Making Friends in London at May Day 2012
Tents, Turks, tax-dodgers and toffs.
our liveblog may have made you aware, yesterday was the day that the proles of the world celebrated International Workers' Day, or May Day, as it's come to be more popularly known. I arrived for London's May Day march at Clerkenwell Green at about midday, expecting to find my comrades united and ready for revolution.
What I found was the proletariat of Turkey, and they weren’t united.
How many Turkish left-wing sects do you think there were at yesterday's London May Day march, bearing in mind that, overall, there was a turn-out of maybe 300 at this point?
But four separate groups of Turkish socialists, comprising maybe half of the crowd and blaring Kurdish pop music that was louder than Peter Tatchell's megaphone.
I asked one of them why there were so many of them there. He explained that in 1977 the Turkish government violently purged the country’s left wing. This caused many to emigrate to London. The different groups are explained by standard ideological splits. That, plus the beef between Turks and the Kurdish ethnic minority – VICE snapper Henry Langston later told me that last May Day they came to blows, which must have been pretty spectacular.
Anyway, with the whole why-are-there-so-many-Turks-here question out the way, I decided to find out how many other different types of workers I could see.
There were workers dressed as Mexican revolutionaries…
Anarchist post-workers (as in a guy who delivers letters and likes playing hilarious games with little red slips, not somebody who has transcended work)…
Sex workers who want to fuck the system and – ayooooooo – make it pay...
And Peter Tatchell, who had the bright idea of "appealing to the patriotic duty of the rich" to guilt-trip them into paying more taxes. How do you feel about that, The Rich? What? Switzerland?
The numbers had swelled to well over a thousand by the time the march headed off. As is often the case at these meets, one group was pissing every other group off by carrying a large portrait of Joseph Stalin, making the entire march look completely insane.
As the march continued, I ran into these capitalist pig-dogs, suckling on the teat of the mother of all oppression – Starbucks. When I asked them if they didn't feel compelled to join their fellow workers in their walk of fury, Catherine, the girl on the right, replied: "I'm a student man, part of the intelligentsia, it's against my class. I'm drinking Starbucks, how could I be more bourgeois?" The bloody Tories and their bloody cuts. I remember when modules on middle-class guilt were built into every uni course as standard.
The march headed to the Strand where protesters forced the closure of Topshop and McDonald's. The police sprang into action, putting in place a section 60. I’m not 100 percent certain on the legalise but in my experience the police use this to search pretty much whoever they want on whatever grounds they can think of, so long as they sound like they know the law more convincingly than you know your rights.
In this case, a number of black bloc were searched and arrested:
On we marched past confused looking city slickers. Nearing Trafalgar Square, I found out how the Kony campaign is progressing.
"LOL... ONE THING WE CAN ALL AGREE ON."
When I reached Trafalgar Square, Trade Union bureaucrats were in full flow, making absolutely riveting speeches. In summary, they were generally pro the working class, and anti the ruling class, the rich, the Tories, etc.
Meanwhile, Occupiers were trying to set up a little tent village in the square, which made the police quite antsy, and they even made people shut off their speaker systems.
Eventually the police confiscated some of the tents. I like to imagine this made the Occupiers feel like Samson when his hair had been cut off – sapped of all strength. But then I also like to imagine that these guys only carry their tents around with them as portable wank chariots, so maybe my imagination doesn't need to be consulted on this.
Then it was off to Bond Street, where people were going to take action against Workfare – a policy that means you have to complete mandatory work placements to get your Jobseeker's Allowance, aka the dole. This is pretty flipping handy if you’re a company who wants more workers but doesn’t want to have to bother paying them.
The activists congregated outside West One Shopping Centre, handing leaflets to shoppers and tourists as they squeezed through the crowd.
Somehow I got the impression that some of them weren’t going to be susceptible to Boycott Workfare’s incendiary propaganda.
Soon we were off to a hit list of shops that have taken advantage of Workfare. This involved the anarchists and the other protesters attempting to storm branches of McDonalds/ Pizza Hut/ Holland and Barrett/ Topshop before the police could block the way, which they did, every time. Then the activists would stand around chanting and jeering the shop mercilessly. The best one was: “We won’t work for free, mandatory workfare’s not for me!” to the tune of Black Sabbath's’ "Iron Man". It was VERY METAL, its sheer and inherent evil provoking a number of minor scuffles outside British Home Stores.
At this point, an ideological chasm opened up between the pacifist hippies who wanted to blow bubbles at the police, and the anarchists who were more into screaming abuse at them.
More drama was just round the corner, as a yuppie somehow upset Pedro, an anarchist I'd been tailing. Pedro’s mates followed the guy through the streets calling him a "parasitic cunt". The unflappable toff took it in his stride, saying things like “I pay too bloody much tax, actually” in a posh accent, which seemed to wind the activists up even more.
There was collateral damage in this class war, as the yuppie was chased right through the filming of one of those fabulous street magician shows that apparently there needs to be another one of.
After the yuppie had melted away, presumably to go and have a nap on a bed of 50 pound notes, the cat and mouse game with the police continued. This went on for so long that eventually the police left them to it and a dwindling activist group headed to Paternoster Square to Occupy the London Stock Exchange – which had been the original target of Occupy London, rather than St Paul’s.
Unfortunately by the time they got there, there were only about 30 knackered activists left. I stayed there for a few hours until the police booted us out. Still, they did manage to Occupy the stock exchange, which, as a movement, is a place they had some unfinished business with.
Unfinished business is probably the best way to sum up the day. Workfare is still happening, as are the cuts, as is capitalism in general. May Day is a celebration of past struggles and this year it was more than a historical parade, and we surely haven’t seen the last of this kind of thing on our streets. Until next time...