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Shannon March 1st
Tuesday March 11, 2003 19:14 by Sylvia Pankhurst - Anarchist Federation
Report and anaylsis on the Grassroots day of action in Shannon on March 1st.
In the week running up to the March 1st Action, two charter companies carrying American troops through Shannon pulled out, citing “security threats”. World Airways having already pulled out, according to media reports, this leaves one charter company hired by the American military still using Shannon airport, as well as direct military flights.
Simultaneously, perhaps afraid of being successful, liberals and lefties pulled out of the demonstration. A press release sent out by a local Green party member played up the “threat of violence”, and was issued in the name of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance (a lobby group) and in the name of Mid West Against Military Aggression (a local broad based anti-war group).
In both cases apparently without consultation with the rest of the membership of those groups. The Labour Party, the Green Party, and Sinn Fein all pulled out – all without consulting the rank and file – in the case of the first two at least, individual party members refused to follow the dictat of their leaders.
The Socialist Party and Socialist Worker’s Party marched in a separate contingent which did not take part in the direct action, but meandered up to the terminal building. The Green Party had their national conference 30 minutes up the road where Shannon was high on the agenda for discussion!!!!!
So what happened?
Firstly as had been said, two charter companies pulled out. Secondly, there was no violence from the protestors. Thirdly the only violence came from the police – ten arrests and at least one person injured, a violence which was facilitated by the stunning lack of solidarity shown to the direct action wing of the anti-war movement. As well as this current episode there manages to be anti-war demonstrations where there is no mention of people in prison for opposing the war.
So why? A recent Labour Youth leaflet called for non-violent direct action at Shannon. Issues of Socialist Worker have argued for mass direct action. The aforementioned Green Party member has stood up in public meetings and said ‘if it takes direct action then that’s what it takes’.
Ogra Sinn Fein have as their symbol the Molotov cocktail for fucks sake!!!!! So when’s it gonna happen? All these groups are part of the “Irish Anti-War Movement” – and as such all were invited to co-operate with, and participate in, the organisation of this action. All refused.
Meanwhile there is no empirical evidence that ‘public opinion and protest marches’ will alter the situation – and clear cut evidence that direct action at Shannon has changed things. If you don’t believe me ask North American Airlines and Miami Airlines why they pulled out of Shannon, or ask Jane Fort – acting head of the U.S. embassy in Dublin.
Now if you can stomach the offensive twaddle about “violence” and “destruction” from the representative of a state guilty of mass murder (must be reading from the same script as the above leftists) read what she was saying in the Sunday newspapers – “The difficulty at Shannon seems to have been that people who expressed themselves for peace acted in violent ways”, “the combination of two back to back incidents of real destruction would prompt any company to ask if it could put people in harm’s way, people who might be working ! on planes or riding on planes”, “If I have understood correctly, the websites of some of the activists have been fairly threatening: they have wanted to walk over the perimeter fence or breach it.”
Alternatively you could play by the system’s rules - do what you are permitted to do – Jane Fort will probably love you, there will be no controversy, you’ll have a nice media image, no political backlash……and you’ll get absolutely no where.
Direct Action at Shannon?
So how did our day go?
Upon arriving within a mile or so of the airport we were welcomed by a group of police who boarded the bus and searched for weapons or items that could be used to do damage to the fence. They found a load of lunchboxes, a big fuck off video camera, 3 cans of spray paint and a rope. What the hell were we planning?
Soon enough we arrived in Shannon town centre where the usual suspects of these events were hanging around big red flags with yellow fists, no it wasn’t the SWP, apparently it was the IAWM (Irish Anti War Movement)!
We made our way to the white flags which were the designated flags for the people intending to participate in the direct action, the second group, very much smaller, were designated the pink flags this was the supporters group and had no intention of engaging in the direct action but supported those who were.
From here a rather unorganised group (Grassroots only) headed to the gates of the airport where the group stopped and listened to one or two speeches explaining the ideas behind the action and what was going to happen, why we were here, etc… etc… blah! blah! blah!
From here the crowd walked to the fence with arms (sort of) linked and converged on the fence which was protected by 450 armed cops, riot cops, k9 units, water cannons, mounted cops and two choppers. Hell, we felt really special!
At this point a standoff fell in, what was supposed to happen was when the crowd were fully lined up, a fog horn would sound , this never happened. The entire crowd who were ready to go, basically stood face to face with the cops for another hour or more! During this time the IAWM march passed by and went off into the distance, our standoff remained intact!
