In all the talk and publicity leading up to June 18th a huge emphasis was put on the importance of groups and individuals organising their own autonomous actions to be carried out on the morning in the City of London. In the end there were around 20 of these actions that took place in and around the square mile of the City, as well as a number outside the capital. Groups that took action in the City that morning included Campaign Against the Arms Trade, a selection of Earth First! groups, International Solidarity with Workers in Russia, Haringey Solidarity Group, the Association of Autonomous Astronauts, London Animal Action and Tyneside Action for People and Planet. Here we have included a few pieces of writing on the background to some of these actions. All are personal accounts and do not necessarily represent the views or ideas of the rest of the people involved in that particular group or action. For more comprehensive coverage of other events that happened during the morning on June 18th get the Earth First! Action Update, No. 60/July 1999 - see page 344 for their contact details.
Unions - Pimps For Capitalism!
Revolutionaries from the Northern Anarchist Network, the Anarchist Communist Federation, plus individual anarchists and communists, invaded the Trade Union Congress (TUC) HQ in London as part of the June 18th day of action.
Around 25-30 people gathered at a nearby re-direction point. The group then walked into the main reception area, up the stairs and into the labyrinth of offices and corporate style meeting rooms. The leafiets that we had produced for the day, entitled 'Why Target the TUC?' outlining the consistent role that the unions have played in helping to isolate workplace resistance, were given out to the people that were in the building. We were greeted by several TUC bureaucrates with the expected "What the hell do you think you're doing in here - get out now!" One or two officials actually started into a panic motivated sprint down the corridors - to call the cavalry maybe? One secretary asked "What's this? Oh, it's that day isn't it?" - sounding a bit like it was April Fool's Day!
Leaflets were placed in all the offices that we could get into. We walked through the restaurant handing them out to the bemused diners. As we moved around the corridors and offices, we seemed to be swallowed up by this maze-like bland complex. The huge building seemed barely in use, bad timing? Was everyone at lunch? Was it always this quiet in here? Several members of the group remained outside giving out leafiets to the passers-by.
As we left the building singing sarcastically, '..you won't get me I'm part of the union, 'til the day I die..' suddenly the fire alarms started to ringout and the remaining leafiets were thrown about the foyer.
As we walked off towards the City of London to join the rest of the people who were gathered for the J18 celebration, a couple of police vans were spotted cruising towards the TUC building. We had left just in time!
The HQ of the Trade Union Congress was chosen for this action to point out the reactionary role that the unions play in helping to keep the cogs and wheels of the capitalist mechanism running so smoothly.
We must always understand that the interests of the union and all its officials are different to ours. This separation applies to all of those who attempt to represent our class and act as a pacifying interface between the boss class and the rest of us.
The planning of an effective action between different parts of the country was slowed down by justifiable hesitancy to use the phone and e-mail etc. for security reasons. Ideally ,we would have informed many more militants about what we had planned. Also, we could have checked out the lay-out of the building and maybe phoned the press etc. from one of the offices.
Diary of a Meeting Junkie!
Don't get me wrong, I am not against meetings in principle at all. In the City of London, nothing is going to happen naturally and spontaneously. My only feeling, one I think shared by others after the day, was that you can try to plan too much. When it comes to the crunch, the unexpected will always happen (as it did) and then you have spent the whole of the spring sat in a darkened room expending energy that could have been better used elsewhere.
After a small amount of publicity, the Brighton June 18th group formed and started to meet fortnightly en masse four months before the event. As I remember, there was always a healthy turn out for the large meetings in the beginning. In these, it was decided that there were certain tasks which needed attention: publicity, fundraising, transport, props, finances, and a group to plan the action. These sub-groups sorted out what needed to be done and then cleared it past the larger group.
Some of these groups worked really well in an autonomous fashion. The publicity group produced some excellent posters, fiyers and stickers (still on my bedroom wall) and pretty comprehensive coverage of Brighton was organised. The local magazine, Impact, said, 'I defy you not to have noticed some item of fiyposting, fiyer or graffiti about June the 18th.' Nice one!
The fundraising group put on some brilliant stomping benefit gigs, not only raising money but providing a situation for everyone to get to know each other - just as important as a meeting any day.
And then there was the action group. Because we wanted to plan a really good, effective action in the City, we met regularly - at least once a week in the beginning and every day at the end. However, the problem was that almost every member of the action group was also a member of another sub-group. This meant that time in these meetings was often taken up by other groups' business and problems. Plus the action group members were having to become meeting junkies.
The action group had decided that the best way to organise was around an affinity group structure. Being new to the whole thing, I thought this was a great idea. However, now I know people better, I realise that if you want to organise around a structure of affinity groups, they have to exist first - work with what you have, not with what you want. A lot of time and effort went into trying to form people into affinity groups and the main way we tried to achieve this was through organising two training days.
The first training day concentrated on informing people about what June 18th was, and we showed videos. Then we had games to try to get people to know each other. Then, in arbitrary groups, we did a hypothetical exercise about an apocalyptic post-millenium period and how an affinity group would cope with problems in such a situation.
