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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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Editorial: Report on Leeds’ #Dayx Protests!

It was a cold, crispy day that for us started as it meant to go on; in spontaneity! Nearly missing the start of the march, the police stopped the bus we were on one stop before we were set to get off, but the bus driver kindly (for once) let us off the bus. We ran up to the march, Jane falling over in the process, to catch up with the chanting and collective spirit of the movement. We were greeted by creative and classic rally chants such as “David Cameron f*** off back to Eton”, “Shame on Nick Clegg for Turning Blue” and “No Ifs No Buts No Education Cuts” (please note, we tried to take a picture of the flying condom with “F***** by debt” but it blew away in the wind!) A morning of Duran Duran tunes, and we are back to 1980s in everything but the date. On the day that Ireland announces a further damaging ‘rescue plan’ (aka. shock doctrine poison) that will rise VAT, cut public sector jobs and minimum wage but leave the unfathomably low corporation tax unchanged, this unified direct action is more important than ever.

The march itself was largely good-natured and, in light of reports coming from London especially, notable for the relatively sensible behaviour of the police. True, the police horses themselves were sometimes a bit restive but that’s probably to be expected with the volume of noise coming from the demonstration. No serious attempt was made to ‘kettle’ demonstrators and when the demonstration tested the police by appearing to change direction from the scheduled route they responded by simply adapting rather than with heavy-handedness. It was hard to tell what onlookers made of the passing demonstration but it was certainly noticed by people looking out of office windows and early Christmas shoppers alike. When the march reached its destination, the police once again demonstrated their common sense as the order was clearly heard for the uniformed officers to ‘fall back’ and let the protestors peacefully assemble. This gives the lie to the myth that ‘kettling’ is a necessary part of crowd control, it simply is not; it’s provocative and reckless.

The spirit of the movement was spontaneity through and through. Yes, there had been prior organisation, but the day had an air of self-development; there was music, peaceful direct action – with a sharp purposeful edge to it – there were students from secondary school, college, sixth-form and university. We were untied together and will become more untied the more this government attempts to curtail freedom of speech – as it has done today in shamefully supporting the kettling of a rightful protest! Contra to the police statements, the beauty of twitter has enabled those within the kettling to inform us that they haven’t been able to go to the loo, nor have water, nor eat whilst standing in the cold. A very direct and to the point blog, which we recommend you read, is Michael Crick’s regarding the hypocrisy (yes, again) of the LibDems’ regarding kettling.

There was still the spontaneity and vibrancy within the occupation, but it was curtailed slightly by the hierarchical and vanguard formations within talks of what, where, who. There were even ‘votes’ and debates in regards to whether a chair should be instated; whilst attempting to ensure democratic votes on nearly every aspect being discussed. We are all for democracy, but this type of perfection actually undermines movements such as this; we lost people, especially the younger ones, as we broke out into pointless talks of the advantages and disadvantages of having a chair and criticising the music (which was primarily the younger movement’s creative activity)! There was an attempt to confront the Vice Chancellor, but a delegation instead of the mass were sent to make sure we maintained the occupation. This is fully understandable, but the size of the university got the room talking about the possibilities of more targeted small-scale protests. We will continue to protest until we are listened to. Michael Gove can talk about giving us no oxygen, but he is ignoring the very voices he pretends to value so much.

Janus Face Clegg

In conclusion, the protests today were in many ways a greater success than the now famous one that included the occupation of Millbank. This movement is still finding its way and that is shown by the tensions between democracy and a self-appointed vanguard; however, one thing is striking and that is the fact that although it is principally concerned with issues immediate to it like the raising of tuition fees and abolition of EMA there are components within it that are drawing broader lessons and considering wider issues (like the demands to place upon Labour councillors, for example) and the role of the banks etc,etc. The challenge is how we maintain the momentum which spontaneous struggle will only carry so far and how we deal with the issue of burn-out. We also have to be careful of leaving people behind; something that happened noticeably during the occupation, and ensure that the movement’s energies are not spent unwisely at this early stage.

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

Editorial: A consistently democratic response to the occupation of Millbank

Yesterday was a beginning of sorts, it was the beginning of a period of political instability and of enforced desperation. This desperation is a product of a number of things; the brutality of this government and the inability of the main opposition Party in Westminster, Labour, to present a clear, radical alternative vision of how society should be after the current crash and those parties that do present a more radical vision, like the Greens, to breakthrough into representative forums like Westminster. However, desperation is not an automatic justification of any action.

The context of any action is important. Of course, if there had been riot police from the off, attacking a rightful democratic process, the right to self-defense is paramount. However, what happened yesterday, was more complicated than this. The movement of the so-called ‘minority’, the rightful direct action and occupation of Millbank, was more an expression of a majority; what was a minority, which dented the message of the majority, was the very few people – who we call the self-appointed ‘vanguard’ – who decided violence was a better form of action.

The control of Millbank, was established through mainly peaceful acts (through a revolving door as we understand it), and the police just looked on (an onlooker apparently was told by the police they were outnumbered and would let the action go). Why then did a few people decide to use smoke bombs, smash windows (within this context, breaking windows is rather self-defeating when trying to occupy a building)? The reaction to the dropping of a fire extinguisher from the top of the roof typifies the majorities displeasure of a few who decided to take things onto another level; videos show the majority chanting “stop throwing shit” and booing, illustrating the isolation of the minority.

We support the movement and the peaceful direct action of the majority. The NUS is wrong to reject the actions of the movement and try to lump the actions of the majority in with the self-appointed ‘vanguard’; an undemocratic body of people whose actions do not empower the movement but, like the timidity of the NUS leadership, splinter and divide its energies.  It is quite clear from what we have seen that the movement rejects both and so do we through a clear commitment to consistent democracy.

There is an argument that the minority’s violence should be supported through understanding of the pain that the higher education and general eduction policies will cause. Whilst we agree that these policies will cause considerable pain, the minority’s actions distracted from a very powerful majority protest and message – especially the peaceful aspects of the direct occupation – which if had been carried out the way it started, would have been the positive talking point of the demonstration, instead of the violence.

Going forward, we need to resist the witch hunting and hypocrisy of the mainstream media but we can only do that by taking what was positive from yesterday. In Manchester it looks like that is already happening with the occupation of Manchester University; an empowering and liberating act of resistance. We cannot avoid the real issues presented to us yesterday, which are not just about confronting the establishment but also rejecting, decisively, the actions of the self-appointed ‘vanguard’. A consistent commitment to democracy and democratic (and we include direct action here, not just the narrow Westminster centric notion of what is democratic) methods of struggle is the best, most empowering and therefore most likely to be successful, way forward.

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