In an attempt to lend a new facade to their usual message of ultra-nationalism, racism and anti-migrant sentiment and emboldened by the discourse around Brexit, the British far-right has recently sought to exploit the success of the French ‘Yellow Vests’ (‘gillets-jaunes’) movement for their own interests.
Whilst far-right ‘Yellow Vests’ pretend to champion the interests of the working class, this month in Manchester they attacked a picket of the Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) (a pro-Brexit union, mind you) for being “lefties”. Leeds ‘Yellow Vests’, led by Antifa Public Watch 2 and Lee Scheres/Baylan, called a demonstration on Saturday the 19th of January to fight “globalism” (a term with a long history in antisemitism) and to demand stronger borders and the prioritization of British citizens over others, amongst other racist and nationalist demands. This coincided again with the RMT’s Saturday morning picket at Leeds train station.
Leeds Anti-Fascist Network mobilised, and on Saturday morning joined around 100 people standing in solidarity on the RMT picket line. Twice, members of APW2 showed up to accost and harass the picketers and activists. As the picket ended, we took the fight to them, confronting the far-right outside the Regent Inn where they were meeting prior to their protest. With Lee and friends spitting out their dummies over our presence and doing their best to get nicked, we made our way to their intended rally point at the BBC. Joined by a coalition of trade-unionists and anti-racist activists we were able to occupy it.
Unable to gather at their meeting point, the ‘Yellow Vests’ were turned back in streams, and only upon regrouping blocked the intersection between Duke street and York street. After this they attempted again to reach their rallying point, but we continued to hold it and a stand-off outside the BBC ensued. ‘Yellow Vests’ displayed various fascist symbols, such as a flag from the Neo-Nazi British Movement ñ and performed ‘sieg-heil’ Nazi salutes, leaving no doubt about the fascist politics of those involved. As if things were not sinister enough, police then attacked the anti-fascist rally, drawing their batons and snatching two of our supporters without warning under draconian dispersal orders. Simultaneously a fascist had managed to exploit the disarray to wade into the crowd, throwing punches against those at the back of the group, unrestrained by the police who continued to try and break up the anti-fascist protest. The far-right then marched towards the Headrow with their attempts to reclaim their rallying point successfully frustrated, despite their aggression and vitriol.
The collective determination and courage of anti-fascists on the day withstood the violence of the far-right (and that of the police), ensuring their bigotry did not reign in the streets – in spite of their disgusting attempts to attack and intimidate members of the public and shopkeepers. Faced with the global rise of the far-right we must remain as vigilant as ever and confront their vicious threats to the labour movement, minorities and the left.
Leeds Anti-Fascist Network stands in solidarity with the journalists, shopkeepers and activists who have been intimidated and harassed by Antifa Public Watch 2 and the so-called ëYellow Vestsí in both the run up to and the course of the demonstration. We are determined to keep Leeds fascist free, and will continue fighting for justice in our communities.