Black Flag on the J18 anti-capitalist protests on June 18th 1999 in London and globally.
For anyone who didn't notice - the June 18 occupation of the City of London (the financial district) was a riotous success. Attracting a diverse crowd it was the first demo in living memory (mine anyway) specifically against capitalism - no demands, no appeal to the government or the rich to do anything.
A year's worth of planning paid-off on the day, maps and thousands of carnival masks were handed out free, providing some protection from the omnipresent cameras. Inspiringly, there was a move away from the passive street party punter waiting to be entertained. People worked collectively with friends and strangers and planned actions went off alongside spontaneous ones.
The LIFFE building was stormed with hand-to-hand fighting up and down the escalators; Lloyds was evacuated; the Bank of England, the Stock Exchange and a flash restaurant (amongst others) were attacked and a showroom of Mercs was sent off to the big repair shop in the sky. The damage assessors list is endless and in the Eurovision rioting stakes, put London in at number one for the first time in years.
By Monday the boards were replaced with glass and the graffiti was getting steam-cleaned off. Since then the arrest lists have grown. What was it all about then? First, and most obviously, it did put protest back on the map. Every five or six years the extra-parliamentary opposition has to kick some butt just to show that we are not just armchair theoreticians. But protest, no matter how violent, can be just a big tantrum - and just as pointless. If the day was just what people built-up to, for the whole of last year, and was then all they talked about till next year, it would be as much use as those big peace marches we used to mock.
The two main pieces of propaganda for the action, the mock paper Evading Standards1 , given out on the day, and Squaring up to the Square Mile2 , a pamphlet that described what the different city companies do, cannot be seen as representative of all those that took part in the action at every level. The day was not just about how naughty finance capital is. People on the demonstration included those well aware of how their own bosses screw them directly. Reed Employment, New Deal entrepreneurs, were targeted but closed for the day with posters saying what good work they do. Relations between ordinary city workers and protesters were much better than at the Stop the City demonstrations of the 80s. Builders on Finsbury Square were on strike over the sacking of a safety rep, but weren't the only ones who were into what was going on.
The media wrote a lot about the use of the internet to organise and to propagate the J18 protests, some commentators appearing to suggest that this was some sort of abuse of the media. Expect more calls for internet censorship and control. There were however very few imaginative counter-measures. There were some (failed) attempts to hack the server for the J18 discussion list, notably from 'gatekeeper. herbertsmith.com', someone at a large city law firm that, from the look of things, knows less about the law and about 'information technology' than they claim.
Top investigative work from The Sunday Times insight team revealed that we were paid to riot. A trader told a journalist that two students told him they had been given a bus ticket, £30 and a packed lunch to come from Nottingham to riot. Reclaim The Streets have been strangely reticent on this one and attempts to get refunds have been met with bureaucratic demands for receipts and proof of rioting.
Friday's Evening Standard, always first with the facts, carried the good news that very little had happened. Evading Standards had been closer to the truth, even though it was printed well before June 18. Still, the story had originally come from the police chief who announced, as the Critical Mass set off at 8.00am, "not many people have turned up and we are expecting a low-key day."
Despite all the chaos and the damage, 'city sources' claimed that blitz spirit had meant that no trading was lost. Most of the city workers spent the day at home, hanging out of windows or being unable to get back from lunch. The LIFFE building was apparently closed for some reason in the afternoon. Le Quai restaurant was far from empty when people turned up for a takeaway well after lunchtime. All of which begs the question, when do these people do any work anyway?
All Around the World
Outside London and internationally, June 18 went off mostly as party or street theatre. Glasgow had a big noisy parade and there were occupations in Edinburgh in the weeks before J18. Theatrical Zapatistas featured from South Korea to Boston. It kicked off in the hippie paradise of Eugene, Oregon [see Prisoners, this issue] and the cops chased punks around in LA. In Europe it was mostly quiet (apart from the sound systems) but demonstrators braved a total ban on demonstrations in Belarus and held a picket of Macdonald's in the city centre. The Czechs started early, to avoid disappointment and managed to get their rioting done before rain stopped play on their June 18 demo. It is difficult to assess the impact of the actions and who was involved in different places from the different reports.
