Nick Griffin, leader of the fascist British National Party (BNP) was pelted with eggs and flour as he arrived at Leeds Crown Court to face charges of incitement to racial hatred on Wednesday of last week.
Over a thousand anti-fascist protesters confronted a “national mobilisation” of just 150 BNP members, holding a demonstration followed by a rally.
Local campaigners were delighted with the size and confidence of the anti-fascist turnout. “We’ve put a marker down today,” said Katie from Leeds Unite. “If they try sticking their heads up again, they’ll know we’ll be here — and there’s a lot more of us.”
A humiliated Griffin, and his sidekick Mark Collett, scuttled into the court building, surrounded by minders and police. The court decided that they have a case to answer — they will face a full trial in January. The charges follow the screening of the Secret Agent BBC documentary about the BNP in West Yorkshire.
The anti-BNP demo was called by Unite Against Fascism and Yorkshire and the Humber TUC. Trade unions from across the region attended with their banners, with the PCS civil service workers’ union and NASUWT teachers’ union prominent.
At 9am an already sizeable Unite presence was swelled by a huge contingent of students from Leeds University, where Mark Collett studied.
The colour drained from the Nazis’ faces as they saw hundreds of young people, black and white, marching on them. Unite protesters jeered at the fascists, singing “Where’s your führer gone? He’s going down!”
The Unite protest ended with a lunchtime rally. Activists heard speeches from Unite campaigners, Leeds councillors, the TUC and others, all vowing to keep up their unity and smash the BNP.
John Campbell is chair of Yorkshire and Humberside Unite Against Fascism and a Labour councillor in Sheffield.
He told Socialist Worker, “We showed today that we can mobilise people, trade unionists and students, young and old.
“It’s sent a powerful message to the BNP that they are not welcome in the Yorkshire and Humberside region, or anywhere in Britain.
“And it’s shown that the BNP might brag, but they are nowhere near as strong and powerful as they would have us believe. Now we need to get out and make sure people won’t be voting for them in May.”
Chris Beastall, campaigns officer for Yorkshire and the Humber TUC, helped build the impressive turnout from regional trade union branches. She spoke to Socialist Worker.
“The trade union mobilisation went exceptionally well,” she said. “This won’t be a one off event either. Nick Griffin starts his trial on 16 January and even though we outnumbered them ten to one this time, we can’t rest on our laurels — we can expect them to come back in bigger numbers.
“We’re also looking towards the elections. The BNP is trying very hard to get people onto councils, and they’re targeting Yorkshire. The main thing is information. We need to let people know what the BNP is really about.”
Leading Unison activist Yunus Bakhsh spoke about the continuity between the fight against the BNP today and anti-fascist struggles of the past. He drew cheers when he reminded the rally of the anti-fascist cry of the Spanish Civil War — “They shall not pass!”
Several MPs sent messages of support to the rally, including Respect’s George Galloway. “We must unite to stop racism and fascism,” he said. “We must make sure we have the strongest possible united movement to oppose the fascists and racists.
“But I also believe we have to go one step further. There is only one fundamental division in our society. It is between the haves and the have nots — between those whose voices we hear too much and the voiceless.
“We have to fight to ensure they have a movement that will give voice to their needs. Then we will see the racists and fascists pushed back into the gutters from which they crawled.”
The large student turnout was an important component of the united spirit of the anti-fascist demonstration. Hanif Leylabi, one of the students who helped build the protest, said, “We’ve been leafleting really hard for two weeks across the university.”
The students are now organising for the elections, he added. “We aim to take this into communities and organise to help Unite canvassing, telling people to use their vote against the BNP.”
A delegation from Keighley Trades Council joined the Unite demonstration with their banner. Nick Griffin stood in Keighley, West Yorkshire, at the general election, polling just over 9 percent of the vote.
The BNP had planned to hold a national demonstration in Keighley on Saturday of last week, in an attempt to whip up racism against Muslims.
But these plans were blocked at the last minute by the home office at the request of the police and local anti-fascists.
“I’m here because I can’t be doing with racism,” Keith Drudge from Keighley Trades Council told Socialist Worker. “There’s no difference between black, Asian and white. We’ve got to preserve people’s rights. That’s why I’m against the BNP.”
Weyman Bennett, joint secretary of Unite Against Fascism, stressed how the unity and breadth of the anti-fascist movement had delivered a solid blow against the BNP — but now we need to keep up the pressure against them.
“The BNP wants to emulate the success of Le Pen in France,” he said. “We must never let them get a toehold in Britain. Every single time they try to raise their heads, we have to make clear that our streets belong to us, not them.
“Now we need to get every trade union branch and students’ union to affiliate to Unite. We must build this kind of united opposition to the BNP across the country.”
Unite will hold its postponed national conference at the TUC in London on Saturday 18 February next year. Go to www.uaf.org.uk for more details.