Wednesday, 31 March 2010

We need genuine community organisation, not political astroturfing

Over at Left Foot Forward, Will Straw says that "British political parties are finally waking up to the importance of community organisation," and the Tories "should be praised for their announcement today of 5,000 new community organisers, which suggests a consensus is emerging." The Tory announcement comes a week after a similar one by Labour. But neither represents a viable way to tackle genuine issues.

The major problem is that the form of organisation being trumpeted is top-down and managed from without. Essentially, it allows for "professional" organisers to be parachuted to take control of a community in the name of one or other party.

Both David Cameron and Liam Byrne, on behalf of their respective parties, are suggesting full-time organisers. These people will be trained and paid by the party which, as their employer, will have their loyalty. This may be fine as long as the needs of the people coincide with the agenda of the party. But when it doesn't people can expect either abandonment or betrayal.

In place of organisation controlled by apparatchiks (however noble their intentions may be) for party political purposes, the working class need to be organising themselves.This needs to be done within local communities by ordinary people, independent of an electoral system which works for the ruling class. Though they eventually succumbed to the fallacy of becoming a "workers' party" in 2001, the Independent working Class Association (IWCA) had some considerable success in this regard;
Once it became clear that New Labour intended to formally abandon a commitment to social equality and justice, and in anticipation of the anti-working class nature of any future New Labour administration, a variety of groups came together to discuss how the economic, social and political interests of the working class could be best protected.

The Independent Working Class Association (IWCA) was formed in October 1995 as a result of these discussions.

When New Labour was elected in May 1997, the IWCA responded by setting up a number of pilot schemes in selected places across the country. The emphasis at all times was on addressing the immediate interests of the working class in the locality in which the pilot scheme was based.

It was an approach that provided the IWCA with the opportunity to test its basic strategy on a range of issues. These included fighting council corruption in Hertfordshire, confronting a mugging epidemic in Birmingham, the privatisation of council housing in Islington, exposing the small print in the New Deal provisions in Hackney, highlighting the dangers of mobile phone masts in Manchester, sparking occupations against council closures in Glasgow, taking up the fight against antisocial crime in Havering, and confronting drug-dealing in Oxford.
Workers need to learn from and build upon this example within their own communities. If there is an issue that needs to be tackled, we need to recognise that appeals to authority solve very little, and even that after considerable wrangling with bureaucracy and red tape. By organising ourselves, we can effectively resist state and capitalist imposition upon our lives.

The idea is not without precedent.

In 1911, Liverpool ground to a standstill as all transport workers went on strike. Faced with wage reductions and price increases, 70,000 people took part in the greatest industrial action the city has ever seen. Despite violence and repression by police, three months of action saw enormous victories for workers on hours, pay, and conditions.

In the 1980s, the people of Britain stood together against Margaret Thatcher’s Poll Tax. It was not votes or petitions that brought down this unjust tax, but a mass campaign of non-payment, backed by a general strike in the public sector. Liverpool was a leader in this fight, with literally thousands of people playing their part in making the Poll Tax uncollectable.

In April 2009, parents occupied Lewisham Bridge primary school to protest the local council’s closure plans. Despite court injunctions and eviction attempts, they held out until August. As a result, the council reversed its decision and announced that the school would stay open.

People will soon be receiving their polling cards. I received mine today, with a notice that "a General election will be held before 3rd June, and could be held on 6th May along with the Local Elections." Faced with this fact, our message should be a reminder to people that ordinary people have won great victories by organising themselves for direct action. Every great leap forward, from the end of child labour to the equal status of women, has been won without recourse to the vote.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The anti-worker colours of the EDL

From Barry Kade's blog, an aptly-timed article about the anti-worker sentiments of the English Defence League (EDL) and why fascism is nothing less than a weapon against the working class.

Remember how the EDL pretend they are not a far right quasi-fascist organisation? How they say they are focused only on ‘militant Islam’ and are not against all Muslims, or racist against all Asian people? Well, we have already proved that the EDL are racist (see post below), and their are plenty of photo’s of neo-nazis attending their rallies.

Now, however they have blown their cover, and have revealed their hatred of Britain’s trades unions and working class movements. This has been made apparent in a shocking anti-trades union ‘red-baiting’ frenzy that has appeared on the front page of their website. This shows the real agenda of the EDL and their millionaire puppeteers – to drive working class organisations out of British political life.

This is their latest public statement from their front page:
“unions have become more powerful, more influential and more militant in the political sphere, this is where vested interests infringe upon a democratic political platform, so much so that democracy seems to be ebbing away right before our eyes and its replacement………COMMUNISM!!!!

Great Britain doesn’t do Communism, it never has, yet Communists are afforded more influence and more power as the Labour party look to fund its upcoming election campaign. This is a sad reflection of the corrupt political climate we live in here in the UK.

It is no secret that the Labour party is affiliated to Unite, recently the Labour party have been exposed for taking monies from this militant Union. Since Gordon Brown became the Labour party’s leader and current prime minister he has taken a staggering 11 million pounds from Unites militant coffers, people such as Charlie Whelan and Tony Woodley are now allowed to roam the corridors of power in the houses of parliament because they have been given parliamentary passes! No guessing as to the reasons why they have such privileged access to the corridors of power! Is it any wonder that half of the Labour cabinet are bankrolled by Unite? You can see a more in-depth article from The Sun here….”

EDL website, frontpage, 29 / 3/ 10
So its clear – the EDL are lying when they say they are for the English people! They are not for us, the English working classes – only right wing anti-trades union racists! They hate the millions of us ordinary working people who join unions. The EDL publish this disgusting right wing attack at a time when the multinational corporate BA is trying to smash the Unite union amongst its low paid workers. The agenda of this article is clear – to deprive the working class of any organised political voice inside parliament. Instead, they champion the corporate voice of the right wing tabloid ‘the sun’ owned by a billionaire, Rupert Murdoch (who of course, is not English, but who chose US citizenship). The EDL are bosses tools.

Divide and Rule

Soon we will all have to fight the massive wave of job cuts, as Labour / Tories /Lib Dems all prepare to implement the big business and billionaires agenda. They want to make the working people pay for the crisis of capitalism. This is the final battle for Britain’s welfare state, a battle between rich and poor, between the working people and the global banking and financial elites. The EDL are a weapon that is being made to be used against the workers movement. This attack on our schools, hospitals and other public services will be to pay for the crisis caused by the greedy ultra-rich banking elite. Such moves will represent an enormous transfer of wealth away from the working people in the interests of this global elite, with our rights to decent pensions, jobs and services all axed. Future generations will suffer. And in order to do this, the capitalists will need to divide the working class.

Thats why the EDL, the bosses new tool, in collaboration with the media that the bosses also own, are whipping up their stupid phony ‘islamophobic panic’. They make the bizarre and exaggerated claim that the tiny British Muslim ethnic minority, who make up just 2.7% of our population, are about to take over Britain and impose Sharia law! The EDL’s master plan is to set worker against worker, first dividing us on religious lines. Anti-Muslim hatred is the thin end of the wedge, the easiest prejudice to whip up because of the climate of fear already generated by Blair and Browns bloody and criminal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. From this start, the EDL’s secret bosses hope the poison of division will spread, tearing the working class apart and leaving it defenceless in the face of the growing offensive by big businesses and global finance …

The EDL are bankrolled by millionaire buisinessman Alan Lake to do this dirty job. Lake talks of dominating the streets, and has said: “Football fans are a potential source of support. They are a hoi polloi that gets off their backsides and travels to a city and they are available before and after matches.” These are the puppets he intends to use to promote the right wing agenda of big business against the trades unions and the English working people. Any working class person who supports the EDL is a fool and a class traitor.

