Anti-fascist activists, Muslim groups, trade unionists and local councillors in Luton are banding together to see off the threat from the racist English Defence League (EDL).
The EDL is threatening to march through Luton town centre on Saturday 5 May. They have targeted the town several times in the past, notably in February last year.
But the groups behind the “We Are Luton” statement have vowed to oppose the EDL and mount a march to St George’s Square. That’s the place where the EDL assembled last time, with police help.
“The EDL is a racist group dedicated to promoting hatred and intolerance in society,” the statement reads. “Islamophobia—bigotry against Muslims—is as unacceptable as any other form of racism.”
Signatories include local MP Kelvin Hopkins, Luton Council of Mosques, several local youth organisations and community projects, Luton TUC and a host of local trade union branches.
Unite Against Fascism (UAF) is backing the anti-EDL protest and calling on its supporters nationally to get down to Luton on 5 May.
Vince Charles is an activist in the Unison trade union and chair of Luton UAF. “People are shocked to see the EDL wants to come back to town,” he told Socialist Worker, in a personal capacity. “The Muslim community in particular has had enough.”
This anger has sparked a “broad-based” alliance against the EDL, he added. “Luton TUC has played a prominent role alongside UAF and Muslim community groups.”
The EDL was formed after far right thugs went on the rampage against Asians in Luton in May 2009. EDL leader Tommy Robinson—real name Stephen Lennon—is from Luton.
“The EDL is in a weakened state at the moment”, Weyman Bennett, joint secretary of UAF, told Socialist Worker. “But it is trying to rebuild itself by going back to Luton on 5 May.”
“We have to stop them now, while they are weak and before the economic crisis deepens. That’s why it’s so important for anti-fascists to across the country to support the Luton anti-EDL mobilisation.”
Dave Barnes from Luton UAF added, “There is determination among anti-racists to hold a single unified demo against the racists.”
In February 2011 the local Bedfordshire Police “facilitated” the EDL demo by handing over Luton’s main town square to the fascists.
In contrast the police went out of the way to block anti-fascist protesters, insisting that Luton’s Muslim population demonstrate in Bury Park separately from other anti-racists.
The police want to do something similar on 5 May, said Dave, but the political pressure against them is mounting.
Councillors in particular do not want a repeat of February 2011 and have taken a much firmer stance against the EDL.
“The experience of last time round shocked people—especially the extent to which the police were politically active in trying to stop anti-fascists from protesting,” said Dave. “Lots of people have learned the lessons and don’t trust the police.”
An arson attack last week on a mosque in Luton’s Bury Park area has added to the anger at police. Two large metal bins were pushed up against a door of Bury Park Jamie Masjid and set alight.
The mosque has been a target of racist vandals in the past—yet the police failed to prevent the latest attack.
This has fuelled feelings in Luton’s Muslim community to defy police pressure and take a public stand against the EDL racists.
Transport to the counter-protest has been organised from around the country. Details are available on the UAF website at uaf.org.uk/2749