Manchester rejects Islamophobes

THE FOOTBALL Lads Alliance (FLA) — a collection of ageing football hooligans, racists and xenophobes formed a couple of years ago ostensibly to fight extreme Islamic terrorism, decided to mark the first anniversary of the bomb attack on an Ariana Grande concert with a march through Manchester on Saturday 19th May.

Twenty-two people were killed in that attack on Manchester Arena and hundreds injured when a suicide bomber detonated a bomb at the end of the concert on 22nd May 2017.

But the vast majority of the people of Manchester did not want to mark the anniversary in this way. They had other, more positive and peaceful ways to commemorate those who died that would not stir up hatred towards the majority peaceful Muslim community. Around 500 Anti-fascists and anti-racists from Manchester Stand up to Racism and Unite Against Fascism turned out to rally and march in opposition to the FLA.

Last October, up to 15 000 supported the FLA on their London demonstration. But Saturday saw only 300 attend their national event. Those on the SUTR/UAF mobilisation were confident and determined in contrast with the FLA followers who were dispirited and demoralised. The day started with an excellent rally in St Peter’s Square, by SUTR/UAF. Dan Hett, brother of Martyn Hett, killed in the Arena terror attack, made a particularly powerful speech, saying he was proud to be on the anti-racist demo. “The FLA don’t care about the victims of the bombing, they only want to spread race hate. We will resist them with all the unity and organisation we have shown today.”

Dan had overnight received appalling abuse and hate from FLA supporters, and other far right, bigots. It is to his immense credit that he spoke and marched with anti-racists, honouring his brother.

A mix of multicultural Manchester saw a number of trade union banners present, representing the CWU postal workers union, the civil service PCS union, the giant unions UNISON and Unite, the Fire Brigades Union, the GMB, lecturers’ union UCU, the shop-workers’ union USDAW, the teachers’ union NEU and the transport union RMT.

A large delegation of Spanish students brought the message of No Pasaran to the demo! This fantastic cross union gathering was the product of weeks of intensive work, at a local and national level. The hard work paid off handsomely and much credit must go to local SUTR members and organisers. Manchester is a great example for how to build and create a well rooted, broad and strong,united front.

The sun shone on the anti-racist rally and a long list of local and national speakers, including from the local Muslim community. A minute’s silence was held for the victims of the Arena bombing. In a moving occasion, local councillors read out the names of all those killed at the Arena, last year.

Meanwhile FLA held an underwhelming rally, with only three speeches. The FLA had misled their members by saying before Saturday that they were to march.

SUTR/UAF strongly suspected this was not to be the case, and when FLA supporters were told they were just having a rally, tempers in their rally flared.

Small groups of the FLA tried and failed to intimidate anti racists and had to skulk away. The strength and size the anti-racist rally clearly unnerved them. FLA coaches from Newcastle and Yorkshire had been cancelled in the week, indicating that the FLA turnout was not to be impressive. The FLA split a few months ago and a new splinter called the Democratic FLA was formed which is planning a similar march in Manchester on 2nd June.

Once again, the anti-racists are mobilising to come out in force to oppose this event. The DFLS turnout is expected to be larger than the FLA’S.

Stand Up To Racism issued a call to anti-racists: “The [Manchester] demonstration was a step forward for the movement but we can’t be complacent.

“We must double our efforts to ensure we have a larger turnout to defeat the Democratic Football Lads Alliance on Saturday 2nd June. Only then can we be sure that we’ve turned the tide against the racism of the FLA & DFLA.” — Nahella Ashraf, Co-chair, Manchester Stand Up To Racism.

The Manchester statement against the FLA has been updated to include the DFLA. It reads; “We also oppose the ‘Democratic Football Lads Alliance’ protest in Manchester on 2nd June and support the mobilisation by Unite against Fascism and Stand Up to Racism to show opposition to them.&rdquo t.