The riots: waging class war - 26 Aug 2011


It has been a measure of the crisis faced by the British state that the events in Tottenham on 6 August, following the police killing of Mark Duggan, were swiftly followed by inner city riots across many other London boroughs and in the West Midlands, Manchester, Merseyside, Nottingham, Avon and Somerset, West Yorkshire, Leicester, Cambridge and Gloucester on 7, 8 and 9 August. The ruling class quickly made it clear that they would exact revenge on any working class youth involved.

By 20 August the number of arrests nationally had reached more than 3,000. Police routinely opposed bail or cautions. More than 60 per cent of detainees, even those facing trivial charges, were held in custody. Courts were sitting overnight, under instruction to deal out harsh punishments and custodial sentences. The arrested youth were caught up in a nightmare of night courts, sub-standard treatment and shoddy legal representation as the judiciary at every level served up revenge at the behest of the police and government. In Brixton a student with no previous convictions was sentenced to six months for ‘stealing bottles of water’ worth £3.60. At Chester Crown Court two young men were sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to ‘incitement to commit an indictable offence’ using Facebook in Northwich, where there was no disorder.

The ‘speed’ of the injustice stands in stark contrast to the extremely slow investigation into how Mark Duggan was killed. We know that Duggan did not fire a gun, but nothing is known about the police killer who has not been brought before a court in the middle of the night nor remanded in custody. The Metropolitan police have now published on the internet a ‘rogues gallery’ of convicted people with their addresses. The legal class has not even bleated a protest.

Government ministers queued up to threaten wider punishments on the families and communities involved:

  1. Theresa May, Home Secretary (Oxford University), promised new laws to enable curfews and ‘no go’ areas. She also instructed CPS prosecutors that, ‘where possible, they should be asking for the public identification of juveniles who are found guilty of criminal activity’ related to the riots, thus enabling a hue and cry against working class youth.
  2. Ian Duncan Smith, Work and Pensions Secretary (Sandhurst), promised that the system that deprives prisoners of ‘handouts’ (his term for welfare benefits) would be extended to anyone convicted of a riot-related criminal offence, even if this did not result in a prison sentence.
  3. David Cameron, Prime Minister (Oxford University), belatedly rushing back from yet another holiday, described the welfare system as a ‘moral hazard’ inciting laziness, promised to mend Britain’s ‘broken society’ and to end the ‘misuse’ of human rights: ‘There are deep problems in our society that have been growing for a long time: a decline in responsibility, a rise in selfishness, a growing sense that individual rights come before anything else'.
  4. Wandsworth, Greenwich and Southwark borough councils in London issued threats to evict any council tenants and their families facing charges arising from the riots. Young people have also been threatened with loss of free travel in London.

These measures represent utter class hatred: they are typical of fascist societies. They are being cooked up by a collection of crooks who have no right to lecture anyone on laziness, moral turpitude or criminality. These same people, who benefited from a corrupt expenses system for MPs to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds, blame working class people for the miserable and diminishing benefits we have to fight for. Cameron has himself admitted a criminal past. In February 2007, facing exposure of illegal drug-taking in his youth, Cameron argued: ‘I have been very clear about this. When they are young, lots of people do things they shouldn't and I was one of them. I regret those things but people should judge me now based on the policies I put forward.’ Even more recently, Cameron has defended his friend, the accused phone hacker Andy Coulson, saying that he deserved a second chance. Has Coulson been threatened with loss of his home? Has Lord Archer been threatened with seizure of his considerable assets following his criminal conviction and prison sentence? They did not even remove his baronetcy. It is one law for the rich and another for the poor. That is the reality of ‘broken’ Britain.

A real indication that this is a deep crisis facing the British state was the bitter argument that broke out between police and government ministers immediately following the riots. Cameron blamed the Metropolitan police for their failure to control the riots, suggesting that it was only his government’s intervention that ensured the correct tactics were eventually used to restore peace. The police, on the other hand, argued that their tactics had proved successful when Cameron was still holidaying in Italy. The main police grievance focused on the Coalition Government’s plans to cut police numbers, budgets, pensions and to reform police organisation. The suggestion that a US police chief supremo, William Bratton, would be invited to consult on the riots and gangs, hit a nerve for the upper echelons of the British constabulary. In ‘broken Britain’ it is every man for himself; every class for itself.

It was on the issue of policing alone that the British Labour Party decided to target its intervention. Like the government they were vehement in their condemnation of the youth, calling for harsh sentences and congratulating the police on their bravery. Their criticisms were centred on the prospect of cuts in policing. Sadiq Khan, Labour Shadow Justice Secretary, surpassed his own high levels of fawning hypocrisy: I am encouraged by the speed at which people who have engaged in these disgraceful criminal acts are being brought to justice. The process from charge to trial and sentence must be as swift as possible. But this Tory-led Government must give assurances that there is the capacity in the prison estate for all those involved in violent disorder to receive the punishment they deserve.’ There is no concern for the travesty of justice offered to the working class: it is simply a concern that following treadmill justice there should be enough prisons in which to lock us up. Likewise, infamous toady Shami Chakrabarti, director of the misnamed charity ‘Liberty’, piped up: ‘In very testing circumstances, the response of both the police and government has been measured and proportionate so far – we welcome this and hope it will continue.’ In what sense the harsh treatment and vicious sentences that the youth have received has been ‘measured’ and ‘proportionate’, she has yet to explain.

Most of the left organisations in Britain have, as usual, failed to support the youth who fought the police. From the Morning Star to the Socialist Party they have chosen to follow the lead of the treacherous Labour Party. At the heighest point of their radicalism, the Socialist Party: ‘calls for the setting up of a democratically run inquiry into the riots involving elected representatives of trade unions and community organisations, that could also set the parameters on how the offences are dealt with, with the right to review sentences already imposed.' This is a social democratic dream: to administer the British imperialist state in a fairer manner. What have the trade unions that they are so eager to call to aid done or said: nothing. The TUC, Unite and Unison have all limited their interventions to congratulating public sector workers for carrying on working during the troubles!

What next?

There is a job to be done defending the youth who have been targeted in this class war. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! will be part of this defence. Prisons minister Crispin Blunt is quite wrong – these riots were not one-offs. The ruling class has declared war on the working class and poor and this will be intensified. What we do now is important in determining the future defence of the living standards and lives of working class people. The political fight to defend the working class has begun.

Carol Brickley


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