Were the Nov. 9th protests a game changer as we suggested they could be in a previous post? The answer is yes but certainly not in the way that we were hoping events would turn out! The hoped for meeting up of the sparks and students to unite as one protest was shafted by what can best be described as ‘total policing’ tactics from the Met aimed at intimidating and frustrating protesters every step of the way.
From the reports we’ve heard so far, the electrician’s action was pretty lively with roads being blocked for a while but the cops soon moved in with the result that the sparks ended up being kettled. You have to go back a long way to remember the last time plod took action against striking workers in this way. What is happening with the sparks action is having a resonance by word of mouth with other construction workers as doubtless they potentially face the shafting the electricians are confronting. We passed a few construction sites yesterday and the march was definitely getting the thumbs up from the builders watching us pass by. What is frustrating and quite scary is the almost total media blackout of the sparks dispute. The journalists are aware this dispute is going on but it’s hard to escape the suspicion that pressure is being applied from high up to keep this story under wraps.
As for the student protest, the turn out was less than the 10,000 that was being predicted in some quarters – it was closer to the 5,000 / 6,000 mark which from the feedback we were getting in the build up was pretty much what we were expecting. There were a variety of factors that contributed to this and there are probably some lessons that could be learnt from the mobilisation process. However, the draconian sentences being handed out to protesters from the wave of actions at the end of 2010 plus those involved in the summer riots is inevitably going to have a chilling effect on the desire to hit the streets and protest. When you add in blatant intimidation from the Met and their paymasters in the government with the authorisation of the use of baton rounds plus the promise of ‘robust’ policing, then in the face of that, the turnout was pretty reasonable.
The new commissioner for the Met, Bernard Hogan-Howe, was obviously keen to put on a good show yesterday to impress his paymasters in the government. How did the Met achieve this? They did this by turning much of the march into a moving kettle shuffling along at a pace dictated by the plod. Every street off the route was blocked by lines of cops and often metal barriers as well. As we went down Fleet Street, before being turned off up Fetter Lane, you could see lines of cops and a massive blue barrier erected across the street to prevent people from getting anywhere near the offices of Goldman Sachs. Going up Fetter Lane, every approach that could have led to Goldman Sachs was blocked by lines of plod and metal barriers. Anyone taking photos of this will have defining images of exactly whose interests the forces of the state are looking after… There’s plenty of propaganda value to be got out of these images!
It appeared that the cops had momentarily lost control when a group of more militant protesters broke surged past the front of the march and broke away to run down towards the Barbican and beyond. The Met hadn’t lost it at all…every exit off the route was blocked by barriers and lines of cops. Sure the militant protesters could run around but it was strictly on terms dictated by the plod who probably permitted this as a way to let off a bit of steam and to ensure the protest was broken up to allow for easier dispersal at the end.
We shouldn’t be surprised at the way yesterday’s protests were policed. Yesterday was the police doing what their paymasters wanted them to do – send out a message that protesting is going to become more frustrating and ultimately more dangerous for anyone taking part. The widespread use of undercover cops on the march was another clear indication of their attempts to intimidate. What we need to bear in mind when faced with the ‘total policing’ tactics we experienced yesterday, is that while the state has considerably more force at its disposal than we could ever dream of getting, they are exercising it from a position of abject fear. They were severely rattled by the student protests at the end of 2010 and totally panicked by the brief wave of riots that swept across England in the summer. The powers that be know the economy is going to nose-dive into a tailspin which has the potential to unleash widespread social unrest – they are desperate to keep the lid on the situation at all costs.
Okay, Nov. 9th proved that for the moment, the state can win a set piece by containing and frustrating a point A to point B march and turning it into a moving kettle. The answer to this little poser is that we don’t give them any more set pieces where they can contain us. The future has to be in dispersed, de-centralised, simultaneous actions taking a variety of forms which will make it much harder for the authorities to track and prioritise which ones they clamp down on. The next National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts action on November 23rd will take the form of walkouts and local actions amongst other things. That is an indication of the way we need to go. It could be all too easy to see Nov. 9th as a setback – let’s not give the powers that be the satisfaction… There are lessons to be learnt for sure but we have it in us to come back and give the state a few surprises!
photo courtesy Rikki at Indymedia Contact email: rikkiindymedia(At)gmail[dot]com