A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Fighting fascism is a great Welsh tradition

The basic strategy of the anti-fascist movement was to prevent the British Union of Fascists hiring local halls or obtaining permission for the holding of open-air meetings: if this failed, to disrupt such meetings. The main impetus behind the campaign was provided by the Communist Party which set up anti-fascist committees in the Rhondda, Aberdare and West Wales. Such Committees were often more broadly based than the Councils of Action of January 1935 [against the unemployment means test]. An Anti-Fascist Conference at Swansea in October had among its sponsors, [miners' leader Arthur] Horner, the Rev. Leon Atkin, County Councillor D. Jenkins JP, and representatives of the unemployed, trades councils, the Labour Party, trade unions and the Workers' Fellowship.Mosley obtained permission to hold meetings in the Plaza Cinema, Swansea, in July 1934. He also obtained permission at Neath. On both occasions such was the disruption from opponents that the British Union of Fascists failed to hold indoor meetings again in Neath, Llanelli or Swansea (although permission for Swansea's Brangwyn Hall was given but later withdrawn). However, there were no serious disturbances in the coastal towns. The authorities, after representations from anti-fascists, would bow to the pressure rather than invite violence to their towns.

Whereas anti-fascist opposition in the coastal towns tended to reflect the fears of the Jewish community, in the valleys it was the working class organisations which set the pace. It was in the valleys that the fascists met with their most vigorous opposition. Minor skirmishes occurred at such places as Aberdare, Ebbw Vale and Mardy, but the British Union of Fascists' most serious thrusts centred around Merthyr, Pontypridd and Tonypandy. At Merthyr, the local fascists were able to hold open-air meetings, although sometimes needing police protection. But eventually the Communist party and the NUWM [National Unemployed Workers Movement], with popular support, were able, as the international situation deteriorated, to break up such meetings by heckling, stones, rotten fruit, fighting and even the use of air guns. At one such meeting on Dowlais Top, Merthyr's Chief Constable and three fascists were injured. After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, the Spanish community at Dowlais became more deeply involved in these demonstrations. It seems that their last open-air meetings were held towards the end of 1936. Thereafter, the two local fascists contented themselves in giving Merthyr the 'appearance' of being 'the Mecca of Fascism' by defacing walls with Fascist signs and notices.

In Cardiff, where there was a sizeable Jewish community, the British Union of Fascists mounted its most rabid anti-semitic attacks. The Fascists claimed a Jewish conspiracy when they were refused the Playhouse for a meeting. They were countered in the columns of the Western Mail by Councillor Abe Lewis and the Rev. H.Jerevitch. Even so, as late as August 1938, houses were daubed with 'Kill the Jews' and 'Perish the Jews'. The Western Mail was sufficiently irritated to attack Mosley who had claimed that Fascist principles suited the Welsh character. "Welsh people will not willingly abandon their cherished freedom of speech nor their freedom of trade union organisation for German and Italian alternatives." Whilst the British Union of Fascists received this chiding and a 'debate' in the Western Mail continued, certain Cardiff business interests made no secret of their admiration of Mosley. A hand-picked audience composed primarily of businessmen were enthralled with Mosley when he was invited by them to a luncheon at the Park Hotel; the area manager of Spillers, the flour manufacturers, gave the vote of thanks.

The most fierce and comprehensive resistance to the fascists was to occur in 1936. Growing fears throughout the spring of 1936 of an attempted seizure of power in Spain coincided precisely with an ever-widening concern over the threatened incursions into the Rhondda by Mosley and the British Union of Fascists. The Rhondda must have represented something of a symbolic challenge. Entering 'red' Rhondda meant much the same as marching through the Jewish communities of the East End of London. The resistance was also much the same. To have successfully held a meeting in Tonypandy, widely considered to be the heartland of miners' militancy since the Cambrian Combine dispute [of 1910-11], and a stronghold of the Communist Party since its foundation, would have been a memorable achievement. The first step had already been partially fulfilled in December 1935. As part of a south Wales tour, Moran and four other members of the Cardiff British Union of Fascists branch attempted to hold a meeting in the Market Square in Pontypridd, virtually a stone's throw from the Rhondda. After fifteen minutes, their speeches were drowned by heckling led by the local Communist Party members, particularly Cilfynydd Communist Councillor Llew Jenkins. They were met with shouts of 'What have you done in Germany?', 'Down with the Fascists', 'What about Abyssinia?', 'Get out of the Valleys', 'How would you like to live here?' and the singing of the Red Flag and the Internationale. Again the police were in attendance and informed Jenkins that he had no right to intervene.

