Someone I bought a paper off must have told me that the National Front were holding regular meetings at Luton Library with Anti-Nazi League pickets opposing them on the second Friday of every month. The NF had had a presence in the town for some time. In February 1977, NF Chairman John Tyndall was greeted with eggs and chants of 'nazi scum' when he arrived to speak at a meeting in Luton Town Hall (Luton News 10.2.77). The NF stood candidates in both Luton constituencies in the 1979 general election, with Donald How securing 701 votes in Luton West and MG Kerry 461 votes in Luton East. Notorious racist Robert Relf, who had once been jailed after putting a 'no coloureds' for sale sign outside his house in Leamington Spa, was working locally as a bus driver.
I approached my first protest on Friday 6th June 1979 nervously and excitedly expecting some kind of Leicester/Southall confrontation, if on a smaller scale. In the event it was all rather tame. There were about twenty of us picketing and a handful of suspected NFers sneaking in and out under the eye of a small number of police, a pattern that was repeated on subsequent similar protests over the summer.
The very next day though a group of us from Luton travelled up to Bedford town centre where a group of racist skinheads had been making a nuisance of themselves. As we gave out our leaflets in the name of 'People of Bedfordshire Against Racism' there was a a brief stand off with far right skins and anti-fascists squaring up to each other before the former moved off. Afterwards we went for a drink at a local gay pub, The Barley Mow, another first for me.
|'People of Bedfordshire Against Racism - Day of Action, Sat 7th June... your support in the fight against racism is needed'|
(reverse of Luton Anti Nazi League leaflet reproduced above)
People of Bedford Against Racism - sometimes known as People of Bedfordshire Against Racism - was set up 'to fight all forms of racism and the growth of fascism in our town'. Founders included Balbir Dutt and Bedford Young Indians. Here's another leaflet of their's:
Also from this period a Bedford Rock Against Racism leaflet (thanks to Glyn Harries for supplying this and the one above).
|'to stand aside is to take sides'|
I heard a first hand account of the Southall events soon after, when I went to a Luton Anti Nazi League meeting with Balwinder Singh from Southall ANL. There were also speakers from Luton Trades Council (Jim Thakoordin) and the Pakistani Workers Association, and a collection for the Southall Defence Fund.
|Leaflet for Luton Anti Nazi League meeting, 14 July 1979 'Learn the lessons of Southall'|
I went to this meeting with a friend, David Heffer. Sadly he was killed in 1992 in an IRA bomb at the Sussex pub in London's Covent Garden.
On my last day at school at the start of that summer I wrote in my diary 'bought a School Kids Against the Nazis badge, filled in a form to join the Labour Party Young Socialists, left school' (OK last day in school was a bit late to buy a school kids badge, but I did go on to Sixth Form College!).
|'SKAN' - School Kids Against the Nazis|
Opposing the British Movement in Notting Hill, 1980
It was another year before I went on my first major anti-fascist demo. In November 1980, the neo-nazi British Movement marched from London's Hyde Park to Edgware Road chanting 'We are the Whites' and 'Death to the Reds'. According to the report in The Leveller magazine, there were around 600 BM 'opposed by between 4 and 5,000 anti-fascists' who marched from Portobello Road in Notting Hill. Large numbers of police were mobilised - Socialist Challenge reported '8,000 cops defend 500 nazis' - turning Notting Hill into a 'sterile area' to stop people getting near to the fascists. My main memory is of standing around and of endless rumours about the whereabouts of the British Movement, who I never saw. There were 73 arrests, mostly in scuffles between anti-fascists, BM skins and the police Special Patrol Group near Paddington Station, with press photographers having their cameras taken by cops. Afterwards a Luton comrade, who was Jewish, took me to a Jewish Socialist Group meeting at a flat in north London.
[I didn't stay in the Labour Party Young Socialists for much longer - that's another story - but 40 years later I've been on quite a few more demos! The following year (1981) things hotted up further in Luton with the formation of an anti-racist Luton Youth Movement and a riot sparked by the presence of nazi skinheads in the town centre. I will come back to that another time].
|(from 'The Leveller' no. 45, November 28 1980).|
(Socialist Challenge, 27/11/1980)
[post updated August 2020 with Socialist Challenge press clipping; updated January 2021 with Bedford RAR leaflet]