Defend the right to picket

The weekly Saturday picket of Marks & Spencer in central Manchester has been under intensifying attack since mid-June. On 19 June, an ex-member of the Israeli Defence Force, having spent some time talking to M&S security and the local representative of the fascist Likud, threatened to bite the ear off one protester and chased another who dared to film his intimidation. Two weeks later he returned with half-a-dozen fellow Israelis who attempted to intimidate picketers, tore up leaflets, destroyed placards and tried to turn over our stall. Some 20 minutes later, the police arrived, and after further altercation, arrested the ringleader.

The next week a report in The Jewish Telegraph quoted the ringleader anonymously calling on Zionists to prevent us setting up outside M&S on the next Saturday, 17 July. Manchester VTI spent the week mobilising support for the picket. When Saturday arrived, 50-plus picketers assembled to defend the picket from the Zionists. Half-an-hour into the picket, 20-25 Israeli and British supporters of the fascist Likud arrived and tried to create disorder so that the police would intervene and close the picket down. Hurling abuse and threats, they tried their utmost to provoke a reaction. They failed. One of their number was arrested and their counter-demonstration descended into chaos. Eventually they withdrew, 20 minutes before the end of our picket.

As if by coincidence, the front page of the Manchester Evening News on the same day carried the headline ‘Marks in free speech storm’. It reported that ‘Bosses at Marks & Spencer in Manchester are planning to use controversial Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) against protesters’. It revealed that M&S had been collating information on the picket with a view to getting the council or police to take out an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) in order to stop the picket. This follows the recent use of ASBOs in Birmingham against two housing activists. It seems that M&S would like to use the Likud counter-demonstration to prove that the picket provokes alarm and fear amongst the general population!

On 24 July, a national Betar-Likud mobilisation brought up to 70 Zionists to attack the picket. Apart from their ritualistic abuse, they attempted to drive the picket away by singing God Save the Queen! Having failed to close down the London picket, these fascists are now concentrating their attention on Manchester.

At the end of July, two picketers will appeal against their convictions for obstruction and fly-posting. We will continue to defend our right to demonstrate in support of the people of Palestine.

Meanwhile London VTI continue their regular Thursday evening picket of Marks & Spencer’s flagship store at Marble Arch. On 11 June police told two M&S picketers arrested in April for using a megaphone that they will not face charges. Since then police have backed down and removed the barriers, allowing us to talk to the public and get support. The Zionist counter-demonstration has proved ineffective in halting us. M&S staff have become more aggressive: a stone was thrown at a protester from an upper window of the Marble Arch store; and a bucket of water was thrown at the picket on Holloway Road in North London. Pickets have continued in Leicester, Glasgow, Dundee, Durham, Middlesborough and Newcastle.

FRFI 180 August / September 2004