- Created: Friday, 07 June 2013 16:48
- Written by FRFI
Below we publish two articles: a statement by Newcastle Unites issued on 3 June in response to reports posted on our website since 7 May, and our reply. Our reports expose Newcastle Unites’ policy of sectarianism, threats and violence and police collusion in response to a political challenge. Its statement is a concoction of abuse and lies. However, we publish it because we are opposed to censorship. Our reply, which follows the statement, provides clear evidence of the extent to which Newcastle Unites collaborated with the police and ensured the arrests of 14 anti-fascists on 25 May
Statement from Newcastle Unites
Newcastle Unites against the EDL would like to thank the many people who took part in our very successful demonstration on Saturday May 25th. Whilst the EDL opportunistically exploited the abhorrent murder of a British Soldier, Newcastle Unites brought together almost a thousand local people, representing the diversity and multiculturalism of the city, all opposed to the EDL's racism and fascism. We now intend to build on the broad unity we have created and further develop the strength of this opposition.
Given our achievements it is with regret that we have to make the following statement in order to counter a number of wholly inaccurate and disgraceful claims being circulated by a small sectarian organisation the Revolutionary Communist Group (FRFI). Whilst this group played no part in building opposition to the EDL, they have engaged in a number of divisive and disruptive activities designed to undermine the work of those who did. In doing this they have put people at risk and have targeted local Muslim activists with slanders and smears. We therefore consider we have no choice other than to set the record straight.
Newcastle Unites is a broad based campaign involving the Trade unions, local councillors, representatives of the Muslim community, faith groups and anti racist organisations such as Show Racism the Red Card, Unite against Fascism and the Tyne and Wear Anti Fascist Association. At our initial meeting a number of participants, in particular representatives from the unions and the Muslim community, expressed concerns about working with the RCG on account of their previous disruptive and sometimes violent activity.
Highlighted was the fact that the group tried to storm the Newcastle Mayday platform in 2012 in an attempt to prevent a local Labour MP speaking, in the process physically assaulting a number of Trades Council members. The RCG then posted a gloating video of the event and shamefully named those who tried to stop them. Newcastle Unites informed the RCG that they would not be welcome at our meetings. Apart form the above concerns the RCG were already attempting to set up an alternative anti racist group. This attracted no significant support. Despite our decision members of the RCG turned up at our meetings on two occasions demanding to be let in and stating they were there to denounce the involvement of local Labour Party members. On the second occasion they became highly abusive and had to be asked to leave the venue.
In an act of gross irresponsibility, that showed complete distain for the security of Newcastle Unites members, the RCG then posted details of Newcastle Unites committee meetings on an open Facebook site. They included the date, time and venue of our next meeting and even a picture of the venue. Because of the history of the EDL attacking anti racist meetings in the North East the details of the committee meetings had been kept restricted. As a result of the RCG actions Newcastle Unites were forced to move our meetings venue and a Muslim Labour Councillor received a threatening Facebook message from the EDL saying that they would be attacking the meeting. The Trades Council, who own and run the building, wrote to the RCG protesting that their article had put at risk all who use the premises, as well as their staff, and asked them to take down the article. They refused.
On Saturday May 25th members of Newcastle Unites were engaged in stewarding our demonstration to ensure it was a peaceful and inclusive event. The RCG gathered at a different venue. Following the demonstration we learnt that a number of their members had been arrested. The RCG posting about the matter on Facebook outrageously attempted to claim that members of Newcastle Unites had been responsible for these arrests! Newcastle Unites condemns, without qualification, the arrest of anyone for exercising their democratic right to peaceful protest. To claim that we would collude in any way with such arrests is an offensive and wholly unfounded allegation. The idea that Newcastle Unites has some kind of influence over the police is frankly laughable. It is however necessary to refute the statement and make it clear that no one from Newcastle Unites played any part in these arrests.
This attempt to smear Newcastle Unites comes from a group who have failed to contribute anything meaningful to the antifascist movement and specifically to counter the EDL on the 25th and it appears to be another case of sectarian and divisive behaviour. The RCG's stated view of the Labour Party, expressed both in written form on the internet and in public meetings, is that they are "worse than the BNP". They have targeted Muslim activists and have even taken to calling Dipu Ahad, a prominent Muslim Labour Councillor, a racist. To make personal attacks on a man who has fought racism all his life and has been the target of EDL death threats is deplorable and must be condemned.
