Friday, 31 December 2010

No War but Class War - 2010 in review

So, what has 2010 been all about? This year saw the ruling class put the recession behind them and the "recovery" - clawing back and shoring up the power structures of capitalism. It gave the working class austerity, to pay for that recovery. And it has ended with the explosive escalation of the class war.

In January, an article for the Commune had this message;
The last decade saw the working class sidelined. Those claiming to stand for workers’ rights failed because they started by insisting that they knew the answers and the workers had to follow. The new decade must be one of focusing on building communism from below.
As the year ends, we can say that this message has been heeded. There is mass resistance without formal hierarchies. People are building from below. But it didn't look that way as the year began.

In Britain, the General Election campaign kicked off with all of the main parties promising to attack the working class. But the only consistent struggle against the cuts was that being fought by PCS, largely isolated by the fact that most other unions are affiliated to the then-incumbent Labour government.

It took the Liberal Democrats entering a coalition government with the Conservatives, and a slew of broken pledges, for people to come around to the idea that politics is bunk. In the wake of innumerable attacks on the worse off, disillusionment became anger. Despite an extremely tepid response from trade union leaders, rank-and-file workers, students, and activists forced militancy.

And it was Demo 2010 which really kicked things off;
It could be argued that an occupation of Tory HQ was only ever going to be a set piece for battle with the police. Whilst it might deliver a short, sharp shock to the establishment, it simply takes more activists out the picture thanks to legal action and writes the corporate media's PR for them.

But the action's merit lies in what it symbolises rather than in any tactical gain. As it was happening, others were making the case for direct action to the students themselves by giving out leaflets (PDF) and talking to people on the march may have provided a base to build for something more substantial. Simply smashing in the windows and having a fight would have scared many of them off, on the basis of propaganda and spin, but being more than just blind hooliganism it has the weight to draw many more in.

Hence the words of those on the roof of the building;
We stand against the cuts, in solidarity with all the poor, elderly, disabled and working people affected. We are against all cuts and the marketisation of education. We are occupying the roof of Tory HQ to show we are against the Tory system of attacking the poor and helping the rich. This is only the beginning.
And that has to be the important point at this stage. Successful direct action requires mass support and mass participation, and that doesn't come whilst people are still following Aaron Porter and believing that a march from A to B will do the trick. It won't. All it does is serve as a pressure release for anger which we should be channelling as a weapon. Porter and his co-thinkers have no reason to be smug, unless they are willingly defusing the potential for effective student resistance.
And the final Day X which truly crystallised the spirit of resistance at present;
Although the government won today's vote, the sheer force of anger alone has seen 30 Lib Dem and Conservative MPs vote against their parties. A continuing campaign of occupations and other forms of direct action could see universities refusing to implement the rise, simply because it is impossible to do so in the face of student action. And if this anger truly has radicalised a generation, it will hopefully feed into a struggle against austerity that could yet see today's decision reversed.

What is important now is that the momentum is maintained. This vote should not be seen as the end of the student revolts. They, as the rest of the working class, face a lot more attacks ahead. But, if we build on the momentum of the last few weeks, it need not look that daunting a struggle.
In America, Barack Obama escalated the illegal war in Afghanistan, and initiated aggression against Yemen. He also built upon Bush-ear civil liberties violations, by keeping Guantanamo Bay open and setting a precedent of killing US citizens without due process. And yet, he was met with a lamentable silence from the anti-war movement.

But the fact that he wasn't the radical change everyone had hoped for hadn't gone unnoticed. Although the main response to Obama's presidency has been a reactionary one in the Tea Party, there have been the grumblings of a class war in the USA.

Indeed, I have reported in previous No War but Class War updates on a variety of worker's struggles in the country. The prisoners' strike in Georgia and various successful solidarity actions by SeaSol also prove that class antagonism is alive and well in the community, too. It is too easy to write America off as eternally in the grip of capitalism. But Howard Zinn, who died in January, recognised the potential of the American working class and so should we.

In Canada, there was the G8 and G20;
The mainstream media were keen to report riots, confrontations, and arrests as demonstrations "turn violent" and police cars are set ablaze. Toronto's media cooperative, meanwhile, were more concerned with the police's illegal searches, the often spurious detention of activists, and the house raids conducted without warrants.
RNC '08 reported on repressive border controls against journalists. Obstruction of the press culminated today in the assault and arrest of a Guardian journalist.

The biggest overlooked story in this, however, has been the mobilisation of Canada's indigenous peoples. Toronto Community Mobilisation dedicated Thursday's events to indigenous sovereignty, which drew attention to the government "extinguishing Aboriginal and Treaty rights," and how the Tar Sands was "a violation of Aboriginal and Treaty rights, and the most destructive industrial project on earth."
But most of these issues are not reported or discussed in the mainstream media, except sparingly. In particular, the potential of actions by indigenous people to effect real change lacks incisive attention.

An exception to the rule, Jon Elmer of Al Jazeera offers an in-depth analysis;
But with Canadian soldiers, snipers, commandos and police tactical units representing the sharp end of a security budget that is poised to top $1bn, the most significant threat to business as usual for the summit may turn out to be far-flung rural blockades enacted by Canada's long suffering native communities.

"It's a very dangerous situation," said Douglas Bland, a retired Canadian forces lieutenant-colonel who is now the chair of defence management studies at Queen's University.

In recent years in particular, Canada's indigenous communities have shown the will and potential to grind the country's economic lifelines to a halt through strategically placed blockades on the major highways and rail lines that run through native reserves well outside of Canada's urban landscape.

"The Canadian economy is very vulnerable," said Bland.

"More than 25 per cent of our GDP comes from exports of raw materials, but especially oil, natural gas and electricity to the United States."

"It's undefended and undefendable infrastructure, the pipelines and power lines and so on, and it runs through great spaces of open countryside and they run through aboriginal territories.

