Council backs down to Market Street protestors
Article published: Tuesday, September 27th 2011
Following two weekends of harassment from police and council officials, campaigners from a range of different political groups in Manchester on Saturday successfully held a mass street stall protest along Market Street against what they claim is a clampdown on free speech in the city centre.
Political street stalls are a common occurrence on Market Street, providing a means for campaigners to interact with the public. However on Saturday 10 September council street wardens and police officers cleared the stalls from the street, and confiscated campaign materials claiming that they were ‘obstructing the highway’. The same action took place on Saturday 17 September, with the police this time making arrests for ‘breach of the peace’ (videos of the incident are available here and here). Later on, a police “catch a looter” stall was set up where the political stalls had been.
One of those arrested, Chris Everett from the Socialist Workers Party, told MULE, “They gave us notice that we were restricting [Market St.], which we weren’t… they came out with police officers and stuff and they said we were going to have to move the stall and what we’re doing is unlawful”. According to Chris he was then “throttled to the ground” and handcuffed and placed in a police car for twenty minutes as the police removed the stall.
In an apparent climb-down from the council, the protest was not impeded on Saturday 24 September, though Market Street was flanked by six police officers and one van. Stalls were run by groups including the Anarchist Federation, Manchester Campaigns Collective, Fight Racism-Fight Imperialism, Queer Resistance, UK Uncut, the Socialist, Green, and Socialist Worker’s Party (SWP).
“We’re having an action today to get as many political organizations [as we can] to hold stalls today to support the right of free expression,” said Steph Pike, a member of UK Uncut & Queer Resistance Northwest.
Many of the campaigners claim the harassment is linked to the forthcoming Conservative Party Conference, and sets a dangerous precedent for restrictions over the right to freedom of expression. Steven Durrant from Manchester Green Party said: “During the week of the conference I expect that there will be quite a big clamp-down, I understand that they have their operational security…they use that to clamp down and suppress opinion that’s counter to the general establishment.”
Thomas Barlow, an activist with the Manchester Campaigns Collective said, “This is a great opportunity for people in Manchester and around the country to assemble and to discuss with each other about how to take action against these cuts and create a better world.”
The public was largely unaware of the police action last Saturday but were sympathetic to the activists’ grievances. A pensioner named Audrey from Newton-Hyde stated that, “We’ve been hit every-which way. I just about manage. I don’t get any other benefits, and I’ve worked from fourteen till I was sixty-three.”
The stalls were closed down at three o’clock following an agreement among the participants that all organisations would leave around the same time to avoid being singled out by police.