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Live Updates (March 26)
March 25, 2011
This Saturday, one iconic square, Trafalgar, is to be turned into another, Tahrir – where Egyptians transfixed the world when, with collective determination, they overthrew a powerful regime. British protesters’ call to transform Trafalgar acknowledges that the struggles in the Middle East and those gathering momentum in Britain share a profound connection. Both are movements of the disempowered many against the small groups of wealthy elites who run our world, often in charmed collusion. In rebellious Wisconsin, those protesting Governor Scott Walker’s attempted crushing of unions also carried placards exhorting themselves to “Walk Like an Egyptian”. Western elites are, instead, stressing the differences between east and west as they scramble to morph their longstanding support of north African dictatorships into sudden solidarity with rebels. This revisionist view holds that the uprisings are mainly about the desire of young people in the Middle East to live in western-style democracies. President Barack Obama claims that the Arab world can be inspired by a globalising nation like Brazil working in partnership with the US. For Time magazine, the Middle Eastern protests manifest “the modernising imperative” (code for “westernisation”).
More than decent employment, public services or fair wages, “what the protesters want”, it avers, “is to be treated as citizens not subjects”. The cheerleading historian of western supremacy, Niall Ferguson, understands, however, that far more is going on in the Middle East than becoming westernised, warning Americans to look to their own revolution and not those in the Arab world for inspiration. Those calling on protesters in the west to look east actually have it right. The extraordinary levels of social and economic vulnerability impacting ordinary people from the American midwest to the Middle East have shared origins in the global concentration of wealth and power in fewer hands. It is time to dispense with the myth that only western capitalism can teach the world to be free and to turn instead to those people who are drawing on the anti-colonial struggles in their national histories to fight for dignity and justice. If imperialism once played itself out across racial and geographical lines, it is now a global economic system which affects us all, albeit in different ways by exploiting labour, expropriating and privatising resources, concentrating profits and institutionalising inequality. Muammar Gaddafi can scream for Libyan unity against the imperialist west but he fools few Libyans. Their history of incomplete decolonisation teaches them that one does not get rid of foreign colonisers only to be crushed, as Gandhi put it, under the heel of native princes.
March 24, 2011
Trafalgar Square is not Tahrir Square. London is not Cairo. George Osborne’s budget is not the repressive one-party diktat of Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt but the product of a democratic parliament. The desire of certain Labour MPs and the organisers of Saturday’s anti-cuts rally to identify themselves with “recent protests in the Middle East and north Africa” is worse than silly. It dumbs down politics and insults those suffering under quasi-fascist regimes. John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn should find other ways of giving their Saturday demo some radical stardust. The political form of the street demonstration has revived in states so degenerated as to have defaulted to mob rule. Social networks and internet publicity have eased the task of marshalling large numbers in confined spaces. This has been effective in two countries in north Africa, Tunisia and Egypt, where large crowds convey legitimacy lacking in other domestic political institutions. It has also been startlingly ineffective where dictators have shown determined opposition. It is hard to see much new here.
Such displays in Britain are on a different planet. Taking to the streets to overturn a decision of an elected government challenges democracy, albeit one democracy can take in its stride. I have gone on some demos and covered many. They are mostly boosts to group morale, childish song festivals, obsessions with the media and desperate attempts to cause a genteel nuisance without breaching the law. Apart from a rally long ago to Save Covent Garden, I cannot think of one that made much difference. Britain has long been a poor venue for crowd power. The worst disturbance since the civil war, the Gordon riots of 1780, resulted in 235 deaths as some 60,000 people rampaged across London. They were anti-Catholics. The French revolution fascinated British radicals, but the onset of the Terror alarmed rather than galvanised them. In 1819 the Peterloo massacre in Manchester led to 15 deaths at the hands of the cavalry and a burst of revulsion rather than any national uprising. Much the same followed Ulster’s Bloody Sunday march. During Britain’s great crisis over political reform in the 1830s and 1840s, parliament never lost touch with the debate. Chartist riots merely led to repressive policing. It was in parliament that the great debates of 1831-32 took place. Feargus O’Connor and the Chartist leaders on Kennington Common in 1848 were frantic for non-violence. They duly gathered a petition, claiming a phenomenal six million signatures, and were allowed by the police to take it to parliament in a taxi, where it was cursorily rejected.
