Anti-Nazi activists are mobilising across the country against the British National Party (BNP) after its gains in recent elections.
The national demonstration to stop the fascist BNP is a focus for many, with coaches coming from towns and cities to the London protest on Saturday 21 June.
Activists are also challenging the BNP in local areas where it is attempting to build a base.
Campaigners in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, have launched a campaign against the poison of the BNP, after the Nazi group won two council seats in the town in last month’s local elections.
People are determined that the BNP won’t keep a toehold in a town known for its tradition of strong trade unionism.
Jill Adams lives and works in Maltby, one of two areas of the town where the BNP snatched a council seat. She is a teacher and former head of the NUT union in the town.
‘Like many others I was shocked when I heard that the Nazis had won a seat here,’ she told Socialist Worker. ‘This is a solidly working class area and has always been a Labour stronghold.
‘It is true that over many years disillusionment with Labour has grown – especially when the local Labour-run council cuts services like home helps for the elderly.
‘Over the past two decades Rotherham has been economically decimated. Where there was once a mining and steel industry, there are now call centres and shopping centres.
‘There is absolutely nothing for young people, apart from a mass of unskilled and low-paid jobs. There are also pockets of real deprivation. I think that the sense of isolation, and a feeling that things are getting worse, has helped the BNP.’
Campaigners mobilised against the BNP straight after the election. Local trades council activist Phil Turner helped organise a stall in the centre of the town on the last Saturday of May.
‘I was amazed at the number of people who turned out,’ he said. ‘We had around 50 people, including school and college students, Labour councillors and local trade unionists.
‘A group of young people have set up a Facebook group called Get BNP Out Of Rotherham, which has over 750 members. Lots of people have volunteered for leafleting and stalls as a result of joining it.’
Student Matt Hale has been leafetting his college against the BNP and says that many people fear that the BNP’s election could lead to a rise in tension and racial attacks.
Matt said, ‘Lots of my friends are quite clued up about the BNP and what it stands for. Everyone is saying that something has to be done about it, and even though it’s exam time people still ask me how they can get involved.’
Jill says the first Saturday stall helped give activists renewed confidence and reached many local people who were worried about the BNP’s election.
Jill said, ‘Lots of people came up to us and said, ‘Thank god someone’s doing something.’ I met two older Asian steel workers. They have been in Britain for more than 30 years. They described to me how at home they felt here – but now they are worried for the future.
‘Some people looked back angrily to the 1970s, when the Nazi National Front had a strong presence here, remembering the violence they brought with them.
‘Two days after last month’s election, two cars owned by Asians were firebombed in the Brinsworth area of the town. Many people are worried that this could be a taste of things to come.
‘Our stalls are also an opportunity to challenge some of the complacency that exists. Many people don’t yet understand that the BNP isn’t a normal political party. It is a Nazi party. Trying to explain that is one of the most important things we can do.
‘The BNP starts by telling people that it wants more money spent on schools and health, and then goes on to blame immigrants for all our problems. We can’t let it get away with that.
‘We are now planning to run stalls in Maltby itself. We’re not going to let the BNP make this a no-go zone for anti-racists.’
Anti-Nazis are preparing a year of campaigning in an effort to rid Rotherham of the BNP.
On 6 September the Love Music Hate Racism group is organising a carnival in the town against the Nazis. Scores of local bands have agreed to help organise it, and are planning to meet up at the end of June.
Major bands including Reverend and the Makers, Roll Deep and the Corteeners are all playing.
‘Our plan is to bring the labour movement together with the young people,’ says Phil. ‘Local MP John Healey has backed our campaign and encouraged others to do so. We are winning backing from unions in the area too.
‘The BNP may think it has got a base here, but this is a town with a strong and vibrant trade union movement. We can use the strength of the unions and the imagination of the young to run these Nazis out of our town.’
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