History of British social movements Part 1

This is the first part of a series of posts on the history of social movements in Britain. It includes 5 social movements:

  • anti-austerity movementalter/anti-globalization, Global Justice, anti-capitalist Movement;
  • anti-austerity movement;
  • anti-racist movements;
  • anti-fascists;
  • anti-slavery/abolition Movement.

See this previous post that explains what social movements are. The length of text for each social movement listed will vary depending on how straightforward it is to summarise the movement and what information is available. I’ve attempted to keep each one as concise as possible. I’ve listed the social movements in alphabetical order.

Anti-austerity movement

The anti-austerity movement in the UK describes the demonstrations and groups active during the 2010s in response to the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government’s austerity program: significantly reduced local council budgets, increasing of university tuition fees and reduction of public spending on welfare, education, health and policing. There have been previous periods of austerity in Britain and resistance from social movements but this is the first anti-austerity movement as far as I’m aware. [1]

The very useful Wikipedia page on the anti-austerity movement divides the movement up into five phases:

1. 2010 – including the student protests of November/December 2010.

2. 2011 – In January there was a National Campaign Against Cuts & Fees demonstration in London and a trade union protest in Manchester. February saw an occupation at the University of Glasgow, a council workers We Love Darlington protest against council cuts, Hull and Sheffield Council meetings were interrupted by protests. March saw several UK Uncut protests around the country. On 26 March 250,000 people attended a protest in central London. 28 May saw protests around the country targeting high street banks. On 30 June, a one-day strike officially called “J30” led by public sector workers against changes to pensions. Teachers also joined this strike. The Trade Union Congress organised another strike on 30 November (N30). Two-thirds of schools closed and London protests were joined by Occupy London activists. Black Activists Rising Against the Cuts formed in 2010.

3. 2012-15 – On 20 October 2012 the Trades Union Congress had organised simultaneous marches in Belfast, London and Glasgow. Though the TUC gave an estimate of 150,000 people turning up to the London event. 30 March 2013 saw demonstrations in Glasgow and Edinburgh against the changes to welfare resulting from the Welfare Reform Act 2012. On 21 June 2014, the People’s Assembly organised a demonstration with 50,000 people attending. Following the Tories winning the 2015 general election, there were several anti-austerity protests. 20 June saw large demonstrations organised around the country, with an estimated 250,000 in London. A second demonstration was organised in London on 8 July, followed by a 60,000 strong protest at the 2015 Conservative party conference in Manchester on 5 October.

4. 2016-18 – on 16 April 2016, the People’s Assembly organised a London march with 50,000-150,000 people attending. On 4 March 2017, 250,000 marched in London. More than 100,000 people attended the “Not One Day More” protest in London on 1 July. Bristol People’s Assembly Against Austerity organised an anti-austerity march on 9 September 2017. Marches took place on 1 October 2017 in Manchester and Belfast. Health Campaigns Together and the People’s Assembly organised the ‘Fix It Now’ London march on 3 February 2018. On 28 September 2,000 headteachers and school leaders from across England, Wales and Northern Ireland protests outside 10 Downing Street because of the austerity cuts in schools.

5. 2019-Present -17 October 2020, saw a national day of action organised by the People’s Assembly. 3 October 2021 saw 20,000 march at the Tory Party conference in Manchester.

Active anti-austerity groups included: UK Uncut, Disabled People Against the Cuts, People’s Assembly Against Austerity, Boycott Workfare, Deterritorial Support Group, Sisters Uncut, Liverpool against the cuts, Labour Assembly Against Austerity.

Here is some analysis of the anti-austerity movement. Here is an anarchist perspective of the anti-cuts movement from 2015. Here is a critique of the People’s Assembly. Paul Mason gives a great description of the protests, demonstrations, occupations and riots and general unrest in Britain in 2010-11 in ‘Why It’s Still Kicking Off Everywhere’ [2].

Anti-globalization movement

The anti-globalization movement is an international social movement that is critical of capitalist (neoliberal) economic globalization and against the Iraq War. It is also known as the alter-globalization, global justice, counter-globalization, anti-corporate, anti-capitalist movement. It had several demonstrations and protests at international conferences and summits of the IMF, G7/8, G20, J18 and Nato. Here is a list between 1989-1999 and another list from 1999 onwards. The movement also met most years at World Social Forum between 2001-2010, which was a counter-event to the World Economic Forum held in Davos at the same time. In the UK there were protests at the G8 meeting in Gleneagles in 2005, the G20 London summit in 2009, and the Nato summit in Wales in 2014.

Anti-fascist movements

These are groups, organisations and campaigns that object to the rise of fascism and are active in stopping its growth. This section is based on the book Anti-Fascism in Britain by Nigel Copsey. Copsey divides British anti-fascism into 6 phases: the origins and development of anti-fascism 1923-35, opposition to British fascism 1936-45, postwar anti-fascism 1946-66, opposition to the National Front 1967-79, fighting fascism in the 1980s and 1990s, and opposing fascism in the twenty-first century.

1. The origins and development of anti-fascism 1923-35

Anti-fascism first appear when Communists disrupted the early meetings of the first British fascist of British Fascisti (BF) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Fascists in 1923. A Second anti-fascist organisation formed in 1924 – the National Union for Combatting Fascismo (NUCF). The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) set up the anti-fascist ‘Workers’ Defence Corps’, with local groups being active during the 1926 General Strike, later renamed the ‘Labour League of Ex-Servicemen’. Anti-fascists disrupted several National Fascisti meetings in London in 1926/7. British fascism collapsed by the late 1920s.

From 1930-1 the CPGB had identified Oswald Mosley as a fascist and disrupted his ‘New Party’ meetings. Mosley set up the British Union of Fascists (BUF) in 1932. Communists set up the ‘Fascist Defence Force’ to disrupt BUF meetings. The CPGB was keen to set up a ‘United Front Against Fascism’, but the Labour Party declined to join, focusing on education and legislation instead. Street fighting was common in 1933. BUF got support from the Daily Mail in 1934, increasing its membership.

