N30: Reclaiming the Railways

As martial law was imposed on the streets of Seattle, London hosted its own mini-riot at Euston Station.

The events of November 30th 1999, from Black Flag #219.

Submitted by Fozzie on January 19, 2021

On 30 November 1999, Reclaim the Streets and the Strike Support Group organised a 1000+ strong demo called 'Reclaim the Railways' outside Euston Station, with the support of the London Transport Regional Council of the RMT (Tube Workers) and the Campaign Against Tube Privatisation. Speakers at the rally included railworkers campaigning for rail safety and against privatisation, anti-WTO activists and Zapatista supporters. The speakers presented a refreshing anti-capitalist message, urging direct action rather than following parties or voting for new politicians. Unlike the left, who have retarded the issue politically by calling for renationalisation, RTS urged workers' self-management as the only alternative to privatisation.

In addition to the anarchist solution to privatisation, the demo also successfully linked New Labour's Thatcherite policies to the ongoing global assault on our class. As one of the RTS leaflets put it:

"The most blatant example of market madness in London is the privatisation of the Tube. Consequently, railways are the focus of the events here. Join us to say No! to privatisation. No! to another century of capitalism. No! to another century of alienated work, poverty, wars and ecological destruction β€”and Yes! to a new world based on real human community, a society based on our needs and desires not their profits!"

Reclaim the Streets also stressed the importance of doing it ourselves and not relying on politicians or parties. It's a shame they did not use the word anarchist (unlike socialist and communist), but the libertarian message of self-help, direct action and solidarity came through and that is what really counts. The only real solution is a new society based on human needs, not profit. They also linked the need to transform the world with direct action of workers,

"The only practical solution is for us to start talking to our fellow commuters and workers, to start coming together to build a new world. That is what railworkers begin to do when they go on strike. Of course, the media say strikes cause commuter misery and damage to the economy. But what is the economy about? It is about working hard just to survive, while making profits for others to live at our expense. The economy is human misery. By striking, workers reduce the misery!"

Some comrades also helped hammer home the importance of autonomous self-organisation with a leaflet warning people of the parasitic nature of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). As it said:

"At our best we [the direct action movement] have developed radical anti-capitalist ideas through creative actions... brought off with no leaders giving us orders, just mutual aid and solidarity between groups and individuals. The same ideas also inspire the vision of the world many of us want to see β€” a free community based on co-operation, not competition and hierarchies. The SWP, however, see the Party as all important. The resistance of the oppressed must be controlled and directed by the party leadership to succeed..."

The leaflet was right to argue that "despite their radical language the SWP is fundamentally opposed to our movement" β€” indeed any movement of working class self-liberation.

All in all, the politics of the N30 demo were excellent β€” libertarian in spirit, method and vision. However, the turning over of a (very conveniently placed) empty police van by some of the (unmasked) protesters does raise questions.

Firstly the police obviously had the numbers, and resources to win any confrontation (unlike June 18). Euston Station forecourt is an easily enclosed space, heavily monitored by CCTV. The chances were that we would lose, so why provide the police with easy targets?

Secondly, why should demos always become riots? The politics of the demo can be lost (as can be seen from the coverage where opposition to privatisation and other issues were lost). This is not a plea for pacifism (we know that the police attack peaceful demos and self-defence is essential). Rather it is a plea for intelligence and analysis. Why chance getting arrested when the risks are clearly higher than the rewards? After all, if all demos become riots they will only become the activity of those young, confident and strong enough to handle them. Is this really what we want? To exclude the bulk of the population from our activities? Of course not. The next day Prescott pulled Railtrack out of the contract to privatise the London Underground. This may have been pure coincidence. The next example of market madness is the privatisation of Air Traffic Control. Perhaps it's time to Reclaim the Skies?