Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Bradford posted by Richard Seymour
The 'We Are Bradford' rally is organised by the local 'We Are Bradford' group, and is supported by Unite Against Fascism (UAF), MPs, unions and faith groups. UAF is, as you know, the result of a coalition between the Anti Nazi League (which in its original form saw off the National Front), the National Assembly Against Racism, and several trade unions. Its chair is Ken Livingstone, and its treasurer is CWU general secretary Billy Hayes. Among its supporters are senior Labour MPs, trade unionsts, anti-racist groups, and members of community organisations, who speak regularly at UAF conferences. Aside from UAF, Labour MPs, trade unionists and local activists support the rally. Jeremy Corbyn MP, John McDonnell MP, David Ward MP (Bradford East) and Peter Hain MP are among the backers.
Four national unions, including the CWU, PCS, UCU and TSSA are supporting the event. It has the support of Respect councillor Salma Yaqoob, civil rights lawyers Louise Christian, Michael Mansfield and Imran Khan. It is supported by Bradford University student union, and local campaigning groups such as Bradford Immigration and Asylum Support and Advice Network, Bradford Ecumenical Asylum Concern, Bradford Education Business Partnership, Communities Organised for the Common Good of Bradford, etc. It has the support of local trade unionists and youth support workers. It has the backing of Lee Jasper, Mark Thomas, trade union leaders such as Jeremy Dear, Jane Loftus, Gill George, Andy Dark, Tony Kearns, and Sue Bond. It has the support of anti-racist groups like the 1990 Trust, musicians and poets such as Aki Nawaz, Michael Rosen, Benjamin Zephaniah, Lowkey... the list goes on. Public meetings have taken place locally, in the face of what I understand to be intimidating behaviour by the police, to coordinate the response to the EDL. It is, just to underline the point, a very broadly backed national protest, as well as a deeply rooted local campaign.
We know why the EDL want to target Bradford. They think of it as home turf - wrongly, as we intend to show. They think they can mobilise thousands of racists and fascists to isolate and attack local Asian communities, just as football hooligans, NF members and BNP supporters did back in 2001. The polarisation that resulted boosted the BNP in the elections and gave them one of their first national breakthroughs. The EDL, after suffering internal schisms and some humiliating setbacks - as when they had to call off their protest in the East End, and then again in Harrow, for fear that they would be massively outnumbered - also wants to rally the troops with a success. And after Bradford, they'll be taking their rolling tour of race riots to other cities, such as Leeds. I would like to believe that we didn't face this problem. I would like to think that it was merely a security issue, and not a political problem, and that it could be left to the forces of the state to deal with it. Unfortunately, lessons must be learned, and the number one lesson of the EDL's brief existence is that the police cannot be depended on to contain the EDL. This is not merely incompetence, but a logical corollary of institutional racism and institutional hostility to anti-fascists, protesters, the Left, trade unionists, etc. Past events, notably in Bolton, have seen police allow EDL to roam free while beating and penning in the antifascists. Dozens of arrests of UAF came to nothing, but an EDL gang did get to stab someone at a pub later, liberally exercising that 'freedom of expression' that they so vocally claim for themselves.
Weyman Bennett of Unite Against Fascism explained the case for a counter demonstration at a Bradford public meeting recently:
The Bradford campaign has been difficult, however, for a number of reasons. First of all, the police are pursuing two senior members of Unite Against Fascism - Weyman Bennett and Martin Smith - on bogus charges. Weyman is being charged with 'conspiracy to incite disorder', and Martin is accused of assaulting a police officer. Rhetta Moran of Greater Manchester UAF is also being charged with 'conspiracy to incite disorder'. A campaign was recently launched in parliament to defend them. Not every police department is identical in its approach. But I think it's safe to say that the West Yorkshire Police cannot be relied upon to treat antifascists fairly. For that reason, I think, unity, cohesion and discipline among the antifascists is going to be paramount on the day. We need to stick together, stay focused on what we are there to do, and rely on our numerical and organisational strengths to see us through.