The BUF organised a large event at Olympia in June 1934 with 12,000 fascists attending and several hundred anti-fascists in the audience to disrupt the event periodically. The anti-fascists were ejected and beaten up resulting in negative coverage in the press and shock by the establishment. This resulted in the Daily Mail dropping its support for British fascism. BUF’s next bigger event in July was cancelled. Around the country, several local meetings were cancelled, offices attacked and events disrupted. The non-Communist ‘Co-ordinating Committee for Anti-Fascist Activities’ was set up in 1934, although it seems the officers were CPGB members. The CPGB organised a huge counter-demonstration to BUF in Hyde Park in September 1934. Anti-fascist activity declined in 1935 due to the drop in BUF activity.

2. Opposition to British fascism 1936-45

The BUF injected militant antisemitism at the end of 1935 resulting in a second wave of fascism in East London and therefore anti-fascism. Combatting this antisemitism become the focus of anti-fascism and this broadened the involvement of the Jewish community. The BUF had a large meeting planned at the Albert Hall in March 1936 and disrupting this became the focus of CPGB and other groups anti-fascist activity. 10,000 anti-fascists came to the Albert Hall but were violently redirected by the police so the BUF meeting could continue. The BUF also target other cities with large Jewish populations, often resulting in a violent response from anti-fascists.

The Jewish community set up a defence coordinating committee in 1936, later renamed the Jewish Defence Committee in 1938 that disrupted literature and ran a speaking campaign. Its conservative message was not well received. With the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, the fascist vs anti-fascist binary became clearer and BUF meetings and demonstrations continued to be disrupted. In 1936 the Jewish Peoples’ Council Against Fascism and Anti-Semitism (JPC) was formed with a broad membership. It was critical of Jewish organisations that were unresponsive to working-class Jewish needs. The mostly Jewish but cross-party and religious organisation Ex-Servicemen’s Movement Against Fascism also formed in 1936, with close links to CPGB. It organised several meetings and demonstrations in London.

There is the famous battle of Cable Street in 1936 when between 100,00 and 300,000 people marched against Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists planned march through the East End of London. This resulted in increased anti-fascist activities outside London to disrupt fascist events. In response to all the activity, the government introduced the Public Order Act (POA) in early 1937 that mostly restricted fascist activity but also gave the police powers to redirect all marches so impacted the left too. The Tory government used the POA to ban BUF marches in London until 1939 with Labour Party support. The BUF organised 2 large marches through London in 1937. Both were heavily disrupted. BUF membership declined after this and the CPGB focused on recruiting for the Spanish Civil War. With the start of World War Two, the BUF was labelled as a threat to national security and banned. Mosley and 750 BUF members were interned.

The British National Party was formed in 1942 with some members from the BUF. The CPGB organised a meeting in protest and the British National Party was disbanded in 1943. Mosley was due for release in 1943 and the CPGB organised two large protest marches. The National Council of Civil Liberties continued to campaign against fascism during the war years.

3. Postwar anti-fascism 1946-66

In 1945 the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen (AJEX) organised meetings in London to argue against fascism and anti-Semitism at fascist pitches such as the proto-fascist British League of Ex-Servicemen. 1945 saw several violent incidents resulting in the formation of an independent militant anti-fascist group called the 43 Group. The group’s main aim was to defend the Jewish community. It was a non-political group but had active CPGB members. The 43 Group used physical opposition against fascists and put pressure on the government to introduce legislation to make the incitement of racial hatred illegal. It had about 300 members by April 1946, mostly Jewish. It was well organised and financed. By mid-1946, Jewish militants were attacking 6-10 fascist meetings a week in London. The 43 Group did not put an end to fascist street violence but it did attract negative press coverage for the fascists. The 43 Grup produced a newspaper called On Guard between 1947-49.

Several groups put pressure on the Labour government to legislate against fascism. These included the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL), Haldane Society (an organisation of Socialist Lawyers) and the Legal and Judicial Group of the Parliamentary Labour Party. The Labour government did not think this was necessary as they could use the Public Order Act but also did not think fascism would be a threat now it has been discredited.

Fascist activity increased significantly in 1947. It peaked in mid-1947 with the murder of two British soldiers by Jewish fighters in Palestine. This resulted in anti-semitic rioting in Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow. Although not organised by fascists they capitalised on it and focused their energies in London by holding several meetings with growing attendance. There seems to be a clear bias by the police to protect the fascists and arrest anti-fascists.

The CPGB called for a ban on fascism by the government, instead of advocating violent confrontations. This strategy attempted to gain influence with the Labour Party, so the street violence was not viewed as two rival factions – Fascists vs Communists. The CPGB worked with the NCCL to form a local committee and sent a petition to the Home Secretary. Many CPGB rank-and-file members ignored the leadership and took part in street confrontations with fascists.

The Trotsky Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) of about 600 members were advocating workers’ militia in defence of working-class organisations against fascism. They lobbied the CPGB to form a united front against fascism but the CPGB rejected this. The RCP also demanded state action against fascism.

Mosley returned to political activity in 1948 and formed the Union Movement, which gained 6000-7000 followers. Mosley worked to make this new organisation more respectable than the British Union of Fascists by outwardly distancing it from fascism. Mosley organised several marches in 1948-49 around the country, that were heavily disrupted by anti-fascists. The National Anti-Fascist League was formed in 1948 to speak at public events and distribute underground propaganda. The Union Movement ceased activity in 1949. The 43 Group disbanded and joined the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen (AJEX). AJEX held 557 open-air meetings between 1947-50.

There was very little fascist and neo-fascist activity in the early-1950s. The focus changed in the mid-1950s as racial nationalist groups such as the White Defence League, and the National Labour Party attempted to stir up racial antagonism against black migrants in London. The 1958 ‘race riots’ in Notting Hill and Nottingham led Mosley to return to London and the Union Movement attempted to capitalise on this moment. Mosley stood in several elections in the late 1950s and early 1960s will low support.

