A group of Manchester shop workers were joined by local councillors and business officials in a counter protest against escalating demonstrations at chain stores with links to Israel on Thursday morning.
The workers say they are being intimidated by growing numbers of pro-Palestinian protesters, who have held rallies outside stores such as H&M and Schuh on Market Street, one of the city’s busiest for shoppers.
The protest was organised by the council and the Heart of Manchester Business Improvement District, a group of city centre retailers. Councillors said that staff are being “bullied and intimidated” by protesters banging on shop windows and shouting abuse.
Pat Karney, a Labour councillor, said: “They come down here on Saturdays, bang on the windows, frighten the workers and the shoppers and claim that the workers in there are part of some Zionist plot in Israel. It is complete utter fantasy delusional politics.
“It is extremists who are preaching revolution here on Market Street. Well they need to read Karl Marx. He said mobilise the workers not attack the workers.”
Demonstrations have been held in Piccadilly Gardens in the city for the last three weekends, but breakaway groups of hundreds of people have taken their action into Manchester’s busy shopping streets. Kedem, a beauty shop on nearby King Street which sells products made in Israel has been targeted, and Karney claims H&M has been the site of protest because it has a clothing store in Tel Aviv.
“I have enormous sympathy with the law-abiding people who are protesting in Piccadilly Gardens like they’re doing up and down the country and across the world about events in the Middle East. They are very concerned about the death and destruction that’s going on,” Karney said.
“That does not mean they have a licence to intimidate these young shop workers in Manchester. You cannot take it out on them. Write to H&M, seek meetings with them, but stop attacking young shop workers.”
Helen Playfair, aged 21, a Schuh worker, was one of around ten staff members who took part in the protest on Thursday morning, holding signs that read “Stand up for shop workers”.
“Over the past few weeks we’ve had a few people come with flags and megaphones shouting,” she said.
“The numbers of people that are coming have grown and it is really intimidating. Especially when we’re all young people that work here.”
Councillors are now working to with police to try to contain the protests in Piccadilly Gardens.
Labour’s Kevin Peel, a city centre councillor, said: “No-one would be able to say that Manchester does not have a proud tradition of supporting people to protest. But that should be done peacefully and respectfully. It should be with Manchester people, not against them.