'WE HAVE to stop the British National Party, make people more aware about the threat they are, and do much more campaigning.' Those were the words of Darlington council worker Margaret Clemence, who joined 2,000 trade unionists at last Saturday's demonstration in Manchester against racism.
The backdrop to the march, called by the Unison union, was the danger from more than 220 British National Party (BNP) candidates who were standing in this week's elections.
'The BNP have conned people into thinking they are a well educated, respectable organisation. They are a really serious threat,' said Margaret and her friend Marie Robinson. 'People feel the Labour Party has let them down and you can't vote Conservative, so what's left? We have been out dropping leaflets against the BNP through people's doors. The BNP start by talking about asylum seekers. But they really want to get rid of everyone except whites. There are mixed race relationships in both of our families.'
All the speakers, including TUC president Brendan Barber and TGWU union leader Bill Morris, urged people to stand up against the BNP. Many of the speakers also attacked the witch-hunt against refugees. Michael Nicholas, from the firefighters' FBU union, said, 'Our union, affiliated to the Labour Party, is increasingly angry at New Labour's policy which fuels racist tension and provides an opportunity for the racist scum. The home secretary that uses the term swamping is firmly in the right wing corner.'
Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said, 'There are people fleeing famine, disease, and war, and our politicians use inflammatory language like swamping and flooding. The fascists have got to be stopped in their tracks. The spawning ground for the far right is the northern towns. We had a wake up call last year. We have to pledge to step up our campaigning.'
Unfortunately Saturday's march did not measure up to the threat posed by the BNP. Nor did it genuinely reflect the scale of anti-racist feeling among Britain's trade unionists.
It was small because the union leaders did not push hard enough to build it. They did not repeat the intense efforts that, for example, saw 30,000 march through east London in 1994 on a TUC anti-racism march. However, campaigners in several areas did confront the Nazis last week. Anti-Nazis succeeded in wrecking a BNP meeting in Sunderland on Wednesday of last week.
The BNP was standing in all 25 seats across the city. Around 60 local people mobilised at short notice to barrack the Nazis as they arrived for the meeting. A group of them headed quickly away once they saw the protest. 'The meeting was meant to be filmed by Channel 4, who had been in the area. But we spoilt the BNP's plans,' says Ray Smith. 'BNP leader Griffin was forced to skulk into the meeting hours later to talk to the few hardcore BNP members.'
This success comes after anti-Nazi protests forced the cancellation of BNP meetings with Griffin in Liverpool and Guildford. Some 500 young black and white young people packed out the Love Music Hate Racism gig in Burnley on Sunday afternoon.
The same day anti-BNP campaigners handed out Don't Vote BNP leaflets round three wards in Burnley. Campaigners also leafleted five wards in Oldham. The recent protests show how local people, trade unionists and students at schools and colleges can be quickly mobilised.
They are a vital part of ripping the mask of respectability away from the BNP, and showing the strength of the anti-Nazi majority in society.
Le Pen humbled
PROTESTERS in Cambridge harangued French Nazi leader Le Pen as he arrived to speak at the university on Thursday of last week. The 250-strong protest included representatives from two unions and a large contingent of students. They gathered outside Cambridge Union debating society after hearing that Le Pen had been invited to speak.
Three of the four speakers pulled out when they found out just who they would be sharing a platform with. By the time Le Pen arrived a noisy crowd was positioned outside all the possible entrances. He was so flustered he dropped his well prepared speech.
According to some of those inside the debating hall Le Pen found it almost impossible to speak without his notes and against a relentless backdrop of anti-Nazi chants from outside.
As Le Pen left the building he was surrounded by four of his thugs who threw kicks and punches at anyone who got in their way. We left Le Pen in no doubt that he and his fascist lies are not welcome in Cambridge.
They grow by mixing racism and disillusion
THE BNP has had to hide its Nazi beliefs to con people into voting for it. A BNP election leaflet that appeared in Chatham in Kent shows it has tried to tap into the disillusion many people feel with mainstream political parties. It asks people whether they want to vote for 'the same old corrupt Labour or Lib Dem regime which has let you down time and time again'.
The BNP, like far right and Nazi parties across Europe, is hoping to take advantage of the deep sense of bitterness in society, and the fears people have over jobs and the crisis in public services. Thursday's elections are one expression of that.
But the BNP's vote should not simply be dismissed as a slap in the face for the main parties. The BNP aims to turn people's anger in a particular direction - racism, and in the first place against asylum seekers. Its vicious lies about refugees can gain a foothold when most of the press and politicians say asylum seekers are a burden on resources.
In turn some New Labour politicians and the Tories then claim they have to be harsh on refugees to undercut the BNP. In Dudley, where the BNP was standing candidates in four seats, the Tories distributed a leaflet which claimed, 'Seven asylum seekers will arrive in Labour Britain during the time it takes you to walk to the polling station and cast your vote.'
Such propaganda pushes the whole debate on asylum to the right and whips up racism in the process. As BNP leader Nick Griffin said, 'It is fun to watch the government and the Tories play the race card. This asylum seeker issue legitimises us.' A vital part of defeating the Nazis is tackling their racism head on. That means countering the myths and lies about refugees.
It also means arguing that the BNP is really a Nazi party that inspires hatred and violence against anyone who doesn't fit into what Griffin says is his dream of an 'all white Britain'.
Driving back the Nazis also means mobilising around issues like low pay, pensioner poverty, cuts in services, housing, and local facilities, and showing there is a positive alternative to the politics of scapegoating and despair.
To contact the Anti Nazi League phone 020 7924 0333 or go to www.anl.org.uk