An article from Do or Die Issue 5. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 7-10.
Pollok Free State still stands despite two massive attempts by Wimpey Construction and the police to evict the camp. The last attack saw 16 arrests, major scuffles with the police and the use of cherrypickers for the first time in this campaign. Despite the attack, and the connected roadblock and school lock-in to prevent the local kids becoming involved, only 12 trees around the periphery of the camp were felled. One Scots Pine was saved by a camper clinging to its bough for some 14 hours, despite several attempts by security to yank him from his perch. The camp remains strongly defiant surrounded by fences, security and police - the fight continues.
The campaign against the M77 has raged for the past 30 years. The route of the motorway passes through an area of land known as Pollok Estate, an area of protected land bequeathed to the people of Glasgow by Sir John Stirling Maxwell and forming the first piece of land given to the National Trust for Scotland. The land was sold after Maxwell's death to Strathclyde Regional Council, who planned to slice a motorway right through its very heart, destroying ancient woodland, protected habitats, and funnelling 53,000 cars per hour past deprived communities. It was envisaged that such a route would bring prosperity to the seaside town of Ayr, lying to the south of Glasgow - but in reality it will only serve as a commuter corridor, taking all of seven minutes off a journey into the city centre. No Environmental Impact Assessment has ever been carried out. The M77 is in breach of European law, and just as this fight really begins, Strathclyde, in its dying moments as a council, has pledged its support behind yet another new urban motorway, the M74, needed to deal with the excess traffic generated by the M77. We are ready and waiting. The M77 will prove a crucial battleground.
The communities of Pollok and Corkerhill lie next to the proposed M77 scheme, and their communities have opposed the road for decades. Corkerhill has the lowest percentage of car owners in Europe and 1 in 5 children there already has asthma. Glasgow has a long history of community resistance, from the Red Clydesiders onwards, and Pollok formed one of the centres of the anti-poll tax movement in Britain - the M77 protest will add to the long list of civil unrest seen in this area.
Work commenced two years ago and some two miles of roadbed was laid. A series of crane and tree sits were organised and towards the end of 1993 Pollok Free State was founded. The motorway project was hit with money hassles and temporarily abandoned just as two cranes spontaneously combusted.
In 1994 the battle again came to Pollok. Glasgow EF! formed in April and began to campaign with a vengeance, occupying Strathclyde Regional Council's buildings in opposition to the road. Throughout the year the campaign grew with raves, gigs and spontaneous actions. Occasionally the social events were marred with violence that removed the media's attention away from the road. The camp became an alcohol and drug free zone to attempt to counter violence and fights breaking out between drunks using the camp to doss, or the social events being used to settle old gang scores.
The protest over the summer of '94 grew, with more and more local people becoming involved. The first march from Glasgow city centre, seven miles to Pollok, attracted hundreds. It felt like the war was won. A Glasgow paper conducted a survey that found 68% of Glaswegians supported the campaign, and Charlie Gordan, leader of roads in Strathclyde, conceded that we had won the propaganda war, as the M77 became the issue in Scotland.
The contract was awarded last October to Wimpey Construction, an outsider whose bid was eight million lower than the other bidders, hinting that Wimpey might aim to use the remaining trust land and the M77 to build an infrastructure for a series of MFl-villes and Wimpey villages. On February 1st 1995, three weeks after they were due to start, Wimpey moved in to fell trees. Immediately protesters began sabotaging their work, chaining themselves to saws, trees and workers, with several chainsaws being mysteriously mislaid by the workers. Previously many trees had been spiked but to only limited success, as the cutters would fell the tree under the line of spikes, and the low-paid cutters seemed oblivious to the dangers spikes would pose. But the spikes have stopped the contractors selling the wood on and making revenue from the valuable timber a 100 foot, 300 year old oak would have given them.
Throughout February, Wimpey played a game of cat and mouse, driving huge distances to cut down a few trees whilst pursued by the protesters. Often the police would act as decoys, getting between protesters' vehicles and allowing cutters to get away. Good communication links were desperately needed, although often our CB messages would be suspiciously jammed, and important phone contact would break down at crucial moments.
Two more camps were set up at Patterton and Corkerhill. At Patterton a former MoD building was squatted and turned into a vegan cafe. Allan Stewart, Scottish minister for Trade and Industry, visited this camp one Sunday and threatened folk around him with a pickaxe whilst two teenage boys accompanying him carried air pistols, neither of course were charged. Although the surrounding media furore led to Stewart's resignation from his ministerial position and it gave us a great deal of local support, if anything, though the scandal detracted from the real issues about class, status and ecology that mark the campaign, but the resignation of a Tory Minister added a great boost to a growing campaign. Whilst enjoying much lobbying support from the local community, until this point the Free Staters were often seen, thanks greatly to the right wing Scottish media, as a bunch of outsiders - anarchistic English sent up to cause trouble.
What happened on Valentine's Day coupled with the involvement of the local Militant group to a great extent changed perceptions and began to increasingly radicalise the nearby communities against the road. At 6 am on Valentine's Day 300 police and security surrounded the camp, placing roadblocks on the surrounding road and cordoning off the area to allow tree cutting at the actual camp. Seven people were resident in the camp that morning and were effectively cut off from the outside world. The network of phone contacts suddenly went dead and plain-clothed officers watched a number of activists' homes.
Word spread about the events at the camp, and the police who were using a local school's playground as a base alerted many of the pupils to the camp's plight. 100 kids walked out of classes, charging down the roadbed, breaking through police lines and saving the bulk of the camp. 26 security resigned that day refusing to be class traitors anymore. One security guard said: "I have a wife and four kids to feed but I'd rather go back on the dole than this." Militant were central in convincing many of the security to quit, knowing many of them from the local area. Wanted posters were to be made up of certain security men's faces who were known to live in the area and were in effect shitting on their own. The security that did not resign have begun to mask up, either because they will be recognised by the brew or their own communities, or to not risk charges when assaulting protesters.
The pupils began to organise their own union, and three schools started to take part in the protests. Bellamine pupils demanded two hours off lessons per day to protest, and when their demands were not met, began to strike. So successful were the children's campaigns that the local media began to taint Free Staters and Militant as manipulating the kids into unrest. In an area with a high degree of truancy, the pupils need no encouragement, and became a valuable asset to the campaign as they organised direct actions between themselves.
Two days after Valentine's, 'To Pollok With Love' (a convoy of activists from England and Wales who drove up in cars which were used to build a ‘Carhenge'), arrived and provided a welcome relief. We finally completed the Carhenge, and despite some whinging about the environmental impact of burning the henge by Greenpeace, all the cars were torched, on the rainswept motorway bed. Spontaneous actions marked the weekend, and two English folk were unlawfully arrested and held by the police all weekend.
Patterton was finally trashed after four attempts, and after one 18 year old lass had spent a week up a tree, with Wimpey men setting fire to tyres below her to try and smoke her out. Corkerhill fell to a dawn raid, as security dragged folk from a caravan before fencing off the area and clearcutting, supported by over 300 police. During this raid many protesters were beaten by security and many valuable items were stolen from the camp.
Sheep in Wolves' Clothing
The chairman of National Trust for Scotland is also acting chairman of Shanks & McEwan PLC, Glasgow. S&M (!) is owner of Rechem and also wants to build a HUGE landfill + toxic waste site on the outskirts of Glasgow, which the new motorway through Pollok Estate conveniently leads to. Now we can see why NT Scotland didn't object to the motorway. One of the other S&M directors is also a director of NT Scotland (listing hunting and shooting as hobbies.)
As time progresses into this campaign more and more of our experienced activists are being bailed or jailed. The bail conditions combine the criminal element not to re-offend, with conditions paramount to a civil injunction disallowing approach, or interference with work at the M77 site. Whilst elements of the CJA are law in Scotland, relating to aggravated trespass, protesters in Pollok have had the cover-all Breach of the Peace related to all our actions, from overturning wheelbarrows to shouting "shame" at contractors. Compulsory strip-searches, and being held overnight or all weekend is becoming familiar. A rally against the CJA marched from the city centre to Pollok, and there 400 people overcame the fence into the compound and clambered over the machinery, the police were forced to watch. No arrests were made on that day, but as we lose more and more of our activists to bail conditions, the nature of direct action will change and become more covert. Attention has switched from the construction site to Wimpey Homes, a subsidiary of the same company, and where their minimal profit margins are made. Show homes make an easy target for occupations and a series of homes have spontaneously combusted recently.
The No M77 campaign has brought about the long spoken about alliance between Green and Red and made it a reality. Many environmentalists began to see the campaign beyond wholly moral terms and saw the class and social implications of this fight. Militant defending trees would have been unthinkable a few months ago but it's happening, as direct action is being seized by the community as a tool of empowerment. With our desperately short numbers, we are forced in to situations of consolidation and defence. However expect a return to the offensive - The struggle carries on...
- Anon, Glasgow Earth First!
For more information read DoD 3 (Oct '93), 'Land & Liberty' article. The author said of the Pollok campaign that, "There's going to be an outrage and we're going to start it!" Prophetic words indeed.
ATTENTION READERS FROM OUTSIDE THE UK
Pollok needs international solidarity from the radical ecology movement. Below are listed companies owned by Wimpey PLC, destroyers of Pollok Estate. Please take action against these companies - it really makes a difference. Drop a line to Glasgow EF! about any action you take. France - Wimpey Commercialisation SNC, Spain - George Wimpey Iberia, Eire - Wimpey Minerals, Portugal - Wimpey Portugal Ltd, Czech Rep - Wimpey Severokamen AS, Norway - Wimpol Norge, Netherlands - Wimpey Property Holdings, USA - Wimpey Property Holdings, USA - Wimpey Commercial Inc., Canada - George Wimpey Canada Ltd.