Powerful forces are coming together in a new coalition called Unite Against Fascism to confront the threat of the British National Party
THE BNP has 16 councillors. It wants to achieve a breakthrough in next June's elections when MEPs, London Assembly members and councillors will be elected on the same day across Britain.
Unite Against Fascism has created an unprecedented coalition of trade unions, anti-racist organisations and representatives of black, Asian and ethnic minority groups in Britain.
Lee Jasper, race relations adviser to the mayor of London and chair of the National Assembly Against Racism (NAAR), is on the steering committee.
Billy Hayes, general secretary of the CWU post and telecoms union, is the treasurer.
Weyman Bennett from the Anti Nazi League and Sabby Dhalu from NAAR are the joint secretaries. London mayor Ken Livingstone is the chair.
Across the board the initiative is gaining a tremendous response from trade unionists and anti-racists, who sense the urgent need to concentrate all our forces against the threat the BNP poses.
Some of those behind Unite Against Fascism spoke to Socialist Worker.
'Unite Against Fascism is important because we all acknowledge the strong growth of the BNP. There is a real danger of them getting MEP seats in June.
It's not just about elections. It is also because we want to stop the climate of fear they engender in some British cities.
I remember in the 1970s communities in east Birmingham being terrorised by the National Front.
I don't think you play at confronting that. You don't give them an inch to peddle their racist incitement.
The first two meetings of Unite have been extremely significant.
They have brought together representatives of unions and anti-racist groups who in the past have felt like they were competing against each other.
Also there were Searchlight, the Union of Jewish Students and representatives of Muslim organisations. It is very important to bring all these together.
We need a single focus-an anti-fascist organisation which includes people who don't agree on every point but want to destroy the BNP.
Some may accept elements of Labour Party policy. There are also those who are critical of it.
For me the statements David Blunkett has made have been similar to, or even worse than, statements from Enoch Powell.
It's not about suspending criticism of the immigration and asylum policies, but about having a focus on dealing with fascism.
That mechanism has already begun to happen. There is the establishment of offices which we at Natfhe are providing space for.
We need to go wider. There are the unions, major political parties, voluntary organisations.
We also need sports people and celebrities signed up.
We need to avoid the danger that it is a London-based campaign.
The BNP have councillors in the industrial areas in the north and other places like West Bromwich and Stoke.
We have to make the BNP totally unacceptable and make people ashamed to be associated with them.
I think we need the spirit of idealism seen on the anti-war demonstrations, the students, young people-Asian, black and white-in a combined movement to challenge the BNP.'
'Unite Against Fascism is exactly the type of campaign needed on a national basis.
In Oldham our campaigning has been key to defeating the BNP in an area they think of as their stronghold.
We urge all mainstream political parties, trade unions and all other groups to support Unite.'
'The history of the CWU is resolutely against fascism and racism.
Unite Against Fascism is a very important coming together of all anti-fascists in Britain.
It has got tremendous potential to be a broad-based anti-fascist organisation. Trade unions have a particular role. They have resources, networks and contacts.
Trade union activists recognise fascists are a pernicious virus that has to be tackled at workplace level. It's not an accident the BNP are targeting trade unions. They recognise their power.
The CWU has a membership of 300,000 plus their families. The union's national executive committee has endorsed the Unite Against Fascism organisation and its declaration.
That organisation, like the trade union movement, can do a lot at national level. It is as important that local activists in the CWU and the other organisations in Unite Against Fascism engage in local activities designed to stamp out the BNP.'
'We get calls from people in the north of England where there are BNP councillors. It is a very worrying development. If they win an MEP seat in next June's elections, it would be very sad.
Partly as a result of what the Labour Party and David Blunkett have done in their treatment of asylum seekers and targeting minority communities, Islamophobia and racism have been fuelled.
It is time all those against this unfortunate development come together.
We are there in Unite Against Fascism to show people there is a common cause, that the BNP affects everyone who wants to see a multicultural society.'
'A united campaign is absolutely essential. It is a huge step forward with Ken Livingstone as chair, Billy Hayes as treasurer, and NAAR and ANL joint secretaries.
The danger is where the BNP get council seats or any form of political power they become more acceptable and legitimate.
It is important to say they are not a legitimate political party. The majority of people oppose them. And everyone who feels that must express it.
It is critical to use the vote to defeat the BNP. Where turnout is high they get less votes.
This campaign aims to reflect the breadth of opposition to the BNP, calling on all organisations, trade unions and individuals to affiliate to the campaign and sign the statement. The immediate priority is to stop the BNP.
We have to send a message to all those opposed to the BNP to come together. The key thing is that they can be defeated. In recent by-elections they have been defeated because the majority have shown their opposition.'
