Why UK Uncut can and should denounce the violence

UK Uncut must condemn the violence on Saturday 26 March. The network has formed around common views - such as an opposition to tax avoidance. Why can't one of these views be a condemnation of violence? If not, UK Uncut will dwindle into marginality.
Stuart White
1 April 2011

There's been a lot of blogospheric ink spilled of late about UK Uncut. 

One criticism concerns UK Uncut's decision not to condemn violent direct action - its position being, as I understand it: 'We do peaceful protest, but we do not condemn what others do.' 

As Ed Miliband said in his speech on Saturday, the arc of the moral universe tends towards justice, but only if some people struggle and strain to pull it that way. The peaceful UK Uncut protestors in Fortnum and Mason's last Saturday were doing just that. Their non-violent and mildly civil disobedient protest is firmly in the tradition of the American civil rights movement to which Ed Miliband appealed. 

It is precisely because I support UK Uncut and want it to grow that I am concerned by the decision not to condemn violent direct action.
On OurKingdom, Niki Seth-Smith argues that any criticism on this basis is misplaced. UK Uncut can't condemn violence because it is a network of individuals with different points of view and no leaders who can speak for UK Uncut as a group. 

But even as a network, UK Uncut obviously has to have some basis of common belief in order to be a distinctive campaigning entity at all. Being a network is consistent, for example, with UK Uncut taking the common view that tax avoidance is a bad thing. 

When a network of this kind forms, it has to form around something. The network is founded in an invitation: 'Join us in this space if you also believe X, Y and Z'. Logically, there is absolutely no reason why one of the defining articles of association in such a network can't include an unequivocal condemnation of violent direct action (as Oliver Huitson points out in the comments thread to Niki Seth-Smith's article). Invitations also have to be issued by someone. And this implies an element of leadership. 

In essence, what some of us would like is for the implicit leadership of UK Uncut now to clarify or revise the invitation by saying: 'UK Uncut condemns violent direct action'. 

Perhaps this misses the point? It's just too late. The invitation went out a few months ago, and no one said then that the network would be defined, in part, as an association which condemns violent direct action. People have joined on this basis, and it would not be fair or appropriate to put some people in a position where they have to leave because they cannot agree with a condemnation of violent direct action. It would be exclusionary. 

But there is also a risk of exclusion by not condemning violent direct action. To enter into the sort of mildly civil disobedient spaces that UK Uncut creates, many people need some reassurance that things won't get too out of hand. Obviously this depends in part on what others - notably, the police - do, and the Met's duplicitous and intimidatory behaviour on Saturday was disgraceful. 

However, reassurance also depends, for many people, on having a high degree of trust and confidence that one's fellow participants in a UK Uncut protest share a commitment to non-violence. Situations of 'fluidity' between UK Uncut protestors and those up for some property damage undermine this trust and confidence. 

Surely the easiest way for UK Uncut now to give reassurance is to condemn violent direct action? If UK Uncut does not, then I worry that many people for whom non-violence is non-negotiable will drift away. 

Or else, they will never take the empowering step through the shop doorway in the first place. 

And what might have been a mighty movement, drawing from a wide section of the population, will gradually dwindle into marginality.

This piece was originally published on Next Left.

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