Jump to Navigation

A letter to UK Uncutters from the 'violent minority'

Mon, 28/03/2011 - 18:10

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, Liverpool 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!)

Comments

See that's the kind of co-operation that I think we should be working towards.

I'm sure if there were UKUncut activists up for it we'd be more than willing to supply Stuff Your Boss leaflets for actions.

This is, in my opinion, the key post to come out of this discussion.  This letter was written in a rush, but before it went to print I had suggested we include a bit about how SolFed has experience organising in the type of shops UnCut targets and that the UnCut actions would be far more productive if they had someone on the 'inside' to, at the very least, inform their coworkers what is going on and why it's occuring.  Bingo!  Perfect opportunity for productive solidarity. 

If the UnCutters in London, either as a group or as individuals, would be interested in what SF has to say about workplace organisation, please give us an email at training (at) solfed.org.uk or see here: http://solfed.org.uk/?q=organiser-training 

All UK Uncut actions have a general policy of not specifically targetting staff members, and trying to be particularly courteous where necessary. After all - they're just people too, like us. Many shop occupiers have reported sympathy and solidarity to, and from, the store's staff. As for things like broken windows, I'm fairly sure that by the time the rocks and paintballs were thrown, the staff had either left or retreated into the back area (I can't personally verify this). After everything that happened on Saturday, I haven't heard that any staff members were injured. Even the black bloc members I encountered were generally fairly polite/considerate towards other 'normal' people - anger only being vented at property and the police.

So the British section of the IWA has degenerated into defending petty vandalism as a political act... Durutti will be turning in his grave

Durruti was not in the least afraid of ruins...

So the British section of the IWA has degenerated into defending petty vandalism as a political act... Durutti will be turning in his grave Not all members...

A debate on tactics is all very well but why wait until after the demonstration to have it? You ask UK Uncut to respect your tactics and not split the movement but you did that yourselves by taking your own action without any reference to what anyone else was trying to achieve. Personally I think that your methods can be valid ways of protesting but you have failed to understand what stage we are at in building this struggle. While the rest of us are trying to build something big that lots of people can sign up for and attack the govt on, you are choosing to do exclusive actions that alienate a lot of the ordinary trade unionists and activists. The danger is that the next call for action will be smaller because the majority of people don't want to be aligned with your actions. That doesn't mean that 'balck bloc' or 'anarchist' actions are wrong or not part of the movement but you have to recognise that they can be damaging to building a mass opposition. In short, you have placed your own views and tactics over everyone else in the movement. if anyone has split the movement, it is you. That makes it difficult to make the arguments that could be made against the police and the state. The problem is that you don't even recognise what you've done and are busy blaming everyone else for not supporting you.

"While the rest of us are trying to build something big that lots of people can sign up for and attack the govt on, you are choosing to do exclusive actions that alienate a lot of the ordinary trade unionists and activists." Is it so that you can better control the trade union rank and file and lead them down the futile road of voting for the Labour Party in order to make the cuts "less painful"? "but you have failed to understand what stage we are at in building this struggle." What stage is that? Why didnt the TUC mobilise in solidarity with students during last years amazing student protest movement? Just one demo and now what? More futile appeals to the Labour Party?

"you did that yourselves by taking your own action... you are choosing to do exclusive actions that alienate a lot of the ordinary trade unionists and activists... your methods...  you have placed your own views and tactics over everyone else in the movement... if anyone has split the movement, it is you...are busy blaming everyone else for not supporting you"

Your whole post, and the bits I quoted especially, is based on a wrong premise; that we are the people who organised and carried out the black bloc stuff. That's totally untrue. In fact, often SolFed has been extremely critical of black bloc tactics - as you can see, several SolFed members commenting under this letter are critical. These are not 'our tactics' at all - have a read of some of our stuff if you want to know what our tactics really are.

The letter is not blaming others for not actively supporting the black bloc (and certainly not for not supporting 'us' as you say), it's trying to encourage people not to accept the good/bad protester and legitimate/illegitimate protest divide. That's a divide that - credit to UK Uncut - has been a rejected a fair bit, on Newsnight last night for example - but on the radio and elsewhere UnCut people seem to be repeating it, which is why there was a need for this letter calling for solidarity and expressing it with UK Uncut.

Our criticisms, if we have them, should be criticisms of the black bloc as a strategy for defeating the cuts - not labelling them all anarchist troublemakers who are protesting in a 'wrong' way.

I know this is getting like a broken record, but SF didn't plan, endorse, or organise the black bloc.  Hell, only one of our London locals even felt the radical workers bloc was a good idea.  This is about not letting the media narrative split the direct action wing (which includes UnCut and SolFed, no two ways about it) of the anti-cuts movement.