"It would take a very small number of people very little time to bring [it] down," said Bland, who is the author of a "barely fictionalised" account of native insurgency in Canada, entitled Uprising.
The G8 and G20 are now over, but the issues facing the indigenous do not end with a single summit. They are ongoing.
As I have noted previously, Tar Sands is the most pressing, one of several areas worldwide where companies are "reaping huge profits by ravaging the environment, stealing and destroying the land of indigenous peoples, and even driving up the prices for the working class people who serve as essentially captive markets for their products in the west."

If the aim is to stop it, then militancy must take precedence where reformism inevitably fails.
Elsewhere, we have seen migrants fighting repression in Italy. The emergence of clandestine workers' councils in Iran. Bloodshed in Mexican mining disputes.And victory against legal suppression for anarcho-syndicalists in Belgrade and Berlin.

In Warsaw, a rent strike during October had significant effect, demonstrating the potential of grassroots community organisation. In China, a spate of suicides which drew attention to the plight of workers there was followed by an upsurge in militancy. General strikes shut down Portugal, Spain, and Greece. A general strike was also the pinnacle of a wave of unrest in South Africa.

In 2011, there is no doubt that such scenes of global unrest will continue. All that remains to be seen is the path they take.

Whilst many people, and not just anarchists, are fighting to instigate or maintain an organic, rank-and-file movement, others are working against this in the name of party building. The question is who will win out - the libertarians and the radical workers, or the democratic centralists.

Why looking to John Lewis for inspiration is a mistake

On Saturday 15th January, UK Uncut is organising an event called "The Feeling is Mutual." This represents the next step in their campaign, going from opposing the present situation to advocating for an alternative. However, what is on offer is not a radical alternative to capitalism, and is at best misguided.

As UK Uncut themselves explain;
An attempt to raise awareness among the public that cooperative businesses such as the Co-op, Co-op bank and the John Lewis partnership should be the inspiration with what the government does regarding Northern Rock and the Post Office over the coming months.

These two institutions should not be privatized but need to mutualized so that the workers, the major stakeholders of these firms, can truly enjoy the fruits of the labour ...- while offering an ethical choice to customers who want to bank ethically.

Having trumpeted the merits of co-operative businesses and banking outside John Lewis we will proceed to HSBC - a bank run entirely according to shareholder value, even where this is contrary to the long term interests of the company, the taxpayer, its customers and its employees and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs.
The problem with this, as the IWW have argued, is that "collectives are not inherently revolutionary." We still have the problem that "the employing class controls most of the market share and therefore sets the economic conditions in which collectives have to compete" and so "it is not just the boss that we [should] seek to overthrow, but the entire capitalist class."

The Economist has pointed out that, in co-operatives, "lay-offs, short hours and wage cuts can be achieved without strikes, and agreements are reached faster than in companies that must negotiate with unions and government bodies." A fact verified by the point that John Lewis doesn't recognise independent trade unions. Its bosses are in conflict with the interests of the workers in much the same way as bosses anywhere else are. (Hat-tip to Lenin's Tomb for the link.)

The point is made more forcefully by;
Self-managed exploitation is not just a neat turn of phrase, it is a recognition of how capital rules social life. It does this both vertically through the person of the boss, and horizontally, through market forces. Many anarchists focus mainly on the vertical rule of workplace hierarchy, and so see workers’ control as a stepping stone towards libertarian communism.

However, it’s not a stepping stone, but a cul-de-sac. For example, I work in financial services. As you would expect during a financial crisis, we’re feeling the squeeze. There have been redundancies, and the ‘lucky’ survivors are being made to work harder and longer to make up. If we were to turn it into a co-op, those same market forces causing my boss to make cuts would still be there, but we would have nobody to say no to when under pressure to increase the rate of exploitation to survive in a hostile market.
Thus, the lesson is that "we have to learn to stop trying to manage capital and instead try to fight it."

So far, UK Uncut has been one of the most positive things to emerge from the anti-cuts movement. Although the Sun's labelling of it as anarchist was absurd, the grouping's advocacy of "irreverent, flexible ‘culture-jamming’" over "top-down hierarchy" was spot-on.

Likewise, their particular tactics are praiseworthy. Some might question why an anarchist would support a campaign against tax evasion, but the fact is that they are highlighting class antagonism. Those with capital, of the class which state money bailed out, are allowed to avoid paying tax, whilst the class of people who have no choice face savage cuts in the services that our money pays for.

Tax evasion and public sector cuts don't weaken the state. They help it to strengthen capitalism and maintain the structures of our bondage, whilst slashing at the concessions 150 years of struggle have won us.

But in their latest move, they are making the exact same mistake as PCS did at their last national conference.

The union voted for "a motion expressing support for workers’ self management." The only problem was that the actual proposal was to "seek engagement and influence within the commission” that was “set up by Tessa Jowell MP in her speech on 16 December 2009 on Mutualism." That is, the Commission on Ownership which proposed the same model of "public sector cooperatives" as that offered by David Cameron.

I have previously dissected these proposals. Not to mention how the state is using the language of the libertarian left as “a veil for predatory capitalism to hide behind as it attacks the working class.”

I have previously argued that it is vital our fight against government austerity is not merely a defence of the existing order but advocacy of something entirely new. It is equally necessary that what we advocate is a genuine alternative, and not just capitalism made "nicer."

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

No War but Class War - December 2010

This month began with the explosive climax of the students' tuition fees revolt. I've written about it in more depth here, noting that "should not be seen as the end of the student revolts" and that "if we build on the momentum of the last few weeks," then what is coming "need not look that daunting a struggle."

It looks as if that point is being heeded. Not only in Britain, where university occupations continued even through Christmas Day, but across Europe.

In Greece, the national coordination meeting of the student assemblies and occupied universities declared that their struggle will continue. They "will continue with assemblies, massive protests, occupations" by "coordinating all these actions with each other and with the strikes organized by the workers" and "will continue till the final victory!"