First they came for the Muslims, but I did not speak out because I was not a Muslim.

Then they came for the Trades Unionists …

Monday, 29 March 2010

The unofficial Phil Dickens fan club

As regular readers of this blog will be aware, one of the things that I'm heavily involved in is antifascism. I've attended a lot of activities organised by Liverpool Antifascists, and the guys who admin the Liverpool Antifascists blog have used my reports about many of these activities on their site. Perhaps because I'm the only poster on there who doesn't use a pseudonym, this has led a lot of fascists to assume that I'm some kind of "leader" of Liverpool Antifascists.

Needless to say, this assumption is based on the incoherent ramblings of a few people who are, well, batshit crazy. Take Peter Tierney, or Peter Quiggins as his Facebook profile would have it. Currently awaiting retrial for assaulting an antifascist last year, the former owner of the Quiggins centre isn't exactly known for his ideological coherency.

Now Now Mr Dickens,don't be spouting your Communist views here trying to manipulate support from the public,we are all waking up to your controlling Regime,This lady is well awake, she didn't need me to enlighten her. what you don't tell her is it is you and your organisation who mobilise the Muslims against our returning troops and orchestrate defacing war monuments up and down the Country. Your little handful of Anarchist ( i hate everything brigade ) does nothing here,so move along now,and carry on writing your character assassination articles ( that are financed by the Government ) and amuse us. Sharia finance comes with Moral and Ethical conditions attached to any contract signed,which only benefits the Muslim Ideology ( Political Cult ) ie Smoking ban,Pubs will close down all Schools must serve Halal the hole face of Britain will have to change to comply to these conditions,it is a way of Blackmailing a Country to adapt to their ways [sic]
Get all that? He also said "Haha You Moron'[sic] the LibLabCon are made up having you as there[sic] journalist, concentrate on the politicians in power not ordinary people. don't[sic] try to straddle your support as if for no one ' yet stealthily supporting the Muslims ...PPPipppyyyyy[?]" after I posted a link to my call for people to oppose both the English defence League and Islam4UK in Wootton Bassett. The mind doth boggle.

Still, thus far it was just Tierney and his brother Andrew, who just loves taking pictures of me and my fellow "reds." The nut who honestly believed that I was a Communist, and a journalist for the "LibLabCon," (which isn't, believe it or not, a convention for freed Andrex puppies) and organised Muslim protests against "our" homecoming troops. Since then, however, it seems he's convinced more people of this and started a fan club.*

Tierney announced it with these words;
Phil Dickens ( Pippy Boy ) Looks very confident, Knowing he has establishment protection, he not only gets paid by the LibLabCon as one of their party stormtrooper journalists... The objective always being to incite violence towards us... YOUR TIME IS COMING TO AN END LUV, Your cover has been blown evrybody is onto you now.
I wish somebody had told me I had "establishment protection" got paid as a "stormtrooper journalist." It seems my cheques have been lost in the post, and I have to make do with the pay from my ordinary job. Shame.

Anyway, I later happened upon a pronouncement from "Ainzy1488" (real name Ben Ainsworth) on Stormfront that he was "currently in the process of getting emails containg pictures of phil dickens[sic] who runs the following blogs."** As "Ainzy Widnes" he, along with fellow autonomous nationalist Danny Davies (NSDan on Stormfront), had tried to add me as a friend on Facebook. Needless to say, they were denied. I have no time for Nazis who like to play at being black-bloc anarchists.

Perhaps that's why they felt I deserved particular attention on the "the enemy" section of the Liverpool Front blog.

According to that, I am "an organiser in Liverpool of many different Marxist activities." As I'm an anarchist rather than a Marxist, this seems unlikely, but anyway my "speciality is lying through his teeth!" My blogs are "full of outright lies and fabrications, opinion presented as truth." No, actually, they're full of opinion presented as opinion which I try to back up with facts and reason. Subtle difference.

I apparently "refuse to enter into a debate with his opposition." Let's ponder on this, shall we? How feasible is a friendly, logical debate with someone who's just tried to gatecrash an antifascist event with the intent of causing trouble? How easy is it to talk rationally with someone who keeps offering you a "straightner?" I did actually briefly engage in debate with Danny on that night, but realised that it was pointless when a conversation on class quickly veered off into talk about "the Jews." That's why I since realised not to bother and prefer to "sit behined[sic] his computer and lie about any subject" or, more accurately, present my opinion on it.

The final question Liverpool Front pose is this: "Who is he, where is he from and what is his motivation?" The answer is that I'm Phil Dickens and I'm from Liverpool (which, frankly, anyone could have worked out for themselves from the "about" section of this blog). As for my motivation, well that comes from the fact that I am an anarchist and passionately believe that it is up to the working class to defend themselves against the threats of capitalism, imperialism, and fascism. That, too, should be obvious.

But anyway, there you have it: the unofficial Phil Dickens fan club. Hardly worthy of note, except for the fact that it's funny and - having to dash off to work - I haven't really got the time to write about anything more substantial today.

*Note for the troop of nationalists who take everything literally: that was sarcasm. I do not actually believe that you are my fans or that you have started a club to that effect. Idiots.

**Ainzy claimed on Stormfront that I run Truth, Reason & Liberty and the Liverpool Antifascists blog. In fact, although I am a contributor to the latter, I don't run it. My actual second blog (apologies for the shameless plug) is called Property is Theft!

Sunday, 28 March 2010

No War but Class War - March 2010

This month, Britain has seenwhat right-wing commentators have been quick to dub a "Spring of Discontent." Three big unions, namely PCS, Unite, and the RMT, have called strike actions which have drawn heavy fire for their immediate impact upon services and the public.

PCS took part in a two-day strike at the start of the month, followed by a third day to coincide with the delivery of the Budget in Parliament. Despite condemnations from ministers and senior civil servants (who may look more kindly as their own pay gets affected), and propaganda in the media, there was strong support for the action from the general public. Families of civil servants have now started a petition to get the Prime Minister to respond to the action and call a halt to disputed changes in the Civil Service Compensation Scheme.

Unite members in British Airways cabin crews yesterday began their second round of strike action, after their first three days took place from the 20th to the 22nd. The dispute centres around attempts by BA to impose crippling changes to the terms and conditions of staff and, essentially, create a two-tier workforce. Even more so than the civil service dispute, the cabin crew action has come under intense propaganda fire from the media. The Daily Mail has been particularly vocal in this, the latest point being the ridiculous attempts to associate the strike with allegations that Unite official Derek Simpson visited a "seedy go-go bar" in Thailand. Unfortunately, in the anti-union media world, ad hominem attacks work.

Members of the RMT are planning to strike on the 6th to 9th April, over London Underground's cost-cutting plans which would see 800 staff lose their jobs. The union gave the employer a deadline to withdraw the job cuts, before ballotting members on striking. The ballot passed overwhelmingly, and the walkout would effectively see the rail network shut down as a result. However, the "rail strike chaos" (another propaganda play from the media) may be averted now that talks have resumed.

