Home-made placards and banners were very evident at the demonstration, just under 1,500-strong, including one from a Roma activist which read ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Revolution’. Some younger activists sported stickers that read ‘Kill the Bill: Resist Creeping Fascism’. There were prominent large multicoloured banners from Unite union branches, and there were some of the left Labour councillors there two, a reminder that there is still some left life left inside the local party, even if there is anxiety about the right-wing plans to remove them from their posts.
There has been intense debate in Manchester over past months, with activists from the Trades Council playing a constructive role in finding a way of mediating between two currents that have been mobilising against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. This bill will cause huge difficulties among various liberation movements, and they know it. That’s why there has been an accumulating anger at the Tories over their plans to shut down dissent.
The anger comes in two forms. There is an organised left here in the city in the form of the Socialist Workers Party, SWP, that seems to believe that flooding a demonstration with its placards, or getting people to sign ‘petitions’ from one of its front organisations, which basically trawl the streets for activist contact details, is the way forward. And there is something quite different at work, a diverse range of people, some drawn into action for the first time, who are sickened at the bureaucratic manoeuvring of the SWP.
The SWP attempt to turn the Black Lives Matter movement into something that could serve as a recruiting tool for the party was the last straw, and gave rise to what we could call an ‘intersectional’ consciousness. This consciousness was organised around the links between what the SWP were doing to BLM and what the participation of the SWP would mean to those from the #MeToo movement who are involved protesting against endemic sexist violence. Together these different groups of activists knew that it would be disaster to let the SWP seize control.
It was clear at the demonstration on Saturday 15 January that, for the moment at least, the SWP have got the message – they are not welcome. A few members skulked around selling the paper, but they were few, and although some of them were still advertising the mobilisation to Kill the Bill on their stall in Market Street, part of the route of the march, they did not join en masse.
There were some members of other left groups, including Anti-Capitalist Resistance on the demonstration. Comrades from RS21 were there, of course, and younger comrades from Socialist Alternative and Socialist Appeal. We must say now that these mobilisations must work on the basis of more the merrier, more people and more perspectives. This was a place where debate was able to come to life on the street.
The largest organised cohort from the Young Communist League, YCL, standing in ranks, dressed in black with red flags. It would have been good to have these young Stalinists hear a contribution from the Kazakhstan community, who were protesting in a line near the demonstration. The YCL campists draw a strict line between the capitalist west and the oppressive states that they mistakenly support because they are a progressive option, come off it. There were discussions with some members of the Kazakh community, but they didn’t feel confident enough to join the platform.
There were, at the end, too many speakers, and after marching from St Peters Square in front of the main library around the town and back again, people started drifting away. They will not be corralled, not by the police and not by the left, these people. These young activists, who gave the demonstration a very different lively feel, are speaking for themselves now, and it is in that diversity that we have strength, strength to drive back the Bill and make the streets safe for us all again.
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