Saturday 30th January saw 2-300 of the UK’s most vicious fascists and racists descend on Dover armed with knives, knuckle dusters, bricks and nun-chucks. Billed as a ‘Unity Demonstration,’ the coalition consisted of the most violent and depraved groupings in the country, from old-timers Combat 18 to barely potty-trained National Action. Accounts of the day’s events can be read here and here.
What should be highlighted is that many see Saturday 30th as the most violent far-right mobilisation since the 1990s. The fascists came armed with lethal weapons which they pulled out during skirmishes, ready to maim, if not kill, antifascists.
How have things reached this stage? A decent analysis by the Anti-Fascist Network (AFN) can be read here. They write, ‘every successful demo for [the far-right] makes it more likely that their next demo will be bigger and more violent.’ This was written after the last Dover demo by the same Nazis, where the increase in violence from previous mobilisations was also notable. Bricks and padlocks were hurled from behind police lines, injuring several antifascists. In January bricks came with knives.
The authors point out that this rise in confidence and violence by the far right can be tracked to complacency shown by the left towards the EDL, an earlier and much tamer right-wing street movement. ‘Because we didn’t stop the EDL quickly enough, we now have openly nazi groups like National Action and Saturday’s mob operating on our streets in numbers for the first time since the early 90s.’ Antifascists more than held their own on Saturday 30th, by many accounts inflicting significantly more casualties than they took, while also suffering less arrests. However, the AFN’s predictions of increased numbers and violence were clearly borne out on the day.
Beyond the worrying development in street confrontations, the wider economic and political context is still more alarming in its potential for fascist recruitment. Deepening poverty and continued attacks on organised labour echo the historical conditions of fascist peaks in the 1920s-30s and the 1980s. Attacks on ethnic minorities, the far left and related cultural events are also historically the precursor to a far-right force confident enough to attack organised labour. By this point, fascism will represent an embryonic mass movement which will be far more difficult to defeat than it is in its current limited, extremist form.
More than ever, the call to nip the fascist threat in the bud needs to be taken seriously by the labour movement. The IWW should lead the way in responding.
For many years in the UK the mainstream unions have thrown their lot in with UAF, if at all, in anti-racist activity. This activity has consisted of largely pointless and self-congratulatory rallies miles away from fascist lines. However, the past 5 years has seen a reconfiguration of British antifascism with the argument for militant opposition gathering credibility beyond a small hardcore, while the UAF has massively shrunken in size and influence. This reconfiguration is ongoing with links between some TUC unions and UAF reportedly wavering, while the AFN continues to fill the void left behind by UAF’s demise.
In this situation, the IWW should lead by example and affiliate to the AFN. This move would be a welcome boost to the radical left’s willingness to combat fascism and would realise the full meaning of our slogan ‘An injury to one is an injury to all.’ Affiliation would be firmly in line with the union’s history of antifascist action against the KKK and the participation of IWW members in the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War. Most importantly, it would be a shrewd recognition of our immediate stake in the antifascist fight.
Practical consequences of affiliation should include regular funding of antifascist activity, active mobilisation in opposition to the far right and aggressive propaganda drives that win the argument amongst wider swathes of the working class that racism is used to divide and weaken our class by our capitalist enemies. The appeal of the far right to the working class is intimately tied to the failure of an organised left offering a proud and practical alternative to liberal capitalism. As a class antagonistic union, we are well placed to speak to those same concerns that turn working people towards fascism if starved of a left wing outlet. It is our responsibility to address to this.
Importantly, the IWW’s involvement should also firmly be on the front line. Not only must the far-right threat be dealt with ruthlessly and offensively, but the argument needs to become louder that at some point (soon), a revolutionary union must begin work in increasing the street confidence and ability of the working class.
With the continuing criminalisation of union activity – e.g. the trade union bill – specifically in response to IWW -style tactics, we have to act early to prepare ourselves for rough pickets and difficult campaigns which do not look that far away. Working class, militant antifascism is therefore a hell of a transferable skill to invest in.
The political moment presents a challenge to the maturity of the still embryonic revolutionary union movement in the UK; A real, violent danger sits on the far right, stoked by the worsening refugee crisis in Europe and powered by increasing economic despair. Unless it is opposed, it will continue to grow in size until it is confident enough to come after the labour movement.
We must cultivate our own self-belief as a militant, working class movement by taking the initiative and removing the fascist threat while it is still in its infancy. As a loud and practical step in this direction, the IWW should affiliate to the AFN.