A letter to UK Uncutters from the 'violent minority'

Clashes erupted at Cambridge Circus HSBC

Letter to UK Uncut members by members of the Solidarity Federation in the aftermath of the disorder on the March 26 TUC organised March for the Alternative.

We're writing this to you to try and prevent the anti-cuts struggle being split up and weakened by the media.

We are anarchists (well, anarcho-syndicalists, technically) – a word that is much misunderstood and misrepresented. We are also students, workers and shop stewards. We co-organised a 'Radical Workers Bloc' on the South London feeder march. The aim was to provide a highly visible radical presence within the workers movement of which we are a part, advocating strikes, occupations and civil disobedience.

Saturday's demonstration was far bigger than anyone expected, and saw thousands go beyond a simple A-B stroll to take direct action. The UK Uncut actions on Oxford Street and in occupying Fortnum and Masons provoked harsh treatment from police, including mass arrests.

When we reached Trafalgar Square, we headed for Oxford Street for the 2pm actions to put some of these words into action (anarchist and UK Uncutter were not mutually exclusive on the day!). When we arrived, we met up with other anarchists who had had the same idea. Wary of being kettled, we chose to stay mobile, causing disruption on Oxford St and the surrounding area, including to UK Uncut targets which were closed and guarded by riot police. Subsequently, several banks, the Ritz and other buildings were damaged or hit by paint bombs. There were some minor scuffles with police. There is a valid debate to be had over tactics - which ones further the anti-cuts movement or are counter-productive - and many of us would favour mass direct action over property destruction. Let's have that debate within the anti-cuts struggle, and not let the media divide us.

But think about it from the store owners' point of view: a broken window may cost £1,000. A lost Saturday's trade through a peaceful occupation would cost many times more. Perhaps this helps explain the harsh police response to the UK Uncut occupation: it hits them where it hurts, in the pocket. Traditionally, workers have used the weapon of the strike to achieve this. But what about workers with no unions, or unions unwilling to strike? What about students, the unemployed? UK Uncut actions have been very successful at involving such people in economically disruptive action – and this seems to be on the right track in terms of forcing the government to back down on its cuts agenda. More and bigger actions in this vein will be needed to stop the cuts (in France, they call these 'economic blockades'). Like those in UK Uncut, we recognise that just marching from A to B or waiting for the government to be fair is not enough. The government, rich and tax avoiders will continue to seek to make the poorest in society pay for the defecit unless we make doing so the more expensive option. As UK Uncut announced on the demonstration 29th January "If the economy disrupts our lives, then we must disrupt the economy".

The press coverage since Saturday has gone into a well-rehearsed frenzy of 'good protestor/bad protestor'. Some UK Uncutters have expressed outrage at being lumped in with the 'bad protestors', (correctly) stressing the peaceful nature of the F&M occupation. We think the whole idea of dividing 'good' and 'bad' protest serves only to legitimise police violence and repression. As we saw on Saturday, repression is not provoked by violent actions, but by effective actions – there is a long history of peaceful pickets and occupations being violently broken up by police, from the Chartists to the Miners Strike. Indeed, UK Uncut have frequently been at the blunt end of this in recent memory yourselves, with police responding to non-violent occupations with pepper spray and violent arrests.

In this light, we would say keep up the good work. Let the mass arrests strengthen your resolve not deter you. And let’s not fall into the divide-and-rule tactics that are the oldest trick in the rich’s book. If we can help or offer any practical solidarity to the arrestees, please get in touch. We’ve previously hosted legal advice and training sessions with Fitwatch and the Legal Defence and Monitoring Group – we’d be happy to do this again. Or if the arrests are causing problems with employers, we'll help arrestees organise against victimisation. On Saturday most of the arrestees were UK Uncut activists. Next time it could be us. We – those of us fighting the cuts – are all in this together.

Signed, Brighton Solidarity Federation

Plus individuals from: Northampton, North London, Manchester, Thames Valley and South London Locals (our federal democratic structure means statements can only be issued in the name of a group if the group has had the opportunity to discuss it, and time is against us!)