And even if the conversation should have occured beforehand (and trust me, there's lot of non-SF anarchist who identify as UnCutters), well what's done is done.  Tell the media to flob off, the anti-cuts movement will sort it out internally, and we'll move on from there.

The above two comments could not be more wide of the mark. Because we were waving our red and black flags and we had kids with us on Saturday, people came over to us to ask about the black bloc because they had the same colour flags. We ended up holding Q and A sessions on Piccadilly with large groups of members of the public, including non-protesters, about why people might attack banks and jewellers at a demonstration about the cuts. The actions of the black bloc gave us an opportunity to talk about anarchism, capitalism and revolution to a not unsympathetic crowd (which the TUC demo had not). I was proud and happy to show complete solidarity with the Black bloc and UK Uncut on the day as I am now and tomorrow at work, in my town, amongst friends, family, fellow anti-cuts activists and trade unionists in Hastings. Good local visibility really helps as well.

I can totally understand the frustration with the fusty old TUC, the mearly-mouthed Labour Party and the far-left doing their usual campaign/march/rally/paper sales ad infinutum, but we need to think more clearly about achievable aims here. What are the aims of the Black Block and/or Sol Fed? The downfall of capitalism and worldwide anarcho-communism? Fair enough if this is the case, but you ain't going to get it by spray painting slogans on branches on Waterstones or throwing wooden poles at the riot cops. The March for the Alternative, for all it's faults, at least had the idea of campaining for the Robin Hood Tax for example, an actual achievable aim that could raise billions and help to ridicule the cuts agenda. These kind of reforms (and yes, I know that's a dirty word in anarchist circles) become reality through public awarness and sustained pressure from civil soceity. Not smashing windows. By the way, the police won on Saturday. They were suspiciously happy to let the black bloc run amok and smash shit up, and made very few arrests (on the night) for violent disorder despite having 4,500 cops to call to hand. Anyway, conspiracy or not it didn't matter in the end. Arresting 150 odd people for mucking about in F&M meant that their arrest numbers looked respectable. Next, add a theatrical crackdown in Trafalgar Square to the mix just to look as if you mean business, (and actually care that a few bins were knocked over) and simply leave the rest to Murdoch, BBC and the right-wing commentariat their thing. Job done!

Anarchists have no problems with reform--I mean we want to end the cuts, that's a reform from the state.  It's about he we achieve reforms that matters.  Is it using the trade unions and their bureacracy?  Is it placing faith in political parties and politicians?  Or, is it using direct action, solidarity, and working-class self-organisation?  Does it build class confidence and power (to eventually achieve revolutionary aims)?  Those are the questions that matter.

The other thing SolFed certainly feels is that capital can't be managed in the interest of the working class.  It's not the job of workers or working class organisations to suggest alternative ways of managing capital, i.e. a Robin Hood tax.  Our role is to make demands, let the bosses and their state figure how to achieve them, and use disruption, direct action, and solidarity to force their hand.

And again, we didn't organise the black bloc or endorse it's tactics.  This is about combatting the good protestor/bad protestor dichotomy being presented by the mainstream media.

You ask UK Uncut to respect your tactics and not split the movement but you did that yourselves

Actually we're just asking UK Uncut not to join in with the condemnation of other people's tactics, as the only purpose it serves is to legitimise the aggressive moralising of the mainstream media. As has been mentioned repeatedly, black bloc is not something we advocate or particularly get involved with, we are a workplace struggle organisation.

Andy W: Durruti was a saboteur, a bomber, a bank robber and a fraudster in his day, because he believed those tactics would aid the struggle. He subsequently became one of the movement's greatest heroes. A rather eloquent case in point, I'd say.

What's a few broken windows compared with the violence of the 'austerity' agenda? The notion that without property damage or other 'provocations' (ooh, and aren't they provocative, those anarchists?) the media consensus would somehow be favourable towards the march or the UK Uncut actions seems rather spurious. I'm sure, for the most part, the UK Uncutters won't be drawn into the manipulative game of casting the demonstration as a failure by branding it 'hijacked' and 'ruined'. It's perfectly worthwhile to debate the methods used while maintaining unity in opposition. Good letter.

Spanish and German translations of the above letter are available here.


Just to let you know that there are members of unions who are affiliated to the 'fusty old TUC' who support the march, the break-away anarchist property damage direct action, and the non-violent direct action sit-in by UK Uncut.
I was on the official demo and at no time did I see anything that led me to think that it was being "hijacked" by other groups. You respected our march, and the least I can do is have solidarity and voice support for your actions.
What happened to UK Uncut at F&M was typical police state tactics. Lies, mass arrests on spurious charges that they KNOW won't wash in court, but carried out so that FIT can fill up more space on their nasty database.
As long as each group within the movement respect each other, and keep in mind who the REAL ENEMY is, then maybe we can achieve what needs urgently to be achieved.
Arise ye Diggers!

