Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Wapping, Jan 24 – An Eyewitness Account

First Published: Class Struggle, Vol. 11, No. 1, March 1987
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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As I tried to avoid being trampled by the crowd amidst the glaring lights from the police lines and their repeated baton charges, a thought struck me. Stupid really. But something that you already know in theory, became concrete: the coppers had come equipped for a fight.

Photos of coppers “tooled-up” are commonplace. Also, I’ve seen them at other demos. But the impact of seeing a mass of shields and batons flaying out, heading for you, really dispels the Dixon of Dock Green image. Yes, there’s been skirmishes and attacks on other marches. But what happened yesterday was explosion.


The march had begun from near the Strand, in good spirit, generated in part by such a massive turnout. It took fifty minutes for it to pass by from where I stood. There were no incidents along the way, as far as I know, even when we passed the offices of the ’Express’ and Telegraph’.

I reckon 20,000 on the march, so Wapping High Road, outside the plant couldn’t possibly accommodate us all. A stage had been set up in the park opposite one of Fortress Wapping’s gates. The gates themselves were protected by ranks of “newspaper boys” the riot police. Behind their ranks, lorries could be seen, waiting in convoy.

Some comrades and I had passed uniformed and riot-equipped reinforcements further up the road. They formed a human roadblock. Behind them, the mounties. Around the corner, down Wapping Lane, were mounted riot police and further police serials.


A few of us had skirted the main police roadblocks to sus out whether any of the warren of roads in Wapping was free of police blocks. The answer, we found after a long walk, was no. For a year, the police had been strategically placed to ensure passage for Murdoch’s papers. Tonight was no different.

We got back to the main gathering after a lorry had been over­turned and then removed by the coppers. Most of the marchers were behind the rally in the park. There was a small semi­ circle of us facing the riot police. The coppers resembled the Roman formations you learnt about at school, shields interlocking.

A comrade had just finished taking pictures of these serried ranks when snatch squads darted out at the taunting crowd. Thrashing out indiscriminately, the coppers drove up the middle of the right, forcing demonstrators to squash up at the sides. Many were hurt: some were rubbing battered arms; others had blood streaming from head wounds, as they were helped to the back.

Predictably, retaliation was forthcoming. Saplings from the park were torn up, tin cans and anything else to hand rained down on the police shields. Some tried, belatedly, to organise their own weapons to repulse police attacks. Railings were worked loose and used to dig up paving stones. These were smashed and thrown. Terrifying cavalry charges came quickly even while the rally speakers spoke.


It is hard to recall everything. The police lights were glaring. It was confusing and noisy. The crowd reacted jerkily to each police charge as they tried to gain ground. Each time, people were looking, searching for comrades separated by a police attack.

This was no set battle. In a true sense, the march had been ambushed. Some lashed out, taking the opportunity to hit hard. The police responded to the taunts by banging their batons on their shields. Snatch squads charged, intermittently, into the crowd, each time moving the crowds back, gaining space and initiative.

One of the most militant sections was herded into a virtual cul-de-sac, opposite the gates and hemmed in by fences either side. They sent the horses right into us. I’ve no idea of the number injured in the hasty retreat of demonstrators. But hundreds of injuries will have resulted from such police recklessness. At one point a rope was strung across at knee level in an attempt to prevent any more charges. A riot squad went right through it at their next charge.

At no time was there any attempt by the coppers to defuse the situation. O.K., the intimidation was not one-sided. But slogans and insults on one side did not exactly match the weaponry of riot control displayed from the start, with full equipment and training, on the other.

Policing has changed. What happened at Wapping yesterday should not be seen as an exceptional example of state violence. Such a judgement, made in the heat of the moment, is understandable but wrong. Wapping is another instance in a growing list, joining Brixton and Maltby as signposts, landmarks of a system in crisis.