The same correspondents report of events of the weekend of 28 - 30th September 1996, which saw Reclaim the Streets activists going to Liverpool to support the dockers. From Subversion #20 (1996)
Just a short note to describe the weekend of 28/29 September. I am only going to describe what I personally saw. Any reflection on the events will have to wait unitl I can check my impressions with others.
The ‘eco-warriors’ who came together under the banner of ‘Reclaim the Streets’ to support the dockers struggle brought with them new ideas, new ways of doing things and an almost naive curiousity about the dispute. On the Saturday there was a demonstration through the city centre which was odd mixture of the old and new.
New was the colour, the music and the feeling of excitement which many of these people brought to what has been in the past a rather tired, social democratic trudge through the streets. When we got near MacDonalds the state showed that it took the new elements seriously when the OSD in full body armour and holstered pistols, blocked off the road . . . just in case. Then when we got to the Pier Head, traditional meeting place for the struggles of the 70s, what a transformation ! Instead of the cobbles and Liverpool’s version of the Tatlin tower [a monument to an earlier attempt at trade union internationalism, that of Ford shop stewards to co-ordinate a struggle internationally], there was a manicured lawn and a podium. Our history transformed into a tourist trap. The Tatlin tower, ‘temporarily removed’ during renovations has no doubt been cut up so as no longer to embarras the Council or the MDC which now ‘owns’ the Pier Head. Another piece of our history turned against us - it was almost too much to bear. .
...In the evening, whilst we were just having a quiet drink, one of the WoW burst in to say that the OSD had surrounded the Custom House on the Dock Road. This is one of those 2 storey government buildings, now abandoned by the state, which the eco-warriors had squatted since the previous Wednesday. Social space that any movement needs and which the dockers have, precariously, in the form of their use of the T & G building in Liverpool.
Suddenly, a crisis. All the arrangements for co-ordination that the dockers and eco-warriors had made - mobile phone telephone numbers for just such an emergency, were not answering. Does the state know when they are switched off ? Were the OSD just waiting for people’s guard to be lowered ? What sort of mobilisation did they expect at 9-30 on a Saturday night ?
We rushed down to the Custom House - Jimmy Nolan wanting us to impress on the eco-warriors the need to avoid a futile confrontation, would they be in the same frame of mind ? How do they handle situations like this ? What seriously were the 20 or so us who went supposed to do ? I called at a garage to buy spare batteries for my flash on the camera - but if the OSD were serious, on past experience you don’t get to keep your equipment intact.
In the end when we got down there, the younger Torside dockers had the situation ‘sorted’. The OSD had gone, there was only one busy on the door and a ‘deal’ had been agreed that the all nighter could go ahead - provided it was not made known in the city. The fact that the Custom House was stuck in the North End, and a good taxi ride away was going to be sufficient to prevent that. Motto - next time squat some ‘social space’ nearer to where people are.
Still it wasn’t so bad. There were hot showers, the building was fully carpeted, the heating worked and the rooms were big enough for a huge party. While I was there I got the chance to use my flash - taking a picture of the ‘throne’ - the toilet the customs used to use to ‘await results’ for those intent on smuggling ‘illegal substances’ by swallowing them. Meanwhile, a cafe was organised, the sound system arrived and the party went on and on . . . .
On the Monday there was a picket of the Seaforth dock and the same people were there to help. Along with some of the dockers [including a couple of stewards] they were arrested attempting to invade and occupy some of the cranes . . .
What impression each has gained of the other I cannot say at this stage. But who knows, social movements have to start somewhere.
PS OSD is the ‘Operational Support Group’ - the ones who lounge around in vans waiting to crack heads. Every country has its equivalent. ‘Busy’ is slang in Liverpool for uniformed police.