Monday, 28 March 2011

The TUC March for the Alternative - and some alternatives

Today, I've been mulling over the events of yesterday, the TUC March for the Alternative, doing some belated spring cleaning... and endlessly uploading photos to my Flickr site. I've got more pictures of the evening's events, in truth, because I had a rather odd march - not actually, erm, marching (though I walked blooming miles)!

I travelled down to the Strand early on with Barnet colleagues (comrades?!) on the tube, we met up and posed for some pics and got into our orange easyCouncil t-shirts. It was a very good turnout from Barnet.

I went off to try and find Middlesex University Students Union and staff who were supposed to be assembling in Trafalgar Square - I never found them!

Then I went and took photographs of the demonstration as it formed up. Since I walked the length of it and came out the far end, I got to see the people joining it from the back, coming over the bridges from the south and down from King's Cross and so on.

At that point I had to hop on a 63 bus to King's Cross myself, to pick up some materials for the No Sweat stall. (No Sweat, have I never mentioned that?) I'd taken on responsibility for getting it to Speaker's Corner so people could hand out leaflets.

At Speaker's Corner I hung up the No Sweat banner, had a wander, took more pictures of the crowds at the rally in Hyde Park. Deft mention by Ed Miliband of his belief in "the necessity of some cuts" - but so fast you might almost miss it. On the whole, his speech was well received by the crowd. Very little booing!

People were still arriving in the park in the early evening, long after the TUC had begun to dismantle its stage.

I stopped by the Libyan embassy to support the protest there.

The rest of the evening I spent making my way to the Tube station... via Piccadilly, with scenes of anarchist mayhem, Piccadilly Circus, and Trafalgar Square.

I'm not a photographer, or even a straight reporter, but I think I have the instincts of a newshound. I got some hairy pictures, including of two injured policemen in Trafalgar Square.

My overall view of the violence yesterday is:

1. The TUC march of around half a million people was peaceful and sent a clear message against cuts. That is the main story.

2. Different fringe groups organised different protests: I don't have any objection to UK Uncut "fluffy" stunts inside big stores that don't pay enough tax and exploit workers in the UK and, more particularly, overseas (here my No Sweat training kicks in). I understand UK Uncut were behind the non-violent occupation at Fortnum and Mason - someone else put the windows in.

There were other groups making "spikier" protests, I don't know much about them. Personally, I wouldn't smash windows in and I certainly wouldn't throw stuff at police - unless, perish the thought, in self-defence. I don't like seeing people injured. But I don't think that exhausts the topic of whether kicking in windows or throwing paint at capitalist icons is ever a useful political tactic... we could discuss that at length some time!

3. The scene in Trafalgar Square in the evening was mixed. It boiled down to a messy party. I actually think there is a case to be made for having messy parties everywhere so long as it is not too often, and that includes Trafalgar Square. It actually belongs to hoi polloi as well. Mostly people were getting drunk and listening to sound systems. The hostage to fortune was that bloody Olympic clock - just as at Christmas the hostage to fortune had been the Norwegian Christmas tree.

It provided a focus for people who did want to make trouble and start some argy-bargy with the police. (Laurie Penny in the Guardian says this was not how the trouble started, but the myth of the Olympic clock serves as a reasonable proxy for what happened, I think.) The policing up to that point had been minimal and light-touch. See my pic of four bobbies beneath the lamplight. Thereafter, it wasn't. I think it was over the top compared to the extent of the risk. Some people want to have a go at the police, the overwhelming majority of people there didn't, and they certainly weren't dressed for it. But the police are semi-militarised. Their reaction yesterday will only increase what is becoming a cycle of violence. I think they need new tactics.

4. My final reflection on "violence", or rather "aggro", is that if the labour movement were responding anything like adequately to the attacks on the welfare state, the anarchists would be pulled along in the slipstream of the larger movement. And the police and other forces of "law and order", courts, etc, would be having to decide what to do about more widespread "disorder" in the form of industrial action and occupations to defend services.

You can call that my alternative.

My Flickr pictures are here.

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