Friday, April 24, 2009

Policing changes

NEW REVELATIONS of police brutality at the G20 demonstrations in the City of London continue to emerge: one woman hit across the face and then struck with a baton; a man knocked to the ground with a police shield and a young woman knocked unconscious by a baton.
A third post mortem has been ordered for Ian Tomlinson who died after being assaulted and hurled to the ground while he was trying to make his way home from work and found his way barred by police cordons. The first post mortem said he died from a heart attack; the second said he died from internal bleeding.
The press is in an uproar, full of pictures of riot police with batons raised and identity numbers covered.
Many veteran political activists, along with some of the police themselves, will be wondering what all the fuss is about. All these police tactics have been used for decades – if not centuries. Certainly in the 1960s police used the “kettling” technique against demonstrators outside Rhodesia House, protesting against the racist colonialist regime of Ian Smith in what is now Zimbabwe.
Back then demonstrators expected to be hit by police and come away with quite serious injuries. But only other political activists and Black and Irish Londoners would believe it. The media insisted that “our bobbies” were all “wonderful” and middle class people believed it.
In the 1970s two anti-fascist demonstrators – Kevin Gately in Red Lion Square and Blair Peach in Southall – were murdered by violent police. There was some outrage then at police brutality but after lengthy inquiries, officialdom announced that Kevin Gately had “an unusually thin skull” and had unknowingly been walking about in danger of dying from the slightest tap on the head all his life and Blair Peach’s death was similarly something the police could not reasonably have expected. No police were ever prosecuted.
In the 1980s the Wapping printers and the miners learned at first hand just how brutal British bobbies can be. In the early 90s police engineered frightening clashes with anti-poll tax demonstrators to discourage newly politicised first-time protesters.
Seasoned marchers learned to distinguish the regular police who walked alongside the marchers and the elite special riot squads like the Territorial Support Group (TSG). They were notorious for being hot-headed young thugs in uniform, who hid their identity numbers and enjoyed trying to strike terror into any political activists. They were also notorious for racism and driving around north London in vans looking for black youths to assault for “suspicious behaviour”.
But in the lat 1990s there was a change – at least in London. The Stephen Lawrence inquiry put policing under the spotlight and Ken Livingstone was elected Mayor of London.
The change was noticed first by leftwing photographers like the late Mike Cohen, who suddenly found police at demonstrations being polite and civil. For about a decade there were no serious violent clashes between any demonstrations and police. The policing of protests was limited to making sure marchers did not inadvertently wander into the path of oncoming traffic; it became possible to chat to the police officers alongside the marches. It all became very civilised and remote from the real class struggle.
But a year ago Ken Livingstone lost his seat to Tory Boris Johnson. Once of Johnson’s first acts was to get rid of Metropolitan Police chief Ian Blair – a blatantly political act that pleased the rightwing dinosaurs at the top of the Met. The first Stop the War demonstration after that showed the big change in policing policy – everything went back to the bad old days.
But there is now a major difference. Modern technology has allowed the police to watch our every movement – but it also allows us to scrutinise them. Now reports of police brutality have to be believed and many middle class Telegraph and Daily Mail readers are quite surprised and think police violence and tactics are something new.
It’s a fair bet that, after all the lengthy inquiries, no police will ever be prosecuted. They may get a mild talking to for hiding their ID numbers. But the state – now it is feeling under pressure from rising working class anger at the economic collapse – is not going to go back to the gentler policing of Ken Livingstone’s time. The state is going to be more overtly brutal, it has no choice.
But the hundreds of cameras carried now by demonstrators and open access to post images on the web where they can be viewed around the globe mean there will no longer be any illusions about it. The ruling class hopes this will deter protesters but history suggests it will politicise and activate young workers.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Justice for Tomlinson