The anti-Semitic National Socialist Movement formed in 1962 at a rally in Trafalgar Square but met considered opposition resulting in the event’s failure and the speakers arrested. Mosley organised an event in Trafalgar Square in late July, 10,000 supporters attended against 1,000 anti-fascists. The disorder was intense so the event was closed before Mosley arrived.

These events led to the formation of a new anti-fascist organisation, the Yellow Star Movement (YSM). This informal group initially focused on peaceful persuasion that became more radical in late 1962 as the faction called the 62 Group became dominant. It organised all day speaking events in London and a 440,000 signature petition against the incitement of racial hatred. The London Anti-Fascist Committee was formed in 1962 to push for legislation against racial hatred.

The Union Movement’s tactics evolved to organise snap events. Anti-fascists responded by organising a fast call-out system so once a fascist meeting was identified then anti-fascists were informed so they could disrupt the events. The Union Movement wound down in 1963. Following this, the Yellow Star Movement ceased to exist in 1963. The London Anti-Fascist Committee wound down in the late 1960s. The 62 Group remained active and focused on targetting individual fascists and their properties. The legislative work resulted in anti-racist legislation in the form of the Race Relation Act 1965, which the state used to convict leading fascists.

4. Opposition to the National Front 1967-79

The National Front (NF) was formed in 1967 and initially faced little organised anti-fascist opposition. Militant anti-fascists raided a few NF offices and sabotaged an event. NF claimed to have 10,000 members by 1968 with offices in London, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, Bradford, Wolverhampton and Glasgow.

The radical left was focused on Enoch Powell’s racial popularise and the support it had in the working class. In 1969 the first attempt to raise awareness of the NF was the Anti-Fascist Research Group that produced a series of anti-fascist Bulletins to raise awareness of NF and its activities.

In 1972 the NF were targeting the trade unions for recruitment so a group calling itself ‘Trade Unionists Against Fascism’ produced a one-off report regarding the NF plans. This report was then widely distributed through the trade unions.

The NF membership grew in the early 1970s and they had good by-election and local election results in 1973. The NF stood 50 candidates in the February 1974 election and this resulted in more anti-fascist opposition and an informal national anti-fascist network forming. Anti-fascists disrupted an NF march in June 1974, resulting in anti-fascists fighting with the police. The anti-fascist publication Searchlight was restarted to show the NF’s Nazi links. In August and September 1974 there were two large anti-fascist counter-demonstrations to NF marches. The NF split in late 1974.

In 1975 anti-fascists were very successful in disrupting NF meetings and NF looked to be winding down. The NF bounced back in 1976, which could be put down to anti-immigrant media coverage of Malawi Asians arriving in Britain. The NF membership increased and it had several successes in local elections in 1976, which alarmed anti-fascists into activity. Many local anti-fascist committees formed or reformed in 1976-7. A national coordinating committee of anti-fascist committees attempted to form in 1976, proving effective in the north and midlands. In 1977, 23 London anti-fascist committees formed the All London Anti-Racist Anti-Fascist Co-ordinating Committee (ARAFCC). It produced a bi-monthly paper called ‘CARF’.

The Battle of Lewisham took place in 1977 between the NF, anti-fascists and police. This led the government to use the Public Order Act to ban marches in several places around the country in late 1977 and early 1978.

In 1977 the Socialist Worker Party (SWP) formed the Anti-Nazi League (ANL) as a united front to challenge fascism. In 1978 it had 50,000 members. It got broad support from Labour MPs, actors, authors, football managers. The ANL main focus was the distribution of anti-fascist propaganda. It worked with local anti-fascist committees to challenge by-elections in 1977/78 that NF candidates were standing in. The ANL focused on connecting the NF to the Nazis but failed to deal with the public support for the NF based on popular racism. The ANL responded to NF trying to recruit young people by setting up ‘Schoolkids Against the Nazis’ and working with Rock Against Racism (RAR). In 1978 RAR and ANL organised two large Carnivals Against Racism in London with small ones in other cities.

The anti-fascist All London Co-ordinating Committee disbanded in 1978 and a collective continued the ‘CARF’ newspaper. They change the focus to speak to white people on the issue of racism. CARF promoted local anti-fascist organising and following several racist killings in London, advocated black and Asian self-defence. The group Anti-Fascist Democratic Action began publishing ‘Forewarned Against Fascism’ in 1978.

The media were seen as responsible for helping generate the public support of popular racism in 1976 that led to the NF resurgence. In response, the Campaign Against Racism in the Media (CARM) was formed in 1977 to pressure journalists to report negatively on the NF. The National Union of Journalists made similar statements. These had some impact as local newspaper reporting of the NF turned more hostile in 1977. By the end of the 1970s, the NF was excluded from national and local media except for negative pieces.

The NF stood over 300 candidates in the 1979 General Election. The ANL mobilised opposition against the NF marches and rallies. The NF organised a meeting at Southhall Town Hall, with a large anti-fascist counter-demonstration. This was very aggressively managed by the police and resulted in an anti-fascist dying and 700 arrests. The NF received a very low percentage of the vote resulting in internal conflict and splits. The NF was no longer a threat after this election.

5. Fighting fascism in the 1980s and 1990s

The fascist threat had reduced in the early 1980s, replaced by Thatcher’s right-wing policies. The ANL was a spent force and attempts to form a new national anti-fascist organisation failed. Less than ten anti-fascist turned up for the press conference launch of the British National Party in 1982.

