Live Exports and Community Defence
Security Guards at Shoreham
Author's note: For reasons of time, space etc this short article cannot be a full analysis of live-exports in general or Shoreham in particular. Nor can it adequately deal with the thorny issue of 'animal rights'. The focus of this article is on the reaction of the local community to live-exports and the attitude of 'politicos' in Brighton to the growing movement.
Intense lobbying from animal welfare groups designed to discourage passengers from using ports which exported livestock, caused major ports like Dover to pull out of the live-export trade. The major ports realised that if they continued live-exports (a relatively small part of their business) they would face losing passengers to other ferry companies who were not involved in the trade and to the newly opened channel tunnel. By seizing the opportunity presented by an increasingly competitive passenger trade, animal welfare groups were able to bounce one port after the other into banning live-exports. The result of this was that the exporters were forced to find new ports, ones which had no significant passenger trade to speak of. These new ports tended to be much smaller and were often located in the heart of closely-knit local community, particularly in the case of Brightlingsea. Spurred on by emotive videos of calves in veal crates and witnessing their suffering at first hand many locals became determined to stop the trade.
Going down to Shoreham at the start of January was like going to a picket-line, people were sitting in the road trying to block the trucks coming in, the police were dragging people away, in short all the usual push and shove of any major public order situation. At this point it's important to note the bitter irony that whilst residents of both Brightlingsea and Shoreham were prepared to go to huge lengths to stop the live-export trade, few lifted a finger to stop scab coal being brought in through these same ports to break the miners strike. For the first two nights Sussex police were totally humiliated as the sheer weight of numbers of the crowd relative to the lack of police meant that they had to back the trucks up to prevent a major public order incident. On the second night the crowd ran wild with people rushing up and down ripping air-lines out of the trucks, smashing headlights, and one person climbing atop a truck and smashing its windscreen. Sussex police were totally powerless and were unable to control, let alone arrest, most of the crowd.
Realising they could not deal with the protests alone, on the third night they called in police from five other forces, including public order units from the Met. Over 1,500 police turned up. Everywhere you looked there were riot vans, parked nose to tail as far as the eye could see. Whole areas of Brighton were sealed off to allow the passage of riot vans, and huge convoys of green armoured TSG buses could be seen driving down from London on a daily basis. Not only were the Met being paid ridiculous amounts of overtime to come down and beat up the local community, but they were being put up at top-notch hotels, with five-star catering. And it wasn't long before Shoreham protesters invaded these hotels, resulting in yet more scuffles and arrests.
Back at Shoreham protesters were outnumbered five to one and could only watch as the trucks went in, anyone who tried to do anything more was immediately arrested. On the third night and several others there was widespread scuffling, with people throwing bottles and repeated baton charges by riot cops. Many of the people scuffling with the cops were local residents, some of them local youths who had simply come for a ruck. Most people were masked up, including pensioners, and this was not just because it was bitterly cold. The third night set the tone for the next six months of resistance to live-exports, although after a month or so the Met were replaced and their role was taken on by a revitalised and reorganised Sussex police. Many people had thought that the nature of the policing would change when the Met left, particularly as some people in the alternative community think Brighton police are somehow progressive simply because they tolerate raves. But less naive people, particularly those who live on the estates and have seen Brighton police in action, were well aware of their public order reputation. For the next six months protests continued with crowds fluctuating from a few dozen to a thousand, but usually averaging a couple of hundred, in all weathers and at all times of the day and night. And with the continuing protests came continuing arrests, mostly under the public order act, which by the end of the trade amounted to almost 400.
