Stop the EDL march - eyewitness report

Eyewitness report of mass arrests at East London demo against the EDL - 7 September 2013

On Saturday 7 September, 5,000 people assembled at Altab-Ali Park, named in honour of a young Bangladeshi textile worker murdered by fascists in 1978, in an attempt to stop the fascist English Defence League from marching through Tower Hamlets, East London, an area with a large Asian population. An FRFI supporter who was at the demonstration reports.

I got to Altab-Ali Park at 11.30 am. There was a good turnout, with lots of young working class Muslim youth assembled to stop the EDL from coming into the area, as well as lots of British and Turkish left organisations, anarchists and anti-fascists.  Most of the platform speakers on the official Unite Against Facism platform gave routine speeches opposing racism and fascism but with no discussion of state racism and certainly not of the role of the Labour Party in regards to its history of stirring up racism in its last period in power. The exceptions to this were Max Levitas, a veteran of the Cable Street fight against fascism in 1936, and Steve Hedley of the RMT, who rallied against state racism, imperialism and the treacherous role of the Labour Party.

This is the same Labour Party that, like the ConDem government, has been engaged in a vicious campaign of demonising immigrants in the run-up to the elections.

At around 1pm a cry went out and around 600 people affiliated with the Anti-Fascist Network (AFN) and other militant anti-fascist groups, such as London Anti-Fascists and South London Anti-Fascist Action, began to march off from the park to block the fascists from entering Tower Hamlets.

The march started well, but was chased by the police, who brought in riot vans and attacked the protesters. Within half an hour seven police ‘kettles’ had been formed.  The one on Commercial Road held about 100 people and the police used vans to form a barrier around it, preventing passers-by from witnessing what was going on. We were stuck there for five hours and the police used snatch squads on a few people, including on some young Muslims who were trying to pray.  The police then tried forcing people off the road and onto the pavement, which pushed the protesters to form a wall of defence around the worshippers so that they had space to pray.

Around 4.30pm some people from Counterfire and other groups stood outside the cordon, using a megaphone to draw attention to what was going on, chanting ‘let them go’.  They were soon moved on by the police, who then slowly began to arrest everyone inside the kettle, one by one.  Everyone was then searched before being sent to police stations all over London. Legal support was organised by Green and Black Cross, and throughout the night, many people from the Anti-Fascist Network determined to defend the right to protest showed solidarity at police stations all across London.

In total there were 286 arrests under sections 12 and 14 of the 1986 Public Order Act. Demonstrators were released after several hours, without being charged but subject to restrictive bail conditions, which ban us from attending demonstrations within the boundaries of the M25 where the EDL, English Volunteer Force or the BNP are present. This is an attempt to punish and intimidate anti-fascists and anti-racists.

The fight against the fascist thugs of the EDL cannot be separated from the fight against the racist, imperialist British ruling class and its repressive state machinery. The mass arrests of anti-fascists and the restrictive bail conditions are a clear reflection of the stance of the British state towards those who protest against racism. Any resistance to the fascists who set fire to mosques in Britain will have to confront the same police who kill black and Asian people in custody, and the same government which, like its predecessor, presides over the mass incarceration of refugees and asylum seekers. This state racism is a domestic reflection of British imperialism, which propagates wars which destroy millions of lives, such as those in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and now Syria, and which plunders the world in search of profit. Only through the destruction of the poisonous roots of imperialism will we be able to destroy fascism and racism.

Fight racism! Fight imperialism!

Defend the right to protest against racism and fascism!

[Those arrested have been bailed to return to police stations at the end of October.  Further details of the defence campaign and solidarity events will be posted when we have them.]