The EDL – a challenge for the trade union movement

John Millington calls for working class unity against the racist English Defence League

May 28, 2013
4 min read


John Millington is a freelance journalist specialising in industrial relations and social movements

Nazi saluting tanked up extremists, who have sworn to rid the country of a religious minority in Britain, run amok through the heart of the capital passing within 200 metres of the House of Commons with a grand total of two police officers in pursuit.

Going through all the possible opening paragraphs for a classic news piece, I couldn’t come up with a more accurate opening salvo. Pursuing the EDL is a precarious occupation at the best of times but is a truly chilling prospect when for at least 20 minutes there are seemingly just two officers for company.

One EDL member approached me and despite my press card being on display in full view, accused me of being a member of the Unite Against Fascism counter-protest. Clenching his two litre plastic bottle of Strongbow in one hand, he thought it better to run back to his riot than question me further.

This was not a demonstration for British troops or for brutally murdered machine gunner Lee Rigby. It wasn’t even a demonstration against extremism amongst however few Muslims who might profess such views. It was about a release of pent up rage and raw anger. And EDL members did not care all too much who was on the receiving end of that rage.

For all the bluster from EDL leaders Robinson and Kevin Carroll that the organisation is not racist, citing the contribution of Sikhs to the British armed forces, several EDL members began attacking a car driven by a clearly Sikh man en route to Downing Street. The car quickly sped off as the mob surrounded it chanting “who the f*ck is Allah.”

Having arrived at Whitehall, EDL members continued to fight with police whilst throwing glass bottles at fellow journalists until they were penned in for their “rally.” At least 3 renditions of God Save the Queen interspersed with calling anti-fascist protesters “c*nts” followed while Robinson made sure his followers paid homage to the Sikh contribution to British armed forces.

Speaking to a self-identified spokesman of the Sikh-led protest about human rights in India, which had been camped outside Downing Street prior to either the EDL or UAF arrival, he refused to condemn the EDL, adding that “EDL leaders understand the contribution of Sikhs to the British armed forces.” On further questioning however, he admitted that he would like to see a Sikh separatist state called Khalistan (or “Land of the Pure”) – a move which is advocated by some of the most reactionary forces within India and the UK.

Whatever Sikh people at large think about the EDL, ultra-nationalists linking up across countries and even race boundaries is a classic fascist tactic as is taking advantage of genuine grievances about life in general amongst workers and the unemployed.

The EDL and its organisers are not fools. They are cashing in on 10 years of Daily Mail led Islamophobia and the pain of austerity. It is not about defending people who chose to go on EDL demonstrations, but there has to be recognition that people who are not reached by progressive political parties or the wider trade union movement, risk being led into the arms of extremists like the EDL.

Similarly, if working class Muslims are not brought into the trade union family, Salafists and other extremist elements are likely to step into the breach.

As Labour MP Dennis Skinner said recently: “It’s all about class.” And working class unity across racial boundaries has never been more urgent.


John Millington is a freelance journalist specialising in industrial relations and social movements


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