Posted By

Fall Back
Mar 28 2011 17:59

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  • The press coverage since Saturday has gone into a well-rehearsed frenzy of 'good protestor/bad protestor'. We think the whole idea of dividing 'good' and 'bad' protest serves only to legitimise police violence and repression. Repression is not provoked by violent actions, but by effective actions.

    Solidarity Federation

Attached files

Comments

Salviati
Mar 29 2011 00:26

Hello from a UK Uncut activist! Thanks for your letter and sincere intention to open up a discussion. No doubt there are many aims we would agree on. However, I must be honest and say that my over-riding feeling about the vandalism on Saturday was one of great annoyance, because I feel it was unnecessary in that context and seriously counter-productive.

I'm not saying that property damage is never acceptable. Far from it. The suffragettes used vandalism and went a lot further at times. But this is 2011, not 1911. The mass media is a vital weapon, and most of it is in the hands of the establishment. They don't need much encouragement to distort the truth, and they will also take any opportunity to bury the real message we are trying to deliver. It is especially important in these times to build broad alliances and not to alienate moderate voices - even if we feel they don't fully appreciate how corrupt and venal the ruling hegemony is.

I must admit there was part of me that cheered inwardly at the sight of damage to the Ritz Hotel, although I'm not sure Ann Summers is really such a great target. I suppose we could argue endlessly over such things, but the fact remains that such actions just sucked all the power out of the day, by giving the right-wing media an easy opportunity to divert attention away from the real issues and sow division among us on the left.

Also, I don't think economic disruption is really the key to victory in our battles. Direct action will never be more than a minor irritant to the forces of international capital, in terms of direct disruption. What they fear more than anything is the truth. They don't want people to know how the international banking system impoverishes all of us, how tax havens protect the wealth of the thieves, tyrants and fraudsters who buy our politicians. Smashing a window doesn't really get that message across; it just obscures it. It might work, sometimes, but only if the target is extremely well chosen and the context is just right - it's very tricky to pull off successfully.

So, I favour peaceful, creative direct action, because it is much more effective: It doesn't alienate (most) people, instead it tends to inspire. It also brings attention to bear on the issues. For example, tax avoidance is a terribly dull-sounding topic, and yet it is hugely important because it points the finger directly at the heart of a deeply corrupt global financial system which is instrumental in enslaving the entire world. UK Uncut have actually succeeded in getting it onto the media agenda, against all the odds, and I can assure you that major corporations, right-wing think-tanks, bankers and politicians are seriously worried about this. It goes to show what you can do, without having to throw a single paint-bomb.

Well, I hope that's constructive. I wouldn't condemn what you do, but you should really think hard about what you expect to achieve, and how. There's an article on LibCon, which I think is very helpful:

http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/03/28/saturdays-protests-and-incidents-of-violence/

methinks
Mar 29 2011 00:32

Like elsewhere around the world, black bloc is a tactic used by police to initiate violence in order for harsher police powers to be introduced. Ordinary people must and will be discouraged from protesting you see. So no, it will never be you who face mass arrests. The police within your ranks would never let that happen. How else could they create set piece acts of violence that look good on the front pages and news broadcasts? They need as many gullible little boys in hoodies as they can find. Gullible enough to follow the lead set by undercover officers when they attack the first window of the day.
Notice how there are always sufficient numbers of uniformed police around when you smash shit up yet nobody gets arrested?. Notice how the smashing of windows always happens early on in the day? Never see black bloc in use once night kicks in do you? That's all proof that you are doing exactly as they planned all along. Smash windows early on then they have reason to clampdown heavily on other protesters later on in the day. Peaceful protesters like UK Uncut who's heads were caved in by batons and who were arrested in large numbers because you did your job so well earlier, just like the police provocateurs among you intended.
Then you get ridiculous people like Ian Bone doing the state's work of stirring things up beforehand. Calling for people to stay for one day in Hyde Park!! The coward was safe at home tucked up in bed with his horlicks by 9pm. He had no intention of even staying for 12 hours let alone a day. He had to make sure he was available for his usual 15 minutes on Steven Nolan's Radio 5 Live phone in, while peaceful protesters were still on the street being beaten and arrested. What an odious, slimy little coward this creature is.
UK Uncut, steer well clear of these people. They are useful tools of the state and a valuable asset to police tactics, you will only end up beaten and arrested if you hang around them long enough..

methinks
Mar 29 2011 00:38

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpk5JtMfEzY

Don't trust black bloc police led tactics. They will only get you nicked. Black bloc = police tool.

