Anti-cuts activists and anti-fascists in Newcastle occupied the area around Grey's Monument in the center of the city after scores of racists from the English Defence League and the Nazi National Front turned up to celebrate St Georges Day.
We had a UK Uncut action planned for Newcastle yesterday, assembling at Grey's Monument (typically regarded as the city's central point) at midday. It was initiated at a local Coalition of Resistance open meeting which planned a number of things to do in the wake of the huge 26 March demo.
A number of other groups, ranging from Amnesty International to Revolutionary Communist Group, had decided to have stalls at the Monument, also from noon onwards, because it was feared racists and fascists might take St George's Day as an opportunity to gather there.
The idea was that a number of different groups all having simultaneous stalls and activities, plus a sound system, would ensure anti-racists retained the space if a rabble of racists turned up. Our plan was to go ahead with the UK Uncut tour - a positive antidote to racist hate, as well as being important in itself - but a couple of us would stay there on the Coalition of Resistance stall, and immediately call and ask everyone to return if the EDL showed up.
When I arrived at about 11.45 there were already 30 grim-looking National Front supporters on one side of the Monument, but we (and a couple of other groups) still started setting up our stalls. By 12.30 many more anti-racists had arrived, and the police ensured the NF kept their distance, so we decided to start the tour of tax-avoiding businesses and bailed-out banks.
Everyone was just about to set off from the COR stall - banner, placards and flyers at the ready - when a large group of EDL supporters suddenly arrived en masse. I'd estimate 80, but it's difficult to be sure. The police swiftly moved in to separate them from us. After momentary shock and disorientation, we all stood firm and started anti-racist chanting.
It was very tense, to begin with, but everyone stayed together and refused to budge. We obviously took the very quick decision that we needed to stay put, be part of defending the Monument from the racists, and re-arrange UK Uncut for a weekend in May. There was a tremendous sense of unity and we turned the tide against the assorted racists and fascists.
A stand-off continued for around an hour. Anti-racist numbers grew. We out-did the EDL hooligans in chanting, and the sound system kicked in with some reminders that our side has all the best tunes. The racists started to disperse, and looked rather miserable.
The EDL numbers were unexpectedly high. It was far from clear beforehand that there'd be any presence at all. But this shouldn''t be interpreted as evidence that the EDL is a growing threat - overall my impression is they have stalled, and may be in decline. It's obvious they chose St George's Day as a chance to make an impact and drew in some of their softer support.
It was clearly a frustrating and discouraging experience for them. We should take heart from that. But their mobilisation yesterday does indicate that something bigger and broader on our side is required next year (and may be needed before then).
We will need the organised left, anti-racist groups, the anti-cuts movement and trade unions all pulling together to create a powerful demonstration and festival of unity.
In the meantime, make sure you're on the May Day march and rally next Saturday - assemble 11am at Centre for Life, near Newcastle Central Station, marching to Exhibition Park for a rally against cuts, racism and war. I'll post details of the re-arranged UK Uncut action when I have them.
Alex Snowdon is a Counterfire activist in Newcastle. He is active in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition and the National Education Union.
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