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Cambridge Mayday: Don't just shop

Voluntary Slave | 01.05.2004 16:28 | May Day 2004 | Free Spaces | Cambridge

Plans to protest against consumerism and in favour of workers rights met with hostility from security guards and the police at Cambridge's Grafton Centre. But protesters defied intimidation to hand out free food and drink and information on workers rights and child labour.

Shoppers at the Grafton Centre today were reminded of the connection between the actions of UK consumers and the lives of workers both here and abroad. Local activists gathered at 1.00pm, intending to set up a non-commercial space within the shopping centre. Plans to distribute free food and drink, along with information on workers rights and child labour, were met with hostility from security guards. Private Grafton Centre security began by removing tables, picnic blankets and games brought by protesters. They then physically forced the activists themselves to leave the privately owned shopping centre.

At this point the police arrived, threatening the protesters with arrest if they continued to 'cause serious disorder and disruption' (that is, continued encouraging people not to shop). Protesters defied the conditions laid down by the police, which would have meant them moving away from the shopping centre to a place where they would have been all but invisible to shoppers. Instead, they regrouped outside the main entrance to the Grafton Centre, continuing to distribute leaflets, cakes and scones to passers-by. There was widespread interest in the issue of child labour, as well as the seating and picnic space provided by protesters, where they were joined by a number of people pleased to have a space to relax outside of commercial culture.

Protesters argue that the response of the Grafton Centre simply proves their point about the dangers of privatising what was once public space. They argue that, in a privatised space such as the Grafton Centre, people are only free as long as they fulfill the role of consumers. One protester said, "As soon as it was clear I wasn't there to shop, a security guard grabbed me and shoved me out of the shopping centre." The different treatment given to activists distributing leaflets about child labour, on the one hand, and companies distributing adverts, on the other, was also remarked on.

May 1st, International Workers Day, is traditionally a day of struggle against exploitation and capitalism. A group of Cambridge activists chose this day to remind people of the existence of an alternative to a consumer culture in which all enjoyment is measured by its price tag.

Voluntary Slave