Their immediate aim is to halt the austerity imposed by the IMF's bailout of the country. They wish to stop these measures being used to roll back workers' rights, and also to demonstrate, occupy, and strike.

Italy has been seeing similar protests to Britain. On the 14th December, the Italy Calling blog reports that "while Berlusconi was narrowly winning a vote of confidence in Parliament (314 to 311…3 fucking votes!), thousands of people took to the streets to protest once again" against government austerity measures and reforms.

Over a hundred thousand people took to the streets, and there were riots following violence by police. All those arrested were released, though one remains under house arrest. As in Britain, it remains to be seen whether the potential of the movement will be built upon.

In Croatia, there have been banner drops to express solidarity with both the British and Italian student protests.

Elsewhere in the country, workers at Mundus Varaždin held a two-day strike over a variety of issues including late wage payments, health and safety, and pensions. However, several days later several workers were fired over a claimed "illegal work stoppage." The workers' response to this isn't yet known, but the struggle continues.

In America, public sector workers have been a lot less successful than in Britain at countering media distortions of what they do. As Labor Notes reports, "plenty of public sector unions are hiding from the resentment the right is whipping up."

However, there is resistance;
Teachers in California are taking on the small-government ideology directly with a counter-education and mobilization campaign. Health care unions and postal workers in Canada are linking arms with the communities they serve. Chicago teachers are fighting school closings and the de facto privatization of education.

These unions are championing the issues that matter most for our communities, defending the public good and serving as watchdogs on cronyism and corruption. They know that the common good is not the same as a healthy bottom line for corporations. These are labor’s values, the antidote to the dog-eat-dog individualism of the market.
But the US faces the same tough lessons as everywhere else: don't trust the bureaucrats. Whilst the IWW's Jimmy John's Union is fighting tooth-and-nail for holiday pay, the United Auto Workers president Bob King has backed a trade deal in South Korea which lacks any of the worker or environmental protections unions had been demanding.

At the same time, WSWS reports how "was relying on the continued collaboration of the UAW, which received 17.5 percent of the company’s shares in exchange for relieving GM of billions in retiree health care obligations and blocking any struggle by workers against the destruction of their jobs and the halving of wages for a new generation of auto workers." With luck, the sell-outs will only spur on the growth of militant, rank-and-file unions such as the IWW.

Elsewhere, "non-union construction firms, fighting for market share, want to bring their low wages and bad work rules to those taxpayer-funded jobs."

They are attacking Project Labor Agreements, "negotiated between the employer and unions to set wages and work rules before a large project is bid," as part of the right wing anti-tax revolt. This, in combination with budget cuts, is putting both jobs and public construction under threat. A fierce propaganda war is being waged to counter the message from the right and the non-union firms.

One of the most significant events across the Atlantic has been the prisoner's strike in Georgia. I commented upon this landmark action here.

This action mirrors one in Greece, where at the very start of the month an abstention from prison catering expanded into a hunger strike. According to Contra Info, "more than 9,000 detainees and prisoners (out of a total prison population of approximately 12,600 nationwide) are struggling for human rights and dignity abstaining from the prison meals, while 1200 prisoners are on hunger strike right now!"

Their demands are listed as follows;
  1. To stop the abuse of pre-trial detention.
  2. Reduction of the statutory upper limits to continuous imprisonment
  3. Abolition of devastating sentences and wider application of the measure of probation/remission and conditional release
  4. Legislation setting the upper time limit of the statute of limitation for disciplinary sentences at 6 months – for these not to be used as restraining factor for conditional release.
  5. The abolition of the anti-terrorism law and the special terms of detention for political prisoners
  6. Abolition of under age prisons and the establishment of structures of protection for underage offenders [translators' note: we are unsure of the meaning 'ανοιχτών δομών προστασίας']
  7. Immediate release of prisoners with special needs and those who suffer from chronic serious illnesses
  8. Immigrant prisoners: (a)immediate and unconditional practice of their right to serve their sentence in their country of origin (b) immediate release of all those who are held for judicial or administrative deportation, c) immediate trying of all trials of Greeks and immigrants in all degrees
  9. Leave of absence: (a) granting of leaves of absence with the same preconditions for all, no to the unequal and discriminatory treatment, no to arbitrary rejections of applications. (b) increase in the duration of leave in all cases. c) granting of leaves at the 1/5th [of the sentence] for all offences and for all prisoners, including those who are serving sentences for drugs.
  10. Improvement in conditions of imprisonment: (a) the right to dignity, health, education, communication, development of personality, free speech, exercise (b) the right to work, immediate opportunity of employment for those who wish to do so, without restrictions due to disciplinary measures c) increase of jobs and increase in the percentage accounted for the days worked [which is subtracted from the sentence] (d) application of measures alternative to imprisonment – expansion of the institution of rural prisons to include female prisoners (e) banning of physical examinations, especially vaginal and anal, (f) improvement of the conditions within holding areas, of transfers and of means of transport.
  11. Abolition of monetary sentences (fines).
To echo what I said on the US prisoner strikes, "a society built upon the class divide between the rulers and the ruled breeds crime. By perpetuating poverty, misery, and injustice, it cannot do everything but. Prison - and the police force that puts people there - exists to contain all manifestations of the discontent that results, positive and negative, without addressing their root causes. The prison system is essential to maintaining the social order of capitalism.

"In challenging that, improving conditions in the here and now and building towards more radical change in the future go hand in hand."
    Staying in Greece, Occupied London has a report on the general strike of December 16th;
    More than 100,000 people marched in central Athens today against the freshly-voted labour relations law and the austerity measures imposed by the government and the EU/IMF/ECB troika. One of the most mass demonstrations the city has seen in recent times was met by brute police violence; the police, nevertheless, proven unable to quell peoples’ anger. A former conservative minister, Kostis Hatzidakis, made the unfortunate decision to be present at Stadiou Street at the time of the demonstration and felt the anger of the demonstrators, quickly leaving the scene injured. Street-fighting erupted across the city, which saw chaotic scenes for hours. Barricades were erected across Patision Avenue, which leads to the Polytechnic School; waves of demonstrators arriving at Syntagma square, outside Parliament, fiercely fought with the police. An – eventually unsuccessful – attempt by demonstrators to occupy the building of GSEE (the country’s mainstream trade union) saw people fighting off the notorious Delta motorcycle police and two of their bikes were set ablaze.


