Summer of Rage? Met Prepares for Summer of Repression

February 23, 2009

With protests on the horizon over wages, unemployment, the environment and the financial make-up of the world, the British state has launched a pre-emptive campaign to delegitimise and tame the movements behind them.

As the Guardian reports today, the Metropolitan Police are “preparing to face a “summer of rage” in the UK as people join protests over the economic downturn” according to the Met’s intrepid Supt David Hartshorn, head of Scotland Yard’s “public order branch.”

This is extremely sinister stuff coming from a senior officer in the UK’s most heavy-handed police force, one which has a track record of massively over-policing demonstrations, institutionalised (and ongoing) racism,  along with instituting invasive surveillance and the cataloguing of protesters at demos.

Hartshorn suggests that “known activists” i.e. those logged on the Met’s database collected during previous protests, or via e-mail intercepts, will seek to recruit “footsoldiers” to exploit the recession. Footsoldiers is a curious term to float in the press, with connotations of terrorism and, inherently, military conflict. Militarising protest in the public mind is the first step towards permitting police violence when the “need” arises.

The Met’s expert on repressing popular dissent also suggested that the Police had become concerned as “the mood at some demonstrations had changed recently, with activists increasingly “intent on coming on to the streets to create public disorder”. The connection seems to be with the Gaza protests in January. I attended the major march from Speakers’ Corner to the Israeli embassy and, while the authorities managed to corral thousands upon thousands of people into a dangerously small space on Kensington High Street, the “violence” was minimal. Still, there were “incidents” which made for dramatic photos such as this [from the Guardian’s dispatch].

In fact the language used by the Guardian is extraordinary. Its correspondent goes out of their way to connect disparate protests (Greek farmers, Icelandic savers, French workers etc…) with violence, stating that “The warning comes in the wake of often violent protests against the handling of the economy across Europe.”

Yet this will be extremely offensive to participants in those actions, which passed off without major violence (in some cases without any at all). As ever, it is the protesters who are, implicitly, the source of the violence, and not the police.

Paul Lewis also notes that “In the UK hundreds of oil refinery workers mounted wildcat strikes last month over the use of foreign workers” yet none of these protests turned violent. I’m sure that he isn’t trying to legitimise the stance of the Met here, but that is the effect of Lewis’ language.

Still, there is one striking sentence in this report:

“Hartshorn said he also expected large-scale demonstrations this year on environmental issues, with hardcore green activists “joining forces” with middle-class campaigners over issues such as airport expansion at Heathrow and Stansted. With the prospect of angry demonstrations against the economy, that could open the door to powerful coalitions.”

As we saw outside Downing Street on Thursday night, Hartshorn is right. Building relationships between “hardcore green activists” and “middle class campaigners” is crucial and effective in forcing the pace in key campaigns such as Heathrow expansion and Kingsnorth. The potential is massive. As Hartshorn concludes, “All you’ve got to do then is link in with the environmentalists, and look at the oil companies. They’re seen to be turning over billions of pounds profit in issues that are seen to be against the environment.”

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