Sunday, 27 March 2011

Media Watch: March for the Alternative

Unsurprisingly, the photo editors of Britain’s Sunday papers have been seduced by the evocative and powerful images of anarchists “on the rampage in central London” during yesterday’s March for the Alternative.

Although most papers chose a photo depicting street violence – with the Independent on Sunday adopting a particularly powerful vista – the Observer and The Star both went with huge crowd scenes and no paper dared deny the magnitude of the march with estimates ranging from 250,000 to 500,000 protestors. Regardless of which figure you go with, a couple of hundred anarchists is but a tiny minority and hardly representative.

Both the events yesterday and the media coverage today bring into question the role of direct action in the labour movement. Of course there are times when direct action is necessary – and civil disobedience was crucial in the civil rights movement and the suffragettes – but the anti-cuts movement is a different beast and I fear what the press term ‘violent extremism’ could discourage families from protesting in the future and undermine what should be a broad movement.

It’s also important, however, to draw distinction between the peaceful and effective direct action employed by UKuncut and the more aggressive black bloc tactics used by anarchists yesterday. In many cases – such as the occupations of Topshop and Fortnum and Mason – anarchists hijacked legitimate UKuncut demonstrations. UKuncut have shown in the past they use peaceful means to occupy establishments in order to gain publicity, create a spectacle and raise consciousness. Unfortunately, anarchist activism which involves attacking rather than occupying is too divisive for a political movement in its infancy and undermines attempts to create a critical mass of opposition. A revolution has never been won on adrenaline alone – it requires developed consciousness, mass support and effective mobilisation.

The newspapers’ sensationalism, however, shouldn’t distract attention from the true story to come from yesterday’s events. It was the story of something we haven’t seen for a while and something which most people had written off as doomed or extinct. Yesterday we saw the re-awakening of the trade union movement and the forceful demonstration of a mass labour movement mobilised by sectional interest but organising collectively. Yesterday showed that half a million people on the streets of London – with many more sympathetic and unable to attend – represents the majority of public opinion.

It is the responsibility of all those who attended the demonstration yesterday to spread the story of a peaceful, united and passionate march and ensure it isn’t hijacked by the sensationalist press. The success and unprecedented scale of the march makes it easier for trade unions to organise militant action in workplaces and – with the full impact of cuts yet to come – the momentum is with us. The March for the Alternative shows that the fight-back has just begun.

1 comment:

Belinda said...

"They say cut back, we say fight back; cut back; fight back; cut back; fight back." What a brilliant and important day.

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