The Protest Players – Part 1

This mini series of Blog Posts, all entitled ‘The Protest Players’ will look at recent protests, who organised them, who backs them and also poses questions around their methods and tactics. 

Do you know who you are backing? Are they the right way forward? How much power do they have? How do they operate? Are their tactics working? 

In part 1 of this mini series we look at the recent protests at the State opening of Parliament on 27th May 2015. Who was behind the protests? What happened on the day? What can we learn?

On 27th May 2015 at around 11.30am the Queen gave her speech at the State opening of Parliament at the Houses of Parliament in London. Earmarked for that day were two main protests, largely against austerity and cuts under a Conservative government.

On social media you could find several videos depicting the days protests including; 

Video from Nuzulu / Video from Urban Pictures / Video from BluelightTV

One thing is clear from these videos. Not one of these videos shows any form of protest or disruption of the State opening of Parliament, the very thing the protests were meant to target. Perhaps the protesters couldn’t get near to the event? 

This next video would suggest otherwise. In it, two men are arrested to prevent a breach of the peace for seemingly just having anti austerity placards on their person. They were situated at Parliament Square itself right at the time of the State Opening. 

Video of protesters being arrested at the State opening of Parliament at Parliament Square 

Why were these the only two lone soles to protest at Parliament Square at the time of the State Opening? Where was everyone else and who were the people behind organising the days protests?

The People’s Assembly against austerity had arranged for a protest on the day, to convene on Downing Street at 17.30. Hours after the State Opening had occurred.

The Peoples Assembly protest event page on Facebook

The second protest of the day was organised by a few groups, National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), NUS london and The Brick Lane debates. This time it was arranged for Trafalgar Sqaure at 17.00. We will look at the main group that arranged this, NCAFC, later in the blog.
 

NCAFAC protest event page on Facebook
 

So why did The People’s Assembly and National Campaign against fees and cuts arrange protests on the same day, at different times and at different locations that had no influence or impact on the state opening of parliament? 

First we will examine The People’s Assembly. 

According to their website; 

‘The People’s Assembly Against Austerity was launched with a letter to the Guardian by the initial signatories below’

  • Tony Benn President, Coalition of Resistance
  • Len McCluskey General secretary, Unite the Union 
  • Mark Serwotka General secretary, PCS 
  • Christine Blower General secretary, NUT
  • Michelle Stanistreet General secretary, NUJ
  • Manuel Cortez General secretary, TSSA
  • Dave Prentis General secretary, Unison
  • Billy Hayes General secretary, CWU
  • Bob Crow General secretary, RMT
  • Mick Whelan General secretary, Aslef
  • Kevin Courtney Deputy general secretary, NUT
  • Paul Mackney Former general secretary Natfhe (now UCU)
  • Vicky Baars NUS union development
  • Kevin Donnelly Trade Union Council JCC
  • Caroline Lucas MP
  • Katy Clark MP
  • Jeremy Corbyn MP
  • John McDonnell MP
  • Murad Qureshi London assembly member
  • Dawn Butler Former Labour minister for young citizens and youth engagement
  • Tariq Ali Author
  • John Pilger Journalist
  • Ken Loach Filmmaker
  • Owen Jones Writer
  • James Meadway Senior economist, New Economics Foundation
  • Wendy Savage & John Lipetz Keep our NHS Public
  • Merry Cross Disabled People Against the Cuts
  • John Hendy QC Co-chair, People’s Charter
  • John Hilary Director, War on Want
  • Sam Fairbairn National secretary, Coalition of Resistance
  • Imran Khan Solicitor, co-chair, People’s Charter
  • Rachael Newton People’s Charter
  • Romayne Phoenix Chair, Coalition of Resistance
  • Zita Holbourne Co-chair, Black activists rising against the cuts
  • Clare Solomon Vice-chair, Coalition of Resistance
  • Andrew Burgin Vice-chair, Coalition of Resistance
  • Colin Hampton Co-ordinator, National Unemployed Workers Centres Combine
  • Anita Wright Secretary, National Association of Women
  • Joginder Bains Association of Indian Women
  • Shang Gahonia Indian Workers Association
  • Carolyn Jones Director, Institute of Employment Rights
  • Lindsey German Convenor, Stop the War Coalition
  • Kate Hudson General secretary, CND
  • Bruce Kent Peace campaigner
  • Lee Hall Playwright
  • Roger Lloyd Pack Actor
  • Josie Long Comedian
  • Iain Banks Author
  • Arthur Smith Comedian
  • Roy Bailey Folk singer
  • Francesca Martinez Comedian
  • John Rees Counterfire editorial board
  • Natalie Bennett Leader of the Green Party England and Wales
  • Fred Leplat Socialist Resistance
  • Robert Griffiths General secretary, Communist Party of Britain
  • Bill Greenshields Chair, Communist Party of Britain
  • Richard Bagley Editor, Morning Star

