At the same time as activists handed out leaflets and spoke to passers by about the role of M&S, another contingent carried a giant model ‘Caterkiller’ boot in a funeral procession to protest outside high street stockists of Caterpillar goods, such as Schuh and Barratts. Their protest outside John Lewis, one of the biggest stockists of Caterpillar goods in Britain, took place inside the Eldon Square shopping centre, and drew a lot of attention from passers-by before centre security were rushed to the scene to hustle people out. For some reason though, instead of escorting the protestors to the nearest exit, they marched them through the length of the shopping centre to the exit at the far end, during which the banners and placards they were carrying were displayed to everyone in the centre!
The action concluded with an open-mic gathering outside Marks and Spencer. A call was made for a delegation to enter the store and invite the Manager outside to receive the hundreds and hundreds of signatures gathered from the people of the North East over the past months against M&S’ support for Israel. Although security guards at the main entrance attempted to prevent the delegation even entering the store, they had underestimated the activists’ wily determination, and the delegation was able to simply walk in by another door! They managed to locate one of the managers, who said that the security guards had no right to prevent anyone from entering the store, but who still refused to come out of the store to accept the petition.
When this was repeated to those gathered outside, it was decided to send another delegation inside, this time carrying the petition for the manager. One of the delegation who was carrying a video camera was again stopped by security inside the shop and escorted outside. The general manager then came outside and was adamant that he was not prepared to discuss the activities in which his company was complicit, that it was against company policy for stores to accept petitions, and that the protestors should send the petition to M&S head office. However, meanwhile the rest of the delegation had found another of the store’s managers, and had persuaded her to accept the petition!
The action was organised jointly by Victory to the Intifada North East, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and other groups and individuals, with some travelling from as far away as Manchester and Bradford. Many thanks to all those who took part. The challenge now is to maintain the momentum and to keep up the pressure on companies such as Marks and Spencer and Caterpillar which support Israel. Victory to the Intifada North East will be continuing to hold regular pickets of Newcastle Marks and Spencer through the summer, with the possibility of expanding to other towns in the North East.
Support the pickets!