Around 250 supporters of the English Defence League (EDL) marched from the Tate Britain in London to parliament today. The police removed anti-fascist protesters from the road to allow the EDL through.
The EDL had taken to the streets to celebrate the visit to Britain of Dutch Islamophobe Geert Wilders who was invited by UKIP to screen his racist film “Fitna” in the House of Lords.
Some 400 anti-fascists joined the Unite Against Fascism (UAF) counter-demonstration, called at only two days notice.
They managed to block the EDL’s route, taking to the street for over two hours until they were cleared by hundreds of police and kettled. Dogs and horses were used to keep protesters back.
Students and workers, black and white, came together to confront the EDL.
“This racist Wilders is coming here to destabilise our society,” said a Harrow bus driver. “Britain is multicultural and we won’t let the EDL change that.”
Banners on the counter-protest included those of Newham NUT, the NUJ, Goldsmith’s student union, London Metropolitan University UCU and Goldsmith’s LGBT Versus Racism. The RMT and NASUWT unions brought their flags.
A number of trade unionists and MPs addressed the crowd.
Jeremy Corbyn MP told anti-racists, “If we want a decent and democratic society free of racism then we have to stop the BNP and the EDL.”
Steve Hedley of the RMT union said, “Our union has a history of anti-fascism going back to the International Brigades in 1930s Spain. This demonstration is a continuation of that tradition.
“The BNP have put on suits in an effort to get elected. But the EDL is their street fighting faction. These are our streets, they not going to be the Nazis’ streets.”
“We won’t tolerate racism and homophobia,” Bindz Patel, the welfare and education officer at Goldsmith’s student union, told Socialist Worker. “Students are very angry at Wilders coming to whip up hatred.”
Police allow EDL to run riot
Anti-fascist protesters were angry at the way police approached the demonstrations.
Police harassed anti-fascists throughout the day, but allowed the EDL to assemble and wander about, pints of beer in hand, outside the Tate Britain gallery.
After being asked by Socialist Worker why they were being allowed to walk in and out of the police cordon unhindered, a policeman said, “It’s a free country”.
Andy Reid, a member of the PCS union’s executive, told Socialist Worker that the union was very concerned about the safety of their members working in the Tate:
“EDL members are being allowed to wander through the gallery and the grounds unhindered. We are very unhappy about the situation, the assurances we were given haven’t been met and it has put our members in jeopardy.”
Despite a ban on demonstrations to parliament, the police allowed the EDL to march.
They said were satisfied by the EDL leadership’s assurances that their protest would be peaceful and non-racist.
But the claim that they are not racist or fascist was constantly undermined.
EDL supporters were allowed to abuse and threaten journalists, and black and Asian protesters. They chanted anti-Muslim slogans including “ban the Koran” and “Muslim bombers off our streets”.
Members of the Nazi BNP were photographed on the protest, including Chris Renton from Weston Super Mare.
Some EDL supporters raised Nazi salutes when they went past anti-fascists. Chants of “No surrender to the IRA” went on throughout the day.
“I can’t believe they have been allowed to do this,” a young protester told Socialist Worker.
“We have been told we can’t chant anti-fascist slogans by the police. We are standing up against racism but the police are treating us like animals.”
Weyman Bennett from UAF addressed protesters at the end of the demonstration, asking everyone to mobilise to stop the EDL marching in Bolton on 20 March.
“It is a disgusting day when Nazis march. But they didn’t march unopposed—there were more of us than them.
“We have to learn the lesson as they are starting to organise. That is why we need a movement of thousands to stop them. No Nazis and racist thugs should get a hearing.
“We need to go to every trade union, every college and every anti-fascist with the message—get to Bolton. We need to send them a message—we know how this story ends. It starts with marches and ends with murder. Bolton is a line in the sand. We need to say ‘No pasaran’—they shall not pass.