Socialist Worker

Rolling coverage of Saturday's anti-racist protest in east London

Issue No. 2267

Anti-racists take over the streets of Tower Hamlets

Anti-racists take over the streets of Tower Hamlets

5.15pm. Protesters have just finished their victory rally and are beginning to disperse after a historic day for anti-racist struggle in Britain.

Speakers at the rally proclaimed their triumph—the EDL did not make it into Tower Hamlets, the Tories’ ban on marches was broken on its first day, and thousands of anti-racists are emboldened and ready to confront future threats.

Police who attempted to block the route of the victory parade were ignored as marchers simply lifted their banners over the heads of cops trying to stop them.

Organisers say that numbers joining the anti-racist protest were in the thousands. But with so many people occupying a series of streets and junctions, it may be difficult to arrive at an exact figure.

Few will worry about that.

The depleted ranks of the EDL have been seen off by a united anti-racist movement—despite the efforts of many to demobilise it.

In the wake of the home secretary’s ban, some declared that there should be no demonstration against the racists because they would not be allowed to march.

Socialist Worker argued that this was a mistake.

We said that the EDL would come anyway, and that given the chance they would attempt to cause mayhem in Tower Hamlets. We needed the biggest possible turnout against them.

The fact that so many people agreed with us and took to the streets meant the EDL never got the chance to go on the rampage.

There will be other EDL provocations in the future—but the brilliant victory in east London today will give confidence to people across Britain that the racists can be beaten.

Our live reporting has now closed. Thanks to our reporting team and everyone who sent reports and pictures.

4.50pm. See a video of the victory march.

4.40pm. Here are some photos from the brilliant victory march through Tower Hamlets.

4.35pm. The victory march has made its way past the East London Mosque, where it stopped to applaud and cheer.

Police tried to force the anti-racists off the road and onto the pavement—but the protesters refused, breaking through police lines.

They are now back at the original rallying point. Everybody is cheering.

4.20pm. There is jubilation on the streets of east London.

The EDL have scurried off home, without setting foot in Tower Hamlets. Anti-racists are now holding a “victory march” down Whitechapel Road and returning to their rally point.

They have defied the EDL’s threats and home secretary Theresa May’s ban—and they know it.

Around 1,000 protesters who held the junction with Commercial Road are linking up with those who blockaded the bottom of Brick Lane. Together they are shouting, “Tower Hamlets, Nazi free,” and “Whose streets? Our streets!”

Asian youth are marching arm in arm with young white people, councillors are chanting alongside trade unionists, and Muslims and non-Muslims are embracing each other as scale of their victory becomes apparent.

Together they have filled the width of the road, and are being cheered by onlookers and crowds gathered around the East London Mosque.

Within a few minutes they will be back at the rally point at Vallance Road, where their day began.

4.15pm. The thugs of the EDL have shown their true face of hatred and violence today, attacking Muslims, journalists and anti-fascist protesters.

But they failed to muster the numbers they hoped for and the huge turn out by anti-fascists has stopped them from entering Tower Hamlets.

The EDL gathered earlier today in Liverpool Street, where they chanted Islamophobic and racist slogans and attempted to pick fights with horrified bystanders. Many of the EDL had clearly been drinking for several hours.

EDL thugs hurled mimic “grenades” over the heads of the police towards anti-fascist protesters and passers-by.

Eyewitnesses report the EDL surrounding a Muslim woman at Liverpool Street and screaming racist abuse at her. EDL thugs also attacked a journalist, attempting to set him on fire, leaving him with a small burn.

Despite home secretary Theresa May’s “ban” on the EDL march, the EDL thugs were allowed to move unescorted through the streets from Liverpool Street to Aldgate carrying placards and chanting anti-Muslim slogans.

At Aldgate, the EDL held a rally. EDL leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) launched into a hate-filled diatribe against Islam, saying, “The more Islam in Britain the less freedom we have.” He was clearly rattled by the anti-racist protest, complaining about “thousands of Islamist idiots running around the streets of east London”. Another speaker called Islam a “sickness”.

