London anti-WTO activists clash with police


By Jody Betzien

LONDON — Around 3000 people rallied outside Euston railway station on November 30 as part of worldwide protests against the World Trade Organisation's agenda at its conference in Seattle, USA.

The rally here was the culmination of a day of protest in which activists began marching at 9.30am, visited a McDonald's outlet in Trafalgar Square, then linked up with a protest organised by the Construction Safety Campaign outside Canada House to condemn Canadian asbestos imports.

The rally, organised by Reclaim the Streets (RTS), opposed capitalist governments' neo-liberalism and called for a society based on production for human need, not private profit. The Euston Station action focused on the British Labour government's plans to privatise the London underground, "the most blatant example of market madness in London".

That evening, Railtrack, which owns much of the British main line system and owns the train involved in the Paddington disaster in which 30 people died, withdrew from negotiations to purchase the underground. Deputy PM John Prescott stated that Railtrack's inability to produce a plan by March to operate the underground was the reason.

However, Railtrack's involvement in the Paddington disaster, and massive public opposition to the sell-off have played a large role.

During the two-hour Euston Station rally, protesters danced to percussion groups and listened to speakers from groups including the rail union, Campaign against the Arms Trade and an anti-genetically modified foods organisation. As the rally ended and protesters began to move away, police formed a line to prevent people exiting.

Some people in the crowd responded by pushing against the police line and throwing objects at the police. Many protesters, who attempted to calm the situation, believe that provocateurs were involved in generating the violence that followed.

Police in full riot gear charged the crowd three times, trampling and injuring many protesters who were sitting down in an effort to calm the situation. An unmarked police van left in the centre of the crowd was set on fire. Many activists believe the van was left there deliberately to provoke the crowd into venting its anger against police property and thereby justify police violence.

After a long stand-off between a largely peaceful crowd and the riot police, the police moved forward from all sides, forcing some people to leave and isolating around 300 protesters. Over the next 10 hours, until 6am, these people were constrained by a four-deep police line. All other protesters and witnesses were driven blocks away by police dogs and batons.

At least six protesters were hospitalised, and 38 were arrested. Some of the injured activists plan to take legal action against the London police.