Some thoughts after the student riots of 2010...
The outbreaks of rebellion on November 10th and 24th gave us all a boost there’s nothing like the trashing of authority to warm up a chilly winter. Hopefully the demolition of Millbank, the tug of war with the police in Whitehall and the various occupations of colleges round the country are just the opening round, not only for the students, but for the rest of us facing grim years of cuts, losing our jobs, homes or services… Can we look forward to defiance of the austerity program spreading to public sector workers, council tenants, and beyond?
So far many local or not so local anti-cuts campaigns have sprung up to try to work together to resist. The writers of this leaflet have been involved in anti-cuts campaigns before. For years, in fact three decades, each Spring seemed to bring new rounds of threats to this service or that community centre in our localities. Whatever we think of the state, of local councils, many of these services were vital for people with little else going for them the elderly, the utterly skint, kids with no places to go, the disabled. Each March small groups would get together to fight for their centre or advice line or whatever to stay open, and each time some would be saved and some lost. Usually the loudest or most together (or those that could mobilise well, bring young stroppy kids out on the street etc) would survive; often less organised but no less vital programs would lose their funds. (We think in the end councils used this process to identify which services were likely to fight back and which weren’t, never intending to make all the cuts in the first place.)
The campaigns to resist cuts could be lively and fun, or dull and predictable: often genuine community anger created rowdy and adventurous resistance, while local left groups and union branches made heavy weather of things with turgid meetings and empty threats. But over the years not only did the annual to and fro become more depressing and harder to bring to life each year, but local services got leaner and leaner, housing and homeless services, advice centres, youth groups, disability schemes got thinner and harder to access. There ain’t that much fat left to be trimmed, even before the ‘Coalition’ got going.
When people talk about fighting the cuts, it sometimes seems like its just a new political issue. Bit it isn’t. It’s much more essential than that. Issues are things like opposing nuclear power or being against animal testing. But cuts are not the same thing. They cannot be resisted in the same way. The reason that cuts are being made all across health, housing, education, and so on is to maintain the profits that can no longer be made from a busted economic housing bubble and the bonkers levels of individual debt (credit cards, loans, mortgages, etc). Now the profits to be made are going to come from squeezing the living standards of a large section of the population. The cuts are not being made because the economic system HASN’T worked, they are being made because that’s exactly how the economic system DOES work. It never stops trying to screw us for more and more of what we have had to fight to maintain over the centuries. The Tories make the cuts with relish but if Labour had been elected to power they would be making just the same level of cuts to maintain the same level of profits for the same rich people. Maybe they would have used slightly different words, dressed things up differently, but basically we’d be facing the same shitstorm. After all the credibility they lost going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan and all the other murderous lies, the Labour hierarchy must be really made up to be out of power: they can pose like they wouldn’t cut anything, hoping to wriggle back to some level of support again.
There are differing trains of thought that link the cuts to ‘The Crisis’, or ‘The Deficit’ or ‘The Tories’, but for many there is a much more simple truth it’s just called ‘Life as Normal’. The rich have been getting successfully richer in this country and the poor have been getting poorer or living on credit. If the cuts are setting out to re-float a busted economy of over-inflated debt and speculation by taking more and more from the poorer section of the population, well, it’s just more of the same for most people. Poverty, crap jobs, insecurity, health problems that’s how we’ve been living anyway. But do you still feel like politicians will sort it out for you? Do you feel like if you keep your head down and work hard, you’ll be ok? Do you feel scared? Have you had enough of that shit yet?
Mass unemployment is coming (AGAIN for those of us that remember the 80s!) and with it the ‘disciplining’ of those unable or unwilling to work for shit wages or for free. The promise of a good job and good life after University is an illusion. College leavers and graduates with join the dole queues. This is partly why they’re also attempting to shut people out from going to college why pay for expensive degrees and raise expectations for those people the system needs to be fighting each other for crap jobs?
