THE BRITISH National Party's attempt to hold a fundraising event with the French Nazi leader Jean-Marie Le Pen spectacularly backfired last Sunday. A campaign organised by Unite Against Fascism trashed any hope the BNP had of favourable press coverage for their "respectable" black-tie dinner with Le Pen.
The Nazis were forced to retreat to BNP leader Griffin's farm in Wales. The anti-BNP mobilisation was reported in the press, along with details of Le Pen's Nazi beliefs and criminal convictions. Some 500 people joined Unite's rally in Birmingham on Sunday. They cheered as Weyman Bennett, joint secretary of Unite Against Fascism, explained what the protest had achieved.
"Le Pen said he was coming to Birmingham. The BNP couldn't find a hotel in Birmingham that would take them," said Weyman. "So Le Pen and the BNP went to Manchester. The council there made it clear that any place playing host to the Nazis would no longer get any business from the council. The BNP couldn't even gather in a car park in Stockport to redirect the media to the press conference without 250 people gathering to say, 'You're not welcome here.' Le Pen's dinner was held in Griffin's backyard in a tent. The next door neighbours told us they would roll down a banner saying 'Le Pen go home!' All this is because we had them running around like the rats that they are."
The anti-fascist rally in Birmingham attracted a wide range of people, including many trade unionists. Doug Jewell, secretary of Birmingham trades council and a Labour Party member, told Socialist Worker, "We organised today's protest on behalf of Unite. We have had incredible support from people on the street, MPs, council leaders, trade unions. I think David Blunkett should have done more over Le Pen. The irony of the situation is a Czech Roma fleeing the petrol bombing of their home does not have freedom of movement but a fascist scumbag does!"
John Partridge, a regional organiser for the TGWU union, told the rally, "If there had been firmer condemnation from the political elite and establishment of the ideas of racism and fascism we would not need to be here. A climate is created which the BNP can feed off. It is left to the trade union movement and Unite Against Fascism to mobilise."
John Rees spoke on behalf of the Stop the War Coalition. He also heads the list of candidates standing for Respect in the West Midlands. He said, "This government is using the excuse of the war on terror to demonise Muslims. They are sowing seeds that the BNP is reaping. The war on terror is feeding the far right. It has to stop now. When you go to the polls in June vote against the war and against the Nazis."
The rally also included performances from local singers and poets. The whole event was a defiant display of black, white and Asian people united-the very thing that the BNP hates.
How trade unionists stood up to Nazis
Chris Wood, a member of the West Midlands region firefighters' FBU union, told Socialist Worker, "At short notice we have made the point that fascists are not welcome here. Many people have come together under the Unite Against Fascism banner and pooled their resources. This is a big positive step. We now need to deploy those in the June elections. I'm a Labour councillor in Stoke.
It really winds me up the way the government has handled the asylum issue. People perceive it as a massive problem and that allows the BNP to come to the fore. Asylum seekers are dumped in substandard accommodation with no support systems. Then the lunatic fringe sees them as a target."
Manchester sees off the far right
IN MANCHESTER over 250 people from a broad range of parties, trade unions and campaigning groups joined a rally organised by Unite Against Fascism against Le Pen's visit. The BNP tried to keep its press conference venue secret to stop protesters disrupting it. The BNP told the press to go to the car park of Office World in Stockport and wait to be told where to go.
But campaigners discovered the press conference was being held in the Cresta Court Hotel in Altrincham and a fleet of cars ferried them there. Their angry chants could be heard throughout the fascist press conference. A fire alarm went off as Le Pen and Griffin attempted to express their racist views.
Protesters rattled Le Pen and Griffin when they left the hotel, surrounding the car and pelting it with rubbish. BNP bodyguards, all with shaved heads and dark suits, lashed out violently at anti-fascists from behind police lines. The bodyguards were made up mainly of former members of the Nazi terror gang Combat 18.
Henry Guterman, a Holocaust survivor who lives in Manchester, told Socialist Worker, "The BNP deny they are racist and fascist, but Griffin has invited a leader of a fascist party in France here. This has removed the BNP's cloak of respectability."
Steve West, an RMT rail workers' union official at Manchester Piccadilly station, said, "My branch is pleased to support Unite Against Fascism. At Piccadilly black, Asian and gay people work together. Apart from management attacks, we're a happy bunch. I'm appalled that Le Pen is coming to this country. Trade unionists have to get the message out."
Madeline Heneghan, a Respect candidate for the European elections, said, "It is important to resist any attempt by the BNP to organise. I'm very surprised that Le Pen was allowed into the country. We're also giving a message to Blair. He has handed the BNP confidence with the anti asylum seeker stance the Labour Party has taken."
Marie Angela, an Italian living in Manchester, told Socialist Worker, "Today, 25 April, was the liberation day for Italy from the Nazis in the Second World War. It is a symbolic day for me. There is a return of fascism across Europe. We have to demonstrate against it."
Now focus on the elections
AFTER THEIR successful weekend, anti-fascist protesters are determined to campaign across the country in the run-up to the European elections. Annette Place, a member of Unison's national executive, told the Birmingham rally, "We have to get everyone in their workplace and on their street working towards the election. We cannot allow the BNP to gain a foothold in this country."
The North West TUC has organised an anti-fascist day school in Manchester for this Saturday and there will be mass leafleting against the BNP this Sunday.
Mohammed Azzam, a Labour councillor in Oldham and member of the Unite Against Fascism steering committee, told Socialist Worker, "We have showed today that we stand for harmony, prosperity and peace. Contrast that with the BNP and the National Front. They stand for hate, division and violence. The majority of people need to make their voices heard in the forthcoming elections. They need to turn out in high numbers and vote against the BNP-putting them into the gutter of politics where they belong."