    One of the most empowering elements of today’s demonstration was peoples’ sheer anger and their willingness to fight back at the police repression and to defend their right to be on the streets. New tactics, including the incredibly successful use of fire extinguishers in keeping police away from demonstrator blocks, is surely a legacy for the struggles to come.
    This follows on from the general strike in Portugal, which ground the economy to a stop for an entire day.

    But what is important is that it is no longer isolated. Militancy on the streets in Greece is now easily matched by scenes in London, Italy, and elsewhere.

    Discontent is growing, and on the back of dedicated organising efforts by grassroots activists it is being transformed into angry direct action. And it has remained beyond the control of the bureaucrats and self-appointed vanguards. It is fair to say that the class war is now ours to lose.

    A split that will benefit the left

    Ed Miliband has proposed introducing a ceiling of £500 on the donations that any individual backer can give to political parties. The ostensible result of this is that it will reduce the ties between the Labour Party and the trade unions. If this is the case, it is something we ought to welcome with open arms.

    The stated aim of these proposals is to take "big money" out of politics. We should be under no illusions whatsoever that this will happen.

    If this measure passes at all, then you can guarantee that there will be loopholes and technicalities to exploit. Not to mention that, with corporate control of the media, and the power that big business and lobbies such as the CBI wield due to the sheer weight of capital behind them, "big money" will always have the casting vote. Politics will always be the shadow cast on society by big business, within a capitalist social order.

    As to what this means for the unions, Len McCluskey is in no doubt;
    What Ed needs to understand is that the trade union movement created the Labour Party. If there are people who just see us as a cash cow, the dotty aunt and uncle who are... just brought out to sign cheques, then that's not going to happen. We want to make certain that our views and beliefs are listened to.
    The only problem is that trade union views and beliefs are not listened to.

    Currently, the only reason unions account for 80% of Labour funding comes from the unions is that the Cash for Honours affair drove away a lot of the big business connections Tony Blair had collected. Even now, "Red" Ed Miliband has condemned the fire strike, called on BBC workers not to take industrial action, and declared McCluskey's call for co-ordinated strike action "wrong and unhelpful."

    I've written on why Labour are no friend of the working class several times before - most recently when they offered membership for a penny. But this is a long-running argument, and unfortunately the unions' position is entrenched. McCluskey at al are "not for leaving the Labour Party."
    Thus, we can hope that Miliband gets his wish. Members will reap the financial benefit of no longer having their subs fund a political party whose interests always have lay with the ruling class. And the fight against austerity will lose the dead weight of having a significant sector - rank-and-file trade unionists - weighted to the moderating, pacifying influence of Labour.

    This is not to say that, out of the blue, unions will become militant fighting forces. Trade union bureaucrats are at least as demobilising on their membership as the party many of them funded. But the shift will give significant weight to the argument made by those of us who believe that austerity and capitalism must be fought using direct action, that electoral politics is a dead end road, and that we must fight our own struggles rather than seeking out leaders.

    Already, libertarian ideas are taking hold and Labour cutting off the unions may well serve as the tipping point. Those of us who want to see an effective working class fightback ought to hope so.

    Tuesday, 28 December 2010

    The story of the people Britain leaves to rot on the streets

    Via Ann Arky, I'm drawn to this article in the Guardian about an asylum seeker called Abdi. A year ago, his application for asylum was rejected. As a result, he has been re-classified as an illegal immigrant and rendered destitute. His tale isn't a new one, but it is one that isn't told often enough.

    As Amelia Gentleman explains in the article, since his claim was rejected "he has been surviving without any money from the state, without anywhere to live, not permitted to work." Even hostels for the homeless "are not allowed to offer him a bed, because he is classified as an illegal migrant." He gets nothing, except "a weekly £10 Morrisons voucher from the Red Cross."

    He is not the only one in this situation, and it is a life which merits no envy. Especially as the end result of sleeping on staircases was being bitten by a rat and getting an infection. After which a fellow asylum seeker let him stay in a flat which "has no heating, no proper plumbing and is extremely dirty."

    But, despite the misery of his condition, he will not go home;
    If you understand that it is a choice between living here in this way and going back to be slaughtered, then you understand that there is no choice.
    This is the reality of life for those who come to Britain as refugees. They are not, as many people believe thanks to the tirade of lies pumped out like sewage by the media, showered with benefits or treated like royalty. They are either detained and abused, or left on the streets to rot.

    As Joseph Nibizi, manager at the Red Cross clinic which hands out the vouchers, told the Guardian;
    These people are not here because they are attracted by the [welfare] system in this country. They are here because they have run away from persecution. You can't starve them out of the country, you can't expect them to return home because they are hungry. They won't go.
    Because, as we have already heard from Abdi, what they are fleeing is so much worse. That is why people brave treacherous journeys and ruthless immigration policies in their destination countries to get away. It is nothing to do with an (entirely fictional) open border or free-for-all benefit system.

    Why should the only merit of how we treat these people be that the alternative is worse? In Nibizi's words, "These are human beings. They should be given their basic needs."

    Sunday, 26 December 2010

    Where is the victory in repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell?

    In January, Barack Obama set things in motion to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy towards homosexuals in the military.  Four days ago, he signed the repeal of DADT into law. Some people consider this a "landmark" development for gay rights. I don't.

    Firstly, don't get me wrong, I'm not in favour of the policy, put in place by Bill Clinton in 1993. The idea that people should have to conceal their sexual orientation in the name of "morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion." This, and the refusal under the repeal to give gay spouses "any rights that parallel those of a [heterosexual] spouse" are blatantly discriminatory and unjust.

