Anti-fascist counter-protest in Salford, 23 February 2019. Photo: Brian Madden Anti-fascist counter-protest in Salford, 23 February 2019. Photo: Brian Madden

A counter-protest against Tommy Robinson’s rally outside the BBC in Salford brought hundreds out on the streets against racism and fascism, reports Brian Madden

Hundreds of protesters turned out at the BBC in Salford Quays on Saturday for a counter-protest against a rally led by Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, or Tommy Robinson as he is better known, who claims the BBC are broadcasting fake news about him in an upcoming Panorama program. Many organisations from Manchester and further afield attended the event which was organised by Stand Up To Racism and Unite Against Fascism, including Unison, The People’s Assembly Against Austerity, PCS union, Unite, Rock Against Racism Coventry and Warwickshire, Manchester Gorton Labour Party, Wigan Trades Council, and University and College Union.

Steve North from Unison spoke about the diversity of the people of Salford and how Tommy Robinson has nothing to say about improving the lives of working people there, he just sows division and hatred. Penny Hicks from The People’s Assembly spoke about the real causes of poverty, the Tory government, and urged people to organise to get rid of the Tories, something echoed by a protester who said that some people find the bandwagon of racism and thuggery appealing and don’t seem interested in the actual root causes. One protestor expressed concern about the rate at which far-right racists are able to mobilise and feels that as time goes on they will get harder and harder to stop. She said the wealthy elite who back the far-right street movement are looking to divide ordinary people to ensure we never get the housing, jobs and services we need.

Nahella Ashraf from Stand Up To Racism said Tommy Robinson’s lies about ethnic minorities inspire racist attacks and abuse wherever he goes. We have seen several cases of this in Manchester just this week – the chair of Levenshulme Labour party who was at the demo described the positive and welcoming attitude of the ordinary people just the day before when racist graffiti was daubed on the pavements of Levenshulme, where members of the community including children had immediately drawn over the graffiti converting it to rainbows and houses.

Another protester from a group who travelled on a coach from Lancaster Preston and Morecambe, pointed out the irony of Tommy Robinson, who claims to be a free speech advocate, wanting to shut down criticism. One protestor asked, does he want the BBC to be more racist than it already is?

What the rally, which brought 3,000 Tommy Robinson supporters to the streets of Salford, shows us is that the growth of the far right is still a danger. Though smaller in number, the counter-demonstration was diverse and dynamic and brought together a broad cross-section of the labour movement and social movements. But if want to stop the march of the fascists, we will need to reach people in communities all over the country and mobilise in much bigger numbers.