On October 20 2012, the TUC is hosting another national march and rally in London. Like the one on March 26 last year, it is likely to be a big event. Like then, too, it is likely to be a way for the trade unions to have their members let off steam without being too radical. But it looks like the lessons of last time are being learned, as the TUC is taking pre-emptive steps to avoid a repeat of last year's "trouble."
This should come as no surprise, of course. Last year, the TUC and "independent" legal observers Liberty were given desks in the Met's central observation room. Stewards were given training to prevent sit-down protests, and for all intents both organisations were just extra layers of the police operation. They all appeared together at press conferences, smiley and full of promises that the march would remain peaceful.
Obviously, that never happened, and plenty of liberal and soft-left commentators came forward to complain that the anarchists stole their headlines. Headlines that peaceful marches never actually get, unless you count the government coming out to state that marching from A to B will not actually change a thing. But we fully expect that the TUC knows this, and that it is another reason why they are so keen to collaborate with the Met in making sure that the event remains peaceful and passive. If anything has changed, it is only that the bureaucrats are trying to learn the lessons of past marches and take further steps to prevent disorder.
Already, I've heard reports that the TUC has been making contact with UK Uncut, begging them to ensure that the march route does not see any kind of radical protest or direct action. They are able to easily dismiss the anarchists as a "violent minority" when we break away from the march. But it is much harder to condemn and decry when - like the occupation of Fortnum and Mason - the marchers go past it on their route and cheer it on.
Whether whoever the TUC speak to in UK Uncut agrees to this request, we can't know. But we do know, as must the TUC, that a guarantee from a "spokesperson" will count for squat if activists in that network (or others, as UK Uncut has been superseded by the campaign against workfare and those leading it are very much disinclined to cooperate with union tops) decide to call action. At best, they can hope only that this appeal to authority limits those taking direct action to a "hard core" and that many of the broader constituency who have been drawn to such actions may be put off.
More vital, and more disturbing, will be the level of their cooperation with the Met. I have no doubt that the measures taken last time will remain in place. But alongside the reports that UK Uncut has been approached to steer clear, a number of sources have suggested that the police want to be able to run checks on (and, implicitly, have the final say on) the full list of stewards.
This hasn't come out officially, and nor have I heard whether the TUC has complied. But there is little reason that they would be reticent about this when they are willing for the police to train their stewards and give them a seat in the control room. It also begs the question of what other information is being asked for (and handed over). After all, despite the insistence of the whingers last year, those who broke away from the march and those who occupied with UK Uncut do not exist in a vacuum, unconnected to the trade unions and communities which mobilised so many people on the streets.
The struggle has shifted quite dramatically in a number of ways since March 26 2011, and when I get time I intend to write a blog looking in more depth at how and why. But you can bet that the ruling class has been looking at the same. For different reasons than the union tops, the Met will be intent on learning from its past mistakes and making sure that the march on October 20 is sewn up tight. With the collaboration of "our" leaders, they will want the troublemakers on lockdown.
For anarchists and anyone intending to deviate from the plan on the big day (in whatever way), this presents serious challenges. Whatever happens, genuinely independent legal observance, arrestee support and building practical solidarity between all present - whether marching or occupying, rioting or rallying - is an absolute priority.
UPDATE - 20 August 2012
Since writing the above post, it seems that the TUC have gone even further in their collaboration. At a meeting where they promised the cops that the official TUC demo would be the only one happening on the day, they also submitted to them a list of 150 "violent activists." There can be no clearer indictment of the TUC as a whole, and a significant portion of blame for any repression on the day - or pre-emptive arrests such as occurred before the Royal Wedding - must be laid at their door.