There’s something delicious about seeing very rich and powerful people take on a fight and then realise they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. They’re not used to it and sometimes seemingly small victories are the best we can hope for.
Last week Class War founder, Ian Bone, promoted globally on facebook the idea of redressing the balance on housing in London by occupying the Shard. There are multi million quid apartments in the building laying empty year and after year, meanwhile homelessness is on the rise and the vast majority of Grenfell survivors have still not been re-housed.
Before I go further I should say I’m part of Class War. My PhD research from the inside of the group has unearthed many examples of both the authorities and the media imagining that Class War just has to press a button somewhere and the unruly mob of thousands rises from the streets to literally devastate the avenues where the wealthy live. Class War are organising protests all the time and the size of a protest doesn’t really have an exact science behind it; some things take off and most things don’t. The vast majority of Class War events pass without any media interest. This means that when they do take off and large numbers attend a demo and boisterous things occur the police and others can look terribly inadequate so there has become a standard theme to policing Class War events: they send at least a van of cops along, hours in advance just in case, presumably with others on standby if they feel it necessary.
With Class War then, come security issues for the people the protests are directed towards. So no surprise when someone at the Metropolitan Police saw Ian’s post and tipped off the Shard. You can imagine the panic as they scroll through online pictures of front pages from the Class War tabloid, and news articles about the poll tax riots, the cereal killer café, Fuck Parades and the Ripper Museum
Within 48 hours of the initial post Ian received court papers regarding an injunction to prevent the protest from taking place and claiming over £500 for the fun of it all. Included was some research into the group, an exclusion zone around the building demanding Ian and ‘persons unknown’ not cross a red felt tip squiggle and details of why they needed the injunction.
The research was laughable in places. They were concerned that Ian’s address was hard to detect, whilst they operate out of tax havens to avoid being cornered by UK Revenue and Customs. They described the group almost perfectly with words that have already been adopted with pride:
“Class War is a far-left, pro-anarchy, UK-based pseudo-political party, originally borne out of a newspaper established in 1982. The group opposes the ‘ruling elite’ for their exploitation of the poor and the disadvantaged and have recently been involved with campaigns against the demolition of social housing in London to make way for the construction of luxury housing, as well as campaigns against inequality and austerity. Class War vocally supports, and engages in, civil disobedience, violence and anarchy as acceptable methods of pursuing their objectives.”
Yep, pretty much.
They also erroneously described the Class War Women’s Death Brigade as a “sub-organisation” of Class War which naturally didn’t go down too well. Class War doesn’t have any sub-organisations. Or as one Death Brigader put it: “Sub-organisation? Fuck off you cunts.”
The reasons they had for the injunction included a bizarre focus on terrorism. They were concerned that anyone getting into the building to occupy it could highlight security lapses which might encourage terrorists to take advantage. You’d think someone highlighting these things would actually be a help to them in order to avoid such incidents. But anyway, isn’t that why they pay a massive amount in security contracts in the first place? On top of which they might have learnt from the incident two years ago when a man climbed the building and parachuted down.
The court case occurred yesterday (8th February) and in an unexpected twist, respected barrister, Ian Bronwhill contacted Ian and offered to represent him for free. Almost from the first correspondence with the Shard legal team they were backtracking. Eventually they said they would drop the request for costs providing Ian didn’t personally try to enter the Shard or encourage any others to do so. The protest could go ahead as planned, provided it didn’t get too close to the building.
In the meantime the news reports about this kept flooding in. Freedom covered it a couple of days ago but there have also been reports in the Guardian, RT, Inside Croydon, and the news has traveled to outlets in France, Spain and Egypt. There was also a very sympathetic piece by Suzanne Moore and Ian got a spot on the Vanessa Feltz programme on BBC London radio. All of these pieces focused on Ian as a pensioner needing a walking stick. He seems to have moved on in the public consciousness from the ‘most dangerous man in Britain’ characterised in the 1980s.
The Class war protest went ahead regardless last night and the Qatari Royal Family, who ultimately own the Shard have come out of the episode with a bloodied nose. A sweet and fitting end to an intense week of shenanigans. They couldn’t have possibly realised what a public relations disaster they were inflicting on themselves.
Victory for free speech! The Qatari royals have failed in preventing us from criticising the Shard over their empty multi million quid apartments. They also failed in getting over 500 quid in costs for their injunction over protests at the building.
— Class War (@Classwar2015) February 8, 2018
Choose your battles wisely. If you think you can have a go at us try to be more than just rich bastards with wads of cash to throw down the drain.
We've been there and done it all so have some fucking sense.
— Class War (@Classwar2015) February 8, 2018
This wasn’t a complete victory but it does put a marker in the sand regarding public spaces that are privately owned.
Interesting Judgement today on the Right to Free Speech-Original injunction prohibiting protests on a public Highway amended ; Judge confirms that lawful protest on a public highway in and around Shard is allowed. Injunction against "persons unknown" trespassing at Shard remains https://t.co/MPVLEpMzRn
— Raj Chada (@Raj_Chada) February 8, 2018
We will need to explore this more and more as corporations try to stifle dissent on their property. No national borders is a fine principle and we need to extend it so that there are no internal borders for protest and dissent. This was perhaps the start of such a battle.
Photo: South Essex Stirrer