No Laughing Matter
Koln in Germany was the venue for the G8 summit and with characteristic good humour, Koln cops arrested at least 20 people in an operation to prevent a 'Laugh Parade' against the 08 summit. 350 people from the Intercontinental Caravan were surrounded by police on their way to the city centre. Amongst those arrested was Vijhay Jawandhia, president of the Inter-State Coordination Committee of Farmers' Organisations, and his wife. People from the Caravan were beaten-up and pushed to the ground while the cops racially abused them. At least two demonstrators needed medical support. 500 European supporters were also surrounded at another station but were treated a lot better by the police. The Intercontinental Caravan for Solidarity and Resistance had made a protest tour through Europe for one month. Apart from India, the participants also came from Brazil, Bangladesh, Nepal, Mexico, Colombia, Pakistan, Chile and the Ukraine.They took part in actions in eleven countries of Europe in the run up to June 18.
The Montevideo June 18 Network occupied the main square of the Old Town (the financial centre). At about 12:30 a type of trade fair was set up with stalls on various themes: work (selling cheap labour and focusing on child labour), education (where public education could be acquired for a modest price and the education reform was questioned), plastic (with a PVC jockey riding the Pollution Plastisaurus, spotlighting non-returnable bottles and packaging (we're experiencing an invasion of these) and rejecting PVC), Local Culture (with a test to see how globalised and how Uruguayan we are), TV (as the manipulator of our lives), Consumption (showing us how to be perfect consumers and have a clear conscience) and Communication, (criticising the prohibition of community and free radio stations). Also participating were some trade unions involved in disputes such as the one with Cristaleri'as del Uruguay. They locked-out their employees, leaving them in the street and Uruguay without its only glass factory. The unions brought along a cardboard factory with an exhibition about glass. The fishworkers' union also attended with placards protesting about their situation. Also present were the workers of the 'El Cine' super-market who have been in occupation of the supermarket for the last two months.
The square was decorated with balloons and posters. A lot of noise was made which attracted the attention of passers-by who had a look at our trade fair and listen to the music. Most stalls were made of materials skipped and recycled from the streets and with posters taken from this year's elections. The second action of the day was a a really lively parade along the main streets, with singing, stilt-walkers, jugglers, puppets, the Plastisaurus and the glass factory occupying the streets and entering into the Stock Exchange, the Banco de Montevideo (to the surprise of the staff) and passing in front of the Ministry of Housing & the Environment and McDonald's, where we stayed for a while singing and getting in the way. The day finished with a puppet show about the media, which ended up with the burning of a card-board television.
Bouncing All the Way to the Banks
Czech J18 actions started on a hot Saturday afternoon, on May 22, with the first street party outside Prague taking place in Brno with over 800 people, a sound system, bands and infoshops. At about 5.00 pm the crowd took to the streets, blocking traffic in town and marching through Brno without any arrests.
On June 5 there was the third Prague street party. The date was set to welcome the Intercontinental Caravan. It was another hot day with some 7000 gathered in the centre of Prague. There were seven mobile sound systems and live concerts with ska and punk bands, a lot of infoshops, veggie food, DIY-culture, drummers, tearoom, fire show and much, much more.
After the 'official' event ended, people joined the protest march which was lively but proceeded through the centre without incident, apart from traffic chaos, until reaching the Old Town district. At the bottom of Petrin Hill people headed to the US embassy. The police were badly-organised despite having deployed 1000 cops, two helicopters, waterguns, horses, etc. The now-angry crowd attacked the building with bottles and stones, breaking many windows. The police arrived, but let the crowd move on to the castle.
After a rest, about 500 people walked from the castle back to the centre but riot police were much in evidence at this time. People tried to attack McDonald's, KFC, and a TV station... police arrested 114 people, nine cops were injured - two badly - a McDonald's was demolished, a police station and a few cars were left with broken windows. Pity they got the date wrong really.
