THE 2011 UK RIOTS- AN ALTERNATIVE VIEW
I have waited until the hue and cry has died down before I say my piece. I also wanted to give the mainstream media a chance to take the bull by the horns and take an impartial role, not toe the government line or expound the failing of the youth rather than that of the government.
The rich see the poor as a drain on their wealth. The fact is that riots tend to happen in times of high unemployment, social and economic exclusion and an unjust and biased social, economic and legal system. A police state would be far more expensive to run than a welfare state is. This is something the wealthy do not realise. This is something the government does not want the wealthy to realise.
Just as the government would have you believe that rioting is a modern disease, a cultural or racial event; a show of disrespect for the law and the establishment; pure greed and criminality. But let’s take a look at the history of UK riots-
· St Scholastica Day riot 1355, started because of an altercation between two Oxford students and a tavern keeper. It resulted in almost 100 deaths. Quite ironic that the place the riot started, the Swindlestock Tavern is now the site of the Santander Bank.
· Evil May Day, 1517. This riot started because Londoners resented foreigners, especially the wealthy foreign merchants and bankers of Lombard Street. I mention this because of the parallels with the riots recent in London, Manchester etc. Edward Hall, a lawyer and chronicler of the time said that for two weeks after a xenophobic speech by a Dr. Bell rumours went around that “on May Day next the city would rebel and slay all aliens”. Fortunately, they didn’t have Blackberry’s. The mayor and aldermen called for a 9 o’clock curfew. Looting of houses took place and by 5th May (5 days later- ring any bells?) there were 5,000 troops in the city.
· The Spitalfield Riots of 1769 were the result of an attempt to arrest a meeting of weavers who had organised into an (illegal) trades union and met with resistance. Shots were fired and two weavers died the rest then dispersing. Not much of a riot, you might think but that is the spin the government of the day gave it.
· In the early 19th century the Luddites were renowned for their violence and riotous actions in an attempt to stem the flow of technology that removed the skill (and quality) of their product. The name Luddite is now used as a derogatory term that describes somebody who refuses to accept industrial change or innovation. Personally, I am proud to be called a Luddite.
· The Swing Riots (so called from a fictitious often used on threatening letters to local farmers) were the agricultural equivalent of the industrial Luddites. The anger of the rioters was directed at three targets that were seen as the prime source of their misery: the tithe system, the poor law guardians, and the rich tenant farmers who had been progressively lowering wages while introducing agricultural machinery.
· The Tonypandy Riots of 1910/11 were the result of mine owners attempting to reduce wages, accusing men of working slowly (though they were paid by the ton, not the hour), attempts to lockout the miners resulting in strike action and the bringing in of strike breakers.
· The Llanelli railway strike In August 1911 began when the railway strike in Llanelli was brutally suppressed by the police; 2 men – John ‘Jac’ John and Leonard Worsell – were shot dead by troops of the Worcester Regiment. Rioting followed and magistrates’ homes were attacked and railway trucks were set on fire, resulting in an explosion which killed a further four people.
· On Peace Day, July 19, 1919, Luton Town Hall was burnt down during a riot by ex-servicemen unhappy with unemployment and other grievances.
· Bristol Old Market riot, 1932 where 3,000 unemployed engaged in running battles with the police as they tried to march to the city centre, led by the National Unemployed Workers Movement. Police baton-charged protesters outside Trinity police station and along Old Market.
· The St Pauls riot occurred in St Pauls, Bristol, England on 2 April 1980 when police raided the Black and White Café on Grosvenor Road in the heart of the area. After several hours of disturbance in which fire engines and police cars were damaged, 130 people were arrested. The riot occurred against a background of increasing racial tension, poor housing and alienation of black youth.
· The Brixton riot of 1981was a confrontation between the Metropolitan Police and protesters; Brixton in South London was an area with serious social and economic problems.
· The Toxteth riots of July 1981 were a civil disturbance in Toxteth, inner-city Liverpool, which arose in part from long-standing tensions between the local police and the black community. Though termed ‘race riots’ there is evidence white youths came to the area to support the local residents against the police. Again, an area of high unemployment due to job losses at the docks, caused by containerisation.
· The UK Poll Tax Riots in the 1980’s and 1990’s were a series of mass disturbances, or riots, in British towns and cities during protests against the Community Charge, commonly known as the Poll Tax.
· Cardiff Ely Bread Riots, 1991 were an outbreak of supposedly racially motivated disturbances that occurred in the council suburb of Ely in the Welsh capital of Cardiff that started when after argument between a white and Asian shopkeeper who had begun to sell bread, putting the other out of business; however, many locals believe that this was just a spark for a more significant problem of social exclusion resulting from unemployment & crime.
· Stokes Croft Tesco riot; on 21st April, 2011, there was a riot in the Stokes Croft area of Bristol following a raid by police on a squat named ‘Telepathic Heights’. A protest ensued, and they withdrew; at 9pm that evening, riot police blockaded the area and entered the squat. A crowd quickly gathered, with about 300 people defending the squat, and a further 1000 caught up in the mayhem. More than 160 officers were involved in the operation. The reason for the operation given by the police was that they held intelligence that petrol bombs were on the premises designated for the Tesco development opposite.
There are other riots, many in the 1980’s and 1990’s that are designated ‘racially motivated’. A closer look often reveals they take place in areas of high unemployment, social, political and economic exclusion, these places often being areas where large racial minorities live. But just looking at those I have chosen to highlight my contention the latest round of rioting is politically, socially and economically motivated (even if thieves and vagabonds did usurp them) one can see how the reasons for and reaction to riots has changed over centuries. From a disagreement about the quality of ale to the feeling of futility and injustice forced on us by an unelected and misleading government; from local law enforcement to calling in the troops as was considered recently.
For those that believe we are in a depression; that there is no money; that the rich are suffering alongside the poor I’ll believe it when I see ruined businessmen jumping out of office windows, demands for payment clutched in their fat little hands.
For those who believe that everybody on welfare is idle, I’ll believe that when these same businessmen start to pay decent wages and folk still refuse to work.
Yesterday, on http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/8712661/Eric-Pickles-says-no-to-higher-property-taxes-for-middle-classes.html Eric Pickles, the Communities secretary said “But you know I’m a Conservative, I like the idea of lowering taxation.” Yes, and lowering wages (but not bonuses!). He also said “I believe you get more tax revenue by lowering taxation because people work harder. I like people to keep more in their pockets for their family.” Funny; when, as a shop steward I used the same argument for higher wages, employers, Conservative supporters thought the idea ridiculous.
But there are other arguments for higher wages and full employment. It removes the argument that a riot is political, or social, or economic. It leaves the rioters out in the cold. More to the point, it removes the need to riot.