I was sitting in a room, in a small Nottingham school. I should think the curtains were closed and the lights on.
I was surrounded by people discussing what up to that moment had been a top secret plan to take over Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal fired power station. I had not been party to the plan before this point, but had been invited along because of my involvement in Workers Climate Action by a close fellow activist.
I was wondering why I had come.
It wasn’t that I didn’t agree with the sentiment: closing down a coal fired power station for a week to save 150,000 tonnes of CO2. It wasn’t even that I was scared shitless by the idea, although of course the thought of scaling a cooling tower to camp on top made me sweat and shake and look for the school’s nearest exit.
It wasn’t even the secrecy of the plan, which in fact made me enormously uncomfortable as it undermined any democratic processes and made me feel I was being led blind. It’s just that this would have been done so much more powerfully by the workers themselves. Workers who I was assured were all on top-end salaries and couldn’t possibly lose out on pay during the week’s closure. The thought of the impact on the more menial workers however – cleaners, for instance – making me sweat and shake all the more.
Imagine if the Lindsey oil refinery strikers had wanted ‘Just transition to a sustainable economy’, rather than ‘British jobs for British workers’. Thousands of workers walked out of Lindsey in 2009, alongside workers from power stations across the British Isles in dozens of solidarity wildcat strikes. Think of the CO2 saved then.
However, it’s all too easy to see why the young and the brave of the anarchist milieu had come together for a targeted action that comes under the remit of Domestic Terror. For them, this kind of theatrics, rather than long-term work in the labour movement, is the only way to save the world from catastrophic runaway climate change; and the one they have a grasp on. And as Workers’ Liberty, we know changing workers attitudes to green issues won’t even be as big a task as encouraging workers to take action on the subject. I say this despite the importance of the Vestas occupation. The labour movement is only just reawakening from a rather long and uncomfortable sleep.
I’m writing about this now because of Monday’s revelations that a policeman – Mark Kennedy – had, under the pseudonym Mark Stone, been agent provocateur to the Nottingham action and led to the largest pre-emptive arrest in British history. The case as such has been thrown out of court, the defendants' sentences quashed.
One point of interest here is the cost of Kennedy’s operation – £250,000 per annum – which as an undercover case throws up questions about the transparency and accountability of police spending. Similarly, the money for the police operation against anti-fees marches would have been better spent funding education. Kennedy infiltrated the movement for seven years, often providing the resources for actions to take place. "I'm not the only one - not by a long shot," he said of being undercover in the movement, in a recently recorded apology to activists who confronted him. While we face enormous national cuts, can this kind of spending be justified even by the ruling class? It seems not.
Despite my fears on the day, Judge Teare ruled that the action on Ratcliffe would have been safe. He said that the activists “are all decent men and women with a genuine concern for others, and in particular for the survival of planet Earth in something resembling its present form. There was substantial material before them that closure of the power station would not only stop the emission of carbon into the atmosphere, but also provide a huge publicity stage for your ambitions.”
The defendants’ solicitor, Mike Schwarz, said they were taking part in legitimate action. "One expects there to be undercover police on serious operations to investigate serious crime. This was quite the opposite. This is civil disobedience which has a long history in this country and should be protected." The anti-fees marchers more recently were certainly well within their legal - not to mention democratic - rights. In both cases the police have ignored the civilian right to resist: To resist the privatisation of every aspect of our lives, as well as its spiral into ecological disaster.
Like the clashes with police on the front line of the fight for free education, Kennedy throws up questions about provocation, responsibility and media documentation. Kennedy went for a final reconnaissance mission at Ratcliffe by himself, coming back to assure activists that they could continue with the action, as their fear of police presence at the station was unfounded. He set them up. The right-wing media have done their best to lay blame at the feet of activists and students. But in the current economic climate it seems fewer tax payers are willing to pay for the entrapment of environmental activists, as well as the police violently abusing their powers and people’s unarmed vulnerability at recent demonstrations.
I was never arrested in Nottingham. Owing to my shakes and sweats I was kindly given the role of media runner which meant I stayed well out of harms way. I don’t remember ever meeting Mark ‘Stone’, but apparently he was not a great orator and often kept his political views to himself, unsurprising considering he was probably a Daily Mail reading, Tory voting scumbag.
It was an odd experience to wake up the next morning and be the only one left. I walked through the quiet of Nottingham station on my way home, my bag in my hand, feeling like it was the end of a film. It’s probably because I’m cowardly and like the comforts of central heating, but the hard work of battling trade union bureaucracy had suddenly become much more attractive than the heroics of direct action.