The successor to the ANL, Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) formed in 1985 by Red Action. This group formed in response NFs increasing political violence and to support black and Asian communities in inner cities that were facing racist attacks. AFA was a broad alliance of left-wing groups, non-sectarian so included liberals and militants. By the end of 1986, AFA had established about 30 student groups, many outside London. AFA became more focused on militant anti-fascism after 1989 as moderates left AFA. It aimed to clear fascists out of working-class areas and replace them with left-wing alternatives. It launched a magazine ‘Fighting Talk’. It argued that because the Labour Party had given up on Socialism and the working class, then the working class had turned to popular racism and nationalism. By 1990 AFAs main opponent was the BNP, which had some encouraging electoral results in local elections in East London. Even though AFA conducted a counter-campaign. With the BNP focusing on East London, anti-fascists increased their activity there including holding AFA meetings, anti-fascist carnivals and disrupting BNP meetings and paper sales.

Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (CARF) relaunched its publication in 1990. It differentiated itself from Searchlight in that it believed that fascism could only be challenged if popular racism was also confronted, not just anti-Semitism. It collated and exchanged information about local anti-racist campaigns, raised awareness about the lives of black people, migrants and refugees. It also exposed new forms of ‘state racism’.

The Anti-Racist Alliance (ARA) was formed in 1991. It was officially non-political but its founders had close links to the Labour Party and trade unions, so was supported by several MPs and unions. It was committed to black and Asian self-organisation and leadership. It did not have a class analysis and was based on moralistic principles of ‘good vs evil’. It was a moderate group that worked to use pressure group tactics to change legal policy. It built several local groups and different sections. It organised a well-attended carnival in August 1992.

The Anti-Nazi League (ANL) was relaunched in 1992 by the SWP. This also received criticism as was seen as an SWP front group to increase its members and also seen by ARA as too focused on the threat to Jews. Its focus was non-militant, local activities such as leafleting and petitions, lobbying councils and counter-marches.

The BNP election success in 1993 led to broad anti-fascist unity and a large demonstration in October 1993 at the BNP headquarters in Welling, Kent. This is known as the 1993 Welling riots. The police changed the Welling march route last minute, resulting in altercations between the marches and police. The police responded too aggressively again, with anti-fascists responding with violence. There were several injuries and a few arrests.

ANL membership increased reaching 60,000 members and AFA went from 30 branches in 1994 to 40 in 1995. ANL also organised a huge carnival event in London in May 1994. In response to the May 1994 local election, the TUC organised a large demo through London called ‘Unite Against Racism’ and led to the formation of the United Campaign Against Racism (UCAR). This organised an event in Westminster with MPs present, UCAR had little grassroots presence.

The BNP targeted the Isle of Dogs in the 1994 local elections and the ANL focused there, leading to several confrontations that resulted in a negative impression of ANL. Copsey explains how the most effective response to fascism on the Isle of Dogs came from local churches that encouraged vote registration, turnout and tactical voting. The BNP did not get any council seats in this election, which was helped by hostile local media. The BNP candidates still had high support – 20% – but the high turnout blocked them.

In 1995 anti-fascist activity declined. The ANL memberships gradually dropped but the group was kept going in case of fascism revived. The ARA ceased activity, new groups formed: the National Black Alliance and the National Assembly Against Racism. AFA

activity declined as well.

6. Opposing fascism in the twenty-first century

The BNP had its first leadership election in 1999 and elected Nick Griffin, who offered improved administration, financial transparency and increased support for local branches. Griffin was influenced by the National Front in France and widened the BNPs appeal to those concerned about immigration, that had not voted for a far-right party before. The BNP also attempted to move away from being a single-issue party to develop policies on social and economic issues. In response, Red Action formed the Independent Working Class Association (IWCA) to stand against the BNP in elections, and offer working-class voters a radical alternative to the Labour Party.

The BNP got 4 councillors elected in the 2002 local elections. The ANL response was to restart Rock Against Racism and organised a Love Music Hate Racism carnival in Manchester. The TUC, trade unions, Asian community organisations, and the National Assembly Against Racism (NAAR) worked together to do anti-BNP campaigning but had little impact. A demonstration was organised a week before the local elections with low attendance. 13 BNP councillors were elected in the 2003 local elections.

2003 saw the formation of a new coalition, United Against Fascism (UAF). This was the first united anti-fascist organisation since the 1970s from a merger of the NAAR and the ANL, supported by the TUC. Its strategy was to raise turnout and maximise the anti-BNP vote. 4 BNP councillors were elected in 2003 local elections.

Hope Not Hate was founded in 2004 by Nick Lowles, a former editor of anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, in response to the rise of the BNP. It focused on speaking to people in their communities than organising town centre demonstrations. Hope Not Hate targeted the areas where the BNP were winning elections. It has raised awareness of the English Defence League and ran joint initiatives with Muslim organisations.

Copsey describes how in 2004 militant anti-fascism re-group around ‘antifa’, which is slang for a militant anti-fascist. Supporters of antifa came from the anarchist traditions: Class War Federation, Anarchist Federation, Solidarity Federation, and No Platform. It aimed to oppose far-right electoral politics and use direct action where possible. Antifa became a ‘national federation’ in 2005 of about 6 local groups. Copsey argues they had little impact. Militant anti-fascists targeted the BNP’s Red White and Blue Festival in August 2008, with the threat of militant opposition causing it to fail to get an alcohol and entertainment licence.

UAF organised a London city centre carnival and demonstration for the 2005 May Day rally. In response to the BNP’s electoral support of 192,000 in the 2005 general election ‘Labour Friends of Searchlight’ (LFOS) was set up by the Labour Party to bring CLPs and trade unions together to combat BNP. The BNP won 33 councillors in the 2006 local elections. UAF and Searchlight stepped up their efforts to block the BNP from winning a seat on the London Assembly in 2008 but failed, with the BNP gaining 1 seat.

