Steve Headley

Fighting the threat from the far right

Steve Headley
Fighting the threat from the far right
Steve Headley.jpg

I HEARD SOME CHANTING behind me about “Tommy”, then felt something smash on the left side of my face. Seconds later my partner was hit in the ribs by a flying metal chair launched by Tommy Robinson supporting thugs.

It was a glorious Sunday and it was around three in the afternoon. I was enjoying my second pint with my partner, Bridget, one of our branch secretaries, Kym, and a trade union activist nearing retirement age, Mike.

We had been to a counter-protest to the pro-Trump/free Tommy Robinson demo where I had the honour of speaking against the rise of the right on behalf of my union, the RMT. Somewhat ironically I had warned in my speech that the English Defence League (EDL)/ Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA) were scapegoating minorities today but could well be attacking picket lines tomorrow.

The words seem somewhat prophetic in retrospect as I and several other RMT members - including a former president, executive members past and present, a regional secretary and another assistant general secretary - were all the subjects of a violent unprovoked attack by the Tommy Robinson supporters.

I use the word “subjects” deliberately instead of the word “victims” as we refuse to buy into the cult of victimhood so prevalent recently on the left, which only encourages the far right. We were attacked and we defended ourselves. There were many injuries on both sides and, although we were outnumbered, it was our attackers who withdrew from the fray.

To understand the dynamics of the rise of alt/far right, it is necessary to place it in national and global contexts. In Britain a neo-liberal Labour Party abandoned the working class with a strategy of triangulation to capture middle class votes. This left us without a mainstream political party to represent our interests and the void was filled by the far right, firstly by the BNP and later by UKIP and the EDL.

New Labour pursued Thatcherite-light policies - privatising, deregulating and refusing to build council housing so badly needed in working class communities.

Up popped the far right and offered the solution that you can have that Muslim’s job or that Asian family’s house, or the explanation that your hospital is inaccessible and wages are low because of immigrants. Unfortunately, in the absence of any credible left alternative, some people were sucked in. A similar situation prevails across the Atlantic with the Democrats abandoning class politics and pursuing a neo-liberal globalisation agenda while adopting a conscious strategy of identity politics, which ultimately divides the working class.

The remedy to the rise of the far right is for the trade unions and Labour Party to return to the politics of class struggle. When we start delivering decent jobs, wages and conditions to workers, combined with plentiful decent public housing and services, then the ground will be cut from under the far right’s feet.

Corbyn could play a leading role in this, providing he and his supporters start standing up to the right in the Labour Party and stop capitulating to them.

There is no doubt the far right is on the crest of a wave. The election of Trump has made racism and bigotry acceptable. The far right street thugs feel confident enough to attack trade unionists in broad daylight in Westminster, followed by an attack on the Bookmarks socialist bookshop two weeks later. An international alliance of far right parties which Steve Bannon is seeking to further develop could rise to prominence in Britain, fronted by the remains of UKIP and supported by the EDL/DFLA street fighters on the ground. Trade unionists and socialists have to mobilise against them both politically and on the streets.

Fascism will never truly be defeated while capitalism still exists. In times of crisis the ruling class will always use fascists to attack the workers’ movement. That is why our union has set up a stewarding group to protect our members and why we make it clear in the RMT rule book that we are working for the “supercession of the capitalist system with a socialist form of society.” Only when socialism is achieved will the fascist beast finally be laid permanently to rest.


is Senior Assistant General Secretary of the RMT