    However, I have written before of my disagreements with the direction of the liberal and mainstream wings of the queer rights movement. Namely, with efforts to "normalise" LGBT people within the framework of the current social and political system, thus tacitly accepting that framework.

    As I said then;
    Reforms are, of course, vital to improving the situation that people face in the present, but we should be under no illusions that the problems of this world can be legislated away. As direct-action group the Radical Homosexual Agenda point out, "the queer liberation groups of the 60s and 70s ... were anti-war, they fought for economic rights and agitated for free speech and a greater vision of democracy." By "downsizing" their dreams, "mainstream LGBTQ groups have forgotten these connections" and have allowed themselves to be contained and neutralised under the auspices of tolerance.
    What is true for gay marriage is doubly true for gays in the military. Because here, activists are not merely becoming obsessed with an issue which - whilst unjust - paled in comparison to broader LGBT human rights concerns. But, whatever one thinks of marriage, it is not responsible for slaughter and death on a mass scale, the armed enforcement of capitalism, or illegal wars which continue to ravage the Middle East.

    I can see how one could view the repeal as a step forward, framed in the context dictated by the political elites of the Washington beltway. I can imagine much displeasure amongst the military brass – but I cannot reiterate enough how this is not a progressive moment in the social history of the United States.

    The US military is not a human rights organisation and nowhere near a healthy place to earn a living or raise a family. My email box is filled with stories of mostly straight soldiers and their families who were deeply harmed by life in the military.

    Because of the callous and violent nature of the system, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is on the rise and suicide rates among veterans and the spouses of active duty soldiers are skyrocketing.

    Veterans still find it very difficult to access the services, benefits and bonuses that were promised to them by their recruiters. I cannot imagine the repealing of DADT significantly improving the material conditions experienced by gays during military service.

    While the children of war profiteers and politicians are protected from any kind of sacrifice, this Empire preys on the rest of our youth - gay/straight; male/female - and spits their mangled or dead bodies onto the dung heap of history, without a qualm or a twinge of conscience.

    Joining the US military should never be an option for the socially conscious while our troops are being used as corporate tools for profit, or hired assassins for imperial expansion. Soldiers are called: "Bullet sponges," by their superiors and "dumb animals" by Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state.

    While soldiers are dehumanised and treated like dirt, they are taught to dehumanise "the other", and treat them as less than dirt. It is a vicious cycle, and the way to stop a vicious cycle is to denounce and reject it, not openly participate.

    I want to bang my head against a wall when another young gay person commits suicide as a result despicable bullying, yet people within the same community have fought hard for the right to openly join the biggest bully ever! Don’t go, don’t kill!
    There isn't much I can add to that.

    I will, however, reiterate the point that the concerns of different marginalised, oppressed, and disenfranchised groups should operate in tandem, not in competition with one another. The movement for queer rights should not be disconnected from the broader struggle for liberty, equality, and human rights.

    By embracing the current system and having better representation within it, it becomes the enemy of all those that system continues to crush underfoot.

    Saturday, 25 December 2010

    Season's Greetings

    Christmas has snuck up on me this year. Whereas last year it was a major stress-headache, precipitated by a lack of both money and foresight, this year it kind of just fell into place.

    But then, part of that will be due to the fact that I had a lot to occupy my time. Picket lines, marches, and anti-fascism. Because, of course, when we took two seconds to breathe in the midst of an intensified class war, the fascists reared their ugly heads.

    And Christmas time is only the briefest of breaks from all of that. With the new year comes new struggles, not just here in Britain but worldwide. Ours is only one of a great many governments wishing to impose austerity on the working class so that we might bear the cost of preserving capitalism after its latest crisis. And that cost, let's not forget, is job losses, benefit cuts for those who can ill afford it, and the ravaging of every last little concession that ordinary people have pried from the state.

    The response to austerity has varied wildly, and the "leaders" of "the Left" have been as disappointing as ever. But there is hope, and as that's what Christmas is all about, that's what I will dwell upon.

    A renewed militancy has erupted amongst rank-and-file students. Class consciousness has bloomed in the youth, forcing aside all the vague niceties about "aspiration" and "social mobility." More and more people, beyond the professional revolutionaries, are aware that this is a class war and of what that means. And new movements, such as UK Uncut, have forced direct action onto the agenda, against the will of the various bureaucracies that lay claim to leading us.

    There is great potential for a resistance that argues for more than simply defending the existing social order. More than manifest that defence in listless marches to the top of the hill, and right back down again. There is the potential - and the will - for a genuinely revolutionary struggle built and led from below. It is just a question of whether it thrives or is demobilised by the usual suspects.

    But, for now, Christmas offers us a breather. Jobs and services remain under threat. The poorest still face the possibility of not being able to keep food on the table or a roof over their heads. The threat to the independence and mobility of the disabled is ever-present.

    But it won't happen today. Today, whatever we call it and however much or little prominence we give it, we can spend time with those we love. As sappy as it may sound, we can bring warmth to the coldest and darkest depths of the year. And, I would say, focus not on the misery that may be to come but the hope that we can win the fights ahead.

    In the spirit of liberty, equality, community, and solidarity, here's wishing that all my comrades, friends, and family have a Merry Christmas. And that, through the strength of our resolve and our will to fight, the New Year is nowhere near as dismal for us as the ruling class intend to make it.

    Friday, 24 December 2010

    Police brutality in Venezuela

    The following story comes from the BBC;
    Venezuelan police have used water cannon and rubber bullets to break up a protest against a law that increases government control over universities.

    Dozens of police and national guard troops blocked a march by students outside the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas.

    The protesters say the new law will be used to promote President Hugo Chavez's socialist ideology in universities.

    The government says it is designed to make them more democratic.