The initiative to lead the campaign now came from the Cambrian Combine Committee, the organisation that had started the events of January 1935 [against new unemployed means test regulations]. The Combine was later joined by the Pontypridd Trades and Labour Council, a body which was to play an equally decisive role against the fascists.On 26 April 1936, Mosley had succeeded in holding a meeting at the Pontypridd Town Hall. A counter-demonstration was organised by the Pontypridd Trades and Labour Council, the local Communist Party and the Cambrian Combine Committee. Allegations by Lewis Jones that Mosley had dined the night before with Colonel Lionel Lindsay, the Chief Constable of Glamorgan, at the house of Lady Rhondda, daughter of D.A.Thomas, architect of the Cambrian Coal Combine, injected into the already tense atmosphere an air of credibility to the theory of a conspiracy between the police, the fascists and the coalowners. In the event, with the Town Hall well protected by 300 police, no violence occurred.

Fears of further fascist meetings in the locality resulted in the calling of an All-In Conference on 22 May at the Lewis Merthyr Workmen's Institute, Porth, which was attended by representatives from 22 working class organisations (inlcuding all ten Rhondda miners' lodges). The conference made thorough preparations for mobilising mass street demonstrations. Mosley had in the meantime offered £200 for the hire of any Rhondda cinema and to pay for any damage caused (whereas £5 was the normal hire fee). Within two days of the All-In Conference, the biggest anti-fascist rally ever organised in south Wales was held at Tonypandy. Arthur Horner, the newly elected President of the South Wales Miners Federation, with his customary clarity, put the local experience into its international context by equating European Fascism with the company dominated 'scab' union at the Taff Merthyr Colliery. Indeed, Horner's speech describing company unions, victimisation, harder work for lower wages, imprisonment and 'ruthless' brutality, was precisely how Rhondda people must have visualised fascism.

One of the largest Fascist rallies to have been held in Wales took place when about 6,000 attended an open-air meeting at Tonypandy. The British Union of Fascists had never made any progress in Wales and usually encountered hostile opposition. For example, a BUF meeting at Pontypridd had been broken up earlier that same month. At Tonypandy, the speakers, a local Fascist and Tommy Moran, a National Headquarters Propaganda Officer, were stoned and injured, and the meeting was closed after half an hour. The anti-Fascist leaders implored the crowd to desist but to no avail. Further trouble resulted from the distribution of a Blackshirt pamphlet, The Miners' Only Hope. The pamphlets were seized and torn to bits and, as a result, the Blackshirts began pushing them into people's faces. Thirty-six people were subsequently charged with riot, incitement to riot, unlawful assembly and breaches of the peace. The accused, as a body, were brought before the Glamorgan Assizes at Swansea in December. It was alleged that hostile crowds had stoned the Fascist loud-speaker van, which was eventually driven away under police protection. The first of thirty police officers who gave evidence, when cross-examined by the defence, agreed that before the arrival of the Fascist van a number of people had been holding an orderly meeting. He further testified that after the departure of the van the anti-Fascists marched to Tonypandy in orderly fashion. This was the main contention of the defence. Moran, under cross-examination, admitted that his head had been split open on eight occasions over the preceding months.

The defence argued that wherever he and his Blackshirts went, disorder followed. Moran stated that the crowd was determined not to give him a hearing. The judge then asked him why he didn't go away. He replied that it was his job to promote Fascism. The defence finally submitted that out of a crowd of 5,000 to 6,000 people the police had not found a single independent witness to give evidence. Three of the accused were discharged and seventeen were bound over. Seven were sent to prison for terms of two to twelve months. Five of these were unemployed and the sixth was the wife of one of the unemployed. Nine were sentenced to twenty days' hard labour, which being the period of the Assizes meant their immediate discharge. They were also bound over. Seven of them were unemployed. Of the seventeen others bound over, seven were unemployed, and four were women. Most of the others were colliers.

The BNP use dirty tricks. In November 2002 they secured their fourth councillor when Robin Evans won Mill Hill ward in Blackburn. Their campaign was based on deception and lies. In one leaflet a picture of a mosque was printed with a caption stating that Muslims there celebrated the September 11th attacks. It neglected to tell voters that this mosque was in London. Another ludicrous claim - that Asians were likely to become the majority in Blackburn within 10 years - was aimed at stoking up fear based on misinformation. In fact, the non-white share of the town's population stands at 20 per cent.The BNP even produced a leaflet purporting to come from the Liberal Democrats. Under the title 'Caring for Ethnic Minorities', it urged people to vote Lib Dem if they wanted more money spent on Asians and asylum seekers. A similar dirty tricks campaign was used in the Mixenden by-election in Halifax. Even when the BNP do manage to take a seat on the council, their disrespect for the political process is obvious (see The BNP's useless councillors). Many of their councillors fail to attend or speak at crucial meetings, some have been banned for fraud or misbehaviour, others have resigned in disgust or confusion. But this sorry record should come as no surprise. Democracy would, after all, be swept away if the BNP ever gained power.

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