Events in Cambridge this weekend demonstrated how to fight the far right: meet them on the streets with the power of the organised working class.
On Saturday 21st July, the fascist organisation ‘Football Lads Alliance’ (FLA) scheduled a demonstration in Cambridge. This far-right protest was called under the banner of #FreeTommyRobinson, in support of the jailed founder of the FLA’s forerunner, the English Defence League.
Assembling on Parkers’ Piece behind this fig-leaf, their real intent was obvious: to march on nearby Mill Road – a crucial artery of the working class and immigrant neighbourhoods of Petersfield and Romsey – and potentially to the Islamic Centre on Mawson Road.
Prior to the march, nervous rumours abounded in the local labour movement. A week earlier, the FLA and co. had organised a 2,000-strong march in London. At this, a gang of fascists brutally assault several activists from the RMT railway union, including Steve Hedley, the RMT assistant general secretary.
Steve Hedley describes the attack, 40 thugs targeted them outside the Westminster Arms pub. They knew who they were attacking. They attacked them because they are trade union activists, anti-fascists and left wingers. An Injury to One is an Injury to allpic.twitter.com/HWVNKtUn1d
— Jorge Martin (@marxistJorge) July 14, 2018
Activists in Cambridge therefore wondered: would the FLA here get a few hundred? Maybe a thousand?
In response to this threat, a herculean mobilisation – led by Unite the Union branches and local Labour Party activists, in particular – was launched in advance of the FLA’s arrival. This had one objective: defend Mill Road!
On the day, the real balance of forces in society was revealed very sharply. A huge anti-fascist crowd mobilised at the top of Mill Road, where they encountered an embarrassingly small group of FLA supporters. Protected by the police, these thugs were free to Sieg Heil and hurl racial abuse.
But from the moment this pitiful bunch arrived, it was clear that they had been massively outnumbered and defeated. After tiring themselves out, eventually the police (who themselves outnumbered the fascists) ordered the FLA to retreat.
After this, the anti-fascist rally moved off in a triumphal march through East Road, Norfolk Street and eventually along Mill Road, cheered on – and joined in great number – by local residents. This mobilisation – which must have numbered well over a thousand people by the end of the march – was the largest seen in recent years in the city.
Not only this, but the counter-protest’s composition was predominantly made up of young workers and grassroots members from the local labour movement. (Being the summer vacation period, most university students were out of town, as were many of the lecturers, who have themselves recently taken militant strike action against pension cuts.)
Before the rally, the mood was lively and angry. It was clear that those in attendance wanted to mobilise and fight to defend our streets if necessary. As we marched off, there was a jubilant atmosphere.
The militant mood was reflected by Steve Hedley, who spoke from the platform at the rally. Hedley linked the fight against fascism to the struggle against terrorism. He spoke in class terms and called on the trade union movement to place itself at the forefront of the fight against the far right. And he explained the link between austerity, alienation, and the rise of both ISIS and fascist groups like the FLA.
Demonstrations such as this and the anti-Trump demo on 13th July show the real balance of forces in society. The far right may be stretching their muscles – intent on (and capable of) causing damage to individuals in some cases. But they are far outnumbered by the power of the labour movement and easily routed when we organise to defend our streets and our communities.