Thousands of anti-fascist protesters stood up to the racists of the English Defence League (EDL) in Bolton last Saturday. They faced down police violence, resisting attempts to drive them from a public square to make room for the EDL. Defiant protests by 3,000 anti-fascists blocked the racist English Defence League (EDL) in Bolton last Saturday. The EDL hoped to hold a repeat of their racist rampage in Stoke in February.
But anti-racist protesters from Unite Against Fascism (UAF) held the line, resisting violent police attempts to drive them from Bolton’s Victoria Square. A key turning point came when hundreds of local young people, most of them Asian, joined the protest. The police had held them in side streets all day. Their arrival drove the EDL wild, as they started throwing bottles and shouting racist abuse. But they were forced to retreat as more UAF protesters flooded into the square. A huge cheer went up as the anti-fascists decided to march on a victory lap through the streets of Bolton. The media have distorted the truth of what happened on this peaceful anti-fascist protest, accusing UAF of “violence”. The violence came from the police – and the EDL.
Many taxis did not run after pressure from drivers who said the EDL would attack them. From early in the morning it was clear that the police’s intention was to attack anti-racists.
Riot police used batons, dogs and horses to push into the crowd and grab people. They took banners and flags and even knocked pensioners to the ground. Phillip Brennan, a post worker from Stockport, said, “The police are being used to keep us quiet while they give the EDL free rein.” Gary, from Stoke, said, “The police punched me in the face over and over again. One officer grabbed me by the throat.” Amid the chaos, Weyman Bennett of Unite Against Fascism addressed the crowd. He said, “The police are rioting and are out of control. “Anti-racism is not a crime, and it’s about time the police stopped treating it as such.” Police arrested Weyman shortly after he made the speech. They also arrested Martin Smith, another Unite Against Fascism organiser. Rhetta Moran from Manchester UAF took over chairing the rally – but the cops attacked again. They arrested her as she tried to read out a message of support from TUC general secretary Brendan Barber. But the rally kept going. Police arrested 54 UAF protesters altogether – the majority later released with no charge. They arrested just 17 EDL.
But UAF demonstrators stood firm, occupying the square for six hours. Sam Ud-din, secretary of Lancaster, Morecambe and district NUT, said “We’re here to make sure the EDL don’t take over the streets of Bolton.” The police blocked the way into the square from 12 noon, leaving around 2,000 anti-racists inside – and another thousand or more trying to get in. Outside the square, coachloads of protesters were still arriving. They joined groups of local people who police had also kept away. They protested in the surrounding streets, stopping groups of EDL supporters getting through. At around 2.30pm the police gently guided the EDL into the other side of Victoria Square, which had been surrounded with steel barriers to protect them. The racists threw missiles over the divide into the UAF crowd. EDL supporters hurled insults. One said to his friend, “look at that black bitch”, pointing to a young woman on the anti-fascists’ side of the fence. But the police were only interested in attacking one side. Rachel Hughes, a Barnsley social worker, said, “It’s outrageous that the police are protecting the fascists and harassing us. “They’re throwing bottles and using racist language – and the police do nothing.” At the rally’s peak there were around 800 EDL supporters. The anti-fascists outnumbered them by more than three to one. And just under an hour later, large numbers of young people from the town arrived in the square to join the UAF side, to massive cheers.
One of them, Saj, said, “We just wanted to protest against fascism and the police kept us away from all of you here in the square.” Shafiq added, “Several times we tried to break through their lines, but they held us back.” As they swelled the numbers in the square, more missiles rained down on the UAF protest from the other side. Now the anti-racists’ noise completely drowned out the EDL. The strength of their unity forced the police to escort the EDL away from the square. Celebrating victory, the anti-fascists marched out of the square onto the streets of Bolton.Groups of up to 300 UAF demonstrators – black, white and Asian together – chased small groups of EDL through the streets. Ahmed came from Swansea. He said, “We saw the EDL off. They’ll have no stories of bashing heads to tell their mates.” The racists – and the cops who protected them – had failed. As the march through the streets of Bolton put it, “Whose streets? Our streets!” And they were. The protest to keep Bolton a place of beautiful diversity had banners from eight Unison branches, five UCU branches, seven NUT branches and one each from the RMT and NUJ. They were joined by banners from Nottingham and Mansfield, Blackburn and district, and Manchester trades councils.
The English Defence League (EDL) hoped that last Saturday in Bolton they could repeat their racist rampage in Stoke and the strutting arrogance of their march to parliament. They failed. They failed because thousands of anti-fascists stood firm against them and attacks from the police. The most inspiring moment came when young Asian people forced their way into Bolton’s Victoria Square to join the main protest and infuriate the EDL. But the EDL remains a potent threat. Its supporters will try to intimidate individuals, disrupt anti-racist meetings and to bring violence and terror to more towns and cities. They have to be weakened further. Stopping them decisively requires a larger mobilisation than the one in Bolton last week. Everyone who hates what the EDL stands for should try to involve the broadest layers of people in future counter-protests, such as the one in Dudley on Saturday 3 April. We need large numbers of trade unionists, campaigners, anti-racists, Labour Party members, pensioners, students and others. We know what the EDL stand for. On the night of the Bolton protest a man was attacked by three other men wearing EDL “No Surrender” T-Shirts. One EDL supporter stabbed him in the shoulder. Confronting the EDL in the streets is crucial. But it is not our only anti-fascist and anti-racist strategy.
It is also necessary to mobilise tens of thousands to argue against the Nazis in workplaces and communities, to get hundreds of thousands to carnivals, meetings and discussions, and to put out millions of leaflets and stickers and emails. Such activity is needed wherever the EDL organise and wherever the BNP are standing a candidate. It is particularly crucial in areas where the BNP is making a targeted effort, such as Stoke and Barking & Dagenham. We also need a positive alternative to the Islamophobia and anti-immigrant racism whipped up by the press and the main parties. The Nazis hope to gain from anger at the demands of the rich that the rest of society pays for the capitalist crisis, and the fury at the cash-soaked corruption of so many mainstream politicians. Socialists must continue to take up such issues and to organise militant action over the cuts, the attacks on workers, the war spending, the lack of decent housing and many other issues. Successful workers’ struggle can offer hope and a united way forward instead of the toxic division that comes from the Nazis – which aids the bosses. In the course of such struggles it is possible to argue for a vote for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition at the election and a socialist solution to the crisis.
A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.