Socialist Worker

A vital challenge for unions and activists

Issue No. 1836

THE ELECTION last week of a fifth Nazi British National Party (BNP) councillor in Britain needs an urgent response. Adrian Marsden got 679 votes to become BNP councillor in the Mixenden ward in Halifax, West Yorkshire. He beat the Liberal Democrat candidate by just 28 votes and Labour by 38 votes.

Many people in Halifax's shopping centre last Saturday were shocked and revolted at the election result. But the result cannot simply be put down to disappointed Labour voters making a protest vote. The Labour vote dropped by around 100 since the council election last year. The Tory vote has slid from 658 in 2000 to just 214 votes last week. The Mixenden vote also showed a higher turnout-some 37.2 percent-than last year. The BNP tried to build on the basis of people's general disaffection with the three main political parties.

It poured people into Mixenden, an ordinary working class estate. 'It felt like they came round with a leaflet every day, much more than the other parties. Sometimes they would knock on people's doors as well,' said Margaret, a local resident.

One local issue the BNP picked up on was that councillors' had approved a 43 percent rise in their allowances. But its main target was asylum seekers. It tuned into the scaremongering over refugees that the press and politicians have whipped up nationally, which increased further as the election was taking place. 'British Press Help Spread BNP's Message', said the BNP's website, underneath a typical Daily Express front page.

The anti-refugee hysteria reached new heights last week with the Sun's 'crusade' against asylum seekers. It responded to the Daily Mirror's petition against the war with its own petition against refugees.

The Sun said, '100,000 Sun readers are like coiled springs', after home secretary David Blunkett warned about growing tension over refugees. There is no doubt that such press stories were enough to deliver the BNP the 28 votes it needed to win.

The BNP's gains have worried ministers. David Blunkett said, 'The rise of the BNP in any area is a signal to all of us. We need to see them off.' Yet in the next breath he claimed the government had to address people's 'legitimate concerns' over refugees. New Labour's instinct every time it has faced such opposition is to shift to the right.

This compromise with racism hasn't undermined the Nazis. It has given them confidence. This is exactly what happened in the 1970s. Then it took mass mobilisation around the Anti Nazi League to break the Nazis, not pandering to racist arguments.

Crisis across Europe

THE GROWTH of the BNP today is not a 'blip' or a local phenomenon in a small part of north west England. It reflects one aspect of the political crisis and polarisation that is taking place across Europe.

Labour parties which have remodelled themselves as parties of the centre were elected in 13 out of 15 countries across the European Union over the past few years.

They reflected people's hopes of change for the better. Yet in government those parties have eagerly pursued hated neo-liberal policies of privatisation and cuts. The lives of millions of ordinary people have not improved, and they feel bitter and angry. Some of those governments have since been voted out. Others have lost substantial support.

In Britain New Labour was re-elected in 2001 with the lowest turnout since 1918, having lost 2.8 million votes. Blair has continued forcing through privatisation in the NHS, education and across public services.

Many people's lives are racked with insecurity. They suffer more stress at work and see the health service, schools, transport and housing crumble around them.

A significant number of people have looked to parties of the left. There have been the inspiring anti-capitalist protests and anti-war demonstrations. There is growing resistance in trade unions. But some people have also looked to the right.

Le Pen in France got 17 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential elections last year, beating the ruling Socialist Party (France's Labour Party) candidate.

No one should treat the election of five BNP councillors lightly. Le Pen's National Front made its first breakthrough winning seats in a local council in the run-down industrial town of Dreux, west of Paris, in 1983. A year later it got two million votes in European elections. By 1997 it stunned everyone by securing control of four major local councils. Their rise has produced mass resistance against them.

Unfortunately, it has not succeeded in decisively finishing off the Nazi threat. We need mass resistance to the growth of the Nazis in Britain. The BNP wants to capitalise on the 'respectable' image that the media and politicians have allowed it to get away with.

It plans more candidates in the council elections in May. The BNP says it wants to extend the number of its councillors in the north west and go beyond that area. Its electoral campaign will give confidence to the thugs at its Nazi core. Marsden has already been exposed in the Sunday Mirror as having been a leading member of the violent Nazi group Combat 18.

Our task is to reveal that true Nazi face. Halifax MP and leading anti-war campaigner Alice Mahon has urged people to get active against the Nazis. 'The truth is they are as ugly and vicious as ever,' she said.

Organise against far right

THE MOVEMENT that succeeded in booting Nazi BNP councillor Derek Beackon out of east London's Isle of Dogs in 1993-4 has lessons for us today. The then TUC leader John Monks came to the area to speak out against the Nazis in the days after the election.

Labour MPs Frank Dobson and Nick Raynsford came to campaign in the area later. The TUC went on to call a major demonstration in east London which attracted 40,000 people.

The march changed the atmosphere in the area, boosting the confidence of people to go out onto estates and argue against the BNP. This meant directly confronting racist arguments from local people. Importantly, activists immersed themselves in local campaigns over issues like housing and cuts to local health and welfare services.

Those campaigns united people locally and acted to expose the BNP's claim that they stand up for local people's concerns. What a difference it would make today if union leaders were going door to door in areas like Mixenden, arguing against the BNP. TGWU leader Bill Morris has been a principled opponent of New Labour's attacks on refugees.

If he mobilised scores of trade unionists to go round urging people not to blame refugees but to campaign for better services, the BNP would be isolated. Building the Anti Nazi League is vital to winning broad layers of people to confront the Nazis.

But the scale of the Nazi threat is such that we need to mobilise the battalions of the trade union movement. Their activity, not just well meaning resolutions in union branches, is vital to show that the majority do not support the Nazis and drive them back to the margins where they belong.

We also need to build a socialist movement that can offer hope and a progressive way forward to the millions of disillusioned people around Britain.

Anti Nazi League conference

Saturday 8 February, from 10am Contact Theatre, Manchester A day of workshops, reports, ideas and discussion on how we can fight racism and fascism Plus Love Music Hate Racism gig in the evening

Phone 020 7924 0333 or e-mail [email protected]

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Article information

Sat 1 Feb 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1836
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