Campaigners against public service cuts are calling for a 24-hour occupation of Trafalgar Square – drawing inspiration from revolts in the Middle East – to coincide with Saturday’s trade union protest in London. Student activists who organised last year’s demonstrations say there will be a rolling programme of sit-ins and protests on the day and have called on people to occupy the central London square turning “Trafalgar into Tahrir” – a reference to the gathering point in Cairo that was at the heart of the revolution in Egypt earlier this year.
“We want Trafalgar Square to become a focal point for the ongoing occupations, marches and sit-ins that will carry on throughout the weekend,” said Michael Chessum from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts. “There are a lot of smaller scale demonstrations and actions planned and, just as we have seen in recent protests in the Middle East and north Africa, we want to create an ongoing organising hub.”
Saturday’s main demonstration has been organised by the TUC and is expected to see more than 200,000 people – including public sector workers, families and first-time protesters – take to the capital’s streets to oppose government cuts. This month the TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, promised a barrage of protests against the cuts, ranging from industrial strikes and “peaceful civil disobedience” to petitions by Tory voters in the shires.
The plan to occupy Trafalgar Square is the latest in a wave of proposed sit-ins, occupations and “people’s assemblies” that activists have branded a “carnival of civil disobedience”. “We have seen time and again that marches from A to B do not achieve their objectives,” said Chessum. “This is about creating an ongoing movement that will put pressure on the government. This is the start of what is going to be a hot summer of protest against the ideological nature of what this government is doing.”
The call for an occupation of the London landmark is backed by student groups, activists and two Labour MPs – John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn. In a joint statement they have called on people to “stay in Trafalgar Square for 24 hours to discuss how we can beat this government and to send a message across the globe that we stand with the people of Egypt, Libya, Wisconsin and with all those fighting for equality, freedom and justice.
“We want to turn Trafalgar Square into a place of people’s power where we assert our alternative to cuts and austerity and make it a day that this government won’t forget.” Alongside the main march, which will set off from the Embankment before making its way to Hyde Park for a rally, anti-cuts campaigners say they plan to occupy some of the capital’s “great buildings”, close down scores of high street stores and occupy Hyde Park.
UK Uncut, a peaceful direct action group set up five months ago to oppose government cuts and protest against corporate tax avoidance, is planning to occupy and force the temporary closure of scores of shops on Oxford Street on Saturday afternoon. Meanwhile, student groups will meet at the University of London student union building in Bloomsbury at 10am. Some are then expected to make their way to the main assembly point in a “feeder march”; others will peel off to take part in various “direct actions” .
“Since Christmas the movement has become much more autonomous,” one veteran of last year’s protests told the Guardian last week. “There are smaller, semi-independent groups planning small-scale direct action against a range of targets. It will be a bit of a disappointment if we get to the end of the day and one of London’s great buildings is not occupied. We have to make an impact.”
Online, other groups are calling for more widespread direct action on Saturday. An organisation calling itself Resist 26 claims it will stage a number of “people’s assemblies” along the route of the march. Under the banner “Battle of Britain” it is calling for a 24-hour occupation of Hyde Park and “after parties” at famous London landmarks including Piccadilly Circus and Buckingham Palace.