EDL - racist leagues on the defensive

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After taking a short break to allow their friends in the Nazi British National Party (BNP) to have a free hand in the general election, the racist English Defence League (EDL) are once again back on the streets.

But one thing has become very clear: things are not going as planned for the EDL.

The first protest they called after the recent general election was in Newcastle on Saturday 29 May. The EDL organisers of the protest told the police they expected 5,000 people to attend. On the day they could barely claim a tenth of that number. Greeting them was a thousand-strong Unite Against Fascism (UAF) counter-demonstration, supported by a large number of trade unionists and local Muslim people. The day ended with Newcastle and Sunderland EDL supporters fighting each other.

The story was repeated in Wales on Saturday 5 June. The Welsh Defence League had to call two separate protests in Cardiff and Swansea because both sets of football supporters would not march with each other. Only 80 racists turned up in Cardiff and 30 in Swansea. Once again close to a thousand UAF supporters took to the streets in Cardiff and another 300 in Swansea.

The Cardiff UAF demonstration was important for another reason. A number of Cardiff City fans joined the UAF protest and marched behind a homemade banner. Members of the notorious Cardiff "Soul Crew" also joined the UAF demo. Later in the day they had an altercation with members of the Welsh Defence League.

The EDL's failure to mobilise significant forces and the counter-protests have created a crisis inside the organisation.

Paul Corner looked at the rise of fascist squads in Italy in his book Fascism in Ferrara 1915-1925. The "squadistri" were gangs of fascists who organised flying columns that attacked trade unionists, socialist meetings, etc. Corner notes that this was an incredibly dynamic movement that grew very quickly, but it was prone to crisis and internal fights when it suffered setbacks.

The EDL has a similar problem. It is like a heroin addict: in order to mobilise its supporters it needs to give them greater and greater highs - bigger, more violent protests.

The police have also protected the EDL. When the EDL went on the rampage in Stoke, the police treated them with kid gloves. In Bolton on 20 March anti-fascists were the enemy and the police praised the conduct of the EDL.

The EDL are now being challenged by sections of the mainstream media. Stories have been run showing that the EDL is a violent, racist organisation that has links with the BNP. Now some politicians are also speaking out against the EDL. Bolton Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi has called on Greater Manchester Police to drop the charges against anti-fascists arrested on the demo in March. Qureshi said, "I did not see or hear any activity amongst the protesters that I would have described as violent disorder, though there were some police officers who in my view were being heavy-handed in some cases... I support the aims of the protest against the EDL in Bolton and I was there."

Welsh Assembly member Leanne Woods has also publicly condemned the police tactic of kettling UAF supporters in Cardiff.

The EDL are on the back foot but are trying to regain the offensive. They called two provocative demonstrations, one in Tower Hamlets in east London in June and another in Bradford for 28 August. When the EDL announced the Bradford protest to its members it was under the banner "This is the big one".

Again things have not gone as planned. The response of the Tower Hamlets community to the EDL was magnificent. Over 800 people attended a public meeting to oppose the EDL and a counter-demonstration was called by UAF and United East End.

Shortly before the planned march the EDL suddenly announced they had cancelled their protest. The excuse given was the Islamic conference they were attempting to mobilise against was pulled because the council had forced a local venue to cancel the booking. But the same conference went ahead in a different venue.

The real reason was made clear by EDL spokesperson Tommy Robinson in a statement made to a local paper: "It would be a suicide mission if we walked into east London... The Met Police told us there would be a hostile scene with thousands of protesters coming from all over if we turned up."

The anti-EDL march went ahead and 5,000 took to the streets in a celebration of multi-racial east London.

Resistance against the EDL is growing, but we mustn't be complacent. We have been here before. Last summer the EDL were driven off the streets in Birmingham and Harrow, but they managed to regroup.

The job of every anti-fascist over the summer is to build the biggest possible counter-demonstration in Bradford.