The National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) condemns the actions of the police yesterday (November 9th) in kettling over 200 construction electricians for well over an hour. Workers, including many in their 50s and 60s, were left standing within a ring of riot police with no access to food, drink or toilet facilities. At the end of this harrowing experience, coming after they had spent most of the day marching, they were subject to a search and, we believe, unlawfully forced to give their names and addresses. No doubt many of these workers will be getting a letter from the Met's new commissioner, warning them off future peaceful protests!
Their crime? After marching in protest at the plans of the big construction companies to smash their Joint Industry Board (JIB) contracts which will cut their wages by up to 35%, they wanted to show solidarity with the many students who have supported their 3-month long campaign by joining their demonstration. Out of the 2,000 workers who took part in the Unite-organised march to the Balfour Beatty site at Blackfriars, about 300 started to make their way up to Fleet Street to wait for the student protest so that they could march with them.
Disgracefully, police converged on these workers and barred the way and were later joined by members of the Met's Territorial Support Group, successor to the notorious Special Patrol Group! Startled by their actions, some managed to push through the lines while the others were stopped and quickly contained. It became clear that the intention was to keep us kettled until the student demonstration had marched past. In a magnificent show of solidarity, we believe led by the Jarrow marchers and other student campaigners, the students stopped their march in an attempt to relieve the electricians' siege. However, such was the overwhelming presence of police on the student protest, it was eventually forced to continue. Finally, the electricians were let out of the kettle but not without being forced to give their personal details. Why? Because the police's commanding officer deemed that a 'breach of the peace' was likely! Reasons given for believing this after an entirely peaceful march included worries of a repetition of the incidents of last year's student demonstrations, that the march, having 'deviated' from its agreed route, was now 'illegal' and even, most scandalously, that the electricians were going to attack the students' demo!
The police may have achieved their aim of stopping significant numbers of these workers from joining the students but if anything their repressive and undemocratic actions have brought home to both groups how the police are being used to attack the rights of protest and assembly. The police action yesterday is the first instance to our knowledge of workers being on the receiving end of the same treatment meted out to students and young people over the last few years, and particularly over the last 12 months.
This is being done in the interests of this government that is making working-class and many middle-class people, young and old, pay for the bankers' crisis and ruthless companies, like Balfour Beatty that has an order book of £15 billion and has made £91 million profits in the last 6 months, yet has given 1600 of its workers notice that they will lose over £200 a month in wages. The NSSN has supported the electricians' protests over the last 3 months, which has grown in support despite the media blackout and we support Unite's strike ballot against Balfours.
Like the students, these workers had a tremendous reception from bystanders in central London, even though the first leg of their march, organised by rank and file electricians, started at the Pinnacle in Bishopsgate at 7am! Buses came from all round the country, with theNewcastle coach leaving at midnight. All unions and anyone who still believes in the freedom of protest and assembly must condemn yesterday's events. On November 30th, 3 million workers will be striking against the ConDems' attacks on public sector pensions. Many of them will be joining rallies and demonstrations. It is clear from yesterday, that the best protection for our civil liberties is to ensure that these demonstrations are numerous, as big as possible and very well stewarded.