Cameron lose your smile, let's do this Egyptian style

Police kettles were smashed, corporate tax dodgers forced to close their doors and Wetherspoons even packed away all their tables in a riot prevention measure yesterday, as militant anti-cuts protests hit Glasgow city centre.

Hundreds of people took to the streets in the city, embracing a diversity of tactics in the latest show of opposition to cuts in local services and education. This comes ahead of Glasgow City Council’s cuts budget, to be set within the next fortnight, and following the announcement, buried just before Christmas, that all of Scotland’s colleges will face cuts this year of 10 percent, meaning direct cuts to student places and courses, and making compulsory redundancies likely.

Beginning with a static rally in George Square organised by trade union umbrella group ‘Defend Glasgow’s Services’, which heard from a number of different speakers, around 200 protesters then took the police by surprise and broke off for a march through the city centre. Billed as “guided tour of cuts and cutters”, the roving demo was organised by new group Glasgow Against Education Cuts, with a list of potential ‘targets’ drawn up in the days before the march, taking inspiration from the UKUncut style of direct action.

After leaving the square to chants of ‘Cameron lose your smile, let’s do this Egyptian style!’, the demo then headed down the city’s central shopping precinct, Buchanan Street. First stop on the tour was phone company Vodafone, where a speaker went into the details of their nefarious tax-dodging activities. Attention was also drawn to the complicit role Vodafone have played in propping up the regime of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, cutting off their signal in recent days in order to stifle communication between protesters.

Having initially been taken by surprise, at this point large number of police began to pile in, with riot vans attempting to follow the demo along pedestrianised streets. Heavy police presence in tow, the tour then headed down to Topshop on Argyle Street, where chants rose up of ‘Shoplift! Topshop!’, before a rapid u-turn from which the tour headed towards offices run by ATOS, the company paid millions in public money to kick people off benefits. However, the police then made an attempt to kettle the demo near Central Station, entrapping around 70 protesters within police lines.

With no one particularly wanting to spend the rest of the afternoon packed into a police kettle on the pavement of a fairly quiet street, a push and shove rapidly ensued with the police, with protesters managing to force their way through the lines. There’s several reports of injuries sustained from police violence at this point, including one young woman who was grabbed around the neck and a school student who was shoved to the ground.

The demo began to break-up at this point, with groups charging up the street away from the police, with a cop helicopter now attempting to keep track of the demo from the skies.

Managing to regroup again on Buchanan Street, most people went back to George Sq. At this stage it was decided to disperse, rather than face the risk of being stuck in a police kettle for the rest of the afternoon, as happened during the tuition fees protests on 9 December and which allowed the police to pick off certain activists for arrest.

However, just as people were beginning to leave, news reached us that, while walking home, 19 year old student Dominic O’Hara had been snatched by the police and bundled into a van, with the police refusing to tell onlookers why. Around 40 people were still present in George Sq, so a decision was made to march to the police station in which Dominic was being held. Ridiculously, the police saw fit to follow the procession with an escort of both on-foot officers and two vans all the way to the station. For over an hour a picket was held outside, with a senior officer eventually telling us that Dominic is being charged with breach of the peace and assaulting a police officer. These are the same charges he is already facing in relation to December’s fees protests; this was clearly a deliberate, targeted arrest of a member of a group who have been facing continual harassment since last summer. Dom is being held over the weekend and will be appearing in court tomorrow.

Saturday’s demonstration showed that we can and will take to the streets whenever we want, where we want and at the time we want. Over the past year, the council have made it virtually impossible for legal demonstrations to be given permission in the city centre, apparently due to its importance to ‘Glasgow’s economic prosperity’. As such, unless we want to march around a park in the west end or hold a static rally in the middle of square, there’s little option beyond taking to the streets without official permission. Strathclyde Police and Glasgow City Council – you brought this upon yourselves!

The anti-cuts movement must continue to grow, in both size and militancy, over the next year, and can’t be allowed to go down the same dead-end route of A-B marches that the anti-war movement was ultimately reduced to. We need to keep our tactics fresh and exciting, continuing to push for direct action and for outmanoeuvring the police. The demo yesterday was highly successful in this regard, bringing a significant number of trade unionists, students, unemployed people and pensioners together, and adding a radical edge to the morning’s trade union rally.

BONUS: video from the day here

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