Socialist Worker

Weyman Bennett from Unite Against Fascism: 'Our tactics can beat the racists'

Weyman Bennett from Unite Against Fascism sets out a strategy to stop the far right

Issue No. 2356

We’ve pushed back the racist thugs in the past couple of years, but now they’re mobilising in numbers not seen since 2011.

The English Defence League (EDL) got 1,000 on the streets of London and 1,200 in Newcastle last month. It saw the Woolwich killing as a chance to turn its fortunes around. 

In a toxic mix, racist ideas are also being encouraged by mainstream politicians worried about losing ground to Ukip.

Unite Against Fascism (UAF) has led the opposition to the racists and fascists. We have confronted two different organisations that needed different tactics. 

The British National Party (BNP) wanted to hide its fascist roots to win electorally—as Jean Marie Le Pen had in France.

At its peak the BNP won over a million votes. When the media treated it like a normal party, we exposed it as Nazi and said it should not be given a platform.

UAF demonstrators blocked BBC studios in London when its leader Nick Griffin appeared on Question Time in 2009.

Thousands of UAF supporters campaigned around the country wherever the BNP stood and now it is a shadow of its former self. 

From more than 50 councillors it now down to just two. And we are campaigning to kick BNP leader Nick Griffin out of the European parliament next year.


UAF is a broad coalition of trade unionists, socialists, MPs and other anti-racists. It has put a wedge between the hardcore Nazis and the softer racists the BNP was trying to reach.

The EDL was different. It was launched in the middle of 2009 as a racist street movement, based on football hooligan gangs, that targeted Muslims.

It showed its true colours in Stoke the following January. Hundreds of thugs went on the rampage in a multiracial area. They attacked homes, shops and cars. It was a shocking warning.

In the three years since we have organised over 100 protests. 

At first it could be intimidating as their thugs often outnumbered us, but as we built support we grew.

Some in the movement argued that if we ignored them they would go away. Others said we should call on the police to ban them.

UAF argued that ignoring them would allow them to grow and that fascism can’t simply be banned away. Instead we organised the broadest unity and mass mobilisations to stop the fascists in their tracks.

We stopped the EDL being able to dominate the streets. 

Its supporters got sick of being outnumbered. They fought among themselves and fragmented under the pressure.

The turning point was Tower Hamlets in September 2011. 

The EDL announced it wanted to march into one of London’s most multiracial areas. We brought together a magnificent protest and the EDL was utterly humiliated. 

The following year we humiliated them in Waltham Forest, twice, when their national mobilisation was fewer than 200.

We had reduced them to their core of hard racists and fascists.

At the same time we campaigned over the general level of racism, supporting the enormous carnivals organised by Love Music Hate Racism.

We always said we couldn’t be complacent, that the potential for the fascists to grow remained as racist ideas about migrants are becoming mainstream.

The response to Woolwich shows that once again we have to get out onto the streets.

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