At least 1000 trade unionists, LGBT activists, Muslims, anti-war campaigners, students and others turned out on the streets of Newcastle today to succesfully counter the racist English Defence League (EDL) march.
The 600-strong EDL march was kept to its Bigg Market march route through pressure from a 600-strong Unite Against Fascism (UAF) counter-march and a 100-plus mobilisation by North East Against Racism (NEAR). It was denied control of Grey's Monument (commonly regarded as the centre of Newcastle) by an anti-racist rally jointly organized by the TUC and Hope not Hate, which attracted at least a further 400 people.
The TUC, UAF and NEAR events were constituted mostly by local anti-racists. In contrast the EDL, a far right marching organization consisting of football hooligans and racists, had bussed in most of its marchers from around the country to allegedly campaign against “the spread of Islam and Islamic extremism”. I overheard a member of its 'Gateshead Division' stating to his friend “Its like a match day”.
The UAF march began at St James Park, home of Newcastle United, and proceeded to move through Newcastle city centre to passionate chants of “EDL, Off our Streets” and “When the EDL spread racist lies, We fight back and organize”.
Its climax was a rally at Newgate street, right next to the EDL march route, where UAF demonstrators cheered speeches from UAF, NUT, RMT and trades council speakers.
As Weyman Bennett, joint secretary of UAF, said, “we have trade unionists on our side who have a history of protecting workers rights. Who do the EDL have? Football hooligans, good at nothing but spreading hatred and violence”.
Josh and Rose, from near Berwick-upon-Tweed, caught the bus to attend the UAF demonstration and commented that it was “great to see this many people demonstrating against the EDL today” and said that they wanted to “see more people challenging racist views in their everyday lives”.
A group of local LGBT activists said the various counter marches, when added up, had resulted in a “good turnout ” of anti-racists, though one said it was "a shame about the separations between them.”
The marches all passed off peacefully, thanks in part to high quality stewarding by UAF and NEAR members. Police kept the anti-racists and EDL members separated at all times, without resorting to using the controversial 'kettling' tactics that provoked widespread condemnation on a number of previous occasions.
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