Joseph Kay
Mar 29 2011 00:55
methinks wrote:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpk5JtMfEzY

Don't trust black bloc police led tactics. They will only get you nicked. Black bloc = police tool.

i'm not an uncritical supporter of the black bloc tactic, but of 149 people charged, 138 were UK Uncut people, and i don't think many, if any of the rest were black bloc. there's lots of criticisms of the tactic, but one thing its numbers, mobility, and willingness to fight its way out of a kettle means is you can often avoid arrest.

there were certainly undercover officers deployed on Saturday though, and the possibility of provocateurs is something advocates of black bloc tactics should take into account, as it could be used to set a trap.

General Strike
Mar 29 2011 03:06

Black bloc is one of the safest places to be.

Speaking of police crushing peaceful protest, can more of a fuss be kicked up about what happened in Trafalgar Square please? It was pretty damn horrific.

I have to say that the solidarity shown between UKUncut and anarchists is beautiful. Personally I think the combination of tactics of occupations and black bloc worked very well together.

Awesome Dude
Mar 29 2011 03:34
methinks wrote:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpk5JtMfEzY

Don't trust black bloc police led tactics. They will only get you nicked. Black bloc = police tool.

The tone of your post = police troll

bricolage
Mar 29 2011 06:50
JoeMaguire
Mar 29 2011 07:32
bricolage wrote:
Newsnight; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5IhS7yBcMnE

UK Uncut person did well to not be ram raided along a bad line of questioning, but seriously when did Paul Mason become such a cunt.

Ed
Mar 29 2011 08:01

That UKUnCut woman on Newsnight absolutely smashes it! The whole time I was watching it I kept thinking "Oh, I would've totally fucked up that bit".. the presenter was visibly frustrated.. good stuff!

Josef Wilhelm
Mar 29 2011 08:06

As both an anarchist and a UKUncut activist, it's a pleasure to read this article. I agree that greater dialogue between the two is to be desired, but as donnacha pointed out, UKUncut is essentially anarchist in its structure, so there's no central group to begin such dialogue with. Instead I'd urge local groups to make contact, as we've already done here in Edinburgh. Most of the weekly UKUncut actions here have had a large group of anarchists along with them, and we get a lot of good feedback when people ask us to explain what the flags are about. It's important that we do more than just run around with our faces masked - after all, there's a lot more to anarchism than just Black Bloc tactics. Anyway, good article!

veganpanda
Mar 29 2011 11:12

The one thing that worries me about black bloc dressing this way, makes it very easy to be infiltrated. I was at the anti-cuts march and also marched/ran with the anarchists, I was alarmed to see some in black bloc wearing what looked like police issue boots... it was the calm way they went around smashing windows etc like they didn't fear arrest!!

Personally I think the peaceful a -b marches, UK Uncut direct actions and black bloc anarchists should definitely organise SEPERATE days to carry out whatever they want to do. But whatever is planned by whichever group is protesting, let it be as creative and successful as it can possibly be. Because it was quite obvious the scum police used what black bloc did, to attack/arrest peaceful protesters like those UK Uncut activists. The police are working for the government and they don't want the public to know about tax dodging, UK Uncut is obviously working so the police want to stop them!

Caiman del Barrio
Mar 29 2011 12:26
Salviati wrote:
I'm not saying that property damage is never acceptable. Far from it. The suffragettes used vandalism and went a lot further at times. But this is 2011, not 1911. The mass media is a vital weapon, and most of it is in the hands of the establishment. They don't need much encouragement to distort the truth, and they will also take any opportunity to bury the real message we are trying to deliver.

Like you say, they need minimal encouragement, and they'll always find something. Notice how Tomlinson's death and the violent eviction of the Climate Camp at G20 was completely obscured by talk of stick-wielding Italians or whatever. Notice how MacIntyre and Meadows' beatings in Parliament Square were forgotten behind talk of smashed windows and a phantom petrol bomb. If you accept that they aren't on our side, then it follows that it's not really worth investing energy in trying to appease them.