The second training day was much more fun, because by that time we had formulated our secret plans and clever tricks and knew what we wanted. We had legal workshops (very useful) and a de-arresting workshop that generated a mini-riot, 'Quick, grab his nose and give him a hammer blow to the diaphragm!'
After we had all jumped on each other's heads in de-arresting and had a few pub sessions, it felt like there was more of a group atmosphere - something you can't produce through meetings.
Then we held a final briefing on June 16th, where people were told everything except the target. People were told it was a traffic blockade, timed to coincide with the morning rush hour and involving three cars and a chain with a banner across the southbound carriage way.
So on the big day, we all met at 5am and piled off to London. The target was London Bridge. (Can you imagine how hard it was not to hum, 'London Bridge is falling down' in the months leading up?) Everything was going perfectly, and people seemed happy. When we got to our drop-off point, we walked the back way to the bridge, avoiding CCTV on the way; you can never be too careful. At the bottom of the Southwark Cathedral steps it all went a bit pear shaped. This was when so much planning seemed futile.
Fifty people all standing masked up at the bottom of the bridge looked just a little suspect. One of our cars had broken down - curses. After tense minutes of waiting, the spotter gave the signal and we piled up the steps, only to face the advancing law. Some people did a runner immediately, while others rushed to try to complete their tasks. Two cars were D-locked together and had their tyres slashed, while we nearly managed to chain up the other side of the bridge, in spite of irate motorists, pigs and a bus driver who seemed determined to kill us.
Later on, the broken-down car was turned sideways into traffic and had its tyres slashed by the magic bradawl fairy, effectively causing a traffic jam further back on the feeder road. Wonderful.
Three people ended up in police custody, which was bad, missing the Carnival, which was worse. But all in all - we did what we set out to do. And that was very good. When it comes to empowerment, lots of the people on that action, including myself, were inspired by their first taste of group action planning and involvement and will keep on causing trouble and refusing to move on, shut up, bow down and knuckle under.
More To Life Project
The More To Life Project (MTLP) was one of several small affinity groups which came together as a result of discussions about using surreal theatre on June 18th. We were motivated not only by the issues around J18 itself but also frustration at the lack of politics in art and theatre. Inspired by Situationist theatre from the past, we began putting these bizarre ideas into action.
Our message? That there is more to life than consumerism and the destructive rat-race which capitalism perpetuates. We wanted to shock city workers 'into critical thought' not by asserting that MTLP could give them solutions (join this, boycott that, etc.) but with surprise, playing, poetry and laughter. We aimed to prick the bubble of their be-suited reality and expose the death and misery caused by their actions. Work is their prison, not their liberation.
Preparation meetings focused on doing rather than talking. Improvisation, game-playing and generally acting mad kept creative ideas fiowing and built our confidence. A crack team fashioned outlandish mobile phones and other props from polystyrene, bits of wire and anything else they could grab. Another team trawled poetry books, zines, cartoons and leafiets for our propaganda, which was designed to be immediate, funny and cover a broad range of topics. The combination of visual actions and written propaganda was very important - we didn't want to just be an entertaining spectacle.
Excited by a bizarre range of ideas, we planned to do something every day in the week building up to June 18th. We hoped that by pre-empting the day itself and the inevitable media backlash that would follow, we could help get the real message of June 18th across, and complement the office occupations, blockades and disruption which would take place on the day. We time-tabled bars, the tube and the street as venues on different days for our theatre experiments: loud conversations about selling fresh air, breaking into games of tag (complete with briefcases), 'follow my leader', and going beserk with toy mobile phones.
We pushed ourselves hard and it was emotionally exhausting. Every day we dressed up in suits, pretended to be something we weren't, entered an alien, hostile environment and then did things that drew attention to ourselves - while simultaneously trying to block off that little voice in our heads which screamed "Shit! People are looking at me! Aaaargh!" We learnt loads of lessons - about what didn't and did work (especially in enclosed environments like the tube) and how to overcome our fears. We learnt that the risks and stress were not less than 'usual' political actions, but very different!
The big day itself saw immaculately-dressed members of MTLP striding around the streets of the city in formation, briefcases on heads, umbrellas turning, singing straight-faced ('money makes the world go around' and 'if you're happy and you know it, quit yer job'), spouting poetry into mobile contraptions and stopping in the street suddenly to proclaim joyously that we'd 'made a killing!' We'd drafted in a few friends to hand out leafiets with us, having found it difficult to both keep in role and thrust leafiets into bemused and laughing faces.
We're now making plans for the next MTLP venture and writing up (in more detail than we can here) some of the ideas we would like to share with others. In particular we're interested in pushing the boundaries of 'usual' direct action and finding new and better ways to be challenging, disarming, amusing, confusing, engaging, disruptive, bizarre...
Northerners Doing It Down South!
Manchester began organising for June 18th at the beginning of the year, when several people from the EF! network instigated a June 18th organising group. The first few meetings were relatively well attended by a diverse bunch of people. Early on, the decision was taken not to do an action in Manchester, but to network, publicise and organise transport for the London event.
