32 anti-fascists, mostly local to Thanet, gathered in the Red Hall tonight to discuss the current threat of the far-right and the tasks for UAF. Around fifteen anti-anti-fascists from around Kent disrupted the meeting from outside, but that’s a generous estimate. From what I could see on Facebook, they were a combination of the English Defence League and the more honest Nazis of what remains of the National Front. The speakers were the Labour Councillor Will Scobie for Margate and Cliftonville, Bunny LaRoche (UAF, SWP, Love Music Hate Racism), and Christine Shawcroft from the Labour NEC. After their talks it was an open discussion and many contributed from the floor.
Will Scobie spoke first. He emphasised the importance of not attacking misled people, but educating them, particularly in Cliftonville West in hist constituency. With the gang that wanted our meeting stopped, it is most likely impossible to engage. Many people voting UKIP however are not hard-line racists and could be convinced, both on the issue of immigration and by pointing out their other impossible policies. The appeal of anti-immigrant policy comes from a simplistic economic argument that says that more people simply cannot be provided for. As someone from the floor mentioned, housing is the main issue. Not just the need to build council houses, but the capitalist contradiction of overproduction, where instead of cheap houses and one-bedroom flats, many expensive houses are built and not enough people can afford them. Christine Shawcroft gave her own example of Tower Hamlet, where Bangladeshi families became the scapegoat and the BNP had some electoral success. In Cllr. Scobie’s area, it is the Roma community who experience this scapegoating. Another of his points was to call us to oppose racism at an every day level, speaking out against every insult and not allowing it to become “dinner table” discussion. Thankfully, and surprisingly, he acknowledged that the last two Labour governments had been equally as ineffective at opposing this, saying some Labour politicians are guilty of “Using the racists’ language” when it comes to immigration, legitimising and normalising more extreme views.
Bunny LaRoche noticed how the EDL successfully utilised social media immediately after the killing in Woolwich, and for finding us tonight. UAF needs to continue to at least match this level of organisation, both for our own meetings and for counter-demos. They aren’t exactly savvy at keeping things secretive on Facebook, so we need to do the same and be aware of all their plans. She also reminded us that this is an international struggle: Jobbik and Golden Dawn have the same hatred as this country’s far-right, and use the same economic argument that Will mentioned. Distrust of benefit claimants seems to hand in hand with a dislike of immigrants, said Christine Shawcroft. The argument against this is that most benefits are for pensioners, and many are in-work benefits and tax credits for poorer families. The case of benefit fraud is much rarer, and we should be looking more critically at tax-avoiding corporations as the root of everyday problems.
First-hand accounts of racism are always sobering and remind us of what we are opposing, so we were thankful to the two comrades that gave us their experience of violence and hate speech, both in recent years and as a victim of the National Front’s crimes in the ’80s.
Don’t believe the Kent EDL division when they tell you that tonight was their victory. Their way of measuring this will be by saying that they scared off Weyman Bennett. We actually had a call at 17:30 to let us know that Weyman was in hospital. The meeting was nevertheless very productive. Even if it were true that him not being able to make it was their doing, this would not prove that they are the majority or that they are winning the argument. All they demonstrate by provoking fear is that some people are understandably intimidated by their thuggish violence and verbal abuse. We heard plenty of the latter tonight. Even as a typical fascist street movement they are unimpressive, since their presence relies on their unfailing support from the police, who tonight assured us that they were protesting “peacefully”. They were allowed to stay as long as they pleased, with no restrictions of movement or noise, not even being prevented from banging on the windows at one point. Of course, we weren’t afforded the same freedoms: when we started to leave the hall, those of us who shouted back (for example, to one EDL guy calling a UAF member a “hooker”) were threatened with arrest or grabbed by the arm, and we weren’t allowed to hang around and leave at our own pace.
Reminder to Kent Socialist Workers Party members that the next talk is on Thursday 27th, with the topic, “Immigration: the myths that divide us”.
Video recording of the fascists outside and Will Scobie’s initial talk http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtIOad9v2ZI