Niger Delta, Nigeria
About 10,000 people from all across Nigeria and the Niger Delta, ethnic nations in particular, joined protesters around the world. Thousands of people from all walks of life gathered at the Port Harcourt International Airport to meet Dr Owens Wiwa, younger brother of the slain Ogoni nationalist Ken Saro-Wiwa. By 10.30 am the plane conveying Owens from Lagos landed. On hand to receive him at the airport were activists, workers, women, children, the unemployed, market women and professionals including former minister Dr Mofia Akobo who heads the Southern Minorities Movement; Mr Oronto Douglas, environmental human rights lawyer and leader of the Chikoko Movement; as well as Mrs Joi Yowika, the Ogoni lawyer who helped secure the release of the Ogoni Twenty among others.
Owens spoke to express his optimism that the peoples of the Niger Delta would overcome in their struggle against the alliance between the Nigerian state and Western multinational oil companies like Shell, Agip, Mobil, Chevron and Elf. These companies, many in the Delta say, have destroyed the basis of their livelihood. The crowd then moved in a convoy to Agip junction in Port Harcourt where a street named after General Abacha was unofficially re-named after Ken Saro-Wiwa as the old signpost was pulled out. The crowd also stormed Agip offices in Port Harcourt where two mock coffins where deposited in protest against the human rights violations of the Italian company. For example, last April soldiers on the orders of Agip shot eight villagers, including a two-year-old baby.
The demonstrators also blockaded the gates leading to the offices of Shell in Port Harcourt. The blockade lasted for about two hours and solidarity messages were presented by representatives of virtually all the ethnic nationalities in Niger Delta and groups with transnational agenda like the National Association of Nigerian Students. There was dancing and singing in the streets, bringing Port Harcourt, Nigeria's petroleum capital, to a standstill.
Earlier the convoy had gone to 24 Aggrey Road, Port Harcourt, which the late Sara-Wiwa had donated to the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) to use as its office. Addressing the gathering at Aggrey Road, Owens Wiwa pointed out that all those who had a hand in the murder of the Ogoni Nine will be punished sooner rather than later. Oronto Douglas bemoaned the fate of the suffering peoples of the Niger Delta in the hands of corporations and said "enough is enough". Dr Akobo encouraged the peoples of the Delta to continue to fight for their liberation from native colonialists and global forces of injustice as "we are in the age of freedom". He encouraged all peoples of the Delta to unite as one, to defeat their common enemies.
Trade unionists held a massive rally. The leadership of APFUTU, a union federation, had gone underground on June 14. They came out on June 18 wearing masks and veils and joined the rally, in spite of the fact that the local police were everywhere ready to arrest them. The police had made a night raid two nights before at the union house as well as Imtiaz Labor Hall on the midnight of June 17 and 18, trying to find out about the leadership. When police failed they smashed up the office and looted a computer and other equipment. They also burned records.
When the underground leadership appeared in the procession, the protesters broke through the police lines and went to the Chowk District Courts chanting slogans against the government as well as the nuclear tests. In front of Deputy Commissioner Office the APFUTU (Women's Wing) leadership were on hunger strike as a protest against the nuclear explosions.
Afterwards a protest gathering was held at the District Court Chowk and Mr Pirzada Imtiaz Syed, Secretary General, addressed the meeting but about 300 to 400 police commandos attacked the demonstration, men women and children, with tear gas. They arrested Pirzada, a number of other leading figures and 50 more active members. On July 9, the 50 rank-and-file members were bailed and released and two days later all but six were too. Those released had been tortured. The Pakistani trade unionists have called for international financial and political support and have opened two bank accounts in the name of "International Solidarity Fund of Apruru” with the Allied Bank of Pakistan Ltd, main branch Gujrat. The details of bank accounts are: International Solidarity Fund of APFUTU, Account No. 1180 (US $) and 1181 (DM) Name of bank: Allied Bank of Pakistan Ltd, Main Branch, Chowk Nawabsahib, Gujrat (Pakistan). All Pakistan Federation of United Trade Unions (ApFuru), Union House, Rang Pura, Sargodha Road, Gujrat - 50700 (Pakistan) Fax number (-1- 92 4331 ) 52 53 02.
Since June 18 there have been a total of around 50 arrests. Expect a `grass-em-up' media campaign sooner or later, Legal Defence and Monitoring Group are trying to coordinate defence but need more people to get involved. Contact them at BM Haven, London WC1N 3XX. Three people are on remand, one is Onofrio Loverso [Fonziej, write to him at B Wing, HMP Rochester, Fort Road, Rochester, Kent.