5pm: Defiant protests by up to 5,000 anti-fascists in a number of locations blocked the racist English Defence League (EDL) in Luton today.
The EDL hoped that they would get to go on a racist rampage. But the people of Luton—Asian, black and white—stopped that happening.
The success of today’s protests was down to the determination and energy of those involved in protesting against racism and fascism.
Importantly, in Bury Park, local young people united with anti-racists to stand up to the EDL. This was despite the police and some community leaders hoping people wouldn’t come out to defend their communities.
In Park Square a determined rally saw anti-fascists break out of the police cordon.
The day had started with anti-fascists blocking Luton train station to stop the EDL. It ended with people feeling pride that the EDL thugs had left and hadn’t got their way.
Martin Smith, UAF national officer, told the crowd, “The EDL had 2,500 in Luton today. That’s 2,500 too many. But we have proven that we are the many and they are the few.
“We had 2,000 in Park Square and up to 3,000 in Bury Park. We need to double and treble our size for the next city the EDL target and say ‘you shall not pass’.
“We have defied the EDL—black, white, gay and straight have told the EDL, we are not divided.
“We’re not sure where the EDL’s going to go next, but wherever it is, you need to go back to your towns, join UAF and get organised.”
3.40pm: A UAF demonstration has entered Bury Park to cheers, applause and chants. Earlier in the day it had been blocked by police from entering the area.
There is an electric atmosphere at both key points on the anti-fascist side. In Park Square, protesters have pushed the police back a number of times.
Asif told Socialist Worker, 'Who are the extremists here? We live peacefully in harmony. The EDL have to get people from the US and Germany.
'The police spent so much money trying to keep us away. But look at this street [it is full of men]. I want it back to normal with women and children out. Then they tried to stop UAF joining us. That violates human rights.'
Jamshed said, 'The police told Asians to stay on this side and don't go in to town. Where are the EDL from. How come they can be in the centre of our town and we are banned. The police went into schools to say that. This is the 21st century, we are humans and we want to live together.'
Mohbeen said, 'The English Degenerate League are racists and we're here to fight racism. Because of them the whole of Luton is shut down.
'I don't get it. They hate brown people, but their leader owns a tanning shop!'
Atif said 'I went to the protest against the EDL at Harrow. It was really good – big and peaceful. But when I got home and watched TV they presented it like World War Three. That made me think it wasn't worth coming out. But now they've got away with their ignorance again and again. So we had to stand up.'
3pm: In Bury Park the main road is full of people. There is a friendly atmosphere, with people chatting and the shops still open.
There have been some reports of EDL groups roaming around the town.
The people in Bury Park stand determined to see off the EDL if they come, but have not yet seen any.
Meanwhile anti-fascist protesters are trying to get out of Park Square to join the Bury Park gathering.
2.20pm: Sikhs Against the EDL brought a delegation to the demonstration. Varinder Singh told Socialist Worker, “Today we are here in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters. Guramit Singh [a Sikh in the EDL] does not represent Sikhs. He is collaborating with racists and fascist. This is the first time we have come on the demonstration as a group.”
1.50pm: In Bury Park, a young protester told Socialist Worker, 'The media make it look like it's all our fault. But the EDL want to come into our area and I've seen the filth they put in their videos on YouTube.'
Ali, who owns a restaurant said, 'Multiculturalism failed because the real issue isn't us, it's the government's foreign and domestic politics. '
1.45pm: Martin Smith, UAF national officer, spoke to the rally in Park Square. He said, “People are standing together to show that the EDL are not welcome in Luton or any other town or city in Britain.
“The EDL are targeting Muslims, trade unionists and students. Unless we all stand together there will be nobody left to stand up for each other.”
People cheered as Martin pointed to the revolt in Egypt as an example of how people can overcome division and resist.
“We cannot ignore the EDL. Ignore them and they’ll come for you. Under attack, we fight back.”
East of England MEP Richard Howitt spoke. He said, “I’m deeply proud that the labour movement is at the forefront of the fight against the EDL.
“The EDL are the extremists. They use violence and threats of violence to spread division. They have spread fear and intimidation today.
“They does not represent the people of Luton. People say we’re the same—but our rally is a celebration of unity and diversity.