However, from this point, the J18 group lost focus and all but collapsed. Meetings became increasingly tortuous, numbers attending steadily dwindled, and in the end it was yet again a tiny handful of people from the EF! network who ended up doing most of the J18 work. The attempt to broaden the J18 group out beyond our usual networks failed in Manchester, and it may be interesting to look briefiy at why this happened.
One of the reasons the meetings didn't really work is that the group was operating in a vacuum. We had no idea what sort of event J18 was going to be until only a few weeks before the day. Our only frame of reference was a street party, and we had had it drummed into us that this was not going to be a street party. We had no idea what we were networking for. Even the morning actions were hazy, as we had some vague idea we might need to co-ordinate with other groups around the country, and this didn't seem to be happening. The group also suffered from lack of a clear remit. Were we planning for a Manchester action on the morning or were we just a networking group? I recall it being totally unclear to all of us involved at first, as to which would be the most effective thing to do in terms of bringing together different Manchester networks both for this action and for future events here.
The group spent ages arguing about different action possibilities, and also the different politics around the event. And this was the final downfall of our group. The accepted wisdom on diversity is that it is a strength. Yet in a group trying to plan around an unknown action, with an unknown random collection of people, with different politics and experience, diversity is a real bind.
I felt particularly hampered by the fact that very few Manchester 'activists' (meaning those full/nearly full-time activists coming largely but loosely from the EF! network) got involved with these meetings, or in fact J18 generally. The original J18 group consisted of a tiny handful of 'us lot', a few old time anarchos, a few random nutters, a few students, and due to Manchester's rich leftie history - a fair few revolutionary and reformist left groups/individuals. How do you hope to achieve anything, when in response to "what we think the aims of J18 are", someone says that "of course, the main aim is good media coverage!" And when someone else says that we should steer clear of putting the word 'capitalism' on a poster because lots of people who might want to come to a street party think that capitalism is an okay thing? It became clear that the J18 group could not attempt to organise a Manchester action, and that we'd have to leave that to autonomous groups. The J18 group would stick to organising transport to the afternoon event, producing publicity, organising trainings and briefings, and managing the money. We could, of course, have gone out to talk to community groups, student groups, grassroots workers groups, workers in struggle, animal rights groups (who, typically of that scene in Manchester, didn't get involved at all with the exception of some individuals linked with EF!) But the J18 group became about 4 people, all 'activists' with tons of other stuff to do, and still without a clue as to what the rest of the activist population of Manchester thought about J18. This same group were the only ones really pushing to get the Manchester EF! network to do anything for the morning of J18, so it was just not possible to do everything. A group squatted the Hacienda as a networking weekend for J18 among other reasons, but the mini-riot resulting from this just gave us more work in court support and very nearly got most of the EF! group nicked, too.
The briefings and public order training went well, and we produced a good little booklet from this, on tips on how to behave in a public order situation, to be given to everyone on our transport. The coach was more than filled, and if people had got round to phoning to book the coach before 8pm on the 17th, we could have fetched many more people down from Manchester.
At the very last minute, four different groups emerging largely from the EF! network did do autonomous actions in the morning - involving blocking roads, bridges and tube lines. Other people from Manchester took part in a Northern Anarchist Network action at the TUC, a fair few went on a Campaign Against The Arms Trade (CAAT) action, a group of students attempted to organise a morning action, some went on the Critical Mass, and others scattered among other different actions.
Most of these actions worked well, but we nearly screwed up our afternoon role, due to being unaware that we even had a crucial role. Either the secrecy was the problem or the last minute arrangements, because someone from Manchester went to London only the previous weekend in order to work this out, and wasn't told anything really. By the time we managed to find out we had a role (midnight of the 17th) it was way too late to involve anyone other than our small affinity group for a job which required most of Manchester activists. Even at the point of being in the station, only one of us knew anything at all, having been sworn to secrecy. This clearly has the potential for a large fuck-up. I think we need to trust each other a bit more.
And just a final little dig (because of course in general, I felt J18 was inspiring), we must try harder to avoid London centrism. None of the publicity had space for local contacts, and one of the stickers actually didn't even mention the action was in London, assuming everyone in the country would know which city Liverpool Street station was in. We lacked information from the beginning, and not enough was done soon enough to involve the regions [surely the colonies?] in J18. In Manchester, we shouldn't have bothered with a J18 group in my view - we couldn't effectively network and publicise it in advance because we lacked information from London and enthusiasm from activists here, and all the real organising was done in the last two weeks as per usual.
Finally, the after-effects of J18 are still with us. Many of us here felt the day was inspirational, some of us were disappointed we didn't achieve more, and some were disappointed that J18 wasn't a much broader alliance than the street party crowd. However, a significant number of people, including some activists from Manchester, said they would never go on an action like J18 again, due to the 'violence'. We discussed this in our 'Riotous Assembly' activists' network forum, and had an interesting and amicable discussion.
We may be following the State's agenda to be discussing the violence - as it defiects from the real issue and the real perpetrators of violence in our society - but in Manchester, if we don't want to appear like some hardcore exclusive clique who don't give a toss what some among us think of this, discussion is essential. Moreover, it reminds us that diversity can be not a problem, but a bonus.