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Friday, 4 May, 2001, 08:49 GMT 09:49 UK
May Day protests: Who did the day belong to?
May Day demonstrations around the world have passed off relatively peacefully so far, without the riots and mayhem that many had been predicting.
There were some violent incidents -notably in Germany and Australia- but the day belonged mainly to peaceful, colourful demonstrators.
In London, after the experience of last year when shops were attacked and public monuments defaced, many businesses boarded up their premises and the police were out in great numbers.
But the expected confrontations failed to materialise. A big gathering of demonstrators in Oxford Circus (dubbed by campaigners "the jugular vein of consumer capitalism") was at moments tense, but did not turn violent.
Has the day been a triumph for peaceful protest? Or do you think it has been a triumph of policing? Did the authorities in your country get the balance right between the need for public order and the right to protest?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Paul Gibens, Australia
The people who complain about the demonstrators are clearly happy with their lives, jobs etc. Unfortunately they may one day wake up and realise that not everybody is as happy as they are. Hundreds of millions throughout the world are underfed and underpaid and millions even in the UK are living below the poverty line. Big business is always the winner and I admire those who take to the streets in the face of police brutality, public resentment and Government anger to display their right to protest against this imbalance due to globalism.
I was held near Euston Station on May Day for almost two hours by the police using the same tactics they later used in Oxford Circus, only letting people go after searching them and taking their photographs. My crime? To participate in a peaceful demonstration, the Critical Mass bike ride.
It seems to me that, sadly, most people in Britain will simply buy everything the police or the mainstream media tell them without trying to use their brains or to make up their own minds. The truth is, though, that we still have a right to protest - although on May Day it might not have looked that way.
I was one of about 1,000 people detained unlawfully for 8 hours in Oxford Circus (Section 60 only allows the police to detain people for 6 hours without arrest). The crowd was composed largely of peaceful protestors, with the occasional aggressive troublemaker but also a few bystanders not taking part in the protest. This included a couple of unlucky German tourists who weren't allowed to leave even when they showed the tickets for the plane flight they were about to miss... All of us were cordoned off by police (including a staggering number of police in riot gear) without warning, without access to food, water, or toilet facilities and with no explanation offered.
This wasn't about anti-capitalism - it was about freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, two civil liberties which Blair's government, London mayor Ken Livingstone and the Metropolitan police have shown they have nothing but contempt for.
One could be forgiven for thinking that these people were protesting against the use of soap and razors. I've never seen so much unkempt riff-raff in one place. If the police did not want to contain any crowds, they should have loaded the water cannons with hot soapy water.
Without protesters advocating a serious alternative, capitalism has won the day. If there had been united support for real socialism (direct collective ownership and control of productive resources), then the world's multi-millionaire and billionaire asset owners would have been extremely worried about retaining their privileged lives.
Genuine socialism has never yet existed, and only this system can replace capitalism.
I have just watched the news and was shocked by the lack of support that the media were giving the police. By only showing police retaliating and omitting the violence of the protestors the news teams are causing the little respect many people have for the police to be reduced even further.
Don't we have a right to go about our business without the fear of violence? It's not as if the protesters were not warned!
Solomon Drury, London, UK
I am glad to say there were no protests of any importance here in the USA. An anti-capitalist demonstration? How foolish are these protesters? Only those who are abject failures in the world would have the will and the free time to take part in such useless activities.
I look at these May Day protests with increasing bewilderment. For a movement which represents anti-capitalist views, Third World debt relief and associated causes, a large portion of them indirectly seem to support this movement. How many of these people were wearing branded clothing or following a dress trend perpetuated by the global manufacturers?
Oh, these middle-class dropout protesters will of course claim some sort of victory in closing down a little corner of capitalism for the day. It is their working-class brethren who will have to clean up the mess in the streets, though. Pity about that.
Steven Woodger, Australia
Who did the day belong to? The violent, extremist protesters, obviously. The number of people marching on May Day was tiny compared to the National Union of Students' anti-fees march earlier this year, but this was passed over almost totally unnoticed by the media. Why? Because violence or the threat of violence is obviously far more powerful a publicity tool than actual numbers. I find it really worrying that everyone seems to promote these causes by publicising them, and happily overlook causes with greater support, simply because the supporters aren't out to damage and destroy.
What's the fuss about ? Middle-class students have been staging events of this kind for nearly 40 years. I know because I used to participate. Then I grew up, got a job, a suit, and a mortgage. Now I just cringe at the memory of it all, just like Tuesday's protesters will. Anyway, how many of them do you think have worked in McDonald's, shopped at Sainsbury's or worn Nike ?
Demonstrations in this country were low key and insofar as I am aware, there were no problems. But watching events around the world I am increasingly of the view that the presence of police in their new riot regalia is in itself a provocation. The world is becoming polarised and there is increasing antipathy towards free trade and globalisation because of the concentration of power in the wealthy corporate West and a perceived sense of powerlessness elsewhere. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this, it is clear that unless governments show themselves as being ready to listen and respect the views and wishes of those who are being deprived of a livelihood and a future, then things can only get worse.
By not letting the crowds disperse, the police only increased the chance of violence through their own actions. There is no way that they can guarantee that a few will not go on to cause trouble, but keeping everyone contained together can only lead to trouble. There should have been high visibility patrols, not illegal imprisonment of thousands of lawful demonstrators.
Who are the so-called anti-capitalists demonstrating in European cities and the USA?
Why are they pretending to love poor countries? How rich are the socialist countries?
I believe, as an African, we are poor economically because of bad leadership and
lack of foresight. We don't need your demonstrations.
Some say that protests like this aren't the way to change things, but what other way gets mass media coverage? If there was a less disruptive and peaceful way, it would be taken, but there isn't.
John Bell, UK
Shame on all the workers who stayed away from jobs in central London today. You have handed victory to the Visigoths. What has happened to the good old British-bulldog spirit?
Perhaps if the Government withdrew the benefits that most of these people live on, they would have to get a job and contribute to society like the rest of us lawful citizens
William Croft, UK
The hype and over-policing due to the actions of a minority of violent protestors last year has meant that peaceful, large scale demonstrations against the injustices and evils of our world, many of which have the backing of the authorities, are prevented and suppressed. May 1st should be a holiday and violence should be dealt with in a manner which does not leave protestors, the vast majority of whom are peaceful and legitimate, surrounded by police and intimidated.
It makes me incredibly angry to hear police chiefs talking about the "violent" protesters causing trouble at the May Day demonstrations in London. For a start, the only violence taking place is being caused by the police's containment policy. I was caught up in a similar situation trying to walk home from the Millennium fireworks in London. There was no protest, just families trying to take their children home - but because the police were blocking off all the roads, tempers were frayed, and things turned nasty. It's a very claustrophobic situation to be in, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if protesters being hemmed in push against police lines to get out.
Marika Toumi, UK
It is unfortunate that in the so-called "free world" our rights to demonstrate without the fear of police brutality are diminishing.
It bugs me when reporters choose to say that cyclists caused delays to rush hour traffic in the context of the day's events. We cyclists have to put up with delays every day caused by motorists blocking up roads and polluting the air.
I am a car owner but choose to cycle as the quickest and most convenient mode of transport for London. The point of "reclaim the streets" is that we are fed up with this car-centric idea of transportation and wish that more people would make the right transport choices.
Where and when did this habit of violence on May 1 start?
Maybe we should get rid of communist day and replace it with Trafalgar day as earlier proposed?
Cold water and tear gas is appropriate for most of the demonstrators who probably don't know why they are demonstrating anyway!
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