Around 1,500 black, white and Asian people came together in Dudley last Saturday to stop the racist English Defence League (EDL) from rampaging through the town centre.
The demonstration, called by Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and Dudley trades council, was an important show of unity and solidarity.
Hundreds of young Asian people joined the demonstration despite being advised to stay away.
In some areas coaches were even put on to take youth on a “day out”, to keep them from protesting.
Bobby, a GCSE student from Dudley, told Socialist Worker that she decided to come despite family pressure:
“My mum said not to come today, that there’ll be trouble, but I’m not having it.
“The EDL think they can do what they want, but we’re here to stop them.
“I’m surprised at how many white people are on this side, I thought it’d be mostly Asian.
“Dudley is pretty mixed. Asian and black people have been accepted as British and that’s how it should be.
“It’s the BNP who are trying to mess it all up, but we’re stronger than they think.
“They ignore the fact that white girls and Asian boys go out together, that we all mix—our everyday lives tell the truth.”
Nigel Bayton, branch chair of Dudley PCS union, told Socialist Worker, “We’re proud of our multi-racial society.
“But today people feel under threat. We don’t want our town pulled apart by the fascists.”
Christian, a teacher from Bolton, came to Dudley after taking part in the EDL protest in his hometown on 20 March.
He said, “I’ve never seen anything like I did in Bolton—I couldn’t believe that so many people had travelled to help defend my town.
“I felt euphoric and then I couldn’t believe the media lies afterwards.
“I came here to do for the people of Dudley what people did for us in Bolton-help defend places from racist scum.”
Trade unionists brought banners, although the police removed poles and placards on sticks as coaches arrived.
There were banners from the NUT, Unite, PCS and Unison trade unions.
The EDL gathered a few miles away on a dual carriageway.
They had planned to assemble in the centre of town, but were stopped by police.
Although the UAF protest was large and represented the real face of Britain, the EDL’s protest was their biggest mobilisation yet.
Their continued presence and activities represent a warning and a challenge to the left.
Over 2,000 EDL supporters came from across the country to Dudley.
There were around 24 EDL “divisions” present and they were joined by hundreds of Dudley residents.
The EDL has capitalised on the Islamophobia whipped up by UKIP, the Tories and the BNP in Dudley who are opposing plans for the rebuilding of a local mosque.
The EDL showed their true nature in Dudley, despite desperate attempts to maintain a façade of acceptability. EDL thugs attacked their own stewards as they broke through fencing and police lines.
One of the main EDL speakers made clear that the EDL were no longer just opposed to “extremist Islam” but to all Muslims, saying, “either we are pro-British or not. If not—it’s time for you to leave the country.”
She accused Islam of encouraging “incestuous marriage resulting in the highest rates of disability” and the “promotion of paedophilia”. She also described the call to prayers as “noise pollution”.
But in the town centre UAF speakers urged people to come together in defence of every religion. They said that multiculturalism and immigration were cause for celebration, not scapegoating.
Steve Bell from the Communication Workers Union brought a message of solidarity from the union’s 230,000 members to the people of Dudley saying, “The EDL are fascists and racists—they want violence against Muslims today but tomorrow it could be anyone—bigotry is never satisfied.
“Their allies are the BNP. Politicians insist immigration is a problem, but it is an essential part of our society and has always been. Taking in asylum seekers and people fleeing persecution is the mark of a civilised society.”
A number of speakers also raised police violence and the arrests of anti fascist protesters in Bolton.
“The people of Dudley have every right to defend their town centre,” said Martin Smith, organiser of Love Music Hate Racism. “We will not be criminalised.”
While highlighting the importance of confronting the EDL on the streets, Martin also spoke about the campaign to stop the BNP from making electoral gains.
“The EDL are a bunch of football hooligans united by their vicious hatred towards Muslims. They said that the they want Muslims to be cowering at home.
“Well look at us today, we are on the streets, protecting our homes and communities. But we have to do more than that, we have to also confront the BNP at the ballot box.”
Weyman Bennett, joint secretary of UAF said, “When the BNP say they are standing in elections we have to stand up to them and say ‘you don’t represent us, you represent the politics of Hitler and Mussolini’.”
“We say never again will we go back to the dark days when people looked over their shoulders in fear. These are our streets.”
The EDL was not able to repeat the racist rampage it went on in Stoke. But the EDL remains a real threat in our society. They are planning to march in towns like Dudley every month.
We need our movement to be large and rooted in every town and city so that the EDL don’t feel confident to march.
We want to show that anti-racists and anti-fascists are the majority. That requires building a bigger and broader movement.
We need UAF groups in every town and city, bringing on board people from different faiths, from the Labour party, gay, student and trade union movements.
We need a greater local presence on anti-EDL protests—and we need to win people locally to a strategy of confronting the EDL and the BNP wherever they appear.