HUNDREDS of protesters marched through central London last Saturday to demand a full inquiry and justice after the death of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 demonstrations on 1st April.
Tomlinson was on his way home from work as a newspaper seller when he found police cordons near the Bank of England – aimed to G20 protesters penned in – were blocking his way to the hostel where he lived.
He was found collapsed on the street and died of a heart attack. Initially police reported that he was one of the demonstrators and that he had had no contact with the police.
His family appealed for witnesses and many came forward, including one who had taken video footage of a police officers striking Tomlinson from behind and pushing him forcefully to the ground.
Tomlinson had been walking away from the police cordon with his hands in his pockets – clearly annoyed but in no way threatening the police.
Other witnesses claim they saw a previous confrontation where police had assaulted Tomlinson when he asked to be allowed through a cordon.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has taken over the inquiry into Tomlinson’s death and his family are concerned that this means there will probably be no inquest or action against guilty police officers for three years.
Last Saturday black-clad marchers, some carrying placards reading "Who killed Ian Tomlinson?" marched through the capital before laying flowers and lighting candles at the spot where Tomlinson died.
"We are hopeful that the IPCC will fulfil their duty to carry out a full investigation into his death and that action will be taken against any police officer who contributed to Ian's death through misconduct," Tomlinson's stepson Paul King told the marchers.
"We may have a long and difficult process ahead of us in getting justice," he said.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Police accused over demo death

by Daphne Liddle

LIBERAL Democrat MPs are demanding a full criminal inquiry into the death of Ian Tomlinson who died of a heart attack after being assaulted by the police during last week’s G20 protests in the City of London.
Tomlinson, a 47 year old newsagent, wasn’t a demonstrator. He was simply going home from work through police cordons and crowds of protesters when he was floored by riot police. The Guardian newspaper has obtained video footage of the attack showing Tomlinson being hit from behind by a partially-masked cop as he walked away from a police line with his hands in his pockets. It had been filmed by a New York hedge-fund manager who gave it to the paper after seeing an appeal for information from Tomlinson’s family.
The film shows Tomlinson being brought down by a baton-wielding riot cop; being helped up by a protester and then arguing angrily with police officers.
A few moments after the film was taken Tomlinson got up and walked on then suddenly collapsed and died a few yards away outside the Bank of England.
Others eye-witnesses say that the assault caught on video was the second time that Tomlinson had been knocked to the ground by police. They say that Tomlinson had approached a police cordon, hoping to be allowed through because he had nothing to do with the protests, but that he was knocked to the ground and beaten by police.
The initial police reaction to his death was to claim that they had had no contact with Tomlinson and that protesters had prevented them from giving first aid as he lay collapsed on the pavement.
This brings back memories of Jean Charles de Menezes and suggests that the first reaction of police is to lie when a member of the public dies at their hands.
It had been a day full of demonstrations and protests throughout London around the G20 summit. Four marches, each led by a “horseman of the apocalypse” representing war, land seizure, financial crimes and climate chaos, had converged on London’s financial centre.
Back in Westminster around 7,000 had supported the Stop the War protest at the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square and then marched to Trafalgar Square for a rally.
The anti-capitalist protests kicked off with the massive union-backed ‘Put People First” march on the eve of the G20 summit the previous Saturday. The bourgeois media and the police had hyped-up the fear of ‘anarchist’ violence. Tens of thousands of police were drafted into the capital and shopkeepers boarded up in preparation. But the day passed over with little violence and few arrests.
But on that fateful Wednesday the police decided to use a familiar tactic to discourage the demonstrators from future action. As the protesters started to make their way home the police forced them back into small enclaves where they were penned and forced to stand for hours with no access to food, water or toilets. Demonstrators started to verbally abuse the police. It was at this time that Ian Tomlinson began his fatal walk home.
After viewing the video of the police assault, Liberal Democrat Shadow Justice Minister David Howarth said the footage showed a “sickening and unprovoked attack”. He has called for the police officers involved to come forward.
The Guardian has collected a dossier of statements and photos, including the video footage that it intends to hand to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
It also includes a sequence of photographs, taken by three people, showing the aftermath of the attack, as well as eye-witness statements including time and date-stamped photographs which substantiate their accounts.
Anna Branthwaite, a photographer, described how in the minutes before the video was shot, she saw Tomlinson walking towards Cornhill Street.
“A riot police officer had already grabbed him and was pushing him,” she said. “It wasn’t just pushing him – he’d rushed him. He went to the floor and he did actually roll. That was quite noticeable.
“It was the force of the impact. He bounced on the floor. It was a very forceful knocking down from behind. The officer hit him twice with a baton when he was lying on the floor.
“So it wasn’t just that the officer had pushed him – it became an assault. And then the officer picked him up from the back, continued to walk or charge with him, and threw him.
“He was running and stumbling. He didn’t turn and confront the officer or anything like that.”
The IPCC is now investigating the death but previous experience shows that this is often a way of burying the issue for months if not years while putting a gag on all information around the case.

