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
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