In all three of these cases, the dispute has still yet to be resolved. Workers are fighting to save their jobs in a post-recession environment which allows employers to eradicate people's livelihoods in order to save themselves. The unions are fighting back, but this remains limited to within specific industries and sectors, and from a reformist and concilliatory perspective. What is lacking is the will to link up these disputes and publicly state that this broad attack on workers is nothing less than class war.

When that link is made, we can see a marked difference in the fightback. In Greece, strikes and industrial disputes have become part of the ongoing and explosive struggle there. In the past month, the country has seen the amplification of a genuine Spring of Discontent;
Lawyers have called a 3-day long strike and doctors continue withdrawing their labour against the austerity measures, train workers halt their locomotives, while four different labour marches are to be performed within the day by judicial officers, firemen and pensioners in Athens, along with a central public sector march in the afternoon.

Just a few days before the long holiday season of the greek easter, which is the government's main hope for easing tension, a new wave of strikes and protest marches against the austerity measures is hitting the country.

Lawyers have declared a three day strike against the austerity measures for the 23, 24 and 26 of March (the 25th is a national holiday). Meawhile, doctors are continuing to withdraw their labour from the country's public hospitals in demand of the immediate payment of all their owed salaries. Athens doctors will be seeing the Minister of Health today, although their Salonica colleagues refused to see the Minister for negotiations a few days ago. Yesterday doctors across the country performed a coordinated 6 hour stoppage and a demo outside the Ministry of Health in Athens. It must be noted that talks between National Electricity (DEH) workers and the Minister of Labour are in progress. The DEH union has declared that if the talks fail it will move to rolling 48h strikes that will plunge the country in darkness.

At the same time, train and suburban train workers are performing a 4 hour stoppage today against the measures, during the noon peak-time that will see all trains come to a standstill. Judicial officers continue their daily 2-h work stoppage campaign against the measures, which has brought chaos to the greek courts. The judicial officers will gather today at 10:00 at the Eirinodikio Courts and march to the Parliament. Meanwhile, firemen have called a demo at Omonoia for 11:00 intending to march against the measures to the Ministry of Finance. A little later pensioners have called a march against the measures to the Ministry of National Economy. They will be joined by National Telecommunications, National Railway and National Post workers also protesting against pension cuts. Later in the day, at 18:00, ADEDY, the public sector umbrella union, has called a central protest march against the measures from Propylaea to the Parliament. At the same time, anarchists are calling for an anti-racist demo at Amerikis square, an hang out area of African immigrants coveted by neon-nazi groups.

The continuous protest marches are expected to keep the centre of Athens off limits for cars throughout the day. The government is meanwhile launching a mixed campaign of rumors and declarations against these very rumors concerning the country seeking IMF help, or going bust, or changing back to its old national currency. This strategy of confusion is supplanted by newspaper talk of secret printing of old currency notes in the Treasury vaults, and about the 25th of March being a "critical day" for the currency. At the same time the government is trying to let some steam out of radical protester's anger, by promising an immediate reversal of the anti-hood law and an immediate ban on CCTV in public spaces.
Alongside this, Athens has once again been transformed into an urban warfare zone;
An urban guerrilla offensive seems to be underway in Athens with two major bomb attacks within the last 48 hours, one against the headquarters of the neo-nazi party Golden Dawn, and one against the Police Directorship for Immigrants.

In less than 48 hours two major bombs have hit Athens, marking what seems to be an urban guerrilla spring offensive in the greek capital.

The first bomb exploded a little after 8:00 a.m. on Friday 19 March at the headquarters of Chrisi Avgi (Golden Dawn) the neo-nazi party of greece, an organisation responsible for countless murder attempts, arson attacks and pogroms against immigrants, leftists and anarchists. The group is led by Mr Mihaloliakos a convicted bomber who founded the Golden Dawn in the early 1980s under the direct orders of the imprisoned head of the colonels junta, Georgios Papadopoulos. The daily Eleftherotypia has published documents of Mr Mihaloliakos salary details in the service of EYP, the greek secret services. The bomb that hit the offices on Sokratous street had been pre-announced to the daily Eleftherotypia, giving 20 minutes to evacuate the building and the near by hotel. The bomb, which has been estimated by the police as "very strong" but with a slow diffusion as to minimise the blast wave that could damage near-by buildings, has demolished the officers, creating a crater through the concrete floor and leaving none but cement columns standing. To this moment no urban guerrilla group has claimed responsibility for the attack which the anti-terrorist bureau has coined "a classic divergence tactic" in relation to the investigations on Lambros Foundas, the 35 year old anarchist shot dead during a gun battle with the police earlier this week. The man is proclaimed by the anti-terrorist bureau as "a key member of one of the big new generation terrorist groups" of greece. Anarchist have launched an extended campaign in honour of Lambros Foundas with thousands of posters and a one thousand strong protest march to the spot of his assassination being realised today noon.

The second bomb exploded at 15:58 p.m on Saturday 20 March at the Police Directorship for Immigrants (Allodapon) at Petrou Ralli avenue, Athens. Allodapon is the notorious camp-like place where all immigrants have to stand in line for endless hours waiting for papers applications while cops brutalise them indiscriminately. There have been many deaths of immigrants as a result of police brutality, as well as protest marches and clashes with the police as a result (all covered in earlier postings in libcom). The explosion was pre-announced to the daily Elefterotypia with a phone-call that allowed 20 minutes to evacuate the buildings and close of the streets. The bomb, which is claimed by the police to be "strong" has damaged part of the premises, while its blast wave has also damaged shops across the avenue, with no human injuries due to the evacuation. Both this and the bomb in Sokratous street were time-bombs.

The bomb attacks come after more than a month of a lull by urban guerrilla groups which has launched a winter offensive during December and January. It must be noticed that the small bomb that hit the house of the vice-president of the Pakistani community yesterday is widely considered to be related to the Pakistani secret services (due to the fact that it has been proceeded by the assassination of an embassy official of Pakistan) and not to domestic armed struggle.
The question now must be whether Greeks can take the armed struggle and the atmosphere of general strike and push forward towards some kind of victory for the working class.

In America, the big moment in this month's struggle was March 4th, when California's educational system was hit by walkouts, student strikes, and marches. As Labor Notes tells us, the action occured "against crippling state budget cuts—$17 billion in two years to California’s education fund." "Rallies in each city [in the state] numbered in the thousands—a gathering sponsored by the San Francisco Labor Council drew 20,000 people to the Civic Center. Hundreds of marchers took their protests onto the freeways, stopping traffic for nearly an hour in Oakland. UC Davis students marched through two police lines before baton-swinging cops turned them away at an on-ramp."

The IWW has a report on the day's action, but for a fuller analysis we must return, once again, to LibCom;
In response to the state government's attempt to use the crisis as en excuse for rolling back public services -including tuition increases of 32% at the UC system- students and workers struck and occupied across the state of California, as did their counterparts at colleges in New York and 30 other states, defying efforts to corral the movement into after-work rallies or "dialogues" at the Capitol.

