Hundreds of anti -racist and anti -fascist protesters assembled in Leeds to oppose a march organised by the Yorkshire Patriots in Support of Tommy Robinson, writes Nick Jones. Tommy Robinson is serving a prison sentence for contempt of court for breaching reporting restrictions that could have led to the collapse of a trial and victims of sexual abuse being denied justice.
The ‘Patriots’ hoped to increase their numbers following their protest in Leeds on 1st June 2018. Instead, they got a limp protest of around 130 supporters which I believe is in part down to the direct opposition they faced.
Unfortunately, a split had occurred as to how their march could be opposed. A great deal of work was put into getting Labour party, trade union and community groups to support a Multicultural Leeds Protest called by Leeds Stand Up to Racism. They organised a protest outside Leeds Town Hall a short walk away from where the fascists were assembling. It was great to see Labour party banners, placards and local councillors. There was a strong presence from the GMB, PCS and other unions. The protest was addressed by local MPs Hilary Benn and Richard Burgon and gathered around 300 people. The protest was static and was permitted to march once the fascists had paraded in the main shopping streets of Leeds.
Leeds Anti-Fascist Network (LAFN) were appalled that the fascist groups would be allowed to march around Leeds unopposed for the second time. They chose to publicly confront them and try and block their march from taking place.
In the build up to the protests I encountered some bitter attacks on the LAFN. They were accused of being reckless and putting people at risk of violence. They endangered children and the elderly. They were too weak to oppose the fascists and were romanticising large anti-fascist mobilisations like ‘Cable Street’ 1936 and the ‘Battle of Lewisham 1977’.
I supported both initiatives and but was very concerned that the fascists would gain confidence if they had another march unopposed in Leeds. I attended a small delegation from Keep Our NHS Public Leeds and was pleased to see around 300 anti-fascists opposite the Leeds Patriots in City Square.
A group of around six Nazis had infiltrated the LAFN protest and assaulted people. It was frightening but a reminder of what their idea of Free Speech is in reality.
The LAFN tried to stop them marching then regrouped and blocked the main shopping street outside Leeds Market. It was a fantastic achievement and demonstrated that their strategy was correct, they had the numbers and stopped the Patriots from abusing the public – including Muslim children and the elderly.
Eventually Police reinforcements saw the LAFN kettled and the Patriots continued their march. Many of the public and passers by were alarmed by their protest. The Patriots chanted “Muslims Off Our Streets” and arrests were not made.
Eventually the Police facilitated a joint march of both anti-racist and anti-fascist groups who briefly rallied outside the Town Hall.
The debate around confronting fascist organisations and marches is not a new one. There has always been tension due to the relative risks involved in a tactic of direct confrontation or avoidance.
Over the years anti-fascists have been maligned as ‘red Fascists’, splitting the movement, reckless thugs that weaken the labour and trade union movement response. This may be countered with arguments that protesting away from them out of sight can embolden fascists and allowing them to roam the streets of Leeds can lead to violence and attacks on members of minorities.
The strategy of LAFN was the right one today. They publicly demonstrated opposition, some members of the public cheered and applauded their actions. Others joined their ranks when marching and managed to blockade the route.
There was one weakness today that needs some serious attention. Leeds is a multicultural city with communities drawn from South-East Asia, Africa and many other countries across the globe. We do need to improve participation and ensure that the anti-racist movement is not led mainly by white anti-racists.
I would like to see more inclusive organising meetings that are open to a wide range of communities and groups and not seen as the sole property of Stand Up To Racism, which is perceived by progressive people to be dominated by the Socialist Workers Party.
Fascist parties and authoritarian ideas are on the increase: we need a broad mass movement to combat this.
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