The cuts will bite hard, and hurt many of us and those around us if we let them. Truth is, the cuts are as much an opportunity as a crisis: a chance to push back, but also a chance to break out of the isolation and fragmentation that has settled over us in the last 30 years. Getting together to halt their cuts can be a step towards remaking the way we live in our OWN interests, We’re surrounded by people who are angry and sad about what’s going on, but many of us keep quiet most of the time. Talking to people, finding out how people feel, could lead to discussing what we might want to do about it…
In some ways the moment we are at now reminds us old farts of the anti-poll tax movement in early 1990. After successfully bashing one group after another for ten years the then tory government over-reacehd itself, hitting millions of people at once with a new tax that threatened to make most of us much poorer. But a huge movement grew up, with twenty million people refusing to pay at one point, community groups pledged to support each other, some strikes by workers against collecting the tax, and a tsunami of protests turning into riots at Town Halls across the country built up to two big riots in London. In the end the government abolished the poll tax... It IS possible to make them back off if we get together and push hard enough. One lesson of the anti-poll tax movement though is to break out of controls by official bodies and left groups. Labour and trade union structures actively tried to hold back the fight against the poll tax; trotskyist groups tried to control it, using it for their own ends, and sabotaging actions and groups that didn't fit their idea or weren't under their thumb. They are already attempting the same with anti-cuts campaigns. Any cuts fight that is going to win needs to be controlled from below by communities, workers, the people under threat; if we hand it to trade union leaders or lefty leaders they will either take the sting out of the movement or use it to push their own power and agenda. They also turn fun and lively resistance into dull meetings and boring slogans, hamstringing people's independent thinking and acting. We have to stay collective and open, always going beyond the polite and useless limits set by political parties and unions.
Greece, France, now here: resistance to the interests of capital and the rich is spreading, getting angrier and looks like making a difference. Let's go for it! Strike...occupy...block their economy... let's take back our lives...
(some of the above we nicked...)
some links to some 'historical' texts about cuts we thought might be useful... maybe a start towards a library or some such...
... but don't get burned
People are obviously divided about the use of 'violence' so far, and the press, the politicians and other lame 'oppositional' voices like the NUS leaders are jumping on this division to try and split any anti-cuts movement right from the start. While aggro is inevitable - people are angry, and the cops aren't gonna let us do what we want without rough stuff - it's important that any movement is built on OUR terms: we don't let the enemy tell us how to run things. Sometimes violence works, sometimes it's not a useful tactic, but dividing along 'violent vs non-violent' lines is playing into their hands. There's many ways to fight back, not everyone wants/is able to push and shove; sometimes occupying is more productive than smashing up a cop van, especially a suspiciously old van, left "abandoned" yards from a police line, handily close to lots of cameras. (Spending twenty minutes trying to smash the toughened glass window of a government building is also slightly pointless) No-one should be pushed into doing things they can't handle. On the flip side, people not into 'violence' shouldn't be doing the police's job, trying to stop people or grassing them up. Accept there are a diversity of tactics and do your own thing. Most important is to WIN, to have fun getting together and spread the fight.
thoughts we have had: many people there especially on November 24th, were already
doing some of these. Many others weren’t. We’re not here to be boring old fuckers
telling people how to do things; but we’ve been in riots, many, for 25 years,
we’ve watched out mates go down, had our heads cracked sometimes, and won a
few. There were young folks out on the 24th who went properly disguised, who
have maybe faced the cops before; others will now learn as the “justice system’
identifies and hammers the people it can lift from these events.
COVER UP: Unless you want to go to prison then it’s a good idea to MASK UP. By this we mean covering your whole face apart from your eyes, not just your chin and mouth. And stay masked up when arriving/leaving actions, because cops and journalists never stop taking pictures, and can identify you from clothes etc. Even if you aren’t going to get up to anything the more folk that mask up the better. People photographed or filmed bashing the fuck out of the cop van on the 24th without covering their faces, even posing for the press, are asking to be picked up afterwards and sent down. The groups who have been targetting the Scientologist Church for a couple of years always wear fun animal masks... We could all wear Cameron masks or whatever. Maybe we could club together some cash for a job lot.