However, if you look at what happened following Millbank, when a universally condemned occupation of the Tory HQ led to a mass student movement, then you can see the effectiveness of pushing boundaries.

(that's not a blanket condoning of everything that happened on Sat btw, I saw plenty of shit that I considered unnecessary. Like Matt EFC says, we don't 'control' the black bloc.)

Quote:
I must admit there was part of me that cheered inwardly at the sight of damage to the Ritz Hotel, although I'm not sure Ann Summers is really such a great target.

I actually thought the Ann Summers attack was excellent! Apparently they're tax dodgers too, but someone scrawled something about heteronormativity across the front, and I figured that really everyone was doing it cos of their neutralisation of kinky sex (lol).

Quote:
I suppose we could argue endlessly over such things, but the fact remains that such actions just sucked all the power out of the day, by giving the right-wing media an easy opportunity to divert attention away from the real issues and sow division among us on the left.

Well if we accept that the right will always have their agenda of discrediting us, and if you think that sowing division is a problem, then why do it? BTW I'd personally consider much of the march - those who support Miliband etc - to be technically right wing, not that it matters.

Quote:
Also, I don't think economic disruption is really the key to victory in our battles. Direct action will never be more than a minor irritant to the forces of international capital, in terms of direct disruption. What they fear more than anything is the truth.

We had "the truth" on Feb 15, 2003, when 2 million people marched in London against the Iraq War. Did we succeed in stopping the bloodshed? What the ruling class really fear isn't the truth but the suspension of business as usual and the eradication of their profits. This is why - as another Uncutter points out above - they attacked the F&M occupation despite its evidently peaceful nature. The smashers and black blockers got off easier, not just cos they're tactically more adept at avoiding arrest but also cos smashed windows are a drop in the ocean for a bank's profits.

(Outta interest, my understanding was that UK Uncut is comprised by a lot of former Climate Campers. This is interesting cos CC always considered itself 'peaceful' until Bishopsgate in 09, when they found themselves on the wrong end of a police riot and moved away from pacifist moralism. I hope ex-CCers are making these arguments inside the group now.)

Quote:
So, I favour peaceful, creative direct action, because it is much more effective: It doesn't alienate (most) people, instead it tends to inspire. It also brings attention to bear on the issues.

See I think many things can be inspirational. Definitely the most important event in the last 10 years of revolutionary politics in the UK has been the Millbank occupation though, which was characterised - perhaps unfairly you might say - as a lot of smashed windows, property destruction and an airbourne fire extinguisher.

I also refute the notion that the Working Class is uniformly anti-violence. You can't even finish the sentence without realising how ridiculous such a statement sounds, yet it is the implict premise behind every soft left/liberal argument.

Caiman del Barrio
Mar 29 2011 14:03
Tommy Ascaso wrote:
was quite impressed with Laurie Penny as well.

Especially the bit where she claimed that TEH VILENZ would "alienate" people? Fuck off, same ol' shit. You let her off the hook cos she is female and you almost know her. roll eyes

gypsy
Mar 29 2011 14:12
veganpanda wrote:
The one thing that worries me about black bloc dressing this way, makes it very easy to be infiltrated. I was at the anti-cuts march and also marched/ran with the anarchists, I was alarmed to see some in black bloc wearing what looked like police issue boots... it was the calm way they went around smashing windows etc like they didn't fear arrest!!

Some libcom posters wear army issue boots it does not mean they are the filth. I take on board your point about the anonymity of the black block increases the chance of infiltration by police.

Rob Ray
Mar 29 2011 14:15

Hey she's moved a ways from where she started dude, from Lib Dem to a tacit acknowledgment on Newsnight that the system is rigged, that the black bloccers have at least some justification and that anarchist doesn't just mean hooligan isn't bad for a Guardian/ New Statesman writer wink.

Caiman del Barrio
Mar 29 2011 14:18

So what, she also deliberately manipulated and misquoted a number of people in the student movt who were well-intentioned enough to treat her as a friend, and has leeched off of genuine radicalism for her own purposes. i still find her highly disagreeable and potentially quite dangerous.

