October 21, 2010 : Personal account of ITT's Hammertime

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After the success of the 'decommissioners', who were found not guilty after they broke into the Brighton-based arms manufacturer EDO/ITT and attacked the production line during Israel's massacre in Gaza, Sussex Police were keen to stamp out any further resistance to the factory. Below is a personal account from a participant in ITT's Hammertime, Smash EDO's mass demonstration on 13th October. Previous demonstrations have seen the factory surrounded by angry activists, pelting the factory with paint, smashing windows and trashing the managing director's car. ITT's Hammertime was met by a massive police operation, which featured the return of the (briefly controversial) 'kettling' tactic and a new focus on European-style mass pre-emptive arrests. In total, 53 people were arrested in the largest police operation Brighton has seen for years, involving Kent and Hampshire police and even a horse team from Wales.

“The aim of the day was to shut down the factory, and to lay siege to it, from both sides, symbolising the siege of Gaza. Aim one was achieved. While the senior management's luxury cars remained in the car park, the factory was empty and the workers stayed at home. We hadn’t managed to ‘lay siege’ to ITT, but then again, we hadn’t had to!

From word go, Police repression seemed to be the theme of the demo. They had evidently been ordered to paralyse us, making mass (semi-legal) arrests, and worry about the consequences later. About half of the (slightly smaller than expected) body of the demonstration woke at the convergence space, a squat in the nearby village of Falmer known as Wildkatz, to be surrounded by hundreds of police. Activists attempted to leave the squat in a block but were outnumbered and forced to remove their masks under a Section 60 direction, making a large mass feel vulnerable and demoralised from the start. They were marched in a moving kettle toward the ‘designated protest area’ in Wild Park.

The police tactic was very obviously just to overwhelm and stamp out the demonstration. Before 10 o'clock, the announced meeting time, had even come about, they charged at us, forcing us either to the ‘designated protest area’ or to the woods behind the factory. The knee-jerk reaction was to defy the police and do a runner up the hill, police horses in pursuit. After an assault course, scrambling about the woodlands with a re-enforced banner, we met the cops again in the field behind the factory. Following some initial clashes and a couple of arrests, police horses cornered the demo into small kettles of between 10 and 20 people, forcing people to remove their masks, stirring up an atmosphere of disempowerment and paranoia among the crowd.

From then on, the crowd split into small groups, running chaotically around the housing estates of Moulsecomb. One group planned to start a secondary demo outside Barclays, the main market maker for ITT/EDO (see here), but were thwarted by police who formed a (slightly comical) kettle at a bus stop outside the Subways shop on London Road, much to the outrage of the shop assistant and people trying to get the bus. They were then frogmarched back to the ‘designated protest area’, a good half an hour’s walk, before being released to go.

Among the confusion, one successful action did take place: two people managed to glue themselves to the doors of RBS, another investor in ITT, and close the branch down.

The police began to use pre-emptive arrests against whole groups, as seen in Copenhagen last winter and at the No Border Camp in Brussels in September/October, taking activists one by one out of a kettle and arresting them on the grounds that they believed they may go on to 'breach the peace'. Many of the activists arrested were not even dressed in black or wearing masks, and one was just 14 years old, making the police 'suspicion' very difficult to believe. In total 53 arrests were made; 28 were taken to Crawley, a 45 minutes' drive away as Brighton's Hollingbury Custody centre was full. All were released without charge, the majority without even an interview proving that their arrests were purely tactical, and very possibly illegal.”

Despite the mass arrests and oppressive police tactics, which are estimated to have cost £1 million in the last year, the Smash EDO campaign continues undaunted. On October 27th, it is planning a 'Hammer Horror' Halloween demonstration at EDO/ITT. What the experience does prove, however, is that the campaign will not succeed without a mobilisation of all those who would like to see the closure of EDO/ITT. Sussex Police seem to be prepared to throw all their available resources into repressing the campaign and to effectively act as a security force for a private company, while refusing to investigate the countless allegations of EDO's complicity in war crimes, perjury and breach of arms export regulations.

On a more positive note, for those who want to see an end to EDO's business in Brighton, EDO MBM's 2009 accounts show that the number of staff at the Brighton facility has dropped from 122 (during the last tax year) to just 99. EDO's staff team has decreased by over a third since the Smash EDO campaign began in 2004.

Elsewhere, in New York, activists have called a 'War Profiteer' march against ITT's CEO, Steven Loranger. 11 New York and Connecticut anti-war groups will point out that Mr. Loranger, who was paid $14 million in 2009, has lobbied, through the Aerospace Industries Association, for continued funding for the wars in Afghanistan/Pakistan and Iraq. ITT spent $2.5 million on lobbying Congress in 2009 and 2010 and has distributed $223,000 to candidates in the 2010 elections. The march will finish at Mr Loranger's home.

For more information, see www.smashedo.org.uk.