Occupy Cardiff: the story so far

Posted on December 14, 2011

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Two camps, two evictions, six arrests and two court appearances. Compared to other Occupy movements, Occupy Cardiff’s journey has been full of false starts.

Since Autumn 2011 the Occupy movement has sparked protest camps around the world. Coming in relatively late, Cardiff has had its own camp since Saturday 19 November.

The first attempt to Occupy Cardiff was on Friday 11 November 2011, outside Cardiff Castle. Police removed it within hours and six people were arrested.

“Our issue was not with those who wanted to protest their causes peacefully, our priority is safety of all our citizens and the protection of the city’s heritage,” said a spokesperson for the Council, who own the land.

Jason is one of the people who were arrested. He will be tried in February 2012:

A camp was set up successfully at Transport House, Cathedral Road on Saturday 19 November.

Seeking Sanctuary

Transport House is home to the Welsh branch of Unite as well as other trade unions and Welsh Labour. Occupiers knew Unite were likely to let them use the land as a sanctuary base from which to build.

Occupy Cardiff Camp

The camp at Transport House

Lloyd James, 20, is part of a small group of ‘full-timers’ at the camp. “We’re one of the first Occupys to link with the trade union movement,” he said.

“They supply us with tea and coffee and we’re allowed to use the toilets and shower facilities.”

Unite released a statement saying the occupiers had their permission to stay “following days of harassment by the police for simply engaging in a peaceful protest”. They hoped the occupiers would repay the favour by joining them on the rally on the Wednesday 30 November strike day, which they did.

But camping in your friend’s garden can bring problems as well as perks. A few people have said they have been put off by the union link, for practical and political reasons.

A small amount of ‘full-timers’ campers has meant these people are stretched too thinly. Despite the popular ‘get a job’ criticism aimed at protesters, one the main issues is that many people involved have jobs or are in full time education.

The Great Tax Invasion

In the week leading up to Saturday 26 November a group of people began squatting the old Inland Revenue Building on Westgate Street. They called the building Occupy Cardiff: The Great Tax Invasion.

Gail, 40, was one of the occupiers. “There are all these empty buildings when there are cuts going on for different community groups and youth projects. They’re not going to have anywhere to go.”

Lloyd explained the relationship between the camp and the building: “There were a few people who weren’t very comfortable camping so they came up with an idea to occupy a building, much like the people in London have done with the UBS bank.”

Banner drop

The Great Tax Invasion announce their arrival

The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) owns the building and sought legal action. The group were given notice for a hearing of claim for possession and representatives appeared at the Cardiff Courts of Civil Justice on Friday 2 December, where a warrant was issued to mobilise bailiffs. The eviction happened within an hour, unusually fast.

Nobody from the WRU has been available to comment on the future of the building. Gerry Toms, Millennium Stadium general manager said, “The next step is to take a close look around the building to see what has happened then we will decide what action to take.”

“We actually cleaned the place up quite a lot in the time we were in there because it was absolutely disgusting,” said Gail

“I was going to make it my home as well as I can’t afford to heat my home any more.”

Despite the obvious attraction to a building over a tent in winter, Lloyd said he thought it was important the group kept a visible presence. “A building is kind of closed off; people aren’t very comfortable approaching a door where they don’t know what’s behind it,” he said.

But what are they actually trying to achieve?

The Occupy movement has been criticised for having no clear goals but, apart from the fact that many camps have released statements of goals, there is more to it. They bring people together and it’s a place for people to discuss what they want and how to achieve it. Goals come out of these discussions. Cardiff’s initial statement is on their blog.

Everyone has their own motivations for being involved with Occupy Cardiff:

Lloyd is unsure on what will happen in the coming weeks. “That will be decided obviously in a general assembly. But Christmas is coming up and people are going to be going home.

Sign at camp

Passers by have been giving support and crticism

“What I would like to see happen is maybe have a break for Christmas, build up our numbers and maybe come back with a bit of force to occupy somewhere else.”

He had this message for Occupy Cardiff critics: “Come along, have a discussion with us, talk to us, find out what were’ about.”

Something that is easy to forget is that the Occupy movement goes beyond camps to include a broad base of support, debate and criticism. Occupy Cardiff is also part of a Welsh movement, including Bangor and Swansea.

A group of tents or an occupied building is not going to eliminate social inequality but it is a forum to share ideas and build for the future from the grassroots.

For a more visual account of the Occupy Cardiff story see this Storify post.

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