One of our favourite sights on the demo was this sensible man sporting the headgear of the revolution ...
Paul Mason's write-up of yesterday's TUC anti-cuts march and rally in Hyde Park picks up on the size and social and cultural range of the demonstration, which saw an estimated turn-out of 500,000 people:
The massive fact of today was a very large demo of trade unionists and their supporters ... The sheer size and social depth of the demo is what all political strategists will now have to sit down and think about ... recording its size is important: the anti-war demo was bigger - maybe 1m plus - but this was certainly the biggest and most representative demo for 25 years ...
At the rally Ed Miliband was heckled by a few, when he said he supported some of the cuts that are coming: Mark Serwotka, the PCS leader, not only called for no cuts at all but fired the crowd up with a call for co-ordinated strike action.
I got a sense that the labour and trade union movement slightly stunned itself with its ability mobilise so many people on the streets. That with Ed Miliband they now have a leader who they don't hate, but in turn Mr Miliband faces a challenge of what to do about this movement.
I picked up a bit of scepticism about him from the protesters; meanwhile his handlers will be pondering the problem of how "associated" he wants to be with the biggest labour protest for 20 years, because most people on the demo would be a little way to the left of the ideas Mr Miliband claims to espouse.
The big takeaway from today is that the trade union movement - though dominated by the public sector - is certainly a force to be reckoned with: what it chooses to do now will be interesting because Miliband's strategists certainly want nothing to do with the mass, co-ordinated strike movement advocated by Serwotka, Len McCluskey etc ...
Mason also comments on the disproportionate media focus on the Occupy for the Alternative non-violent shut-down of shops along Oxford Street, organized by tax-justice activists UK Uncut, and the small number of anarchists affiliated with the black bloc tactic who targeted banks, not people:
At present the sporadic violence around Piccadilly is dominating the headlines. The three groups are getting coverage in inverse proportion to their importance: the anarchists with their thunderflash thowing (I've been close to this stuff all day and it is, though dangerous, fairly ritualistic); the UKUncut groups (a couple of thousand) which have managed to shut down many branches of Vodafone, Boots, various banks and Top Shop with largely nonviolent direct action; and 300,000 people who demonstrated completely peacefully, enduring for many four to five hours of marching and standing.
This passive but fairly angry mass are the people that pose the biggest political problem both for the government and the opposition; because when you can mobilise more or less your entire workplace - be it a special school, a speech therapy centr[e], a refuse depot, an engineering shop or a fire station—to go on a march, then "something is up".
Those identifying with all of these interests converged at Fortnum & Mason, with some inside the building, and the agile climbing onto the awning to unfurl UK Uncut banners, and planting the black-and-red flag—it is worth noting the shared platform as well as the important differences, and that some people in the crowd had joined from attending the main march and rally. UK Uncut's press release states that their non-violent occupation of Fortnum & Mason was "over the tax dodge of over 40 million by its owners Whittington Investments which have a 54% stake in Associated British Foods who produce Ryvita, Kingsmill and others and own Primark. ABF have dodged over £40 million in tax."
Predictably, some media reports are claiming that the TUC-organized march was "hijacked" but the real hijacking is, perhaps, orchestrated by the media in their representation of a small proportion of a much bigger day: the Observer suggests that the "mood [was] marred by violent minority" whilst the Daily Mail is, of course, suggesting that the shop was full of violent "extremists" threatening customers and causing damage. But videos from inside the occupation, and Laurie Penny's New Statesman report present a different picture. Alex Pinkerman, the pseudonym of UK Uncut's spokesperson, writes on the Guardian Comment is Free site that
The UK Uncut actions were organised to work in tandem with the TUC March for the Alternative in order to make space for people wanting to engage in creative civil disobedience as their way of expressing opposition to the cuts. It was positive. It was in solidarity. We were not seeking to grab headlines - we did what we always do, engage in creative sit-down protest. We are all in this together ...
There has been tremendous confusion in the media about what UK Uncut had organised. Some on Twitter have been asking whether we should have organised an action at the same time as the march. Some who attended the march feel we hijacked their event. To this we say: "We are with you, and our occupations were in no way an attempt to grab headlines."