Eyewitnesses now report that the police are moving the EDL out of the area—and the anti-fascists are celebrating their departure.

3.50pm. The atmosphere is electric at the junction of Whitechapel Road and Commercial Road as it is announced that the EDL’s Fuhrer “Tommy Robinson”, aka Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, has been arrested at his demonstration.

3.40pm. Up to 1,000 anti-racists have blocked the junction of Whitechapel Road and Commercial Road—one of the busiest in London.

Several hundred are still also blocking the bottom of Brick Lane.

Protesters say they are determined to hold both points until after the EDL scurry off home.

3.25pm. Among those holding Whitechapel Road is a young woman called Taznin, and a group of her friends.

“This is my first ever demo,” she told Socialist Worker. “I’m determined to show that we don’t want the EDL in Tower Hamlets.

“I don’t want to be at home, closed off from the world on a day like today.

“That’s why I’m on the streets instead.”

Khaled from Bow added, “The EDL were banned from marching, but they’re still here, so what’s the difference? What was the point?

“We’re here to support the demo against the EDL.”

Meanwhile it appears that EDL numbers are well down on their expectations. So far, only a few hundred have made it to their rally in the Aldgate area of the City of London.

3.20pm. There are more photos here and here.

3.05pm. Music is still playing at the UAF-UEE rally. Nitin Sawhney has finished his set, and now renowned DJ Nihal is on stage.

2.55pm. Anti-racists are holding the full width of Whitechapel Road to prevent the EDL from getting into Tower Hamlets. Marchers are stopped outside Altab Ali Park, where in 1978, 25 year old Altab Ali was murdered by racists.

The mixed crowd of hundreds are chanting, “They shall not pass”—the slogan of anti-fascists who 75 years ago prevented Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts from marching down Cable Street.

2.45pm. Several hundred anti-racist protesters have marched from their rally to Osborn St, at the bottom of Brick Lane—in defiance of Tory home secretary Theresa May’s ban on marches.

They have stopped close to where the EDL are hoping to rally. Demonstrators are chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “Black and white, unite and fight”.

2.30pm. Get Cape Wear Cape Fly has been playing music on the UAF stage.

People are browsing the campaign stalls and sitting on the pavement chatting. RMT, GMB and Unison flags are flying over the crowd.

Nitin Sawhney just came on to play.

2.25pm. A wide range of speakers have addressed the protests, representing the breadth of the movement against the EDL.

Glyn Robbins, the chair of United East End, which was central to organising today’s protest, told the crowd, “We want this to be a celebration. The EDL wanted to bring a message of hate to our community.

“We denied them that. There will never be a time for them to come here.”

A speaker from the Islamic Forum of Europe said, “This time last year we stopped the EDL from coming here. This time we are going to do it again because I see Muslims, Christians, Jews, gays and lesbians all here today.”

Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman thanked UAF and United East End for organising the protest. He said, “In the 1930s we saw off Oswald Mosley’s fascists. In the past 30 to 40 years we have stood together—black and white— against the fascists.

“Today we say no to the EDL in Tower Hamlets. I stand shoulder to shoulder with you at this event.”

The Reverend Alan Green, one of those involved in organising today’s event, told the protesters, “The EDL tried to say that Christians weren’t welcome here, but I tell you that we are. We walk the streets with those of different cultures.”

He read out a message of support from Leon Silver from the Nelson Street Synagogue. The statement said, “Our wonderfully diverse borough has long been home for migrant communities. This is our East End, our home—not the EDL’s. We are all brothers and sisters here.”

Dilowar Khan from East London Mosque told the assembled crowd, “During my teenage times I was attacked many times by the National Front and the BNP, but times have now changed. We don’t want to go back to uncivilised times.

“We stand together hand in hand, we can defeat the fascists and Islamophobia.”

