May 1, which is celebrated as International Workers’ Day in numerous countries worldwide, has long been marked by workers’ groups in the UK, and, before the great distraction of the “war on terror,” was a focal point for dissent during the international anti-globalization movement that sprang to life in London and Seattle in 1999, and became such a huge force that the authorities began responding to it with murderous violence (in Genova in 2001, for example), setting a precedent that enabled police in London in 2009 to kill a passer-by, Ian Tomlinson, during a violent suppression of peaceful demonstrators at the G20 Summit.
As I mentioned last year in an article, The Year of Revolution: The “War on Tyranny” Replaces the “War on Terror”:
The J18 [the protest in the City of London on June 18, 1999] drew on a long tradition of protest dating back to the 1960s, but with particular reference to the anti-road protests, the Reclaim the Streets movement, and the protests against the Criminal Justice Act, which had galvanized dissenters in large numbers from the early 1990s, and which, in turn, were influenced by the travellers’ movement in the 1970s and the 1980s, and the anti-nuclear protests focused on Greenham Common and Molesworth.
After a boisterous May Day in 2000, featuring “guerilla gardening” in Parliament Square, the placing of a green Mohican, made of grass, on the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, and the sacking of a branch of McDonald’s, the Metropolitan Police introduced kettling for May Day 2001, which they used to detain hundreds of people in Oxford Street and Regent Street, including many, completely unconnected to the protest, who had, for example, just left their office to get a sandwich, but who found themselves held for hours.
With the Blair government having effectively stifled mass dissent — and with the increased paranoia and authoritarianism that followed on from the 9/11 attacks — successive May Day protests were much smaller, although kettling was a regular feature, as several hundred hard-core protestors would be kettled and beaten by the police, just far enough from passers-by to avoid scrutiny.
This year, the latest manifestation of significant public dissent, the Occupy movement, which started with Occupy Wall Street last September and then spread rapidly across the US and around the world, joined the International Workers’ Day march — mainly featuring a wealth of Socialist and Communist groups demonstrating the melting pot that is London, with Turks, Kurds, Sri Lankans and workers from many other countries — from Clerkenwell to Trafalgar Square, where a rally was held. In solidarity, I went down this afternoon, meeting up with friends and colleagues, and listening to an excellent speech by a representative of the Occupy movement, as activists sat below, outside tents that had been erected to demonstrate the enduring significance of occupying public spaces.
Occupy London had also held a protest in the morning, at Liverpool Street station. As the Evening Standard explained, “Protesters wearing masks and carrying a tent filled with helium balloons arrived at Liverpool St station at rush hour this morning” from Occupy London’s surviving encampment in Finsbury Square, where they “unfurled banners and handed out flowers to police and bemused commuters,” bearing the message, “There Is Something Better Out There.”
They had hoped to take the protest onto the Tube network, but were prevented from doing so by the police, so instead they “gathered on the main concourse banging drums and playing music from a sound system.”
One activist, Flo, said, “We want to raise public awareness about the power of protest. The Government are handing out taxes to pensioners and we are handing out flowers. Our message is simple: you don’t have to do what is expected of you.”
Occupy London also issued the following report:
Spring is here. The first of May has traditionally been a day in which workers express their solidarity and celebrate what they have gained through collective action. This year, May Day will be marked on a grand scale by the global Occupy movement as it rises into its second phase.
Almost a year ago, the indignados took possession of Spain’s great public squares; an act of defiant optimism in the face of pervasive hopelessness and profound cynicism about the capacity of established institutions to provide for a future worth living in. This morning, supporters of Occupy London brought that unreasonable hope into a rainy London Tuesday, flooding Liverpool Street Station with thousands of flowers bearing the message “There is something better out there.”
Derived from a variety of sources and making good out of what would have otherwise been wasted, Occupy’s flowers weren’t limited to red roses.
Jane Bradley, who was giving out flowers at Liverpool Street, said:
People were matching the flowers to their outfits. Others were coming up to us and asking for them. Even the policemen ended up putting them in their lapels. It’s crazy how something so simple can have such an enormous impact. It was really moving. The way people reacted was really interesting. So many people thought we were trying to sell them something, but when they realised that we weren’t, their reaction changed dramatically.
The distribution of flowers at Liverpool Street is just the first act of a day that will see supporters of Occupy London demonstrating their solidarity with trade unionists and campaigners against workfare.
Laura Taylor, a supporter of Occupy London, added:
The flowers we gave to people this morning will be taken into offices all over the city. We hope they will brighten up people’s day, but also provide some food for thought. May Day is a day for everyone who works, whether that be in the public or private sector, in an office or at home, unionised or not. Together, we can make this May the start of something really special. Everyone is invited.
The Evening Standard also covered the rally in Trafalgar Square, noting, “The Government has been criticised for ‘destroying’ communities with its spending cuts and other policies as thousands of trade unionists, pensioners, students and activists took part in the annual May Day celebrations. Leaders of unions representing health workers, council staff and civil servants told a rally in London’s Trafalgar Square that the coalition’s policies had failed, leading to rising unemployment and cuts in public services.”
Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, said, “We are not prepared to stand by and watch ordinary working people pay the price of a crisis caused by spivs and speculators and greedy bankers. Of course there is an alternative to the cuts. We should be investing in communities, not destroying them.” As the Standard explained, he “paid tribute to the Occupy and UK Uncut direct action groups and said that every form of civil disobedience and direct action should be supported.”
