October 20: The view from Oxford Circus
Despite a large escort of police and a helicopter assigned specially for us (we had a chopper above us from about 11am to 5pm) we weren’t deemed a major target for the most part, and made it to Trafalgar Square with little incident and a lot of happy folks taking papers, leaflets etc. At the square we made a sudden breakaway to head up and join Boycott Workfare as part of our ongoing campaign to bring down a piece of legislation which sees companies and charities using free labour from the unemployed to undercut low-paid workers’ conditions.
Between 50 and 100 people came along with us as we headed to a number of Workfare participants starting with McDonalds, where we blocked off the doors with chants such as “Nooooooo wages? Oooooooutrageous!” (congratulations to the main man on the megaphone by the way, that was some epic chant leading).
This was followed by The Salvation Army, where they seemed vaguely entertained, then on to another McDonalds, where they took the bizarre decision to lock their own customers in for a while. It’s a bold way to increase custom, for sure. M&S, just down the road, was next and treated to a rousing rendition of “You say Workfare, we say unfair!”
Primark (below) was fifth on the list, largely shutting down the road nearby as a combination of protesters, badly-parked police vans and shoppers totally filled the street, forcing drivers to listen to explanations of precisely how Workfare is stripping claimants of their dignity while putting hundreds out of work.
We finished up with a third McDonalds, by which time reports were already circulating that the mad, bad Solidarity Federation had been taking part in “anti-social behaviour” (15.55) – mind you, the Guardian seemed to be accusing UK Uncut of terrorism today, so as libels go ours was at least pretty mild.
What was notable today is that our numbers are up on last time, despite a serious drop-off of numbers for the TUC rally as a whole. So if today says anything it’s that the number of people who are prepared to go on an A-B anti-cuts march so they can listen to Ed Miliband say “oh, well we’d do the same, fnar fnar” is shrinking. The number of people who are prepared to directly confront businesses and force change through direct action is on the rise.
Marching Is Not Enough – Boycott Workfare and DPAC Show the Way
Union leaders have repeatedly threatened campaigns of direct action or civil disobedience aimed at austerity which have never materialised. Yesterday hundreds of people decided to ignore their speeches in Hyde Park and take part in the mass shut down of workfare exploiters on Oxford Street or join DPAC in blockading Park Lane.
The Radical Workers bloc, called by Solidarity Federation, which joined the unofficial feeder march from South London, was well attended and spirited. Determined and disciplined fitwatching along the route of the march ensured that police intelligence gathering was kept to a minimum.
On arrival at Trafalgar Square a large portion of the march outwitted the heavy police presence and broke away from the route. For a short period it seemed as if the glories of last year on March 26th, when every bank and The Ritz was given a taste of working class rage, might be repeated. Sadly this was not to be.
Whilst the mob stormed through the back streets of the West End, hundreds of people were already gathering at Oxford Circus for the Boycott Workfare actions. As the crowd swelled a samba band and impressively loud soundsystem led the crowd to the Carnaby branch of the workfare exploiting Hilton Hotel chain. After a brief occupation of the hotel, the fast moving protest moved on to target Primark, McDonalds, Marks & Spencers and the Salvation Army who are all involved in using unpaid labour.
Tax dodgers Starbucks, Boots and Vodafone were also targeted and many stores rushed to close as the protest approached. Despite some scuffles, and a strong response to any sign of aggresive policing, the day remained peaceful, with just a couple of arrests reported by legal monitors.
Meanwhile the news came through that Disabled People Against Cuts had blocked the busy Park Lane with wheelchair users chaining themselves together to stop traffic. Whilst some people left Oxford Street to join them, others played a cat and mouse game with police around the West End. Police attempts to kettle or contain people were thwarted by the speed of protesters, but ultimately it all got a bit messy and confused. The large crowd repeatedly become separated and groups at times found themselves running in different directions. Eventually the splintered protest diminished and there are lessons to be learnt.
Whilst the march overall was well attended, the numbers were much reduced from last year’s TUC demo on March 26th. Marches, whilst great for meeting people, are ultimately ineffective and at worst merely serve to give the impression of consent. If just 10% of the people who marched passively against the Iraq war had instead blockaded air bases or taken militant direct action against high value targets then the mass slaughter that followed in the Middle East may never have taken place. We cannot make the same mistake now that the UK, along with the rest of Europe, is being plunged into a neo-liberal capitalist hell whilst the rich co-ordinate the destruction of any last form of meaningful resistance to their greed.
It’s of little surprise that it’s benefit claimants and disabled people who are fighting hardest against the vicious and needless austerity drive. The so called squeezed middle, who seem to be the only people that matter – other than the rich – to all three political parties, are indeed facing job insecurity or cut backs to their living standards. For the low waged, disabled or unemployed people, the situation is far more acute as the poorest are scapegoated and blamed for all of capitalism’s problems.
We are fighting for our homes, our health, our kids and in all too many cases our lives. The death toll from austerity is real and grows every day. No amount of marching to Hyde Park and listening to Ed Milliband promising more of the same will change that.
Strikes, occupations, blockades, sabotage and direct confrontation are all we have left. If the trade unions genuinely want a future that works then co-ordinated surrenders, as happened over public pensions, are a betrayal of working class people. This really isn’t a dress rehearsal, they want to take away everything we’ve won. The question is do we have what it takes to stop them?
Above pic from: http://www.facebook.com/boycottworkfare