Many anti racists are questioning the RCG's agenda. They appear to spend more time and effort attacking the Labour movement then they do the EDL or the Far Right. They put people at risk, assault and smear other activists, and cause real distress to many in the local Muslim community. Despite these tactics Newcastle Unites will continue to build a broad coalition of all those who want to stop the racist EDL and other fascist groups. We will not be deflected from that goal by either threats from the far right or the activities of groups like the RCG. This statement is intended to correct the false impressions of Newcastle Unites circulated by the RCG and to alert people to the danger their activities pose.
Newcastle Unites lie through their teeth: RCG reply
A torrent of abuse and lies
On 25 May, as the racist English Defence League (EDL) marched through Newcastle, police arrested 14 anti-fascists, held them for up to 10 hours, and raided their homes seizing computers and mobile phones. Seven FRFI supporters were amongst them. They were seized half-an-hour before the counter-demonstration organised by Newcastle Unites was due to assemble. In the weeks before the EDL march, Newcastle Unites, a coalition of Labour councillors led by Dipu Ahad, local trade union officials and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), had been determined to exclude FRFI and other militant anti-fascists from its march. Its planning meetings were held in secret and its supporters physically assaulted FRFI members to exclude them. On the day of the march, Newcastle Unites stewards colluded openly with Northumbria police leading to our comrades' arrest. A defence campaign has now been set up to fight the possible charges: the comrades are currently on police bail until 7 August.
On 3 June Newcastle Unites issued a public statement denying any responsibility for the arrests and any collusion with the police. The statement is a torrent of abuse directed at the Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG) and Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! (FRFI) interwoven with fabrications and downright lies. It is a desperate measure by Newcastle Unites: its reputation and those of its principal supporters lie in tatters. They have put their narrow, sectarian, privileged interests before the needs of building a serious fight against racism and fascism in Newcastle. It claims that it is ‘broad-based’ and counts allegiance from trade unions, anti-racist and faith-based organisations. But the fact that it ran to the police when under political challenge shows that this claim is entirely hollow.
Underpinning Newcastle Unites’ sectarianism is a determination not to confront state racism. In government, Labour was a ruthless persecutor of asylum seekers and used the ‘war on terror’ to criminalise Muslim youth. Now the Labour Party has made clear that it will continue to implement the ConDem coalition’s attack on welfare benefits if it wins the next general election. Critics of the Labour Party and Newcastle Unites have to be silenced by any means necessary: excluding them, censoring their views, or shopping them to the police. When FRFI put up reports criticising the actions of Newcastle Unites on our website, their response was to demand that we censor ourselves by taking them down and stop Newcastle comrades from posting further articles. Since the EDL march, Newcastle Unites has removed any comments critical of its actions and its statement from its Facebook. It will not tolerate any political challenge.
The Newcastle 14 Defence Campaign is now organising publicly to protect our comrades from potentially very serious charges: they were arrested for conspiracy to commit violent disorder. All those who support the aims of the campaign are able to attend. By contrast Newcastle Unites meets in secret. It says it has no choice because of the possibility of an assault by the EDL. Yet it is not possible to draw new people into the struggle if the key decisions are made behind closed doors: it is exclusive and undemocratic. All left and anti-racist groups have to face the possibility of fascist attack, which is why the RCG led moves to co-ordinate defence following an EDL and NF attack on an anti-jubilee protest in 2012.
The Newcastle Unites statement complains that when we reported the assault by their supporters on our comrades on 7 May we compromised their security by identifying the venue for their planning meetings. It alleges that the web article ‘had put at risk all who use the premises [owned and run by Newcastle Trades Council], as well as their staff.’ That Newcastle Unite Against Fascism publicly advertises the Trades Council building as its address shows the speciousness of this complaint, and should not obscure the real reason for Newcastle Unites secrecy: to keep out militant ant-racists and anti-fascists.
Newcastle Unites portrays RCG/FRFI as committed to violent disorder in order to obscure real political differences, in particular our opposition to the Labour Party as a racist, imperialist, anti-working class party. This claim was then used by Newcastle Unites organisers to get the police to stop us from joining the demonstration on 25 May regardless of the consequences. Its statement says we were excluded from its planning meetings ‘on account of [our] previous disruptive and sometimes violent activities’, continuing: ‘the group tried to storm the Newcastle Mayday platform on 2012 in an attempt to prevent a local Labour MP speaking, in the process physically assaulting a number of Trades Council members.’ This is a fabrication. Yes, we heckled an MP, Graeme Morris. Heckling is part of working class democracy. Morris supported Britain’s onslaught on Libya which left 60,000 dead, and we had every right to oppose him. But there was no violent attack, no attempt to storm the platform. Indeed the May Day organising committee which includes Newcastle TUC Secretary Jim Simpkin, a prominent supporter of Newcastle Unites, knows this: they agreed to allow us a stall at their 2013 May Day event. There was no accusation then about an alleged assault – it is a retrospective smear to deal with a political challenge today.
