PUTTING IN THE RITZ
Well – somebody had to do it. – The TUC’s glad-hand fest was never going
to change the ConDEMS course by even one degree. It was hijacked by
anarchists and it deserved to be. The TUC mobilised its masses and did
everything they could to make sure that genuine dissent didn’t rear its
ugly head. The emphasis was to be on a family-friendly day out without
frightening the horses. Quite who they think is going to hand out prizes
for niceness in the shark tank that is global capitalism remains a mystery.
For those who went to the endpoint rally in Hyde Park, even moderate
voices like Bob Crow of the RMT and Caroline Lucas MP of the Green Party
were not allowed to speak. They were left out in favour of Ed Millaround
the gormless puppet who’s now trying to pass off the Labour Party as a
revitalised radical alternative to the Tories – less than eleven months
after they were run out of office. Is this then the TUCs strategy? Wait
four years, and then vote in a business friendly Labour government – and
they wonder why union membership is at an all time low.
While dressing himself up as the re-incarnation of Emily Pankhurst and
Martin Luther King, and the bearer of Mandela’s torch, Milliband junior
was emphatic about yesterday’s disorder, condemning it roundly while
ignoring the fact that all the struggles he was paying homage to
involved breaking more than a few windows.
Earlier that morning, the feeder marches, all condemned as unauthorised
by the TUC made their way largely unhindered to greet the masses
gathered at Embankment. A half-hearted attempt by cops to put a line
across Westminster bridge in front of the Radical Workers block that had
left from Kennington Park was shrugged aside.
The anarchist block split from the main march past Embankment Station,
as a voice over a megaphone beckoned marchers to come with them for a
sight-seeing tour around London. The break off bloc poured past
Trafalgar Square, past the front of the TUC demo where hundreds of
disenchanted activists decided to sack off the A to B marching exercise
and join the black bloc. By the time the bloc had made its way through
Covent Garden to Oxford Street it numbered several thousand.
Trudging along with the masses, other anarchists filtered through the
crowd to UK Uncut’s pre-arranged meet up on Oxford St at 2pm. UK Uncut
had called for occupations of corporate tax dodgers. The police tactic
for the day was clearly the protection of known UK Uncut targets, with
lines of police in front of branches of Boots, Vodaphone and Topshop.
The cops even seemed willing to protect Topshop at the expense of more
traditional anti-capitalist targets, with unfortified McDonalds and
Starbucks getting done over anyway, showing that this was far from a
single issue demo.
And that was where the fun really started – Topshop, one of UK Uncuts
main targets was the first to get it and then, for over hour and a half
a rag-tag black block, numbering around a thousand, ran cops ragged
around Soho and Piccadilly Circus. Selected corporate targets were
attacked with smoke flares, paint and street furniture. Banks bore the
brunt of the anger with branches of HSBC, Santander and Lloyds getting
the paint and broken glass treatment. The HSBC in Cambridge Circus got
given some special attention. As ‘Smash the banks’ was daubed across the
window, the crowd began to move on, until, bearing in mind the complete
absence of Old Bill, people decided to take the advice. Windows were
smashed and a green wheelie bin was used to batter open the doors. The
inside of the bank was turned over before activists did a runner as the
plod turned up. Watch the video here. The F.I.T team were chased off in
Cambridge Circus. Even London’s Boris bikes scheme wasn’t ignored, with
activists peeling off the Barclay’s stickers while leaving the machines
intact. It might have been a touch violent but it wasn’t mindless.
At the Ann Summers shop, militant queer action emerged from the crowd,
spray-painting Ann Summers shiny shop front of apparently taking a stand
against “mainstream heteronormatively constructed sexuality”, and
finally putting a bin right through the window.
Police coming into the area were harassed, with street signs and wheelie
bins hurled under vehicles. Riot vans were liberally re-decorated. Some
incredibly loud bangers or thunderflashes caused cops to flinch. Plumes
of coloured smoke could be seen. Often groups of cops were rushing to
protect targets that had been left by the fluid and swift-moving crowd.
Uncontained, the block, waving red and black flags, moved along
Piccadilly towards the Ritz. The chant went up – “The Ritz, the Ritz –
we’re gonna get rid of the Ritz” as tables smashed through the windows.
The block then re-united with the main march, giving many a chance to
de-mask and slip away. Nearing Hyde Park, no doubt fearing an outburst
of sentimental centre left rhetoric, they split off back into Mayfair.
Symbols of wealth, including a Porsche dealership and several overpriced
sports car were done, along with a couple of shops selling
overwhelmingly priced status antiques. Every corner turned in Mayfair
showed just how much grotesque wealth is still out there waiting to be
Meanwhile at 3.30pm on Oxford Circus , UK Uncuts pre-arranged meet up
was underway. After converging demonstrators were slipped a card which
told them which colour flag to follow, with the aim of separating into
branches then joining forces for the occupation of the target.
The target – Fortnum&Mason, was well chosen, grocers to the Queen and
corporate tax dodgers. Unfortunately the sheer size of the protests
meant the different crowds didn’t arrive simultaneously and there was a
stand-off with protestors inside the building and police lines forming
outside. A push and shove ensued but due to the pavement barriers not
enough of the crowd could get behind the push and the cops remained
unbudged, blockading the entrances. The two to three hundred protesters
who were already inside, were left to soak up the atmosphere, and eyeing
up bargains like the twenty quid jam and £65 napkin rings. Others took a
more direct route and climbed up a street lamp onto the first floor.
Unfortunately here, as during the rest of the day, there seemed to be
more people filming than actually getting involved in any action. Anyone
who wanted to get stuck in had to push their way through a line of happy
snappers first. Where does all this footage end up? – Think before you
get yer zoom lens out kids, ‘cos careless shots cost lives.
The rest of the day was a mix of stand-offs and running skirmishes. The
Peace horse was torched outside Oxford St tube. By this time the block
was being pushed back onto Piccadilly circus as, freed of the obligation
to police the TUC demo, that was safely in Hyde Park, more cops began
arriving. Sealing off Fortnum and Masons they made numerous arrests.
A number of the crowd gathered in Trafalgar Sq, where some had suggested
a 24 hr occupation. Described to SchNEWS by one eyewitness as “just a
party, really”, the cops seized their opportunity to wade in. A kettle
was put in place and despite a fight being put up the crowd was
dispersed or arrested by 1 a.m.
According to Green&Black Cross legal support there have been over 200
arrests – and that’s just those who’ve contacted the help-line. Most are
being bailed now (Sunday evening) many having had their clothes and
phones seized. Interestingly, they are receiving bail conditions to stay
away from central London on the day of the next TUC mobilisation 1st of
May and on the 29th April, the date of Kate&Wills happy nuptials.