Bewildered shoppers in a local Tesco store were treated to a free samba performance and vouchers entitling them to just about everything from restaurant meals to films to supermarket goods. A large banner declared that "All we have to loose are our chainstores". For 15 minutes, dancing and rhythm prevailed. Workers at the tills and customers relaxed, even the security started jigging - until the metropolitan police stormed in with a vengeance. Some of the pink invaders were heavily stopped and searched, until they left the store to the cheers of bystanders and shoppers. [report | pics]
This could have been the end of the action - but the police had other plans. The band and some precari@s spent 2 hours in a tight police corral across the street, filmed by the everpresent F.I.T. team. Bystanders were pushed into the corral. Four or five people were violently arrested. [report]
After some negotiation, the group was escorted along Mare Street inside a police crocodile, but with the large banner displayed along the edges. Supporters followed on the pavement, constantly hassled by police. The release of the protesters into London Fields ressembled the release of cattle into their grazing grounds. The police charged once more to arrest more people, bringing the total up to 10 or 11 [pics 1 | 2; appeal]. After another hour of filming, they left everybody to quitely end the MayDay out.
Pics [From Tesco to the corral | From the corral to the Park | yet more pics | from Highbury | video 1 | 2 | 3]
Reports & Reflections [precarity assembly | personal account | angry comment]
Summaries [London timeline | ImcUk EuroMayDay Feature | Mayday,Mayday! All over Europe]
shoppers read the leaflets about the action
Sunday 1st of May saw the first EuroMayday action happen in London. Organised by the precarity network, our aim was to bring together people in London who have precarious working and living situations. In the UK, 30% of people of working age, are in temp, casual, part-time, freelance work or unemployed. Many of us are not represented by the traditional hierarchical, bureaucratic structure of trade unions, and we felt Mayday, international workers day, should be a day for us too – to come together, to reclaim our public space and take back our free time from the tyranny of 24/7 constantly on-call, work regimes.
We chose Tesco supermarket as the location for our Mayday action because as the UK’s largest supermarket, with over £2 billion profits in the last year, Tesco is at the forefront of exploitative work practices on a global scale, paying new supermarket employees below minimum wage (rising to only just above minimum wage after several months), cutting Sunday pay (so Sunday becomes a normal working day), and stopping employees sick pay. Not only this, but those packing Tesco’s own brand salads in Sussex were recently revealed to be migrants working for a temping agency controlled by gangmasters, who are paid far below min. wage (sometimes not at all); and women casual workers on Tesco-accredited farms in South Africa work in appalling conditions with no protection from pesticides & are paid poverty wages to meet ‘flexible’ just-in-time production schedules, and keep profits at a maximum.
However, we don’t just work for global chains like Tesco, but we are consumers too – if we want food to eat there is a decreasing amount of choice besides big supermarket chains, as their ‘metro’s & ‘express’ stores swallow up our inner cities, their hypermarkets expand the edges of our towns, until huge chains dominate our lives, landscapes and public space entirely, mirroring the way capitalism now encroaches into every part of our lives. Our idea was to make a communication action with people both working and shopping in Tesco, and to do this in Hackney, away from the sterile commercial centre of London and outside of the controlled & ritualistic atmosphere of an A to B march.
The location for action was kept secret until the last minute, and in the weeks leading up to Mayday, we collected over 750 mobile phone numbers for a mass text out on the morning of the action. Such secrecy was necessary because of police tactics on previous Maydays, but we wanted the action to be as public and open as possible, hence the attempts to collect as many numbers as possible through posters & the distribution of over 10,000 leaflets & special ‘London for free’ vouchers. Unfortunately, on the morning of the action our SMS email account was frozen (not sure if this was bureaucracy, crap technology or something more sinister!), but we still eventually managed to send texts to over 500 people (sorry to anyone who got it too late or not at all, we worked really hard to try and communicate with as many of you as we could – & we learnt how to do it better next time).