I have sent the following email to Dave Prentis, General Secretary of Unison.
Dear Dave Prentis,

I took part, along with tens of thousands of other Unison members, in the 'March for the Alternative' on the 26th.

I have read your statement on the front page of the Unison website, which includes the following;

"A small number of demonstrators tried to hijack the march by creating havoc in London - but those who were there know that these people had nothing to do with the TUC protest."

I call upon you to immediately clarify your statement and show solidarity and support with the members of UK Uncut who were arrested en masse as they left a non-violent sit-in protest at the Fortnum & Mason store.

The Trades Union movement must show solidarity and support with our comrades in other groups who are dedicated to non-violent direct action to stop the cuts.

Pandering to the tabloids with soundbites will not help to create a mass anti-cuts movement to fight the Con-Dem government.
The trades unions have employed non-violent direct action protest throughout their history, from strike action to workplace lock-ins. We must not forget that radical heritage.

Unity is Strength.

Do not let the Con-Dem government and their stooges in the media divide us from our comrades in UK Uncut and elsewhere.

What sort of anarchists protest about cuts to the state? Real anarchists don't pay taxes.

Sorry to copy and paste, but anarchism is about class struggle and working class self-organization.  While refusal to pay taxes (a la the poll tax) may form part of that, fighting for benefits, public health, and education is often a far larger part.  As I stated a few posts back:

Anarchists have no problems with reform--I mean we want to end the cuts, that's a reform from the state.  It's about he we achieve reforms that matters.  Is it using the trade unions and their bureacracy?  Is it placing faith in political parties and politicians?  Or, is it using direct action, solidarity, and working-class self-organisation?  Does it build class confidence and power (to eventually achieve revolutionary aims)?  Those are the questions that matter.

The other thing SolFed certainly feels is that capital can't be managed in the interest of the working class.  It's not the job of workers or working class organisations to suggest alternative ways of managing capital, i.e. a Robin Hood tax.  Our role is to make demands, let the bosses and their state figure how to achieve them, and use disruption, direct action, and solidarity to force their hand. 

Very interesting reading through the comments. At least one good thing that has come out of 26th March is the amount of debates and discussions it has generated between anti-cuttters online - and hopefully out in the real world too! This can only prepare us better for protests in the future.

The mass arrest of the UK Uncut guys shows that the rich are getting nervous. The radical idea that UK Uncut have been suggesting - that corporations should pay fair taxes - is turning into a mainstream idea with public support. Often that is how it works; a radical idea becomes a mainstream idea. No flashes, no bangs, no bricks. This is the irony. If we want to overthrow the government we can't stay on the fringes.

There is a tendency, especially with anarchist groups I feel, to get too obsessed and bogged down in "tactics" on demonstrations, and of course there is this bitter vendetta (largely justified I suppose) against the police that always surfaces before anything else. Often this can just be a massive distraction from what we're actually fighting for. Sure, let's know our rights, but let's pad-up not tool up. The alternative ideas to the vicious cuts agenda will have to ring out loud for us to win.

Just for th record, no one I've ever come across in the anarchist movement has ever suggested we "tool up".  I know that's a bit of a throwaway comment, but you can rest assure the not-so-sympathetic media is reading these comments and, jesus, to even suggest anarchists were "tooled-up" for the march is just inviting serious trouble.

Also, once again, the black bloc is not an SF tactic--and we're actually quite critical of it--we just want overcome the false good/bad protestor divide being promoted in the media.

Coming from a slightly different socialist perspective, I basically agree that we need to unite and accept diverse tactics, nonetheless I'm struggling to see how or what SolFed propose as the next steps forward if you do indeed, correctly imo, reject the smear paint, bang, and smash tactics of elements of the Black Bloc. UKUNCUT do an excellent job of exposing the hypocrisy of the capitalists, demanding the workers accept cuts while refusing to pay their tactics, but from a socialist/anarchist perspective that is never going to work alone, it has to be part of a campaign to lever the working class into action. Surely that means working inside the existing unions, putting demands on the bureaucrats and organising independently of them, as well as direct action, building locally in the communities etc. Hardly rocket science, but basic necessary work nonetheless.

This isn't specific for the cuts, but a good run down of typical methods we'd advocate:

http://libcom.org/library/anarchosyndicalist-methods

Hi billj, SolFed would definitely aim to organise working class action in general and recognises that mostly, the people (in work at least) who we want to organise with right now are within the TUC system - ie. militant trade unionists. So we don't for example ban our members from holding TUC union cards or even from taking on positions like shop steward.

