A Message to Critical UK Uncut Activists

This post was written by Guest Post on March 29, 2011
Posted Under: Uncategorized

Much of what I wanted to say about the fallout from the mass arrests at Fortnum and Mason has already been said in the letter from SolFed to UK Uncut, but in the face of recriminations of the black bloc by many liberal supporters of UK Uncut I thought I would add a voice.

Learning curves are steep. Watching the footage released by the Green and Black Cross of the arrest it was interesting to note quite how many people from the UK Uncut group found themselves putting on hoods and masking up as they left the store: such a reaction is reasonable in the face of police who heavily monitor all those attending protests and particularly those engaging in direct action. Indeed, in the same footage protesters inside the shop ask if there is a police surveillance team outside. Of course this masking up was all a little late, and the attempt not to get noticed after spending a few hours in a shop whose ceiling has almost as many CCTV cameras as Holloway Road is a little futile, but perhaps lessons are beginning to be learnt.

Similarly, many UK Uncutters seemed astonished that the police would lie to them. Yet this is hardly a new occurrence. The police, as we know, consistently lie in order to coerce people and to gather data. That ranges from telling you that it’s in your interest to tell them everything you know in an interview after an arrest, to telling you that you have to give your name and date of birth if stopped and search, to telling you that you aren’t being kettled, to telling you that the undercover cop who infiltrated your movement for years doesn’t exist, to telling you that you won’t be arrested.

Many of the more politically liberal elements UK Uncut have made harsh attacks on other protesters . Apparently they feel that UK Uncut are being punished because of the tactics of Black Bloc, who in the words of Johann Hari are “twats”, “arseholes” and “idiots”. Thanks Johann. But be sure you know that those same twats, arseholes, and idiots are many of the people who will be helping you out over the coming months. As Hari and his ilk criticized from afar, many of us waited for you outside police stations to make sure you were ok, that you had some nicotine, decent food, legal support, and a way to get home, or organized a crash space for you. Others have offered trauma support for activists, while black bloc street-medics treated many who were injured on the day. We will continue to stand in solidarity with you, and support you with the ongoing activism, be it in court or on the streets.

I hope, though, that something is taken from the experience. To stay safe as an activist today, all you can do is mask up. Amongst the student movement at the end of last year, this was a major gain that was won. By the mass demonstration in Parliament Square on December 9, the majority of protesters had realized that wearing a mask keeps you safe and keeps others safe too. Many had also brought hard hats, that are so necessary when the police decide to “facilitate your right to protest” in the most brutal manner. After a series of kettles on a series of demonstrations, almost all knew that co-operating with or trusting the police was not going to work in their favour, and knew that allowing police to gather data was not a great idea either. It is my hope then, that instead of criticizing them actions of other protesters, supporters of UK Uncut will begin to understand why many black bloc activists do what they do. As some writers from the student movement put it, “Cover your face: today, we can do nothing as somebody or something as nobody”

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Reader Comments

Emily Davis

What a pile of rubbish.

Written By Emily Davis on March 29th, 2011 @ 12:51 pm

Completely agree with everything said here. The Black Bloc are not the enemy of UK Uncut, the sooner they see that the better.

Written By Anonymous on March 29th, 2011 @ 12:55 pm

What a load of self-regarding nonsense. Go and tidy your rooms, kids!

Written By Widcombe on March 29th, 2011 @ 1:34 pm

Th eLeft Wing imploding into an orgy of wailing, finger pointing, blubbing and civil war – I could watch this all day!!

You crack on BlackBlog Combat Dudes or whatever – The rest of us will tag along for the lulz!

Written By SkipLicker on March 29th, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

UK Uncut activists who are feeling aggrieved and sorry for them selves after being arrested, I’d advise this simple lesson to take heed of in the future. If you don’t like being kettled, arrested, or being beaten by the police, then don’t do things that bring you to their attention. Go about your business peaceably, keep away from obvious trouble spots, and don’t join in with angry mob situations because its a ‘bit of a lark’. As a veteran of US Embassy anti Vietnam, PollTax, Miners strikes and countless other lesser causes, whats more a criminal record is for life not just for Christmas. Keep protesting, and do it often,but do it in a way that keeps it peaceful and trouble free

Written By Stuart on March 29th, 2011 @ 3:09 pm
Christopher Lane

So you like a fight, you like to smash things up, you like to alienate others and all in the name of peace…barbaric behaviour in my opinion. India was liberated through a series of unified PEACEFUL actions, that moved people around the world. A few self involved adolescents smashing up a store will not get anyone anywhere. We are supposed to be sentient beings capable of overcoming our animal instincts to lash out. I understand that the world can be frustrating but that energy is better spent talking to a bystander who could become an enthusiastic member of the movement. I didn’t attend on Saturday because frankly I can’t bare to see another shop window smashed or burger king burnt down (reference to G8 at Glen Eagles)all in the name of peace and liberty. In fact when I see the Black Bloc, I don’t think “good on you” or “I’m glad someone has the guts to do that”, no no…I think EDL EDL EDL…and to be honest I’ve never seen one of their members smash anything. Piss on Westminster Cathedral in large numbers? (maybe).

Written By Christopher Lane on March 29th, 2011 @ 3:25 pm
simon kane

Ninety-nine point nine percent of the protesters went unarrested so I’d hold off donning the hard hats for now. One of the chief aims of UKuncut is surely to present a form of protest unchartered by the news media. The black bloc, for all the help it might provide, is certainly not providing this. In fact by encouraging us to employ the logic of the police – to be DEFINED by the police – it is actively discouraging it, and I hope that the civil disobedience continues to extend to disobeying such a definition.