The statement claims that RCG/FRFI has targeted ‘local Muslim activists with slanders and insults.’ It can provide no evidence of this because it is a lie. It says we called Dipu Ahad ‘a prominent Muslim Labour councillor, a racist’. That is also a lie. It says we cause ‘real distress to many in the local Muslim community’. What nonsense! We have quite properly denounced councillor Ahad for the fact that he voted for £100m council cuts this year – an action which represents a massive attack on the Newcastle working class and which will certainly cause the Muslim community real distress. His support for these cuts does not seem to bother his Newcastle Unites allies, the SWP or the Newcastle trade union bureaucrats whose members have lost their jobs as a result. And he is the only person to have insulted any part of the Muslim community, writing after a counter-protest to the EDL in March this year that ‘The police did a fantastic job...I’m also concerned about some of our Asian youths who get excited and also want to cause trouble for the sake of it and have no respect for the police!’
The principal purpose of Newcastle Unites’ statement is to deny it collaborated with the police. It says Newcastle Unites condemns ‘without qualification, the arrest of anyone for exercising their democratic right to peaceful protest.’ This means nothing since they allege that RCG/FRFI is committed to violence. It says that ‘to claim that we would collude in any way with such arrests is an offensive and wholly unfounded allegation.’ So here is some of the evidence to the contrary:
- On 7 May, after SWP District Organiser Yunus Bakhsh threatened a female FRFI supporter as she tried to attend a Newcastle Unites planning meeting, Jim Simpkin manhandled her out of the building and told her 'Go away little girl, or I'll call the police.' Both are prominent Newcastle Unites supporters.
- On 15 May an unsigned email from Newcastle Unites to FRFI North East said ‘you will not be welcome and we shall take all necessary steps to ensure that you play no part of these activities.’ On 15 May Dipu Ahad elaborated on this, posting on the Facebook event for the march a 'Special Message from Newcastle Unites' which told us ‘I assure you that you will be thrown out of the demo and the public meeting by our stewards who will be many. You will also be reported to the police for causing disorder!’
- On 23 May Northumbria Police emailed FRFI North East stating that Newcastle Unites had told them FRFI were not welcome on the march. Later that day, at a Newcastle Unites public meeting, police were on the door with a list of names and turned away anybody whose name was on the list. Who provided them with the list other than Newcastle Unites?
- Hanif Leylabi, an SWP member and administrator of the Facebook event for the march, later admitted on Facebook that Dipu Ahad had told the police FRFI were not welcome at the meeting and claimed that although SWP members disagreed with involving the police ‘we weren't about to make it a point of unity two days before the march’.
- On 25 May, the day of the march, FRFI supporters were leafleting and petitioning in the city centre prior to the march assembly time. When the police asked our comrades their intentions they told them they were planning to join the Newcastle Unites demonstration. The police said initially that they had no problem with this, but later returned and said that the Newcastle Unites organisers had told them FRFI were not welcome. It was when our comrades stated that it was a public march and they proposed to join it that the police arrested them.
- SWP members Nick Clark and Liam Anderson were present during the arrests. At one point while our comrades were being seized, Clark approached a police officer and told him not to arrest two women because they were 'not part of that group' – ie RCG/FRFI. The police officer listened to Clark and let the two women go.
- During questioning, police presented the arrestees with a summary of the charges, which included a statement in writing that Newcastle Unites organisers had told the police that FRFI were not welcome on the march.
In the days leading up to the march, therefore, Newcastle Unites supporters threatened us with the use of the police, passed our names on to the police, worked with the police to prevent us joining the march, deliberately laid us open to police attack and worked alongside the police as we were arrested. Newcastle Unites has not refuted any of these specific allegations.
There is an urgent need to build a movement in Newcastle against racism and fascism. RCG/FRFI will be part of that, as it has been through its work over many years organising against deportations and immigration prisons in Tyneside Community Action against Racism (TCAR) and countless anti-fascist mobilisations. Three Newcastle Unites organisers attended a meeting of the Newcastle 14 Defence Campaign on 4 June to distribute their statement attacking us. They said they opposed the arrests but intend to continue excluding us. This is unacceptable. If Newcastle Unites organisers want to clear their names they can identify and expel those who colluded with the police, apologise for the lies they have spread against our comrades, end their policy of excluding committed anti-fascists from their events, and provide practical support to defend the Newcastle 14. This isn’t just about RCG/FRFI or the SWP, this is about building an anti-fascist movement in Newcastle that is democratic, effective and defends all those attacked by racists and by the police.
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