More than 600 anti-Nazi campaigners came together at the Unite Against Fascism (UAF) conference last Saturday.
The conference issued an urgent call to combat the Nazi BNP at the ballot box – and chase the racist English Defence League (EDL) off the streets.
Billy Hayes, the leader of the CWU post and telecoms union, explained, “We face a serious problem. Our tasks have changed since last’s year conference.
“The BNP won two seats in the European parliament.
“We were told that Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, would be exposed on Question Time and this would weaken the BNP.
“But instead it increased the profile of the BNP. It was a milestone in its normalisation.”
The conference laid out two clear tasks. First, to campaign tirelessly against Nick Griffin in Barking.
And second, to mobilise for the demonstrations against the EDL on 20 March in Bolton and 4 April in Dudley.
Many speakers also pointed out that the BNP’s electoral success, together with the constant stream of attacks on Muslims by politicians and the media, has created the climate for the rise of the EDL.
Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London, said, “The most disturbing development has been the rise of the EDL.
“The EDL are explicitly anti-Muslim, and ferment violence and intimidation.”
He called the recent EDL mobilisation in Stoke a “fascist riot”. The EDL rampaged through Asian areas of the city attacking shops and cars.
He added, “Look at how little hysteria there was in the media or from politicians.
“Most people have no idea about what happened in Stoke.
“The EDL must not be underestimated. There are parallels with the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s and the National Front marches of the 1970s.”
Speakers agreed that it is disastrous for politicians to respond to the BNP by pandering to racism. Far from undermining fascism, this boosts it.
Martin Smith, of Love Music Hate Racism, welcomed Margaret Hodge, the MP for Barking, as part of UAF. But he condemned her tactics.
He said, “I am on the same side as Margaret when it comes to stopping the BNP. But I was disgusted by her piece in the Daily Mail last week saying migrants must earn their benefits.
“I want to say to Margaret, ‘Stop it right now’. When you give an inch to racists, they will not go away, they’ll take a mile.”
Workshops were held on a range of issues and campaigns from Love Music Hate Racism to fighting fascism in the media.
There were sessions on combating homophobia and the central role Islamophobia plays as a “respectable” form of racism.
The Nazis have a twin-track approach – the ballot box and the streets. Each feeds into the other. We need to challenge them on both fronts.
We need the broadest possible unity to confront the Nazis.
But we also need to encourage every strike against job or wage cuts, every campaign against deportation, every demonstration to save hospitals.
A movement that focuses the anger at politicians and the bankers can undermine the despair and scapegoating that the Nazis feed off.
Bolton says no
The racist hooligans of the English Defence League are going to Bolton.
Unite Against Fascism has called a national counter-demonstration for Saturday 20 March, 11am, Victoria Square, Bolton.
A statement has been initiated by North West Unite Against Fascism.
It says, “Let’s gather in such large numbers that we make it clear to these fascist and racist thugs that they are not welcome here.”
Signatories include Christine Blower (NUT), Kay Carberry (TUC, pc), Billy Hayes (CWU), Margaret Hodge MP, Bell Ribiero-Addy (NUS) and former London mayor Ken Livingstone.