London May Day protests: Hypocrisy of the capitalist press and politicians

The violent flair up in London on May Day which resulted in damage to a McDonald's restaurant and other property has caused outrage in the capitalist press and amongst bourgeois politicians of every stripe.

Leading the chorus of condemnation was none other than Tony Blair, the leader of the nation, who denounced the actions of the protesters as "mindless thuggery". The following day, he urged the friends and families of those involved to "name names" and grass on their loved ones. In Parliament, Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, defended the "non-confrontational" actions of the Metropolitan police, which drew loud cheers from the Tories. "The vandals desecrated the Cenotaph and defaced the statue of Sir Winston Churchill..." he thundered, oblivious to the fact that Churchill was an avowed enemy of the Labour movement. This was followed by howls of protest from William Hague and Anne Widdecombe. These Saviours of Democracy asked in the House of Commons for "exemplary sentences" to be handed out and suggested May Day demonstrations be banned in future.

It is no accident that the right to protest, the right to demonstrate, as well as the right to free speech, was won by the British working class in the teeth of opposition from the ruling class and their political representatives in the Tory Party. How they would love to turn the clocks back!

For us, the uprooting of turf, the daubing of paint, and the smashing of a few shop fronts is a futile gesture which cannot damage or undermine global capitalism. This requires the conscious movement of the working class in the struggle for a socialist society. Despite the childish nature of the actions of some of the protesters, which are utterly counter-productive, they have served to bring down the wrath of God on their heads from the Establishment. Both New Labour and the Tories are falling over themselves to castigate the anti-capitalist protesters. All are united in an unholy alliance of condemnation. Private property must remain sacred!

What strikes you about all this sanctimonious bellowing is its utter hypocrisy. These good law-abiding Christian Ladies and Gentlemen who rule our lives are quick to condemn small-time violence from protesters against global capitalism. But when it comes to mass violence inflicted on the "lesser breeds" in other countries who threaten the material interests of imperialism, all we get is crocodile tears from these same hypocrites. These Christian people, who no doubt go to church every Sunday in their fashionable clothes, welcomed the bombing of Iraq and the murder of 100,000 men, women and children. The imperialist power's merciless and inhuman economic blockade has resulted in the deaths of tens of over one million children, creating terrible shortages, especially of medicine and medical supplies.

Those who raise their arms in horror at the daubing of paint on the Cenotaph, stupid as it was, were the most ardent war-mongers when it came to the bombing of innocent people in former Yugoslavia. This, after all, was simply "collateral damage" and nothing more. NATO, with the full backing of the British government, targeted refineries, water plants, television studios, residential areas and factories. Blair was the most bellicose of all NATO leaders in his campaign to "degrade", i.e.. to bomb the hell out of Yugoslavia. And all this imperialist aggression was dressed up as "ethical foreign policy".

As Leon Trotsky pointed out 75 years ago: "The British bourgeoisie has been brought up on ruthlessness. The conditions of island existence, the moral philosophy of Calvinism, colonial practices, and national arrogance have led them along that road."

Their morality is the morality of the market place. Tony Blair apes all the features of the ruling class in his condemnation of the lower orders. The working class must learn restraint, subordination, and even gratitude, while the capitalist class engages in their exploitation. Working people must reject this stinking hypocrisy, so beloved by the Labour and trade union hierarchy, and fight to end the rule of the monopolies, which will mean a society free from violence, hunger and exploitation. In the words of Frederick Engels, it will constitute a leap by humanity from the "realm of necessity" to the "realm of freedom".

The role of the police

Anyone who attended the May Day anti-capitalist demonstrations in London would on watching the evening news or reading the papers the following morning have wondered if they were talking about the same event. The media has been full of lurid accounts of mass violence and terror throughout the streets of London. But was this actually the case and what was the real role of the Men in Blue?

