Far-right English Defence League (EDL) outnumbered by anti-racist protesters in Bolton, Greater Manchester
When the far-right English Defence League (EDL) brought their racist bandwagon to Bolton in Greater Manchester on 20th March they were significantly outnumbered by anti-EDL protesters. Unfortunately, the disgracefully violent role of Greater Manchester Police meant that police violence dominated the day. The police also prevented people getting to the anti-EDL demo, as people from coaches from elsewhere arrived; they were cut off from the demo.
The BBC claims about 2000 protesters on each side. This is possibly an over-estimate; certainly there were more anti-EDL protesters than EDL supporters. As a result of the anti-EDL 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 so he later required bandaging to his head.
Prior to the demonstration, local groups worked together to formulate their plan of action and to organise stewards, to occupy the Victoria Square and prevent the EDL from holding their rally. The police, however, 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. Police use of heavy-duty barriers and cordons meant that, without a demonstration tens of thousands strong, it would be impossible to prevent the EDL assembling. 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 co-ordinate with the local stewards.
Protesters were 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 as well, including two Socialist Party members released hours later without charge. Legal observers and solicitors acting for anti-racists deserve mention for excellent work throughout the day and night of 20th March.
Success against the EDL will be achieved through mass action, with proper stewards’ organisation of the kind attempted by Greater Manchester activists. In our Socialist Party leaflet, which was very well received on the demonstration, we argued:
“There is a real danger of a growth in far-right groups attacking anyone they oppose – racist attacks, homophobic attacks, attacks on trade unionists, socialists and anti-racists. This can be countered by a well-organised democratic movement based on mass action. This must be completely independent of the state and establishment politicians who assist the far-right with their own racism and attacks on workers.
“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 “Jobs, homes & 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….”
During our build-up for the demonstration we raised these kind of ideas and will continue to do so in the debate among activists about where we go next. We contributed to the mobilising for and stewarding of the demo, and are serious about opposing the far-right with large demonstrations. Mass numbers cannot be mobilised, however, by liberal appeals about “multi-culturalism” and “diversity”. A mass movement can be built by basing it on the kind of class slogans YRE used, especially in the current economic situation.
On our leaflet, we pointed to the Trade Unionist & Socialist Coalition and Youth Fight for Jobs as the kind of initiatives which can provide real answers and a real alternative. All individuals and groups that support TUSC should be raising it within anti-racist protests as a real opportunity to show a class-based solution to social problems and a real alternative to the far right. If this is echoed by other campaign groups around the country, the possibility exists to significantly undercut the far right and deter it from significant street mobilisations.