'THERE IS no doubt in my mind that the Respect festival had mass popular support in Oldham. Many ordinary people have said to me over the last few weeks that the festival was 'the event Oldham needed'. But the police and the council decide how far democracy can exist in our town, and they have banned it. This will only give succour to the racists.'
Those were the words of Mike Luft of the Oldham United Against Racism campaign group last Saturday. He was speaking to around 100 people who gathered at Werneth Park in Oldham to rally against the Liberal Democrat council's decision to ban the anti-racist Respect festival planned for that day.
The council's decision plays into the hands of the Nazi British National Party (BNP), which is trying to increase racism in the town after its successes in the general election earlier this year. The BNP got over 13,000 votes in Oldham at the election.
Instead of Werneth Park being packed full of 10,000 people from Oldham and beyond determined to take on the BNP, the park was virtually empty. The council said that the organisers of the Respect festival, including North West Region TUC and the Anti Nazi League, had failed to provide proper safety assurances, and so pulled permission for the festival.
The council's claim was nonsense. It is part of the authorities' attempt to criminalise the anti-racist movement.
Burnley council stopped a similar carnival going ahead in its town. When Leon Greenman, a Holocaust survivor, spoke at a meeting in Oldham the council cancelled the venue at the last moment. 'The council and the police need to start promoting anti-racism and not undermining it,' said Martin Gleason, an MSF trade union rep at the Zetax factory in Oldham.
Activists went to the centre of town, and petitioned and leafleted against the BNP and the banning of the festival. They had a great response. Activists are now organising for the public launch of the Coalition Against Racism group in the town on Wednesday 14 November. The main speaker will be John Monks, the TUC general secretary.
Local anti-racists are continuing their campaign to make sure the BNP does not make its hoped-for breakthrough in the town in the local elections next May.