For days the press had been building up the planned demonstrations as being a carnival of chaos in which blood would flow all over London. Excited reporters dreamt up stories of saboteurs infiltrating City offices (although being a Bank Holiday they would actually be shut!) and conspiratorial characters lurking in dark pub rooms planning the decimation of the City. The repeated statements from the organisers that the event would be non-violent were rejected as being a cover position. The police added to this hysteria with repeated announcements that all police leave was being cancelled to prepare for the riots to come. As we shall see the police were very much working towards their own agenda.

Come Monday morning, the streets of London were full of police vans as they waited for the hooded rioters to appear from out of darkened doorways. However nothing of the sort occurred. The traditional trade union demonstration left Clerkenwell Green at 1.00pm as planned. In Parliament Square several thousand demonstrators arrived, as announced, to carry out a mass planting as a sign of opposition to the forces of capital. Since gardening is not normally seen as a sign of rioting there was little for the media to report.

However, the police were having none of this. After the November demonstration against capitalism, timed to coincide with the Seattle events, the police had been smarting over criticism that they had let the event get out of control. Now they wanted their revenge. Citing the actions of a very small minority of those present who had attacked a branch of McDonalds and daubed paint on a couple of statues (both these targets had strangely been left unprotected by the police despite concerns being raised before hand), the police moved in and pushed demonstrators up towards Trafalgar Square. At the same time the official labour movement demonstration was summarily stopped in the Stand before it arrived for the planned rally in Trafalgar Square and told that they could go no further and should disband-so much for democratic rights . The police then set about slowly sealing off the whole of Trafalgar Square. Lines of police in full riot gear were joined by a large number of military police again in full body armour. Hundreds were left trapped inside the square, demonstrators, tourists, the lot. A smaller group positioned in Charing Cross road by the Portrait Gallery were pushed backwards, after refusing a call from the police to go into Trafalgar Square and be trapped with the others.

Despite repeated provocations from the police the mood remained remarkable calm and strangely quiet as evening approached. Contrary to the position being reported by the media it was clear to all present that the majority of those present were not out to cause trouble but just wanted to celebrate May Day and oppose capitalism. The promised conspiratorial hordes of "anarchists" turned out to be just a handful, nothing like the numbers predicted by the right wing press. Disgracefully the police kept those trapped in Trafalgar Square in there for hour after hour, no food or water or access to toilets. Included in this number were old people and small children, tourists and local workers. The police just didn't care, they wanted their revenge for last years 'defeat'. Corralled in for no reason other than to try and intimidate, the people were only very gradually let out a few at a time and only after being photographed by police cameras.

Such heavy handed methods, completely out of tune with the earlier carnival mood reported as such even by the police spokespersons, should serve as a warning to the Labour and trade union movement. These are the sort of methods that the police are prepared to use, and worse, to terrorise and intimidate legitimate demonstrations. We have already had a taste of this during the Miners strike, the polltax campaign and in Northern Ireland. It is naive in the extreme to believe that the law is impartial and that we are all equal under it. In the future, as opposition grows and grows against the attacks of the market, especially from the organised labour movement, the police will increasingly adopt such vicious methods to try and break the spirit of the class.

Trade unionists and Labour movement activists should also be warned that there is already a campaign afoot on the part of the media and others to use this event as an excuse to ban or 'limit' demonstrations. Ann Widdecombe has also called for the rounding up of all film of the demonstration, this to then be made available to the police. The warning is clear-demonstrations will be curtailed or banned and those which do take place will be heavily "supervised" with cameras everywhere. The movement cannot stand for this curtailing of our rights and must take a stand against this trend. If the labour movement opposes this new proposals then it can be defeated. They can harass and arrest a few stray individuals but against a force of hundreds of thousands of trade unionists, youth and others from the working class they would be powerless. This is the required response to the rantings of Blair, Straw, Widdecombe and the rest. The Labour movement fought for the right to protest and march to show opposition-now the struggle is on again.