They can't extinguish the fire! - Past Tense

Yet another leaflet about cuts and the student riots, this time by Past Tense.

Submitted by Jason Cortez on December 12, 2010

The outbreaks of rebellion on November 10th/24th, and the (right royal) fun on December 9th gave us all a boost – there’s nothing like rioting to warm up a chilly winter. Hopefully the demolition of Millbank, the tugs of war with the police and the attacks on government buildings and random royals, as well as the wildfire of college occupations around the country are just the opening round, not only for the students, but for the rest of us facing grim years of cuts, losing our jobs, homes or services… Can we look forward to defiance of the austerity program spreading to public sector workers, council tenants, and beyond?

So far many local or not so local anti-cuts campaigns have sprung up to try to work together to resist. The writers of this leaflet have been involved in anti-cuts campaigns before. For years, in fact three decades, each Spring seemed to bring new rounds of threats to this service or that community centre in our localities. Whatever we think of the state, of local councils, many of these services were vital for people with little else going for them – the elderly, the utterly skint, kids with no places to go, the disabled. Each March small groups would get together to fight for their centre or advice line or whatever to stay open, and each time some would be saved and some lost. Usually the loudest or most together (or those that could mobilise well, bring young stroppy kids out on the street etc) would survive; often less organised but no less vital programs would lose their funds. (We think in the end councils used this process to identify which services were likely to fight back and which weren’t, never intending to make all the cuts in the first place.)

The campaigns to resist cuts could be lively and fun, or dull and predictable: often genuine community anger created rowdy and adventurous resistance, while local left groups and union branches made heavy weather of things with turgid meetings and empty threats. But over the years not only did the annual to and fro become more depressing and harder to bring to life each year, but local services got leaner and leaner, housing and homeless services, advice centres, youth groups, disability schemes got thinner and harder to access. There ain’t that much fat left to be trimmed, even before the ‘Coalition’ got going.

When people talk about fighting the cuts, it sometimes seems like its just a new political issue. Bit it isn’t. It’s much more essential than that. Issues are things like opposing nuclear power or being against animal testing. But cuts are not the same thing. They cannot be resisted in the same way. The reason that cuts are being made all across health, housing, education, and so on is to maintain the profits that can no longer be made from a busted economic housing bubble and the bonkers levels of individual debt (credit cards, loans, mortgages, etc). Now the profits to be made are going to come from squeezing the living standards of a large section of the population. The cuts are not being made because the economic system HASN’T worked, they are being made because that’s exactly how the economic system DOES work. It never stops trying to screw us for more and more of what we have had to fight to maintain over the centuries. The Tories make the cuts with relish but if Labour had been elected to power they would be making just the same level of cuts to maintain the same level of profits for the same rich people. Maybe they would have used slightly different words, dressed things up differently, but basically we’d be facing the same shit storm. After all the credibility they lost going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan and all the other murderous lies, the Labour hierarchy must be really made up to be out of power: they can pose like they wouldn’t cut anything, hoping to wriggle back to some level of support again.

There are differing trains of thought that link the cuts to ‘The Crisis’, or ‘The Deficit’ or ‘The Tories’, but for many there is a much more simple truth – it’s just called ‘Life as Normal’. The rich have been getting successfully richer in this country and the poor have been getting poorer – or living on credit. If the cuts are setting out to re-float a busted economy of over-inflated debt and speculation by taking more and more from the poorer section of the population, well, it’s just more of the same for most people. Poverty, crap jobs, insecurity, health problems – that’s how we’ve been living anyway. But do you still feel like politicians will sort it out for you? Do you feel like if you keep your head down and work hard, you’ll be ok? Do you feel scared? Have you had enough of that shit yet?

Mass unemployment is coming (AGAIN – for those of us that remember the 80s!) and with it the ‘disciplining’ of those unable or unwilling to work for shit wages or for free. The promise of a good job and good life after University is an illusion. College leavers and graduates with join the dole queues. This is partly why they’re also attempting to shut people out from going to college – why pay for expensive degrees and raise expectations for those people the system needs to be fighting each other for crap jobs?