    Hundreds of students gathered at the university to begin a protest march after the law was passed early on Thursday morning.

    But riot police stopped them from leaving the university grounds and marching on the parliament building, saying the demonstration had not been authorised.

    At least three people were injured during the clashes, including an opposition politician and a news agency photographer.

    These protests are clearly unconnected with those that we have seen in Britain and Italy, or the wider struggle against austerity. However, the response to it deserves condemnation as much as the police brutality in this country.

    I must confess that I haven't looked much into this dispute. The government may well be right about the grip of "the oligarchy" on higher education. The protesters may be motivated by reactionary, right-wing concerns. But the fact remains that - even with the above presumptions - you cannot "democratise" education or give universities "autonomy" by giving absolute control to the state.

    But even this isn't the point. No matter the ideology behind the protests, state violence is never justified and ought to be resisted.

    This only further proves that, no matter how lofty their rhetoric, in practice "socialist" governments are as eager to use their monopoly of violence to crush dissent as those in fascist and capitalist countries.

    The state exists to serve and perpetuate the power of the ruling class, whatever ideology they use to justify themselves. The state cannot be used to bring about liberty and equality, and its enforcement of established power should always be resisted.

    Why is downtown dead? Homelessness, development, and resistance

    The following is reposted from Modesto Anarcho's blog, because it offers a first-hand insight into the hidden class struggle going on in the United States.

    In the early 2000's, the place for young people to be was one place: Downtown Modesto. The closed off street of 10th and J was not only a home for City Hall, but also the movie theater, upscale restaurants, coffee shops, and fast food places. For many of the pre and post-high school age kids that gathered in the area however, the reason to be downtown was not to buy anything. They came downtown to hang out, meet new people, and be with friends. While many saw this as a chance to be around other youth, the downtown also was a well lit, relatively safe place that was also used by a fair amount of adults. It was a regular sight to see parents dropping kids off in mini-vans, knowing that they were safer there than at a house party. The kids could have been home in front of television, doing drugs and drinking, but instead they were in an open area filled with hundreds of different youth from different neighborhoods, races, and towns. In only a matter of years, this would all be gone.

    Go into the Downtown now, and you'll find a very different scene. Instead of young kids, you instead encounter largely young adults, mostly going to clubs and bars. Police have a much larger presence in the area than they did years before; they have a substation, surveillance cameras are everywhere, and police also block off and barricade the streets around 10th and J Street, stopping traffic. But if you aren't interested or because of your age can't go to a club or a bar, there's really nothing for you to do on a Friday or Saturday night. There are hardly any people other than the ones walking to a club or bar. There are certainly not very many young people, especially high school age, left in the downtown. How did an area of the city that was used by large amounts of young people become so dead? Where once public space served as a place for people to gather, laugh, and talk is now - completely devoid of any public life.  

    Not Just a Mob, But a Mob That Doesn't Pay

    10th and J Street was a developers dream. It featured a mix of government, retail, shopping, and restaurant property. City workers on the their lunch breaks could buy burritos and get a coffee at Starbucks. Those looking for fine dining could check out the Gallo owned Galleto's restaurant, Dews, wine bars, and a host other upscale eateries. One could take in a film at either the State or Brendan. And, the near by Double Tree Hotel kept the area awash in groups of convention goers, prom attendees, and a host of other possible customers.

    A "target" audience
    There was just one problem. The open area of the downtown itself and it's central location also created a convergence point for much of the cities youth. Once kids learned that they could come downtown, meet other young people, smooze with potential dates, and learn about after hours parties, 10th and J Street became the place to go on the weekends. Soon, upper middle class restaurant goers were having to rub elbows with grubby punk rockers, hip hop kids in tall tees, and metal heads playing yet another version of 'Enter Sandman' on acoustic guitar. What's worse, is that the majority of these kids didn't pay for anything! They weren't there to buy, they were there to hang out, and in doing so used the bathrooms of most of the businesses, put up stickers and graffiti in the area, and provided a nuisance to the 'business community.'

    But who would act as a force of protection from the rabble for the business owners in the downtown? Who else, but the police. Soon, by the mid-2000's, police were doing sweeps of the downtown, ticketing young kids for smoking and 'loitering,' and when they could, 'enforcing' curfew laws. This was an attempt by the City Government to respond and cater to the interests of the business owners in the downtown, and also the associations of developers and business interests that were situated inside local government. For them, the community and atmosphere of fun that had been created around the downtown scene was problematic: these kids were taking up space downtown and simply not buying anything. The police, forever at the beckon call of the city and government interests, were quick to use a slew of "quality of life" measures to try and drive the kids out of the area. They could site them for being out past hours or simply for loitering. With this harassment, they could push back against the kids. The developers dream came with a price; it's desire to bring people out to shop had also brought them out to simply hang out. And while the rich used the police against the youth, the kids still had some cards to play.

    If the Kids, Are United...

    Kids in the downtown faced a serious challenge. The place that they all used to come together and hang out was being threatened from police harassment. Some young people responded at the time by organizing a Copwatch group, which monitored the police and video tapped them during interactions with people in the downtown. In this way, kids tried to create a buffer zone between themselves and the police. It also gave them another tool against harassment. While this caused the police to back off sometimes, in other situations, police issued tickets and turned on the Copwatchers, trying to drive them out of the area. Other times, police simply attempted to interfere with their recording, stepping in front of cameras.

    Downtown Modesto
    In one instance, a police officer told a young Copwatcher that, "If they weren't there to buy, they had to leave." The mission of the police and their relationship to the youth downtown was very clear: they were there to make things safe for capital and not people.

    Anarchists in the downtown also worked within this tension against the police and helped organize weekend "Anarchist Cafes." These cafes featured live music or a boom box, free food, free literature, newspapers, books to read, films/movies, allowed people to make t-shirts, and in general tried to create a fun and open environment for young people. The cafes, which occurred on Friday and Saturday nights, were often harassed by the police, who attempted to get the young people to pack up their stuff and leave the area. They also attempted to get store owners who the youth were out in front of to complain so they could be kicked out of the downtown. Sadly for the police, this didn't work, and the cafe' space stayed, adding to the push against police evicting and harassing the youth.

