Some 600 delegates gathered at Unite Against Fascism’s annual conference in central London last Saturday to launch this year’s campaign against the British National Party (BNP).
The Nazi BNP has been exploiting the climate of racism unleashed in the wake of the “war on terror” and the widespread disillusion with mainstream parties.
It currently has 49 councillors across Britain and hopes to grab more at the May elections.
The Unite conference drew together a wide spectrum of trade union activists, anti-racism campaigners, students, musicians and representatives of faith groups all committed to fighting the BNP at the ballot box and beyond.
Cabinet minister Peter Hain opened the conference by recalling how a broad alliance of activists had successfully defeated the National Front in the 1970s.
“Members of the Socialist Workers Party, Labour supporters like myself and trade unionists came together to form the Anti Nazi League,” he said. “Despite the differences there were between us, we united in action against the fascists.”
Nevertheless, many delegates were critical of how government policies and statements by front bench MPs had fuelled an atmosphere of Islamophobia. Their attacks on multiculturalism have also played directly into the BNP’s hands.
Maleiha Malik, lecturer in law at King’s College London, noted that according to the government’s own research, Muslims are now the group most likely to be objects of prejudice and hatred among the wider population.
“This cannot be divorced from the international context of the ‘war on terror’ and US dominance in the Middle East,” she said.
Weyman Bennett, joint secretary of Unite, criticised the mainstream media for giving platforms to BNP speakers and shying away from describing the organisation as fascist.
Unite campaigners needed to increase the pressure on the media to stop giving Nazis an easy ride and expose them as Holocaust deniers and Hitler worshippers, he said: “It’s time to pull the plug on the fascist thugs.”
Workshops examined specific issues such as mobilising young people through Love Music Hate Racism’s work, and the threat of the BNP on university campuses.
One of the busiest workshops covered how to tackle the BNP in areas where the fascists had established a presence.
Tony Barnsley from West Midlands Unite noted that “flag waving” strategies by some anti-fascists were counterproductive.
Tony said, “In Sandwell the council organised a St George’s Day march. It was meant to be on a ‘multicultural basis’, but it was exclusively white. BNP leader Nick Griffin turned up and was able to march through the streets of West Bromwich.”
The council learned its lesson when the BNP took four seats at the elections last year, he added.
Ted Parker, principal of Barking College in east London, described his shock when the Nazis grabbed 12 council seats in Barking & Dagenham last May. He paid tribute to Unite’s work in the borough.
“We should all do our best to build this organisation – it is organising the resistance,” he said.
Unite Against Fascism is organising a series of days of action against the BNP in the run-up to the May elections, including 31 March and 28 April. These will involve mass leafleting, local rallies and Love Music Hate Racism gigs. Phone Unite on 020 7833 4916 or go to www.uaf.org.uk