The cuts will bite – hard, and hurt many of us and those around us – if we let them. Truth is, the cuts are as much an opportunity as a crisis: a chance to push back, but also a chance to break out of the isolation and fragmentation that has settled over us in the last 30 years. Getting together to halt their cuts can be a step towards remaking the way we live in our OWN interests, We’re surrounded by people who are angry and sad about what’s going on, but many of us keep quiet most of the time. Talking to people, finding out how people feel, could lead to discussing what we might want to do about it…

In some ways the moment we are at now reminds us old farts of the anti-poll tax movement in early 1990. After successfully bashing one group after another for ten years the then tory government over-reached itself, hitting millions of people at once with a new tax that threatened to make most of us much poorer. But a huge movement grew up, with twenty million people refusing to pay at one point, community groups pledged to support each other, some strikes by workers against collecting the tax, and a tsunami of protests turning into riots at Town Halls across the country built up to two big riots in London. In the end the government abolished the poll tax... It IS possible to make them back off if we get together and push hard enough.

One lesson of the anti-poll tax movement though is to break out of controls by official bodies and left groups. Labour and trade union structures actively tried to hold back the fight against the poll tax; trotskyist groups tried to control it, using it for their own ends, and sabotaging actions and groups that didn't fit their idea or weren't under their thumb. They are already attempting the same with anti-cuts campaigns. Any cuts fight that is going to win needs to be controlled from below by communities, workers, the people under threat; if we hand it to trade union leaders or lefty leaders they will either take the sting out of the movement or use it to push their own power and agenda. They also turn fun and lively resistance into dull meetings and boring slogans, hamstringing people's independent thinking and acting. We have to stay collective and open, always going beyond the polite and useless limits set by political parties and unions. Pointless demands like calling for the TUC to call a General Strike, or even for LibDem ministers to oppose the cuts, are a waste of time.

Greece, France, now here: resistance to the interests of capital and the rich is spreading, getting angrier and looks like making a difference. Let's go for it! Strike...occupy...block their economy... let's take back our lives...

(some of the above we nicked from other people's leaflets...)


Below are some links to some texts we thought might be useful, related to just some of the areas of our lives the upcoming onslaught is targeting. Past Tense's focus had traditionally been linking the struggles of the past with our own, so these are mostly historical in general, some are personal accounts, some from our own times, but we hope people will find them useful, or inspiring... Obviously these are just what we could unearth at reasonably short notice, and because we're London-based, there's a distinct London bias. this is only a start; possibly we could build up a real resource of material discussing resistance to cuts both historically and in the future...? Any further suggestions for texts to link to are very welcome.
These and hopefully others soon are up/linked as


It looks like we're facing the most comprehensive shake-up of benefits for decades. Read about some previous collective resistance to attacks on the unwaged...

1920s-30: Some articles on the The National Unemployed Workers Movement are being worked on. patience...1980s: A history of Islington Action group of the unwaged:

more on the claimants movement in the 80s1990s:

Resistance to the imposition of the Job Seekers Allowance:

Dole Autonomy versus the Re-imposition of Work;Analysis of the Current Tendency to Workfare in the UK (1998-9):


The capping of Housing Benefit, threats to limit council tenancies or to kick people out if they get a job... The end of social housing as any kind of meaningful option? A return to mass homelessness sixteenth century style? Time for rent strikes!

Some stuff on rent strikes:&

Leeds 1914:
Leeds 1934:
Barcelona, 1931:
East End 1938: A PDF of Sarah Glynn's take on East End rent strikes of the
late '30s:
has alot more interesting stuff too...
Housing Finance Act, 1950s:

St Pancras Rent Strike,

Material on squatting is verry numerous. As a start: has chapters from "squatting the Real Story', a 1979 history of squatting in the UK (some folk have just started working on a new updated this space...)


The lie on the airwaves is that the NHS is safe from the knife... But jobs are going, there are huge re-organisations in responsibility for health at a local level, health centres are being closed...In the 1970s, 80s and 90s, successive recessions and health 'reforms' collided in the closure of various hospitals - health workers and users fought back by occupying them/attempting to keep them running. Some experiences:

The South London Womens Hospital Occupation (which includes discussion of the work-in at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital and others):

University College Hospital occupations early 1990S:
occupations-1992 -


Too big a subject, really. While rioting students is always a welcome winter sight, the occupations of university and college buildings is spreading around the country. The more the merrier! But why should college occupations by restricted to students? Occupied colleges could help build a stronger movement against cuts generally if they become a base for non-students, and new forms of education for all might even arise, not subject to the control of academia...

Occupations of colleges: 1968-9 were big years, even in England. The Hornsey Art College Occupation 1968:
Some random gossip from the LSE/ULU occupations of '69:

One lovely sign is the increasing numbers of sixth formers joining the student protests, and starting to occupy in schools too. Reminds us of 2003 when thousands stormed out of schools to riot against the start of the Iraq war... If teachers lock the gates, why not set their cars on fire?

