fatal flaw in their policy of "British" ownership of the economy
is that it ignores the fundamental class differences within any
capitalist society like Britain. The capitalist market system itself
means all workers are locked into a daily struggle for a share of the
profits produced by their labour. The nationality of the bosses or
representatives of big business who exploit them makes no fundamental
The struggle of working-class people and increasingly a layer of the
middle class brings them into conflict with the capitalist system itself
and its representatives who dominate and control society in their own
interests. Their struggle is not against this or that nationality but
against the capitalist ruling class.
Every worker knows that without maximum unity effective struggles are
not possible to defend jobs, pay, conditions or our communities. The
BNP's racist and divisive tactics help bosses and the government to
carry out their attacks on British white workers and all workers. The
BNP offer no solution.
Rather than putting British industry into the hands of "British"
people it needs to be owned and controlled by working-class people -
those that produce the wealth. On this basis a plan could be drawn up of
what we need to produce to satisfy the demands of the whole population
instead of for the profit of a few.
The BNP will be defeated in the future as working people learn
through their own experience the blind alley which the BNP represents
and by the conscious intervention of socialists, armed with a genuine
socialist programme which is the only way to solve the problems that
working-class people face.