Saturday 29th Oct was not a particularly good day for the Left, or for the unions or for anti-fascists. It certainly wasn't a good day for the Newcastle Occupation, as the consequences of the collective failure of all the above-named were visited on them in the form of a horde of brick-throwing nazis.
Saturday was meant to have been Rise Against Islamophobia - "Newcastle's Multi-Cultural Celebration". It was organised - if that's the word we're really looking for - by Unison, Public Service Alliance, Coalition of Resistance, Stop The War, and several other smaller lobby groups. Actually, we can probably narrow that list down further, because Unison dominates the PSA and both CoR and STW are fronts for a Trotskyist group called Counterfire - one of the more recent divorces from the SWP.
It had been known for more than a month - we heard as far back as Sept 26th - that the EDL were planning a counter-demonstration. Counterfire were acknowledging this from at least as far back as Oct 17th and were calling for support from anti-fascists.
The precise reasons for the event being cancelled with scarcely 24 hours notice remain unclear. We initially heard Unison had pulled the plug because they couldn't get public liability insurance. We then heard from sources in Counterfire that Unison cancelled because they had been unable to get any union volunteers to act as stewards. We have since heard claims from a Unison shop steward that no call-out asking for volunteers was even made. The phrase "couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery" springs to mind.
And what about the anti-fascists?
With the event cancelled and a national EDL mobilisation in Birmingham the same day, it would seem most people figured nothing would happen at Monument and so few people bothered to turn up on the off-chance.
There are, besides, two underlying weaknesses in the anti-fascist movement. One is the division between the fluffy liberal campaign groups and the more militant anti-fascists. Too often we still hear it said that direct confrontation with fascists makes us no better than them - just another bunch of violent thugs and hooligans. The same nonsense AFA had to deal with 20 years ago. Obviously, not everyone is cut out for street-fighting, but surely it's not too much to ask to expect moral support? In the face of this, there is no co-ordination between the two wings of the anti-fascist movement. Whatever organisations for physical anti-fascism still exist (and it's debatable that any do still exist), they were allowed no role in planning the event. Not when there's respectable Labour councillors and trade unions involved.
The other weakness stems from the hopeless sectarianism of the Left. Of all the organisations supporting the event, it is notable that Unite Against Fascism wasn't one of them. This isn't because they consider Islamophobia beyond their interest and remit - in fact, UAF held a national convention on the subject in London just a few weeks ago on Oct 15th. So why did they not support it? Look no further than the party behind UAF: the SWP, and their split with Counterfire - and of course, the aggro between Unison and Yunus Bakhsh over his tribunal. He just happens to be the SWP Regional Organiser. There's no way in hell these people are going to work together, so whatever numbers they might have mobilised (something between of 6-800 last time the EDL came to Newcastle), they were nowhere to be seen this time. Sadly, the political rivalries that exist nationwide on the Left have tended to become rancid and personal in the North-East. Too many people just can't work with anyone, and quite often, the worst offenders have key roles in different groups and committees.
The result of this farce was that some 60 fascists, from the EDL, SDL and NF were able to take over the Monument almost unopposed (it must be said that FRFI were there as they happen to hold regular stalls there). Even when word started to circulate that the fascists were gathered in the middle of Newcastle, there was still only a tiny mobilisation. The necessary networks and contingencies just don't exist. Then, having spent the interim drinking in city centre pubs, around 20 of the fascists returned to Monument at 3 o'clock in the morning and attacked the Occupation tents with bricks and boots. One of the Occupiers was taken to hospital with a suspected broken rib. It's fortunate there weren't more serious injuries.
It is quite clear that after 15 years of comparative quiet on the streets, the far-right is starting to flex it's muscles again. Anti-fascists need to get organised and get ready to fight back.