Poet and activist Zita Holbourne brought a message of solidarity from the PCS union, the TUC Race Relations Committee and BARAC (Black Activists Rising Against Cuts). She said the protest was “a clear sign to the fascists that we are stronger than them”.

“We will boot them out of Tower Hamlets, London or any town,” she added. “EDL sod off! You are not welcome.”

Martin Smith, an officer of UAF and one of the organisers of Love Music Hate Racism, told the crowd, “I’ve got a message for the Islamophobes in government—to hell with your ban.

“To our friends who say we shouldn’t be here today, you are wrong and the ban strategy is bankrupt.”

Martin explained how pressure from below had meant that local pubs and the nearby branch of Sainsbury’s had refused to let the EDL assemble on their property, and how the RMT union had organised to stop the EDL meeting at local train stations.

“That’s how we ban the EDL,” he said. “Everyone together we are strong.”

A number of trade unionists spoke to the protest. John McLoughlin, branch secretary of Tower Hamlets Unison, said, “We got rid of the BNP before and we won’t let the EDL get a foothold in Tower Hamlets.

“There is a lot of anger among working class people at the moment. The EDL want to exploit that and to turn people against each other. But in our union branch the most common name is Begum. Muslims are a key part of the trade union movement.”

Tony Kearns, senior deputy general secretary of the CWU union, told the protest, “It is no surprise that government after government waging the ‘war on terror’ gives food to fascists. The CWU will always be there to oppose the fascists.

“The trade union movement and all other groups must come together so when the EDL turn up we can chase them from the streets.”

Glyn Ford, former MEP, added, “It is right that the EDL was banned, but it is wrong that all marches were banned. We must allow anti-fascists to give their voice clearly.”

Phil Maxwell, former leader of Tower Hamlets Labour group, was cheered when he said, “There is no greater joy than standing in front of this crowd of human beings. I can think of no better place to be in the world.

“Where else in the world can you see such diversity and solidarity against hate of all kinds? You have filled me with hope. Feel the solidarity and strength you have.”

Terry Stewart, from campaign group Out East, said, “Islamophobia and homophobia are two sides of one coin. The EDL try to argue that all Muslims are homophobic.

“The LGBT people are together to say: no way. Our community will not be divided.”

Weyman Bennett of UAF told the crowd that the EDL said they’d come to Tower Hamlets—but the movement stopped them meeting at Sainsbury’s and the RMT union stopped them gathering at a station. “And if they ever manage to get here, there are thousands here to stop them,” he said.

“What is happening here gave [Tory home secretary] Theresa May a real migraine. She put out a plan. She wanted to keep us off the streets. But these streets belong to anti-racists and anti-fascists.”

He added, “You have to challenge the thugs—you can’t hide behind your curtains permanently. It wasn’t a virtual campaign that stopped the EDL today, it was knowing that people will stand shoulder to shoulder.”

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU firefighters’ union, said, “This October is the 75th anniversary of Cable Street. People have to come out to stop the fascists.”

Denis Fernando from the Lesbian And Gay Coalition Against Racism said, “If they get away with singling out Muslims today it will be LGBT people later.”

Alex Kenny brought greetings from East London NUT teachers’ union. He said, “We have a great tradition of standing up against racism. Our local president Blair Peach was murdered on an anti-fascist demo.

“We will stop the EDL by force of numbers on the streets—not through the laws or courts.”

Rima Amin of the NUS Black Students Committee told the rally, “The EDL are not just confused. They promote dangerous bigotry. That’s why it’s important to be here today.

“[Norway killer] Anders Breivik targeted young people who were the next generation fighting Islamophobia.”

Broadcaster and author Michael Rosen closed the speeches with a moving poetic tribute to his parents, who fought at Cable Street, and a reading of Pastor Niemoller’s warning about the threat of fascism.

1.20pm. Ken Livingstone, the Labour candidate for London mayor, sent a statement to the counter-protest. It reads:

“I’m delighted that in response to the divisive, hateful policies of the EDL, today will see a celebration of the strength and cohesion of multicultural Tower Hamlets.

