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On 15 April the BNP held a demonstration outside the Home Office in Croydon under the slogan 'Britain is Full Up'. The local PCS branch along with Battersea and Wandsworth trades council and the South London Anti-Fascist Campaign (SLAFG, a coalition of anti-racist, trade union and socialist activists) organised a counter demo. The idea was to have a peaceful protest but also to offer support to foreign nationals who had to access the building in order to process their immigration claims.
Unfortunately the organisers of the demo were unable to put this into effect as Unite Against Fascism (UAF), led by full time officials from the SWP hijacked the demo, placing themselves at the front of it, sidelining the stewards from the PCS branch.
As a result of this the demo became disorganised. Suddenly a group of 20 individuals came steaming into the back of the demo chanting something indecipherable. They ran straight for police lines in an attempt to attack the BNP protest.
It quickly emerged they were anarchists, styling themselves "Antifa Hooligans". The anarchists were able to get through because there was no proper stewarding at the back. However it would be wrong to place the blame for this with the PCS stewards. The role of the UAF had the effect of emasculating them and relegating them to onlookers at their own demo. The anarchists were promptly arrested and escorted back into the demo but not before the police then moved to surround the anti BNP protest.
Some workers, obviously not keen to get arrested on their lunch break, started to leave. In an attempt to de-escalate the situation a PCS organiser put together an impromptu rally with speeches from various demonstrators.
Unfortunately UAF members tried to drown out speakers who they didn't agree with. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka was listened to and applauded.
But when a member of the Socialist Party and one of the key organisers of the demo through their work with SLAFG and Battersea and Wandsworth trades council tried to put forward a class position advocating workers' unity against the BNP she was heckled and booed by UAF members.
Despite this behaviour, there were many positive aspects of the demo. The number of counter-protesters easily outnumbered the BNP by 3 to 1. The initiative taken by the PCS branch in organising their own demo against the BNP is a step in the right direction and needs to be replicated across the trade union movement. The involvement of SLAFG is also a pointer to the fact that many activists see the need for democratic, independent and locally based campaigns against the BNP and the far-right.
Serious questions must be asked about the UAF's behaviour. PCS is one of the biggest contributors to UAF and yet UAF feels free to hijack a protest organised by a PCS branch. How much input into actual decision making does PCS get in return for the money it puts into UAF?
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