While the student rebellion so far is brilliant, it also has to be said that there seems to be a lack of questioning of education and academia... A wider critique of education and it's role in keeping us socialised and propping up capitalism.
Some general stuff on school, resistance and

The old Situationist classic 'On the Poverty of Student Life' is always a laugh too:


Local council services are probably going to be the hardest hit; in housing, stopping non-essential repairs, closing housing offices, closing the already half shut gates; slashing services for the vulnerable, knackering schools and nursery provision; libraries are also in the firing line. 
For years local services have been gradually whittled away. (We're scanning an preparaing some texts on library occupations, anti-closure campaigns etc...)

Ratecapping: In the 1980s some local councils controlled by the leftwing of the Labour party (slightly to the left of today's Labour) tried to oppose Tory central government's imposing of drastic budget cuts by refusing to co-operate... But in the end they all pretty much bottled it, or got personally hammered and made liable. the process of central government trying to restrict council spending by limiting the amount they could raise in 'rates' (the council tax of the time for you young 'uns) was know as rate-capping. A factual account can be found at

The Rate-capping saga does provide a salutary warning: attempts to instigate 'Socialism in one Borough' inevitably fail, or the brave lefty leaders get cold feet, or end up sacking workers and making cuts in the end ('with a heavy heart'). During the rate-capping struggles not only did many people invest much support and hope in their elected representatives; disillusion was bound to follow. Now it is very unlikely that any councillors controlling local authorities today, however left sounding, will risk the martyrdom that Lambeth councillors brought on themselves, and councillors room to manouevre on budgets and raising money is even more tightly controlled. But similar attempts to deflect local rebellion by councils 'allying' themselves with cuts rebels should be answered with the proper politeness: occupy, strike and lets run the area ourselves. Critical detailed texts on the rate-capping struggle would be welcome if anyone has any... as we think similar developments may arise...

Egg chips and strikes, a personal account of resisting council cuts in the late 1980s:


Austerity measures generally are set to cause redundancies in both the public and private sectors. A good account of the 1978-79 Winter of Discontent, the last real sustained successful period of workers' struggles, has some interesting history and useful perspective on how things have changed:


we haven't even mentioned legal aid cuts... which will hamstring anyone trying to challenge many of the proposed cuts legally eg defend themselves against eviction. Law centres, where you can get a semblance of legal advice and representation, are basically going to go to the wall. We're working on chasing useful texts on this and other matters, watch this space or email us to suggest writings that should go up here...


People are obviously divided about the use of 'violence' so far, and the press, the politicians and other lame 'oppositional' voices like the NUS leaders are jumping on this division to try and split any anti-cuts movement right from the start. While aggro is inevitable - people are angry, and the cops aren't gonna let us do what we want without rough stuff - it's important that any movement is built on OUR terms: we don't let the enemy tell us how to run things. Sometimes violence works, sometimes it's not a useful tactic, but dividing along 'violent vs non-violent' lines is playing into their hands. There's many ways to fight back, not everyone wants/is able to push and shove; sometimes occupying is more productive than smashing up a cop van, especially a suspiciously old van, left "abandoned" yards from a police line, handily close to lots of cameras. No-one should be pushed into doing things they can't handle. On the flip side, people not into 'violence' shouldn't be doing the police's job, trying to stop people or grassing them up. We have to accept there are a diversity of tactics and do our own thing. Most important is to WIN, to have fun getting together and spread the fight.

Some thoughts we have had: many people, especially on November 24th and December 9th, were already doing some of these. Many others weren’t. We’re not here to be boring old fuckers telling people how to do things; but we’ve been in riots, many, for 25 years, we’ve watched out mates go down, had our heads cracked sometimes, and won a few. There were young folks out on the 24th who went properly disguised, who have maybe faced the cops before; others will now learn as the “justice system’ identifies and hammers the people it can lift from these events.

COVER UP: Unless you want to go to prison then it’s a good idea to MASK UP. By this we mean covering your whole face apart from your eyes, not just your chin and mouth. And stay masked up when arriving/leaving actions, because cops and journalists never stop taking pictures, and can identify you from clothes etc. Even if you aren’t going to get up to anything the more folk that mask up the better. People photographed or filmed bashing the fuck out of the cop van on the 24th without covering their faces, even posing for the press, are asking to be picked up afterwards and sent down. The groups who have been targeting the Scientologist Church for a couple of years always wear fun animal masks...We could all wear Cameron masks or whatever. Maybe we could club together some cash for a job lot.

