UK Unmasked and the New Kids on the Bloc
Analysis by a member of the Anarchist Federation on the "March for the Alternative" (March 26th 2011) and the political trends expressed within it, especially UK Uncut and the Black Bloc, in relation to the growing anti-cuts movement in the UK. From Organise! 76 - Summer 2011 (forthcoming issue).
The following was a call out from the Solidarity Federation for a campaign to help win wages owed to an ex-employee of Office Angels, Dan. Numerous emails and phone calls were directed at the Wimbledon branch with a view to getting him paid. Pickets were also set up outside Office Angels by members of the West Yorkshire Solidarity Federation / Leeds Anarchist Federation and South London Solidarity Federation. This flyer was distributed at the pickets.
As it stands the money still isn’t with Dan. We are hoping to escalate this campaign and would advise employees with grievances against Office Angels to get in contact with the Solidarity Federation on southlondonsf [AT] solfed.org.uk.
For latest developments in the campaign check out this thread on the libcom forums. Remember, solidarity is strength!
Solidarity Federation are organising a campaign against this agency after an ex-employee asked for our assistance. Dan worked for Office Angels for three days in December of last year. He was assured by the company that the lack of a time-sheet would 'not be a problem'. However, Office Angels are refusing to pay him the wages he is owed - falsely claiming he only worked for one day, despite them having called him at work on his third day. After completely ripping him off, they had the nerve to harass him for seeking advice on an internet discussion forum.
Temporary workers face similar unacceptable conditions every day. They work without sick pay or maternity leave, are vulnerable to unfair and instant dismissals and have no union support. Rising unemployment and a bleak economic climate will force even more of us to accept these precarious conditions - yet another example of working class people being exploited by an economic system that only benefits the rich.
The best way to improve our conditions at work and in our communities is by standing together and resisting. We want to hear from any current or previous Office Angels employees that have come into conflict with this company and its culture of disrespect. We know that this is not an isolated incident and the more people get involved, the more pressure we can put on the company to start treating its workers properly.
From Bristol AF group blog, posted on 22nd April 2011. See also video via The Commune and other local blog report. Stokes Croft is a main road in/out of Bristol city centre and the site of an unwanted Tescos store opposite a squatted social space ‘Telepathic Heights’.
Around 10pm on Thursday 21st April, people from Stokes Croft and St Pauls in Bristol, reacting to blatant provocation, started attacking riot police gathered from three different forces with glass bottles. What ensued was seven hours of constant clashes; police charges, volleys of glass, brick and concrete, burning barricades and the trashing of a much-loathed Tesco recently forced on a community who for so long battled to stop it opening.
Just before 9pm, police had forcibly removed a small protest from outside the Tesco, which had been there since the store opened a week earlier and set up a cordon closing that stretch of the road. Their stated aim was to enter the squatted ‘Telepathic Heights’, an iconic, graffiti covered building opposite Tesco. They claimed to be acting on intelligence that suggested some occupants where planning to make petrol bombs with which to attack Tesco. Even if this intelligence was accurate, the numbers of police was far disproportionate to the half a dozen occupants of the squat.
The blocking of road by the police and the news that Telepathic Heights was threatened and that the Tesco protest had been forcibly broken up meant it wasn’t long before a substantial crowd had gathered. The crowd became more and more angry as police refused to give justification for their presence, pushing or hitting anyone who got close to their lines. The increased tension of recent months, which has built up as austerity measures begin to kick in and the community of Stokes Croft and St Pauls feel ever more ignored and marginalised, had found a focal point and personification in the belligerence of the police. All it took was for someone to tip over a glass recycling bin.
After the initial barrage of bottles, a retreat into St Pauls. As people came out their doors to see police marching through their streets, many joined in defending against the police. A routine of the police charging then retreating under a hail of bottles and bricks started to develop. Bins were set on fire and charged into police lines, others were used to form makeshift barricades. Around 1pm police retreated back to Stoke Croft and soon found themselves and their vans surrounded. The vans were prevented from moving off as others pelted them from a side street. Eventually the police broke out and sped away in the vans out of sight further up the road.