One of the most striking facts about the breadth of the action on March 4 was the popularity of radical action in areas with very little history of struggle. Students across the UC system were consciously referring to their activity as a strike and attempting to shut down their campuses, not just at the "activist" campuses of Berkeley, LA, and Santa Cruz, but also at San Diego, Irvine and Riverside (all in the heart of suburban Southern California), Santa Barbara (notorious as a party school) and Davis (the agricultural campus, located in "The Tomato Capitol of the World").

According to Occupy California (, each of these campuses saw at least several hundred students attempting to shut down the functioning of the university and, in many cases, to spread the disruption off campus. At Santa Cruz pre-dawn picket lines closed the entrances to the campus and were held even against violent attempts by drivers to break through, including one attempt by the driver of a Prius that broke a picket's leg. Many campus workers, instead of getting angry at another "student protest", respected the strike by joining the picket lines or by defying supervisors (and police escorts) and claiming that they couldn't get through the picket lines. In Oakland, around 1000 students from Berkeley joined students and teachers from public schools, community colleges, and CSUs for a mid-day rally at City Hall. The marchers managed to get onto Interstate 880, a freeway going through the most working-class sections of Oakland, where 150 were arrested. At Irvine and Davis hundreds of students shut down their campuses and then moved to shut down surrounding traffic - in Davis the marchers then moved to occupy Interstate 80 (the main artery to nearby Sacramento), but after overcoming several lines of police using batons and shooting pepper balls, were eventually prevented. Similar strike attempts occurred at other UC campuses, as well as many campuses of the California State University.

There were simultaneous actions at universities in 31 other states, including at several branches of the CUNY and SUNY systems in New York. Take The City reports an occupation at SUNY Purchase, as well as demonstrations and walk-outs at Brooklyn College, CUNY Hunter, and the CUNY Graduate Center.

The movement is spreading and echoing quicker than anyone expected. Capital demands its pound of flesh and, in so doing, creates its own gravediggers. The students are not relying on any existing organizations for leadership but are spontaneously creating General Assemblies to strategize. By consciously referring to the movement as a strike and by attempting to spread off campus students are showing an implicit consciousness that this is not simply about 'defending education', but is about refusing to pay for the crisis created by the contradictions of capitalism. In order to move forward, the strike movement is going to have to spread - students will have to make links with workers, such as the 15,000 municipal workers who are receiving pink slips in San Francisco today, and they will have to encourage the workers to form general assemblies or general strike committees, instead of relying on the established unions that will divide the workers and prevent a general strike.
South African shack-dwelling movement Abahlali baseMjondolo have emerged stronger after the repression they faced last September, and occupied downtown Durban during yesterday's public holiday in honour of human rights. South Africa has quietened down since the mass rebellions of last year, with the ANC government needing to keep order ahead of the 2010 World Cup, but the resentment of the oppressed is still there, brewing beneath the surface.We can only hope South African activists are able to build a movement to raise awareness around this global event, perhaps with more success than was achieved during the Beijing olympics.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Opposing the morally bankrupt Catholic hierarchy

Today "a leading Vatican cardinal has called for "housecleaning" as paedophile priest scandals from Italy to Ireland pile pressure on Pope Benedict," BBC News reports. Walter Kasper, head of the ecumenical council, has called for a "culture of alertness and bravery" and said that victims should come first. That he is the first leader to make such a pronouncement exposes the moral bankruptcy of the Catholic hierarchy.

After Joseph Ratzinger, now operating under the title of Pope Benedict XVI, issued an apology for a sex abuse scandal within the Church in Ireland, it emerged that he had failed to act on abuse reports in the 1990s. But this is only the tip of the iceberg in a global child sex abuse scandal which implicates not only those who carried out the acts, but a battery of prominent figures in Catholicism who either failed to act or actively protected the guilty.

Before we go any further, there is a need for rationality and perspective on this issue. Whilst the crimes themselves are utterly grotesque, in themselves they are an indictment only of the individuals who committed them. I am not for an instant suggesting that all Catholics, or even all Catholic priests, indulge in this behaviour. There is absolutely no need to resort to any kind of anti-Catholic hysteria, not least because the victims and their families are, themselves, Catholic.

Likewise, I am not calling for those who perpetrated the acts to receive any kind of barbarous retribution. I have previously been very outspoken against the mob hysteria that crimes against children can (quite understandably) evoke, and I stick by that. Whether these men are guilty, and what their punishment should be, should be decided in a fair trial by an impartial jury.

No, my point here is about the willingness of the Catholic hierarchy - right up to Ratzinger - to turn a blind eye to and cover up these crimes. Whatever their motives, this is nothing less than complicity, and those involved should face trial as accesories as surely as those who committed the original abuse should be tried. That they will not, due to the "respect" they command as religious leaders, is an indictment of our attitude towards organised religion in the West. It also puts the (remote) possiblity that Ratzinger could resign over the affair into perspective as a pale insult.

A further question that needs to be raised in this affair is the link between the suppression of sexuality in religious institutions and attrocious crimes. Such abuse is nowhere near as widespread in other Christian denominations as it is within the Catholic Church. The link has to be made between this fact and the vow of celibacy that ordained Catholic priests make. Especially given the strong possiblity of a link between sexual repression and rape.

Meanwhile, Joseph Ratzinger is due to visit Britain in September. The visit will be funded to the tune of £20 million by British taxpayers, and a movement has already arisen in opposition to this. But more needs to be done. The issue isn't that Ratzinger's visit is taxpayer-funded, but that it is happening at all. We should be making him accountable for his crimes, not rolling out the red carpet.

We, non-Catholic and Catholic alike, must demand to know why this man is being revered as an honoured guest whilst complicit in a massive cover-up of child abuse. If we get no answer, then the ony option left is to take to the streets in protest against him and the corrupt hierarchy he sits atop.

Friday, 26 March 2010

The right calibre?

Douglas Hogg is a toff who owns a country estate in Lincolnshire and enjoys the title of "The Viscout Hailsham." As well as being born with a silver spoon in his mouth and educated at Eton, he has been a Tory MP whose two major claims to fame since 1979 have been claiming British Beef was safe at the height of the BSE crisis and claiming expenses to clean his moat. As such, he is a useless parasite on several levels.

Today, he has told BBC News of his "distress" over the expenses scandal. Diddums. He also decided that digging as big a hole for himself as possible is the best policy when you're the symbol of the lavish excess and greed exposed by the expenses scandal;
He refused to accept he had done anything wrong and explained that his expenses claims did not cover the full costs of his Lincolnshire mansion which included the wages of a full-time housekeeper.

"The cost of running my Lincolnshire property greatly exceeds my then allowances," he said.

"We mostly were in London during the week and I didn't like to leave a wholly empty house so we did have a housekeeper and I agreed a proportion of her salary - actually 65%."

He explained that as his costs were so high he had asked the fees office to give him the maximum annual allowance for maintaining a second home to be paid monthly in 12 equal amounts.

Mr Hogg went on to say an MP's annual salary of £65,000 was far too low.

He said he wanted it increased by about 50% to attract people of the right calibre into politics. He suggested that MPs should not be worse off than GPs, dentists or low-level judges.

He said: "I am not for a moment suggesting that you should be paying truly fancy salaries, but I am saying that you shouldn't set yourself at a level which positively deters the professional business classes and currently it does."
If I tried to explain the ire I feel when this worthless sponge of a man associates "the right calibre" with "the professional business classes," it would turn into a structureless, expletive-laden rant.

