On 9th June, 15,000 people marched in London behind the racist, far-right Football Lads Alliance, greatly outnumbering an anti-racist counter-protest. On same day, several hundred marched in Belfast in a protest organised by Britain First and loyalist councillor Jolene Bunting. When they rallied again weeks later, however, they were outnumbered by a significant mobilisation of anti-racists. These racist organisations pose a threat to minorities. Mosques and Sikh temples have been attacked on such demonstrations in Britain. They have also attacked the left and trade union activists, injuring RMT Assistant General Steve Hedley attacking a socialist bookshop.
Their rallying call has been for the release of former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson. Robinson was handed a 10-month jail sentence for contempt of court, in addition to a 3-month suspended sentence. The far-right ape and are emboldened by the racism and bigotry being pumped out by Trump. They will also feel their bigotry is given credence by racism from establishment figures, like Boris Johnson describing women who wear burqas as looking “like letter boxes.”
Cross-community response needed
In Belfast, the far-right demonstrations have attempted to portray themselves as “cross-community”, with tricolours appearing alongside the Union flag. Far-right material with loyalist images has been distributed in working-class Protestant areas. In Catholic areas, similar material has been distributed, but with nationalist and Catholic iconography. In the 1930s, Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists acted similarly, launching Ulster Fascists and claiming to represent both communities, developing connection with reactionary nationalist figures.
However, to build a base, these organisations ultimately come down on one side or the other. A key figure in the mobilisations here been loyalist councillor Jolene Bunting and the focus of Britain First is to build in Protestant working-class communities, while other fascist organisations, including Generation Identity, seek to build an all-Ireland organisation. Anti-racists need to be firmly cross-community and able to intervene in both communities. The intervention of dissident republican organisation in these protests allows them to be portrayed as simply issues of Orange against Green, which serves the interests of the far-right.
The trade unions which organise Protestant and Catholic working-class people have a responsibility to play a central role in organising against fascism. It is particularly welcome that public sector union NIPSA has taken an initiative to organise a trade union network against racism and fascism. This network has already played a role in confronting Britain First’s attempt to organise a rally in Newtownards.
Alt-right pushed back in US
With Trump and alt-right, the far-right look to America for inspiration and guidance but so should those serious about challenging racism and facism. Last year’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville was a show of strength of the alt-right. One anti-fascist was killed and the events of that day, alongside Trump’s equivocal response, provoked serious mobilisations. 40,000 marched in Boston at short notice and the threat of similar mobilisations in major cities was cut across. While the threat of the alt-right has not gone away, this year’s Unite the Right event was tiny. Alt-right organisations are in crisis and figures associated with the them, most notably Steve Bannon, have been removed from Trump’s administration. It was the tactic of mass mobilisation that was key to making this happen.
Unite to fight for a decent life for all
Linked with mass mobilisation when the far-right organise, there is a need for a proactive approach to cut across racists been able to build. Part of that is to stand firmly on the front-line with those are under attack. Events like the Diversity Carnival planned in Belfast on 1st September can play an important role in building the confidence of those facing attacks. However, alongside that, there needs to be a struggle to take up the issues that allow the far-right to grow, including the lack of jobs, homes and, for many young people, a feeling that they have no future. We must challenge the idea that immigrants and stealing jobs and houses, but also we must take action to fight for investment in jobs and housing for all. Here, the trade unions have a crucial role to play. By actively engaging in a struggle against austerity and poverty, people can be won to collective action as a solution, as opposed to scapegoating.