Cardiff: Britain's Least Democratic City?
Occupy Cardiff Protest Broken Up By Police. Protesters Vow to Continue the Fight.
After an heroic 6-hour stand off earlier today, South Wales Police physically forced supporters of Occupy Cardiff off their protest site. Over 100 people had joined a short demonstration from Queen Street to set up camp in front of Cardiff Castle, calling for system-change to end the grip the super-rich 1% have on society, to stop the cuts and defend democratic rights.
Martin Hamilton, Cardiff Council's City Centre Manager, informed protesters that they were in breach of an ancient bye-law, passed in 1875. He expressed concern at the damage the camp could do to the lawn, while - ironically - stood just a few yards from deep grooves scored in the grass by Mini earlier that day, who had driven several cars and parked them on the grass in front of the castle as part of the Wales Rally GB weekend. Questions from the protesters why big business could camp out on the lawn but Cardiff residents couldn't went unanswered.
Neil McAvoy, Deputy Leader of Cardiff Council and Leader of the Plaid Cymru Group claimed, when he spoke to protesters, that he sympathised with their demands, but unfortunately that sympathy did not extend to allowing the peaceful protest to continue and, to a chorus of boos and jeers, he ordered protesters to exit the city centre and set up in Callaghan Square, adjacent to the City-Centre Bypass. McAvoy's sympathy also did not extend to refusing to pass on the cuts from the Tory-Liberal coalition and the Labour-run Welsh Assembly - over a hundred frontline jobs in Adult Social Services were cut last year.
Finally, Chief Inspector Roger Whitcombe invoked the Public Order Act. This is the first time this undemocratic piece of legislation - created by Thatcher and preserved by later Torya nd Labour governments - has been used to clear an Occupy protest in Britain, prompting many to dub Cardiff the least democratic City in Britain. After a full discussion and a democratic debate, the group resolved to stay together and to hold firm in their resistance against attempts by the Council and the Police to break up a legitimate protest. The 30-minute deadline stretched to several hours until it looked as though the camp might be allowed to remain, but then Police lines formed up and protesters were shoved from the site. One was apparently told by a police officer that he was going "knock his block off," another officer reportedly punched a protester in the stomach as the police line advanced, and a third protester was knocked over by a police horse. No violent resistance was offered, but despite this six arrests were made and some of those are still, at the time of writing, facing prosecution at the magistrates' court.
Many were asking why Cardiff faced such brutality when other camps have been allowed to remain, but it is not surprising that as the co-ordinated public sector strike action on November 30th draws close, the forces of the Capitalist state are sharpening their weapons and becoming far less tolerant of opposition. I spoke at one of several general assemblies called during the occupation, offered the full support of Cardiff Against the Cuts, the campaign group set up by Cardiff Trades Council, and pointed out that these desperate acts by the Police and the politicians expose how weak and nervous they are in the face of mass resistance. Up to four million people could defy the Government in the biggest public sector strike in British history - no amount of police-intervention could clear that protest from the streets. Today's brutality will work out very expensive for the Council and the Police, as more people join the movement.
The next step for the campaign must be to call on City Councillors to grant permission for a campsite and to urge South Wales Police to drop charges against the remaining protesters. Further protests must continue to ensure that opposition to these savage austerity measures continue and that democratic rights to protest are preserved.
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