    The Downtown Explodes

    E-40, hyphy music act
    But while the crowds of downtown youth presented a problem to the business interests in the area and thus drew the wrath of the police - the bringing together of so many people in the area also represented a possible point where people could explode into larger rebellion. In 2006, police attacked young people coming out of DJ event for high school age students in the downtown as they were looking for a robbery suspect. Police arrested, beat, and tasered several young people, who according to the police, fought back. Video of the event was recorded, but never released to the public. All charges against those arrested were later dropped, and the police did back flips trying to blame the brutality on the fact that the event was a 'hyphy' music concert. Hyphy they argued, was a form of black music from Oakland, which involved outrageous dancing and car sideshows which often ended in fights against the police. Thus, their attack was warranted because of the threat the genre played to the good citizens of Modesto. Of course, this is all laughable, and was just the police's attempt to use racism to justify their attack. However, with the 'Hyphy Riot,' the point had been made, people could fight back against the police in the downtown.

    In 2008, people coming out of bars on St. Patrick's Day fought back against the police trying to move them out of the area. Over a 1.500 people fought the police, threw bottles, and chanted "Fuck the Police!" More than 100 police from various agencies had to be called out to the area to quell the riot. Political demonstrations also were a continuing headache for police in the downtown. For instance, in 2005, over 100 protesters against Bush marched when he went into office for a 2nd term, taking the street and shutting down traffic. Police attempted to arrest several marchers and drove the people out of the streets. The amount of people simply in the streets during the weekend made the act of harassing various people problematic for the cops. Whenever they attempted to arrest, harass, or move along a group of people, they feared a possible riot.

    The Rich Respond

    Another night on the town
    The combination of a bunch of youths in the downtown that were more interested in hanging out than buying things and the periodic eruptions of people taking to the streets and fighting the police drove many of the elites in City Government to come up with solutions to the problem. Those within the City’s Citizens Redevelopment Advisory Commission and Board of Zoning Adjustment in their five year plan of Re-Developing the downtown pointed out several measures that have helped to end many of the problems that the police and elites ran into in the early and mid 2000's. First, a police sub-station was placed in the downtown area, which helped in driving away kids from the downtown. Police were even quoted in the Modesto Bee as stating that the goal of the sub-station was to drive many of the youth away from the downtown. And, for now it seems to have worked. Furthermore, the groups representing developers have helped to put in a system of real time surveillance cameras. These cameras help give the police greater control over downtown and also make it harder for groups of people to amass without the police knowing about it. Lastly, the police have developed a system of blocking cars around 10th and J Street which gives them greater control over traffic in the area and the movement of crowds. Again these are all measures laid out in the downtown re-development plan, which you can read here.

    All of these efforts have resulted in youth leaving the downtown in droves while the area has become more of a hangout for those going to bars and clubs on the weekend. But in doing so, those that direct and control the police forces which are responsible for killing the downtown youth scene have also made the area once again more comfortable for businesses. The abilities of large crowds to also gather in the downtown unless they area attending a large event such as X-Fest which is highly policed and then rioting or holding a rawkus demonstration - is also nil. In July of 2009, when a fight broke out at the Downtown Fat Cat night club, we can see all of these parts of the puzzle coming together, as police responded to the fight which had spilled into the street in full riot gear, pushing and roughing up many within the crowd. Here the police were quick to show the extent to which they would respond to a small disruption of social order.

    Clearing Out the Homeless

    Paperboy Park, a public park that Council member Muratore helped close
    Those that have drafted plans to remove the downtown of youth also have similar plans for homeless throughout the downtown. For instance, Vice Mayor Brad Hawn who helped write the 5-year downtown development plan is also a part of the Safety and Communities Committee, which helped push for the closing down of Paperboy Park. The Committee also includes Joe Muratore, the City Council rep for District 4, who also was is involved in the La Loma Association, a anti-homeless homeowners association that has pushed various anti-homeless initiatives in the city. The La Loma Association called for harsher criminalization of the homeless, surveillance cameras in public parks, the criminalization of dumpster diving, and many other measures aimed at street people. Muratore, a Harvard grad, is also a businessman with developer ties and many connections in Real Estate. As regular readers of this blog know, those from within the Committee spear headed a push to close the park after business owners complained that homeless people were using the park to much (IE, sleeping in it and resting there). The City then responded by shutting down the park, only allowing the public access to it from 11am - 1pm, or if a person paid a fee. This is Modesto, where business interests direct government and the rest of us pay the price.

    Closed to the public
    Now, Muratore is starting up a "Blue Ribbon Homeless Commission" in order to 'tackle' the problem of homelessness. The committee, according to the Modesto Bee, will be made up of a "seven-member commission...of representatives from service, business and neighborhood organizations." These of course, are the same people Muratore is already apart of or is a member to! Neighborhood organizations such as the La Loma Association want the homeless gone because they threaten property values and scare upper middle class members of their organization. Business organizations want them gone because the homeless scare away investor capital to the area. 'Service' organizations such as the Gospel Mission or various churches are more interested in 'saving the souls' of homeless than the are of stopping people being on the street. Nor are the churches going to kick up much of a fuss when people start to attack them. And of course, none of these people on the committee will be homeless themselves, nor will any of them have any desire to tackle the problems that cause homelessness in the Central Valley; poverty, foreclosure, unemployment, drug addiction, etc. They will however, have an interest in removing homeless people from the Downtown and continuing to make things safe for business.