Mark Serwotka, the leader of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), “predicted that up to half a million civil servants, lecturers, health workers, Ministry of Defence staff and Royal Fleet Auxiliary employees” would take industrial action next Thursday, May 10, in their ongoing struggle with the government to protect their pensions. “Some workers,” he said, “will be going on strike for the fourth or fifth time because they know that if they lose their pensions now, they will never get them back.” This is important , of course, even though, to my mind, what we need the unions to do is to call for days of action, like the huge March 26 protest last year, that draw everyone together — including non-unionised workers, the self-employed, the unemployed, the disabled, pensioners, students and schoolchildren — everyone, in fact, except the rich and the super-rich.
Below are other photos I took today (in addition to those above), which you’re free to use if you like, although if you do, please credit me. Please click on them to see them full-size.
A spokeswoman for Occupy London speaks at the May Day rally in Trafalgar Square, London, on May 1, 2012, while Occupy activists, with tents, sit below (Photo: Andy Worthington).
Workers’ representatives with banners as part of the annual International Workers’ Day march and rally in London, May 1, 2012 (Photo: Andy Worthington).
Latin American protestors on the annual International Workers’ Day march in London, May 1, 2012 (Photo: Andy Worthington).
A display with red flags on the International Workers’ Day march in London, May 1, 2012 (Photo: Andy Worthington).
A banner for Islington TUC, as photographed on the International Workers’ Day march in London, May 1, 2012 (Photo: Andy Worthington).
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
My friend Jan, in Denver, has sent me the following report about today’s Occupy Denver May Day:
I met a man from Tunisia today. He moved here last year. He talked about Occupy saying he believes it will take another 5 hears before the people REALLY push change (too many still not feeling the pain to the point where they have nothing to lose). He remembers marching 55 miles on the capitol in Tunisia. Had the daughter of a Syrian immigrant there with me making signs. Her family opened a Syrian restaurant about 8 blocks from my home. Father is in Jordan helping with donations to the people in Syria.
Our little Denver was representative of the planet. We had about 400 march since they had so many activities going all day and now into the night. 3 parks — Skyline was teach-ins all day; Civic Center and then Liberty Park. SEIU (Service Employees Union) joining with Working America — the local AFL-CIO group working for workers rights in CO (we have few — no sick leave, no disability, no “right to work” laws in Colorado making it at the employers’ discretion, which means only about 20-30% of employers have any of these benefits and then only for those working 40 hours a week or more.
If I find more information on Denver that is accurate — the media is lying already — I will send it to you. We were stopped from marching on the Office of Employment or any government offices. \We were stopped from marching on Bank of America and Chase and all the other majors. We were stopped from marching on the Federal Reserve. The police were out in riot gear from the beginning.
Word is of Oakland, NYC and San Francisco reporting damage and violence by the police …The day is still young enough for Denver — one arrest of a woman who danced in the street.
On Digg, anomaly100 wrote:
Good collection of photos. As we said from the onset of Occupy, arrest one and two more will appear. It’s now Global.
Thanks, anomaly. I got a camera at Christmas after years in the wilderness without one, and I’m really enjoying using it as another tool of communicating, in addition to my incessant writing.
I very much hope that Occupy is like the Hydra, and I’m pretty sure it has to be. When our leaders keep us in self-inflicited economic decline, because they sent the jobs elsewhere, and they show on a daily basis that they really don’t care about us unless we’re rich, active resistance is the only constructive response, given that a suffiicient number of people are refusing to take the only other option available – self-medicating in front of the TV.
On Facebook, Nello Bucciero wrote:
Job,work…nice words! What a sad day…a Job is a dream today!
”A job is a dream today” ought to be the defining indictment of governments who have stopped caring about their people, and who care only about money, Nello. If they won’t change their ways of operating, they should be removed from office, and if they all insist on huddling together in the same cliques, pandering to the rich whatever their supposed political affiliations, then we need a new political movement, and we need it now.
The gendarmes push in London to keep the movement from over-staying in any one spot..Olympics and all – Must be to get people used to not bringing attention to themselves. Clean and tidy, the Cameron way.
I guess it will be viewed unseemly for the people to practice their rights in front of the throngs of fleeced Olympics ticket holders. Can’t be giving the impression that the Cameron government is not looked upon favorably by the people. The marketing must show happy faces and clean places.
As the Tories steal from the poor and the health from the rest of the 99%
Thanks, cosmicsurfer. Yes, there must be no visible dissent, as in the People’s Republic of China four years ago, when all the Western countries were queuing up to ingratiate themselves with China’s leaders, and not mentioning human rights or noticing that anything was wrong with China at all. David Cameron, the toff who would be King, is hoping to have nothing but deference for a while. He believes he was born to be deferred to, and that he deserves it. I hope he is severely disappointed somehow. I will certainly not be shutting up and dutifullly waving a flag …
Uh-Oh, Liz might take exception with his desire to be king
He’s one of her bastard fifth cousins, don’t you know? Related to King William IV, by way of one of his mistresses. I couldn’t make this stuff up. Although it still doesn’t explain to me why he wanted to be Prime Minister, unless it was only to pontificate about anything and everything at any time of the day or night, even though he actually knows every little about anything. Psychologically, I can’t figure it out. Perhaps he felt overshadowed by his elder brother?
Karin Friedemann wrote:
one arrest of a woman who danced in the street. lol
Yes, that says it all really, doesn’t it, Karin?
Nello Bucciero wrote (in response to 5, above):
I agree with you.
Thanks, Nello. I hope that we’ll soon see a world in which millions and millions of people agree with us. We don’t need the leaders we’ve got if all they’re interested in is driving us into poverty, while – surprise, surprise – they themselves continue to stay as well-fed and privileged as ever.
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