Thousands of pounds of trade union members' money is given to campaigns such as Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and Hope Not Hate every year to help combat the rise of far-right, racist groups like the British National Party (BNP). The election of two BNP MEPs last year and a rise in their profile in the media is a setback for the workers' movement and a warning for the future. However, this year's national UAF conference highlighted some questions about its approach to anti-fascist campaigning. The UAF conference on Saturday 13 February attracted around 400 people who listened to trade union officials, Labour MPs, journalists and UAF representatives. Most speakers endorsed the UAF's approach to anti-fascist campaigning. This comprises identifying the BNP as Nazis and working with any organisation, including pro-big business parties, that agrees and is willing to help 'educate' people on the threat the far right poses.
Martin Smith from Love Music Hate Racism and the SWP outlined the UAF strategy for the general election. He correctly pointed out the BNP causes division, that anger should be directed towards the bosses and that workers need to unite against the attacks of the bosses, but fell short of identifying the reasons why people are voting for the BNP and pointing out the political vacuum that exists for working class people. Like all the other speakers Smith emphasised the need for unity against the BNP with anyone who is prepared to fight them. In an article in the Daily Mail the right-wing Labour MP for Barking, Margaret Hodge, said that migrants should "earn" the right to benefits. Smith criticised these comments, but made it clear he was doing so as a "friend" who was "on the same side" when it comes to stopping the BNP. Not a word of criticism was heard about her support for anti-working-class policies like foundation hospitals and university tuition fees.
In fact Margaret Hodge was a platform speaker in the afternoon. She angered many when she called for help in her re-election campaign without giving any guarantees on protecting and fighting for the interests of working-class people. Hodge described how she was spending most of her time 'talking sense' to those won over by the BNP and working to kill off the dangerous face of fascism. What Margaret won't do however, is fight the dangerous face of poverty. People living in Barking and Dagenham have the lowest average income level in London, with 55% of children growing up in poverty. Anger about these conditions is a major factor in leading some workers in Barking to vote BNP in protest, mistakenly thinking the BNP will stand up for workers. Hodge, a millionaire, who has supported the anti-working-class policies of Blair and Brown, should not have been invited to speak at a conference about how best to fight the rise of the BNP. Shamefully when she addressed the afternoon session not one of the UAF speakers was prepared to make any criticism of her record or policies
This conference proposed a tokenistic approach to fighting fascism. Speaker after speaker did not address the real reasons why the BNP are gaining electoral support - the absence of a mass anti-racist political party that defends workers' interests. Some speakers implied that many people are naturally racist. Some even openly said that they didn't want to know the reasons why people would vote for such a racist party, ignoring the role of politicians like Hodge in scapegoating migrants and making the BNP's slogans look more respectable. Simply calling the BNP 'Nazis' is not enough. Only one speaker from the floor raised the need for democratic local committees made up of representatives from trade unions and the community to be organising and campaigning for jobs, facilities and decent public services. Trade unionists need to challenge UAF's tactics and argue for a class-based approach to fighting the BNP.
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