More than 2,000 people gathered in Sheffield city centre last Saturday for a demonstration against the racist English Defence League (EDL) organised by Unite against Fascism (UAF).
Anti-racists completely outnumbered the EDL, For the second week running. This time the racists could only muster 270.
Their leader Tommy Robinson plotted to come back after 100 EDL supporters had been blocked from laying a wreath at the local cenotaph the previous week.
It was a huge victory. So there was outrage when people heard that the police planned to shut down the Barker’s Pool area around the cenotaph. This was where anti-racists had gathered before.
This time the police were determined to allow the EDL to lay a wreath.
UAF mobilised in the city to oppose the racists along with One City, Many Cultures, which held a festival celebrating multiculturalism on the day.
Jill, a member of Sheffield’s UAF steering committee told Socialist Worker, “Last week 650 people stopped fascists coming to the cenotaph. It was only because they were totally humiliated that they decided to come back.
“Today has shown we have brilliant unity here.”
The police had the entire city centre in lockdown. They surrounded the cenotaph with fencing 24 hours before the protest to stop demonstrators arriving early to occupy the square.
Every street into the square was heavily policed or blocked by barricades.
Police on horseback surrounded anti-fascists as the EDL supporters were led into the centre. Anti-fascists jeered and chanted, “Nazi scum off our streets”.
Sarah, a local resident and member of the National Association of Probation Officers was one of the few who got into the square to protest against the EDL.
She told Socialist Worker, “Some were openly sieg heiling. A few were pretending to do victory signs, but were styling them into a sieg heil.”
The police said they weren’t allowing flags or banners into the square, though they let the EDL in with all their England flags. A Muslim man who had an Islamic peace flag was told he couldn’t come in with it.
After the EDL were led out of the square, the huge crowd poured into Barker’s Pool. The breadth of the demonstration was clear as families and trade unionists with banners, including Unite, NUT and UCU, gathered on the steps outside the town hall and surrounded the cenotaph.
“I’m so happy,” Arwa, a local resident, told Socialist Worker.
“I’m here with my three children today because it is important to say no to racists and be united.
“I want to say to everyone here, thank you for your support!”
As the protesters rallied, police held the EDL a few streets away.
When officers tried to escort the racists to the station along a busy street, hundreds spontaneously filled the road and refused to let them pass.
Riot police with batons raised and police on horseback confronted the mainly black and Asian crowd to chants of, “Shame on you”.
Police with dogs blocked side streets to stop protesters leaving to confront the EDL. After an hour the police had to shuffle the EDL along back streets to the station as passers by shouted at them to go home.