On Saturday 7 September approximately 600 supporters of the English Defence League (EDL) marched in Tower Hamlets, protected by a heavy police presence and allowed to pass unhindered through the multi-ethnic borough. In contrast, 286 counter-demonstrators were arrested – anti-fascists from a variety of political backgrounds, including a supporter of the IBT. Most were charged with offences under the Public Order Act for diverting from the agreed route and released on bail, subject to conditions banning them from attending demonstrations within the M25 against the EDL, EVF (English Volunteer Force) or BNP (British National Party).
The ‘agreed route’ for anti-fascists was a rally in a Whitechapel park organised by Unite Against Fascism (UAF), jointly led by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), Muslim religious leaders and figures from the Labour Party, which runs the local council. Altab Ali Park hosted speaker after speaker declaring that the EDL should not march in Tower Hamlets, seemingly oblivious to the fascists passing by only half a mile away. At one point the MC even instructed the thousands present to ‘stay put … until the EDL have left the area’.
Those arrested comprised nearly half of a breakaway group that left Altab Ali Park in an attempt to prevent the EDL from marching, ignoring warnings from ‘community police’ not to leave the rally (‘you’ll be nicked’). Despite the presence of some 3,000 cops, a couple of hundred militant anti-fascists managed to get close to the EDL before being imprisoned in two separate kettles, on Commercial Road and Aldgate.
Both groups were kept tightly kettled from approximately 1pm until 6.30pm, and no one was allowed to leave. After three to four hours with no toilet facilities, access to two portaloos was granted if protestors wishing to use them consented to being thoroughly searched, gave their name and other personal details and handed over possessions such as phones and wallets. Eventually, commandeered London buses started arriving to take those detained to police stations, and riot vans were strategically parked to block the view of onlookers. All the occupants of the kettles were arrested for breaching section 12 and section 14 of the Public Order Act, outrageously including five independent legal observers who had remained in the kettles to monitor what transpired. Those arrested were taken to police stations across London and released one-by-one during the course of the night.
Despite the fact that the fascists were able to march undeterred over Tower Bridge to the heart of London, the SWP and UAF declared the day a ‘magnificent mobilisation’ and organised a victory parade once the cops had escorted the EDL from the area. The SWP strategy was clear – mobilising exactly where the cops wanted us to be.
The police operation was carefully planned to deter militant anti-fascists from gathering in the future and clearly violated the right to protest, from the evoking of the Public Order Act a few days before, to the draconian and undemocratic bail conditions. This would have been made much more difficult for the cops if the SWP’s ‘victory’ march had at least headed towards the kettles to offer mass support to those detained. Initial reports from the SWP/UAF did not mention either the kettles or the arrests. In order to stop the fascist menace, it is particularly crucial that workers organised in trade unions form militant contingents to stop the fascists – instead the SWP pander to the union bureaucrats and Labour left as they pontificate from the platform at carnivals.
Such violations of democratic rights are an attack on the entire left and workers’ movement, and it is vital to support all the arrested anti-fascist demonstrators. We must defend the democratic right to protest unheeded, vigorously opposing all restrictions on demonstrations and fighting bans and blacklisting of individual anti-fascists. An injury to one is an injury to all. We must continue to fight to keep the EDL off our streets.
No platform for fascists!
Drop all charges and bail conditions imposed on the anti-fascists!