Council officers, backed up by police, disrupted socialists and anti-cuts campaigners in Manchester and confiscated their stalls and materials for the second week running on Saturday.
Manchester’s Market Street is one of the busiest shopping areas in the North West. It is a focal point for trade unionists, socialists, environmentalists and peace activists who regularly set up stalls.
Saturday was a day of action to publicise the TUC demonstration on 2 October when the Tory Party comes to Manchester. Council officers and the police attempted to prevent socialists and other campaigners giving out leaflets claiming that they were “obstructing the highway”.
Our stalls did not impede pedestrians and certainly could not have prevented access by emergency vehicles as was claimed.
As crowds gathered, the stall turned into a protest against the attacks on free speech.
Passersby were disgusted at this attempt to close down opposition to the attack on public services.
Police arrested two activists, including a leading local trade unionist. However, the leafleting continued and the two were later released without charge. In another incident police arrested people in a nearby Top Shop protesting against sexist T-shirts.
Local activists issued a statement, “The Highways Obstruction Act does not affect paper sellers and those handing out campaign materials, and we will defend our legal right to do this. In addition, the Notice of Obstruction was on unheaded paper, and we intend to take this up with Manchester City Council and the local police authorities.”
Manchester City Council has led an expensive, high-profile “Love Manchester” campaign since the recent riots to encourage people to return to the city centre and spend money. In the run up to the Tory Party conference, they want to remove criticism of local and national policies and give street space only to commercial stallholders.
Manchester activists have called a meeting on Tuesday 20 September to defend free speech. We will launch a petition against these attacks and we are encouraging all campaigners to join us on the streets next Saturday to protest.