An anti-fascist rally called by rail workers union RMT in Barking brought together around 100 labour movement activists and local workers, despite the theatre where the rally was initially supposed to be held cancelling the event following suspected threats of fascist violence.
Gathering in the courtyard outside the theatre, activists heard speeches from RMT officers and other local labour movement people, including a former shop steward from the Ford plant in Dagenham. The speeches focused very much on the need to confront the BNP on a social and political — rather than just moral — basis and provide radical working-class answers to the genuine problems around housing, jobs and services which the BNP exploit with their racist lies.
Although the rally was, in and of itself, a token gesture, it does represent the potential for ongoing anti-fascist work in the area conducted on a working-class political basis and initiated by working-class organisations.
Charlie McDonald, a AWL member and activist in the civil service union PCS in East London who has been involved in anti-fascist campaigning in Barking, spoke to Solidarity.
“The Labour Party’s operation is probably the most visible and active. On a certain level it’s very slick and impressive. They canvass regularly and manage to turn out up to 50 people. The main thrust of their canvassing has been around a petition against the closure of the A&E department at a local hospital, but beyond that it’s been very apolitical and they still play to moralistic rather than political arguments against the BNP.
“Many of the people who come out and work for the Labour Party are from outside the area, including the union delegations. The local labour movement is very hostile to Margaret Hodge and there’s some understandable reluctance on the part of local trade unionists to come out and work for her. New Labour apparatchiks don’t make up the majority of the people who’re doing work for the Labour Party out here but the political consciousness amongst the Labour Party people isn’t particularly high. They don’t really see what they’re doing in class terms.
“A lot of people are perfectly happy to be open about the fact that they support the BNP. Their arguments are a mixture of racist ideas they’ve picked up alongside a feeling of being betrayed by the Labour Party and a sense that working-class people’s needs aren’t represented.
“We have seen Richard Barnbrook [local BNP leader] out campaigning and there are areas where a majority of windows have BNP posters. Nick Griffin does have a chance of winning the parliamentary seat, but the more serious threat is that the BNP will take control of the council.
“Hope Not Hate have offices and workers down here and UAF have been organising too, but they’re not particularly visible. There’s a need to do some serious, long-term campaigning around concrete political issues; the Labour Party is saying next to nothing about housing or jobs and everything’s being conducted at a very low political level.”