Anti-racist activists and trade unionists joined local residents to demonstrate in Stoke-on-Trent last Saturday against a fascist rally in the city called by the British National Party (BNP).
Up to 500 people joined an anti-fascist protest organised by Unite Against Fascism (UAF), North Staffordshire Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (Norscarf), and Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR).
The anti-fascist rally was followed by an impromptu march through Hanley, the town in the centre of the city. But police blocked the marchers.
Throughout the day small groups of anti-fascists attempted to get near the BNP rally and exercise their right to protest.
But a heavy police presence ensured that the Nazis were protected from any direct opposition.
The BNP has built up its presence in Stoke by trying to hide its Nazi politics behind a “respectable” image. But its rally on Saturday was anything but respectable.
Some 300 hardcore BNP supporters waving Union Jack flags crowded onto a patch of waste ground outside a warehouse to hear their “führer” Nick Griffin. He arrived surrounded by an “honour guard” of Combat 18 thugs.
Earlier that day BNP activists leafletted three wards in Stoke where the BNP has councillors.
The fascists are trying to whip up race hate by falsely presenting local BNP activist Keith Brown as a “white martyr” and a victim of a “racist murder”.
Brown’s next door neighbour Habib Khan was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to eight years in prison last month for stabbing Brown in a scuffle that started when the Nazi attacked Khan’s son.
Far from being any kind of tragic victim, Brown and his family had subjected Khan to years of racist abuse and violent persecution.
But the BNP wants to exploit Brown’s death to ratchet up an atmosphere of racism.
One Asian taxi driver who attended the anti-Nazi rally told Socialist Worker how he had been beaten up by racists in Bentilee, a place where the BNP has councillors.
The two men called him a “paki bastard” and kicked him in the face.
Despite the frustrations of being blocked from directly confronting the Nazis, local people on the anti-fascist demonstration were pleased with the turnout and determined to build a mass movement on the ground against the BNP.
Speakers at the anti-fascist demonstration included local Labour MP Joan Walley, Vince Simpson from North Staffordshire Race Equality Council, Jason Hill from Norscarf and a variety of councillors and trade unionists from the city and surrounding area.
Vince Simpson said, “When you go out into the wider community you’ll find that the support for the BNP is only coming from a small minority.”
Martin Smith from LMHR spoke of how the BNP was aiming to use the current economic crisis to build an organisation of racist thugs.
“They have no right to march on our streets – they shall not pass,” he said.
Martin also argued against the idea that anti-fascists should restrict themselves to peaceful methods, pointing out that key turning points in previous struggles – Cable Street in 1936, Lewisham in 1977 – had involved physical confrontation with the Nazis.
In the afternoon LMHR sponsored the “Jamm It” music festival in Hanley Forest Park.
The free event attracted several hundred young people to hear a variety of artists. The bill was headlined by Sway, the Mobo award-winning MC, playing his first event for LMHR.
The LMHR stall was constantly busy, with young people signing up to join the campaign and taking away posters and placards against the BNP.
Carolann, a teenager from Tunstall, said she had seen a vanload of BNP thugs drive through her town that morning. “It made me more determined to come here to the festival,” she said. “I think everyone has a right to live in peace.”
Her friend Alice added, “This festival is a really good opportunity. Most people in the BNP are middle aged white men.
“But most people here are under 21 and from all different colours and class backgrounds – and we’re all getting on.”
The positive spirit at the LMHR event, and the support of local people for the anti-fascist demonstration, shows the potential to build a mass movement that can drive the BNP out of Stoke.
But the fact that the BNP succeeded in holding its rally – the first such event they have held in many years – shows that there is also a grave danger that the fascists can become entrenched in Stoke, leading to more despair, hatred and racist violence.