By the 2008 local elections, the BNP had a total of 55 councillors across 22 local authorities. Searchlight and Hope Not Hate built up an impressive campaign to stop the BNP from gaining an MEP seat in the EU Parliament election in 2009. Unfortunately, the BNP gained 2 MEPs in 2009, with 1 million votes nationally. This was the high point for the BNP and its lost all these seats over the next few years. By 2013 the BNP only had 2 council seats. There was also internal conflict from 2007, with a couple of leadership challenges and members leaving to form new groups and parties: Democrat Nationalists, British Freedom Party, Britannia Party. The BNP stood 340 candidates in the 2010 general election and only 8 in the 2015 general election. UAF and Hope Not Hate, spent large amounts in both elections using online anti-fascist campaigning, leafletting, 20 paid staff, telephone canvassing and a highly distributed tabloid newspaper. Nick Griffin lost his MEP seat in 2014 and resigned that year, replaced by Adam Walker. [3]

The English Defence League (EDL) was formed in 2009. It employs street demonstrations as its main tactic, the EDL presents itself as a single-issue movement opposed to Islamism and Islamic extremism. Following the murder of Lee Rigby in May 2013, over 47,000 people signed the Hope Not Hate ‘We Are The Many’ letter, which spoke out against the (EDL and its attempts to generate anti-Muslim hatred. [4] UAF organised street-based opposition to EDL. By 2016 EDL had declined to insignificance.

A recent fascist group in the UK is the Football Lads Alliance (FLA) which is using fans and stadium marches to push anti-muslim propaganda. In 2018, the FLA split with the Democratic Football Lads Alliance forming. [5]

The Anti Fascist Network was formed in 2016 and has links with Anti-Fascist Action. It is a network of independent and grassroots groups working to stop the rise of racism and fascism in our communities. They aim to stop far-right events by getting people on the streets, plus sharing resources and offering legal support. The network is non-hierarchical, anti-police and does not affiliate with political parties. The website lists the local groups in the network.

Other active (recently active) anti-fascist groups include: Feminist Anti-Fascist Assembly (FAF) [6], London AntiFascist Assembly, Glasgow Anti-fascist Alliance,

Coventry Antifascists, Birmingham Antifascists, East Midlands Anti Fascists.

Local anti-fascist groups that are no longer active: Manchester 0161 Antifascists, South Wales Anti-Fascist Action, http://lancasteruaf.blogspot.com/, Kirkless Unity, East Midlands Anti-Fascists, UK Antifascism, 3 Counties Anti-Fascist Alliance (Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire)

Blogs sharing information about the far-right (active and inactive) Malatesta’s Blog, Exposing The English Defence League, Stand Up to Hate.

Anti-racist movements

This is a big area and I’m not going to do it justice in this post. I’ve included the 16 Key Events In The History Of Anti-Black Racism In The UK listed here. This article lists “important anniversaries which mark the struggle for black and minority ethnic rights in the UK.”

This is a longer section as I could not find in one place the history of the anti-racist movement in Britain. I’ve divided anti-racist movements and activities into 5 phases.

1. The first anti-racist movement phase was the anti-Slavery or abolition movement and I’ve written a separate history for that below.

2. The second phase is from the 1830s (the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 and all slaves being freed by 1838) until the end of the Second World War. The anti-racist Quakers journal ‘Anti-Caste‘ was published from 1888 to 1895. It included reports on anti-lynching campaigns in the southern states of America, and the work of prominent African American campaigners, as well as confronting issues of racism within the British Empire. 1919 saw race riots in London, Glasgow, Liverpool, Cardiff, Salford, Hull, South Shields, Newport, Barry

The West African Students’ Union was founded in 1925 and was active until the 1960s. It campaigned to improve the welfare of all African students in London and for people in Britain’s African colonies. The League of Coloured Peoples (LCP) “was a British civil-rights organization that was founded in 1931 in London by Jamaican-born physician and campaigner Harold Moody with the goal of racial equality around the world, a primary focus being on black rights in Britain. In 1933, the organization began publication of the civil-rights journal, The Keys. The LCP was a powerful civil-rights force until its dissolution in 1951.” The Negro Welfare Association (NWA) was one of the most active Black British organizations in the 1930s. It called “for the complete liberation and independence of all Negroes who are suffering from capitalist exploitation and imperialist domination.” The NWA campaigned on both British and international issues. International African Service Bureau (IASB) was formed in 1937 until the mid-1940s. They campaigned on issues for African people in Britain and worked to inform the public about the grievances faced by those in colonial Africa. In 1939 the IASB, NWA, LCP campaigned against the colour bar introduced in the British Army. The Pan-African Federation was an international Pan-African organisation, made up of several organisations, set up in 1944. [7]

The 1943 riot of Bamber Bridge in Lancashire was between white and black US soldiers. The white soldiers wanted segregation in the local villages but three pubs refused which resulted in a shootout between the groups. The summer of 1948 saw three nights of unrest in Liverpool. It was initiated by white rioters against people of colour, several of whom were wrongfully arrested. The Colonial Defence Committee was formed after the riots to provide legal defence for those arrested.

3. The third phase is from the end of World War Two until the mid/late 1960s. The anti-racism movement in Britain gained momentum in the post-war period. [8]

Ambalavaner Sivanandan in ‘From resistance to rebellion: Asian and Afro-Caribbean struggles in Britain’ describes in good detail the people of colour struggles from 1945 to 1980 in Britain.

The Windrush Generation are the people that emigrated to Britain from the Commonwealth between 1948 and 1971. It is estimated about 500,000 UK residents were born in a Commonwealth country and arrived before 1971, according to University of Oxford estimates. [9]

The Nottingham riot of 1958 between white and black groups was sparked by an interracial romance. [10] The Notting Hill riots a week later in 1958 started with violence from Teddy boys and neo-nazis against African and Caribbean immigrants, who defended themselves. The West Indian Standing Conference was formed after the uprising due to the lack of police response to protect black citizens. It aimed to “advocate and campaign for better policies and strategies for black people and for communities to live in harmony and eradicate racial discrimination and called for social action for the British authorities. They organized cultural events, including street carnivals, and fought against the London transport authorities to have them hire the first bus inspector of African descent.”

