Saturday, 4 December 2010

A winter's tale of scabs and fascists

Today was an interesting day. Most of it, unfortunately, involved me standing around in the cold and the wet in order to challenge people of a less-than-savoury nature. However, it was the opposition to scum bags that made the cold and wet worth the effort.

From very early on this morning, I was on picket duty. As I explained in a Q&A for comrades in Liverpool SolFed who came down to support the action;
What's this action all about?

PCS have been in dispute with the government for some time now over proposed changes to the Civil Service Compensation Scheme [CSCS]. This is the scheme which says how much compensation members get if made redundant, and naturally with job losses on the horizon they want to lessen the cost. It was the previous government’s refusal to negotiate on this matter that necessitated the 3-day strike in March and the court case, which PCS won.

But we also passed an overtime ban, in response to management across the civil service using overtime to mask the effect of job cuts. The two are directly related, as we saw earlier in the year when our management here began offering overtime immediately after they decided not to renew the contracts of 90 fixed-term staff, despite the work being there for them to do. Now, as we face more job losses and possibly even office closures, overtime is on the cards again. It’s transparent.

It’s hard to do a picket during the week, when people are working anyway. But today the building is only open for overtime.

How many people have been taking it up?

Unfortunately, a fair few. Last Saturday there were about 24, today there have been more than 30. And some are doing it during the week. It’s not a huge percentage in a building with a thousand plus staff, but it’s still disappointing.

What are the excuses?

It’s the same old garbage, really. Some are just cocky and grin as they walk past, putting their co-workers’ jobs in jeopardy, but the excuse of most is “I need the money,” or “I’ve got to.” The fact that it’s Christmas also comes up – even though they won’t get a single penny until the end of December.

It just boils down to greed, really. PCS have a strike fund and a credit union, if people need the money, but at the end of the day reps and those honoring the ban have bills and mortgages to pay too. Our branch organiser has a baby on the way, and personally I could do with a new kitchen and bathroom. But we need jobs in the long-term more than 30 pieces of silver.

What about the general public?

Public support has been brilliant. As well as cabbies and bus drivers honking in support, we’ve had passers-by wishing us well and it’s great to see yourselves and others coming down to show us support by joining the picket. One guy even took it upon himself to convince the bar staff in Yates’s [the pub next door to the building] to give us free cups of coffee to warm us up!
The picket line was extremely lively, considering how early we'd all gotten there and how cold it was. It was especially heartening to see that the fight against the bosses can still win broad support from the working class.

Those who crossed, of course, didn't see it that way. All they could do was mutter under their breath, grin like morons, and at one point threaten violence against pickets. But then, none of them have principles or the courage of their convictions. Even if I had to stand in an arctic tundra, as frostbite tore at my limbs, then I would still rather be a picket than a scab. A thousand times over.

During the picket, I discovered that the BNP had set up a stall in the City Centre. I passed the word on, as did others, and soon the news was reaching people by text, email, Facebook, and Twitter. That would be my next destination once I knew that nobody else would be going in for the day.

I'll let my comrades in Liverpool Antifascists tell the story;
Today, the British National Party once again set up their stall in Liverpool City Centre. As on previous occasions, local anti-fascists and members of the public gathered to oppose their fascist politics and see them off the streets of Liverpool.

Today’s events were nowhere near as dramatic as the last such encounter, when after a seven-hour stand off a mass of local people literally ran them off the streets. This time, the BNP were packed up by 2pm, and departed not long afterwards.

At the beginning of the confrontation, police arrested about 6 people who were either anti-fascists or motivated by the party’s presence to vocally oppose them. The most outrageous offence committed appears to be swearing more than three times, and Liverpool Antifascists are happy to offer their full support to everybody in that situation.

Before the mass protest built up, a couple of members of Liverpool Antifascists started handing out leaflets. We were told to “fuck off” by some members of the public who thought we were the BNP.  A good response, especially when they realised their error and apologised. Many even thanked us for being there.

At about noon, the police arrested one anti-fascist on the basis of an allegation that he’d threatened one of the BNP.  Despite his protests, he was read his rights and arrested.  Two fellow anti-fascists pointed out to the police that they had been threatened by BNP members, but they weren’t interested. The officer in charge replied that if they wanted to make a formal complaint, then he’d take the to the station in the police van.  This kind gesture was politely refused. Not least because the fascist who’d made the complaint about us wasn’t offered then same service and remained on their stall, screaming racist abuse at passers by and protesters alike.

Liverpool Antifascists handed out around 2000 leaflets and talked to people directly about what was going on and what the BNP really stood for. Many stopped to vent their feelings at the fascists, demonstrating that they simply aren’t welcome in Liverpool. Some even joined us to hand out leaflets.

On the BNP side, organiser Mike Whitby strode amongst the protesters with his megaphone, calling everybody a paedophile.  It took the police about 15 minutes to realise that his actions were provocative and decide to arrest him.  He was last seen being dragged up Church Street, still frothing at the mouth, his feet sliding across the wet pavement like he was on skis.  This spectacle wasn’t lost on the public, most of whom could only shake their heads in derision.

An old woman who was with the BNP got away with only a caution for the same behaviour. And the police missed it altogether when she started making monkey noises at black people. Another BNP supporter was restrained and taken away for walking directly into the anti-BNP crowd and shoving somebody he took a dislike to.

The usual round of photo-taking (the running theory is that they’re making a pin-up calendar of their favourite “Reds”) and finger pointing was also on show. However, apart from Tierney repeating his star turn as the mad town crier with an old brass bell, the event seemed somewhat muted.

The BNP are doing their best to stay relevant as they are sidelined by more pertinent issues. However, shows like this – and the vociferous opposition that results – only proves that they have nothing to offer the working class except division and hatred.
By the time this finished all I wanted to do was get home, put my feet up, and make myself a brew. I had prepared myself for spending the morning on a picket line, but standing against the BNP in the afternoon rain wasn't part of the plan. But then, fascists turning up never is.

What made me glad about the whole thing was the feeling that I'm not in a tiny minority, fighting this thing alone. Sure, most people aren't active trade unionists, anarcho-syndicalists, or antifascists. But when you speak to them and explain what's going on, it's not hard to find agreement and support. There is still an uphill struggle to be fought, but it's not as steep as many guess.

Many people are waking up to the importance of the events around them. In fact, it may be only scabs and fascists who didn't get the memo. It's just a question of building that sense of realisation into the kind of working class self-organisation and militant spirit we need to fight this class war.