However we believe that TUC-style organising is by its nature heavily compromised and unable on its own to deliver the results we want to see. Over the last 20 years the unions' acceptance of the restrictions placed on them by the state (necessarily, as they accept its supremacy and the logic of capital) have led to a long march away from fighting to win, instead aiming to mitigate constant attacks which have ony gotten worse.

As hierarchical entities, they also employ chiefs whose salaries place them way outside the working lives of the people they represent, whose comforts are based on the unions' stability, who are personally repsonsible if members act out and whose priority therefore is not the unionists but the institution. As a result, we see sell-outs such as with Royal Mail, Gate Gourmet and the Mitie workers, to name but a few - an upshot of this is that we don't allow union full-timers to join.

That's a structural problem with how they operate. The reality is that they're not going to, for example, call a general strike unless forced to. They'll then call a pointless one-day affair (like has happened on the continent) rather than seeing it through properly.  And even if they were to ever form a genuine economic resistance, because they've bowed to the law, the state can break them simply by passing a new law (this happens more often than you'd think).

From our perspective, woking inside the unions is for those and many other reasons a busted flush - though we definitely believe in organising independently of them! What we aim to do is to create a revolutionary union, bringing militants together using anarcho-syndicalist organising methods which don't have these structural limitations, which doesn't pretend that what we want to do is going to be meekly accepted by capitalists simply because we made a good argument.

We'll work with anyone prepared to fight, but the TUC unions are acting as a dead weight on our collective chests and we need to go beyond them.

That's just a potted explanation though, if you go the "about" tab at the top of the page it's got a run down of the structures we work with, the tactics we have in mind etc.

"violent minority"?, who actually is that? I'm very interested in this discussion, having been on the march on Saturday. I didn't see the actual window breaking, just the aftermath when following (out of curiosity) a black bloc group processing around the West End later. I haven't so far heard anyone claim responsibility for this or say it was a good idea. I'm not against property damage per se - I helped pull down a fence at Greenham Common years ago - but I hate the way the media have zero-ed in on it, making it appear a counterproductive exercise in this case. So who actually did smash a window? I'd really love to hear from anyone who did, and their rationale for it. Or was it all done by police provocateurs?

If people reply to this, please use Tor or something to cover your tracks, unlike the Sun we're not running a snitch-shop, we want free speech to remain free.

Yes, absolutely. I'm not trying to get anyone to put themselves in the shit. Very sorry if there was any suggestion of that. I'm just interested in whether anyone thinks there were attempts to discredit the protest going on.

Furryvole, we said the letter was from the "violent minority"  because we were being sarcastic - basically everyone who supports anarchistic ideas or who did more than just march is being labeled violent by the media, the government and the TUC.

That would include me too, I guess. I would label myself as a sympathetic, curious bystander some of the time, but very willing to take part in non-violent, peaceful actions. I got the quotes around "violent minority".

Shocking treatment of peaceful protesters at F&M but not altogether unexpected maybe. After the demo on the 26th I was still not entirely shocked to see the tabloids full of stories about the 'violent' masked anarchists totally overshadow the coverage of the main event. However, it could well be the case that the 'anarchists' were, at least in some part, Police Agent Provocateurs. If this were true, it would explain the lack of arrests of the Black Bloc protesters. It would also explain the saturation tabloid coverage of the 'anarchists' actions, and the attempt to discredit the movement against the cuts. I believe this has been a clumsy exercise in misdirection and an attempt to confuse and split the movement. It also seems to have opened the door for Theresa May to attempt to ban some people from demonstrating at all. No doubt the ConDems will try to take this further and use the excuse of 'anarchists' as a reason for the introduction of more draconian measures in the face of growing protest. In that sense I think Black Bloc have to be very careful. And UKUncut Brighton and Lewes probably need to be more so in respect of issuing statements aligning themselves with these tactics.

This is from a member of my organisation London Coalition Against Poverty (which incidently some members of SolFed have been involved with). It makes an interesting contribution to the debate. I think the interesting discussion is not about the media but is instead about how we relate to each other as activists/ protesters and whether the Black Block is productive in that sense. http://thecommune.co.uk/2011/04/19/disempowerment-in-front-of-the-black-... There has also been some commentary about anarchism and what fighting the cuts to state services means to anarchists. It does mean organising against the cuts but I would also recognise (from my experience of accessing services and organising with homeless families and welfare claimants) that the way services are delivered is demoralising, crap and disempowering... so being anti-cuts is not enough. Thanks SolFed for starting this debate.

Pages



Main menu 2

Solidarity Federation