May Day 2001: Detained but defiant

THE MONOPOLY board game was the theme of London’s May Day protests. Cyclists met at King’s Cross opposing the private rail companies and demanding decent public transport.

Manny Thain

In the Strand, Coutts Bank – whose clients include the Queen – was the focus for protests against the banking industry. Cardboard hotels were erected on Park Lane to draw attention to homelessness.

Overall, around 10,000 people participated. Predictably, the media focused on scenes of violent confrontation which, in reality, were few and far between. The vast majority were there to oppose the capitalist system’s wrecking of the planet.

Ranged against us were masked and heavily tooled-up aggressors in uniform – at least 6,000 according to press reports. The police had widely publicised their strategy – zero tolerance. Baton rounds (plastic bullets), gas and even sniper units were reportedly on standby.

The New Labour government, London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, and the police claim the state’s brute-force tactics were a success.

But these events will further undermine already discredited establishment politicians and their system. ‘Red Ken’ spent May Day under the protection of the Special Branch and only ventured out in a chauffeur driven Jaguar.

Police cordon

The World Bank HQ in New Zealand House, Haymarket, was the focus of protests against Third-World poverty. Protesters waved dollar signs daubed with red paint.

Socialist Party members distributed fat-cat $100 bills advertising Young Socialist Action meetings. The predominantly young crowd enthusiastically discussed how to take the movement forward and the socialist alternative to capitalism.

Around 2pm, the protest marched down Regent Street towards Oxford Circus, and into a Metropolitan Police trap. A public address system had been set up on the roofs of buildings. Journalists were installed in first floor windows – perfect for photos of violent and riotous behaviour.

The tube station was blocked off and out of reach. We were surrounded by police.

This containment policy was outrageous. Outside on a cold, rainy day, there was no access to water, food, toilet facilities or welfare provision. The mood was angry but remarkably peaceful.

A monotonous police announcement was regularly transmitted: “You are being held to prevent a breach of the peace and damage to property.” An admission that no peace had been breached, no damage done.

Under these adverse conditions, the Socialist Party’s experience of leading mass movements – such as Liverpool city council’s struggle in the 1980s, the anti-poll tax movement and anti-fascist campaigns – was crucial.

Illegal detention

Lois Austin played an outstanding role. She phoned Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist and Tony Benn, MP, to alert them to the situation. The Socialist Party office sent out press releases.

We relayed news back to our fellow detainees, spreading the word that we were not alone.

We received advice that this was an illegal detention. The chanting increased: “We Are Being Illegally Detained”; “We Want Out”; “Arrest The Police”.

Lois led a delegation to the police demanding our release. At around 9pm the police opened up an exit on the north side, allowing people to leave one-by-one – photographing and searching protesters as they went.

It took over an hour to clear the area. Socialist Party members walked through as a united contingent.

Many people congratulated Lois on the great work she had done: “You’re the most organised group,” was a common theme expressed. This was from people who participate in a movement which prides itself on its anti-organisation/leadership stance.

More and more people are seeing the need for organisation. We have to promote this idea, explaining the democratic deficiencies of networking movements: and to counterpose the need for a mass, democratically organised and accountable movement and leadership.

It would be wrong to tailend the movement by regurgitating basic anti-globalisation demands. Slogans are vital in attracting people to our banner. But many, especially young people, want a lot more.

They have a burning hatred of this system and are looking for ideas and programme with which to defeat capitalism. The Socialist Party clearly promotes the only viable alternative – socialism.