Wobblies Action Report: Bristol Arms Fair Blockade

An arms fair in Bristol

Several IWW members turned out to protest the “Future Indirect Fires Conference” , an arms fair held at Ashton Gate Stadium in south Bristol on 5th and 6th March.

Business is booming for the UK government and corporations as they sell arms around the world. Making bank on genocide in Gaza, airstrikes on Yemen, and bombing campaigns in Kurdistan. Sales all done in the name of UK citizens. The arms fair at Ashton Gate is one method for these companies and individuals to make even more money.

Existing levels of organisation

Protests started at 8am on 5th March. We blocked two entrances to the stadium with our bodies and banners, one was the entrance to the main car park for the stadium, the other seemed to be more for deliveries. Delivery vans could not enter the stadium and arms dealers were forced to park at the car park across the road. Some dealers could only get through the picket with a police escort as people blocked their path. The first day peaked at around 100 protestors, numbers dwindled after 2pm and not many were present when the conference ended at 4pm. A minority of the protesters were people living close to the stadium and several groups traveled from outside of Bristol, mainly Wales and other south west counties. Police were constant and visible but hands off. A small group of cops huddled among the protesters at both entrances, sometimes providing escorts, but there were around 4-6 vans and 4 cars parked close by. Private security guards were also present.

The second day was smaller, peaking at around 20 protestors. An action in the morning created disruption when one person entered the conference and set off several person alarms. It seems some organisations only called a demo for the first day, but not the second. Speakers at the first day did inform people that the conference would continue tomorrow but this meant many people had less than a days notice. The picket on the second day was less effective and only the main entrance was picketed due to numbers after 11am. Protestors again made their voices heard with chants and by engaging passers by. Policing was minimal with around one van and no cops on foot. Four private security guards were present.

Free Palestine

On both days people focused on Palestine, with chants of “Free Palestine” and “From the river to the sea Palestine will be free”. At least one speaker emphasised that the arms fair was not just profiteering off Palestinian blood but also from many others including Yemeni, Sudanese and Brazilian people. However, the dominant message of the protest was to denounce the selling of arms to Israel, demand a ceasefire, and declaring Gaza as a genocide. This meant we did not have much discussion or messaging about the role of the arms trade in ongoing wars and genocides elsewhere around the world, the UK’s involvement, and how these acts are connected.

Reactions from workers

The arms fair was a business to business sales event, attended by execs, CEOs, people in the military and government officials. Military and government attendees got free entry, “industry” attendees paid for the privilege with £1400. We engaged with workers as protesters, security guards, and delivery drivers. As far as we could tell all delivery drivers were unaware of the demo before they arrived, one driver refused to cross the picket line but others had smaller deliveries they could deliver by hand, and made their deliveries. Most of the security guards were not employed full time by Ashton Gate, instead seeming to be agency workers, and all justified their presence by claiming they were “impartial”, “didn’t get involved” or just doing their job. Some security guards were less diplomatic. One attendee stopped her car directly in front of the protesters, rolled down her window and the security guard advised her plainly: “Just drive into them”.

Reactions from local kids

A school was very close to the demo so a lot of young people came past. We had good engagement with them on the first day with people talking to them and explaining an arms fair was happening inside and asking them what they knew about Gaza or Palestine. Some skipped school to stay longer, risking detention and/or  getting grounded by their parents.

Next steps

Spread the word. We need more promotion of the demonstration before and during it, specifically letting local residents know about the arms fair, connecting with football fans, and promoting the second day. The conference was announced to be at Ashton Gate as early as September 2023. Organising by Bristol FC fans and of residents near Ashton Gate appeared to be minimal given the low presence of both groups, although those who did attend were often the most visible and militant protesters, leading chants and showing their rage and disgust in their interviews with the press.

More welfare. Having better welfare would have helped with energy. We were very close to shops so all we needed was a table and people could’ve made runs to the shops to keep people fed and watered and mean people don’t have to leave the picket to rest or get supplies. There was a refreshments station on the first day but this was only at one entrance and wasn’t there all day.

Diversity of tactics. Having more of a mix of chanting, speeches, and other activities that people can get involved in would’ve helped people bring more of their selves to the action. Much of both days centred around chanting and confronting people trying to cross the picket line. Chanting can make tire people as they get dehydrated and hoarse, and confrontation is not for everyone. Having a variety of roles for people to get involved in, such as welfare, police liaison, leafleting, and speeches would allow people to find the role that fits their skills and passions as well as allowing people to try different things as their conditions change through the day.

Find out more

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade also released a statement about the day and is an excellent resource to find out more about the UK arms trade https://caat.org.uk/news/