After a weekend that saw demonstrations and actions across the country, West Mids Antifa Collective presents a first hand account of the pro-Gaza and anti-Britain First action in Coventry on Friday, and give an insight into the way WMAC operate.
Yesterday was both a success and a failure in many respects. For well over a month, WMAC have been organising against Britain First’s proposed visit to Coventry as part of their UK road show, which has hitherto been unsuccessful and ruined by antifascist action nationwide. We should add, any critical views of particular groups we have organised with come out of a belief in transparency and honesty in Left organising, and while we have those criticisms we also have deep respect for those who joined us in solidarity and helped to promote the event and build numbers, especially the Trades Council and Coventry Friends of Palestine.
After a few hours of online research we stumbled across a photo of party leader Paul Golding and some other sad looking characters standing on the staircase of a Coventry hotel. There was no information given but a Google search of the suite names on a plaque behind them provided the location. We later called the area manager of the hotel chain and expressed our concern, sending over information about their campaigns and mosque ‘invasions’. He informed us that not only was he unaware of their meeting, but as a Muslim himself he found it to be both offensive and disturbing. He assured us they would never be back again. We will keep this hotel anonymous.
Now, we were stuck with the job of finding the venue of their most recent Coventry Battalion group photograph. More bald, fat, white men sticking their victory fingers up in the air. We were unsuccessful in finding the venue, despite long hours of walking into almost every pub in the city centre. Britain First had called the Premier Inn to be their redirect point, and based on previous experience we knew that they would relocate to somewhere no more than five minutes away.
On Wednesday we ventured out into a district of Coventry to hand out details of the event to local mosques in the area. Apart from understanding that calling a demo against fascism as a group of white men is unrepresentative, there were further safety concerns that we wanted to share with Muslims in Coventry.
Earlier in the day, we handed out leaflets at a demo in solidarity with the people of Gaza informing them of the night’s action and who Britain First are. They are still an unknown group to many. The demo organised by Coventry Stop the War Coalition, Coventry Friends of Palestine and the Muslim community of Coventry had a wonderful turnout, predominantly from the Islamic community, in the end. However, when we arrived we found the chants down the megaphone to be coming from a man with a copy of the Socialist Worker in his hand. We would like to express our concern that Trotskyist parties in Coventry have a somewhat selfish presence when it comes to solidarity issues. There was no need to be selling papers and profiting off of the back of the suffering of Gazans, and there was no need for the separate Socialist Party to be signing people up for membership either. When there are protesters standing on the outskirts of the demonstration because there is less room on the steps of the Council House, having been taken up by a fold-up table for unrelated literature, petitions and membership form, surely you have to question their true intentions.
There is also of course the issue of a white Trot trying to engage a group of people into chanting ‘In our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians’. The overwhelming question of privilege such a statement raises is obtuse and there was an atmosphere in the crowd that felt the same. Luckily, the chanting was reclaimed by a couple of Muslim protesters and this invigorated the demonstration.
On the day we had spotters around the Premier Inn two hours before the set time of meeting. Nearer to the hour, on the way to collect other members from the train station, we found three riot vans lined up along the small medieval street close by.
At 6.45pm sharp, chants of ‘Free, Free Palestine!’ could be heard from afar and we realised that those from the Gaza demo had come to speak out against Britain First. It was a beautiful sight watching the gathering cops try to gauge a situation of 150 Muslim protesters shouting ‘Allahu Akbar!’ as they gather across from the meeting place of a group that actively attacks their communities. Children chanted along with their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters in one of the most incredible displays of solidarity that Coventry has seen in a long time.
We still did not know where they were being redirected to and now members of Britain First were arriving in dribs and drabs. We overheard one on the phone in dismay: ‘Jesus! Have you seen how many police and lefties there are here?’
Actually, it’s important to note that there were police brought in from Walsall for this action. In total we counted three riot vans and six cars. The police were informed in advance of the demo, and the Coventry Trades Council thought it best to work with them, by providing their own stewards to monitor the event. We knew this already and had Green and Black Cross police bust cards ready. Big thanks to the GBC for their immediate support and contacts! It should be made very clear that despite the organizational capacity of the Trades Council, they could not get a large number of their members out on the streets (unlike the previous week’s demo on the strike day) and admittedly as a small, newly formed collective neither could we. When it mattered most, Coventry was defended against fascism by those who it often targets the most. Solidarity is a commodity greatly cherished by trade unionists, but apparently one not so easily spent.
It soon became apparent that Britain First were moving on elsewhere, but the other organisers made an executive decision, one that we fully supported, to move towards the main bus station and go home. We had disrupted the beginnings of their meeting, confused and intimidated those arriving and now wanted to ensure that the vulnerable within our mass were safe to go home. Britain First also had spotters who were taking their own photographs of anti-fascists and the more our numbers dwindled the more we felt the need to move on too.
The venue, The Royal Warwicks Club, has previously been used to host BNP meetings but had also promised to stop doing so when they lost business from other meeting groups. A few of us went over to scope it out and take pictures of the members for further research. There was a burly uniformed member on the door and a man in a Kevlar vest smoking outside. A van load of police sitting outside the venue tried to engage us in conversation but obviously got no comment from us. Soon after, we were approached by a person who was rather angry that we were filming despite their friends pulling silly faces from behind the windows.
Our concern is that in Coventry, there were more members than elsewhere in the country and, despite a large counter protest, their meeting went ahead as planned. Still, it’s nice to know that there are far more of us than them.
Keep an eye out for us on Facebook at West Mids Antifa Collective or email us directly at westmidantifacollective.riseup.net to find out more or get involved. Also, if you’d like to call The Royal Warwicks Club to express your concern at them hosting racist groups like Britain First feel free by dialing: 024 7622 0425.
West Midlands Antifa Collective