Rob Ray
Mar 29 2011 14:22

Oh sure, I'm not saying she's a saint, but she's also not been around long and is a step ahead of Mr "surely anarchists are against organising" Dimbleby!

Caiman del Barrio
Mar 29 2011 14:34

Not really a derail, seeing as how she represents the soft liberal apologist for UK Uncut, we should probably analyse the terms in which she 'supports' them/'us'. She did roll out the "alienation" fallacy, which you may have missed...

tofu68
Mar 29 2011 16:42

Libcom Mar26 article is informative and resolves a few issues, but doesn't address the fact that the majority of people marching do not want a violent element to hijack the day and consequently the media.

It's not that other marchers disagree with the idealogy behind Libcom, but simply want to have their voice heard and not overshadowed in anyway. Just for one day... Libcom is all 'let's work together' but was there any agreement or understanding of how this would all work ahead of the march??

The bottom line is the 'authorities' used the black clad army to infiltrate much more modern, peaceful and thought provoking protest (ie UKUncut). Protest involving damage to property is way too easy and crude. But if Libcom et al insist on it, do it alone. Is that too much to ask?

akai
Mar 29 2011 16:51

There are German and Spanish translations up on this blog:
www.internationalworkersassociation.blogspot.com
Use the SF tag to seach.

bricolage
Mar 29 2011 17:57
Josef Wilhelm wrote:
UKUncut is essentially anarchist in its structure

is there really such thing as an 'anarchist structure' though? anarchism is a transformative and revolutionary project, not something that can just be reduced to decentralisation or 'fluid networks'. so while radical organisation is necessary to sustain radical politics, radical organisation on its own does not necessarily lead to radical politics. of course we can then argue about how 'radical' these forms of organisation are in the first place...

i think people have over fetishised uk uncut because they employ these 'anarchist' tactics and/or organisation without really thinking about the, rather limited, politics behind it.

obviously right now its about supporting those who were arrested, not least because this isn't an attack on uk uncut for its politics but for the fact that people involved in it exercised social disobedience and hence the state is attacking all social disobedience. still though there are important issues at stake here.

bastarx
Mar 29 2011 18:03
tofu68 wrote:
Libcom Mar26 article is informative and resolves a few issues, but doesn't address the fact that the majority of people marching do not want a violent element to hijack the day and consequently the media.

How do you know this? Please cite a public opinion poll or somesuch or else SFTU with your ridiculous, submissive claim to know what the majority want.

JoeMaguire
Mar 29 2011 18:52
tofu68 wrote:
The bottom line is the 'authorities' used the black clad army to infiltrate much more modern, peaceful and thought provoking protest (ie UKUncut). Protest involving damage to property is way too easy and crude. But if Libcom et al insist on it, do it alone. Is that too much to ask?

The state behaves like a state, like any state does, and you want to hold to account people who resist confused

bastarx
Mar 29 2011 19:07

No doubt most of them will fuck off of their own accord within a few days but can the clowns who've signed up just to parrot the outrage of the media about a minor amount of vandalism please be banned. They add absolutely nothing to libcom and many have no desire to debate in good faith.

Django
Mar 29 2011 19:49
Tofu68 wrote:
Protest involving damage to property is way too easy and crude. But if Libcom et al insist on it, do it alone. Is that too much to ask?

'Libcom', is an open site whose contributors hold various views, so as a whole it is incapable of advocating much. When black blocs have been advocated on here, they tend to receive more criticism than support, for sensible reasons such as it being dangerous (as far as the risk of conviction goes) for marginal effect, and potentially alienating and vanguardist. The idea of radical workers blocs or concerted attempts to engage the crowd tend to be more popular.

However, pointing out that property damage isn't the same as violence, that police being present renders any protest 'violent', or pointing out that we're letting the agenda be set by the media isn't advocacy. Nor is it to refuse to condemn the black blockers.

Django
Mar 29 2011 19:52
Peter wrote:
No doubt most of them will fuck off of their own accord within a few days but can the clowns who've signed up just to parrot the outrage of the media about a minor amount of vandalism please be banned. They add absolutely nothing to libcom and many have no desire to debate in good faith.

