They are the reason why our education costs us money instead of it being free, like it should be—the way it was for our government ministers when they were students. They are why corporations are allowed to fund much of the research carried out in UK universities (for profit), instead of the state (for public need). They are why tens of thousands of children die needlessly every day because their parents couldn’t pay for the simple medicines that would have saved their lives. They are the reason why the richest four people on earth can control more wealth than the poorest 48 nation states. They are why nothing is done in any serious way to combat climate change. And let us not forget that two of their main players, the United States and Britain, are responsible for the carnage currently raging in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are the Group of 8 (G8): the planet’s leading industrial nations. A G8 whose annual summit attracts mass protests wherever it is held.
This summer, Rostock in Germany was no different. Since the G8 jamboree in secluded Gleneagles in 2005, the German anti-capitalist movement had planned and debated the most effective way in which to protest against this year’s summit, located at an exclusive holiday resort on the Baltic coast.
A group of Glasgow student activists joined a chorus of opposition that greeted G8 leaders as they arrived under armed guard, protected by the largest police mobilisation in Germany’s history—numbering over 16,000—and an exclusion zone of 5km, which no one without prior permission could enter.
Tens of thousands of protesters were mobilised from across the world. Like all previous similar protests, the colourful diversity of the movements against war, exploitation, and injustice everywhere were combined in a variety of events. From debates and music to demos and blockades, the movement for another world descended on Rostock with the primary aim of de-legitimising the G8. Thousands – both young and old – populated the city, chatting about politics in cafes, publicising their events through street theatre and plain old leaflets, and getting informed about issues they’d never previously heard of.
Trade unionists, NGOs, faith organisations, socialists, peace campaigners, environmentalists, communists, farmers, anarchists, those who hate labels and those who wear them with pride, were all in attendance because they have a serious gripe with the way things are. For them, the G8 symbolises an international system that offers only the destruction of war, the pain of child poverty, and the catastrophe of climate change, and as a result, the G8 shouldn’t be allowed to meet without protests over their policies. To do so would grant them undeserved credibility, an illusion of accountability.
A massive demonstration (100,000-strong) swept through the streets of Rostock city on day one of the week of action. Protesters demanded equal rights worldwide, a simple demand that shines a torch on the destitution faced by refugees and asylum seekers who are trying to escape war and persecution—often caused by G8 member states—in their attempt to begin a new life inside the walls of Fortress Europe, if they manage to get in. They said, “Refugees are welcome here.” The ‘war on terror’ was denounced and the real threats to world peace were called out: “George Bush, terrorist… Tony Blair, terrorist. Gordon Brown wrote all the cheques.”
At the end of the march and near the anti-G8 concert at the docks, the police engineered a small riot by provoking those who refused to accept their bullying tactics; they unnecessarily waded into a wholly peaceful demonstration, tear-gas was fired into the crowds, rocks were thrown back, and then out came the water-cannon. Everyone went home when the music stopped and, on that very evening, Rostock’s chief of police was sacked for being ‘too soft’ on the supposed instigators of the riot. The media reported ‘anti-capitalist carnage’ but ordinary Germans there knew the truth and spread the opposite message across the country.
Often on days like these, the function of the state’s forces is violent repression. At the Genoa protests in 2001 police bullets to the head murdered a young man called Carlo Guiliani before police drove their jeep over his head, twice. Police also attacked a school where protesters were sleeping, resulting in at least 60 injuries, many of which were extremely serious and needed immediate medical attention. These are two of the worst instances of the violent tactics used in Genoa but by no means the only ones: police attacked even pacifists. At the time, all the G8 leaders praised the conduct of the Italian police. Seven years later, 70 police officers (including many senior commanders) await trial for their brutal actions.
Mainstream reporting of anti-capitalist protests artificially divides people into ‘good’ protesters, who march from A to B in the nearest city in huge numbers, encapsulating the movement’s diversity, and ‘bad’ protesters, who take the protest as close to the G8 leaders as possible before police violence stops them. No such divide exists in the movement. However, there are strategic and tactical differences that are debated constantly and result in a variety of united actions aimed at opposing the G8.
Media reporting of this year’s protests was predictably biased, with one paper even going to lengths of superimposing a rock onto a picture of a black-clad protestor, a rock so big it almost blocked out their head. Similar tactics were used around the G8’s visit to Scotland. Does anyone remember the ‘Battle of Bannockburn’ in 2005? You aren’t supposed to: the stories of a ‘black bloc hell-bent on destruction’ reported then were simply meant to scare you out of joining the Gleneagles protest. A minor skirmish between a small group of protestors and police, in which some windows of a Burger King were smashed, was the reality of this ‘battle’.
Over the next four days in Rostock, leading up to the start of the actual summit on day five, the various strands of resistance to the G8’s policies had their say.Agricultural workers and land reform campaigners protested about high subsidy levels and the corporations that benefit from them, resulting in these companies swallowing up the best land and leaving millions without their livelihoods. Anti-militarists toured the arms companies and military installations demanding an end to their murderous trade. An alternative G8 summit was held to debate the best way forward for the movements; posing questions such as ‘Can you change the world without taking power?’
Then it was the turn of the blockaders, the so-called ‘bad’ protesters. 10-15,000 people spread over miles of countryside, running through fields of wheat to run rings round the police lines, which were stretched to the limit. The media coverage of this inspired thousands of young Germans to cram onto trains bound for Rostock the next day.
Three campsites provided non-violent direct action training throughout the week, preparing those new to this kind of action for every eventuality, in order to successfully block the G8. For three days the blockades were staged, cutting off all land entrances to the ‘no-go zone’ and disrupting the summit. The G8 continued to be confined to its media-saturated barracks, isolating itself further from the citizens it claims to represent.
Spokespeople bleated standard platitudes about debt-relief for the Global South and predictable trade deals were sealed over the seventh course of dinner. The ‘world leaders’ couldn’t even agree that climate change was such a potential disaster and that something had to be done about it immediately. Instead, this year’s summit condemned the world to more of the same: warmongering, exploitation, and injustice to the people and their planet. The G8 offers us no hope for a better world.
The protesters invariably stand for a world that feeds the hungry instead of the Food Mountains that exist right now; they stand for a world where your gender, sexuality or ethnicity can be celebrated no matter what it is; for a world that treats its sick with compassion and the medicines they need, without checking their bank balances first; for a world without war. Above all they rally to the idea that the world’s resources should be distributed fairly by the people for the people, and always in a way that is democratically accountable to the people.
There is an urgency to confront a world that is run by the rich for the rich at the expense of the poor. There is a world to win and the campaign to win it must be fought wherever we are. For us, it begins here on this campus.