“This is the right response to the EDL. It is a fitting riposte to those who peddle hatred, violence and fear.”

1.10pm. Nazir from south east London is among the thousands of anti-EDL protesters who have made their way to Whitechapel. He said he’d had many personal experiences of racism and Islamophobia.

He told Socialist Worker, “When we came here for Eid, the Imam told us the EDL would be coming. We thought it was really important that we come and stand up for the mosque.

“Whenever any group rises up and tries to oppress people because of race or religion or ethnicity, we should be the first to stand up.”

Edinburgh university student Georgious Theodoridis travelled down from Scotland to join the protest.

He said, “If you get the state to ban one demo they can ban them all. To beat fascists you need to take on the real problems in our society—they are not caused by immigration.

“You have to fight the fascists in our communities, trade unions, workplaces and universities. You have to fight them in day to day life, not through a state ban.”

1pm. There are now thousands of protesters crowded along both sides of the main road through Whitechapel. Many have brought home-made signs to let the EDL know they are not welcome.

The crowd is very mixed—with Asian, white and black people of all ages still joining the protest. The East London Mosque has provided food and opened up its neighbouring London Muslim Centre to demonstrators.

Aziz is a young activist who has been helping to organise for the protest. He said, “At the beginning of the week we thought it would just be Muslims, and to be honest we were a little bit nervous. But from the first minute we came out today there has been all kinds of people here.

“I think it is great that we are showing that everyone is welcome in the mosque, with organising meetings being held there and everyone getting to have their say.

“When I look around me today, it is so obvious that it’s not us that are the extremists—it’s the EDL.”

Mahbuba works at Hackney College. She is encouraging other people from east London to make their way to the protest. “I have never been on a demonstration before,” she said. “Before today, I would have said protests don’t really make a difference—but being here shows that it does.

“I am from this area so that was the reason I came today. Now I have come, I will do more, whether it is to stop the EDL or against the cuts.”

12.55pm. Matt Wrack, general secretary of the firefighters’ FBU union, is on the demonstration. He told Socialist Worker, “I’m here to oppose the EDL and their attempt to march or rally in the East End. We need a united response to the EDL from trade unionists and working class people to defeat them—and this is a good turnout today.

“But Theresa May’s ban on marches has had an impact. I personally think it was a mistake to call for the ban. What it does is it gives the home secretary a weapon to ban labour movement marches.”

12.30pm. M. Ali is one of many volunteers outside the East London Mosque, which is across the road from the counter-protest.

“I’m not here to protect the mosque. I’m here to protect the local community—whether that’s a mosque, church, synagogue or pub,” he told Socialist Worker.

“We all live together here in Tower Hamlets. And today we are showing that we can unite to defend our community.

“There are as many non-Bangladeshis as Bangladeshis here today.

“Whatever guise the racists come in, we need to fight them.”

12.25pm. Varinder Singh is standing under a Sikhs Against the English Defence League banner. He told SW, “Sikhs have come from east and west London and from Birmingham to show solidarity with the Muslim community.

“We know that the EDL campaigns against all our communities. Islamophobia is just one of its faces.

“I’m from east London where the EDL has tried to spread confusion saying the Sikhs are against Muslims. But nationally Sikh temples have signed a joint statement of solidarity.”

Meanwhile a full coach just arrived from Stoke-on-Trent.

Gary McNally, chair of Norscarf (North Staffordshire Campaign Against Racism and Fascism) told Socialist Worker, “The EDL trashed our city centre and attacked a local mosque.

“We decided it was important to come down to show solidarity with Muslims in Tower Hamlets.”

12.20pm. Author, broadcaster and activist Michael Rosen is at the protest in Whitechapel. He told Socialist Worker, “I am standing a few feet from where my dad lived and went to school. Some 75 years ago, my mum and dad came onto these same streets to stop the fascists coming to east London.