“The EDL may have started in Luton. But it has to end here.”
The Unite Against Fascism protesters who earlier marched to join the Bury Park protest have been herded back into Park Square by police.
1.15pm: The EDL are fighting with their own stewards, throwing bottles and trying to push through the lines.
They are chanting “Muslim bombers off our streets”.
They haven’t yet made it to their assembly point in St George’s Square but are starting to march now.
12.30pm: Hundreds of anti-fascist protesters are now marching from Park Square to Bury Park to show solidarity with the multiracial area’s Muslim community.
Many are out on the streets today to defend Bury Park from the EDL.
More anti-fascists are still arriving in Park Square for the rally.
12.15pm: Protesters who were blockading the train station earlier are now at Unite Against Fascism’s counter-protest in Park Square.
Many coaches full of anti-fascist protesters are also starting to arrive.
One coach was stopped by police further down the road, but the protesters inside got out and marched the rest of the way.
Julie Weekes, a UCU member in Luton, told Socialist Worker why she came to the protest today.
“The EDL are not welcome here,” she said. “They are fascists who want to create division and hate when we need to be united against the Con-Dem alliance. They’re scapegoating people who are not the problem.
It’s shocking that we’re here on a day when Cameron decided to appease the EDL by attacking multiculturalism. We’ve called on all trade unionists to come and protest here today as first the EDL will target Muslims and then trade unionists.”
Gary Fabian, a retired member of Unite in Luton, added, “Apart from the fact I oppose the racist politics of the EDL, I’m also angry that I can’t bring my grandchildren into the centre of Luton as the cinema and the shops are closed today.
“It’s a disgrace that they’ve been allowed to protest.”
The anti-fascist rally in the square is about to begin.
11.45am: Dunstable Road is the main shopping street in the multiracial Bury Park area. This Saturday morning shops are open as usual. Greengrocers still have fruit and veg outside their stores – but currently there are more police than shoppers on the streets.
People are nervous about the EDL coming. One local shopkeeper told me, 'We plan to stay open all day. But we'll have to see.'
The local Bury Park Community Resource centre has stewards up and down the road handing out leaflets saying 'Stand for Luton against the EDL'.
One explained to Socialist Worker, 'We don't want the EDL here. Luton lives in harmony. The community has come out to show that.
'The EDL will have their speeches in town then they should go. We are here to make sure things are calm and peaceful.'
And if the EDL come up here? 'That would be on their heads.'
11.35am: Campaigners are beginning to gather in Park Square for the UAF protest in Luton town centre.
Geoff Webb, from Luton Love Music Hate Racism and the PCS union, said, 'This whole thing has been wrongly handled by the police and the council from the start.
'They have given the main square to the EDL. St George's Square belongs to the people of Luton. We have had anti-racist festivals there, so the EDL's presence is a desecration.
'We had to be present today in the town centre. It disgust me that the media tries to say there's a moral equivalence between the two protests.
'But the EDL want people to be intimidated, to cowering at home. That's not the kind of world I want to live in.
'I welcome the people from outside the town who have come to show solidarity and I hope the people of Luton come down to join us too.'
Bob Baker, a youth and community worker, added, 'LMHR has brought people together through music. We need to show understanding, love and tolerance to each other.'
11.30am: Police are trying to clear Luton station of anti-fascist protesters, to make way for the EDL.
The protesters are defiantly chanting, “Who protects the Nazis? Police protect the Nazis.”
11am: Protesters have headed to Luton this morning to demonstrate against the English Defence League (EDL).
They are determined that these violent racists will not be allowed to go on the rampage.
The day started with Tory prime minister David Cameron bleating about the failures of multiculturalism and the dangers of 'Islamic extremism'. The racists aren’t just on the streets of Luton but in parliament too.
Several hundred anti-fascist activists are inside Luton train station, blockading the entrance, in an attempt to keep the racist EDL out of the town.
The EDL had planned to travel in through the station, but the occupiers managed to drive them back onto the platform.
The protesters are chanting “Cancel all services, scum on the line.”
The police are reported to be desperately trying to divert the EDL by an alternative route.
Meanwhile the town is filling up with hundreds of police vans, and thousands of riot police and dogs.