The English Defence League (EDL) has declared that it will still demonstrate in east London this Saturday 3 September—despite a ban on their planned march.
And, United East End (UEE) and Unite Against Fascism (UAF) have made it clear they will hold a counter-protest in Tower Hamlets on the same day.
We’ve known for some time that the EDL planned to march through east London. That is why a broad-based coalition came together to organise against them. But many within that coalition—including the anti-fascist organisation Hope Not Hate, two local Labour MPs, and the borough’s mayor—called on home secretary Theresa May to ban the EDL march.
The Socialist Workers Party opposed the call for a state ban. But there are many in UAF who supported it. The popularity of the call for a ban should come as no surprise—nobody wants racist thugs running around their streets.
The call for a ban may be “common sense”, but it certainly isn’t “good sense”.
On Friday of last week, the home secretary made her announcement, banning the EDL march, but also every other march across five London boroughs for 30 days.
She said, “Having carefully considered the legal tests in the Public Order Act and balanced rights to protest against the need to ensure local communities and property are protected, I have given my consent to a ban on all marches in Tower Hamlets and four neighbouring boroughs for a 30-day period.”
The announcement was bad news for the anti-racist movement as we too are banned from marching.
We now have the sickening spectacle of a Tory minister and the police portraying fascists and anti-fascists as the same. We mustn’t allow the authorities to treat those opposing racism as if they are the same as the friends of Norwegian Nazi and mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik.
The ban is also bad news for all of us who want to defend civil liberties.
If Theresa May gets her way there will be no East London LGBT pride celebration, planned for 24 September. There will be no marches to defend local hospitals, jobs and services.
And, despite the ban, the EDL has made it clear that it will still come to Tower Hamlets this Saturday. A message to their supporters posted on their Facebook page boasts:
“Tower Hamlets demo is NOT banned. What they have done is banned our 'march' but we WILL still have a static demo.
“Remember that we have to walk to 'muster points' and from those muster points we have to walk to the demo area. Makes no difference what way you look at it, we will still be marching in Tower Hamlets next Saturday.”
Because the EDL are still coming to east London this Saturday it is vital that anti-racists turnout to protest in the biggest possible numbers. The ban only applies to marches—anyone and everyone is legally allowed to hold static protests.
So there is no time to waste. Over the next few days we have to ensure that as many people as possible join the UEE/UAF demonstration—we have to campaign to make it as big and broad as possible.
Bans are no solution
The Socialist Workers Party wants to keep racists and fascists out of our towns and cities, but bans are not the solution. As a strategy to stop the EDL, they are bankrupt. They do not stop the EDL and instead bans demobilise anti-racist activists.
History is also on the side of those of us who oppose bans.
This October sees the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street—the most important mass demonstration against Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists.
In the wake of the successful anti-fascist mobilisation the government rushed through a new public order bill, which it claimed would curb Mosley.
The wearing of political uniforms, like the fascist’s black shirt, was outlawed and marches could be banned for up to three months.
Yet, the government and police used the new laws against those who opposed the fascists while allowing Mosley the right to free assembly and free speech.
That should be a lesson to all those who today call for state bans on the EDL.
It is vital that the EDL are opposed. That is why Unite Against Fascism has launched a petition demanding our right to march.
If you hate racism and want to defend civil liberties you know where you have to be this Saturday. We also need you to sign the statement at www.uaf.org.uk as a matter of urgency.