Friday, November 11, 2011

Police "kettled" electricians to prevent them joining students

The National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) has issued a statement
condemning the actions of the police in London on the 9th November
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, manyunlawfully 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 thekettle 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 thereceiving 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
six 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 three months,
which has grown in support despitethe 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
the Newcastle 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, three 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.

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