Shoppers stood in amazement when demonstrators entered the shop accompanied by the Rhythms of Resistance samba band. With the crack of drums echoing around the building, activists unfurled a huge banner spanning the checkouts saying ‘All we have to lose is our chainstores.’
According to Fermin Fernandez, one of the Precarity Network organisers, ‘the reaction of the workers and customers was good, and they enjoyed the samba band. The fact that it was in Hackney, one of London’s most deprived areas, meant that people were responsive to our message. We were saying that people in precarious situations need to be responsible for changing their own situation through action.’
The Community Support Officers on the scene were initially powerless to act, but reinforcements soon arrived and the demonstrators were surrounded, removed from the store and, after two hours, escorted to London Fields, amid accusations of heavy-handed policing. Nine people were arrested. A statement from the Metropolitan Police claimed they had ‘thwarted’ the protest.
This was the first UK May Day event to be organised as a ‘flash mob’ demonstration. Details were announced by text to protesters’ mobile phones an hour before the event, in order to avoid the meticulously planned police operations of previous May Days. In the run up to this year’s action, 750 mobile numbers had been collected by the Precarity Network, but on the morning of 1 May the SMS email account to be used to distribute the information was mysteriously frozen. Nevertheless, activists managed to contact over 500 people.
Tesco was specifically targeted as a symbol of ‘precarity’ at work. Activists accuse the company of exploitative working practices, including paying new employees less than the minimum wage, cutting Sunday pay and ending sick pay. They point to reports of Tesco using immigrant labour under gangmasters to pack its food, and of appalling conditions on Tesco-accredited farms in South Africa. In April Tesco became the first UK retailer to announce profits of over £2 billion. It is thought that the chain takes one in every eight pounds spent in Britain’s shops.
The Hackney action marks a significant change of tactics for the anti-capitalist movement. Previous demonstrations have involved set-piece events in the commercial centre of London. According to activist Bob Black, ‘This action wasn’t about smashing up Tesco and leaving broken glass behind us. There has been a valid critique of the anti-capitalist movement, saying that just smashing-up McDonalds won’t challenge capitalism. We were attacking Tesco from a different angle. To stop this company we look for the issues that unite the workers and the activists, and it comes together around working conditions. This is a progressive development.’
Although the new approach may have attracted less media coverage, Black believes it was a success: ‘There is a perception that the only purpose of May Day is to get in the press. But it’s really about communicating issues. A week after May Day we went back to Hackney and handed out leaflets. We had conversations with workers and shoppers and explained our actions. We showed that we weren’t just an anarchist mob that had come to attack Tesco.’Bob Black and Fermin Fernandez are aliases used to protect the speakers’ identities
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
We need a society built on openness, community and equality to truly defeat everything that trump stands for, writes Nick Dearden.
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry
Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram