Saturday, July 06, 2024

The Oxford Street 48: arrests on peace march (1982)

 On Sunday June 6th 1982, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament held a huge demonstration to coincide with a visit by US President Ronald Reagan.  Up tp 250,000 people marched to London's Hyde Park, where the speakers included Labour MP Tony Benn and miners' leader Arthur Scargill. The recent Falklands war had shown up the weakness of the peace movement, which had failed to significantly mobilise against the war. This account of the demonstration was written in a text '1980 to 1984: anarchy on the CND demo':

"At Hyde Park it was the same as usual and anarchists who tried to heckle the speakers were kept miles away from the front of the stage by police. Some of us gathered behind the official platform setting up our free platform with a megaphone to discuss the Reagan visit, the Falklands war and any issue the people wished to raise. Many took advantage of this situation to air their views, as the official platfor was only open to invited speakers, not to anyone who might have something creative or new to suggest. A proposal was made that we move out of Hyde Park where we were wasting our time and take the issues to the London crowds in Oxford Street. This idea was greeted with enthusiasm. About 300 people gathered at the Speakers Corner end of Hyde Park and by now many of us were in defiant mood. Some began breaking across the road over to Oxford Street, there were no stewards this time. There was a lot of confusion with people trying to keep the group together and deciding what to do next. The group pushed on loudly down Oxford Street with more following behind. Fump! Hooray! Everyone cheered as someone let off fireworks and the traffic was blocked. It was some time before the vans started to arrive on the scene. As the police vans slowly pulled up in force those in the front decided to head down a side street to the american embassy it was too late, the police jumped from the vans and charged into the march. About 20 marchers made it into the side street and were able to escape including one who received a nasty gash on the forehead form a truncheon. However 48 were arrested".

An Oxford Street 48 Defence Campaign was set up to support those arrested, and Scottish punk band Political Asylum recorded a track 'Oxford Street 48':

The events were reported in 'Freedom' as 'Anarchists Attacked':

'Around 300 anarchists with a  number of flags and banners marched out of Hyde Park. At first the police didn't seem to be interested. One senior officer was heard to assure a constable that 'its alright, they're only going home'. However, when he realised just what was happening his cool tone changed to panic with a shout of 'NO they're not!' and a grab for his radio. 

As we moved into Oxford St with shouts of 'Free all Prisoners', 'Smash the Nuclear State' and 'Free Simon Los' (imprisoned for 3yrs for distributing a leaflet in Nottingham) we soon acquired an SPG van as escort. As we drew level with the turning that leads to the American Embassy in Grosvenor Sq, the police attacked Without warning this entirely legal and, though loud, peaceful march was assaulted by van loads of police. The police used were from the SPG and the newly formed, SPG style, quick-response riot units. They jumped out of their vans and waded into the march.

Several anarchists were knocked to the ground in the melee. 48 anarchists were arrested. During the arrests they were beaten up. Several others  were rescued by comrades who resisted the assault. In one case it has been reported that two comrades were actually pulled back out of one of the vans. One escaped, the other was recaptured. The arrested have now been released and face a range of charges from insulting behaviour to assault. 

Not content with just breaking up the march, the police vans then patrolled the side streets stopping anyone who looked as if they had been on the march. This was particularly unfortunate for the punk comrades with their easily recognisable form of dress. Several more conventionally dressed comrades managed to evade these patrols. There were also reports of police at nearby Underground Stations checking for possible marchers'. 

(Freedom, 12 June 1982 - the address for the campaign at 84b Whitechapel High St was/is the Freedom bookshop)

'48 people were arrested when police attacked a march of 500 walking peacefully up Oxford Street on Sunday 6th June after the CND rally. Most are denying the charges, some of which are serious'.

(leaflet reproduced in Toxic Graffiti zine at the time)

(Militant, 11 June 1982)

(Socialist Worker, 12 June 1982)

See also:

Glastonbury CND Festival 1982

Reagan visits London 1984

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