The fascist British National Party (BNP) grabbed its first council seat south of the River Thames last week when it took a previously safe Labour ward in the town of Swanley, on the border of south east London and Kent.
The Nazis campaigned on the back of the “British jobs for British workers” slogan, blaming “asylum seekers and foreigners” for shortages of council housing.
They pulled in 408 votes – some 41 percent of the total – against 332 for Labour and 247 for the Tories.
The news from Swanley underlines the threat that the BNP is set to pose in this year’s European and local elections on Thursday 4 June. The fascists need to get 8 percent of the vote in just one seat to get a Euro MP.
The urgent need for a broad and militant campaign to oppose the BNP was a key theme of this year’s annual conference of Unite Against Fascism (UAF), held in London last Saturday.
The event attracted 600 delegates, including many trade unionists from the PCS, NUT and GMB unions, together with young people involved in the Love Music Hate Racism campaign and anti-racist campaigners.
Many speakers noted that the BNP was feeding off the despair generated by the economic crisis, and attacked the government for making the problems worse by siding with big business.
“Parts of the political class have been playing with fire,” said Frances O’Grady, deputy general secretary of the TUC.
“They should make a break with neoliberal dogma, and lead the way to a better, fairer alternative.”
The “British jobs for British workers” slogan first used by Gordon Brown and taken up on the recent construction workers’ strikes, was heavily criticised.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, said there should be no place for such a slogan in the labour movement.
“When the BNP has the confidence to come onto our picket lines, we have to ask questions,” he said.
Weyman Bennett, joint secretary of UAF, also noted how the fascists had exploited the economic crisis of the 1930s and used it to grow.
But he added, “What happened in the 1930s was a political polarisation.
“So there’s two sides to the crisis – the BNP can grow, but there is also the potential for a mass movement against them.
“We need to go out, capture people’s imagination and build that movement.”
UAF is now planning to hold a series of regional public rallies in key target areas for the fascists including the north west of England, Yorkshire and Humberside, the East Midlands and the West Midlands, he added.
Many delegates at the conference warned that making concessions to nationalism and racism would not help the fight against the BNP, but simply fuel their growth by pushing the political agenda to the right.
But the government refuses to listen to this message and instead tries to pander to the BNP’s racist agenda. On Monday of this week home secretary Jacqui Smith announced plans to make it harder for skilled migrants to enter the country.
Her officials said the aim was to cut the number of skilled foreign workers by 12,000 next year. They are spinning the crackdown as a response to the “British jobs for British workers” demand.
But the BNP council seat in Swanley – and worryingly strong showings for the Nazis in Leicestershire and Newcastle recently – show that these sorts of responses just give confidence to the racists.
A serious and effective response to the Nazis must tackle the very real social problems that blight deprived areas of the country like Swanley.
BNP cancel Liverpool rally
An example of how mass mobilisation can push back the fascists came of Sunday of last week when the BNP announced it was cancelling a planned rally in Liverpool on 14 March.
Anti-fascists in the city had been organising a counter demonstration and had vowed to stop the Nazi “day of action”.
Outrage in the city against the BNP grew when the police insisted that an Everton-Stoke football match planned for that day had to be postponed due to the rally.
Steve Farley, chair of the North West TUC, said,“Our community stands united against the BNP both in and out of the workplace.
“It is disgraceful that Everton fans find themselves forced to watch their team on a Sunday in order for the BNP to march in our city on the Saturday.”