A public meeting called by Unite Against Fascism (UAF) in Bristol was attended by local trade unionists and anti-racist activists. However, a Bristol trade unionist has reported that up to 15 supporters of the English Defence League (EDL) also attended. They attempted to film, photograph and disrupt the meeting.
When the man who appeared to be the leading EDL member spoke, he argued that they were not racists or fascists but were 'anti-Islamic extremists'. The meeting then deteriorated. Insults were flying around and people were going chest to chest. The police were eventually called.
While waiting for the police a trade unionist spoke to one of the EDL members and found they had no political argument to back up their attacks on Muslims. He couldn't explain what the EDL meant by Islamic fundamentalism. They took offence at being called racists or fascists. One was a plumber who had been out of work since last May. It appeared to the trade unionist that they were being manipulated by racists for their own political aims and objectives.
This shows the complicated and confused nature of those attracted to the EDL. It is crucial that genuine and democratic discussion and debate takes place on how to challenge racism and the far-right. This event shows that increasingly there is a need to properly steward such meetings.