May Day Mayhem Fears In London

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

London ( - London is bracing for the possibility of chaos Tuesday as anti-capitalists, anarchists, environmentalists and supporters of miscellaneous other causes plan a series of demonstrations to mark May Day.

The capital's mayor, Ken Livingstone - known as "Red Ken" for his past support for radical causes - has warned that police will adopt a "zero tolerance" approach if protests turn ugly, as happened last year.

He urged people to stay away so police could identify ringleaders who had escaped arrest last May Day.

Livingstone said it was clear legitimate demonstrations were not being planned, as organizers had refused to negotiate with police ahead of time.

"I think we have got across to people that this is not a demonstration that is being planned in the traditional way," he said. "For them the objective is the scenes of mayhem we saw last year."

On May Day 2000 protestors painted graffiti on a statue of Winston Churchill and the country's most important War Memorial, dug up the paving of a square near parliament and planted seeds in what they termed a "guerilla gardening" exercise.

A small group also caused more serious mayhem, trashing a McDonalds restaurant and throwing projectiles at police.

Not taking any chances, the city has now boarded up Churchill's statue as well as those of Abraham Lincoln and King George V.

Livingstone told BBC Television that protesters threatened to damage their own causes. "If you really believe in canceling Third World debt and saving the environment then beating the hell out of a police officer or smashing in a shop window is really going to alienate public opinion."

Prime Minister Tony Blair Monday voiced his support for a tough police stance, saying the type of behavior displayed last year was "idiocy," not "idealism."

Expecting up to 10,000 people to take to the streets - although a much smaller number are thought likely to cause trouble - police have cancelled all leave and will deploy more than 6,000 members of various police forces.

Earlier it was reported that police may resort to rubber ammunition if necessary, but police commissioner Sir John Stevens subsequently clarified that such ammunition had never before been used on the British mainland - that is, anywhere other than Northern Ireland - and would not be used now.

Monopoly and white overalls

Among the loosely-knit groups expected to demonstrate on Tuesday are "Reclaim the Streets," "Class war" and "S26" (for September 26 last year, the date of violent demonstrations during an IMF summit in Prague.)

Taking advantage of the Internet as a cheap and effective way to reach supporters, groups have used websites to suggest that people target Oxford Street, the capital's busiest shopping area.

Sites call for protestors to wear white overalls, padded for protection against police batons, in the spirit of an Italian group, Ya Basta, whose anarchist members wear motorcycle helmets and white overalls. One group calls itself the Wombles - "White Overall Movement for Building Liberation through Effective Struggle."

The websites have been inviting people to planning meetings, using vague and euphemistic terminology.

"Come to the lovely Conway Hall on Saturday 21st of April and enjoy tea, cakes, and inspiring discussion on how to subvert capitalism on May 1st," says one site.

"We will be discussing why there will be lots of people in white overalls and what all the free money is for. There will of course be much tea drinking, socializing and informal networking."

Anarchists have also appropriated the popular, capitalist board game Monopoly, turning it into a map for protest actions at sites on the UK version of the game, such as the Strand, Oxford Street and Marylebone and Liverpool Street stations.

Twenty London locations and 200 businesses - including such stores as McDonalds, Gap and Niketown - have been identified as targets.

But police are not sure whether the list is intended as disinformation, an attempt to spread police presence too thinly to be effective in any one location. Protest organizers are also reportedly using encrypted websites and police have no idea what's being planned on those sites.

Another factor may be hoax bomb scare calls, which in the climate of terrorist bombings in London linked to dissident Irish groups would be likely to further strain police resources.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow