by New Worker correspondent
WESTMINSTER was buzzing with protests and demonstrations last Saturday: there were people demanding affordable housing and an end to demolition of council estates with the removal of low income residents to all points of the compass far from London, to make way for grand developments of luxury flats that will be bought for £millions and then stand empty as investments.
There was a women’s right march and there were people demanding justice for the victims, survivors and bereaved of the Grenfell fire, with the full death toll still not known, and fearful that the tragedy will add their numbers to those being forced out of London.
And there were people protesting at the shameful deal being stitched together by what is left of Theresa May’s Tory government with the extreme right-wing bigots of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). This is to create a coalition that would have a tiny majority in the House of Commons to try to ward off Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s promise to waste no opportunity to bring this government down.
These four honourable causes merged into one protest in Parliament Square whilst not far away, at the top end of Whitehall and the corner of Trafalgar Square, anti-fascists from Unite Against Fascism (UAF) were assembling to express solidarity with the victims of the Finsbury Mosque terrorist attack and to try to block a planned march by the Islamophobic English Defence League (EDL), which was the EDL’s response to the terrorist attack near London Bridge and Borough Market a couple of weeks ago.
There were not as many of the UAF as usual because many comrades were engaged in other protests: bad housing is killing and injuring more low paid workers, including Muslims and other minority ethnics, than all the shades of fascism, racism and terrorism put together.
Meanwhile the racists were gathering in the Lord of the Moon pub at the top end of Whitehall as usual with the entrance to the pub guarded by a triple cordon of police.
To top it all there were serious roadworks outside the Houses of Parliament – Big Ben /The Elizabeth Tower was swathed in scaffolding – and all along the Victoria Embankment a new giant sewer is being installed to replace the one built by Joseph Bazalgette after the Great Stink of London in 1858 forced Parliament to close.
This meant that traffic in Whitehall was choc-a-bloc and the usual crowds of tourists from all over the world were sweeping back and forth like herds of confused wildebeest, packing all pavements as they were forced into long detours to find somewhere safe to cross the road.
And the Metropolitan police were out in great numbers telling everyone where they could and could not go.
Large numbers of police forced the UAF demonstrators on to the Embankment, where a special pen had been prepared to keep them kettled in one place. They included UAF joint general secretary Weyman Bennett and former Anti-Nazi League leader Paul Holborough.
The kettling was to clear the way for the EDL to march, also to the Embankment. But as they marched crowds of young anarchist anti-fascists ran alongside, jostling the police protective cordon and filling the air with chants of: “Fascist scum, off our streets,” and music blasted from huge loud speakers in a trailer pulled by bicycles.
For a while all was confusion and noise until superior numbers of police finally managed to force the anarchists into the same area as the UAF anti-fascists, nearly doubling their numbers.
The EDL turn-out was very low, between 40–50 as they huddled under trees under the sudden first rain London had seen for a few weeks. They made their Islamophobic speeches close to the boarded-up sewage replacement excavations as the ghost of the Great London Stink emanated from drains and manhole covers.
The EDL had intended to march on Parliament but their way was firmly blocked by the assorted anti-fascists and they were forced to leave in low spirits.
Not long after that the UAF and other anti-fascists left, heading towards Parliament and singing “Refugees are welcome here” to the tune of Camptown Races, to join the other demonstrators from Parliament Square, who had by this time marched up Whitehall to stand opposite Downing Street.