Anti-fascists took to the streets of Leicester today (Saturday) to make a stand against the racist English Defence League (EDL).
Around 700 activists from Unite Against Fascism (UAF) outnumbered the 450 EDL thugs who went to the city. But police allowed the racists to march through the city centre, and used 2,200 officers to protect their route.
Hundreds of young locals came out to protect the nearby Highfields and St Matthews areas from the racists. Both have large ethnic minority populations. People gathered to protect the mosques.
The route the police allocated for the UAF march was further away from the city centre than the EDL’s, which angered of many local people.
The day began with several hundred UAF activists assembling at the Clock Tower in the main shopping area. This was the target for the EDL marchers, and anti-racists were determined to hold the position.
Maria, a student, told Socialist Worker, 'The EDL need to know there are enough people in the area saying they shouldn't be here. We should have the right to protest—but we aren't even allowed near our own Clock Tower.'
Mounted police forced the UAF crowd to disperse to a separate assembly point by the city's council officers, clearing the area for racists to shout Islamophobic slogans at local people.
Labour councillor Ross Willmott joined the Clock Tower assembly point with several of his fellow councillors.
He was angry that the police gave the EDL such a prominent route.
'They should have banned the march, or given them a place to march outside the city centre,' he told Socialist Worker. 'We know they advocate racism and violence. In 2010 they came here and smashed up Leicester.'
Councillor Willmott drew comparisons with police actions during the Miners' Strike of 1984.
'Police should have given us the right to protest,' he added. 'I'm disappointed we've been moved out of the way.'
The crowd was then marched to join a separate assembly point outside council offices. There were cheers as the groups met.
Devinder Singh was carrying a Sikhs Against the EDL banner. 'We're against people trying to benefit by dividing people,' he said. 'This is about our human rights.'
Others banners included those from the Leicester and District Trades Council, Leicester CND and the National Union of Teachers.
Patsy Petrie, a social worker in the Unison union, told Socialist Worker that she was there for one reason—'One Leicester.'
She was angry that the EDL for tries to blame minorities for the effects of Tory cuts in the area.
Peter Flack, assistant branch secretary and campaigns officer in Leicester NUT, said, 'Leicester is a multiracial city with very good community relations.
'We're not standing for the EDL coming here to disturb things. They want to promote hatred and incite violence.'
The UAF protesters then marched around the centre of the city. At the same time, several hundred anti-fascists managed to return to the Clock Tower to make their anger felt as the EDL thugs marched past.
While UAF attracted largely local activists, the EDL had to draw in racists from around the country, carrying banners from as far away as Weymouth.
The UAF march finished with speeches as music as snow started to fall.
Martin Smith from Love Music Hate Racism told the crowd, 'When racists and fascists come to this city it is right to take to the streets to say they aren't welcome.'
But he added, 'For the first time ever, the EDL were able to march into and out of a city centre. The police should be ashamed.'
He added, 'The EDL are David Cameron's monkeys. The Tories are cutting our wages and pensions, and to do that they need someone else to blame.'
People chanted 'shame' at mentions of mayor Peter Soulsby, who had released a statement in support of police plans for the day.
Other representatives from UAF, the Indian Workers Association (Great Britain), Leicester Racial Equality Council and the National Union of Students also spoke.
The day ended with a speech from Azhar, an 18-year old anti-racist campaigner.
'If you give the EDL an inch they'll take a mile,' he said. 'When they look you in the eye, don't blink.'