It probably wouldn't even begin to explore the level of snobbery in the implicit notion that the working class aren't of "the right calibre" to sit in a stuffy room all day and haw-haw at each other. It certainly wouldn't capture the irony of the fact that, when the House of Commons is largely devoid of "commoners" anyway, Hogg thinks there need to be even less of those dratted common-folk in the chamber.

As such, I think I'm going to limit my comment on the matter to calling Douglas Hogg a prick.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Seeking justice for the forgotten victims of globalisation

At the start of the month, largely unnoticed by most of the world, 21 workers died in a fire at a Bangladeshi garment factory. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, "emergency exits were blocked, the front gate was locked and fire extinguishing equipment was either missing or inappropriate." This was not an isolated incident, but part of a culture in which "constant repression of trade union organisation within workplaces and the failure of brands to work with trade union representatives means that workers themselves are unable to report and challenge health and safety violations."

In the West, similar malpractice died off over a century ago. Our much maligned "health and safety culture" arose in response to precisely this kind of gross negligence. Betraying their utter lack of social conscience, businesses thus moved their factories abroad to place profit before basic human safety. Perhaps the most tragic consequence of this mentality was the horrendous Bhopal disaster, for which Union Carbide is still yet to face any serious consequences.

Such obvious health hazards are only the tip of the iceberg. Whilst companies jump on the "fair trade" bandwagon and talk up their "ethical" credentials, workers across the world are labouring in sweat shops to produce items for our cheap consumption. The No Sweat campaign lists corporations from Adidas and Disney to Tesco and Wal-Mart amongst the guilty parties exploiting the poor of the third world (in many cases alongside the poor of the first world) for profit.

The disparity between PR and reality on this issue is perhaps best displayed by Sainsbury's. "Sainsbury’s commitment to Fairtrade has meant a growing number of our own label products are 100% Fairtrade," their website boasts. This includes them "converting our standard t-shirts to Fairtrade cotton to ensure farmers are paid a fair price." Unfortunately, whilst the farmers get a better deal, those who make the t-shirts from that cotton still do so in sweatshops in Bangladesh.

The most surprising revelation on unethically-made clothing, as revealed in New Scientist, is where laboratory gear is made;
I HAVE just returned from Mexico, where I visited a factory making medical masks. Faced with fierce competition, the owner has cut his costs by outsourcing some of his production. Scores of people work for him in their homes, threading elastic into masks by hand. They are paid below the minimum wage, with no job security and no healthcare provision.

Users of medical masks and other laboratory gear probably give little thought to where their equipment comes from. That needs to change. A significant proportion of these products are made in the developing world by low-paid people with inadequate labour rights. This leads to human misery on a tremendous scale.

Take lab coats. Many are made in India, where most cotton farmers are paid an unfair price for their crops and factory employees work illegal hours for poor pay.

One-fifth of the world's surgical instruments are made in northern Pakistan. When I visited the area a couple of years ago I found most workers toiling 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for less than a dollar a day, exposed to noise, metal dust and toxic chemicals. Thousands of children, some as young as 7, work in the industry.

Computers are another problem area. Many are made in China, where labour abuses have been reported, including the use of child labour.

To win international contracts, factory owners must offer rock-bottom prices, and consequently drive down wages and labour conditions as far as they can. We laboratory scientists in the developed world may unwittingly be encouraging this: we ask how much our equipment will cost, but which of us asks who made it and how much they were paid?

This is no small matter. Science is supposed to benefit humanity, but because of the conditions under which their tools are made, many scientists may actually be causing harm.
This trend can be resisted.

Campaigns such as No Sweat and the Clean Clothes Campaign play an important part in raising awareness in the first world, and making consumers think twice about what they buy. However, this cannot be all of the battle. The problem is not simply that certain employers need to be pressured to act ethically, but that capitalism - in the drive for the most profit, in the fastest time, at the least expense - thrives on exploitation. We need to challenge the system itself, rather than hoping that one can make an inherently exploitative system "ethical."

That challenge is already underway. In November last year, Honduran workers - with the solidarity of US students - forced Fruit of the Loom to reopen its factory and recognise the workers' trade union rights. Though just one victory, it sets an important precedent and shows what determined organisation and a campaign of international solidarity can achieve.

It is too late for the garment workers who died in the Bangladeshi factory fire, but those who survive them and continue to campaign could still secure the fate of many others. As workers, we need to raise awareness of this cause and to build the links of solidarity. In the race to the bottom that is the globalised economy, an injury to one truly is an injury to all.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Budget 2010 and the intensification of the class war

Entering Westminister today, Alastair Darling crossed a picket line staffed by PCS members. As they fought to against plans to make sacking civil servants cheaper, he delivered a pre-election budget promising £20billion in public sector cuts. Despite this, the Daily Mail dubbed this a "class war budget." They were right - but not in the way that they intended.

According to the Mail, Darling's plans "soaked the rich as Labour set the stage for an election in which it will aim to portray itself as the party of the ordinary majority while the Tories represent the wealthy." Clearly, the paper didn't like this one iota, pouring continuous scorn on any measure which could be perceived to hurt the rich. Conversely, the 2.2 percent increase in the minimum wage was dubbed "irresponsible" and "excessive," despite the fact that the "massive" 22% increase since 1999 still means that bottom earners have to work 45 hour weeks to meet minimum living standards. The Mail was not the only voice calling for harsher measures against the poor and more leeway for the rich.

David Cameron has called for more immediate cuts to the public sector than Darling has planned, saying "the risk to recovery is not in dealing with the deficit now, it's in not dealing with the deficit now." No doubt those who lose their jobs as a result of this "bold action" will see it somewhat differently.

Nick Clegg has claimed that Darling is "in denial" about what was needed. Both Labour and the Tories lack "the courage to come up with details of the cuts we will need in the years ahead to tackle Britain's deficit." This suggests that, contrary to the commonly-held idea of the Liberal Democrats being a better alternative to the two dominant parties, their "honesty in spending and fairness in taxes" promises to be even more brutal on the working class than Margaret Thatcher.

Of the three main parties, Labour appear to be the best of a bad bunch. But nobody should be fooled into taking this as a reason to vote for them. The difference in levels of anti-working class viciousness is marginal, as the attacks we have already suffered demonstrate.

In the budget report itself (PDF), the chapter ironically titled "Protecting Public Services" offers us one insight into what the poorest can expect in a new Labour government;
  • action to control public sector pay, including confirming a one per cent cap on basic pay uplifts for 2011-12 and 2012-13, saving £3.4 billion a year, and a new Code of Practice on senior pay-setting, with greater use of independent Remuneration Committees and escalation of decisions to ministers, or audit and regulatory bodies, where there is a proposal to pay above agreed norms;
  • £11 billion of operational efficiencies and other cross-cutting savings, to streamline the centre of government;
  • further detail on £5 billion of savings from targeting and prioritising spending, as announced at the 2009 Pre-Budget Report;
  • reforms to the welfare system to increase fairness and improve work incentives, further reducing social security spending over the next five years on top of the existing forecast saving of £1.2 billion;
  • rationalising regional structures and removing burdens on local government, including giving local authorities new discretion over £1.3 billion of funding that is currently ring-fenced; and
  • plans to manage assets and property more effectively by creating new strategic property vehicles by April 2011, to help realise savings of £5 billion a year in property running costs and £20 billion savings in asset disposal by 2020. The Government will also relocate 15,000 civil service jobs out of central London within five years.
As PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka notes;
Today’s budget of so called efficiency savings, makes it clear that the reason the government is ripping up the contracts of loyal civil servants is to make it easier and cheaper for whoever wins the election to cut them.

