- Created: Saturday, 25 May 2013 20:34
On 25 May, as the racist English Defence League (EDL) marched through Newcastle, police arrested 14 anti-fascists, detained them for up to 10 hours, and raided their homes, seizing computers and mobile phones. Seven FRFI supporters were among the detainees. They were seized half-an-hour before the counter-demonstration organised by Newcastle Unites was due to assemble. In the weeks before the EDL march, Newcastle Unites, a coalition of Labour councillors, local trade union officials and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), was determined to exclude FRFI and other militant anti-fascists from its march. Its planning meetings were held in secret and its members physically assaulted FRFI supporters to exclude them. On the day of the march, Newcastle Unites stewards colluded openly with Northumbria police to identify our comrades for arrest.
The EDL demonstration, against the creation of an Islamic faith school, had been planned for some months. FRFI in Newcastle has a record of fighting fascism in unity with other forces. When the local Occupy camp was attacked by drunken EDL thugs in 2011, FRFI mobilised to help defend the camp, and when an anti-Jubilee protest was attacked by fascists in 2012, FRFI set up a meeting that brought together groups and individuals from across the left to organise mutual self-defence of protests and meetings.
Despite this record, on 7 May 2013 SWP District Organiser Yunus Bakhsh and Newcastle TUC Secretary James Simpkin violently prevented FRFI supporters from attending an organising meeting, assaulting and using sexist language against a female comrade. During the attack Labour councillor Dipu Ahad, the figurehead for Newcastle Unites, stood by and watched. FRFI was told that we were being excluded from Newcastle Unites because we had heckled Labour MP Grahame Morris at a May Day rally in 2012. Morris had voted for the bombing of Libya, which contributed to the deaths of 60,000 Libyans and the devastation of the country’s infrastructure. When we demanded an apology from Simpkin and others for their violence, Simpkin emailed our national office on 21 May threatening ‘further action’ if all reports of the attack were not removed from our website and Newcastle FRFI members banned from using the website. The posts remain for all to see.
The sensitivity of the SWP to the heckling of a Labour MP is in keeping with their determination to protect Councillor Ahad who voted for £100 million cuts to Newcastle services and jobs earlier this year. In turn, Ahad is happy to insult Asian youth. Commenting on a counter-protest to the EDL in March this year, Ahad wrote ‘The police did a fantastic job ... I’m also concerned with about some of our Asian youths who get excited and also want to cause trouble for the sake of it and have no respect for the police!’. What he is admitting is that Asian youth will not listen to him – and why should they. given his support for the cuts and his membership of the racist and imperialist Labour Party?
On 15 May Newcastle Unites wrote to FRFI saying that if FRFI supporters tried to join the march, ‘you will not be welcome and we shall take all necessary steps to ensure that you play no part of these activities.’ This was followed by a Facebook post in which councillor Ahad warned those he considers ‘disruptive’ that: ‘I assure you that you will be thrown out of the demo and the public meeting by our stewards who will be many. You will also be reported to the police for causing disorder!’ On 23 May FRFI received an email from Northumbria Police which stated that Newcastle Unites had informed them FRFI would not be welcome on the protest. The next day, police stood outside a Newcastle Unites public meeting with a list of names of those who would be barred from the meeting.
Newcastle Unites acted as police agents. They deliberately exposed our comrades and others to very serious charges: the police detained the comrades on the grounds of ‘conspiracy to cause violent disorder’. As a result of their actions, the police will feel they have a free hand to disrupt the work of left organisations, arrest their members and raid their homes. Newcastle SWP is now trying to justify Newcastle Unites’ behaviour whilst claiming that they themselves played no active role in identifying people for the police to arrest. What hypocrisy! Their claim that FRFI had compromised Newcastle Unites’ security by identifying the venue of their planning meetings is hogwash: the secrecy was not through fear of EDL attacks but to keep militant anti-fascists out. This is no way to fight fascism.
We can expect the killing of Lee Rigby in Woolwich on 22 May to be used as an excuse for further criminalisation of Muslims by the state and racist attacks by the EDL. An anti-fascist movement needs to be built on the basis of real unity, which requires open and democratic debate. FRFI argues the EDL can only be opposed effectively as part of a wider struggle against racism, which is inseparable from the fight against imperialism. No amount of threats from the Labour Party and its SWP defenders will convince us to abandon this struggle. To stop the EDL we need to fight state racism.
Newcastle 14 Defence Campaign
All comrades were released without charge and bailed to report to the police on 7 August 2013. Newcastle 14 Defence Campaign has been set up to fight any possible charges.