TThey were a diverse group – truckers, farmers, business people, caretakers, bikers, teenagers and retirees. Even a group of doormen from a West Country market town. Some of the fuel protests were cleverly organized; others were frankly a bit messy.
But they had the desired effect of causing congestion, grabbing headlines and provoking the British government.
Protesters are already planning their next move, with the bank holiday weekend at the end of August being earmarked as a possible date for a slow protest and many talking of bringing London to a standstill.
Mikey Dave, one of the door wardens who efficiently organized a convoy to travel from the Somerset town of Bridgewater to Bristol via the M5, M4 and M32, said up to 80 vehicles were involved in their protest.
“That was just the warning of what was to come, just the beginning,” Dave said. “It’s about sending the message to the government that it needs to act. People have to choose whether to fill up their car and drive to work, feed their family or heat their house, that’s not right.”
Monday’s action was organized across the country via social media under the Fuel Price Stand Against Tax banner, a Facebook group with more than 50,000 members. A number of local groups such as Dave’s – Stand Up to the Fuel Prices Southwest – were formed after being inspired by the main group.
The Bridgwater-based group held two meetings with Avon and Somerset Police to find ways to ensure the protest went smoothly and safely – which it did. Dave said door attendants struggled to pay for the one-way commute to work, and he also knew many cab drivers who were thinking of giving up. “But it affects everyone,” he said. “There was a lot of support. Not everyone can afford to burn fuel to protest that we could sacrifice a little for the greater good.”
Dave said he had never organized anything like this before – and many of the participants had never protested before. He was moved by a woman who joined the march because the cost of gas meant she could not afford to visit her relatives on her pension. “She felt isolated.”
Although much smaller and less organised, a protest on the M4 was one of the most high profile for blocking the Prince of Wales motorway bridge between England and South Wales. Twelve people were arrested for breaking a legal notice that said they were not allowed to drive below 30mph.
Among those arrested and released was Sharon Downes, a 46-year-old saddler from Pontypridd. “It was shocking to be arrested,” she said. “I’ve never been in trouble.”
She acknowledged that the protest had been poorly managed. “The organizer didn’t show up. Nobody had any idea where we were going. We ended up in Chippenham. This government doesn’t want people to protest. They make too much money and live in their big houses in London.”
Vicky Stamper, from South Wales, who said she lost her job as a lorry driver because her company could no longer afford to fill up their lorries, said police initially mistook her for an organiser. “I couldn’t organize a piss-up in a brewery and I told them that. I saw a flyer on Facebook about a week ago and decided to get involved.” She had to pay £150 to get her car back from the pound office after it was impounded. “I’m not happy about that.”
Chris Taylor, an attendant, was a passenger on one of the Prince of Wales bridge carriages. “Everyone is in the same boat, everyone is fighting. We have to use the car for hospital trips and are struggling to pay for fuel.” Taylor was stuck at a motorway service station for six hours after his driver was arrested. “But I would do it again.”
Some protests didn’t really get off the ground. William Wilson, a landscaper, had planned to block the M6 in the Midlands. “I had planned to chain myself to a truck. But someone else took over the protest and nothing happened. I will not give up. The gas price is ruining my business; This government kills the little people. Next time I’ll do it myself and bring the freeway to a standstill at rush hour. For the government to listen, you have to make a statement.”
Back in Bridgewater, Dave said he estimated as many as 5,000 people attended Monday’s protests across the UK and administrators from the various groups had begun planning their next steps. “Until the planning is complete, I don’t want to reveal too much.”
He was unimpressed by Home Secretary Priti Patel and said she was keen for police to arrest protesters under their tough new protest law.
“Honestly, does she plan to arrest thousands and clog up the court system even more because people aren’t happy with the government? There is a lack of staff for this.
“There is no way she will be able to silence people in the UK who want to stand up for their rights. If people get arrested, I think the situation will turn sour and a lot more people will be involved. There is already talk of a nationwide strike. I think she needs to think very carefully before making such threats before it comes back to bite her ass.