This is ridiculous - people can register to debate, that's the point of a discussion board. If you're unwilling to defend or argue for your politics when its as easy as it is on the internet then what's the point in having them?

bricolage
Mar 29 2011 20:02
tofu68 wrote:
The bottom line is the 'authorities' used the black clad army to infiltrate much more modern, peaceful and thought provoking protest (ie UKUncut).

I don't understand, are you actually trying to argue that anyone committing property damage was an agent of the state?

gypsy
Mar 29 2011 20:38
Peter wrote:
No doubt most of them will fuck off of their own accord within a few days but can the clowns who've signed up just to parrot the outrage of the media about a minor amount of vandalism please be banned. They add absolutely nothing to libcom and many have no desire to debate in good faith.

I agree with you about them adding practically nothing and some having no desire to debate in good faith. However a ban is out of the question, I have seen much more sinister users been allowed to remain unbanned such as the EDL clown 'arthur' until he crossed the line.

GuyDeBord's Optician
Mar 29 2011 20:50

Have UKUncut 'officially' responded to this? I know they're federated and de-centralised, but has any actualy group responded in an official capacity?

Salviati
Mar 29 2011 21:16
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
Salviati wrote:
Also, I don't think economic disruption is really the key to victory in our battles. Direct action will never be more than a minor irritant to the forces of international capital, in terms of direct disruption. What they fear more than anything is the truth.

We had "the truth" on Feb 15, 2003, when 2 million people marched in London against the Iraq War. Did we succeed in stopping the bloodshed? What the ruling class really fear isn't the truth but the suspension of business as usual and the eradication of their profits. This is why - as another Uncutter points out above - they attacked the F&M occupation despite its evidently peaceful nature. The smashers and black blockers got off easier, not just cos they're tactically more adept at avoiding arrest but also cos smashed windows are a drop in the ocean for a bank's profits.

I think this is where we differ most sharply, although I agree with you about Millbank. I'm pretty certain that the F&M arrests were not motivated by a desire to avoid economic damage. I'm sure a cup of tea there is pretty pricey, but I don't think we cost them much in terms of disruption; customers and staff were still able to go about their business. Frankly, I've been on other occupations with UK Uncut which caused a lot more disruption and we were never even threatened with arrest. No, this was a calculated political move to:

1) Discredit UK Uncut by associating it with the 'violence' going on outside

2) Intimidate the participants and deter them from future actions

3) Get the arrest figures up to a suitable number, so that they could credibly claim that there had been a 'riot'.

They really aren't bothered about losing an hour's business, or even a day's business here or there. I know this for sure, because in the past Vodafone (for example) has chosen deliberately to close its doors for the whole day, rather than let us do an occupation for a single hour. Other shops have followed the same strategy. It's the bad publicity they really fear. As you said, they're even less bothered by the odd smashed window, which only adds to my feeling that the latter is a futile tactic against economic targets. Perhaps it works better against a symbolic, political target, for which few people feel any sympathy. But remember that ordinary people work in shops: they may get scared and don't necessarily know that you're smashing the shop on their behalf!

So if smashing stuff up is futile and alienates potential allies, why do it? I can think of good targets for vandalism, but they need to be deeply unsympathetic. Personally, I would cheer to the rafters if you smashed up the printing presses or offices of the Sun, for example. Nobody likes tabloid journalists, and if you can take their presses down for a day you'd not only hit them financially pretty hard; you'd also stem the flow of vile, racist, misogynist, homophobic, heteronormative, extreme right-wing drivel that gushes from it's putrid arse. Just an idea wink

One other observation: getting arrested for peaceful protest is not necessarily a bad thing in the scheme of things. This mass arrest at F&M is shaping up to be another huge PR disaster for the police, because we now have solid video evidence from the legal observers that prove police misconduct and probable wrongful arrest:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/mar/28/cuts-protest-uk-uncut-fortnum

This follows the earlier CS Spray incident where a police officer went berserk on video. So, it looks like UK Uncut 2 Police 0. It would have had more impact, though, without all the disorder on the day.

(Aside: As for Iraq, I don't think most people got the truth until after the invasion, sadly. It's possible that violence would have been the appropriate response on that occasion, but we have to understand why).