There were 300 people at the fence, not all of the cops were there, in my opinion around 150-200 were present at our section, the rest were protecting the fence elsewhere and walking about with the IAWM. It can be said that the fence was too protected but at this stage the crowd of 300 in my opinion could have done just about anything it wanted to.
After about an hour long standoff with the cops the line began moving at pace towards a less protected part of the fence. The cops were caught off guard, senior cops had to motivate the more junior members who weren’t sure about what was occurring and were unable to catch up with the line which had broken up at this point. In other words it was a large mass of people moving fast towards the fence with that was very unprotected.
At this point pissed off people who came to participate in civil disobedience or direct action decided to go for the fence, several attempts were made by attaching anchors to the fence in the hope of pulling it down, the lack of support by some people who called to form another line caused these moments of attack to be easily thwarted by the police as they had no support whatsoever.
After this the entire thing got a bit messy and some arrests were made. Little attempt was made to blockade the paddy wagons that were taking arrestees away. No attempt was made to continue the attack. This was down to the fact that it would appear that mass confusion set in, some people took charge and led the way out of the airport, who decided this and why is not known to this observer.
Varied, but not a clear victory. Yes, we managed to get 300 people to Shannon with the intention of ripping down a fence and occupying the grass near the airfield.
We managed to get the state to waste 1 million euro on security for Shannon warport. But beyond that what did we achieve.
We managed to show ourselves as highly unorganised, time should have been spent organising things before we headed off to the airport, as it stood, the pink bloc and white bloc were very unorganised.
Several decisions were made rather undemocratically, this wasn’t a pre planned act of sabotage but a classic example of the tyranny of structurelessness as some people took on the position of spokespersons for 300 people with varied views.
A second plan, plan b was discussed and in my opinion should have been implemented as soon as it was obvious that the initial plan was not going to come to fruit but again that tyranny of structurelessness allowed for that to be totally ignored and to a certain extent not even considered!
What is needed is a totally new approach to the organising of such direct actions in the future.
My only problem with the day was the lack of democracy and open discussion, and too many fucking speeches for a day of direct action, fuck sake everyone knew why they were there, did we really have to be told two or three times?
I think all agree that the Grassroots Gathering is a good thing and it was one of the main features that allowed 300 people to turn up at Shannon ready to rip down a fence. But what has to brought into question is the entire structure of the Grassroots Network, for example, would it not have been better to split into affinity groups which could act as a cluster but in the end as independent groups ready to take decisions when faced with a situation.
And affinity groups could have had a special tasks, for example blockade mass freeing of people who didn’t want to be arrested. Each of these affinity groups should have had a delegate so if there was a need for a meeting these people could represent and report back to their group. Nothing like this occurred.
Also the model of a mass action with an announced plan is one imported from Italy, where Ya Basta!, apart from being equipped with body armour, are, critics allege, engaged in symbolic pre-arranged conflicts with the police, and are a somewhat authoritarian outfit.
The only successful mass direct actions at Shannon have occurred not on the two Grassroots ‘days of action’, but on Irish Anti-War Movement demonstrations…and rather than being announced and planned before hand have been either spontaneous or initiated by a small group. What we need is a cohesive block made up of small groups, ready to initiate action. Furthermore we need to go through a long process before we reach the level where we have the cultural/organisational capacity for this, and perhaps the best way of achieving this is through actions on a local level.
Clearly on the day there was no non-hierarchical organisation, but rather announcements and decisions being made that most of the people in the line were not even aware of – again we must develop the affinity group/spokes council structure.
Finally to end on a positive note.
“Transport workers Resistance-Belfast Local decided to take action as well. So on the day (march 1st) members of TWR along with comrades from the Belfast Media Collective entered the terminal, going through tight security easily. At 2.30pm TWR members started leafleting to the workers of Shannon airport TWR publication and a leaflet specifically made for Shannon. TWR members got spotted by the police pretty soon but nonetheless they managed to target as many workers as possible. Then left the terminal the same peaceful way they entered. This action was a success.
TWR also did this action in solidarity with all other transport workers who have been taking action against the war globally.”
for more information please contact: email@example.com
In conclusion, organisation was poor, the plan was useless, the potential squandered, and leftist sabotage hurt badly (like when Sinn Fein pull out cause of ‘potential violence’!!!!!) – but we still won a victory – two charter companies pulled out, the sad thing is we could have bagged the whole lot there and then.