The passion of the suffragette rallies may have turned some opinion, but it was the Great War that won women the vote. The biggest extra-parliamentary movement in Britain was the Peace Ballot of 1935, with over 11 million votes overwhelmingly for pacifism. But it only encouraged Hitler to rearm. The Aldermaston CND marches of the 1950s and 1960s were great festivals of protest, but were totally ignored by Conservative and Labour governments. They did not ban a single bomb. The poll tax riots of 1990 did not end the poll tax nor did the G20 riots of 2009 end world poverty. The most violent events of the past half century have related to immigration and race, such as the Brixton and Toxteth riots of 1981, grim backdrop to the wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales that year. All they secured was the classic British response to political embarrassment, being fobbed off with a liberal report from a sympathetic judge, Lord Scarman. The biggest ever rally and march in London, against the Iraq war in February 2003, brought a million people on to the streets and did not stop Tony Blair’s path to war by an inch.
61 Curzon St. was occupied yesterday by squatters and was quickly set up as a convergence space called ‘The Big Society HQ’ to aid those planning on joining anti-cuts actions organised throughout London for March 26. London, UK, 25/03/2011.
This Saturday’s national anti-cuts demonstration looks set to be bigger than the TUC organisers ever imagined. Counterfire members around the country report on how they have been working hard to ensure the maximum turnout. In every part of the country the march has struck a chord with trade unionists, students, unemployed people, pensioners – everyone affected by the coalition government’s programme of privatisation, deep cuts to public services and attacks on welfare provision. It is set to mobilise the ‘big society’, but not in the way envisaged by David Cameron. Counterfire supporters have been among thousands of campaigners and trade unionists building for a mass turnout on the demonstration. Four Counterfire activists, from different areas of Britain, report on this country’s biggest protest mobilisation since the massive anti-war marches of February/March 2003.
Louise in Doncaster reports:
“Soon after Christmas public sector unions in Doncaster booked transport. UNISON NHS booked 90 seats on a train which are now full and the NUT have just put on a second bus in the last week, helping to make sure as many teachers and their families can attend. UNISON local government have invited every member to come on the demo and have nearly 200 people booked on to 3 buses and are hoping to fill another one in the last week. There are at least 30 students going by bus from a local secondary school, while many unions have booked members on to trains. Following the amazing Coalition of Resistance rally a few months ago, when Tony Benn and local campaigners addressed 400 people in Doncaster, this represents another leap forward for the movement. If another TUC demo was to be called later on in the year I could see Doncaster taking even more people down.”
Jo in east London reports:
Along with other Coalition of Resistance activists, from around East London, we have been building widely for the demonstration with stalls and leafletting sessions in Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Walthamstow. We have leafletted tubes, blocks of flats and asked local shops and businesses to take leaflets. Everyone has had such a positive response that we’ve had to re-stock on leaflets quite a few times now! Today the Tower Hamlets’ anti-cuts group Hands off our Public Services and Unison hired an open-top bus to spread the word. We stopped along the main shopping streets, jumping off and leafletting before moving to other areas and have been jointly leafletting with local anti-cuts groups in other parts of East London. Throughout these activities there have been many passers-by who said they were already coming to the demonstration and were building for it. However, a large number of people who didn’t know about it, who then said they would come and often took leaflets to help build it themselves.”
Tony in Newcastle reports:
“Here in Tyneside we now have 150 people booked on the coaches organised by our Coalition of Resistance group (with Unite the Union helping financially) filling 3 coaches. The 6am start from Newcastle hasn’t deterred people! This is in addition to the hundreds travelling on Northern TUC’s train, plus a number of coaches organised by UCU and others. There’s also a Coalition of Resistance coach from Hexham, Northumberland. This is by far our biggest mobilisation on any issue since the massive anti-war marches in 2003.”
Sean in Bedford reports:
The Bedford build up to 26 March has been gathering pace. There are three coaches going down to the demo. These have been organised by the NUT, Unite and Unison, but have also been opened up to non-union members to travel for free. Stalls have been held by Bedford Against The Cuts and local campaign groups. Our message – we need to bring everyone together against the government on 26 March – has drawn a superb response.”
