Fascist BNP leader Nick Griffin and his sidekick Mark Collett appeared in Leeds Crown Court on Wednesday morning for re-trial on charges of race-hatred. The trial was adjourned until Friday when the prosecution will open their case.
Since the original trial was announced, Unite Against Fascism (UAF) groups in Yorkshire and Humberside have consistently organised regular protests outside Leeds Crown Court, and this tradition continued on Wednesday. Despite the late change in the date set for the start of the retrial, the Unite mobilisation was still more than a match for the BNP in terms of numbers and noise. Once again the highlight came when university students marched past the fascist lines en masse chanting 'Nazi scum - get off our streets', before joining the other Unite protesters.
Ruqayyah Collector, NUS Black Students Officer told Socialist Worker that she was a bit surprised there was so few BNP members there given it must have been a national mobilisation, and she was impressed by the diversity of the UAF protest which included Jewish students, black students, all sorts of students coming together. 'That Unite engages with all communities is a strength as the fight against fascism is a fight which affects us all'.
Many different local trade unions were represented at the protest, but delegations were particularly strong from both the civil servants union PCS and the teachers union NASUWT. Jane Aitchison, PCS Department of Work and Pensions President, noted that 'PCS have been involved in these demonstrations in Leeds from the start, and it was important to show that the decent majority of trade unionists are against the politics of Nick Griffin.' What brought the importance of such protests home to her was watching a young black women who was not involved in the protest today being visibly frightened by just having to walk past the mob of BNP members in front of the court.
Celia Foote, from Leeds NASUWT said 'there is no place in our society for the ideology of the BNP' and blamed their growth on the 'popular climate of racism, stoked by visceral headlines in the tabloid press, which has an insidious influence on school children. We need a powerful voice in opposition to send a clear and simple message out that racism is wrong, but sadly the Government is failing to provide this.'
Brian Garvey, National President of NASUWT, echoed this concern, praising the 'good turnout of decent people opposing the fascist cancer on the streets' and noting that 'if the BNP are allowed to grow then they threaten the break up of society. As schoolteachers, we don't want to see their message in schools.' Garvey also felt that Jack Straw's decision to launch a national 'debate' over the niqab veil had only given the BNP more confidence. 'The more that politicians bring racism into the public consciousness, the more the BNP can feed off it.'
Weyman Bennett, joint national secretary of UAF, told the rally at the end that the BNP were not just like any other political party. 'When we were chanting 'Hitler - Never Again!' and 'the Holocaust - Never Again!' the BNP contingent cheered and laughed. No one else in our society would regard Hitler and the Holocaust as something to joke about.'