It's the morning of Wednesday 30th November, the day of Britain's biggest strikes since the 1930s. I've been up since an ungodly 5.30AM smashing Red Bulls, blinking a lot and feeling like a troglodyte. We've got an appointment to catch Occupy LSX wreak havoc at Liverpool Street station, weirding out the early morning commuters. Wiping the (it's too early for this) shit out of my tired eyes I hurry down the concourse, fully expecting the mainline London station to be transformed into a rope-swinging anarchist jungle gym
All positivity disappears. Dawn hasn't even happened yet and I'm out of bed watching some cranky transport cops telling "anarchist" professor Chris Knight and protesters that the station-manager doesn't like their banner. The ever-present samba band plays in the background, making several early-morning commutes better or worse depending on the commuter's taste in ambience. Unfortunately, not a single banker is prevented from spending another day drowning the world in global financial hell; they just shake their heads and laugh.
That was the morning, it was a bit meh. Once the revolution of Liverpool Street station had finished we followed the Occupy troupe through the City while they occasionally blocked roads, annoyed policemen and received supportive car honks. The group linked up with Unionists who were chanting "I say Thatcher/ you say DIE!!", dissonating pleasantly with the Occupiers' chants of "We are the 99 percent!" Then we heard reports on Twitter that our old friends at Occupy LSX's Bank of Ideas, in the squatted ex-UBS building next to the station, were being raided.
It turned out the reports were hysteria. Section 60 was in place, so police were allowed to run around the city, stopping, searching and generally harassing whoever they pleased. We saw someone get his phone confiscated. There was also an arrest for possession of an alleged offensive weapon; we are still to discover how offensive the weapon was (or wasn't).
After some late breakfast we headed down to St. Paul's. Here the Occupy movement were gathering for a feeder march to Lincoln Inn's Fields, the location of London's main TUC demo. The procession was lead by some scary guys in Anonymous masks and so was kettled – or "contained" – all of the sodding way.
Once we arrived at Lincoln Inn's Fields we were slightly taken aback by how fucking huge the march turned out to be. Reports we've read since suggest around 30,000 marched. i think that seems kind of small. Without a helicopter or any other possible way to substantiate it, I would say it was definitely, definitely bigger.
As the march neared Trafalgar Sq we were met with the Met's shiny new anti-protest barrier. It went across the Trafalgar roundabout, blocking off Whitehall and the Mall like a tourist-filled medieval fort. It's part of the new "total policing" policy after the August riots scared the authorities and most of the country into triple-locking their doors. It also sucks big balls. The barrier felt like an overreaction by the police, considering this was a family-friendly union protest and not an al-Qaeda tour of Central London.
The march, like so many marches, was slow and trudging, but I guess that's kind of the point. By the time we got to the rally point our interest was beginning to wane and the Union leaders' speeches, as necessary as they were for the function and purpose of the march, struggled to hold our attention.
A tip-off informed us that something was going to happen, and that it was going to happen near Piccadilly Circus at 3PM. We left.
On the way we discussed in excited tones what might be planned at Piccadilly. Would Occupy occupy Piccadilly? How would that even work? Maybe we were going to a quickly-organised post-march Pizza Hut? One was close by, after all, and there were a lot of mouths to feed. An unlimited salad buffet would have been appropriate: nutritionally austere, and yet suspiciously unending in its resources. Here's some police we saw on the way doing their homework, Lulz.
Eager, intrigued and damn good at walking fast, we got to Piccadilly early. From a distance we could see a crowd. We did not expect it to be a crowd of Greek football fans boozing it hard in the street.
Via some semi-intelligible insult-based chanting we were able to devise that their club, PAOK, was playing Tottenham later on and they clearly had some time to kill. The melodic nature of their chants put the Unions' earlier atonal efforts to shame. I still have no idea what they were saying, but I would hazard a guess that it was largely complimentary of PAOK FC, at least mildly derogatory towards Tottenham Hotspur FC, and incredibly indifferent to the Occupy LSX people who were starting to fill the area.
As rain began to fall some members of the protest seemed perturbed by their Greek friends' enthusiasm. The brief shower only seemed to egg them on.
Nearly an hour after we arrived real things started to happen. We bid a sad farewell to the PAOK fans and ran after the scattering crowd of Occupy protesters. A turn to the right onto Haymarket and a flare went off, we followed it down a small street where another was lit. Through red smoke and shouting a number of people ran into a building, Panton House. With police playing catch-up the energy carried through and people milled into the bulding while others surrounded the entrance. Quickly, though, several scores of blue-capped policemen appeared and wrestled with those closest to the doors of the building.
The building had been targeted because it is owned by mining company Xstrata, who, besides being a mining company, are very good at paying their CEOs an awful lot of money, this woman with a big mouth explained.
Over the next few minutes, heated exchanges took place between an increasing number of police and the still-hot crowd, and those who had entered Panton House were removed, or left. (It has since been reported that some got onto the roof and at some point later were arrested and removed.) Here's some people being pushed down the stairs by police:
Now kettled in, most of the protesters outside kept themselves busy by uncovering an undercover cop or three or, quite literally, clowning around.
Exposing secret bobbies is becoming an increasingly common protest game, following footage of an undercover snatch arrest at the student demo earlier in the month.
What is perhaps more shocking than the sheer number of secret police was how unbelievably bad their "disguises" are. No one comes to a protest dressed to watch their son's football game down the park on Sunday morning, or as a member of the EDL (unless it's an EDL protest, which this was not). They would have been better off dressing like the clowns.
After a while, the crowd was dispersed, the kettle dissolved and some arrests made. Occupy didn't occupy Panton House, but that was the highlight of a long day of marching and a much-needed shot of energy for the movement. Until the next big Union-backed demo, there will be debates covering: the protest's effectiveness as a bargaining tool for pensions, how much it's pissed off the government and, in certain arenas, how much it's supposedly cost us all.
Whatever they decide it cost and whatever its effectiveness in the pensions outcome, it did irk David Cameron. Calling the strike a "damp squib" but being happy for the WHOLE country to take a day off for the Royal Wedding – and we're going to employ the cherished "at the taxpayers' expense" argument here – at the taxpayers expense (!!) doesn't help his argument. You are probably also aware that Jeremy Clarkson waded in with his usual subtlety, calling for all strikers to be "be executed in front of their families." He's a lovely man, and 21,000 public complaints should definitely not put him off his quest for glory (sarcasm). Let's just hope he doesn't find out who signs his paycheck before turning the gun on himself (irony).
As for the day: well, marches can be boring, but they do send a message. Occupy stepped up to the plate, but it's a pain in the arse that useful direct action will too often be demonised as unnecessary violence. However, opinion pieces and blog posts can only get you so far. Set off a flare and point it at a guilty party and you've got a yourself stew, baby. That shit will get people pumped, I don't care who you are.
WORDS & IMAGES: DAVID ALEXANDER & HENRY LANGSTON