Gridlock 1: Voices From the M27 Corridor

The following piece is a brief exploration of strategies of control and resistance around motorways. It will avoid the issues of pollution and environmental destruction usually associated with the roads battle and look at no less real struggles with more fundamental implications for the direction of class conflict.


A key component in the reorganisation of space for the needs of profit and power has been the motorway, facilitating both economic development and administrative/military efficiency.

The military uses of motorways didn't end with Hitler's autobahns. Today, in the event of a 'civil emergency' or war, motorways would be reclassified as 'Essential Service Routes' (ESRs) reserved for military use only. The M25 would become a ring of steel around London [no change there then -ed.] with checkpoints at each junction to prevent the movement of civilians into and out of the city. Other cities would face similar restrictions. The desperation to complete the M3 between Winchester and Southampton and get on with the Newbury by-pass is partly due to their need to link the military port at Marchwood with army bases to the north. Indeed, one of the arguments raised by the security services against tunnelling under Twyford Down was the risk of sabotage.

Motorways are fundamental to the circulation of commodities - the lifeblood of capitalism - whether it's goods and services, workers or consumers. Along their routes superstores appear, alongside 'business parks', industrial estates and suburbs; providing new configurations of conformity and different possibilities for resistance.

While motorised transport and the infrastructure built for it is an example of capitalist technology, its subversion and use for purposes other than what was intended is always possible. As early as 1911 the Bonnot gang, a group of Anarchist bank robbers, were the first to use stolen cars for quick getaways. Meanwhile, motorways provide a rapid means for certain city folk to get out to the country whether it's for raves, festivals or turning over the odd stately home or golf clubhouse. Nor should we forget the mobile looters of the LA riots, loading the contents of blazing superstores and warehouses into the backs of their cars before heading back onto the freeway.

Motorways have also been used in the extension of industrial warfare. Recognising their economic importance, striking miners in 1984 took to driving in convoy across all three lanes of the M1 at a snail's pace to hold up the traffic. In Cleveland, USA, a partial reorganisation of space for proletarian needs was achieved during the Truckers' Strike of 1970. For thirty days truckers disrupted capitalist circulation with a mobile blockade of the roads in and around the city. The drivers took a part in the regulation of the city's affairs by sustaining the circulation of food and medicine. A lorry driver involved in a blockade of Southampton docks in 1991 was asked how it could be organised: 'It's easy, we just use the old CB grapevine'.

It is against this backdrop - the need to restrict working class mobility to acceptable limits like going to work - that we should look at such measures as police roadblocks, tolls on motorways, satellite and video surveillance of traffic and the campaigns against tax and insurance evasion. Class conflict occurs in all sorts of situations - this is one of them.

So, even within the dominant architecture and geography of capitalism the possibility for subversion is always present, even in the 'model communities' clustered along motorway corridors. Motorways - those arteries of profit and power - can also carry the virus of class warfare. Let's spread it.


Wellclose Square
Jun 29 2011 17:24

Anyone looking for 'Gridlock 2' will look in vain...