After the initial shock of the police invasion local residents began to organise themselves, throwing up a number of separate and often competing groups, all of them eager to represent the mass of protesters down at the dockside. Meetings were held, leaflets distributed, surveillance of the lairages and the convoys were carried out, and demonstrations and sea actions continued. Those politicos who choose to look saw the emerge of a real community of struggle, with all its attendant contradictions. The struggle against live-exports brought people in Shoreham together with the result that many residents feel ambiguous about stopping the trade, on the one hand they oppose it and want it to end, but on the other they want to continue protesting and have no desire to return to their previously atomised existence. Local residents, many of whom have never been part of any campaign, are enjoying the thrill of direct action, the satisfaction of sticking a finger up to the authorities and refusing to compromise. It is this spirit of sheer awkwardness, a refusal to give in, and a determination to continue until they get what they want that is inspiring. Also it is the way they go about getting what they want that is important. Shoreham protesters are not interested in politicians and interminable lying and stitch-ups, you only have to witness the total contempt with which Waldegrave's announcement on journey times was greeted.
But on the other hand there is far too much tolerance for media celebrities like Carla Lane, local MPs like Andrew Bowden (an anti-hunting, pro-animal welfare Tory), and organisations like Compassion In World Farming (who withdrew from the demos after the clashes with the police and then threatened to grass on the protesters who fought back). However such contradictions within a campaign are part of the nature of a community struggle, in the sense that as a 'community issue' it includes anyone who claims to be against live-exports. The kind of community we want is not one that is defined geographically, like the Shoreham area, and thus by its nature includes local politicians, businessmen, and celebrities, but a community of struggle. The problem with the anti-live export campaign is that such a large number of people are in favour of ending live exports, they include local politicians, businessmen, and right-wing local newspapers. Even sections of the Shoreham harbour board were opposed to the trade because it was giving the port a bad name and deterring other custom. Sussex police opposed the trade because the protests were rapidly draining their budget, tying up their personnel, and losing them the support of many of their traditional supporters.
However instead of getting involved and trying to explode the contradictions between the mass of protesters, who wanted to end live exports through the threat of public disorder, and their would-be representatives, who wanted to win media attention and parliamentary support through respectable lobbying, Brighton politicos have remained aloof. Why? The answer seems to be because the campaign concerns the dreaded issue of 'animal fights'. If it was any other issue you wouldn't be able to move for people trying to flog you turgid papers, stuff your hands with crappy leaflets, and demand you attended their meetings to create yet new fronts for their pathetic organisations. Whilst avoiding these things has its compensations, it is more than outweighed by the fact that the campaign lacks experienced activists.
Given the reputation, often undeserved, that Brighton has for being a centre of radicalism we have to consider why its political groups proved incapable and unwilling to get involved in a struggle which was on their doorstep. And we have to examine whether this lack of involvement was merely peculiar to Brighton or whether it marks a more general inability to connect with struggles outside of our own particular community, whether that is the workplace (in the case of the SWP and to a lesser extent Militant) or the unemployed/alternative community (in the case of Justice? and Brighton Autonomists).
The SWP have been perhaps the most disconnected of all the groups, their only practical involvement at Shoreham has been to go down to try and shift a few papers, on a more useful note they have used their union contacts to raise a modest amount of money to assist Shoreham defendants. The struggle at Shoreham like the anti-CJA movement has exposed just how deeply entrapped in workerism the SWP are. By workerism I mean the idea that the workplace is the site of our power, and it is here that we should be concentrating on organising. The consequence of such an attitude is that struggles outside of the workplace are seen at best as secondary and subordinate to workplace struggles, and at worst are denounced as irrelevant and a distraction to the real struggle. So for example the SWP tried to connect to the anti-CJA struggle by saying the act was really all about trying to prevent picketing, presumably all the arrests of sabs and eco-warriors etc are just a smoke screen to divert us. Such workerist attitudes basically end in the demand that we get a job, join a union and go on strike.
