Across London and the UK this morning dozens of anti-cuts organisers, protesters and social and political activists were woken with a knock at the door. Others were stopped in the street, near their homes or going about their business, throughout the day. Tonight, as we write, the undisclosed number are sat in police cells and interview rooms across London. 5 social centres in London were hit in early morning raids by our pet favourites, the Territorial Support Group, using dozens of officers and police vans. In Heathrow, just outside London, a community garden was raided by a squad of public order officers in full riot gear, batons in tow. Current reports suggest well over 30 arrests on a variety of charges, from the enigmatic “abstraction of electricity” to a variety of conspiracy charges. Solidarity to those lifted.
We’re not going to pretend we’re living in a Soviet-style police state here. But today’s raids draw uncomfortable parallels with the strategies of supposed democracies across western Europe since the end of the Second World War. When capital starts a painful restructuring of production (in this incarnation, through state-implemented, transnational “austerity” measures) resulting in social crisis, the state can be expected to step in to help with the management of that crisis– to whit, to shut down any opposition aimed at resisting, rather than tempering, capital. Democracy is all well and good, but business must not be impeded.
The police have stated quite categorically that this is “business as usual… [unconnected] to the Royal Wedding”. Well, they’re half-right. There’s absolutely no doubt that none of those nicked this morning had any intention to even peacefully mock the Wedding from the sidelines, short of the eccentric public theatre aficionado Chris Knight [whose arrest is featured in the video above]. In fact, Prof. Knight seems pretty much in keeping with the occasion- a lot of pomp and wild tradition, some slightly outdated, harmless ceremony and no-one treating it with a great deal of reverence. Knight’s very British eccentricities have landed him in the police cells on a conspiracy to commit public order offences charge.
But it’s not entirely disconnected from the Royal Wedding. Anyone subjected to the current newscycle is no doubt aware that today would be a “good day to bury bad news”, and, indeed, even a story pushing the medias twin hot-buttons of squatting and teh evil anarchyz(!!1!) failed to make a splash, even on the Daily Mail homepage, not known for it’s editorial brevity. Today’s raids and arrests have been a dexterously choreographed exercise in under-the-radar state intimidation.
London has a long tradition of autonomous social spaces, fulfilling different roles in different struggles for many years. Currently, these social centres provide organising spaces for activists fighting cuts– to have meetings, to offer training, to print posters and leaflets and make placards. They are also spaces for discussions, for education, art and film screenings, bike workshops and more. They are often also home for a few activists, as well as social spaces for a bit of conviviality, building communities and introducing people. And for as long as these spaces have existed (across Europe) the State has been trying to shut them down.
The aim isn’t just to close down these social centres, however. The aim is part of a longer-term strategy to delegitimise people who organise against austerity measures and government policy, to start to portray those who work against these measures as dark, shady figures, on a par with criminals or even terrorists. It fits into a pattern of behaviour on the part of the police, helped along adequately by the press- the routine “forewarnings” of bad ‘uns and shady, violent minorities turning up before any protest, the shifting of language from protestors to “domestic extremists”, the release of high injury figures on the part of the police, implicitly suggesting such injuries should be attributed to protestor violence, regardless of the real causes.
The tactic of today’s raids will, no doubt, end in much the same way as the illegal eviction of the Earl St Convergence Centre after the 2008 G20 demonstrations [as seen in the video above- worth watching to the end]- where police and private landlords interests came together, and the Met used squads of officers, armed with tasers and armoured personnel carriers, to illegally evict peaceful political activists in order that the private landlord could reoccupy the building without having to go through all the unnecessary and time consuming rigmarole of the legal and judicial system.
That situation resulted in those arrested receiving large payouts, but compensation for miscarriages of justice are now just an operational cost for the police when dealing with extra-parliamentary political organisers, or even just working-class people refusing to follow orders. Baton strike now, pay-out later is the modus operandi for the modern Metropolitan Police, a tactical choice to diffuse dissent in the immediate. Of course, for some compensation seems scant recompense for the destruction of human life.
The question now is how deep will this crackdown reach? As we build towards more mobilisations, such as the large public sector strike on 30th June, as well as, we hope, increasing community organising, wildcat strikes and factory occupations, how many more will have to face this paralegal intimidation and the implicit threats they hold? Essentially what we’re saying here is that if all those involved in the struggle against austerity don’t stop the rot right now, we can expect this tactic of delegitimisation to spread to all campaigns, organisations, direct actions and demonstrations which begin to effectively challenge both the government and capital. The last few months have seen press witch-hunts against protest and labour organisers intensify, both in the media and by the State, setting the stage for dawn raids and the denial of free assembly in public parks. It will take more than those directly affected by these raids, their friends, comrades and families, to effectively organise against further attacks.
We now find ourselves in a position where, just days before May Day, International Workers Day, labour organisers and anti-cuts activists sit in British gaols as the result of a concerted attempt by the British state to crackdown on political organising in defence of the working-class. Will the established Labour Movement and Union bureaucracies step up on such a transparently symbolic day and use it’s professed might to oppose this attack on self-organising? And, expecting the answer “no”, how do we do it for ourselves?