Over 5,000 anti-fascist protesters kept the English Defence League (EDL) out of Tower Hamlets, east London, last Saturday. The EDL managed to muster just 600. They wanted to march into Tower Hamlets and into Altab Ali Park—named after a young Bangladeshi man murdered by racists—but they did not pass. The scale of the anti-fascist mobilisation forced the police to restrict the EDL to a brief rally at Aldgate, outside Tower Hamlets.
Unite Against Fascism (UAF) called the demonstration which opened with a rally in Altab Ali Park. It was supported by United East End, trade unions and many other organisations. Local councillor Rabina Khan told the crowd in the park, “They say that multiculturalism is dead. But I’m a product of multiculturalism and we are here to stay.” Writer Owen Jones said, “We are a community united, standing in solidarity. Stand together and we’ll win this together.”
Veteran anti-fascist campaigner Max Levitas said, “This is taking me back to the Battle of Cable Street. We won because we stood in the fight. We didn’t move, we must do the same now.” Amanda Bentham from the NUT union, John McLoughlin from Unison and mayor Lutfur Rahman all spoke from Tower Hamlets. Crowds kept arriving all morning. Mahmoud, who lives in Tower Hamlets, told Socialist Worker, “It’s brilliant to see so many people out together. These are our streets. The EDL will not come here to spread their hate.”
As the EDL approached Aldgate thousands took over Whitechapel Road. Banners from the NUT, PCS, Unison, UCU, Unite, CWU, BMA and RMT unions filled the road. After the Nazis scuttled back over Tower Bridge, a victory march went down Whitechapel Road and rallied outside East London Mosque. Chants of “Whose streets? Our streets!” filled the air.
UAF joint secretary Weyman Bennett told the crowd,“The EDL will never come to the streets of east London. Who stopped them? We stopped them! Let’s continue to stand together in solidarity.” The EDL fought each other throughout the day and around 14 were arrested, including EDL co-founder Tommy Robinson.
A group of anti-fascists broke from the main demo. They were held in police kettles for hours and later arrested. One observer told Socialist Worker, “They literally arrested every single person in those kettles. Nothing was happening, but they were arrested anyway. I was there until the last arrest four hours after the main demo ended.”
Over 200 were arrested, including five legal observers and at least one journalist. Weyman Bennett said, “UAF Legal is investigating why the police went in and arrested so many anti-fascists. “It always goes back to the disproportionate way the police treat anti-fascist protesters.”