Written By simon kane on March 29th, 2011 @ 3:54 pm

The police can publicly justify arresting non-violent UKUncut protesters because of the violent action of Black Bloc earlier in the day. UKUncut have become criminals not just in the eyes of the police but also the wider public due to the violence of other.

The kind of actions that UKUncut carry out are designed to win an argument not a fight. They are designed to convince the wider public and politicians, some of whom are humans, that corporations should be paying their tax. A thrown bottle or damage to property will never win that argument.

Black Bloc too often use peaceful protesters as a shield and cover to carry out their destructive and therefore self destructive actions, actions that take place without a coherent argument ever expressed. This is cowardice.
The violent actions of Black Bloc were an insult and undemocratic to the 99% of protesters who turned up wanting it to be a completely peaceful protest, that is why many brought their children and have even brought their children on other UKUncut demonstrations. Even if governments can’t act democratically then we must.
Winning a battle will solve last a moment truely winning an argument will endure.

Written By Sean on March 29th, 2011 @ 4:59 pm

“Mask up” That really is great. Somehow I don’t think that thousands of protesters all wearing masks will come across as peaceful demonstrations. My guess is that the police would see you as an even greater threat especially considering the recent violence.

Black Bloc is the real problem – not the police.

Written By siglawn on March 29th, 2011 @ 5:40 pm

Wearing a mask is not a criminal or violent act. It can be an indication that someone’s about to do something criminal or violent but so can wearing Doc Martens, and I’d like to see the police try to ban those.

That aside, though, I agree with Sean, and totally disagree with this piece. The police’s actions were unjustified, but this is the first time a UKUncut action has coincided with criminal damage being done in the same vicinity by other political activists, and the first time one of their actions has resulted in a mass arrest. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. To suggest that the way the police behaved wouldn’t have been different in other circumstances is completely disingenuous.

Written By Owen on March 29th, 2011 @ 5:52 pm
claude miller

i’m in ketucky, us. don’t let yourselves be divided or distracted. we know all too well how they work. they will infiltrate and start using violence to make you look out of control and therefore dangerous. define your messsage, stick to it, don’t be sidetracked and push on. i’m 54, i saw how the fbi went after martin luther king and the anti-war movement. they know exactly what they’re doing.

Written By claude miller on March 29th, 2011 @ 6:33 pm

“The police, as we know, consistently lie in order to coerce people and to gather data… telling you that the undercover cop who infiltrated your movement for years doesn’t exist, to telling you that you won’t be arrested.”

I agree.

The problem is that the Black Bloc style tactic suits police infiltrators down to the ground. I’m not too enamored of the symbolic acts of violence against enemy property, but neither am I too bothered by them. What worries me more is that we have no idea whether certain acts on Saturday were actually committed by infiltrators to discredit the movement. Apart form that my criticism of black bloc is more about the democratic deficit of substitutionism that their actions represent, and their ability to divide rather than unite oppositional movements at a time of rising anger and discontent among many layers of the population with those governing.

I certainly appreciate that black bloc are also undertaking constructive work, supporting the rights of those beyond their bloc who have faced police repression, but I can’t see “masking up” as a realistic option for the wider movement.

Nor do I see it as a way of creating a self-confident radical movement committed to civil disobedience/direct action as well as other more orthodox mass protest methods. I would rather black bloc activists worked within the movement to argue for their forms of direct action, and consider ways to carry out actions that are effective in making their point, command wider support and stay one step ahead of the police, rather than hid behind their masks.

Written By DavidR on March 29th, 2011 @ 7:48 pm
dilan roj

Completely agree with Sean, the Black Bloc did the peaceful March and those protestors a massive disservice, and lost ukuncut many supporters..im not a ‘liberal’ supporter of ukuncut, i just think violence is counter-productive and the anti-cuts march was hijacked by this Bloc. twats arseholes and idiots is about right.

Written By dilan roj on March 29th, 2011 @ 7:52 pm

i just wanted to say to christopher lane. Don’t bring up indian independence, completely crass, absolutely incomparable to what is happening in britain right now, and not strictly true that it was completely peaceful….

Written By me on March 30th, 2011 @ 12:31 pm

Very good article. We should remember the history of Black Bloc, it’s origins are in the aftermath of police brutality and victimization. Many of the police also mask up under their riot helmets, and now they’re planning to make it illegal – why would any self respecting political lefty damn Black Bloc also? Come on like, it’s simple solidarity, simple tactic, powerful message, very effective. Simple, very good.

The violence on March 26th was very minimal. If you look on Scotland Newsnight, all the academics are laughing at how hysterical the English and their press are any time someone looses their manners.

Violence in legal terms is only ‘violence’ if it’s against people or animals, so again, ninety percent of the ‘violence’ on March 26th was against property (i.e. NOT VIOLENCE, VANDALISM OR CRIMINAL DAMAGE)

UKUncut are not being that bad on this though, which is important to remember. Don’t confuse them with the journalists reporting on them. They’ve moved a little more radical than their (very powerful) one liner about tax avoidance, which is good. Their statement about wealth inequality on March 26th was fantastic. The fact they’ve avoided (as a group) condemning violence or vandalism is also good. It’s not their place to condemn or defend it, and I think any critics who might accuse UKUncut of being unsupportive of black bloc should bare that in mind.

It’s tricky of course. UKUncut I think are right to keep on their same little bit of new radical ground now – wait till they win it, then move on. Johann Hari and the like can present the “UKUncut are the lovely peaceful not idiots and all the ‘anarchists’ and the unlovely violence idiots” journo bullshit, but that’s been around before UKUncut and is, though they sometimes gesture towards affecting, beyond their control ultimately.

Written By Heaathcouutee on March 30th, 2011 @ 3:38 pm

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