It is ludicrous to think that efficiency savings can be somehow pulled out from down the back of the sofa and have no effect on services. Those on strike today know that efficiency savings are cuts which will damage frontline service delivery. The strong support for today’s budget day strike demonstrates that civil and public servants are willing to stand up for the services they are proud to deliver.

Holding down the pay of low paid public servants will result in real term pay cuts for the people who keep this country running. They shouldn’t be made to pay for a financial crisis not of their making. Pay cuts in real terms will take money out of the economy and potentially undermine the recovery.

The government needs to recognise that they can’t force civil servants out of a job if they unable to relocate. Relocation needs to be done with the consent of the workforce, not forced through and with proper equality impact assessments carried out.

As the experience of the relocation of the Office for National Statistics shows, relocations need to be based on a sound business plan and recognise the impact on the diverse nature of the civil service in London.

It is scandalous that the government is scrabbling around like an episode of ‘cash in the attic’ and selling off the family silver to pay for the failures of the City.

The government wants to appear to be tough on tax evasion, but when it comes to the causes it falls short.

If it was serious about clamping down on the £130 billion worth of tax that goes uncollected, avoided or evaded, then the Chancellor would have signalled his intent to put extra resources into revenue and customs. Cutting 25,000 tax jobs and closing 200 tax offices will do nothing to close the tax gap and tackle the tax cheats.
And public servants are far from the only people affected. For example, as the recent passage of the Welfare Reform Bill demonstrated, the unemployed will suffer greatly from "further reducing social security spending over the next five years on top of the existing forecast saving of £1.2 billion."

Despite all of this Unite, Britain's biggest trade union, offered an overwhelmingly positive response to today's budget;
The starting whistle for the election has been blown and it's 1-0 to Labour. The last budget before the election shows leadership and responsibility during difficult times. Alistair Darling has focused on support for the young, growth, investment and jobs when Tory doom-mongers who spend their time talking Britain down would rather slash and burn our public services and leave working families to sink or swim.
This stance only betrays the moral bankruptcy of the mainstream unions who cling to the Labour party even as it decimates the working class as thoroughly and as surely as the Tories did. Though the Lib Dems and Tories are undoubtably a worse alternative, using this as an excuse to support Labour is facile. Offering unreserved support as Unite have done is to sell out to the ruling class. Especially after Gordon Brown declared the British Airways strikes "deplorable" and Labour Ministers crossed today's picket lines without a second thought.

Fending off the attacks on the working class cannot be done through electoralism, nor by hoping that union support for a party can outweigh big business money and lobbying. Any credible fightback must begin in the workplace and on the picket lines.

The likes of the Mail are calling the current strike action a "Spring of Discontent." We need to give the bosses exactly that. Only by building the neccesary democratic structures at a grassroots level and organising to financially support workers during long-term action can we hope to succeed where single-day actions will inevitably fail.

Attacks against our class will only intensify in the coming year, and we need to have a response to that. As The Commune suggests, we "should seize every opportunity to fight back and unite struggles, from strikes to resisting stock transfers (now spreading like wild fire in Wales), supporting migrant workers, resisting fascists and supporting environmental protests. Uniting industrial and community actions, and diverse strands on the left, is the key to re-building a real workers movement, and hence massive resistance to capitalism in its time of crisis."

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The tabloids and using racist vitriol to cover up genuine abuse

From No Borders Brighton, we have another two excellent dissections of the anti-immigrant agenda of the tabloid media. First there is In Every Back Garden A Heartache, in which the gutter press demonstrates how "if it was committed by bloody foreigners" is part of the definition of "illegal."

We have been trying very hard to wean ourselves off commenting about the daily tidal-wave of racist vitriol washing over us courtesy of the likes of the Mail and the Express. However, the Mail's latest* outburst of Colonel Blimpishness outrage was just begging to be lampooned.

'Residents powerless to remove illegal immigrants from their gardens' - except the paper then goes on to say that they "are mostly from Eastern Europe" and the only actual country of origin it identifies is the Czech Republic, which held the presidency of the EU for the first six months of last year, so they can hardly be 'illegal' as they are EU citizens! The paper even claims that the 'trespassers' "have no passports", so the paper is even further from being able to affirm that the people in question have no legal right to be in the UK. But when has that ever stopped the Mail from spreading its racist vitriol in one of these type of stories?

Given that the paper spends so much of its turnover employing squads of lawyers to try and protect their libellous output, one would have thought they could have asked one of them to explain the difference between trespass and squatting (except one wouldn't want a libel lawyer trying to explain the ins and outs of property law, would one?). Doesn't fit in the the simulated outrage does it?

Even when an ex-cop helpfully fills the Mail's readers in on the difference between the two, he gets heavily slapped down by the rest of the BNP?UKIP voting idiots that buy the rag.

Of course, the Mail trots out a local Tory MP, Stewart Jackson, who claimed that Labour had failed to deal with immigration problems that have led to jobless migrants camping in British gardens. "The Labour government was warned that uncontrolled immigration would cause these sorts of problems." We bet you did. A quick search of Hansard has not revealed any Tories warning the government of the potential problem of foreigners squatting in people's gardens "leaving a trail of cider bottles, bags of human waste and drugs needles behind them."

Yes, the paper makes great play of the drugs and drug paraphernalia littering the area but also claim that the "police are powerless to step in." They even print a photo of the interior of a rather next outbuilding with a mattress, blanket, cardboard and milk bottle with the subtitle 'Disgrace: Drugs and rubbish litter the area, but the local council and police are powerless to step in'. Pure fantasy. There's even a photo of an incredibly rickety 'treehouse' with the caption 'Some of the immigrants are believed to have slept in this treehouse in someone's garden.' [Note the believed, a typical Mailism.]**

However, the real reason why we wanted to highlight this article was because of a quote by one of the Peterborough residents whose shed was being squatted. "I caught him [his squatter, no doubt squatting at the time] defecating on my lawn, where my dog plays. I had to build a fence to keep him out of that part of the garden so my dog doesn't get ill playing in his mess." As if his dog doesn't shit on the lawn too.
* Yes we know the Express also covered it but the Mail's was the most Blimpish.
** The Daily Star takes this and conflates it into 'Migrants found living in family tree house.'

Then we have Scraping The Bottom Of The Racist Barrel, which further emphasises this shoddy and lacklustre reporting style.

It beggars belief that this trivial story can make the front page of a national newspaper, and you can bet your bottom dollar that it wasn't the front page story in the local newspaper?

As to the story itself, it turns out that the Romanian family were sold a pig in a poke when someone told them in a local shop about what they thought was an empty house that they could squat it. So rather gullibly, they went along and forced the front window of the rather down-at-the-heels and abandoned looking end of terrace house (check out the photo) and started to throw out the 'rubbish' they found inside, only for the owner to return and call the police.

