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The TUC March for the Alternative, and 'no platform' for fascists

The TUC March for the Alternative on 26 March promises to be the largest anti-cuts event so far, with the organisers' website already talking about 500 coaches having been booked for the day. There's been a bit of fuss on the internet about a statement on the TUC website saying that they "will be employing professional stewards for some parts of the event". Obviously, this could be an attempt to 'professionalise' the whole thing, which would chime in with some unions' previous attempts to prevent certain far left groups to participate in, or distribute their propaganda at, similar events in the past. However, given that the TUC is expecting to have several hundred volunteer 'chief stewards' and then more volunteer stewards with every delegation on the march, the significance of the "professional stewards" could be quite limited - perhaps they are providing security for the 'celebrities' the TUC will doubtless put on platforms at the start and end of the march, or perhaps they are a token gesture towards the police's argument that kettling protesters at recent demonstrations was for the participants' own safety in the absence of sufficient stewarding. Who knows? Given that the night-club-bouncers-to-patrol-the-demo 'controversy' surfaced on the same blog that turned the TUC booking a coach park in Wembley into a story that the police were banning coaches from central London and expecting half a million people to catch the tube from Wembley to the start of the march, frankly anything is possible.

But the question of stewarding for a trade union demonstration touches on a related issue that I debated briefly on twitter yesterday - that of the possiblity that BNP supporters, perhaps in the guise of their laughably inept foray into trade unionism, the insultingly-named 'Solidarity', might want to take part in the march, presumably because they're also against some of the cuts being made by the ConDem coalition, although which ones I genuinely have no idea.

The idea that participation in a TUC-organised demonstration is some kind of 'right to free speech' is a dangerous one. There is no 'right' to join a particular march or protest. If fascists or proto-fascists want to protest against government cuts then they have the right to organise their own march or demonstration, with whatever demands they see fit to proclaim. But the labour movement has established the position of 'no platform' for fascists for a very good reason - providing fascists with a platform is to load the bullets into the guns which would be turned on us in an instant if the situation in the UK was to mirror that, for instance, in Egypt last week.

The policy of 'no platform' is often misunderstood, sometimes wilfully. The platform isn't the place of the demonstration or the hall or building. 'No platform' doesn't mean asking authorities to ban the BNP or other fascist organisations, or appealing to the law or the police to prevent them from speaking in public. Owen Jones has written with some clarity today on the problems for the left in suporting - or even worse, agitating for - state bans on fascist parties or activity, and the most straightforward one is that such bans are almost always used more against the left and the labour movement than they are against the far right, with whom most governments have more in common. Even when such bans don't backfire on the left, the mere act of delegating the job of fighting fascism to a 'higher power' such as a capitalist government or the courts acts as a brake on the ability of the organised workers' movement to do the job ourselves, and weakens us for when it comes time to take on the government or the courts ourselves in defence of our own rights to organise or protest.

And while it will sometimes be tactically and strategically appropriate or necessary to physically break up fascist public meetings, that isn't really the point of 'no platform' either. Breaking out of the police kettle last week in Luton and sending the EDL running for cover into the sewers they crawled out of would have been a good thing to acheive had the anti-fascists had the necessary numbers and organisation, but it wouldn't have been an act of 'no platforming'; more like 'street cleaning'.

In recent years, thanks to the 'Ban the BNP' approach taken by Unite Against Fascism and related organisations, the phrase 'no platform' has often been used to mean "ask the people who rule Britain now to deny the BNP (and occasionally other nasty people) the ability to speak publicly about their ideas". As such it has often led to pickets of media outlets, and thus can easily be twisted by the targets of the campaign so that they appear to be the victims of attempts to supress their rights.

At it's most straightforward, 'no platform' is a simple act of self-preservation by the Labour movement, the organised working class. Our interests and those of fascists, even fascists who might appear to advocate workers form and organise trade unions, are completely opposed. Even if they seem to be saying the same things about the Tory cuts, they are doing so for completely different reasons, and to acheive completely different ends. If they felt they had the power to do so they would organise their own marches and demonstrations against the Government - and on such a march the Labour movement would have no place. Why, then, should we allow them to have a place on ours?

Imagine what would happen if the BNP, the EDL or a similar group had a presence on the TUC march next month? What would happen if their cohort on the demonstration was next to, or behind, a group of Black or Asian trade unionists, or a delegation from a union's LGBT section? What abuse, threats or violence might be unleashed? Maybe none, if the media were watching, but chances are they'd find a way to put their politics of hate into practice.

Allowing fascists a platform within the labour movement legitimises their claims that they are simply a different political solution to the problems of the white working class in this country. It enables them to present themselves to workers as 'part of the movement' and relegates what is in effect a life or death struggle for the working class into something that appears to be a tactical disagreement. Any concession made to the fascists of the EDL, the BNP or any other front organisation they choose to clothe themselves with is a gesture of defeat -it says to the targets of fascism, women workers, LGBT workers and Black and Asian workers, that the trade unions are prepared to bargain over their place in the fight, and it suggests to white workers that the fascists might have a point. Yet we all know that the only way that white workers can secure a future free from wage slavery and oppression is by uniting with workers from all other creeds, races and religions. Only as a class - black and white together - can we win our freedom.

Arguing that the labour movement cannot deny "free speech" to fascists is akin to taking pity on the hangman and helping him tie the knot in the noose before he slips it around your neck.

That such a confused view of 'no platform' can exist is in large part due to the poor political culture within the anti-fascist movement. When Aaron Kiely can blog on behalf of the 'Student Broad Left' about the Luton anti-EDL protest without even mentioning that they once again co-operated with the police and allowed themselves to be kettled away from the throng of EDL members you know there is some serious self-delusion going on. Anti-fascists misled by the UAF approach see no irony in chanting "Whose streets? Our streets!" from behind police lines while the EDL wander about the streets of Luton drinking in the pubs of their choosing and intimidating the locals. And when the anti-fascists had gone home, the violence and vandalism began.

There's a slightly less earnest report of the Leeds protests here, and a sober reflection on yet another missed opportunity to actually confront fascism here together with a pretty effective slapdown for an EDL apologist who popped up to comment.

Fighting fascism isn't a 'left-wing badge of honour' but an essential task for the labour and trade union movement. With the Coalition government embarking on a vicious programme of cuts to public services, ever more white working class families will find themselves struggling to make ends meet, either overworked and desperate or unemployed and vulnerable. Either the trade union movement will unite them into a fight to tax the rich - the banks, the multinationals and the Eton-educated throwbacks who now run the country - or the EDL and the BNP will convince them that the blame lies with the immigrants who will work for next to nothing.

A programme to defeat the EDL and their co-thinkers must be based on two things: a willingness to engage with the political issues that confront white working class families rather than assembling a mish-mash of middle-class politicians to hector them about their resentments, and an unflinching refusal to allow the fascists a foothold in our movement. No compromise with the state in the name of 'anti-fascism', and no platform for the fascists in the Labour movement.