The Notting Hill carnival was a direct response to the riots. In 1958 the Institute of Race Relations was formed to publish research on race relations internationally.

The Indian Workers Association was formed in 1958. It was a political organisation of Indian immigrants and their descendants with local branches in cities such as Birmingham and London. Their activity includes anti-racism campaigning, industrial action, social work within immigrant communities, and film shows.

In response to possible immigration control in the early 1960s several organisations were set up to campaign against discriminatory legislation: the Pakistani Workers’ Association, the West Indian Workers’ Association, the Co-ordinating Committee Against Racial Discrimination (CCARD) in Birmingham, and the Conference of Afro-Asian-Caribbean Organisations (CAACO) in London. [11]

In 1962, the Tory government brought in the Commonwealth Immigrants Act in response to growing anti-immigrant public opinion. It restricted the immigration rights Commonwealth citizens had been granted in the 1948 British Nationality Act.

The Bristol Bus Boycott was in 1963 in response to Bristol Omnibus Company refusal to employ Asian or Black bus workers in Bristol. The boycott lasted 4 months until the company reversed their discriminative colour bar policy. The Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (CARD) was active from 1964-7 to lobby for race relations legislation. 1965 saw several strikes in Preston and London against discrimination. [12]

The Race Relations Act 1965 was the first legislation in Britain to address racial discrimination.

It outlawed discrimination on the “grounds of colour, race, or ethnic or national origins” in public places. The Race Relations Board was created in 1966 to consider complaints under the Act. The Race Relations Act 1968 made it illegal to refuse housing, employment, or public services to a person on the grounds of colour, race, ethnic or national origins.

4. Phase four is from the late 1960s until the 1990s and saw increasing black militancy and the formation of black liberation organisations. It also saw the formation of Pakistani organisations and Asian youth Movements in response to harassment and violence. Enock Powell gave his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in 1968 and although sacked from the Labour Party shadow cabinet, public opinion had turned significantly anti-immigrant. Gilbert argues that this rise of political racism in the late 1960s was fuelled by the political right needing to find an excuse for rising unemployment for the first time in a generation. [13]

Following a visit by Malcolm X to London in 1965 the Racial Action Adjustment Society was set up. It was a militant political organisation. [14] The British black power movement started in 1967 with the Universal Coloured Peoples’ Association (UCPA). [15] There was also Black Dimension magazine first published in 1969. [16]

The British Black Panther Party was founded in 1968 operating until 1973. During the 1960s and 1970s “the British Panthers fought against police brutality, challenged the state and demonstrated the importance of community empowerment.” In 1969 the Black Peoples’ Alliance (BPA) organised a march of over 7000 people to Downing Street to demand the repeal of the Immigration Acts. In the 1970s several black militants and organisations set up supplementary schools and projects to teach skills to black youth. The Black Panthers were renamed the Black Workers Movement and set up a bookshop and publications. The Black Liberation Front was formed in 1971. [17] The Brixton Black Panthers were active in the early 1970s and occupied a private property.

There was the trial of the Mangrove Nine in 1970-2, following the arrest of nine people at a protest in West London against police harassment at the Mangrove restaurant. They were charged with rioting and found not guilty by a jury. [18]

The 1970s and 1980s saw the formation of several groups and organisations related to race relations and worker rights for black and Asian workers:

“To combat the problems of black workers, strike committees were formed and conferences were called to highlight the problem of racism at the workplace. Arising from this struggle, the Black Trade Unionists Solidarity Movement was formed. In fact, by 1980 there were some 59 projects and groups involved in the industrial aspects of race relations. More specifically, in the Midlands and Wales area, there were 29 ethnic minority organisations concerned with employment in 1982. These groups indicate to a large extent that traditional trade unionism could not deal effectively with the special problems of black workers. Self-help and autonomous organisation was the only response to racial discrimination among employers and trade unions.” https://libcom.org/history/black-liberation-organisations-britain-1970s-1980s.

There were the following strikes: Mansfield Hosiery Mills in 1972; the Standard Telephones and Cables strike in 1973; the Imperial Typewriters factory in Leicester in 1974; the Grunwick Strike in 1976.

Race Today Women 1975, reports on the collective struggles of Caribbean women in Britain. 1976 saw the Notting Hill Carnival riots in response to harassment and arrests of young black attendees by police. 1976 also saw the founding of Rock against Racism, the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism, and the enactment of the Race Relations Act. Here is a history of the Race Today Collective that used journalism and direct action to spearhead an era of anti-racist campaigning in Britain.

There were several active Pakistani organisations in east London Borough of Tower Hamlets between 1968–1970. This was in response to racist violence and harassment. The organisations included the Pakistani Welfare Association (PWA), the National Federation of Pakistani Associations (NFPA), the Pakistani Progressive Party (PPP) and the Pakistani Workers’ Union (PWU). [19]

The 1970s saw the formation of several Asian Youth Movements “whose sole purpose was to counter the racial discrimination and instances of violent abuse faced by ethnic minorities that routinely took place on its city streets.” [20]

This article describes the engagement of Asian Youth Movement activists with workers’ struggles and the British trade union movement. The Race Today Collective 1983 pamphlet contains three articles and sets of interviews on the struggles of Asian workers in the UK.

The grassroots, community-based, anti-racist Newham Monitoring Project was set up in London in 1980 to provide support work against racial discrimination and violence, police misconduct and civil rights issues. The Monitoring Group was founded in 1981 in London to challenge racism. It is an anti-racist charity that promotes civil rights, good race relations, and supports those suffering violence or harassment.