'The situation we find ourselves in with the BNP requires a wider response. That is why the ANL is throwing its full weight behind Unite Against Fascism.
We need to put ourselves at the disposal of anyone who wants to organise against the Nazis.
The composition of Unite Against Fascism nationally needs to be reproduced locally.
We need a flood of leaflets-there were some three to four million produced in the 1970s.
That is the kind of scale we have to think about.
Also rallies, particularly in towns in the north, are important.
The Nazis are not a flash in the pan and neither is Unite Against Fascism.
The BNP are a different breed. They are repackaging themselves. And the pressures on ordinary people give them fertile ground.
We have to organise properly against them wherever they try to build.
We want to create a climate where black and Asian people do not feel afraid. It means preventing the BNP organising and holding meetings.
When the left and local communities united we stopped the Nazis holding intimidating marches in the 1970s, and we prevented them dominating the streets in east and south east London in 1993.'
'The danger is that with a small turnout in the elections and against a background of the rise in racism against asylum seekers, the Nazi BNP could get an MEP elected.
That would put them on the same road as the Nazis in France and Europe.
They want to follow the Euro Nazis' 'brutes in suits' strategy.
The BNP claims it has 'Old Labour' policies and is attempting to build itself as a protest organisation, against the mainstream political parties.
I remember in the 1970s when the National Front used the crudest racism about black and Asian people in their leaflets, calling them 'Pakis' and 'niggers'. Now BNP leader Nick Griffin is more sophisticated, and sometimes tries to hide the racism.
The BNP is not marching or having huge rallies. It is leafleting, talking about 'community politics' and going for electoral appeal.
We need to challenge this and remove the Nazis' respectability. Every trade unionist, working person and school student needs the basic facts about who the BNP really are, on a scale not seen since the 1970s.
This is a battle that everyone urgently needs to be involved in.
Unite Against Fascism is one of the most exciting movements that is developing now. We have the chance for people's growing confidence to translate into doing something to stop the Nazis.'
'It's vital that the anti-fascist movement pulls together to fight the BNP, which is now a paramount and growing threat.
That's what we are seeing with the launch of Unite Against Fascism.
We will be writing to every MP over the next few weeks asking them for their support.'
'Unite Against Fascism is a brilliant idea. There is a BNP councillor elected in Grays, near to where I live in east London.
We need a broad, strong organisation that encompasses many people. There is a strong idea of unity at the moment in the trade unions and workplaces, among Labour Party members and anti-racist organisations.
I am in the Unite Against Fascism office five days a week. I'm helping to organise the press launch in January, getting publicity together and making sure the statement gets out so people can sign it.'
(1) Add your name to this statement
'For evil to triumph all that is necessary is that good people do nothing. We call, as a matter of the greatest urgency, for the broadest unity against the alarming rise in racism and fascism in Britain today.
The fascist British National Party averaged 17 percent of the vote in the seats they contested in the last local government elections and now has a record 16 councillors across Britain.
They are poised to field candidates in the 2004 European Parliament, local government elections and the next general election, in what they hope will be the biggest electoral assault ever mounted by the far right in this country.
The BNP is now trying to present itself as a 'respectable' political party. In fact they are a fascist party.
Currently they seek to attract votes on the basis of racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and the vilification of refugees and asylum seekers.
But fascists also stand for the expulsion of black and Asian people from this country, the destruction of the trade unions and the elimination of basic democratic rights.
We believe that this dangerous situation requires a new and united response from all those dedicated to freedom and democracy.
Now is the time for all of us to combine our forces and unite in a broad and common front against this common threat.'
(2) Raise money
Take the collection sheet round workmates, students, community groups, friends, family and people in your street.
(3) Join Unite Against Fascism
It costs £10 waged, £3 unwaged/students. There are other rates for organisations and trade unions. Membership forms are available from the office. You can also use the letter urging people to join Unite Against Fascism signed by Ken Livingstone, Billy Hayes, Weyman Bennett and Sabby Dhalu.
Get your union branch, student union or community organisation to affiliate to Unite Against Fascism. A model resolution is available from the office.Write to Unite! c/o Natfhe, 27 Britannia Street, London WC1X 9JP. Phone 020 7833 4916, or e-mail email@example.com
There will be a press launch in January and a giant rally in February- details to be announced.
The roadshow around the country to launch Unite Against Fascism begins in Manchester. The aim is to encourage the kind of mass activity shown in the anti-war movement, and to direct it in a fatal blow against the BNP's hopes to advance next year.
Thursday 15 January, 7.30pm, Great Hall, Manchester Town Hall. Speakers include Billy Hayes (CWU), and Julie Hesmondhalgh (Coronation Street actress). Organised by Manchester Against Racism.