However for many young people who might have previously joined the SWP there is now a choice between getting involved in the anti-CJA/direct action movement which means hanging out with people of your own age, going to parties, taking drugs, living in trees, d-locking yourself to bulldozers, squatting, fighting with the cops etc or you can go to meetings about Trotsky and stand outside supermarkets trying to sell papers. Consequently it appears the SWP has suffered a drop in its youth membership, and given that students and ex-students are its life-blood it appears to be in crisis. The only thing that is keeping it going appears to be the ANL. Given that the SWP had nothing to say about Shoreham beyond stating how 'under socialism' factory farming would be more efficient and animal research would be even better, and that we should all get a job and join in the 'real struggle', they resorted to claiming that the BNP had been down at Shoreham leafleting against live-exports. To my knowledge this is completely untrue and I have heard no mention of it. It is possible fascists have been to Shoreham, but they have not done so openly and have made no attempt to distribute their filth. And given the number of sabs and the attitude of the local residents any fascists who tried to openly organise at the demos would have been severely kicked in, not to mention the fact that the police would probably have arrested them on sight to try and avoid provoking yet more public disorder.
One timber importer gets it in the neck to the tune of £800, 000 when one of its warehouses is arsoned. The protests didn' t just hit the livestock exporters. The constant blockades meant that the other firms at Shoreham "went through the most financially damaging two months many of them have experienced" (Evening Argus, 15.3.95). Companies at Shoreham include BP, Texeco, dredging firms and timber firms. Shoreham is the second biggest importer of dead trees in the country; importing from the wildernesses ofBrazil, Canada, the US, Scandinavia and eastern europe. It is Britain's biggest importer of Russian woods. ARC, one of Britain's largest quarry companies, (who are responsible for Whatley Quarry in Somerset - see regional reports), have lost so much trade they are considering moving. Shipping agent Jim Glover said: "Frequently you can be stranded on the port side of the police cordon in a queue of 60 vehicles waiting to get out." HA HA HA!
It is right to claim that there was a little-Englander mentality among some of the protesters, particularly at the beginning, which saw live-exports bound for veal crates as yet another example of the decadent and wicked nature of 'Johnny foreigner' and as a reason why the British state should immediately withdraw from the European Union. Some Tory 'blue-rinse' types at Shoreham did hold this view, one which was articulated by a Daily Express article, that was photocopied and distributed by some of the more naive protesters. This article expressing outrage at French Muslims importing sheep for a religious festival simply allowed the Daily Mail to give vent to its prejudices, allowing them to attack not only French people in general but French Muslims in particular. However such attitudes among the Shoreham protesters are more than outweighed by people's new found realisation of the nature of factory farming in Britain, and their opposition to a British veal industry.
Members of Militant have been much more directly involved in the campaign at Shoreham, but when they have done so it has not been explicitly as members of Militant. They have got involved on their own initiative, initially in the face of hostility from other members of their party, who have failed to adjust to the new realities of life outside of Labour Party subcommittees. Given their experience of canvassing and community organising, particularly in places like Pollok, Militant seem to be gearing up to take a major role in the campaign against live-exports at Dover, through their anti-CJA front the Kent Defiance Alliance.
Whilst the trots have been unable to connect to Shoreham, because it isn't a workplace struggle, other groups like Brighton's anti-CJA organisation Justice? have failed to get involved in any meaningful sense. Justice? did go to Shoreham en-masse on a couple of occasions, but the novelty soon wore off. Even though 10% or more of its active members have been arrested at Shoreham there has been little collective involvement beyond some office support for the defendants and regular Schnews coverage of protests. Given that Justice? was and probably still is the largest and most active of the anti-CJA organisations its failure to break out of the alternative ghetto and connect with a real community struggle is disturbing. Justice's lack of collective involvement is attributable to all the usual reasons, e.g. the fact that most of the organisational work is done by a few very over-worked people, that it was busy organising squats in Brighton, and that many people were off doing direct action at places as far apart as Pollok, Solsbury Hill, and even Berlin!