And yesterday the Romanian couple, Mihai and Laura Dediu, were given 12-month community orders and sentenced to 100 hours' community service for criminal damage to a window and door locks. As the burglary charge against then was dropped (the judge having commneted "in 26 years I cannot remember a case where burglars have taken a young child with them to carry out a burglary.”), they were only in the building for a few hours and nothing was actually taken, we fail to see how the Express can have come up with the headline 'Romanians steal man's home'.

Not only does inflating such trivial stories in order to score points against migrants beggar belief, it demonstrates the open scare-mongering and racism of a media which will utterly ignore genuine human rights abuses against migrants.

For example, whilst the Mail and the Express turn to minor incidents of squatting into the world's greatest outrage, we have a report by Refugee and Migrant Justice (RMJ) into the "problems faced by unaccompanied asylum seeking children on arrival in the UK." As RMJ state;
Every week at British ports, vulnerable children are found crammed in the boots of cars, hidden in lorries and found hanging underneath trucks. Many have travelled for months, alone, under the control of abusive smugglers. They arrive exhausted, traumatised, hungry and often sick or injured. Many have not slept or eaten properly for days.

When they arrive, the children believe they are safe at last. Their treatment by the UK Border Agency undermines that belief.

UKBA have done their best to whitewash this reality in their internal "investigations." The tabloid media ignores it entirely. We cannot allow them to get away with this. Whether on blogs, forums, social networking sites, or amongst friends and colleagues, please make this reality known. Otherwise, in allowing this to continue under the blanket of ignorance, we are as guilty as those who perpetrate the abuses.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Further notes on scabs, propaganda, and right-wing demagogues

The British Airways dispute is now, it would seem, at the point of no return. BA Chief Executive Willie Walsh has told independent arbitrater ACAS that it will not put any deals back on the table, whilst the Unite union insists that strikes will continue if talks do not resume. With overseas unions backing Unite whilst the Government and media is behind BA, the situation seems irreconcilable.

Indeed, it looks very much like this is what BA want. Gregor Gall, a research professor of industrial relations at the University of Hertfordshire, tells us that this is part of a classic union-busting strategy;
It's shaping up to be a truly titanic battle. According to Unite, BA has told the independent conciliator, ACAS, that it will not put its offer back on the table. With this kind of approach and time running out, the strike is all but certain to go ahead this Saturday.

Why has BA done this? You'd think in the case of something close to mutually assured destruction, BA would seize upon the opportunity to avoid a damaging strike, especially when it's making huge losses.

Yet, here's the rub. Yes, BA will lose £100m in the strike, but the prize for it is much bigger. That prize is the decimation of Unite as a serious force in BA.

With Unite put in its place, BA will be able to instruct its cabin crew to do exactly as its wants.

It will say "jump" and the cabin crew will have no choice but to say "how high?" Then BA will be able to take part in the race to the bottom on wages and conditions alongside competitors such as Virgin.

For this plan to work, the strike must go ahead and the strike must be defeated. That is why BA has spent inordinate amounts on ways to break it and why it has spent months intimidating cabin crew out of striking.

It might also explain why BA has not sought an injunction again to stop the strike. Months of planning for the showdown would not lead to the outcome it wants if it won an injunction.

BA may even sense it has Unite on the run, given the union's willingness to look more favourably on a deal it rejected last week. Unite may feel on the run after being attacked by not just the Tories but by the party it funds.

In industrial relations jargon, this is a classic "reforming conflict". The employer engages in a set-piece showdown, inflicts a massive defeat on the union, divides the workforce and thus re-orders the power relations between management and union.

This should sound familiar if you cast your mind back over the many classic industrial disputes since 1979 – the miners, the printers, the Liverpool dockers, the firefighters and so on.

The employers, state or private, were backed politically by the governments of the day so that the workers and their unions became bĂȘte noires and the forces of the police and judiciary were ranged against them.

In many of these disputes you could find henchman as equally determined as BA's Willie Walsh.

These disputes were all serious defeats but does this historical pattern have to be continued in this present dispute? The omens are not good.

By law, employers have both time and opportunity to prepare to offset a strike's effect. That is why the anti-union laws require unions to give various advance notices of the action and who is taking it.

But Unite is the country's biggest union. It could, out of solidarity and self-interest, institute a £1 a week levy on its 1.4m members to show that it is prepared to bankroll a long strike.

Even though BA has huge cash reserves, facing a long strike is not in its game plan. A longer strike would allow Unite to get more political pressure put on BA as we get closer to the general election.

If Unite cannot pull such an ace out of its hand, BA will go back to the way it used to be run and the way many other companies are now run.

Lord King, appointed by Thatcher as BA chief to oversee preparations for its privatisation, was asked how he motivated his employees. He answered with just one word – "fear". That fear was fear of the dole.
Of course, the media have been quick to paint it the other way, and the Telegraph is amongst those quick to empower scabs;
The emails, posted late on Friday evening, were chillingly concise and their content clear: "If any of you go into work tomorrow, your life won't be worth living,'' one read.

Hours earlier, as the news spread among British Airways cabin crew that last ditch talks between the airline and the hard-line union Unite had failed, a tirade of malicious text messages had been fired off to specifically targeted staff – those brave enough to have voiced contempt for the union militants – telling them they were "scrum" [sic] and "scabs" if they crossed the picket line to begin their shifts on Saturday.

"Suzy" wasn't surprised when copies landed in her in-box and on her mobile phone.

Inside Heathrow, [Suzy] says, menace and unease are everywhere. When BA suggests a new service Unite generally instructs its members to ignore it.

"Ridiculous things,'' Suzy says. "We were asked to distribute hot towels on short haul. Unite said no. We got on board and everyone was in a state.

"Do we give them out or not? Usually workers—quite rightly—fear not doing what the boss asks. But we are just as frightened not to do what the union asks."
Of course, things such as this shouldn't happen. One of the greatest flaws of the mainstream unions is that they mirror businesses and corporations with their top-down power structure. True, these structures are more "democratic" than business hierarchies, but they remain a long way from the self-management ideal of anarcho-syndicalist unions such as the Solidarity Federation.

However, to go from this to the point of union bullying - or, in the words of "Mad" Mel Phillips, "Union Mafia" - is absurd fantasism. For all their faults, particularly the privilege that turns union leaders against working class interests, the unions can only act on campaigns with the assent of their members. It is not simply a case of arbitrary orders not to distribute hot towels, but of union committees deciding on a course of action based on the concerns and voting mandates of their members. That those without the slightest sense of class consciousness or class solidarity remain ignorant of the decisions made and the reasons why is their problem and nobody else's.

"Suzy" and her fellow scabs may be "glad to have a job in this climate," but they fail to recognise that this climate was caused by the bosses, whose intent is to make us as workers pay for it. Those who are "more than happy to work harder if crew numbers are reduced" are only facilitating the job losses of their colleagues in the employer's determined drive to cut costs without cutting privilege and profit at the top. There needs to be a greater effort to educate these people as to why they shouldn't scab for the bosses.

As part of that education, there needs to be a greater and more open debate about unions and union-organising. There needs to be criticism of union activities, union tactics, and - most importantly - union leaders. But such debate and criticism must come from the left.

