More than 1,000 anti-fascist protesters opposed the invasion of Leeds by several hundred supporters of the English Defence League (EDL) last Saturday.
I joined a feeder march from the Harehills and Chapeltown areas, which managed to break free from our police escort when we arrived in the city centre.
We marched on City Square where we found a couple of hundred racist EDL thugs gathered. Only a thin line of police separated us.
The appearance of fascist British National Party leader Nick Griffin on the BBC’s Question Time had clearly given a major boost to the confidence of local racists.
Our feeder march encountered heckling and Nazi salutes from racists dotted around the pubs in the city centre.
We went on to join the main Unite Against Fascism (UAF) rally, and were met with cheers.
A larger feeder march from Hyde Park, made up mainly of students, had also tried to make it down to confront the EDL, but the police presence in the city centre had proven too strong.
There was a feeling of unity and solidarity at the rally.
There were home made banners and placards, ranging from “EDL: Go Back to Hell!” to “Nazis cancel Xmas” – a reference to the fact that the Christmas tree in City Square had been taken down as a result of the EDL gathering there.
Paul Scarrott of Yorkshire & Humberside UAF addressed the rally. “Unity is critical,” he said. “We have to make sure anyone prepared to push racism and fascism is challenged.
“The EDL is an anti-Islamic and racist organisation determined to try and break up multi-racial Britain.”
A number of racist EDL protests have taken place across the country in recent months. All of them have been met with determined counter-demonstrations, where the racists have been outnumbered.
This was true in Leeds, despite police and council leaders warning local Muslims to stay away from the city centre.
Nevertheless, a large group of mainly young Muslims from Wakefield defied the police to join the protest.
The mood on the UAF mobilisation tapped into the rich history of anti-racism in Leeds.
Sheila Banks, the president of Leeds TUC, which backed the protest, told Socialist Worker, “We can’t let the EDL take our streets away from us. We’re not violent, but if we don’t populate the streets then they will.”
Glenn Pickersgill, a Unison union steward, spoke at the rally on behalf of the striking bin workers in Leeds.
He told Socialist Worker, “We have Asian, black, Irish, Polish and white members all sticking together in a class struggle. It’s not where you come from that matters – it’s where you are going.”
Though people left the rally with their spirits lifted, they were also frustrated that the police presence had meant that UAF had not been able to take its message to the EDL more directly.
As Kauser Jan, a member of Leeds NUT teachers’ union, told Socialist Worker, “It would have been nice to show the EDL the size of the support that we had – so that they understood that we represented the majority and they the minority.”
Marc Vallée and Jason N Parkinson, two members of the journalists’ NUJ union, have received death threats from racists.
Parkinson got an email from an EDL organiser after he returned from covering the Leeds protests last Saturday, while Vallée received a death threat four days after he appeared on the Nazi hate website, Redwatch.
The NUJ has launched a campaign in support of journalists threatened by right wing groups.