Socialist Worker

Next steps in campaign to drive back the Nazis

by Weyman Bennett, joint secretary of Unite Against Fascism
Issue No. 1900

UNITE AGAINST Fascism is the biggest anti-fascist movement in Britain since the 1970s. It has brought together anti-racist activists, the Muslim Council of Britain and socialists with youth clubs and musicians. Every trade union has signed up. Unite is planning to take the campaign to the next stage with five big festivals in areas that the Nazi BNP are targeting in the 10 June election (see below for details). The first of these took place in Sunderland on Monday of this week, with at least 8,000 people during the day. There will also be a national campaign of mass leafleting.

Already Unite has scored a number of successes. Le Pen, the French Nazi leader, announced he was coming to Birmingham two weeks ago to raise funds for the BNP. But Unite mobilised a Stop Le Pen campaign in the city and 500 people came to the rally.

The protests meant he ended up in a tent in BNP leader Griffin's back garden. On the same weekend the BNP tried to gather in Wickford, Essex. But 150 local people turned out and stopped them. Unite has received serious backing from the labour movement. The leader of the CWU postal and telecommunications union Billy Hayes is treasurer of Unite. He has put out a letter to local CWU branches highlighting those that have backed Unite.

The firefighters' FBU union has ordered 10,000 leaflets for its members and 600 badges. The teachers' NASUWT union has got 250,000 leaflets. The leader of the GMB union Kevin Curran and TUC deputy general secretary Frances O'Grady linked arms with other campaigners to stop the Nazis in Newcastle three weeks ago.

We have had letters from Tony Woodley, leader of the TGWU, and Dave Prentis, leader of Unison, saying this is one of the most important campaigns they have been involved in. The Unite office also gets many letters from Labour Party branches wanting to affiliate.

We have already held 120 local launch events. These range from the 2,000-strong launch party in London in February to meetings in towns and cities to build local Unite networks.

Unite's campaign has brought the BNP out from behind their cover. They have gone from feeling they can conquer to being put on the defensive. They have threatened Maureen Stowe, who resigned as a BNP councillor in Burnley in February, for supporting Unite.

In attacking her they have openly boasted that they are racists, something they have tried to avoid doing. One of Le Pen's bodyguards provided by the BNP was photographed doing the Nazi Sieg Heil salute in Manchester. That picture was published in the Labour left magazine Tribune last week.

Unite has meant that there is a national response to a national threat. Instead of different people handing out a multitude of leaflets, they are brought together under one banner and it gives them confidence.

In the north west BNP leader Griffin wants to be an MEP. That means we have to get out a clear anti-fascist message to tens of thousands of voters across a wide area. The bigger the threat the BNP are, the bigger the shield we need to defend ourselves.

In the 1970s at first the Nazis used to taunt us when we marched. But when we mobilised huge numbers against them they were demoralised and broken. It showed them they were a minority.

Those sheer numbers are what we want to create now. There are only four weeks to go until the election. If we mobilise against the BNP, we can beat them. But it is an urgent task.

On our first national day of mass leafleting on 3 April some 600,000 leaflets were handed out. That is the largest number of anti-BNP leaflets ever handed out on a single day. In Leeds the event brought 140 people together to take part in the leafleting. We held another mass leafleting day this bank holiday Monday.

There need to be more mobilisations like this. Also people can put up Unite posters in their area, and wear and sell the Unite badges. Unite is organising what we hope will be the biggest anti-Nazi festivals since the 1970s. They bring together all parts of the trade union movement with multicultural Britain's youth as an organised force against fascism. The ones in Manchester and London look amazing with national acts signed up to perform.

It will give confidence to everyone that there is a movement out there that takes on and beats the BNP.

  • Anti-BNP festivals sponsored by Unite: 23 May Enfield, 30 May Manchester, 6 June London and Stoke. For further details phone Unite on 020 7833 4916.

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    Article information

    Sat 8 May 2004, 00:00 BST
    Issue No. 1900
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