You will be asked to give the police your name and address and your date of birth – you don’t have to give any details, but it may delay your release. They also have the right to take your fingerprints, photo and non-intimate body samples (a saliva swab, to record your DNA). These will be kept on file, even if you are not charged, but if you later sue the police you should try to get them destroyed. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, removed the traditional ‘Right to Silence’. however, all this means is that the police/prosecution can point to your refusal to speak to them, when the case comes to court, and the court may take this as evidence of your guilt. The police cannot force you to speak or make a statement, whatever they may say to you in the station.
Refusing to speak cannot be used to convict you by itself. We reckon the best policy if you want to get off is to remain silent. The best place to work out a good defence is afterwards, with your solicitor or witnesses, not under pressure in the hands of the cops. If your refusal to speak comes up in court, we think the best defence is to refuse to speak until your solicitor gets there then get them to agree to your position. You can then say you acted on legal advice. If you are arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000, the police can keep you in custody for longer. They have already used this against protestors and others to intimidate them. Remember being arrested is not the same as being charged.
Keeping silent is still the best thing to do in police custody.
It is common for the police to release people on bail, as the police are not allowed to charge people with anything except minor offences without the agreement of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Often they will attach condiions to the bail, such as not going into certain areas or not attending protests. Whilst you are on police bail they try to find evidence against you and send a file to the CPS, who then decide what the appropriate charge is. Aside from laziness, incompetence and efficiency both cops and CPS have positive reasons to slow the process down. The cops like keeping people on bail because it’s a punishment in itself, especially if there are conditions attached, while the CPS get paid however long it takes. This leads to people being on bail for months or even years with disruption to their lives and ongoing psychological pressures.
The strange thing is that breaching police bail conditions (unlike bail granted by a judge) is not a criminal offence! However failing to surrender to bail (turning up on the date given on your bail sheet whether to a court or to return to a police station) is a crime (Section 6 Bail Act 1976). If you do break police bail conditions you can be arrested BUT, and here’s the good bit, they have to bring you before a court within 24 hours of arrest (not including Sundays, Christmas Day or Good Friday). The Courts can only deal with people who’ve been charged with an offence. And that is what the cops don’t want to do, because if you’re charged you have to be told what you’re suspected of doing and what the evidence is against you. It is almost unheard of for people to be remanded just for breaking police bail conditions.
The police may offer you a caution saying that this is instead of charging you. They will reassure you that this is not a criminal offence. Whilst this is technically true a caution will remain on your record and may make it hard to get a job etc. in the future. The cops offer cautions to bolster their figures, when they don’t have enough evidence to charge anyone.
When you are arrested, you will usually be handcuffed, put in a van and taken to a police station. You will be asked your name, address and date of birth. You should be told the reason for your arrest – remember what is said, it may be useful later. Your personal belongings will be taken from you. These are listed on the custody record and usually you will be asked to sign to say that the list is correct. You do not have to sign, but if you do you should sign immediately below the last line, so that the cops can’t add something incriminating to the list. You should also refuse to sign for something which isn’t yours, or which could be incriminating. You will also be asked if you want a copy of PACE (the Police and Criminal Evidence Act codes of practice) and to sign to say you have refused. We suggest you take a copy its the only thing you’ll get to read and you might as well gen up on the rules the cops are supposed to follow. Your fingerprints, photo and saliva swab will be taken, then you will be placed in a cell until the police are ready to deal with you.
It is advisable to avoid using the duty solicitor as they may be crap or hand in glove with the cops. It’s worth finding the number of a good solicitor in your area and memorising it. The police are wary of decent solicitors. Any good solicitor will provide free advice at the police station. Also, avoid telling your solicitor much about what happened. This can be sorted out later. For the time being, tell them you are refusing to speak. Your solicitor can come into the police station while the police interview you: you should refuse to be interviewed unless your solicitor is present.
If the police think they have enough evidence against you they will not need to interview you. For example, in most public order arrests they rely on witness statements from 1 or 2 cops or bystanders, you won’t even be interviewed. Also if they have arrested you and other people, they will try to get you to implicate the others. The police want to convict as many people as possible because:
1. It makes it look like they’re doing a good job at solving crime.The clear-up rate is very important to the cops; they have to be seen to be doing their job. The more crimes they get convictions for, the better it looks for them.
A ‘solved crime’ is a conviction against somebody. You only have to look at such cases as the Birmingham 6 to understand how far the police will go to get a conviction. Fitting people up to boost the ‘clear-up rate’, and at the same time removing people cops don’t like, is wide spread in all police forces.