From the right, the only purpose is to put across an argument entirely against working class organisation. We ought to accept our lot in life, as our evident betters reap massive rewards, and not complain when we come under attack. In fact, if we recognise that we have better conditions than another group of workers, we must engage them in a race to the bottom and let our hard-won rights be rolled back inch by inch. Anybody serious about fighting to improve the lot of the workers (from a moderate or a radical perspective) should be able to recognise such ideas as vaccuous bullshit in defence of privilege.

Contrary to Mad Mel and William Rees-Mogg, we are not seeing a return to the "sinister" and "militant" trade unionism of the seventies. In fact, as I have written previously, a thorough and honest analysis of the 1970s and early 80s finds the idea of Britain as "an economic basket- case and the laughing-stock of the world" to be a myth. It would be easy to win the argument with the rabid, foaming dogs of the right if only they did not have such a stranglehold on the media.

There is a long road ahead of us. Before we can seriously discuss the issue of worker organisation, we need to snap the Suzys of this world out of their Mad Mel-induced stupor. Smashing through the propaganda model of the media is integral to the class war.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Antifascism, the EDL, and the lessons that need to be learned

Yesterday, roughly 1,500 to 2,000 protesters from the English Defence League (EDL) descended upon Bolton. A similar number arrived with Unite Against fascism (UAF) as part of a counter-protest. The event was a mix of calamity and farce, and only serves to show that antifascists have still yet to learn several two very important lessons.

The first of these lessons regards UAF and the Socialist Workers' Party (SWP) for which they serve as a recruiting front. Weymann Bennett, head of UAF and high-up in the SWP hierarchy, was amongst the 74 people arrested during the Bolton demo. When the same thing has happened to EDL and BNP leaders, UAF has been quick to proclaim it as "proof" that they are in the wrong. Now, with himself in the other side of the fence, Bennett is claiming that officers "flew at" UAF supporters in "unprovoked attacks," and fellow UAF bureaucrat Martin Smith has said that UAF were faced with "hostility from police officers."

These claims may or may not be true, and given the police's record towards the left I am inclined to believe that there is at least some validity to them, but this is irrelevant. The fact is that Bennett and Smith's tactics have finally come back to bite them. For too long, whilst its primary goals remain recruitment to the SWP and sale of the Socialist Worker, UAF has attempted to be all things to all people.

On the one hand it has sought to unite "the broadest possible spectrum of society" and pursue a very legalistic anti-fascism, calling for state bans of fascist groups and police protection of anti-fascist marches. I have explained in greater depth previously why, as well as betraying the principles of working class self-defence, this is a profoundly stupid policy which only gives the state a precedent to attack the left.

At the same time, SWP/UAF apparatchiks are ever keen to show off their "radical" and "militant" credentials. Workers' Liberty has explained how this amounts to "enginee[ring] fruitless minor confrontations with the police, usually miles from the BNP."

I witnessed a particularly idiotic and maddening example of this during a recent anti-BNP protest in Liverpool, when one of the two people at the protest who were from the SWP decided that the best way to counter the two BNP leafletters by the roadside was to get the people holding the Liverpool Antifascists banner to run after them. That this would appear, to observers, as running away from the BNP when we had a prime spot which actually blocked them from public view was rebutted with an angry cry of "but I thought you were anarchists?" Yes, many in Liverpool Antifascists are anarchists (whatever relevance that has) but we're not idiots. The only result would have been a pointless farce, probably a couple of arrests, and a publicity coup for the BNP. As it was, with this nonsense put to rest quickly, we held a very successful peaceful protest whilst the BNP made themselves look like numskulls.

In Bolton, whether the police or UAF made the first move, the fact is that such an ill-thought out and inconsistent approach to protesting has backfired. Bennett and Smith got nicked for it. If they don't learn a lesson from this, then they are unfathomably stupid people.

Forming a physical barrier to fascists during a peaceful protest and using force as a form of self-defence are tactics to be utilised when the situation demands it. Looking for a punch-up without provocation in order to prove "militancy" or leading your followers into a situation where they can be kettled and turned over to prove how "peaceful" you are are the acts of middle class muppets who wouldn't know working class direct action if it kicked them in the balls.

The other lesson antifascists need to learn is that we need a much clearer perspective on the EDL. As an organisation, they are indeed racist and fascist. However, the situation with them is not as clear cut as it is with the BNP or the National Front, and simplistic sloganeering will not and does not convince a lot of the general public.

The most obvious reason for this is that, as far as outsiders are able to see, UAF immediately responds to EDL criticism of radical Islam with cries of racism. Although the EDL are racist, as demonstrated by chants such as "we hate Pakis more than you" and their intimidation of Asian taxi drivers in Stoke, there needs to be recognised that the EDL's declared intention of opposing Islamic extremism is not racist in and of itself.

The Anarchist Federation have thus far offered the clearest perspective on this matter;
We are the enemies of what gets termed ‘radical’ or ‘extremist’ Islamic groups. Their doctrine holds the revolution back. Whilst we are aware that Muslims too have been the victims of media vilification, some Islamists do indeed seek to justify indiscriminate terror. Whilst we know that support for these ideas has been the result of the actions of the state, not least its wars, we oppose disaffected Muslims who take up these ideas. The beliefs of the likes of al-Qaeda and the groups they support are revolting, and reactionary, and hold back a culture of genuine resistance. Our enemy’s enemy is NOT our friend. We have nothing in common with these people and their authoritarian, misogynist and anti-Semitic ideals.
It is this perspective that inspired my own call for a radical left response to both (later-aborted) attempts by the now-proscribed Islam4UK to march in support of Shariah law. If standing up against fascism is a necessary part of working class self-defence, which it is, then so too is taking a stand against other reactionary movements such as political Islam.

At the same time, we need to be clear that our enemy's enemy is not our friend. Opposing political Islam does not entail supporting the EDL or BNP any more than opposing fascism equates to appeasing religious bigotry. The only side we should be on is tat of the working class.

We also need to be clear on why, if we oppose fascism and Islamism with equal veracity, we spend more time on the former than the latter. The point must be strongly made that Islam will not dominate the world.

In order to implement a radical change in society, you need to take one of two approaches.

If that change is compatible with the present organisation, you need to build a broad-based reform movement that will continually pressure those in power until it achieves its goals. As a society built upon Sharia is fundamentally alien to the values of the West – whether you define them as Christianity, secularism, free democracy, or predatory capitalism and the profit of the few at the expense of the many – it could not be achieved by Shariah even if it wasn’t an extreme minority position.

The second alternative is revolution. However, in order to have a revolution, one needs to build a solid grassroots movement with the potential for galvanising an entire population. Militant Islam in the West, robbed of that initiative by moderate groups, and devoid of popular appeal, is in no position to do any such thing.
Thus, although we of course need to offer militant resistance to Islamism (for which organising anti-Islamist Muslims is vital), we should not overstate its potential. This is exactly what the EDL does, in the process serving as a conduit for anti-Muslim hysteria in order to drum up support for state militarism and the war on terror. Not only is this not pointed out often enough, but simplistic cries of racism only blind people to this perspective.

If antifascists en masse don't learn these lessons soon, then all we are doing is guaranteeing that farces such as Bolton and Stoke before it will become not only more common, but the norm.