On the morning of Saturday 28th August Bradford had become a ghost town. Pubs, shops and cafes were boarded up and the Saturday shoppers stayed away. Some landlords had gone one further by piling up all their beer garden tables and chairs against the doors to keep the trouble out. The EDL were in town to “peacefully protest” against the supposed takeover by radical Islam. The EDL assembled on the city centre wasteland that has come to symbolise the neglect that this former textile town and its populace are subjected to by capitalism. Demolition started years ago to make way for a brand-spanking new Westfields shopping centre in the town centre. The recession called a halt to that plan and instead the council put a plaque amidst the rubble and re-christened it the “Urban Gardens”. Surrounded by a 10-foot metal fence, the Urban Gardens made for an excellent tin can behind which the police could protect the EDL from the people of Bradford.
When the coach loads of EDL’ers began to arrive it was hard to make them out for the sea of high-visibility police jackets that surrounded them. So peaceful are these “peaceful protestors” deemed to be that they were forced to pass in single file through a metal detector before they were allowed to assemble. The turnout was down on their other demonstrations (there were probably no more than 700 in all) and unlike previous events the EDL weren’t afforded the opportunity to warm up for a day of drunken hooliganism with a pint at a town centre pub. The frustrations of standing around in their tin can started to show when their English and Scottish supporters started falling out with one another! The EDL had planned a march through Bradford but thanks to the intervention of the home secretary this was downsized to a static demo. What some of these boneheads didn’t realise was that the demo had to remain static for their own personal safety. Instead they quickly turned their attention to the police lines and abusing the public who had turned out to show their disgust. With such chants as “Mohammed is a paedo” and regular shouts of “paki” the EDL quickly put to bed the myth they have tried to build that they are not racist.
In spite of the use of metal detectors around the gardens, the EDL thugs were able to smuggle smoke bombs which they pelted along with stones and glass bottles at the public standing yards away. Apart from delivering a gash to the back of the head of one of their own unlucky supporters they achieved very little by their cowardly and violent display. The police responded to their rain of missiles not by coming down on the EDL, but by beating back the 1000 or so local working class youths who had come out to meet them across the road. When asked by assaulted locals what they thought they were doing with their horses and dogs they claimed that they were protecting us! Naturally, most of us didn’t think this was altogether fair and we stood our ground. The police, probably getting the distinct impression no one was convinced of their benevolent intentions, used a small group of undercover Asian officers at the front of the throng of youths to “advise” them to get out of there so as not to risk arrest. It is a reasonable threat – many kids were arbitrarily picked out for sentences of up to 5 years by our racist judicial system for being present at the Bradford riots 9 years earlier.
Boozed up and frustrated by the lack of violence, a few hundred EDL managed to scale the fence at the back of the Urban Gardens and were starting to run amuck unchallenged by the police, throwing bricks and stones at locals. In that instant the Hope Not Hate blogger twittered, “250 EDL now loose on streets and no police around them. What are the police doing?” Whether the question was rhetorical or not the police were clearly waiting in the wings doing nothing. About 600 or so local youths ran up the street from the front of Urban Gardens around to the back of Forsters Square station where the EDL escapees began pelting us with missiles – completely unchallenged by the police. In spite of the hail of glass and bricks the tables were quickly turned on the racists and they were sent fleeing in all directions. Suddenly the absentee riot police began to show an interest and the EDL were allowed to cower in the station behind their lines. Under heavy police escort the rest of the EDL were sent packing back to their coaches after a few hours of being completely hemmed in.
A few lessons of the day
The police, local politicians and radio stations, not to mention Hope Not Hate, the UAF and the rest of the “official” anti-fascist response, have been calling on the local youth not to try and physically stop the EDL – they almost all chimed in chorus that such an attempt would lead to an outbreak of rioting and disorder like the events of 2001. But the lessons of the Bradford riots 9 years ago have been well learnt by the working class kids there on the day. Turning pent up anger against the police and private property only leads to two things: the destruction of our own communities and heavy sentences when the state comes down on us like a tonne of bricks. Those hot headed kids who did want to scuffle with the police and damage property on Saturday were told in no uncertain terms to behave themselves.
Despite the fact that the day was a victory for the Bradford community nothing was owed to the official anti-fascist groups. There were other demonstrations against the EDL on the same day – including a UAF demo just around the block in Exchange Square. As the main counter-event it attracted a few hundred people including the only labour movement presence of the day. It is a square which can easily be hemmed in by police on both sides and the organisers succeeded in keeping everyone kettled and out of harm’s way. This was in line with UAF’s aim to keep their protest static and peaceful. It must be noted then that both UAF and “Hope not Hate” were invisible in the spontaneous, local response which contained and beat back the EDL when they broke out of their pen. At Codnor when the BNP held their “Red White and Blue” festival the UAF were willing to physically blockade the BNP and scored a modest success. Recently however UAF have staged a number of static demonstrations with the collaboration of the police, instead of trying to physically stop the EDL. The result: demoralisation for the people who make the effort to turn out and declining numbers.
What is clearly missing is a strong lead against these quasi-fascist grouplets – a lead which is prepared to confront them and send them scurrying back into the gutter. We believe that this can only come from the local labour movement mobilising and leading by example. Bradford trades council backed Hope Not Hate’s response on the day, which involved a peace vigil the night before and a plea to stay at home on the day. The complete absence of labour movement presence meant that when this correspondent tried to explain to some working class youths that the trade union movement has a long history of leading the fight against fascism and racism my remarks were met with genuine surprise. This is a sad indictment and is something that needs to change.