The "cost of living" poverty crisis is widening and is deepening, and in response the organisations of the working class are stepping forward.
On the night of Saturday 14th May 2022, an immigration raid was successfully resisted in Dalston, London. Couriers were specifically targeted in an attempt to enforce border violence, in an attack that was defended against by hundreds of people.
Protestors—estimates are around 500—assembled over the course of Saturday evening to defend couriers getting harassed by police, successfully defending community members from harm. The response from the police thereafter was absolute violence, with protestors and passersby equally attacked by police batons. There is also evidence of the police dragging people across the floor and punching them. At one point, a courier was trapped with the wheel of his bicycle under a police car. Despite people notifying the officers inside that someone was under their car, they accelerated. Police harassed and then attacked this community, but on Monday night announced that protesters were to blame, eight being charged with offences including threatening behaviour and assault.
The hypocrisy is evident, but is not the important thing here. The police exist to impose capitalist class rule on the rest of us, and evidently will do so by all means. Gentrification is entirely tied up with police violence, attempts to literally deport people out of their communities in order to facilitate the entry and expansion of capital where working people once lived. This form of class warfare is deeply racialised, with Black, Brown and migrant communities being pushed out by force. Couriers are understood to be annoyances that shouldn’t exist in a fancy London borough; on behalf of the property developers, business owners and politicians who enable them, the police push the people out, by any means available to them.
A Critical Call to Strengthen
This has to be a moment of critical reflection. Whilst there were significant wins in this action, some serious errors were present in this resistance effort, and in particular its aftermath. We address these because the growing abolitionist movement is served by honest criticism; not slander or pretty grumbles, nor uncritical celebrations, but earnest attempts to recognise our collective shortcomings in order to improve. We can and do celebrate the wins, whilst addressing the flaws to strengthen our hand.
We must obviously reflect on the realities of the action itself. There were significant wins, we also need to acknowledge that many people were harmed during the resistance; this necessitates that we find better ways to organise on the ground, to ensure we are equipped to defend ourselves and each other sufficiently.
However the biggest issues came not during the resistance itself, but afterwards. It is typical to have groups providing ‘arrestee support’, whereby people position themselves outside stations to provide immediate support to those who have been arrested. This is vital work, and can be the difference in securing people proper legal, emotional and practical support. Any knowledge of the cruelty and violence of British policing demonstrates that this is potentially a life-or-death matter.
The reality of what this looked like on this occasion, however, was unsettling and warrants some serious reflection for the growing abolitionist movement in London and Britain. To name specific examples, Red Fightback received reports of a man having a seizure and mental health crisis outside the station where people were based. First aid and emotional support was limited to just a few people from a couple of organisations. As the situation unfolded, many attending paid no notice, more interested in socialising between themselves. Groups of activists made no attempt to discourage police involvement - they were either oblivious or uncaring about the very real violence that introducing police into health crises, including mental health crises, leads to.
The concerns go further: rotas established overnight were not met, leaving comrades to decide between waiting into the early hours of the morning or neglecting their duties. Many who did attend treated it like a social event, with drinking happening outside the station. Not only does alcohol consumption in this context increase the risk of the police arresting people on the basis of “anti-social behaviour” or “aggravated assault”, but it makes us less effective in supporting those in direct harm, and those passing by who want to learn more. Treating gatherings outside police stations as social events can let us take our guard down, and forget our purpose there is to be proactive in serving the people. Of course, different groups have different norms, and long nights waiting to provide support are arduous, but we need to ensure we are prioritising the struggle at hand, not our own comfort.
Perhaps most concerningly, when there were people leaving the station who were unrelated to the raid or its resistance but nonetheless looking for support, almost all of the people present outside the station simply ignored them. This must be absolutely condemned; if we are abolitionists, we must recognise that a person's relation to a particular action or explicit political project is not relevant to the solidarity we extend to those facing carceral violence. It doesn’t matter what crime someone is being convicted for, or what degree of political consciousness a person has, or what political label they subscribe to; police violence is police violence, and we must concretely act in solidarity with anyone who experiences it. If we have any desire to build beyond an insular circle of left-wing activists, this must be taken seriously.
It must be stated that the conduct at play here exacerbated the increased vulnerability of those present. It bears repeating that Black, Brown, migrant, disabled and/or LGBT+ people are rendered most at risk by racial capitalism's carceral system. The web of issues here have direct implications for us, our comrades and our communities.
Let us be clear about the severity of this situation. The police in London responded demonstrably more violently than in Edinburgh or Glasgow. Beyond the risk to the integrity and efficacy of our movement, the errors during the aftermath even led to an additional arrest being made overnight, and a lack of clarity as to whether all the couriers were still being detained or not. This is not just an abstract concern; our ability to organise properly has direct consequences on the extent of our success. It is our organisation that holds us back: in the words of Malcolm X, “We are not outnumbered. We are out-organised”.
What must we learn from this?
- That we can win, because we do win. The proof of our strength is evident in actions like these.
- We must be expanding our movement so we are not mobilising anti-police activists, but building and organising movements that are filled with people with the everyday life experiences of being working and oppressed people. Our organisations, whether individual or coalitionary, must be of our class.
- We must match this goal of growth with a goal of deepening, via education - we need a serious approach to abolitionist education and practice. Those on actions need to not just be aware conceptually that police are never our allies, but know and practise how we support each other without and against them.
- We need to be building cultures and expectations across our coalitions that welcome criticism and improvement of one another, whilst still operating in unity when it comes to the action itself.
Red Fightback is not immune from criticism here. Our branches need to expand our educational sessions for our members and supporters both on abolitionist frameworks and practical skills like arrestee support, legal advice and first aid training. Our West and North London branches are exploring establishing weekly station support stalls in communities we work in, through which we provide support to those going in and out of police stations, no matter what issues they are facing. This also serves to train us in this work; police violence is not occasional but continual, so our action and solidarity must be too. We welcome other groups collaborating with us on these plans, suggesting their own or responding to us with their own reflections.
We can see what the solution is. On Saturday the couriers were protected in this action—it led to the police eventually pulling back, and Hackney Council desperately trying to wash its hands. The community mobilised; not just activists but people who simply saw what was going on and recognised it as wrong. The reality is that the abolitionist line, that opposes the police and calls for systems of justice by and for working and oppressed people, is both intuitive and necessary.
The stakes involved in strengthening our movement cannot be overstated. Policing is the way in which the capitalist class can rest assured that they are defended. As they make their money and saturate us for our labour, the police keep us in line and attack our communities. But, as demonstrated in the moments of victory we experience, we have everything we need for revolutionary change. A better future is not guaranteed, but it is not lost; let us critically reflect on how we strengthen our movement into something that can do nothing but win.