This report was originally posted on Organise!
On Saturday 18th June 2022, tens of thousands converged on London for a march organised by the Trades Union Congress against the rising cost of living. Many different groups were present, with some of the largest groups consisting of well-established trade unions such as Unison, Unite and the GMB. The Anarchist Federation‘s presence consisted of a small stall and as members of a Black Bloc of about 20 people (not all were AF, of course).
The cost of living crisis is a crisis of capitalism. You don’t have to be an expert in economics to understand that a sudden rise in inflation without increases in pay leaves many unable to afford the very basics of life. We can attribute the current crisis to increased demand for energy use after lockdown and an already damaged economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Brexit also plays a role, whilst energy prices and inflation is rising across the globe, the UK finds itself in a worse position to deal with the crisis than other countries. The cost of which is passed on to the nations poorest. Finally, there is the invasion of Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine are massive exporters of wheat, with Russia being a huge exporter of natural gas as well, increasing food and energy prices on a global scale. This article by London AF has more detailed analysis on the causes and our responses to this crisis. It is for these reasons then, that prices are rising and that this march was called in response, taking place days before the RMT rail union is set to go on strike.
The AF, however, has plenty of criticisms of both trade unions and classic A-to-B marches as largely ineffective forms of political action. These large official trade unions, for example, are limited in their scope and power by anti-trade union laws and only make demands for minor concessions on things such as pay. Their structure is also hierarchical in composition, with paid roles for those at the top. This is itself at odds with a revolutionary anti-capitalist perspective, that sees the bosses as class enemies to be defeated and overthrown, rather than people to negotiate with. The workers need only recognise their own power as the one’s with the skills and knowledge to make everything work, but reformist trade unions limit this revolutionary potential, in this way they can be seen as a form of worker control.
A-to-B marches also give the impression that ‘something is happening, we are speaking truth to power’, but ultimately do nothing to materially aid workers and the poor who are struggling. The Labour Party also places itself as the ultimate solution to peoples problems, but we know from past experience here and elsewhere that electoral politics is never a path to liberation for the oppressed. Labour front benchers have been told by the party leadership that they are banned from picket lines at the upcoming rail strikes. Solidarity forever? The anarchist alternative to this is to advocate for forms of direct action and mutual aid. The Black Bloc, then, was there to represent a visual and auditory alternative. The stall provided a space to have discussions on a more personal basis.
Several people also came up to our relatively small gathering asking us what we stood for and what we were about. The response: anarchism. It can be quite hard to summarise an entire political philosophy into a few words. The only thing one passerby had to say was that we looked hot. This is hard to deny as the weather was rather warm to be wearing fully black clothing (23 degrees C), so it was good that we had packed plenty of water and snacks. Intermittent rain also brought relief. The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) set up shop selling their newspapers and handing out placards. This was not unexpected as this is the Trotskyists’ favourite pastime (besides covering up abuse allegations). A comrade was complaining about the SWP presence, at which point I reminded them that we had brought our customary anti-SWP flyers with us. In the strangest game of ‘Snap’, others also revealed their identical flyers and we began distributing them to those walking by carrying SWP and SUTR placards.
One eternity later the march actually began, moving a total of two meters before coming to an abrupt stop, much like a traffic jam. As the march finally gathered speed, our energy rising, chants flowed freely and in several different languages; against the police (the protectors of capital and defenders of fascists), against capitalism, against TERFs and against the Tories; for Black lives and Trans rights. Chants such as “shoplift, shoplift, get it for free!” parodied the newspaper sellers whilst also describing a form of direct action people struggling with the cost of food could do themselves. I observed the Labourites in front of us get visibly angry that we were hogging all the sound waves, but they seemed to lack the will or impetus to produce any chants of their own. One or two comrades also began tearing down SWP posters leading to some SWPers getting very angry and some minor altercations on the side of the road as the march continued. Of course, the police stepped in to escalate the situation unnecessarily and the bloc stopped marching, gathering around, ready for anything that might happen next. Thankfully, there was no need for a de-arrest and the bloc re-formed in the march.
We passed by several embassies chanting against the fascist Bolsonaro of Brazil and his aiding of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, Orbán of Hungary in the pocket of Putin and his anti-LGBTQ+ policies, and Trudeau of Canada and his colonial battle against Indigenous land defenders. Our struggle is not confined to one place and we must have an internationalist perspective when considering this crisis. We passed Trafalgar Square and down Whitehall. We asked aloud, how many rapists and nonces have lived in these walls in the buildings around us? Eventually, we arrived at the end of the march at Parliament Square, set up with large speakers and TV’s. This was largely disinteresting to us and so someone suggested we go to protest at a certain Rees-Mogg‘s house, but not much really happened there.
Returning to the safety of the large crowd, we decided to find a safe place to de-bloc and end our exploits for the day. This would turn out to be an unfortunate mistake on our part, as after removing our bloc gear and splitting up to find places to eat, I received word of the Orange Order marching towards the protestors in Parliament Sq., escorted there by police.
If we had remained there a bit longer, perhaps we could have aided others in putting up some resistance. London Antifascist Assembly posted about the incident on their Instagram: “Several antifascists were in attendance for Saturdays cost of living demonstration including when a far right loyalist march turned up late in the day. One fascist was arrested after altercations. None of the large left wing groups present responded to the far right threat who physically engaged members of the public and tried to initiate fights. Its disappointing that antifascism doesn’t seem to be on the agenda for many of the left groups present but we’re proud of the handful of antifascists who turned out against the threat. London is Antifascist!”
One lesson learnt is that we should have better prior knowledge of the movements of potential fascists where possible to defend against the threat they posed other demonstrators.
It is my hope that further actions, more in line with anarchist principles of direct action and with the involvement from anarchists doing the work in their communities, will help to produce a more effective response to the cost of living crisis. We are entering a period of increased societal upheaval and more strikes could be under way. Other than striking, many workers are planning on leaving their jobs due to the completely demoralising lack of respect or adequate compensation given to them after risking their lives in a pandemic to keep essential services running smoothly. With this upheaval, comes the opportunity to advocate for a radical alternative to capitalism and the tired tactics of reformism and to raise an intersectional class consciousness. We aim to prefigure a world where there is no cost associated with living, life should not be seen as a burden, but something beautiful and worth protecting. Anarchy must win!
– Lewis Williams