Following this years London Anarchist Bookfair a solidarity demo was organised at the St Pancras station to highlight racist border policies. This article covers some of the events and offers what will hopefully be taken as constructive criticism for future actions.
On the 24th of October, a demonstration was called by No Borders to disrupt St Pancras Eurostar Terminal in solidarity with migrants who have been attempting to gain entry to the UK through the Eurotunel. Around 300 people were in attendance, the majority of which who were masked up.
As the demo walked the short distance to the station flares were lit and fireworks set off. A confrontation with the police quickly ensued as there were riot vans outside the station all day in preparation. This is likely to be due to the fact that the demo was publicly announced and due to the the fact that the Eurotunnel turnstiles were blockaded for 3 and a half hours just over a week before by the #YourBordersKill action.
A line of police prevented activists from entering St Pancras and the bloc was forced to retreat back to Central St Martin's, though not without attempts to block the police's with readily available herras fencing from building sites and the odd bottle being thrown. Eventually, the bloc was forced to satisfy itself with blocking the road outside the bookfair. Energy soon dissipated and the crowd faded. Around 30 or so people ended up moving off in the opposite direction and managed to enter Kings Cross station, where after a bit of cat and mouse with the police a portion of the bloc was kettled for a while.
Assuming the aim of the action was to disrupt operations at St Pancras, the action was largely unsuccessful. Some attention to the issue was gained through mainstream media, but this largely focused on 'rioters' and getting media attention is unlikely to have been the aim of those taking part.
Part of the failure of the action could be put down to a lack of coordination. It didn't appear as if there was a clear plan whilst taking part and we were left to react to the police manoeuvres, which resulted in us being pushed back to our starting point. Further, the number of police blocking the entrance was very few, such that a couple of individuals managed to break through the line temporarily. Had a coordinated effort been made to punch through the lines, or had there even been a dedicated affinity group who were prepared to take a couple of baton blows, we could have easily made it into the station. This could have put the police on the back foot significantly as there were a large number of onlookers, so the police would have been unlikely to react violently.
A further question could be raised over the appropriateness of the black bloc tactic. If the aim was to enter the station and cause disruption, the simplest way to achieve this would be to arrange for people to meet in location. If people dressed as if they were going to travel there is no way that police could have stopped many, if any of us. Additionally, had we entered the station, would the black bloc have been appropriate there? The main advantage of this tactic is to remain anonymous and to allow for illegal activities such as property destruction to take place, with a lower risk of arrest. However, had property destruction occurred in the station, it is highly unlikely that many of us would have escaped, as all the police would have needed to do is block the entrances and pick each of us off. Never mind the high density of CCTV cameras in the station. On top of this, the bloc does come with a cultural stigma which can distract from the issue. Many onlookers were asking 'why are you wearing a mask?' , rather than engaging with the issues being raised.
This is not a critique of black bloc in general. As a tactic it has its place, however it needs to be used when it can be effective in reaching our goals, rather than being clung to out of habit or worse as a counter cultural identity.
Further, if we are to use it, let's do all we can to ensure it is effective. This means, someone, if not everyone for security reasons, needs to be aware of the plan and be in a position to guide people to follow it. This could also mean affinity groups planning what they are willing to do before joining a bloc, and also could benefit from training on different tactics for engaging with and evading the police. Whilst there is a great deal to be said for spontaneity, with training in tactics comes confidence and ability to take advantage of unexpected opportunities.