The Shock! The Horror! Skirmishes in London

Mar 28, 2011

The council is out there cleaning off the graffiti, the arrestees are chilling for a day after their ordeal in the cells and the mainstream media is doing it’s nut over action that they were absolutely gagging for before Saturday. Parts of the ‘progressive’ media are hammering home distinction between ‘good’ protesters and ‘bad’, and – a recent development this – between ‘good’ direct actions and ‘bad’. It’s becoming a moral pedant’s wet dream.

So let’s be clear, all protesters’ actions on Saturday were fine by us. At one point (I’d guess it was about 5.15 – 5.30pm) on Piccadilly, a troupe of riot cops, psyched into a frenzy, trotted in formation toward Fortnum & Mason, as they went by they lashed out at bystanders with their shields. This is a relatively minor piece of police aggression but it is indicative of the attitudes that are never going to calm a situation. An hour or two beforehand, soon after the peaceful occupation of F&M, a few police vans attempted to drive through the densely packed crowd to the store, they couldn’t get through, so what happened? Lines of cops formed to protect the vans, shields helmets and batons to the fore, going nowhere and achieving nothing other than heightening the tension. Talk about counter-productive strategies!

UK Uncut, direct actionists and others who stayed away from Hyde Park on Saturday are being condemned (although recognized as peaceful) for stealing the headlines. To this there are two things to say. Firstly, the rally they organised was not inclusive. Inviting the likes of Ed Milliband to address the rally is hardly making an attempt to accommodate those who perhaps feel the record of the last Labour government and the strategy of slower cuts is not something they could support. This while not inviting one of the few MPs that do inspire activists; Caroline Lucas, . Secondly, the headlines were written by the media, not the anarchists or UK Uncut. A big peaceful demo (even of that size) can still be ignored. The media was full of stories before the demo saying what a frenzied terror was to be unleashed upon poor old London Town.

The subject of ignoring a demo is an interesting one. John McTernan, staff member of Blair’s office for some time and Political Secretary to Blair from 2005-7 tweeted on Saturday morning “When the cops say 450,000 are marching something real is happening. Sensible politicians would take note.” I’m not sure he saw the irony of the tweet. Made us laugh though. Vince Cable has already announced that the demo will be ignored, just as McTernan’s boss ignored the even greater demo in February 2003. What are we meant to take from this? When the efforts of half a million people are ignored by the government who can honestly be surprised that some people start getting a bit more militant, a bit more direct?

Two governments, more or less democratically elected, carry out actions that were not stated in their manifestos. Society stands up in huge numbers and says “NO”, the government, like a bully with illusions of impunity, carries on.

The bully who persecutes a smaller, more vulnerable kid one day finds that kid turns round a smacks him one in the face. Who should we condemn? The bully. The government leaves the school dinner money but takes the health service and the education system, the welfare state and the libraries. The paint and stones thrown at those who greatly profit from the bullying are a small expression of the frustration and anger that have developed. Who’s in the wrong? Who’s to blame? The bully is and we stand by all those who took action against the government.

A look at the number of injuries on Saturday’s protest tells a story. Theresa May is claiming that 56 police were injured in the protests, on a par with the number of injuries sustained during the Countryside Alliance protests in 2004, when 48 were injured. May has praised that march for it’s peaceful nature. Only looking at the political nature of the protest and the commentators can tell the full story.

You may even find it possible to sympathise with those who are disillusioned with “A to B marches”, mistakenly, I would argue. There is not simply a space for all different kinds of tactics in a battle against this full frontal attack on our public services, there is a need for using every tactic we have. That A to B marches didn’t stop the war is a common enough argument. Well, direct action won’t either, not in itself. We do not know what will achieve change in this society. We do know some of the characteristics of whatever it turns out to be. Firstly it will be mass, massive, untold numbers. Half as million will seem tame by comparison. Secondly it will have to confront a desperate state lashing out to preserve itself, just like the protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo and the inspiring uprising in Bahrain. Those with wealth, luxury and power will not give it up without a fight, and a fight is what they’re going to have to face.

The one type of mass action that cannot be ignored for long is strike action. No matter how many stores are occupied, windows broken, streets blockaded, none of these actions is a strong as a well-organised and determined strike. It’s why Thatcher spent so much time and money undermining them.

For this government to be stopped, we need to see the trade unions stop the phoney war and get on the picket line.

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