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Taking a broader perspective…

Editorial: Day of Solidarity in Manchester

Today, we attended the Manchester Day of Solidarity. It has to be said whatever other issues there are the principle of having a large demonstration in the North is a good one. If we are serious about building a broad movement then this has to be inclusive of all geographical areas and London is costly and time consuming to reach from many areas of the country so there is nothing wrong with holding large events outside of London.

The event started at 10.30. Why this had to be so is a bit baffling. If you were being cynical you would suggest that this was either to ensure the continued primacy of London or else to make building for the demonstration harder. 

Reaching the demonstration presented us with our first challenge. A friendly bus driver pointed us on our way but dropped us off far too early. So, we were left beginning the day of demonstrating walking up a seemingly endless road to destination that we weren’t entirely sure was where we were headed. The odd dropped placard and deposit of police horse droppings provided an occasional clue we were on the right track but further assistance was required from the various shop owners who were generally helpful. Eventually we found our way and were confronted with the heartening scene of about 3-4,000 protestors eagerly awaiting the speakers and the rally.  Not a bad turnout but it was noticeable that union representation was a little thin. It was especially disappointing that there were not larger contingents from the GMB and Unite (Len McCluskey had been billed to speak but disappointingly didn’t even make it) but also from the FBU and PCS. Occasionally you could spot a Unison banner or CWU one but the majority of the union presence was from education unions like the UCU and we would say the majority of the march was not comprised of trade unionists. However, this really was a march of solidarity with sign language being provided alongside the main speaking.

Via Twitter we learned that Aaron Porter had been chased by about 1,000 students firing eggs in his direction. Porter doesn’t deserve sympathy – he has failed his members and deserves both the eggs and the very loud boos that were hurled his way. However, if it’s true that Tony Lloyd, the Labour MP for Manchester Central and chair of the Labour Party Trade Union Group of MP’s, was egged that is a different story. All the speakers emphasised the need for unity which is true but Porter has failed in his democratic duty so calls for unity in his case are an apologia for his failure. However, in the case of Lloyd no such case can be made – indeed, one rather worrying conclusion is that his crime is either a) being an MP or b) being a member of the Labour Party. Whether this movement likes it or not, if it’s to succeed it needs to draw in a large section of the Labour Party and the trade unions behind it as well as, of course, continuing to attract support from other parties like the Greens and the organised far-left and those currently who are not in any party. The attack on Lloyd can legitimately be classed as an attack on the unity of the movement and his treatment may give us some clues as the low numbers of trade unionists mobilised.

How the rally ended provided a further illustration of the problems the movement faces. It was quite clear towards the end that people were getting restless and impatient with the speakers and that a sizeable number wanted to march. Understandable given that the rally was petering out and it wasn’t even two o clock; no matter what time you arrived that is an early finish. So, a group of masked protestors; some carrying black and red flags and some carrying Socialist Worker placards marched off (this after the SWP tried to sell the anarchists a newspaper). Not many followed and clown policeman urged non-participation but eventually more and more started to follow and even the clown policeman followed. The self-appointed vanguard was successful because it judged the mood of the majority better than the official organisers who were far too busy trying to stay within safe channels; those that wanted to march were left with no choice but to follow the vanguard. Under half remained to hear the rally end which was a shame and unfair on the remaining speakers but was a consequence of the organisers playing it too safe and the splitting tactics of the self-appointed vanguard.

Guarded by the clown police officers (who were protesters, just to be clear) the movement split up through police tactics/and or a deliberate strategy by the protesters and marched down the streets. It was apparent the police were prepared for heavy-handed tactics as several police vans and horses followed with some proceeding to the track protesters further on. Then, for some reason, the police stopped and something was said and then a protester was arrested.

All we gathered was that he swore at a police officer, and before someone says he can’t be arrested for that we later heard an officer threatening a protester with arrest if they swore at them. With the protester pinned to the ground by three police officers and with the police sending reinforcements they began to form a kettle around the protester, arguably as more people began to take pictures of the incident. We retaliated chanting “let him go” and “shame on you”.

After the protester was arrested, we continued to meet up with another group who were being kettled by the police (again). There seemed to be some cross shouting by the police and suddenly the kettle broke and ran away; some made it out whilst others were reketteld. We were fortunately on the other side, so we went around. Sadly, the police had been able to interrupt the movement’s coherence; but it actually worked against the police, as every where you turned there were more protesters, whilst smaller groups, they were making their presence known and getting the public’s attention.

Injecting between trying to catch up with the main movement, we randomly spoke to a student protester. We had a good talk about student life, politics and politics, and some more politics. Jane even tried to convince him that anarchism isn’t what the media makes out it is. Don’t think it worked, though.We reached the city hall, with police surrounding every angle. Then, with the sound of a boom box, another section of the protesters appeared. We followed them, with the movement becoming so broken up it sometimes felt as though we were taking a stroll with the police (but not with the calming feel a stroll can give you).

We eventually came to another group of protesters who were being kettled by the police. It didn’t take long for the police to bring up more and more reinforcements. A police officer turned to us as we protested against the ketteling and told us, as though we had a choice, that we can either voluntary go into the kettle or move on. The police then mobilised their horses, forcing us down the street away from the ketteling. A protester was left laying on the floor and was encircled by the stamping hooves of police horses! The police tried to reclaim their image by letting kids pat their horses, but it just didn’t wash. As a protester chanted; “get that animal off the horse”.

As one protester proclaimed: “fucking democracy my arse”.

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Filed under: Activism, Editorials, , , , , , ,

6 Responses

  1. […] Myself and Jane Watkinson have penned a report on today’s events in Manchester over on Broad Left Blogging… […]

  2. Jen says:

    Hmmm – you could have got an earlier train?
    Interesting blog but somewhat marred by the patronising start which seems to imply that travelling outside London is a necessary evil. All of us who have travelled down to London 3 or 4 times now (at some considerable cost) have also had to negotiate late trains/ unfamiliar streets/ and usually less than friendly natives when asking for directions.

    Maybe you didn’t mean the beginning of this to be quite so churlish but the tone’s not quite right at the moment.

  3. Jen,

    Point taken. However, our lateness has nothing to do with the start time or location. We can see how you got this impression and have edited for clarity.

    You have however read us wrong. We said:

    “If we are serious about building a broad movement then this has to be inclusive of all geographical areas and London is costly and time consuming to reach from many areas of the country so there is nothing wrong with holding large events outside of London.”

    We want to see more events organised outside of London and feel this will help the movement.

    Hope that clears things up.

  4. Dave Haslam says:

    The TUC depressed me today. They dominated the rally in Platt Fields in Manchester with dreary speeches and droning on about stuff we all know, failure to inspire. No music, no songs, no speeches from young people or any sign of young people on the platform of. 500 young kids just left and marched back into town; they were the breakaway group and who can blame them?. TUC need to find some joy, and plug into our dreams. I’m tempted to say NUT, Unite, GMB, Unison; maybe you’re part of our problems, not part of the solution.

  5. John Reid says:

    Re: arrest for swearing at a Police officer, If its not accompanied by a “hate” word or threats of intimidation, A police officer can only arrest a person for swearing if someoene else is around to hear it and the P.C ,judge that anyone else might be offended by it,

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