Police attack UAF demonstration against EDL in Bolton

The state’s response to the Unite Against Fascism (UAF) counter mobilisation to the English Defence League (EDL) event in Bolton on 20 March was a change in tactics from previous confrontations.

The police used a clear strategy of attempting to criminalise the UAF demonstrators and leaders, by using ‘kettling’, snatch-squads and dogs to attack and arrest people. From mid-morning they blocked entrances to Victoria Square, preventing many anti-racists from joining the demonstration. Over 50 people were arrested, with many suffering head wounds as police riot squads covered in body armour lashed out all around with extendable truncheons. UAF Joint Secretary Weyman Bennett was lifted by a snatch-squad from the speakers’ area and arrested, apparently on suspicion of ‘conspiracy to organise violent disorder’. He was later released on bail. Rhetta Moran, a leading figure in Greater Manchester UAF, was also arrested and released on bail, with conditions which prevent her from attending any EDL or UAF gathering in the country. While she was being held, the police entered her house and copied the data on her computer.

The UAF aim had been to mobilise nationally to swamp the EDL turnout. In the event the UAF mobilised between 1,000 and 1,500 and the EDL probably around 1,000. However, the strategy failed as the EDL succeeded in holding its rally, while the numbers mobilised by the UAF weren’t enough to fill even the half of the square the police had allocated to it. As in Manchester in October 2009, Mosque leaders had attempted to prevent Asian youth from attending the protest; however a large group did manage to join the demonstration towards the end, adding some much needed militancy.

The events in Bolton demonstrate that the UAF leadership’s tactic of calling on the state to ban the EDL and its events is both futile and counter-productive. However, as we have argued it would, the strategy failed. Instead of acting against the EDL, the police have in effect begun the process of criminalising and banning the UAF. Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan, who was in charge of police operations, was open in his praise of the EDL: ‘We have also seen groups of people, predominantly associated with the UAF, engaging in violent confrontation... I would also like to praise the efforts of the EDL stewards who worked with us in the face of some very ugly confrontations.’

This appears to have had no effect on the UAF line. After the police attack, Sabby Dhalu, the other UAF Joint Secretary, declared: ‘The police’s primary role is to ensure safety and public order. It is not in the public interest to allow EDL demonstrations to proceed. These so-called demonstrations should be banned’, while a shocked Weyman Bennett told the BBC that his arrest was not ‘a good sign for democracy’, that the police are ‘hostile to anti-racists’ and that their ‘neutrality needs to be questioned’. This position simply reinforces illusions in the state.

FRFI’s position is clear: only an independent working class, anti-racist movement independent of the British Labour government and its police force will be able to successfully confront racist and fascist mobilisations on the streets.

Bob Shepherd

FRFI 214 April / May 2010

 

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