Sunday, 8 January 2012

Running around Liverpool with UK Uncut

Yesterday, I headed into Liverpool City Centre to take part in a UK Uncut day of action. It turned out to be one of the most successful recent actions by the group. Working Class Self Organisation's write up of the afternoon is here, and what follows is my take.

The assembly point for the action was the Liverpool Social Centre, in the basement of News From Nowhere. Having already been in town on other business, I arrived early and was there when Anna - the organiser of the event and a fellow member of Liverpool Solidarity Federation - arrived, camera crew in tow. It turns out that she was the subject of a documentary by Al Gore's Current TV channel, and thus the day's action was to be filmed.

This created a weird dynamic in the Social Centre, to say the least. The camera crew set about filming the smallest details of their surroundings whilst the presenter Andrew Mueller asked about the significance of the Centre to radical movements. Even I was weirded out by the way one of the cameras was following Anna around - even when she was literally doing nothing.

Once more people started to arrive, most from Occupy Liverpool, there was an incredibly staged unveiling of the banner that had been created for the occasion. Mueller interviewed one member of the Occupy camp about how their organisation worked and his role as a figurehead since he was more visible than many others during actions. He then interviewed me and I offered an anarcho-syndicalist perspective on UK Uncut, from how its actions were far more radical than its politics to the need to cause economic disruption in order to force any change of direction from the government on austerity.

With a few initial interviews done, the target of the day's action was announced as HSBC and the group left the Social Centre on mass. Moving down Bold Street, it soon became apparent that the police were expecting something to happen, though they clearly didn't know where had been targetted yet. For them, it would clearly be a case of reacting to the situation as it happened.

Three people got into HSBC and announced themselves before the doors were closed, leaving the rest of us to picket outside. The banner and cardboard signs were unveiled, and a gathering crowd were informed that the aim of the protest was to highlight the tax dodging by banks and corporations and how this money could prevent public sector cuts. A few people moved around, engaging with the public or taking pictures, whilst others milled about, holding up signs and talking amongst themselves.

During the time we were there, a number of security guards gathered and looked on. They kept their distance, but some were clearly itching for a fight, and it had been established from previous UK Uncut actions that they would seize any opportunity for a melee with the demonstrators. Their interest in confrontation was confirmed by the sight of two men, who turned out to be guards from Vodaphone in Liverpool One, observing the picket from a shop on the opposite side of the street almost for the entire time it was there.

At three o'clock, with HSBC shut down for the day, the protesters moved off. An instruction had already been passed around discretely, and the group charged back down the street and into Topshop. Not long after this, the doors were closed and shoppers ushered out. This occupation lasted about twenty minutes, with any shoppers wanting to make purchases being taken through the tills and leaving by the fire exit. Outside the shop, a considerable crowd had gathered, and once more another group of security were milling not too far away. Some Uncutters remained on the outside, explaining to passers by and the gathering throng - many of them kids excited by the hubbub and disruption - what it was all about.

Eventually, the occupiers all left in a procession via the front doors, to cheering and applause. They then moved into the middle of Church Street, to rally people together. Across the road, Vodaphone had already shut down in anticipation and Burtons had its shutters half way down. This was followed by a spontaneous march down Church Street and through the Liverpool One shopping centre, where both the other Vodaphone branch and Natwest closed in anticipation of protest.

It was not long after this that I had to leave because of a prior engagement, although I understand that Tescos and Starbucks were among other stores targeted. My suspicions about the security were also confirmed by news that one was arrested for assault, along with a member of Occupy Liverpool on the same charge. This suggests a potential need for stewarding on demonstrations such as these - not stewarding in the sense of wearing a hi-viz jacket and acting as lackeys for the police to keep people in line, but in the sense of being there specifically to provide security for the demonstration against police, security or fascist violence as the case may be.

Nonetheless, the day was ultimately a successful one. Such actions cannot be measured individually in terms of the impact they have on the broader issue, but it is pretty much a guarantee that they have greater effect if they impact upon trading than if they are reduced to a passive protest - as the last demo at Topshop was. Yesterday, at least six businesses closed as a result of this action, an undoubted win.