SAY CHEESE? It’s bad enough that the police film our every move, and that there are thousands of CCTV cameras everywhere doing the same. The police FIT team are there for every demo, recording who does what and pointing out people wanted for previous ‘trouble’. We may not be able to prevent this (at recent ukuncut actions the FIT have been going plainclothes, so beware). But we should not just be avoiding making ourselves a spectacle for press cameras, posing with faces uncovered; we need to be getting rid of them. Press pictures and film are used to send people to prison. In the old days we used to drive journalists out of demos, smash their cameras or destroy film. These scum who side with police and the state are all fair targets…
HAPPY SLAPPING: Nowadays we’re also obsessed with taking photos or film ourselves, sticking it up on facebook and youtube etc; if it shows people doing stuff they could be arrested for then IT’S DANGEROUS. The cops trawl these sites gathering info. It could be you or your mates going down next time. Let's just use phones for keeping in touch and co-ordinating movement.
THE KETTLE OFF: Too many times in the last few years large groups
of demonstrators have ended up being kettled, surrounded by police and penned
in one area for hours. Apart from being very boring (and cold on the 24th!),
it allows the police to control our movements, keep us from spreading the action,
and nick who they want. Police intelligence about Millbank was limited but they
won't make that mistake again. At Millbank they weren't ready for people; in
Whitehall they were. It was always obvious they were going to box people in.
So how do we avoid it?
STICKING TOGETHER AND KEEPING MOVING: People could try going in smaller groups, arranging meet ups with other groups too form crowds quickly, head for other targets... On the 24th everyone was focussed on reaching the LibDem HQ, and this had been widely announced for two weeks. In future smaller groups could target other likely buildings, and keep it quiet. Or spread word about some places then hit others. Moving around and not staying in one place makes it harder to kettle you. But keep an eye on police movements too, usually you can see when they are preparing to kettle, and that's the time to break out and head somewhere else.
INJURIES ETC: If you think you're up for an eventful day, it's
best to go with a small group you trust. Keep an eye out for each other, count
up after police charges and arrange meeting points if you get split up. have
a list of names safe somewhere with a mate who's not there who can ring a solicitor
in case of arrest. Act as a thinking group: everyone should know who is prepared
for aggro or not. And someone with you having a basic knowledge of first aid
is useful. Police are only likely to get heavier.
If someone is getting nicked, if you can and are up for it, try and grab them back off the police. A determined group can save someone from being lifted, especially if its only one or two cops. If someone is rescued they should move off somewhere else, swap clothes with mates. It's also useful to move if your being vocal, or very active and the plod are obviously on your case.
ZIP IT UP: If people do get nicked, their mates should alert legal observers or find out where the cops have taken them and get them a decent solicitor. Legal obervers should have been giving out bustcards with a good brief's number. If you're nicked: in a situation where actions are still going on, the police are probably not going to interview you, but don't rely on that. You're only obliged to give a name and date of birth (though not giving an address may mean they hold you longer); it's best not to make any statements, if they do ask you questions "No Comment" is the best reply. The Legal Defence & Monitoring Group can help with advice and legal help;
you can also download their bustcard and the excellent 'No Comment' from their website, which has good advice on what (not) to say when nicked:
SUPPORT PRISONERS: People who get sentenced for actions like these need support while in prison: letters, books, newspapers, pickets of prisons etc. Prison works by isolating people, so lets break that down.
EQUIPPED: If we're gonna be occupying government or other buildings,
some items concealed about your person may be useful: junior hacksaws for cutting
locks and chains, s D-lock to close doors in our interests, powerful catapults
to knock out cameras and windows, paintbombs to cover police visors and journo
cameras... be prepared to ditch stuff if you think you'll be searched by the
DRESS CODE: Bland clothes that make it harder to pick you out and nick you later are good; fairly tight fitting so that it's harder for cops to grab your clothes in a scuffle.
Keep it lively and keep it mobile! there's no point hanging around in a pointless confrontation if we're outnumbered. If they block one way we can find another. 12-volt battery sound systems have been used to keep the atmosphere fun and help move people in an organised way. We need more of them! And more drum bands and freestyle Mcs on megaphones:
RIOT IS A FESTIVAL!
madame guillotine, past tense, december 2010