Thousands of antifascists, trade unionists and members of the local community marched in victory through Whitechapel today after the English Defence League failed in its bid to demonstrate in Tower Hamlets.
Only around 600 members of EDL made it to their final rally point – at Aldgate, outside the Tower Hamlets borough boundary in East London.
The racists and fascists of the EDL had bragged that they were coming to the heart of Tower Hamlets – “marching into the lion’s den” in the multiracial, multicultural borough. Despite a national mobilisation, they failed utterly.
Instead the day belonged to antifascists and antiracists, with an electric atmosphere of solidarity as white, black and Asian people, of all religions and none, came together.
Throughout the day, the antiracists gathered, with speeches, trade union banners, flags and music at the UAF/United East End protest close to East London Mosque, with anti-EDL protesters and local people also gathered directly outside the mosque and occupying key road junctions and streets to make sure EDL supporters could not enter the borough.
The groups converged at the junction of Whitechapel Road and Commercial Street in the afternoon and cheered the news that EDL leader “Tommy Robinson” had been arrested, along with 72 other EDL members before the racists and fascists were escorted away by police.
The first blow against the EDL was struck early by the RMT railworkers’ union, which prevented the organisation’s planned “muster” at Liverpool Street station, by threatening to close the station down if the violent racists were allowed to gather there.
They had already been refused any venue in Tower Hamlets, including Sainsbury’s car park.
The EDL were instead forced to gather at Kings Cross – after their fallback plan to meet at pubs in Euston was scuppered when the pubs declared they would not host the racists either. Their journey south was then held up when RMT members closed the tube station.
The EDL were eventually escorted by police to Aldgate. A group of EDL members, who went direct to a pub in Liverpool Street, showed the organisation’s violent character, throwing flash bombs, attempting to attack passers by and setting fire to a journalist who was reporting events.
But the EDL were unable to enter Tower Hamlets, instead moving through the City of London to their rally point.
When the EDL had left the area, the antiracist protestors marched in their thousands back down Whitechapel Road, chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “Black and white unite and fight, smash the EDL”.
As the march passed the East London Mosque, demostrators broke into spontaneous applause.
The mosque is the symbol of the area’s Muslim community – the particular target of the EDL’s anti-Muslim racism.
Afterwards, UAF national officer Martin Smith said:
Today we have won. We haven’t had anybody arrested. We have stopped the EDL coming into this borough. Tommy Robisnon has been arrested. We have marched on the streets today, the EDL have gone and we have won.
The UAF/United East End demo had earlier heard from speakers including CWU deputy general secretary Tony Kearns, East London Mosque’s Dilowar Khan, former MEP Glyn Ford, veteran local antifascist Phil Maxwell, Terry Stewart of LGBT group Out East, former council leader Phil Maxwell and a range of other local trade union and community representatives.
Former mayor of London Ken Livingstone sent a message of support, saying: “This is a fitting response to those who peddle hatred and fear.”
Musicians and DJs added to the wonderful atmosphere of unity and solidarity, with trade union banners from all over the country lining the street.
The UAF/United East End mobilisation was called because it was clear that the EDL still intended to come to Tower Hamlets for a static demonstration, despite the home office ban on marching.
The aim was to show the greatest possible opposition to the racists and fascists and ensure they could not threaten the borough’s multiracial, multicultural community.
Today’s brilliant day of antiracist, antifascist solidarity showed why that was right.