Socialist Worker

Police trashed this magnificent protest

Issue No. 1695

May Day+++ May Day+++ May Day+++

Police trashed this magnificent protest

TONY BLAIR, politicians of all parties and every section of the media lined up to denounce Monday's May Day protest in London. They completely ignored the real story of the day-that thousands of people had come together to condemn capitalism and celebrate the struggle for an alternative.

The prospect that different marches might come together in electrifying unity terrified the police. So they used hundreds of riot police, baton charges and mounted patrols to beat demonstrators and drive them apart. It was police violence against peaceful protesters.

There were two gatherings on Monday. In Parliament Square, at the bottom of Whitehall, around 8,000 people gathered for an event focused on "guerrilla gardening". This involved planting seeds, saplings and plants to symbolise taking back areas as green public spaces. It attracted many young people who had never been on a demonstration but had been inspired by watching the protests in Seattle and Washington.

There were environmental campaigners, people enjoying a sense of freedom and peace in the centre of a city, students, socialists and many others. On the other side of Trafalgar Square around 4,000 trade unionists were marching at the same time. Once this became widely known in Parliament Square there was a tremendous feeling for unity. There was a surging desire for everyone who is exploited and oppressed to come together and fight the rich and powerful. Mike, a student from east London, was one of those who encouraged the move up Whitehall. "I hadn't come with the idea of joining up with the trade unionists on my mind. But suddenly it all seemed so natural and right," he told Socialist Worker. "We were trying to put forward a different vision of the world and there were people a few hundred yards away who want a lot of the same things. Rover workers, asylum seekers, people who want to see the planet saved-we have a lot in common. A group of us went round saying, 'We're going to Trafalgar Square. We're going to join with the other march,' and we discussed it and agreed to move off."

This was the spirit of Seattle, the spirit of Washington. It is further proof that the anti-capitalist mood seen in other parts of the world is also here in Britain. The authorities hate that feeling and they will use anything to crush it. It was the police who, well before there had been the slightest violence by protesters, blocked the trade union march from going on its agreed route and stopped it entering Trafalgar Square.

The BBC outrageously claimed that it was "anarchists" who had "displaced" the workers' march. If so, they were anarchists with riot shields, Metropolitan Police helmets and truncheons. Police tore into demonstrators who were joyously and peacefully coming up Whitehall to join with the trade unionists. It was the police who sealed off Trafalgar Square and prevented protesters from leaving-in some cases for up to six hours.

It was the police who were stoking an atmosphere of intimidation and tension by videoing and photographing people from the start of the day. Jenny, a student from Northampton, told Socialist Worker, "We were treated like criminals from the start. It was a great atmosphere in Parliament Square, like a festival. "People were there because they see the earth being poisoned by greedy corporations and by governments. They see companies and institutions like the WTO ruling the world."

The police action on Monday, which involved around 100 arrests, prevented workers and other activists uniting. But police violence cannot stop that feeling for unity and anti-capitalism growing. SOME OF the 12,000 people on May Day protests in London


Across Britain

MAY DAY saw some of the biggest protests for many years around Britain, with trade unionists and anti-capitalists united. One of the most inspiring came on TYNESIDE. Over 600 people joined the largest May Day march for a decade on Saturday. They marched through Newcastle city centre to a rally in Exhibition Park.

The march was made up of trade unionists, campaigners against the proposed extension of the Byker Incinerator, school meals workers fighting against cuts, pensioners and 250 asylum seekers. The refugees had marched together from the West End of Newcastle to join the protest. They were greeted with applause, cheering and handshakes.

Chants of "Refugees are welcome here" and "We want justice" echoed round the streets as hundreds of people watched the march go by. Bill Speirs of the Scottish TUC told the rally that New Labour politicians who attempt to stoke anti-refugee feeling should be ashamed, and that all those fleeing persecution should be welcomed as our brothers and sisters. A public meeting welcoming refugees to Newcastle is now arranged for the end of this month.

SHEFFIELD also saw its biggest May Day demonstration in years on Saturday. Some 300 socialists, trade unionists, environmentalists, anti-racists and direct action campaigners came together to revive the May Day tradition in a carnival against capitalism. The day's events started with a mass hold-up of Stagecoach's supertram in protest at the bigoted stance of its boss, Brian Souter, over the anti-gay Section 28 law. A lively march took place in the afternoon.

In GLASGOW around 1,000 protesters took over the streets in a colourful anti-capitalism parade on Monday. It was mostly made up of young people and was a brilliant celebration of the feeling for change. Some 120 people joined a May Day march in LEEDS on Saturday, and around 150 people marched through BRISTOL on May Day, one of the best attendances for several years. Over 200 people celebrated May Day in BRADFORD at an all day event in Grosvenor Square. Around 700 people marched in EDINBURGH where they heard socialist MSP Tommy Sheridan urge them to "reclaim nationalisation". NOTTINGHAM saw an impressive carnival against capitalism on Monday with some 2,000 people attending. It was preceded by a 500-strong march. Speakers included a local textile worker who spoke about the threat to jobs in the East Midlands and the need for international solidarity.


Marching round the world

AROUND THE world people celebrated May Day, international workers' day, in protests calling for more workers' rights and targeting institutions of global capitalism. In BRAZIL some 600,000 people joined a "Union Force" music concert calling for the working week to be cut from 44 to 40 hours and for an increase in the minimum wage.

About 100,000 people joined a May Day march in Vienna, capital of AUSTRIA, on Monday. It was the largest workers' day protest for many years. Trade unionists chanted slogans to keep the pressure on the Tory/far right coalition government. Tens of thousands of workers took part in May Day marches in TURKEY.

For the first time in many years the police did not have the confidence to drive protesters off the streets. There were few arrests and trade unionists came away from the marches with renewed confidence to resist the government. Anti-racists clashed with Nazis and the police in several cities across GERMANY over the bank holiday weekend. Protesters disrupted marches by the Nazi NPD party in Ludwigshafen, Berlin, Dresden, Grimma and other cities.

Police attacked anti-capitalist protesters in Hamburg on Saturday, and laid into 5,000 demonstrators in Berlin in Monday. Thousands of workers marched in cities across INDONESIA on May Day. Many of the marches called for the government to reinstate May Day as a national holiday. "We demand the day dedicated to workers be a paid holiday," said Dita

Sari, chair of the militant FNPBI union federation. Hundreds of thousands of workers in JAPAN protested on May Day against rising unemployment. Japan, the second biggest economy in the world, is still gripped by economic crisis. Over 20,000 workers and students clashed with police in Seoul, capital of SOUTH KOREA, on Saturday. Baton-wielding police waded into the march, which followed a peaceful rally. The May Day march demanded a shorter working week and protested against job loses at Daewoo motors.

In ECUADOR some 10,000 people marched on May Day in protest against the government's deal with the International Monetary Fund to adopt the US dollar as the country's currency-a move which will impoverish workers and the poor. In FRANCE around 20,000 people marched through Paris on May Day, and thousands joined similar demonstrations in a score of other cities. Some 1,000 people had joined a protest outside the stock exchange the evening before.


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Sat 6 May 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1695
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