No sweat at primark?

THE CAMPAIGN group, No Sweat, last week staged a demonstration outside the London flagship shop of Primark, the high-street clothing chain, as part of a protest at sweatshop labour used in making the discount garments.
Models dressed in chains paraded on a catwalk outside the shop in Oxford Street, demanding “decent working conditions and a living wage” for garment workers. A Primark spokesperson insisted: “We obviously share and recognise many of the concerns raised.”
The company claims that it fired suppliers whom the BBC’s Panorama found used child labour. But the secretary of No Sweat, Mick Duncan, said this was not good enough. He said: “We don’t want them to walk away – we want them to take responsibility for their workers and make sure their conditions are improved.
“No Sweat isn’t calling on consumers to boycott chains like Primark, but instead to put pressure on them to clean up their act. These companies make huge profits and have a duty to ensure a fair wage.”
The protest was backed by comedian Mark Thomas, who said it was in the interest of British workers to campaign for better wages for their colleagues overseas. He said: “If workers abroad are being badly exploited, that means that the conditions of workers in the UK are also being undercut.
“It’s about raising the standard for everyone.”

Friday, April 03, 2009

Tinkering with the system won't work

By our European Affairs correspondent

American President Barack Obama stressed the "sense of urgency" needed to confront the global economic crisis in talks with Gordon Brown ahead of the G20 summit of world leaders in London. But outside the sealed-off conference centre in London’s Docklands anti-capitalist protesters clashed with the police in the financial centre of the capital while angry French workers in Grenoble seized control of their plant offices taking four managers hostage.
Brown hoped to use the summit he called to build a common imperialist platform of measures to deal with the global slump. But it was unravelling before it even started with Franco-German imperialism demanding stricter international financial regulation and decidedly cool towards the Anglo-American ‘monetarist’ economic model, which they blame for the sub-prime crisis that triggered the great stock market crash last year.
The British Government wants China to pump vast sums of money into the international financial institutions of capitalism in return for more votes on the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank while Third World leaders want reform of the World Trade Organisation which has been dominated for far too long by American imperialism.
President Obama said that the world was facing the most severe economic crisis since the Second World War. The new chief of American imperialism called on the G20 to reject protectionism and support emerging markets, and called for countries to work together. This was dutifully repeated by Brown who said global solutions were needed for global problems while talking up Britain’s imaginary “special relationship” with the United States, which he said, would be a "partnership of purpose".
In public the Western leaders are trying to talk up the markets with their usual platitudes. In private there’s no doubt that they have little up their sleeves apart from letting the slump take its course peppered with a touch of social Keynesianism to sweeten the bitter pill of austerity for the working class that they expect, as always, to pay for the crisis of the exploiters’ own making.
But there’s also increasing fear of political crisis and uncontrollable Athens-type social unrest as protests against job and welfare cuts sweep Europe. The reactionary Czech government collapsed last week after four maverick MPs joined the opposition Social Democrats and Communists in a vote of no confidence in parliament. And French bosses got a warning of the shape of things to come when four of them were seized by workers at the Caterpillar factory in Grenoble.
"We are holding them in the director's office," union official Benoit Nicolas told the media. The hostages included the factory director and the head of human resources. "They are a little shocked," Nicolas said. The workers at the American plant walked out and took direct action on Tuesday following the news of over 700 lay-offs on pitiful redundancy terms. The Caterpillar workers are demanding a minimum of 30,000 euros [£27,800] each in redundancy payments, three times what’s on the table at the moment.
“There is no violence or sequestration, but simply pressure so they restart negotiations,” CGT union representative Pierre Piccarreta said. "At a time when the company is making a profit and distributing dividends to shareholders, we want to find a favourable outcome for all the workers and know as quickly as possible where we are going."
Bossnapping” is a French workers’ tradition which was popular during the wave of protests back in 1968. Last March the boss of Sony France was trapped in a conference room by workers demanding better severance terms and the head of a factory run by 3M, the giant American multinational, was held for two days by striking workers.
The Grenoble region has been hit by a wave of factory closures, re-structuring, and temporary lay-offs and the spirit of resistance is running high. French workers rightly say that if there’s money to bail out the banks then some of it must be used to keep manufacturing going and that money could come from the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund. While top executives continue to fill their boots with bonuses, like in Britain, more and more French workers are being given their cards. Some 2.4 million are unemployed now and it can only get worse.
No amount of tinkering with the capitalist system can halt the slump which will crucify working people unless they fight back. Communists and the unions must move into an organised counter-attack across Europe and the world to defend the working class and build the fight for socialism.

