Published on 6 April 2010
• Tensions rise between Unite Against Fascism and local antifascists • Antifascist march breaks free from police kettle repression
The English Defence League (EDL) wrought havoc on the streets of the Black Country Town of Dudley on Easter Saturday, attacking antifascists with firecrackers and laying siege to Dudley Central Mosque.
Between 1000-2000 supporters of the fascist organisation marched through the town escorted by police. A dispersal order in place for 4pm only resulted in gangs of several hundreds breaking away from the police kettle to rampage around the centre of town.
Meanwhile, Unite Against Fascism (UAF) held a 'carnival' in a car park a quarter mile away as 1000-1500 antifascists, many of whom were bussed in from around the country, were denied their right to march by police. All placards, Trade Union and other banners were conspicuous by their absence as police confiscated all poles and sticks on the pretext they could be used as weapons.
The assembly of antifascists was continually bolstered throughout the afternoon by the arrival of angry locals, mostly Asian youth. Throughout the day UAF stewards were under strict instruction to maintain order and keep the crowd in the car park. Expecting a march, locals assembled on an adjacent road.
The EDL had called a demonstration against the proposed construction of a new mosque in the town, notwithstanding the fact that the application had already been rejected by the council on planning grounds. This was nothing short of a provocative call on the government to attack the religious freedoms of minorities.
Local resident Vijay told Workers Power: “I'm not Muslim, I come from a Sikh family. Whether this mosque gets built or not it's a local issue. These people have come here to stir up trouble and turn neighbour against neighbour”
When informed of the involvement of some Sikhs in the EDL, Vijay replied: “I'm surprised. Maybe things are different in other places, but everyone gets on well where I live. There are a few arseholes around but they keep their heads down. They'll take encouragement from EDL coming here and that's why we've come out to stop them.”
Vijay was by no means the only non-Muslim from Dudley who came out to stop the EDL. Groups of local Sikhs attended the UAF rally. Later in the day some young people of Afro-Caribbean origin resisted police repression to join a march that went off in search of the fascists.
March against fascists
With the majority of locals assembling on the road in preparation for a march, and the majority of UAF supporters assembled in the car park to listen to speeches from UAF leaders and local dignatories, tensions amongst anti-fascists emerged.
When EDL spotters were sighted and sections of the assembly broke away to confront them, UAF stewards did a good job of keeping the group together before the police could pounce to divide us.
But throughout the afternoon stewards were insistent that the fascists were three miles away and would not be allowed to march. When rumours began to circulate that the EDL were marching to Netherton, on the other side of the town centre from the UAF rally, some stewards insisted that these were lies spread by provocateurs, and accused those on the road of splitting the demonstration.
Distrust and confusion increased when independent spotters confirmed that around 1000 EDL were within a police kettle barely a quarter mile away, while UAF stewards continued to attempt to shepherd people back into the car park.
As the afternoon dragged on and demonstrators grew steadily more impatient, a majority of the counterdemo assembled angrily on the road. News spread that Dudley Central Mosque had been attacked.
Just after 4pm - the time of the police dispersal order - stewards began to ask demonstrators to return to their coaches. Fresh rumours abounded that a majority of EDL had broken free from the police kettle and were heading towards the counterdemo. Stewards formed a line to keep the angry crowd at bay.
One UAF steward, also a well-known Socialist Workers Party activist, swore blind to members of Socialist Youth Group REVOLUTION that had the EDL broken free, he would know about it. But just moments later, several hundred EDL were spotted only yards away. While a confused minority were lad back to their coaches by UAF stewards, the rest of the demo surged past the police. A brief confrontation with the EDL ensued, defenceless antifascists being attacked with firecrackers and other missiles, before riot police charged in, beating the antifascists back to the car park and the EDL back into Netherton.
UAF disappear, antifascist youth march
Kettled by heavily armed riot police, some with dogs, some 400-500 antifascists were driven in a downbeat march away from the maurauding gangs of EDL thugs.
The UAF coaches were gone, stewards and all, and locals Asian youth were left to face the might of the police and fascists alone, with only a small REVOLUTION contingent left of the socialist organisations. Of course, those who left are not to be blamed for having done so, nor are their drivers for leaving on time.
But the fact is it meant UAF missed the biggest event of the day, when the antifascist mobilisation broke through the kettle and marched for two miles around the town in search of the EDL.
When police attempted to split the kettle into two smaller groups, what was especially notable was the speed at which both groups resisted the attack from the police and reformed, together with a new group of local youth. Police attacked with batons and dogs but were completely incapable of containing the anger of locals.
By moving fast, the march was able to completely avoid any further police kettle. Police commanders were evidently unable to relay helicopter reconnaisance to ground units unfamiliar with Dudley's streets before the march had moved elsewhere.