“At the time it was a direct provocation. While bombs rained down in Spain and in Germany they were rounding up trade unionists, communists and socialists, my mum and dad knew they had to make a stand.

“We now have to make a stand against the EDL—they have the same ideas and the same politics. We have no alternative, we have to make a stand. I am proud to be here.”

12.15pm. Peter Kavanagh, regional secretary of the Unite union is on the counter-protest.

“Unite’s London and Eastern region represents 330,000 workers and is thoroughly mixed and multicultural. We won’t allow racists and fascists to use hatred to divide us,” he told Socialist Worker.

“Recession and cuts have provided a fertile ground for the far right. We have to make clear that there is an alternative to them and we won’t allow the rich to carry on stealing from the poor.”

12.05pm. A coachload of trade unionists, students and anti-racist activists have travelled down from Newcastle and Middlesbrough to join the protest.

Spencer Davies, the equality and diversity officer for Tyne View Pensions Service in the PCS union is one of those on board.

He told Socialist Worker was there on behalf of his union branch. “Equality and diversity are at the root of everything we do,” he said. “It is how we make a society.

“We oppose all forms of bigotry and hatred. Discrimination has no place in our society.”

A lively delegation of protesters from Leicester travelled to Tower Hamlets to join the protest. They have had an active UAF group since the EDL tried to protest in their city.

Dave Wainwright, treasurer of Leicester UAF and a Unite union member, said, “Nazis always need to be opposed. Obviously I’d rather be at home watching TV, but we have to get out and protest against the EDL.

“From experience I knew the ban on the EDL demonstration meant little. In Leicester the EDL were banned, yet they still came.

“They still rioted and attacked people. They tried to get into the Highfields area of Leicester and if the local community hadn’t turned out, they would have succeeded.

“Personally, I think a campaign for a ban should never take priority over a campaign for a counter-protest. Because look what we got—a 30 day ban across five London boroughs.

“This will affect workers and activists fighting for their rights in a recession more than it will affect any fascists.”

11.55am. A delegation from City and Islington College UCU union has joined the protest. Sean Vernell, the London rep on the UCU executive, told Socialist Worker, “It is really important to see the brilliant unity of black and white people who have turned out today to show that the EDL are not welcome in east London.

“As a socialist I have never been in favour of state bans. The last week has proved that if you give the state more powers, then it is used against our side and not the racists. State bans are not the solution.

“We need mass mobilisations like today to stop the racists.”

Dwain from Hackney said the police and the EDL “want to make it look like black and Asian people are the problem”.

“I’ve been stopped and searched so many times,” he added. “I’ve come down because there’s no way the EDL are going to walk through here without me being able to say I tried to stop them.”

Dee, a Palestine activist from Swansea, said, “Seeing the EDL trying to jump on the bandwagon of the riots and take advantage of how people are feeling makes me sick.

“In Swansea, when we were marching against the Welsh Defence League, it felt like the police were there to facilitate them marching. It’s all the wrong way round.”

11.45am. Among those joining the counter-demonstration is Phil Summers, a local Methodist minister.

He told Socialist Worker, “Tower Hamlets has always united to fight against social deprivation. The last thing we need is fascists stirring up division.”

Eddie Rowley is part of a delegation from London Metropolitan University. He said, “We work around the corner in Aldgate. This is our area and we are determined to take a stand against the EDL.”

Sherelle Davids, London School of Economics (LSE) students’ union anti-racism officer, came with 20 other LSE students.

“We came to show our opposition to fascist EDL,” she said.

“I think the EDL must be scared. They can’t even find a pub to meet in that hasn’t shut down.”

Ella, an LSE student, said that initially she was confused by the ban on marches but was really glad that there is a counter-protest against the EDL.

“It’s so good to see so many people here,” she said.

11.35am. Hundreds of anti-fascists are now gathering in Whitechapel to protest against the EDL. There is a carnival atmosphere, with music playing, flags flying, and union banners being unfurled along the sides of the assembled crowd.

