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Date: Mon, 14 May 2001 19:12:40 +0100
Subject: -ALLSORTS- May day and big issue article

Big Issue Mayday Monopoly report

From: News Desk (
To: allsorts (

piece in this week's big issue - stick it on allsorts if you think it adds to the debate - interested in any feedback - cheers


Last week's May Day non-riot was marked by two new things: relentless pre-event press hype, and the fact that folk who had been key to every other major anti-globalisation event didn't bother turning up or if they did it was in a minor role. Rain and threats of 'zero tolerance' were not the chief factors influencing the low turn-out last week was never planned to be, as the Observer claimed, "the biggest demo for decades".

The size of the crowd was about on a par with the gate Scunthorpe United can pull on an average Saturday, and couldn't possibly have justified the giant police presence. Neither is it a reflection of the strength of the global direct action movement which hit Seattle, Prague or Quebec: a World Cup Final-sized crowd will be in Genoa, Italy on July 20 to attempt to stop the meeting of the leaders of the industrial world, the G8. Instead the press, spoon-fed by Scotland Yard, showed ignorance bordering on the comical. Their analysis of the groups involved and their influence was wildly inaccurate. Class War ("strength: thought to be thousands" said the Independent on Sunday) packed up and went home years ago only a rump of 20-odd still exists. The Anarchist Federation ("considered very influential", said The Guardian) actually numbers around 50. S26 (fingered by Newsnight) is a tiny group of people who organised transport to Prague on September 26 last year, while the white-overall clad Wombles "subject to the intense scrutiny of Special Branch" according to the Evening Standard) can muster just 30. Most people said they weren't aligned to any group that's anarchy for you. The main battle within the direct action movement is not about that loaded word 'violence', or whether it is justified. One current concern is the way old-left groups are muscling in on the loosely-defined direct action movement.

The largest organised grouping of any kind on May Day were those attracted by a demonstration outside the World Bank by Globalise Resistance, a front organisation for the Trotskyist revolutionary group, the Socialist Workers' Party. Their first 'action' which took the old protest form of march, picket, petition-signing was just two months ago. Reclaim The Streets, the original, organic heart of the movement and the tactical pioneers, is seven years old.

The very existence of the direct action movement was a reaction against the political dogma of these old-left groups like the SWP, whose stated goal is to gain power. In the meantime, it is advising its members to vote Labour to keep the Tories out in marginal election seats an anathema to anti-capitalists.

"The SWP has a long history of seizing on every new issue or movement and trying to dominate it. Despite their radical language the SWP is fundemantally opposed to our movement, " said an anonymous email, titled 'Vampire Alert'. It was circulated shortly after the Carnival Against Capitalism on June 18 two years ago, after the party declared its intention to move in and recruit.

"If the anti-capitalist movement takes on allies at any cost, then it has lost its point," says one activist, Diane Jones. "This is not a childish squabble with people sniping at each other instead of the real enemy this is crucially important to the future of direct action." The debate crystallised in March when party members from old-left groups were allowed to observe, but not participate when they arrived at the European meeting of People's Global Action, the loose network which facilitates global protests.

The PGA meeting was held at the Leoncavallo squatted social centre in Milan, home of Italian anarchists Ya Basta!, who had taken over the role of 'Western European Conveners' from Reclaim The Streets. PGA, launched in 1998, is not a group in its own right, it has no funds and no HQ, but acts as an umbrella for movements to co-ordinate across the world. It is highly significant in that it was the facilitator of global days of action which included the Carnival Against Capitalism in the City of London, the anti-WTO demos in Seattle, May Day last year but not this and Prague.

Groups operating under the PGA banner agree to abide by five 'hallmarks' which define its position. These clearly reject the inclusion of political parties and the lobbying of non-governmental organisations and far-right groups. It is, however, a fragile alliance which faces enormous practical challenges. Its third global meeting will be held in Cochabamba in Bolivia in September, which saw street riots last year over the takeover of the local water company by International Water, a US/UK consortium. SWP member Guy Taylor, widely quoted as spokesman for Globalise Resistance, said his group was entirely open, diverse and sought common ground. He said he "laughed out loud" at the suggestion that GR was a front for the SWP.

This battle may dictate how effectively the movement develops, which in the long run, is far more important than the narrow band of debate over some broken windows. Of all the pre-emptive talk of violence, the final injuries tally on May Day from the ambulance service reads: peaceful police: three, evil rioters: 50 (29 hospitalised). Many had walked straight into the police tactic known as 'The Kettle', which goes like this: surround, squeeze into ever-tighter space, wait for frustration to reach boiling point, beat with baton.

It's also a lesson for anyone who believes a Bill of Rights will enshrine the right to protest. When push comes to shove, all rights are suspended just ask the Americans who faced 'No Protest Zones' when it got hairy in Seattle, counter to the First Amendment of the US constitution.

The night editor of The Times, however, still lamented that he was "a bit disappointed not to have a few more images of cracked heads".

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