Unite Against Fascism backs Labour racists

FRFI’s criticism of Unite Against Fascism (UAF) as no more than a vehicle for shoring up Labour’s disintegrating electoral support, was confirmed by the announcement that the UAF will support Barking MP Margaret Hodge against BNP leader Nick Griffin at the next general election. It comes after the UAF and its joint secretary Weyman Bennett, a leading member of the SWP, have cosied up to reactionaries and opportunists in a series of protests against the English Defence League (EDL) and Scottish Defence League (SDL) and undermined effective opposition to racism and fascism.

On 14 November, BNP leader Nick Griffin announced he would stand against Labour Culture Minister Margaret Hodge in her East London constituency of Barking at the forthcoming general election. The BNP is the second largest party on the local council, having won 11 seats in 2006. Hodge, a millionaire, is notorious for claiming in 2006 that eight out of ten of her constituents would consider voting for the BNP, and for writing an article in The Observer (20 May 2007) in which she argued that ‘indigenous’ (ie white) people should have priority in the allocation of social housing:

‘We prioritise the needs of an individual migrant family over the entitlement others feel they have... We should look at policies where the legitimate sense of entitlement felt by the indigenous family overrides the legitimate need demonstrated by the new migrants. We should also look at drawing up different rules based on, for instance, length of residence, citizenship or national insurance contributions which carry more weight in a transparent points system used to decide who is entitled to access social housing.’

This was a deliberate concession to racist arguments about housing. In reality, neither immigrants nor asylum seekers have privileged access to social housing. The real problem, and one which Hodge covers up, is that the Labour government has continued to sell off council housing and refused to build any to replace it.

Within 48 hours of Griffin’s announcement, the UAF had published a statement from Hodge on its website under the headline ‘We’ll make sure Griffin’s MP bid for Barking is a failure, anti-fascists vow’. In it she declared that ‘The BNP have no place in democratic politics and Labour will campaign against them across the country.’ Weyman Bennett echoed her: ‘The vast majority of people in Barking hate Griffin and the BNP... We want to mobilise that majority to drive Griffin’s vote down – and drive the BNP out of town.’ This open call to vote Labour in Barking was endorsed by Steve Hart, Unite the Union’s London and Eastern regional secretary, and opponent of Latin American workers’ self-organisation.

Bennett’s statement represents a clear commitment by the SWP/UAF to support Hodge in the general election. Ironically, Anindya Bhattacharyya, writing in Socialist Worker (29 April 2006) following Hodge’s comments about BNP support in Barking, said that ‘Talking up the BNP is dangerous – but viewed as useful for Labour.’ And how! It has put the SWP/UAF into a position where they will be willing canvassers for Hodge come next year.

The reactionary standpoint of the SWP/UAF in relation to the fight against racism and fascism has been revealed time and again. During a protest against the racist EDL in Harrow on 11 September, they invited local Labour MP and former immigration minister Tony McNulty to speak on the platform. Weyman Bennett later claimed that the UAF had ‘achieved something big’ with this. At an organising meeting to oppose a similar EDL event in Manchester on 10 October, Bennett stressed the importance of having a speaker from the Labour council at the anti-EDL rally. The Manchester protest itself was completely ineffectual: the SWP/UAF made no attempt to confront the EDL, being content to remain within police lines. The UAF chair – a Labour Party member – refused to allow angry Asian youth to speak on the megaphone.

Three weeks later, on 31 October, the EDL were in Leeds. The UAF lobbied for a ban, a move that would have prohibited anti-racist demonstrations as well. Large numbers of EDL supporters managed to get past the police and march in the direction of the city’s gay bars, while the cops ‘kettled’ the anti-fascist demonstration and Bennett and the UAF organised speeches to a frustrated crowd. Leeds bin workers had been on strike against the council since 11 September against a proposed £4,500 pay cut, so when the obligatory council representative, a member of the Liberal Democrat majority, came to speak; the crowd objected. The response of a UAF steward was that ‘you don’t have to be in favour of strikes to be against fascism!’

On 14 November the openly racist SDL had planned a rally outside a Glasgow mosque. Instead of galvanising local opposition, Unite Against Fascism (UAF) led hundreds of anti-fascists away from a pub in which SDL supporters had congregated, to a rally organised by a middle class coalition, Scotland United, where speakers included Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie, Scottish Nationalist Party Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and discredited Labour millionaire MP Mohammad Sarwar.

In the weeks leading up to 14 November, FRFI supporters had led opposition to attempts by lawyer Aamer Anwar to prevent any counter-demonstration to the SDL. Anwar, who had unilaterally established Scotland United, completely failed to justify his actions when challenged. Meanwhile, the SWP/UAF were unable to decide whether to side with Anwar and his coalition of the respectable, or with those determined to mount a proper anti-fascist demonstration, who had come together under the banner of Glasgow Anti-Fascist Alliance (GAFA). Only at the last moment, on 12 November, did they decide to join the GAFA action; a couple of days beforehand they had been defending the Scotland United platform, even if the speakers were ‘not quite as good as you might want’.

On the day itself the SWP parachuted in substantial forces, including the ubiquitous Weyman Bennett, together with other opportunist forces, in order to hijack the GAFA demonstration and lead it away from the fascists, leaving behind a small number of anti-fascists, including FRFI comrades, who were determined to continue the opposition to the SDL. This is just what the SWP did with the Anti Nazi League when the National Front demonstrated in Brick Lane in 1978.

Let us be clear: the claims of the SWP/UAF to be in the forefront of the fight against fascism are bogus. Weyman Bennett and the rest of the SWP leadership have shown that they will ally themselves with open racists and reactionaries to prevent any real anti-fascist or anti-racist movement from developing. They have covered up for those in Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow who actively tried to stop Asian youth from confronting the EDL or SDL. They have rejected anti-racism as the basis for a real struggle against fascism. Talking up the dangers of the BNP, they are preparing to back Labour at the forthcoming general election. This is not socialism: it is crude opportunism. Anti-racists can have no truck with it.

Paul Mallon, Louis Brehony and Robert Clough

FRFI 212 December 2009 / January 2010