Celebrations broke out as the crowd realised they had the streets. Calls of “Smash Tesco!” rang out. Tesco windows and an abandoned police vehicle were smashed and a police trailer full of riot equipment was looted. Police then returned to the area. More clashes as police forced people back into St Pauls and down Stokes Croft before finding themselves again outmanoeuvred and at which point they again retreated. This time Tesco’s windows went all the way through as well as the shutters behind. When the police came back, their vans sped straight into the crowd. At least one person was caught behind police lines, unable to get out of Tesco in time and took a frenzied beating whilst on the floor. Someone else was run over, sustaining an injury to his foot and others hit by vans. Next time it was made sure vans would not be able to manoeuvre in this was as a skip was dragged into the road. Tesco was entered a second time and objects being lunched from rooftops made it increasingly difficult for the police.
A number of injuries were sustained and nine arrests made including four of the occupants of Telepathic Heights. Police report that eight of their number were hospitalised.
One local resident noted the police had “thrown a quarter century of semi-decent community policing down the drain” another saying “If they [the police] don’t calm down, things are getting tense enough on a range of other issues for a new pattern to develop of poor community relations and repeat rioting against a police force which has chosen political sides”.
The police provoked this. Turning up in this area of Bristol with such numbers, attacking Telepathic Heights and blatantly using public money to defend the interests of a corporate giant such as Tesco was always going to get a reaction.
The following is an open letter published 28/3/2011 by sections of the Solidarity Federation who with the Anarchist Federation had called for a Radical Workers Bloc jointly on the day of the 26th March demonstration.
One video link below clearly shows how those on the UKUncut occupation of Fortnum and Mason were deceived and then arrested and charged by police giving rise to their self-professed 'record' arrest rate on March 26th. 138 of 149 charges (reported so far) were from this one event and only 11 charges from elsewhere. It seems clear that the police were following expert advice to treat UKUncut as domestic extremists and to more quickly arrest and charge.
Also the Guardian video following the police around all day shows that 'black bloc' was being used operationally as a term for any group coming and going in masks rather than more static protesters.
A letter to UK Uncutters from the 'violent minority'
We're writing this to you to try and prevent the anti-cuts struggle being split up and weakened by the media.
We are anarchists (well, anarcho-syndicalists, technically) – a word that is much misunderstood and misrepresented.
We are also students, workers and shop stewards. We co-organised a 'Radical Workers Bloc' on the South London feeder march. The aim was to provide a highly visible radical presence within the workers movement of which we are a part, advocating strikes, occupations and civil disobedience.
Reply from Brighton Uncut: http://brightonuncut.wordpress.com/2011/03/31/open-letter-to-solfed-and-uk-uncut/
Some useful links:
UKUncut getting deceived by police, 'let go' then kettled & arrested, amounting to the vast majority of arrests and charges made on 26th March, 28/3/2011: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/video/2011/mar/28/fortnum-mason-protesters-uk-uncut-video
BBC Newsnight, Report on Black Bloc, Interview with UK Uncut individual on Newsnight 28th March impressively countering Paul Mason's 'two demonstations' story: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5IhS7yBcMnE
BBC News London, London cuts march: Government sticking to plan - Cable, 27/3/2011: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12874631
The Guardian, March for the Alternative: behind police lines - video, showing intention not to allow so-called 'criminal' trespass and giving us the operational definition of Black Bloc: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/video/2011/mar/28/march-alternative-police-video
Press release: UK Uncut condemns political policing at peaceful protest (30th Jan 2011, earlier protest where CS spray was used by police): http://www.ukuncut.org.uk/blog/press-release-uk-uncut-condemns-political-policing-at-peaceful-protest
Video recording from thinktank Policy Exchange with Domestic Extremism panel giving advice to surpress UKUncut (mentioned around 3 mins after start of video, then near end a recommendation that their website should be taken down, and recommendations for more immediate arrests and immediate charging in general): http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/events/event.cgi?id=285 (video) and Statement about 'extremist' groups on March 26th by ex-Met 'expert', Andy Hayman.
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