In September 1983 an anti-fascist meeting was organised in Newcastle in response to a claim by the BNP that it intended to march through the city. The meeting was attended by anti- fascists drawn from a broad range of organisations, including local trades councils, the labour and trade union movement, the Community Relations Council and community groups.
It was agreed that an anti-fascist mobilisation should be called. In the end the BNP march was canceled, but the need for an effective anti-fascist organisation, which could campaign and educate against racism and fascism, was felt by all and, as a result, the Tyne and Wear Anti- Fascist Association (TWAFA) was created.
At this time, in 1983 the need for continued and effective anti-fascist activism was truely urgent. The Anti Nazi League had petered out after some notable successes in the late 1970s and other groups that exist today had not then been formed. In order to fill the gap TWAFA approached the local councils in Newcastle, Gateshead, Sunderland, South Tyneside and North Tyneside and received funding and support. This was an unprecedented step for an anti- fascist organisation.
This concept of bringing together people from a broad spectrum of organisations to counter fascism is still one of TWAFA’s main policies. TWAFA has been at the forefront of the struggle against racism and fascism in the North East and across Britain for over 17 years now, making the group one of the longest running and most successful anti-fascist organisations in the country.
TWAFA decided at that time, that effective anti-fascist work had to have a two-track approach that involved local people.
1. Campaigning work had to be done and the fascists had to be physically opposed by mass mobilisations wherever they appeared.
2. Anti-racist and anti-fascist educational work needed to be carried out in schools, youth clubs, football grounds, trade unions etc., to inform people of the reality of the fascist threat, promote anti-racism and undercut the fascists’ traditional recruiting grounds among the working class.
Educating against Fascism
In accordance with these aims, TWAFA did a vast amount of educational work. For example, the Association produced an anti- racist magazine, Unity, written by young people for young people, which was distributed in schools across the region. An anti-racist magazine for students was also produced and distributed. The Association hosted the Anne Frank exhibition in 1987 and produced an anthology of young people’s writings, Have You Ever Been Picked On?, which was warmly received.
In the mid-1980s, TWAFA was involved in a number of campaigns against the National Front, (the NF, now largely defunct) which was particularly active in Newcastle at that time. Firstly there were a number of major anti-fascist mobilisations, such as one at a local school where the NF leader, lan Anderson, was meant to be addressing an election meeting. There were so many anti-fascists there who would not let the nazis pass that the proposed election meeting was canceled. In another incident, the NF chose to flee out of the back of The Mitre pub in Newcastle and abandon its meeting rather than confront the large numbers of anti-fascists outside.
This proud tradition continued into the 1990s at demonstrations in Newcastle, Durham and Sunderland, for example, which have mobilised hundreds of anti-fascists and prevented the nazis from distributing their racist filth.
Racism on the Terraces
The Association also began a hugely successful campaign to counter attempts by the NF to recruit people at Newcastle United’s ground, St. James’ Park.
This was the first major anti-fascist campaign at a football ground. It was later used as a model by other groups elsewhere in the country, such as the acclaimed anti-fascist activity organised at Elland Road by Leeds Anti- fascist Action and Leeds Trades Council.
Newcastle fans were regularly leafleted and given free anti-racist stickers and calendars with the now famous slogan “Geordies are Black and White”.
The anti-fascist mobilisations would physically isolate the nazi paper sellers while the strong anti-racist message helped to cut off any support among the genuine football fans.
As a result of TWAFA’s work, the fascists stopped selling at St. James’ Park and have never returned since. Racist chanting remained a problem so TWAFA became involved in a campaign with United Against Racism, a collection of anti-racist Newcastle fans, to generate an anti-racist atmosphere inside the football ground.
An important feature of TWAFA’s work in the early years was born out of very strong links with local trade minions, who were instrumental in establishing the Association and who still provide significant support for our work. TWAFA and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), for example, produced a joint leaflet after nazis tried to exploit the pit closures in 1994. The Association produced an acclaimed booklet, Facing the Threat, which explained the fascist threat to the labour and trade union movement.
Many of these ideas and campaigns were groundbreaking and other organisations have subsequently been able to build upon these foundations. TWAFA continues its important work.