The New Cross Fire in 1981, where 13 black people died in an arson attack lead to the formation of the New Cross Massacre Action Group that mobilised 20,000 people to protest around London. The Black People’s Day of Action march took place on March 2, 1981 – six weeks after the New Cross Fire that claimed the lives of 13 young Black people. [21]

There were several riots in 1981 in inner-city people of colour communities including the Brixton riots in London, the Toxteth riots in Liverpool, the Handsworth riots in Birmingham, the Chapeltown riots in Leeds, and the Moss Side riots in Manchester. [22]

There is the suspicious death of Colin Roach at the entrance to Hackney police station. Officially he died from suicide, even though he had a gunshot to the back of his head. The 1985 Brixton Riot was in response to the accidental shooting of a woman by Met Police. The Broadwater Farm riot occurred on the Broadwater council estate in Tottenham, North London, on 6 October 1985 a month after the Brixton riot. It followed the death of a woman from heart failure after her home was searched by police. This was the main trigger for the riot between youth black youth and the Met police. A policeman was killed during the riot. Black History Month was first celebrated in 1987 to mark the contributions of Black people throughout history.

In the 1990s several anti-racist groups formed: the Anti-Racist Alliance, the National Assembly Against Racism formed in 1995, Show Racism the Red Card in 1996, Residents Against Racism formed in 1998 in Ireland.

Stephen Lawrence was a black British teenager from southeast London who was murdered in 1993 in a racially motivated attack. Two suspects were arrested by not charged. An inquiry in 1998 examined the original Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) investigation and concluded that the investigation was incompetent and that the force was institutionally racist. This led to “cultural changes of attitudes on racism and the police, and to the law and police practice. It also led to the partial revocation of the rule against double jeopardy. Two of the perpetrators were convicted of murder on 21 June 2012.”

There is a long history of police racism, violence and brutality. [23] In 1997 the United Families & Friends Campaign (UFFC) formed. It is a coalition of those affected by deaths in police, prison and psychiatric custody, supports others in similar situations. It started as a network of black families, over recent years the group has expanded and now includes the families and friends of people from varied ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The support, campaigning and protest group Justice Or Else UK [24] lists (under Our Story) the many campaigns for justice of those that have died in police custody. There is the Northern Police Monitoring Project, the group Stop Watch, campaigns to challenge the Police method of Stop and Search that is used disproportionally on people of colour.

The London Campaign Against Police and State Violence was formed in 2013 is: “a group of voluntary campaigners working to make the Metropolitan Police accountable to local communities for abuses of power; and bring an end to its culture of brutality and racial profiling including the racist use of Stop & Search.”

5. Phase five is from the 2000s to the present.

Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR) was a music-oriented antiracism campaign that organised several music events in the 2000s inspired by Rock Against Racism.

The summer of 2001 saw several riots in northern towns, with “violent clashes predominantly sparked by racial tensions, mixed, to some extent, with orchestrated rivalries between criminal gangs. Oldham, Burnley and Bradford experienced violence which saw hundreds of young Asian men (Pakistani and Bangladeshi) take to the streets.

English cities experienced days of riots from 6 to 11 August 2011, following protests in Tottenham, north London, over the shooting by police of Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old Black man. [25]

The London Black Revolutionaries formed in 2012-3 and have organised several marches and acts of direct action since. [26]

In 2015 in Teeside in Northeast England, a rank-and-file construction committee worked with unions to welcome foreign workers to the area and the unions so that they get paid the right rate for the work and “stop unscrupulous employers using migrant workers as union-busting cheap labour.” [27]

Black Lives Matters (BLM) is a “decentralized movement advocating for non-violent civil disobedience in protest against incidents of police brutality and all racially motivated violence against Black people.” The movement started on social media in the US in 2013 following the death of Trayvon Martin. The movement became nationally recognised in the US in 2014 following street demonstrations in response to the killing of Michael Brown and Eric Garner by police. The UK BLM movement started in 2016 with protests blocking roads near Heathrow Airport, also in Birmingham and Nottingham. [28] BLM supporters protested in 2017 in London over the death of Edson Da Costa, who died in police custody. In 2020, global protests followed the killing of George Floyd by police in the US. In response, the UK experienced multiple demonstrations in towns and cities. [29] In Bristol during these demonstrations, BLM protesters topple a statue of Bristol slave trader Edward Colston. The UK Black Lives Matter organisation is not affiliated with BLM USA.

Stand Up to Racism organised a 20,000 demonstration in central London in 2018. There are questions about the level of involvement of the Trotsky Socialist Workers Party in Stand Up to Racism. In 2019, Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action (GARA) occupied the Deptford Town Hall for 137 days. They successfully won a range of commitments by the university to tackle institutional racism. At least two groups are campaigning for the Windrush Generation: the Windrush National Movement and the Windrush Justice Project.

The Black Unity and Freedom Party was launched in 1970 and were active until the 1990s. It produced the publication ‘Black Voice’. ‘Black Dwarf’ was a political and cultural publication between 1968 and 1972 from a collective of socialists. A black-led political party We Matter was launched in 2020.

Runnymede Trust is the “UK’s leading independent race equality think tank. We generate intelligence to challenge race inequality in Britain through research, network building, leading debate, and policy engagement.” The Runnymede Trust coordinates the UK Race and Europe Network (UKREN) is a national network of 160 UK non-governmental organisations interested in combating racism in Europe. You can download the list of the local groups here. The West Yorkshire Racial Justice Network was set up in about 2016 to promote racial justice.

What campaigns and groups have there been related to racism against Jews, Chinese, Irish, Islamic and Eastern Europeans? There is the Campaign Against Antisemitism, [30] also see the anti-fascism movements section above. In Northern Ireland, there was the Northern Ireland civil rights movement and the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, both formed in the 1960s.

