By Mickey Conn
The G8 Justice and Interior Ministers were welcomed to Sheffield from June 15-17, invited by David Blunkett when he was Home Secretary. Their stay shut down much of the city centre on several evenings, and some residents of the Nether Edge district had to use passes to get to their own homes.
But many people wanted to protest about the minister and the governments pandering to racism by whipping up animosity to asylum seekers, about the arbitrary and intrusive imposition of ID cards and about their assault on trade unions and workers’ rights.
The week began with an anti-war demonstration, followed by the Peace in the Park festival, at which No Sweat activists ran a stall, making the case for solidarity with Iraqi workers.
By the Wednesday, the police tactics were clear. They aimed to split the protestors by permitting a small “official” demonstration outside the venues used by the G8 ministers (but far enough away that it wouldn’t be heard — particularly as megaphones were banned), while the remaining mass of protestors were kept well away, on the other side of the city centre.
Most protestors quickly understood the situation, and a march to the venue for the meeting was organised. Despite harassment from the police, it made it near to the venue.
Thursday saw a further demonstration, organised by the Make Poverty History campaign. While the G8 ministers ate a slap-up dinner, campaigners served a plain meal of rice — the same meal many millions of workers around the world would be eating. This was the largest demonstration, but unfortunately also the most ineffectual. It showed something of the weakness of the campaign that the speakers had no clear idea how we could make poverty history, beyond asking the G8 nicely.
This was reflected in the popularity of our No Sweat stall, where we sold several pamphlets about the G8 meeting and the need to prioritise workers’ rights internationally.