But its lack of involvement can't simply be reduced to this, it's more the case that the anti-live-export campaign was never seen as a priority for Justice?, this was partly because the police have not used the CJA on a large scale at Shoreham. Only two people have been charged with aggravated trespass and both charges were thrown out of court. Also Justice's disconnection from Shoreham reflects the fact that most of the sabs in the Brighton area have chosen not to get involved in Justice?, and most members of Justice? are not interested in sabbing. In the absence of a large sab presence within Justice?, pushing the organisation to get actively involved in the anti-live-export campaign, Shoreham was always going to remain a side-issue. More importantly, Justice's failure to connect with a real community struggle was mainly due to the fact that most of its members see themselves as part of an alternative community of young unemployed, one which is ill at ease with a community struggle made up of so called ordinary people, many of whom are middle aged and have jobs.
Most disturbing was the predictable failure of Brighton Autonomists to get involved in the struggle at Shoreham, beyond supporting individual defendants. As the most together political group in the Brighton area, comprising an assortment of anarchists and communists, it has been able to avoid both the pitfalls of workerism and the isolation of the alternative ghetto. And significantly it is well aware of the importance of community organisation given its involvement in the anti poll-tax campaign. The reason it has refused to get involved at Shoreham is simply because it sees it as merely an animal rights issue. As a group it is opposed to both the ideology and practice of the animal rights movement. The leading members of Brighton Autonomists are representative of the mid 80's split in the anarcho movement between class struggle anarchists and animal rights activists. Indeed they were actively involved in this acrimonious rupture and its personal recriminations still haven't been forgotten by either side. If the struggle at Shoreham was about any other issue all the members of Brighton Autonomists would be actively involved.
For Brighton Autonomists animal rights is seen as a liberal side issue with no potential for connecting to anything else. Some of their criticisms are valid. Unlike our fellow humans they can't organise themselves or make their own demands. We can't have relations of solidarity with animals, because they can't struggle. We can only have relations of sympathy with them, projecting our own feelings of alienation and powerlessness onto dewy eyed calves as symbols of purity and innocence in a world out of our control. But it has to be said that the fact that people are moved to confront the state by the suffering of animals at least gives us hope that people are not completely alienated. Also Brighton Autonomists' criticism of the obsessive insularity of many people in the animal rights ghetto strikes a cord with anyone who has spent time in Brighton. But at the very moment when the anti live-export campaign is involving local communities in daily confrontation with the state, groups like Brighton Autonomists can only sit on the sidelines and worry about the expansion of the animal rights movement.
Over the last six months we've seen a local community coming together and using direct action to oppose live-exports. Residents have quickly learnt that direct action means confronting the police, which means risking arrest and should mean supporting those who have been arrested. Local people have faced down and humiliated Sussex police, who were forced to call in the Met and other forces to put down the protests. Despite having their area invaded by over a thousand police and almost four hundred people arrested, local residents have refused to be intimidated. Most importantly Shoreham residents have won, the exporters have pulled out because Sussex police could only afford to escort convoys two days a week, and this didn't allow the traders to make a profit. Not only has the public order operation almost bankrupted Sussex police, but it has earned them the undying hatred of the most active protesters. People who previously supported the police now treat them with contempt.
Some protesters are now making connections between their struggles and those of other working class communities. I've heard middle aged protesters taunt the police about the Bradford riots. I've seen previously respectable Shoreham ladies holding a police doll, voodoo style, engaged in a heated argument about which coppers need pins sticking in them. And at a meeting, after the end of shipments from Shoreham, 700 local residents cheered when one of the speakers tentatively pointed out that the police were agents of the state whose role was to protect politicians and the rich. This was followed by proposals for Waldegrave to do a sponsored parachute jump with only an empty rucksack.
Furthermore many protesters don't see the stopping of live-exports from Shoreham as the end, they see it as an opportunity to get involved in other struggles either at Dover or against the local Shamrock monkey farm. Many people are enjoying the feeling of solidarity that comes from standing together against the state and have no wish to return to their previous existence. For many the campaign against live-exports is the best thing that ever happened to them. It is up to local activists, who have been involved at Shoreham, to show these people that they can use the same tactics in other situations. As eco-activists when we talk about 'community support' we normally mean a few people bringing us cups of tea. Imagine what effect three hundred local residents who were prepared to disrupt road-construction on a daily basis would have.