Smashed windows and flaming barricades (Direct Action News, 13 to 19 March 2023)

A person in black holding a black umbrella in a street as tear gas shells bounce past, trailing smoke.
    1. Judge jails Insulate Britain protester
    2. Junior doctors engage in three-day strike
    3. People still fighting France’s pension reform
    4. UK strikes continue across multiple sectors
    5. This Is Not A Drill have a smashing time in Cambridge

Judge jails Insulate Britain protester

A judge sentenced Stephen Pritchard to a five-week custodial sentence on 13 March. Pritchard had taken part in a motorway occupation on 1 October 2021 under the Insulate Britain banner. In his summary, the judge cited Pritchard’s ‘lack of remorse’ and willingness to engage in future direct action as reasons for not suspending the protester’s sentence. Three others that were also found guilty had their sentences suspended for 18 months.

Insulate Britain is a direct action group with roots in Extinction Rebellion. Its press release on the sentencing quoted Pritchard as saying during his court appearance:

For me it’s no longer an option to sit on the sofa watching David Attenborough speak about the destruction of the natural world. The most responsible thing to do is carry on the peaceful, nonviolent civil resistance.

Junior doctors engage in three-day strike

Having previously voted to strike, junior doctors represented by the British Medical Association (BMA) undertook three days of pickets beginning 13 March. As Phoenix Media previously reported, strike action comes after the government refused to negotiate on pay and working conditions with the union. In addition to picket lines across the UK, junior doctors and supported marched to Whitehall on 13 March. The BMA said “thousands” joined the demonstration.

The BMA’s junior doctors branch’s Twitter account has plenty of photos from the picket lines.

People still fighting France’s pension reform

Unions have continued striking against the French government’s attempts to reform state pensions. As Phoenix Media previously reported, the measures would raise the pension age from 62 to 64, and people across France aren’t having any of it.

On 15 March, unions including journalists carried out nationwide strikes as people once again took to the streets in protest. One of the most visible results of the strikes was carried out by rubbish collectors. Their industrial action has led to thousands of tonnes of rubbish piled up on the streets of Paris. Meanwhile, ongoing police aggression saw tear gas fired at protesters, while one video showed protesters throwing the bags of rubbish at police.

Protests continued into 16 March, and escalated. LBC reported that:

Thousands of people took to the streets of Paris, lighting fires, vandalising buildings and clashing with police.

There were similar protests in Rennes and Nantes in eastern France to Lyon and the southern port city of Marseille, where shop windows and bank fronts were smashed, according to French media.

While anarchist distro Ill Will Editions shared various videos showing flaming barricades, burning vehicles and effigies of senior politicians including president Emmanuel Macron set alight.

UK strikes continue across multiple sectors

As junior doctors ended their 72-hour strike on 15 March, several other unions engaged in industrial action. Most notably, approximately 300,000 members of the National Education Union (NEU) had the first of two days of strikes. However, members of several other unions also downed tools on the day. These included the PCS public services union, University and College Union (UCU) members in the first of three days of strikes, and NUJ members working at BBC local radio. Apart from the huge NEU strike, the other notable outcome of the day was Aslef members working on the London Underground. Strike action by Aslef led to cancellations across nearly the entire network. Approximately half a million people were on strike across the UK on 15 March.

Following these strikes, two sectors announced the government had entered discussions about pay and conditions. Unions including Unison representing workers in the NHS said on 16 March that health minister Steve Barclay had come through with a 5% pay increase plus two bonus payments. While most unions (but not Unite) planned to recommend their members accept the offer, some people voiced concerns that it was still a real-term pay cut. Meanwhile, teaching unions including the NEU said on 17 March that they’d entered negotiations with the government and wouldn’t announce any further strike action during the following fortnight.

This Is Not A Drill have a smashing time in Cambridge

On 17 March, ecological direct action group This is Not A Drill said “climate activists” had “smashed the front windows of the ecocidal 50 – 60 Station Road building“. The office building, located in Cambridge, is home to a wide range of multinational corporations including Amazon, Samsung and Centrica. This Is Not a Drill described these and other companies as some of the “worst enablers of fossil fuels and ecocide”.

Featured image via Anne Toothill/Twitter