Learning from May Day: Organisational Problems


A look at some of the problems faced and mistakes made in the organisation of the Dublin EU Mayday summit protests in 2004.

1. DGN fucks up with accommodation

A couple of days before May Day the police discovered and shut down the squat that was intended to serve as a convergence/accommodation centre during the protests. Although the 100-150 or so international activists were all found somewhere to sleep, this loss obviously caused difficulties. Without a proper convergence centre in which to debate and discuss issues related to the protests many of the international activists felt excluded and blamed and resented DGN for not providing what they regarded as basic facilities for a protest like May Day. On the other hand, a large number of Irish activists felt they were doing their best in difficult and stressful conditions and that the visitors were treating DGNers as disreputable tour operators rather than comrades. Unsurprisingly, over the week a very discernible them and us attitude developed between some Irish and English anarchists. (It should be noted that the visitors were a very heterogenous group and 'some' means only some).

This led to further difficulties when the Indymedia centre began to serve as the default convergence centre with people hanging around, eating and drinking. This was not what the Community Media Network (CMN) had agreed to when it had made their premises available to Irish Indymedia and it ended up creating tensions and misunderstandings between people from CMN/Indymedia and people from DGN. CMN/Indymedia had no problem with meetings being held in the building but understandably felt that if the place was treated as a social centre it would undermine its role as an alternative media hub. On the other hand, some of the visitors believed that Indymedia, as a constituent part of the anti-capitalist movement, should make the space available to them because DGN hadn't provided any other options. This underlying tension flared up in innumerable little incidents. At one point tempers were so frayed that CMN activists were pushing to have the Indymedia centre shut down early because of the behaviour of some international activists.

The lack of solidarity and the rudeness of small minority of visiting activists was not the real cause of the problems though. The blame rests with us in DGN for not thinking through the consequences of issuing an international call out without having the capacity to provide the basic infrastructure for visiting protestors.

Why did this happen? While many people in DGN have had a lot of experience organising protests and campaigns of various sorts we had not, until May Day, organised anything that included the sort of logistical support that an international call out demands and we underestimated the work that it would involve. The group dealing with accommodation provision was too small and included activists who were already burdened with an extraordinary amount of work. We should have collectively made much more of an effort to support them or made the decision that we were not in the position to provide accommodation much earlier. This highlights one of the observable drawbacks of the working groups model that we used when people are overstretched; difficult and problematic tasks, such as accommodation provision, get doled out as a way of taking them off the agenda rather than really dealing with them collectively.

Wisdom in hindsight is a fairly useless luxury but it is also worth reflecting on how we took an international model and applied it wholesale to a local context without entirely thinking it through and how that ended up colouring the perception of a good number of the visiting activists. As effective network building both between various elements of the Irish anti-capitalist movement and international activists is one of the secondary aims of events like May Day this stands as one of DGN's greatest failings over the weekend.

2. DGN's Legal support

Similarly, DGN's legal and defendant support work was more piecemeal than it should have been. The main reason for this is that once again we left an important job in the hands of too few people and we failed to understand just how much preparation and effort is needed to do such work effectively. Because of this, going into May Day, we didn't have a proper bail fund and ever since May Day a small number of people doing legal support having been trying to play catch up.

In the run up to the protests the legal team distributed thousands of bust cards with a solicitor's phone number and legal briefings to prepare people for the possible consequences of protesting. It appears though that many of the people who were arrested near the Ashtown Gate were new to politics and had never taken part in anything confrontational and did not have this information. This meant many of those arrested were processed without knowing what was likely to happen to them or whether they could expect support. This was further complicated by the fact that the Gardai refused to allow the arrestees to make their phone call until Sunday, which slowed down the response of the legal support group. Nonetheless, they were nearly all contacted one way or another over the weekend. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the media furore about the riot, the vast majority of defendants contacted opted not get involved in a defendant support group or accept any help from DGN. For those who did opt to accept our solidarity money was and is continuing to be raised but there is no May Day defendants group to speak of.

Two of the English anarchists arrested did ask DGN for solidarity but were unhappy with the level of support they received. DGN's lack of organisational coherence is part of this story because, despite some individuals' best efforts on this score, we failed to make defendant support a collective priority. Some of this is a question of experience but for something as important as legal support this is not acceptable and this aspect of the May Day experience begs political as well as organisational questions.

3. DGN's failings as an organisational model

These problems were not just oversights, they are serious political problems. We need to develop sustainable legal support structures within the libertarian movement but there are a number of obstacles to this, not least the organisational form of DGN. One of the fundamental strengths of the DGN network model is that it is easy to get involved, have a say, work on a given issue and then, if you choose, take a break. This is very attractive in certain respects but as the network is primarily a network of individuals, rather than groups, it can lack organisational coherence and consistency. This is compounded by the fact that many of the people in DGN have only been working with each other for a relatively short period and the informal patterns of cooperation and interdependence that might compensate for such organisational weaknesses haven't fully developed yet. This has meant that problems and issues can present themselves at a time when DGN is not meeting very regularly or at all and often nobody takes up the slack. This is in contrast with more established anti-capitalist networks elsewhere, which consist mainly of groups that have had a longer experience of working with each other.

Potentially, this could create other problems: not least unclear decision-making, the development of informal hierarchies, and a lack of accountability. It also seems as if the structure of DGN makes it impossible to plan political activity in a paced and strategic manner. For instance, after May Day many activists felt completely burnt out during a period which saw an anti-immigrant referendum and Bush's visit to Ireland and this definitely hampered the libertarian campaigns in response to these two events. Politically, such an unstable network is also very unlikely to build the sustained links with communities and workplaces that could make anti-capitalism a genuinely subversive force. It is not clear at the time of writing whether DGN has a future or not in its current form but hopefully these very serious failings will be addressed by the anti-authoritarian community in the future.


This article is from Red and Black Revolution 9, published Summer 2005

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