Newcastle: report from antifascist mobilisation

Newcastle Unites against the EDL

Newcastle Unites against the EDL (picture by @MrBenSellers)

Hanif L reports:

On Saturday, around 250 people turned out to oppose an EDL march in Newcastle. The counter demonstration had been organised by Newcastle Unites, a local grouping supported by UAF, Labour councillors and others. A similar number of EDL members gathered in Newcastle, some being bussed in from outside the city. The Newcastle Unites demonstration was overwhelmingly local.

The aim of the EDL had been to march through parts of Newcastle’s West End, areas that are home to the city’s largest South Asian Muslim community. The police did not give them permission to march there, but did allow them to march in the city centre, and to march past key roads that link the West End to the centre of town. They then rallied in a park on the outskirts of the city centre.

Newcastle Unites also held a march through the city centre and after rallying in the centre of town, proceeded, as planned, to the bottom of Stanhope Street, a likely route any EDL breakaway attempt would have taken into the West End.

Newcastle Unites made it clear to the police in advance of the demonstration that they would not tolerate an EDL presence in the West End and that any counter demonstration had to be a visible challenge to the EDL march. This insistence, coupled with the broad coalition Newcastle Unites built on the ground, ensured that the police weren’t able to grant the EDL permission to march in the West End and acted as a physical block to an attempt to divert from their agreed route.

The fact the EDL were able to march and rally at all is, as always, concerning. The lack of young people from the local Bangladeshi community on the counter mobilisation was noticeable, despite calls from local Labour councillor Dipu Ahad for that community to turn out. Some of the most successful anti-EDL mobilisations have involved large numbers of working class youth, especially from Black and Asian backgrounds. Bradford is a case in point, when large numbers of young Asian, and some white, people prevented the EDL from reaching mainly Muslim areas of the city when the police failed to stop the EDL breaking out of their rally point. This was in spite of an official anti-EDL rally happening in a car park a short distance away.

How anti-fascists engage with militant anti-fascist youth when they do come out in large numbers, and how we agitate against the pressures they face to stay away, should be part of an honest and open debate. This is crucial not only in terms of being able to further limit the movement of the fascists when they try to march, but also in terms of building grassroots in communities, in addition to the important work of building broad unity with elected officials and community leaders.

The EDL were stopped from marching in the West End on Saturday thanks to the non-sectarian and serious work of Newcastle Unites. When the fascists’ numbers rise again, and they do get into Asian areas intent on causing violence, it will be the local youth who will represent the most powerful force against them. As socialists we must guard against the sectarianism of those who say we shouldn’t work with MPs, councillors and community leaders. As socalists we must also pursue a strategy that seeks to agitate, organise and educate around militant anti-fascism, amongst those who in the future will be the most powerful line of defence against the boots of the next manifestation of street fascism.

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