Unite members in the North West have stood firm against the far-right in a series of recent demos against Stephen Yaxley-Lennon , also known as Tommy Robinson, who is campaigning in the region in the upcoming European Parliamentary elections.
At the weekend, Yaxley-Lennon’s supporters were vastly outnumbered by Liverpool residents in Bootle who took to the streets to send a clear message that the racism and divisiveness he’s peddling were not welcome.
A video emerged from a rally in Bootle on Saturday (May 19) showing far-right activists trying but failing to burn a Unite flag, which, as onlookers highlighted, is fire-retardant.
Another video which has since gone viral shows James Goddard, a prominent Yaxley-Lennon campaign aide, insulting the people of Liverpool at the rally attended by Unite members in Bootle.
“Why would I want to live in Liverpool? It’s a sh**thole,” Goddard says in the video, as he let slip how he and Yaxley-Lennon’s campaign really feel about the region they’re ostensibly seeking to represent.
But the people of Liverpool taking a stand against the far right were having none of it – it was reported later that Goddard was chased up a tree by angry mums.
Unite member and former Labour councillor for Woolton Alice Bennett, who captured the film footage of far-right activists attempting to burn a Unite flag, said protestors were unified in their stand against Yaxley-Lennon.
“There was this real sense of solidarity among people at the demo – we stood united as trade unionists, socialists and anti-racists, and we were all local people,” she told UNITElive. “On the other hand, the people out supporting Yaxley-Lennon were all his pals who travel with him and just follow him around. It was obvious to all that there’s very little local support for him here.”
Alice explained how demonstrators drowned out Yaxley-Lennon’s PA system with noise.
“One man was blasting the ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ song from his bedroom nearby,” she said, laughing. “The other side really struggled with their PA system so that they couldn’t be heard, which was a success for us. Free speech shouldn’t be hate speech.”
Alice said it was “outrageous” that far-right activists had tried to burn a Unite flag – and that it shows their true colours.
“Stephen Yaxley-Lennon styles himself as a man of the people, but the video shows that he and his supporters haven’t got a clue,” she said. “Trade unions are the movement for working-class people – attempting to burn a trade union flag is a direct attack against all that we stand for as working-class communities.”
Protests in the North West took place just as Unite launched a major advertising campaign aimed at boosting voter turnout to stop the far-right in the European elections tomorrow (May 23).
The campaign launch saw billboards in 44 locations across the North West unveiled, including in Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Liverpool. Full page adverts have also appeared in the Liverpool Echo, Manchester Evening News and Metro newspapers, while a major national Facebook campaign potentially reaching millions of voters has also been launched.
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner praised people in the North West for standing up against the far-right.
“It’s been inspiring to see proud northern working-class communities taking to the streets to oppose the vile hatred of Yaxley-Lennon and his ilk – he and his supporters have shown what they really feel about working-class people, which is nothing but contempt,” he said.
“But this solidarity in the streets must translate to votes at the ballot box if we are to hit the far right where it will hurt them most. Low voter turn-out in previous European parliamentary elections has allowed far-right candidates to sneak into power – we can’t let it happen again. That’s why Unite is calling on all people to take part in tomorrow’s elections and vote Labour.”
Alice also urged people to take part in tomorrow’s European elections.
“Not everyone has the time to attend demos to make their voices heard,” she said. “But voting takes ten minutes and it’s the best way to stop the march of the far-right. Yaxley-Lennon has fascist links on an international scale – he’s funded by the likes of Steve Bannon and other far-right activists and groups. People in Europe do not want to see the rise of fascism again – we’ve seen the destruction it causes and we must stand united against it.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey agreed.
“The only winners of a low turnout in this week’s European elections will be the likes of Yaxley-Lennon and those that seek to divide our communities,” he said.
“Don’t wonder ‘if only I had voted’ when the results are in. Make sure the tolerance and respect that runs through the communities of the North West is the winner by using your vote.
“Stop those seeking to use these elections to gain a platform to spread their message of fear and hate by getting out to vote to stop the far right and voting Labour this Thursday.”