There has been anger directed at us because some media outlets incorrectly used our name for actions we did not organise, giving every action the name UK Uncut. But it is clear, if you spend two minutes on our website, who we are, what we are about, and what our plans were. More accurate, grassroots reporting is emerging that tells the true story.
Visit the Guardian to read the article in full.
In a similar vein, Clare Solomon, who, as President of University of London Union, was centrally involved in the student protests beginning in the closing months of 2010, writes about coverage of the unplanned mass occupation of Tory HQ in Springtime: The New Student Rebellions:
Around fifty students made it onto the roof of the seven-storey building, including one wheelchair user who dragged himself up the stairs. They hung banners and sent text messages in solidarity with public-sector workers. And on the ground the atmosphere was electric: a combination of anger and complete disbelief at what was actually happening. It didn't feel ‘radical', it felt inevitable. Around fifty police arrived, but this only added to the anger. Hostile gestures by both them and Tory staff inside the building provoked demonstrators, and before we knew it windows were being broken and fires lit to keep warm while we celebrated the rebirth of the student movement. Inside the foyer of another building we could see large TV screens showing live news coverage. How the media chose to represent the events shocked us. We saw dancing, they showed flames. We chanted angry slogans and danced; they showed repeatedly a couple of images or incidents which made the demonstration look like all hell had broken loose.
Richard Seymour, author of The Liberal Defence of Murder, offers clear-eyed commentary on the aims of protest, cutting through the limited perspective provided by much of the mainstream media:
A big march like this a wonderful, confidence-giving, life-breathing event. It helps give definition to the forces, from the left and the labour movement, who are prepared to resist the austerity project. It gives those involved a sense of their potential power. And hopefully it will lead to strike action to defend jobs and services, as Mark Serwotka, Len McCluskey and Billy Hayes promised from the platform.
Yet, what is strike action but a highly orchestrated and strategically situated form of disruption? And is that not what those who occupied Fortnum & Mason's, the most pretentious shop in London with the possible exception of Harrods, and paintballed the usual UK Uncut targets, did today? Isn't the whole intention to normal commerce and governance impossible, to make life difficult until they stop their attacks on us? Surely, the only possible basis for criticising this from an anti-cuts point of view is tactical? If it harms the movement, then there's a case for having this out within the movement. If, on the other hand, it does not harm the movement, then the real wreckers are those dispensing pithy denunciations according to script. Let's also drop the idea that this was done by nutters in balaclavas and face masks. The people involved were a mixture of activists from a variety of political backgrounds, engaging in a serious form of disruptive protest. There were trade unionists outside Fortnum & Mason's cheering them on, and I wouldn't be surprised if there were a few inside as well. Effective protest will always depend on a minority who are willing to risk arrest, or state violence, in order to throw a spanner in the works of unjust policies. Ed Miliband, speaking today, made his usual bland plea for 'peaceful' (meaning legal, parliamentarist) protest, while also situating this movement in the history of suffragism, civil rights and anti-apartheid struggles. Such revisionism does us no favours. All of those struggles were won by people who broke the law, and who devised strategies for breaking the law ...
Seymour also comments on the use of violence by the police in Trafalgar Square at the end of the day:
Every eyewitness report has described it as a party, a rave, pungent with the smell of home grown, but with little prospect of it turning into a big deal. At least it was until riot police attacked it, batoning people and roughing them up. They turned a peaceful gathering into a frightened and bloodied huddle, kettled in a small space. They did not break windows, occupy buildings or paintball facades: they cracked skulls. Having waited all day, and maintained a relatively light touch as long as the official TUC march was going on (this is important - they probably don't particularly want to sour relations with the trade union bureaucracy), they found their opportunity at nightfall by attacking a very small and defenceless crowd of ravers. As they have done on previous occasions, they started a fight and then took the ensuing melee as an excuse to kettle their victims. Why would they do this?
You may as well ask why they would assault Jody Macintyre, put Alfie Meadows in hospital, punch a fifteen year old boy, and rough up teenage girls.
Visit Lenin's Tomb to read the article in full.