  It goes on to say that the Assembly  ‘Is a broad united national campaign against austerity’

and ‘is linked to no political party’

It ‘Is based on affiliation by individual supporters, unions nationally and locally, anti-cuts campaigns, and other student, pensioner, unemployed, disabled people’s, women’s, Black people’s, youth and LGBT campaigning organisations’

and ‘Aspires to support, encourage, coordinate joint action, and facilitate a transfer of experience rather than to command’.

On their website a rookie member of The People’s Assembly completed a report on the days event. Read the full article at the link.

Article from queens speech state opening of parliament

Here though we wanted to focus on the two following paragraphs from that article.

“…. Jeremy Corbyn, (Labour) MP for Islington North voiced perhaps the defining words of the assembly: “Keep the spirit of that world you want to live in – not the nasty divided one we’re in,” he told the crowd..”

“…As Richard Burgon, Labour MP for East Leeds candidly called to the crowd. ‘Don’t wait for politics to fix it. Politics is broken…” 

 

Peoples Assembly Protesters outside Downing Street during the Queens Speech

We notice a common theme amongst the supporters and signatories that despite the Assembly insisting they do not support a political party it’s hard, almost impossible to imagine there is no Labour Party agenda or at least Labour will be using the Assembly as a platform for their Party message.

National Campaign against fees and cuts is a movement of students against tuition fees, education cuts and wider public service cuts and has been operating since 2010. It has the support of the NUS.

I think this is fairly straightforward with only two questions to ponder. 

Why are the the NCAFAC not affiliates to the People’s Assembly when Vicky Baara of NUS development is? Why did they also arrange their protest away from Parliament Square?

Now we have had a look at the groups involved let’s focus on the questions;

Why did both groups arrange their protests at 5pm or 5.30pm? The State opening of parliament occurred late morning into the early afternoon. What better way to make your point than to protest live on TV. 

Everyone has been talking about ‘fighting back’ and not giving the government any rest and protesting at every opportunity. As long as, it seems, we don’t upset too many. people. 

To keep the backing of the MP’s does the People’s Assembly have to conform? After all, the MP’s, even if every party is represented except a Tory one, can’t be seen to be condoning disruptive behaviour. It raises the question doesn’t it? A movement for the people, so long as the MPs don’t get shown up. Is this why the protest was arranged later in the day? Is this why the two protesters in Parliament square who were arrested were the only ones there at all during the State Opening. Are these the only two activists who can think for themselves?

What about the NCAFAC? What was there excuse? Could it be that to be ‘official’ they have to get the backing of the NUS? Would the NUS allow their students and membership to be seen to be disruptive at the State Opening? After all, the bite of the Unions seem to be weaker and weaker with every passing year. 

The likelihood is, and we haven’t verified this, that both groups had notified the police in advance of the protests which meant they were limited in their approach. 

Oddly enough with the People’s Assembly being as big as it is its a wonder why they had less supporters representing the PA than NCAFAC did. Even if they did eventually combine to march another long trek around half of London, leading nowhere but eventually back to Trafalgar Sqaure. 

Why does everything end up back at Trafalgar Square? Why do we march aimlessly around London for a couple of hours. Footage from the protest shows at one point everyone keeping to the pavement. Poor innocent pedestrians, must have taken ages to walk through that throng of people. Still, at least it meant the cars could move freely from A to B.

We witness one video of a member of Anonymous facing off against police all on his own, despite being surrounded by dozens if not hundreds of fellow protesters. Walking into and backing into the police line won’t get you very far, and it didn’t. Despite his best efforts, the crowd couldn’t be convinced to commit any sort of civil disobedience. 

The purpose here is not to lambaste the people taking part, after all, they are making an effort and doing more than most. No, the idea is to ask the questions. To make us question, what are we doing here? Who are we backing? Is this making the right impact. 

People will say my comments are divisive, I would say that two separate groups arranging two separate protests at two separate times of day both of which were totally irrelevant times, is the more divisive action. 

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