Putting People First

WORKERS, students and pensioners marched through the streets of London last Saturday to send a message on jobs, justice and climate to Gordon Brown and the G20 leaders meeting in the capital this week. Tens of thousands of people, including a many union contingents, took part in the protest which passed over peacefully, despite lurid predictions of anarchist violence emanating from the police and the reactionary press over the past few days.
Threatening to “eat the rich” may be inspired by the spirit of Michael Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin but it’s hardly in the same league as the anarchist terror of the 19th century which claimed the lives of a Russian Czar, the kings of Greece and Italy, an American and a French president, a Spanish prime minister and many others with their daggers, guns and bombs.
Smashing the windows of a hated former Scottish bank boss may give the perpetrators some sort of feeling of power and importance but it accomplishes nothing apart from unleashing a wave of hypocritical condemnation from a bourgeois media that routinely ignores the daily racist abuse and violence on our streets.
The Group of 20 summit will include the leaders of People’s China, Indonesia, Brazil and Saudi Arabia but it will be dominated by American, British and Franco-German imperialism. Whatever the great and the good of the G20 decide at their secret conclave in London’s Docklands to deal with the world-wide slump, there’s no doubt that the imperialists will want to make working people pay the price for the “recovery” they say is on the horizon. And we will be expected to bear the brunt of the capitalist crisis in mass unemployment, welfare cuts and short time to ensure that the rich continue to live their lives of pleasure and ease unscathed.
Resistance is growing throughout Europe and the rest of the world and the unions have a crucial role in setting the agenda for the fight-back against this new offensive against the working class. Communists must fight to ensure that the socialist alternative is once again raised in the factories, offices and streets of Britain. It is the only answer to the crisis.

Jobs, justice and climate!

By Caroline Colebrook

TENS OF thousands of marchers took to the streets of central London last Saturday in the first of several major demonstrations directed at the meeting of G20 nations for a global summit in east London this week.
Saturday’s event was organised by the trade unions and focussed on three main demands: jobs, justice and climate, with the main slogan being: “Put people first”.
But it encompassed an enormous range of groups with many demands: unions demanding job protection, climate change groups opposing the third runway at Heathrow and the construction of new coal-fired power stations – and peace and solidarity groups demanding British withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories.
The demonstration was colourful and noisy with hundreds of bright banners and bands.
The public sector union Unison had invited its German and Italian sister unions – ver.di and CGIL – to join in and they both sent large, colourful contingents.
The three big unions have formed an historic alliance that brings millions of workers together to defend public services and protect jobs and communities at home and abroad.
They say they are committed to building a fairer future for everyone, and have pledged to take their demands to the heart of every government across Europe.
Justice must be done, they say, social justice – and that means putting people first.
The general secretaries of the three unions held round-table talks ahead of Saturday’s Put People First march and the meeting of world leaders at the G20 summit this week.
Trade union leaders from Spain, France, Sweden, Ireland and the Netherlands joined them to agree a Europe-wide plan of action.
“We have joined forces to bring millions of workers together in a campaign for change,” said Unison general secretary Dave Prentis. “Now is the time to challenge those calling for cuts to pay, pensions and services,” he stressed.
“It is time to reassert the values of fairness, solidarity and democracy that public service workers put into practice every day.”
But it is this sort of statement that betrays the weakness of the union demands compared to those of a generation or two ago.
There is no evidence of class consciousness; no demands for an end to the whole system of exploitation; no demands for socialism.
The demands are only the feeble bourgeois demands for “fairness” and “democracy” – words that the ruling class is happy to hear because they are so vague they can be ignored.