Anti-Fascism: Uniting to Beat the Bigots

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Weyman Bennett, Joint Secretary, Unite Against Fascism"

Unite Against Fascism (UAF) represents the biggest mobilisation of anti-Nazi forces in this country since the 1970s.

It brings together the Anti Nazi League, the National Assembly Against Racism, Labour MPs, the TUC, and the general secretaries of Unison, the TGWU, the GMB, the PCS and the CWU. Billy Hayes is the treasurer of the organisation and Ken Livingstone the chair. Every day more names come flooding in. There is tremendous relief throughout the labour movement that the organisation has been set up, because there is serious concern about the threat posed by the Nazi BNP in the forthcoming June elections.

The BNP plans to launch a campaign to emulate its European Nazi counterparts Le Pen, Haider and Fini. At the moment the BNP has 17 council seats, from Burnley in the north west, to Thurrock in Essex and Broxbourne on the borders of north London. But its big aim is to break through in the Euro and GLA elections, where proportional representation means that it can gain an MEP with around 10 percent of the vote in some areas. For example, in the north west BNP leader Nick Griffin would need only 9 percent, or 140,000 votes, to become an MEP. To give a sense of proportion about this, all the BNP votes across the country in the last election added up to 131,000. However, a low turnout would require less than 140,000 for him to be elected.

The BNP also hopes to gain many more council seats across the country. Where they have won seats, the Nazis are creeping in by presenting themselves as the protest party against New Labour, building on general dissatisfaction with the government and the hysteria that has been generated against asylum seekers. So while it is true that the overwhelming majority of people who turn out to vote BNP are not Nazis, neither do they accept that it is a fascist organisation. We can rip the mask of respectability away from the BNP by mass mobilisation. This was done successfully by the Anti Nazi League in the 1970s.

In east London's Isle of Dogs in 1994, when BNP councillor Derek Beackon was defeated, his vote actually went up. But the numbers turning out to vote against him went up far more. This was due to a mass campaign led by the Anti Nazi League, and the TUC march of 150,000 through east London.

But while we can learn from our past victories, we need also to acknowledge what has changed. In 1928 Hitler's Nazis only got 2.6 percent of the vote, but he had 100,000 storm troopers marching on the streets. He used marches, demonstrations and rallies to build votes, and became a large enough force to be handed power by the right winger Hindenburg. In France today Le Pen has concentrated on presenting a respectable face in order to build electorally, biding his time before mobilising on the streets.

In Germany Hitler used the storm troopers to smash working class organisation. We have an advantage - the bulwark against fascism exists in the trade union and labour movement. Last year the TUC and Labour conferences were dominated by the mood for a mass anti-Nazi fight. Seventeen major unions have signed up to UAF. It is our task to ensure that every trade union member and every local union branch signs up as well. In every area we can approach trade unionists, Labour Party members and community leaders to sign up to a local UAF list to be published in the press before the election. The essence of this united front is that, while we may have differences on many issues, this is one issue we agree on - mobilising activity against the Nazis. Such a strategy could have defeated Hitler.

Unite Against Fascism will have hundreds of thousands of members. It will also provide the atmosphere to go on the offensive against Nazi and racist lies about asylum seekers. This is a race against time, but in the current atmosphere of mass mobilisations against war we can forge a movement to smash the Nazis.