By midday people were starting to make their way to the 2 meet-up points of Highbury & Bethnal Green where small but aggressive contingents of cops where met by those who were determined to make their way to the action in Hackney central. At Highbury particularly, the level of trust, co-ordination and solidarity between people who were previously strangers was pretty amazing, as the 60 or so people assembled managed to break though police lines and barriers and free-ride the train down to Hackney, and weather the punches and kicks from police to get off the train and run in unison down the road to the supermarket.
The action in Tesco began at around 1.15pm when a group of activists already in the area made their way into the supermarket accompanied by a samba band. The band began playing and dancing round the aisles while hundreds of ‘the story about Tesco’ leaflets and Mayday ‘London for Free’ vouchers were given out to staff and shoppers, and speeches were made over a megaphone. A huge banner reading ‘all we have to lose is our chainstores…’ was unfurled, spanning the 20 or so checkouts. Shoppers danced and checkout staff stood up & took photos with their mobile phones. The initial cops on the scene were only a couple of community cops, who stood around not knowing what to do. Several of the staff expressed support for the action, and were aware that the action was in solidarity with them, although the manager initially panicked and tried to close the store.
After about 15 minutes the Highbury contingent arrived, running into Tesco blowing whistles, closely followed by loads of cops who were ready to get heavy. The cops initially made a futile attempt to cordon people in an aisle, then resorted to dragging, punching and kicking people (particularly women) out of the store & trying to smash up the sound system. However, we were helped by at least one Tesco security guard trying to pull police off people, and many shoppers and staff expressed shock and disbelief at the violence of police actions.
Out in the car park, we were met by the Bethnal Green group (who walked all the way after police stopped the bus) and loads more latecomers, and some members of the public managed to take full advantage of the disruption to normal shopping, and liberate goods from the store (helped by police not letting them back in to pay for stuff!). Holding the banner across the car park, our plan was to all parade down Mare street towards London Fields and have a party in the park. However, the police had other ideas. As we took the street next to the supermarket, police violently began to assault a samba dancer and others; and as we went to their rescue, they made a cordon around some people, later dragging others into the cordon. We were there for over an hour, but our spirits were high due to the continued solidarity of those on the outside shouting support and throwing us water and food, and by passers by shouting at the cops and cars hooting in support of us.
We eventually (still surrounded by police and vans) managed our march down Mare street to London Fields and into the park. But even inside the park, the cops still wanted trouble and some scuffles broke out with several people arrested. But we remained together and with support from people in the park (including a cricket team), we gathered to chant ‘go home scum’ & ‘get out of our park’ to the cops until they left; and we ended the afternoon as we’d hoped, all together, the band playing, a bit bruised but enjoying the sunshine and our Mayday celebrations.
The police will always attempt to stop Mayday and any other action we do, and continually attempt to destroy the movements we try to create. What is important is how we react and resist their repression, and to never give up. Mayday this year was a great example of people acting together in solidarity in the face of police aggression, and of our continued determination to take our struggle to the streets and communicate with people. As ever, the struggle continues…
*9 people were arrested & several people intend to make complaints of assault against the police. If you witnessed any arrests, or police assaults on people, please contact Legal Defense & Monitoring Group: firstname.lastname@example.org
*Keep posted for future flexmob actions: www.precarity.info Plus the next Precarity/EuroMayday meeting is on Wednesday at 7.30pm at the Institute For Autonomy, 76-78 Gower Street, WC1.
*To find out what happened on EuroMayday in other cities, see: www.globalproject.info :: www.euromayday.org
*There will be a discussion evening about precarity on Wednesday 25th May, from 5.30pm at Institute for Autonomy, 76-78 Gower Street, WC1.
*We hold a fortnightly Helpdesk (on Tuesdays at 6pm – next one 10th May) to create a network of mutual support for people in precarious work & housing, at the Institute for Autonomy. For details see www.precarity.info/info.htm