Anti-Slavery/Abolition Movement

Slavery was banned in England in 1102. The British anti-slavery movement campaigned to end the international slave trade and then slavery in British colonies. The anti-slavery movement focused on ending the international slave trade between 1787 and 1811 when the Slave Trade Act 1807 and Slave Trade Felony Act 1811 were passed in the UK parliament. Between 1811 and 1823 the movement focused through the Africa Institution on ensuring the new legislation was enforced and also encouraging other countries to follow Britain’s example. In the 1820s the movement formed the Anti-Slavery Society intending to improve slave conditions in the West Indies, combined with a plan for gradual emancipation resulting in complete freedom. In 1831 some of the Anti-Slavery Society’s younger and more radical elements organised the Agency Committee. The Agency Committee took abolition out into the country. It controversially committed itself to the unconditional and immediate abolition of slavery. Reform of parliament in 1832 resulted in a parliament of MPs that were more sympathetic to abolition. The government cabinet was also sympathetic and the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 was passed into law. Slaves were all freed by 1838 and compensation was paid to slave owners. [31]


  1. A Century of Fiscal Squeeze Politics: 100 Years of Austerity, Politics, and Bureaucracy in Britain 2017 by Christopher Hood (Author), Rozana Himaz)
  2. Why It’s Still Kicking Off Everywhere, Paul Mason, 2013, CH3
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_National_Party
  4. https://www.hopenothate.org.uk/about-us/
  5. https://www.vice.com/en/article/j5g7px/watch-who-are-the-football-lads-alliance
  6. https://www.redpepper.org.uk/anti-fascism-is-feminist-issue/, https://www.vice.com/en/article/neg58q/feminist-antifascism-assembly-protest-london, https://www.hopenothate.org.uk/2019/03/08/feminist-movements-best-chance-defeating-far-right/, https://www.facebook.com/FAFassembly),
  7. Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain, Peter Fryer, 2018, p352
  8. The session of Culture Power Politics titled ‘Black Lives Matter – ‘race’, bodies and biopolitics in the 21st century’ (38mins https://culturepowerpolitics.org/2018/07/11/black-lives-matter-race-bodies-and-biopolitics-in-the-21st-century/) gives a good overview of the anti-racism movement in Britain after World War Two.
  9. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-43782241
  10. https://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/nottingham-riots-1958/ and https://everlivingroots.wordpress.com/2015/08/14/black-british-history-rising-racial-tensions-in-1950s-britain-and-the-birth-of-notting-hill-carnival/
  11. p10
  12. p13
  13. 39m https://culturepowerpolitics.org/2018/07/11/black-lives-matter-race-bodies-and-biopolitics-in-the-21st-century/
  14. p14/18
  15. p18
  16. https://www.ourmigrationstory.org.uk/oms/darcus-howe-and-britains-black-power-movement
  17. read more on British Black Power Movement https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/27/britain-black-power-movement-risk-forgotten-historians, https://www.ourmigrationstory.org.uk/oms/darcus-howe-and-britains-black-power-movement, https://libcom.org/history/black-liberation-organisations-britain-1970s-1980s, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/11/black-history-month-events-that-should-be-taught-to-every-pupil, https://www.okayafrica.com/4-radical-black-british-social-movements-you-should-know/
  18. more on Mangrove Nine trial https://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/mangrove-nine-trial-1970-1972/, https://www.theguardian.com/law/2010/nov/29/mangrove-nine-40th-anniversary, Mangrove nine trial 1971 https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000zd9n, https://www.okayafrica.com/4-radical-black-british-social-movements-you-should-know/
  19. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0306396816642997
  20. https://www.desiblitz.com/content/history-britains-asian-youth-movements, https://socialistworker.co.uk/art/36687/Fighting+racism+is+no+crime+++the+hidden+history+of+Britains+Asian+Youth+Movements, https://www.redpepper.org.uk/black-star-britains-asian-youth-movements/, https://marx.libcom.org/library/politics-britains-asian-youth-movements-anandi-ramamurthy, http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:o6ocHoEKNkkJ:www.irr.org.uk/news/the-road-to-anti-racism/+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk, https://novaramedia.com/2020/07/24/black-britannia-the-asian-youth-movements-demonstrated-the-potential-for-anti-racist-solidarity/, https://tmg-uk.org/news/the-birth-of-the-southall-youth-movement-and-communities-of-resistance, https://tribunemag.co.uk/2020/12/come-what-may-were-here-to-stay-remembering-the-asian-youth-movements
  21. https://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/events-global-african-history/the-new-cross-fire-january-18-1981/, https://www.wcml.org.uk/our-collections/protest-politics-and-campaigning-for-change/black-and-asian-struggles/, https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episodes/m000y317/uprising, https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/new-cross-fire-black-peoples-day-of-action_uk_5e582608c5b6450a30bc0ac3, https://www.ucl.ac.uk/racism-racialisation/black-peoples-day-action-40-years, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/27/britain-black-power-movement-risk-forgotten-historians
  22. https://warwick.ac.uk/services/library/mrc/studying/docs/rem/1980s/
  23. https://novaramedia.com/2020/06/01/the-uk-is-not-innocent-police-brutality-has-a-long-and-violent-history-here/, https://www.redpepper.org.uk/shared-legacies-of-black-struggle-us-uk/, https://vimeo.com/34633260, https://www.change.org/p/channel-4-channel-4-screen-injustice-film-about-black-deaths-in-uk-police-custody
  24. https://www.facebook.com/JusticeOrElseUK/, https://www.youtube.com/user/BirminghamStrong/videos
  25. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/5032166.stm, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_England_riots
  26. also see https://www.vice.com/en/article/qbxvbp/the-new-wave-london-black-revolutionaries
  27. https://www.rs21.org.uk/2015/09/16/teeside-workers-fight-racism-with-solidarity/
  28. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/aug/05/black-lives-matter-protest-sparks-heathrow-traffic-chaos
  29. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Lives_Matter#United_Kingdom
  30. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campaign_Against_Antisemitism, https://antisemitism.uk/about/
  31. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abolitionism_in_the_United_Kingdom, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/empire_seapower/antislavery_01.shtml; Bury the Chains Paperback, 2012 by Adam Hochschild; The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society 1838-1956: A History, 2016, James Heartfield;Black and British: A Forgotten History, David Olusoga, 2016