Sunday 2 September 2012

English Defence League scurry away from Walthamstow

The misery and anger created by cuts and unemployment can, particularly if the trade union movement  takes a fighting lead, be turned into united action to defend jobs and services. However, there is the ever-present danger that despair can also be misdirected into the hands of racists and fascists in an effort to divide opposition against the cuts being inflicted by the banksters and their politicians. As we found when a NUT member was hospitalised earlier this year in an unprovoked attack in Lewisham, the far-right can also be a direct threat to trade unionists.

EDL platform surrounded outside the Town Hall
That's why it is vital that the trade union movement mobilises alongside local communities to make sure that the racist English Defence League is unable to gather strength - and that's why yesterday's successful counter-demonstration in Walthamstow (as well the turnout in Dundee against the Scottish Defence League) was an important event for trade unionists to celebrate !

The EDL had been given permission to march through the heart of the diverse Walthamstow community from Blackhorse Road tube station to a rally outside the Town Hall. A counter-demonstration had been organised to show the EDL that they would not succeed in spreading their divisive lies in Waltham Forest.

After an opening rally, a sizeable anti-EDL demonstration marched up towards Forest Road, a road that the EDL were supposed to be coming down soon after. At that point our march stopped, which blocked the way for the EDL. Hundreds of anti-racists, residents, trade unionists - notably from PCS, NUT, UCU, RMT and FBU - and increasing numbers of  local youth gathered in the sunshine, surrounded by a growing police cordon. After a while, and to the crowd's anger, it became clear that the EDL were being allowed to march along side roads to get to the Town Hall.

It looked like the day would end as some previous anti-EDL demonstrations have done - with a good anti-EDL turnout but then a frustrating wait for those caught in a police kettle. However, there was one route away from the area that had not been blocked off by vans but only by a few lines of police. Gradually, demonstrators managed to find their way through and away from the area where we had been penned for some time.
Waiting for the EDL at the junction with Forest Road

Faced with one group of police in my way, one officer tried to explain that he had to keep us in place to avoid a breach of the peace. However, his colleague seemed to take notice when I explained that, in reality, they were being used to help football hooligans who threaten the peace most Saturdays! I then slipped through alongside the Waltham Forest NUT banner and many more followed us behind.

Turning back down the hill, we were then able to reassemble right by where the EDL were trying to stage their rally outside the Town Hall, joining other protestors who were already there. However, most of the EDL members were surrounded by police in a side-street and only a dozen or so of the racists were stood by their platform. But, to their obvious shock, in front of them now stood just a thin line of police and then hundreds of anti-EDL demonstrators.

It didn't take too long for the few EDL members to scurry away from their platform back to the rest of the EDL group - before they eventually all had to retreat ignominiously back from where they came. (In their own words, 'humiliating', as one EDL member has angrily described it on twitter !). 

I walked back into Walthamstow with a group of local youth who had certainly enjoyed their day and were more than pleased to have seen the EDL chased away from their community.

Yesterday was a success but it certainly won't be the end of the story. We need to continue to organise against the cuts and the racists, uniting communities in a common struggle for jobs, homes and services. 

Above all, the trade union movement needs to take a lead by taking united strike action against the cuts so that we can help give confidence to working people and direct the genuine anger against this Government - including from workers and youth who might otherwise be attracted by the lies of the EDL and BNP -  into a united struggle to defend services and living standards.

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