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My trip to Cornwall to demonstrate around the G7 summit (11-13 June) felt a bit like a set of concentric circles: I was part of and helping to cohere a delegation of Workers’ Liberty supporters and friends; we were seeking to imbue socialist politics, internationalism, and a working-class orientation into the wider anti-G7 movement; and that movement was challenging the G7 and the politics they represent.
It was only en route towards the most southwesterly tip of this island, cutting through the darkening fog in a car-share with newly-acquainted comrades — and wondering whether if in packing as if for a holiday in Majorca I hadn’t been over-confident with the weather — that I discovered that the anti-G7 protest movement was severed in two.
The Resist G7 Coalition had been, up until the eve of the summit itself, uncommunicative or even secretive about plans for the three days; and XR fairly vague. It transpired that Resist G7 and XR had different campsites, and demonstrations and actions at alternate sides of the peninsula. Resist G7 on Falmouth on Friday 11 June, while XR were in St Ives; XR in Falmouth on Saturday, while Resist G7 were near St Ives...
The good weather did hold out. On Friday, Resist G7 joined some youth climate strikers for a demonstration through Falmouth. Although the turnout was only one or two hundred, it was a young and energetic march, quickstepping along a stunning coastline in the blistering sun, then finishing at a specially planned beach concert. Our delegation promoted class struggle chants which gained traction: “The rich are safe, but not the poor: climate change is class war!” and “Change your diet // For the climate // Eat // The // Rich!”
From the beach we got a first glance at the cruise liner the police had brought in to house even more officers, not content with the numbers housed by squeezing homeless people out of local hotels. Travelling to that first protest, the minibus I was in, like most others, had been pulled over and held up by police for half an hour (allegedly to “check we had valid insurance”, though that can be done in seconds). This pattern of harassment continued throughout the long weekend. Each protest had an abundance of law enforcement, liaison officers, and camera-wielding “intelligence teams”. An unmarked car of coppers was stationed permanently outside our site, and the force regularly visited our 24/7 gate-guarding volunteers.
The “Animal Rebellion” camp was raided, and other vehicles were not only stopped, but searched.
After a refreshing swim and a photoshoot with some activists protesting Indian brutalities in Kashmir, we returned to site for banner-making and a workshop on the fight for trans rights. My arguments for a socialist feminist approach and for engaging with unions seemed generally both surprising and well received.
Later still, and after more bonding, a delegation of over one hundred people from the Tigray Youth Network and other Tigray-diaspora organisations doubled our camp in both size and liveliness.
On the Saturday, heading to the Resist G7 “international day of action” we found ourselves in a 200-person strong demonstration dominated by the politics of Stop The War coalition and the SWP, and focussed only on Palestine and Kashmir. Many “anarchist” participants in the Resist G7 Coalition combined off-hand condemnation of the SWP with wholesale adoption of their politics. Some denounced SWP as “rape apologists” but were silent over speeches and placards uncritically lauding Julian Assange. Other waved SWP’s deliberately vague placards about Palestine, but ripped off the “SWP” branding.
The schism between Resist G7 and XR seems largely over approaches to the police. Where XR inform police of their plans and talk matily to police on demonstrations, Resist G7 refuse to talk to police, and see doing so as a danger. I sympathise with Resist G7’s concerns, but for the three main and public demonstrations the difference was of little practical consequence, and certainly not enough to be worth the division and confusion.
As it turns out, the Tigray activists had decided that an officially announced demonstration was safer, though we did not realise until we joined that Saturday demonstration that they were absent. By that point we also knew that the XR demo of the day before had been markedly bigger than the one we had joined.
Thus, after selling papers and distributing leaflets across this smaller demonstration, some of our delegation headed back from the North to South coast, to join the actually much more international, as well as bigger, Falmouth XR-initiated demonstration.
The Tigray bloc was visibly raising awareness of the profile of the plight of the Tigray people. They were understandably, although I think misguidedly, calling for G7 intervention, including military intervention such as imposing a “no-fly zone”. There was a small bloc of Ugandans protesting Museveni’s dictatorship; and another Kashmir bloc. There was a large bloc protesting the military dictatorship in Myanmar (and calling for G7 intervention) — but celebrating the National Unity Government (NUG) and Aung Sun Suu Kyi, who presided over and tried to hide the Rohingya genocide.
When I went to discuss this with someone in the bloc, they defended NUG on the grounds that 1) the military, who they are against, actually carried out the genocide, and 2) the genocide is bad, but ending the coup is more important for now. It is possible, and necessary I think, to side with pro-NUG people in actions against the military and at the same time advance our own politics, for workers’ rights and democracy, which run contrary to the NUG’s.
In the innermost circle, in our little delegation and those around us, we learned much from talking to these different activists, and discussing and debating among ourselves the limits of their politics and of XR’s, Resist G7’s, the SWP’s.
The Resist G7 “Kill The Bill” demonstration for Sunday did not have its location decided until Saturday night, on camp, at an invite-only secret meeting. Some in and around our delegation attended, and argued for it to be in St Ives, where the main XR events were to be. Even if we reckon XR people are on the liberal-verging-on-apolitical-lobotomy line of “think with your heart, not your head” and “write to your MPs, as your friends” (and many aren’t), we will win them over not by hiding ourselves away in our own small echo chamber of people, but by combining in action with them when we can, and debating with them on the spot.
In many one-to-one conversations others agreed. but in the end our demo was a small and short march on the opposite side of the peninsula. In practice it was a mild and routine sort of march, outnumbered by police, journalists, and sympathetic but not actively supporting Cornish locals. The full black-bloc mode, and the more-militant-than-thou and sometimes macho posturing, didn’t help. XR’s road blocks, parallel to their main activity that day, caused much more disruption.
Some in our delegation spoke again to journalists, gave speeches to the Kill The Bill crowd about Hong Kong and the importance of the labour movement. I think we greatly improved a demo otherwise devoid of internationalism or class politics.
Debriefing at Resist G7 camp, plans are being formed for further co-ordination and action, particularly around COP26, in Glasgow, November.
The weekend was energising and exhilarating while simultaneously frustrating. It was a disappointing and somewhat divided turnout, but from very diverse campaigns and different backgrounds. The partial successes we had reaffirmed for me the indispensability of injecting a class-struggle approach into the movement.