The City financial district in the heart of London was brought to a standstill on Wednesday of last week as thousands of protesters converged on the Bank of England to demonstrate against the recession, banks, war and climate change.
The “Financial Fools Day” event was part of a series of protests taking place around the G20 summit.
The Stop the War Coalition helped organise a march and rally in Trafalgar Square, while environmental campaigners held a “climate camp” on Bishopsgate, one of the main roads running through the City.
There were also protests the next day outside the summit’s venue, the Excel Centre in east London.
The mood of the protests was for the most part defiant and carnivalesque. But there was also anger – directed at the banks whose profiteering had helped bring on the recession, and at the police whose thuggish tactics were designed to intimidate and harass demonstrators. » G20 policing: Intimidation is their intention
The City protests in the morning started with four “horsemen of the apocalypse” setting off from separate central London tube stations, each followed by a train of protesters.
The horses, symbolising the four evils of war, financial chaos, climate change and homelessness, converged on the centre of the financial district.
The protesters were a diverse group, including many students and young unemployed workers, as well as peace activists and climate change campaigners.
One group of around 250 people followed the red horse from Moorgate station to protest against war. Stop the War delegations from Glasgow, Strathclyde and Aberdeen universities ensured the protest was loud and lively.
The green horse march against climate change started from Liverpool Street and attracted some 300 people. Jake, a student from south London, was one of them.
“The economic crisis is just the latest sign of capitalism tearing our world apart. People here have lots of different views, but we have to start coming together,” he told Socialist Worker.
Jasmine brought her children to the demonstration. “What’s happening to the climate is very scary,” she said. “It’s great to see so many young people here. We have to have a new generation of people who will defend our planet.”
The police turned up in absurdly large numbers in an attempt to overwhelm the demonstrators. Protesters were penned in – or “kettled” as the media have dubbed it – by lines of riot cops separating different groups of demonstrators.
Despite the police lockdown, some did manage to physically express their anger at an economic system that is creating havoc across the globe. They smashed the windows of a Royal Bank of Scotland branch in the City and briefly occupied the building.
But the levels of violence were nowhere near those predicted by police and quoted in the lurid press coverage that marked the run-up to the demonstration.
Later in the afternoon around 5,000 anti-war protesters gathered to demonstrate outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square. They marched to a rally in Trafalgar Square, which was addressed by Arthur Scargill and Tony Benn, among others.
“The government is giving billions to banks to give golden handshakes to bankers – I’d put them all in brass handcuffs and take them away,” said Scargill, the president of the National Union of Mineworkers who led the Miners’ Strike of 1984-5. “We need a change in the system – capitalism has demonstrated its inability to deal with the issues at stake.”
The march called for an end to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, freedom for Palestine and the abolition of nuclear weapons. It was organised jointly by Stop the War, CND, the British Muslim Initiative and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
The crackdown on opposition to the G20 summit continued as the evening went on. A counter-summit planned at the University of East London (UEL) on Wednesday was refused permission to take place by university authorities.
Attendees held a rally outside instead, which was addressed by speakers including Alex Callinicos and Mark Thomas. They expressed their solidarity with UEL professor Chris Knight, who was suspended for his role in organising the protests.
The following day riot police raided two squats in east London that were being used as “social centres” to coordinate the protests. The targeted venues included a building in Earl Street that had been occupied on Tuesday night, along with a long‑established centre on Rampart Street in Whitechapel.
But the repression did not deter large numbers of people from expressing their anger at the G20. Alpesh, a young worker, was one of those protesting later outside the Excel Centre venue.
“People are looking much more critically at capitalism,” he told Socialist Worker. “The system is bankrupt – it has nothing to offer us. I hope the protests over the past few days will raise people’s class consciousness and get working people seriously fighting back.”