Rex Phillip, Wales organiser for the NASUWT teachers’ union has just arrived at the protest. He said, “We have come here to add our voice to all of those opposed to the EDL and to the far right and other fascist organisations.

“It is often said that it only takes for good people to do nothing for evil to prevail. We want to be part of those good people in Tower Hamlets today.”

In the area around the protest, the market and nearby shops are open as usual. Traders are setting up their stalls. There is a lot of support for the protest against the EDL.

One shop worker told Socialist Worker, “It’s because of multiculturalism that our towns and cities are worth living in.

“I’ll try to join the demo in my lunch hour.”

Meanwhile Unite Against Fascism’s hashtag for the demo, #uafeastend, is trending on Twitter.

11.10am.Trade union delegations are now arriving at the counter-protest. Already banners from London Metropolitan University Unison, Tower Hamlets council Unison, East London Mental Health Unison, and European Passenger Services RMT.

11.05am. Anti-racists are travelling from across Britain to join the protest today.

Speaking from a packed coach from Nottingham, Chesterfield and Derby, Richard Buckwell told Socialist Worker, “My union branch, Ashfield Unison, gave a donation towards the transport today.

“It is important that the EDL is opposed wherever they go.”

Steven, who has just graduated from Nottingham university, is on the same coach. He said, “Following the riots, I think the EDL is trying to play on racist tensions created in the media. We need to have a physical and vocal presence against racism.”

Activists from Scotland have travelled overnight on coaches to join the demonstration. Delegations have come from Glasgow, Edinburgh and as far away as Dundee.

They are coming to show solidarity with the people of Tower Hamlets ahead of their own counter-protest against EDL offshoot the Scottish Defence League in Edinburgh next week.

John, an unemployed worker from Govanhill, Glasgow, said, “The EDL are a fascist organisation and we can’t tolerate them. They’re a threat to everyone.

“We need to stand up against them wherever they come on the streets.”

Jasmin is on her way to the protest with a group of Love Music Hate Racism activists from Kent. She said, “Racism is quite a personal issue for me because of my background—my father is Iranian. But it is a wider issue too—we don’t want fascism in this country.

“We have to stamp the EDL out now and resist what they are trying to do.”

10.35am. Good morning from the team at Socialist Worker

We will be providing rolling coverage of today’s anti-racist protest against the English Defence League (EDL)’s planned demonstration in Tower Hamlets, east London.

Here is our first news of the day.

  • Unite Against Fascism and United East End, the joint organisers of today’s event, are expecting large numbers of people to join their counter-protest. They have erected a stage and soundsystem on the corner of Vallance Road and Whitechapel Road in the very heart of Tower Hamlets. Already stalls are being set up and local people and longstanding activists are gathering.
  • Local opposition to racism and fascism is greatly hampering the EDL’s efforts to harass Tower Hamlets. The council, local pubs, and Sainsbury’s supermarket have all refused to allow the racists to use their premises as an assembly point, after pressure.
  • The RMT rail union has also declared it will shut any station the EDL gather at on health and safety grounds. This has prevented the EDL using Liverpool Street station, as they had hoped to do.
  • Last night’s Love Music Hate Racism club night in Tower Hamlets was a huge success, with over 450 people packed into the Rich Mix arts centre. The combination of music, poetry and politics struck a chord with the overwhelmingly young crowd who are determined to keep the racists out of east London. There was also fury at the home secretary’s ban on all marches in many parts of London for 30 days. Despite being notionally aimed at the EDL, everyone is affected by it. One reveller told Socialist Worker, “What Theresa May has done is to ban democracy for 30 days.”
  • Coaches filled with anti-racists are travelling to east London. We will have reports from some of these shortly.

Please email your views, news and photos to [email protected]

Teachers from Wales in the NASUWT union joined the protest

Teachers from Wales in the NASUWT union joined the protest

Get Cape Wear Cape Fly performs at the UAF demo

Get Cape Wear Cape Fly performs at the UAF demo

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.