News round-up: The class war continues to heat up in the US as Wisconsin slowly moves towards a general strike. A high school walkout on Friday got a response from around the country, firefighters managed to shut down a bank that funds the Republicans, and Clifford Harper’s produced some sweet posters for the IWW (belated edit: No he hasn’t, Eric Drooker has. I need to remember that there are anarchist artists other than Harper and whoever does the prole.info drawings):
Meanwhile, closer to home. there’s talk of the army being used to cover a strike by screws and Aaron Porter’s trying to move on from his clusterfuck of a term as NUS Pres and take the next utterly predictable step on his career path. It’s good to see how inventive occupations are continuing to spread, as Gaddafi’s son’s mansion and a disused job centre in Deptford have now been taken over. Looking to the future, a third national day of protests against benefits cuts has been called for the 12th of April.
The most notable event this weekend was the Lib Dem conference in Sheffield, and the protests against it – perhaps the biggest protest we’ve seen in the North this year. The media seem to be putting numbers at about 5,000, and there was also an anarchist-initiated breakaway of about 30-50 people who managed to defy the massive police presence and occupy Topshop, Vodafone, Natwest and Boots. The police made an attempt to kettle them, but it didn’t last long, and the only arrest was of someone carrying a flare on the main demo. I think it’s worth being clear about the limitations of Saturday’s protest – a lot of the youths who participated in the walkouts back in December weren’t there yesterday, and their presence could have made the demo as a whole a lot more ungovernable. As far as I can tell, no attempts were made to hassle the Lib Dem delegates as they left their hotel early in the morning, and no-one visited Nick Clegg’s office, which is admittedly a fair distance from the city centre, but I still think it would’ve been good to force the cops to react on as many fronts as possible. It’s good that the breakaway happened, but I’m still not convinced that occupying shops to protest against something that’s not a shop really fits my idea of direct action – it didn’t hurt the Lib Dems directly, and so I think it still has to be counted as a symbolic protest rather than genuinely effective direct action. To be sure, the symbolism is vastly more exciting and empowering than the passive kind of symbolic protest offered by any of the movement’s “leaders”, but the more often it’s repeated, the more predictable and ritualised it becomes. UK Uncut-style protests are brilliant as a starting point, but we can’t let them become the endpoint.
It’s difficult to draw lessons from this weekend for March 26th – Sheffield is a relatively small city with very few really good targets aside from the ludicrously fortified conference itself, whereas London offers an abundance of government buildings and corporate headquarters to choose from. One point worth bearing in mind is the tension between staying mobile and uncontrollable, and staying with the main demo in order to put our arguments across to those attending – clearly any given person can only do one at a time, so given the numbers of anarchists present, I think breaking off as a group was a reasonable decision, but the ideal would still be to have enough people that we can have mobile, militant breakaways AND a reasonably-sized presence on the main march arguing for a libertarian class struggle perspective to balance out the tired lefty crap.
Still, we can take heart from the fact that the anti-cuts movement can definitely put thousands of people on the street even for what was effectively only a regional mobilisation, and while the militant minority still isn’t as big as I’d like, it’s a lot more noticeable than it is in “normal” times, and the mood in general is a lot different from the stiflingly dull atmosphere of most traditional lefty events. (Speaking of which, the SWP demonstrated their complete inability to adapt their dead ideology to actual events by failing to produce any placards that actually mentioned Clegg or the Lib Dems, but managing to dish out a few of their time-honoured “The BNP is a Nazi Party” ones – a safely liberal and democratic sentiment that I’m sure many of the delegates would be able to agree with.)