The Battle of Wood Green 40 years on
On 23rd April 1977 the National Front decided to march from Ducketts Common by Turnpike Lane tube in North London down a busy London High Road packed with Saturday afternoon shoppers. There were several thousand fascists but they were outnumbered by opponents, including many people out shopping, appalled that fascists were marching on the anniversary of Hitler’s birthday.
It would be bad enough today but this was a mere 3 decades after the end of the Second World War and numbers who had been actively involved in fighting Hitler were no doubt around on that Spring day.
Only a small part of the NF march made it to a concluding rally as it was broken by protesters.
40 years on that day is being marked with a festival to celebrate diversity and oppose racism on the very same Ducketts Common. The fascists never returned in any numbers to the Borough, but the fight against racism needs to be maintained in each generation.
One of the keynote speakers on 23rd April is expected to be Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. It is of course the kind of event that one might expect he would attend, but it is little bit more specific than that.
In 1977, before he defected to a neighbouring North London Borough and became the long serving MP for Islington North, Corbyn was a trade union official and Labour Councillor in Haringey for the area adjacent to Ducketts Common. He is still remembered for the hard work he did then.
Part of that was to act as the co-ordinator for all of the local Haringey Councillors, including Tories on 23rd April.
The Councillors had called for the National Front march to be banned, recognising the provocation it was designed to be. The police had declined. On the day all of the Councillors assembled on Ducketts Common, before the fascists marched, holding a giant banner making clear they stood firm against racism.
But there was another group of people, anti-fascists, trade-unionists, socialists, who were determined that the National Front would not march. The main aim was simply to stop them by force of numbers but some physical engagement with the fascists was envisaged.
Using his influence Jeremy Corbyn was able to act as the spokesperson for both groups of people, presenting in effect a unified protest against the NF. Indeed the following week he was quoted in the local Hornsey Journal paper in just this role.
The day was notable for several things. It was the last time the police appeared on such an occasion without riot shields. The largely successful effort to stop the National Front set a template that was repeated when the fascists tried to do the same thing in Lewisham on 13thAugust 1977. Here however there was no Jeremy Corbyn to bring completely together those who wanted to protest peacefully and those who planned to stop the NF.
That day led to the formation of the Anti-Nazi League and the first huge Carnival in conjunction with Rock Against Racism at Victoria Park in May 1978.
Corbyn’s role in some of the events that led to the birth of the anti-racist and anti-fascist movement that did much to stop the National Front from becoming, as it threated to in the late 1970s, a major political force, should not be forgotten.
Given that it is not unknown for labour movement leaders to develop hazy memories of how they came to be leaders in the first place, it’s also good that the current Labour leader has not forgotten those days either.