SAY CHEESE? It’s bad enough that the police film our every move, and that there are thousands of CCTV cameras everywhere doing the same. The police FIT team are there for every demo, recording who does what and pointing out people wanted for previous ‘trouble’. We may not be able to prevent this (at recent ukuncut actions the FIT have been going plain clothes, so beware). But we should not just be avoiding making ourselves a spectacle for press cameras, posing with faces uncovered; we need to be getting rid of them. Press pictures and film are used to send people to prison. In the old days we used to drive journalists out of demos, smash their cameras or destroy film. These scum who side with police and the state are all fair targets…&
HAPPY SLAPPING: Nowadays we’re also obsessed with taking photos or film ourselves, sticking it up on facebook and youtube etc; if it shows people doing stuff they could be arrested for then IT’S DANGEROUS. The cops trawl these sites gathering info. It could be you or your mates going down next time. Let's just use phones for keeping in touch and co-ordinating movement.

TURN THE KETTLE OFF: Too many times in the last few years large groups of demonstrators have ended up being kettled, surrounded by police and penned in one area for hours. Apart from being very boring (and cold on the 24th!), it allows the police to control our movements, keep us from spreading the action, and nick who they want. Police intelligence about Millbank was limited but they won't make that mistake again. At Millbank they weren't ready for people; in Whitehall they were. It was always obvious they were going to box people in. So how do we avoid it? 

STICKING TOGETHER AND KEEPING MOVING: People could try going in smaller groups, arranging meet ups with other groups too form crowds quickly, head for other targets... On the 24th everyone was focussed on reaching the LibDem HQ, and this had been widely announced for two weeks. In future smaller groups could target other likely buildings, and keep it quiet. Or spread word about some places then hit others. Moving around and not staying in one place makes it harder to kettle you. But keep an eye on police movements too, usually you can see when they are preparing to kettle, and that's the time to break out and head somewhere else. It IS possible to break out of kettles if you are determined and form a wedge (though this can be a bit rough on the people at the sharp end), there are plenty of tactical ideas circling on the web. But if we're in a small group/on our own outside, rather than hanging around at the various police roadblock, we could filter round to one point and mass up to head off somewhere else.

ARRESTS, INJURIES ETC: If you think you're up for an eventful day, it's best to go with a small group you trust. Keep an eye out for each other, count up after police charges and arrange meeting points if you get split up. have a list of names safe somewhere with a mate who's not there who can ring a solicitor in case of arrest. Act as a thinking group: everyone should know who is prepared for aggro or not. And someone with you having a basic knowledge of first aid is useful. Police are only likely to get heavier.

If someone is getting nicked, if you can and are up for it, try and grab them back off the police. A determined group can save someone from being lifted, especially if its only one or two cops. If someone is rescued they should move off somewhere else, swap clothes with mates. It's also useful to move if your being vocal, or very active and the plod are obviously on your case.

ZIP IT UP: If people do get nicked, their mates should alert legal observers or find out where the cops have taken them and get them a decent solicitor. Legal observers should have been giving out bust cards with a good brief's number. If you're nicked: in a situation where actions are still going on, the police are probably not going to interview you, but don't rely on that. You're only obliged to give a name and date of birth (though not giving an address may mean they hold you longer); it's best not to make any statements, if they do ask you questions "No Comment" is the best reply. The Legal Defence & Monitoring Group can help with advice and legal help; you can also download their bust card and the excellent 'No Comment' from their website, which has good advice on what (not) to say when nicked:

SUPPORT PRISONERS: People who get sentenced for actions like these need support while in prison: letters, books, newspapers, pickets of prisons etc. Prison works by isolating people, so lets break that down. During the anti-poll tax movement we set up support groups to give practical help and spread info about those jailed for the riots/refusing to pay.

GOING EQUIPPED: If we're gonna be occupying government or other buildings, some items concealed about your person may be useful: junior hacksaws for cutting locks and chains, a D-lock to close doors in our interests, powerful catapults to knock out cameras and windows, paint bombs to cover police visors and journo cameras... be prepared to ditch stuff if you think you'll be searched by the plod.

DRESS CODE: Bland, darkish clothes that make it harder to pick you out and nick you later are good; fairly tight fitting so that it's harder for cops to grab your clothes in a scuffle.
Keep it lively and keep it mobile! there's no point hanging around in a pointless confrontation if we're outnumbered. If they block one way we can find another. 12-volt battery sound systems have been used to keep the atmosphere fun and help move people in an organised way. We need more of them! And more drum bands and freestyle MCs on megaphones:


madame guillotine, past tense, december 2010