Which brings us to another difficulty, that being the existence of two concurrent, conflicting campaigns by antifascists. The first, supported by UAF, you are now up to speed on. The second, by Searchlight magazine and its campaigning group Hope Not Hate, has repudiated all talk of counter protests. It has publicly denounced such mobilisation, claiming that it risks a repeat of the riots of 2001. We will return to this in a moment. As an alternative, Searchlight has engaged in a campaign, supported by the local newspaper, to get the Home Office to ban the EDL march in Bradford on that day. Some of us think that while a ban on the EDL is laudible in principle, focusing on it as a strategy is dangerous, since it will demobilise the necessary effort to build up local capacity to resist the racist incursion.
However, the police, evidently concerned about their ability to manage events if the EDL were permitted to have a mobile parade through the city, backed Searchlight's call, and the Home Secretary acceded to the request. The EDL, for its part, made it absolutely clear that if a mobile event was banned, it would still stage a 'static' protest. And, it is the position of the West Yorkshire Police, and the Home Office, that such a protest could not be banned according to the law. The EDL event is going ahead. All that has changed is that any marching around the city by fash will be unofficial. You would not know this for all that Searchlight's supporters have been going round telling people that victory has already been achieved. So, that is why I have had to make clear that the 'We Are Bradford' event is going ahead - because of a concerted campaign to ensure that there is no counter-protest.
Now for a strange turn. Some of those opposed to the counter-protest now say that a 'multicultural event' that until recently was actually unheard of, has been moved from the city centre to the Manningham area of the city, ostensibly to avoid being associated with/'hijacked by' the anti-fascist 'extremists'. This separate event is apparently being coordinated by the Liberal Democrat council leader, though you'd search in vain for any sign of it on the Bradford Council website. Elements of the local political establishment, it would seem, are now joining in the attempt to draw people away from the counter-demonstration, while scaremongering about the anti-fascists. Searchlight's Paul Meszaros, cited by the local newspaper in support of the council leader's baiting of anti-fascists, maintains that getting the EDL's mobile parade banned was already a success, and that having a counter-protest will just hand the EDL a victory. Nick Lowles has gone further, arguing that it "may well provoke a riot". So, regrettably, the campaign against our counter-protest by another antifascist organisation continues, with an element of smearing by insinuation added in for good measure. No good will come of this.
Now, I am sympathetic to pleas for antifascists to overcome their divisions. I think the divisions that have been evident since Searchlight split from Unite Against Fascism in 2005, and supported a separate campaign called 'Hope Not Hate', have been consistently destructive. For that reason, I haven't used this blog to attack Searchlight or its campaign. Where I have mentioned them at all, it has generally been in praise and solidarity. I like to think that we remain on the same side of this struggle, and that these arguments over strategy will eventually be resolved, or rendered insignificant. But its conduct over Bradford has been irresponsible to the point of vandalism. And I'm afraid I also agree with Paul Mackney, former general secretary of NATFHE/UCU, that Searchlight's current posture of relying on the state to fight fascism constitutes an abdication of its historic mission.
The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. In Harrow, Newport, Glasgow and Edinburgh, counter-protests were central to blocking the EDL. In Birmingham last year, the EDL were chased out of the city. In the East End, they didn't dare carry out their planned march because of the planned counter-protest. In Luton, where there was no counter-protest, the EDL went on a rampage. In Stoke, where the counter-protest was small, the EDL went on another rampage. And in Bradford in 2001, the free hand that the fascists were given by the police, who scapegoated local Asian youths, resulted in some of the worst race riots in Britain for decades. The Anti-Nazi League couldn't mobilise sufficient forces in time and was effectively suppressed by the police and vilified by the media. This meant that Asian communities were largely left alone to defend themselves against the combination of fascists and West Yorkshire Police. That cannot be allowed to repeat itself. When racists and fascists try to attack a town or city, it is quite right that residents should be on their guard and ready to defend themselves - but they should not be left to do so in isolation.
That's why UAF continues to support the 'We Are Bradford' rally, which is still going ahead this Saturday. Bradford will not be 'home turf' for the EDL. Nowhere will be 'home turf' for the EDL, as long as there are more of us than there are of them.