This would have been impossible earlier in the day, when confusion reigned as the UAF leadership were determined that there would not be a march.
Stewards were either genuinely convinced that the information being passed down to them on the whereabouts of the EDL was correct, or were wilfully misinforming demonstrators in order to keep the demo stationary.
The irony is that local youth from Dudley marched against the EDL despite Unite Against Fascism, not because of it.
By such time as the march had broken free, and the UAF buses had gone home, the police were only successful in shepherding the fractured EDL groups out of Netherton away from the now much larger antifascist contingent.
Anger was palpable on the march and local youth evidently felt betrayed by UAF. One remaining Muslim Association of Britain steward, insisting that the wildcat demo disperse, was told in no uncertain terms to take himself home instead.
Another repeatedly denied that the mosque had been attacked, as was later reported by the BBC. Even at this late stage in the day the marchers were prepared to take him at his word. Had he spoken the truth, the march, effectively devoid of organised leadership, would have been unlikely to peter out upon reaching Netherton and finding the area cleared of EDL by police.
Antifascists have a right to march!
The police eventually cleared Dudley of EDL on the day but, as has continually been the case at EDL demos in the past year, did so on their terms, despite large numbers of antifascists turning out to teach the racists a lesson.
Far from the official UAF reports of peace and tranquility on the day, Dudley at least showed that it is possible for antifascists to exercise their right to march despite the decrees of council and police alike. What is regrettable is the role that UAF played in this, or rather the role that it didn't.
When leading UAF and Socialist Workers Party members were arrested by police snatch squads at a Bolton anti-EDL protest a fortnight prior to Dudley, it became obvious that serious antifascists in UAF were facing increasingly determined opposition from the state as well as the fascists.
The blatantly targeted arrests of six times as many antifascists as fascists put lie to the idea of the state as a neutral arbiter between the two camps, whatever specific reasons Greater Manchester Police may or may not have had for the assault.
We understand that there were serious tensions between the left and the right in the UAF leadership during the fortnight prior to Dudley.
But in the end the left succumbed in the name of unity with reformists and pacifists who evidently can't see the state for what it is, even by such time as it marches up and slaps them in the face.
This was why UAF did not march in Dudley and chose instead to try and contain the anger of the locals. Some will argue that the EDL outnumbered us on the day, but more reliable UAF spotters would have informed us of the early split in the EDL demo. UAF may well have been under serious pressure from police but the error was more grave that arranged for the coaches to leave so early.
The price paid for compromise and complacency was the sullying of the name of UAF in a town where large numbers of antifascist youth, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, turned out to exercise their democratic right to confront gangs of fascists maurauding through their town spouting their racist bile.
For defence of our demonstrations
It's clear that the antifascist movement has already started to organise independently of UAF to some degree. In Dudley, antifascists ultimately relied on their own surveillance when it became apparent that UAF information was false. The majority of the demo assembled defiantly on the road while UAF attempted in vain to hold a 'carnival'.
Workers Power will take steps towards the formation of an Antifascist Defence League with all organisations and individuals who want to see an organised defence of anti-fascist mobilisations and to physically stop EDL pogroms. This could provide its own disciplined and well-trained stewards who will defend the right of antifascists to march and be able to reach decisions and change tactics on the day.
But today, as the EDL start to mobilise more and more footsoldiers and look increasingly like the National Front of old, antifascist disunity is not a luxury we have. We need the maximum unity of working class forces and oppressed minorities against the rising fascist tide, and in defence of our democratic freedoms against the state.
Therefore the onus falls on the left in UAF, the sincere antifascists in the Socialist Workers Party and others, to do what is necessary to turn the far larger Unite Against Fascism into a genuine workers’ united front against the far right, an organisation that will mobilise and organise the Asian youth who fought back at Dudley, Birmingham and elsewhere along with the wider working class movement, defeat the EDL pogromists once and for all.
This has to happen before more defeats like Dudley further demoralise our ranks and end up discrediting the movement as a whole in the eyes of militant youth prepared to defend themselves from fascist attack.
We cannot afford to be ambivalent about whether to passively protest at the existence of fascism to the state or to actively defend ourselves against it.
The former – expecting the state to help stop the far right – is the surest route to fascism gaining credibility as a radical, mass force in Britain and the beginning of a new era of working class apathy and demoralisation, terror for ethnic minorities and the hegemony of a political right attacking the living standards and liberties of a divided working class.
The alternative is the defeat of the EDL - the necessary precursor for a working class that stands united against all attempts to undermine our strength, and united in the struggle for socialism, human liberation, and democratic control over all the good things in life.