Report of a picket at BNP meeting in Shirebrook

Notts Stop the BNP supporters joined others on Thursday, 2oth Aug, at a picket, organised by Chesterfield UAF, of a BNP meeting in a former mining village, Shirebrook, 6 miles north-west of Mansfield. The picket, about 20 of us in total, followed a violent racist attack at a local take-away by youths identifying themselves as BNP.

The BNP have a large branch in Bolsover/ Shirebrook. The BNP branch nominally is based in Bolsover although meetings are at the BNP members pub in Shirebrook. That pub, the Great Northern, has become very much a base for BNP activities. In the past the BNP have claimed as many as 40 attending some of those meetings.

The picture below shows one of those meetings.
The BNP branch was bolstered at the end of 2008 by the recruitment of a Labour town councillor, Paul Harford, who joined the BNP last December. Harford can be seen in the picture above, with a stick on the right. I spent some time talking with Harford on Thursday night. One thing that struck me about both him and a number of others we argued with, was how much the miners strike and the later closure of the pit dominate politics still. But in a very, very confused way.

I was heavily involved, working in the steel industry, in  support of the miners’  strike and had extensive contacts in North Notts. So I know something of Shirebrook and Bolsover (but have forgotten a lot more). I can’t remember Harford but it is however said that he was on strike until the end of the dispute.

Bolsover pit, actually in Derbyshire, was in the Notts coalfield and was about 50-50 out on strike from the start. (See removed extract below)

A lot of what was said by the BNP members was incoherent garbage and to be frank the BNPers at times looked a little embarrassed spouting such crap. But what struck me was the clear reason for the growth of the BNP in such areas as Shirebrook. A lot of the BNP talk was about the loss of jobs subsequent to the closure of the pit, their kids without alternatives other than to join up and either lose lives or their limbs in either Afghanistan and Iraq. It was clear that they all thought that the BNP was a party for working class people. Harford kept repeating, very defensively, “I’m only in the BNP for British Jobs for British workers”.

When we turned up with Notts placards, a number of BNP supporters said ‘I agree with that (Jobs and Homes not racism) but disagree with that (Stop the BNP)”. These are seriously confused people!

The fascist history of BNP leaders clearly disturbed Harford and maybe one or two others. They prefer to believe superficial denials by Griffin and not enquire further.

I didn’t get round to asking whether the miners were right to fight in 1984-5.  But if I did, I am certain there were both people from families of ex-scabs, as well as ex-strikers like Harford. Some BNPers we met that night are clearly bitterly hostile to unions. I heard one of them curse the unions for splitting his family in two. Undoubtedly he was talking about the family divisions that happened in particular in North Notts during the strike. But you find few ex-strikers blaming the union, they usually, and rightly, blame the Tory government for engineering the division of miners in order to bring about their desired pit closures. Most ex-strikers, even Harford, are likely to be proud of having stood up in defense of jobs with their union.

The BNP obviously avoids this issue with ex-strikers as they (as the National Front at the time) helped organise the scabbing during the miners dispute. One might hope that Harford is the only striker whose sympathies are with the BNP. But the chances are that he is not alone. They got 1,000 votes, I was told, in recent local elections. There are probably many former loyal NUM members and their families in the area who don’t see what their experience in that union have to do with opposition to the BNP today.

It is probable that such people don’t know that the BNP bitterly opposes trade unions: because unions unite workers regardless of race and religion; because unions organise ‘British’ workers against ‘British’ bosses and therefore weaken the ‘British nation’. During the miners strike the fascist organisation of Brons, Griffin and all sided for these reasons with Thatchers government.

Even now, in villages like Shirebrook, where the belief in unions is far weaker than the mid-80s, that belief is a powerful alternative to the racism of the BNP. In Shirebrook and elsewhere we need to organise around that belief.

A sustained campaign in the area should not only argue against racism and harass the BNP whenever they meet. Such campaigns should:

  • aim to build trade unions and other non-racist working class organisations and campaigns to fight for interests of working class people in the area
  • campaign for jobs and homes in the area. And stop kids feeling forced to join the army because of the lack of an alternative.
  • highlight the real nature of the BNP organisation

The BNP’s defense of the colour bar

One other argument arising that night might also be of interest to those examining the BNP’s current thinking.

In the argument with the BNP, we asked them about why they have a bar on black and Asian people joining their Party.  We know that Griffin made a big issue of this at the Red, White and Blue, i.e. needing to legally fight off a challenge to their right to exercise a political colour bar.

We got the usual crap in reply about ‘why can’t we join… “some black pressure group. But this additional reply was incredible. The BNP members said that  ‘if we (the BNP) allowed Black people to join the BNP it would play into the hands of Simon Woolley” I had never heard of Simon Woolley. The BNP assured me he was one of our ‘leaders’ and was there on August 15th.

Well, according to the BNP this Simon Woolley has a plan, he wants to send Black people into the BNP to take it over!!!! This is clearly something they had been told, sounds like something Griffin would conjure up to justify the colour bar amongst less convinced members.

Can you imagine thousands of black people lining up to join up and pay money to the BNP in the hope of taking it over and closing it down. Unbelievable!

Removed extract

An earlier edit of this article confused Shirebrook with Shireoaks colliery and included the extract below. Although not directly relevant to the Shirebrook article, it does draw attention to how much the Labour Party has changed and as it is not documented elsewhere we reproduce it, corrected, below.

Shirebrook (Shireoaks) , despite being geographically in Notts, was a pit classified in the Yorkshire coalfield. It was solidly out on strike from the start. It was through Shirebrook (Shireoaks) NUM delegates that  a number of us in Nottingham, who supported the strike, communicated with Yorkshire NUM and organised a march of 7,000 striking miners and their supporters on April 14th 1984 in Nottingham. The march was undoubtedly the largest political event seen in Nottingham during the strike, and probably the biggest in last half of the 20th century. As the Trades Council and the area NUM were still opposing the strike in early April it was necessary to call a march in support of the strike by us through Sherwood Branch Labour Party, part of Nottingham East Constituency. Oh, how things have changed!  There is very full account of the history of the miners strike here

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