    Muratore has stated numerous times that his goal is to 'consolidate' homeless services and get them out of public parks, i.e. out of the downtown. To many people this will seem reasonable. Why shouldn't all the services be located in only a couple places? The problem is that Muratore's drive to do so is not caused by a love for the homeless - it's part of a push to develop and gentrify the downtown and remove undesirable elements from it. Such actions will also do nothing to end homelessness, which in the current crisis is only going to be on the rise, (boom, boom, boo-yah) and everything to do with removing the 'problem' from the area via harassment and force. For instance, senior citizen residents living in the high rise near five points have already been complaining about the homeless that hang out in the park outside of their apartments. When did these people arrive on their doorsteps? Around the same time that Paperboy Park was shut down. Muratore doesn't want to help anyone but those within government and the business community. And, in a time when so many of us are literally one pay check or one eviction notice away from homelessness, are we really going to let rich big-wings like Muratore practice 'business as usual?'

    Ghost Town?

    Capitalism has destroyed
    all adventure; the only adventure left
    is to destroy capitalism
    In the end, the 'bourgiefication' of the downtown ultimately means not only gentrification, but - boredom. It means not having people to talk to other than over something that you paid for, watching a film where you are silent, at a city council meeting where people speak to you or for you, or to another worker who is on the clock. It does not mean meeting people randomly in the street, hearing music being played for the hell of it, picking up underground literature like Modesto Anarcho and meeting the people behind it, or simply kicking back with your friends outside without paying a goddamn dime. 

    The reason for all of this; the police, the redevelopment plans, pushing people out or parks...of course is simply to make money. By 'cleaning' the downtown of the elements such as youth, the homeless, etc, neighborhood associations like La Loma can stay prestigious and attract new renters and keep their old ones. Businesses in the downtown will not feel threatened and capital looking to invest will not be scared away. City Governments looking to make money off of property and sales tax can be assured that their coffers will be filled. Police also, looking to 'keep the peace' by keeping the rabble off the grass also can find job security as repression becomes a boom industry. 

    The people that lose at first are those that are the targets of repression. The youth kicked out of a place to hang out. Homeless people moved out of park. But moreover, those that lose out are all those who are denied access to the places where we can come together and talk, hang out, and organize from.

    It's our city, let's take it back
    There are several things to take away from the last decade of life in the downtown. The first is that the police are not neutral. They serve and work for the business and political interests that run this city. Remember the police officer that said, "If you're not here to shop, you have to leave!"? The police know full well who they work for. Second, we can see that the push to attack the homeless, push out youth, and develop and gentrify downtown are not problems of bad policy or 'mean' politicians. They are instead actions of an upper class that seeks our removal so they can make money. Lastly, we can also see that the drive by the ruling forces to stop people from coming together without buying things is not just an economic decision, but also a political one as well. The forces that want us gone because we don't buy things also don't want us coming together in the middle of town, talking, organizing, and resisting together.

    Downtown Modesto, 2010. Parks are shut down. Places where people used to come together weekly now are guarded by police substations, road blocks, and surveillance cameras. This isn't just happening in Modesto. In Arcata, the square that once was filled with travelers and music is now almost silent, as police have cracked down on basic code infractions. In Santa Cruz, it's a crime to smoke on Pacific Ave. To many people these actions by the state are seen as simply poor policy, which is why it's important to understand that these laws are the first wave of an effort in developing and gentrifying an area. They don't care about people smoking! They want a reason to harass people and move them along. They want a reason to get in there and clean up the area for their own purposes. For the past 10 years, the rich have waged on ongoing battle against the poor and working people of Modesto in order to make sure that they get their money and we stay in line. Sadly for us, it appears that many of us aren't in the plans for the future other than as workers, consumers, or people that "used to live here."

    Will the places where we live be open and full of life? Will we have public space be open to all, where music, food, and passion flow freely and we meet new faces, lovers, and friends? Or, are we going to allow our streets and public spaces where we gather to become simply boring, expensive, and heavily policed? The choice is ours.

    Thursday, 23 December 2010

    The Labour Party isn't worth even one penny

    The Labour Party have launched a campaign against education cuts. Under the heading of "speak out for your generation," it offers "a Christmas invitation to young people: join the party for one penny, and we will be your voice." But the cost behind that penny is the sell-out of resistance to the cuts.

    The campaign's stated aims are as follows;
    Labour's new campaign begins with three key aims to help young people protect themselves against the Tory-led Government’s attack on aspiration:
    • Halt the unfair policy of scrapping EMA which helps some of the poorest young people, by holding a Parliamentary vote in the New Year;
    • Protect Sure Start centres in our community now under threat of closure despite promises from David Cameron and Nick Clegg to protect them;
    • Continue to campaign against the unnecessary and unfair tripling of tuition fees.
    We will not let young people carry the burden of this Government’s broken promises and will lead campaigns in these key areas to force real change and protect the hopes of a generation.
    The problem with the above is that what are, on the surface, fairly agreeable aims lack any substance. How, for example, does Ed Miliband propose to "protect" Sure Start centres?

    His only significant disagreement with the government is on "the pace of deficit reduction." That is, screw the poor over as you see fit, but do it more slowly so that they're less likely to rebel over it. The established Labour way. Thus, we can bet safely that his pledge of protection is about as solid the similar "promises from David Cameron and Nick Clegg."

    This is not to mention that, given that Sure Start has been under attack since May, Labour's efforts thus far have been dismal. They are only a party of the working class when in opposition, and even then the parliamentary route achieves nothing.

    The same point is true on EMA and tuition fees. Whilst the students were fighting tooth and nail to stop cuts to education, Labour and "Red" Ed were blasting out "agree with the cause but wrong tactic" rhetoric, arguing for a more tempered, passive, and ineffective campaign. Again, not to mention that Labour introduced fees and topped them up in the first place.

    But, of course, too many people fall into the trap of believing that Labour are any kind of alternative to the Tories. The simple fact is that they're not.

    Labour are calling this new campaign "part of the debate about the future of social mobility," which certainly seems differet from the Tories. Ed Miliband calls the issue "one of the three big arguments for 2011," whilst the Tories want it buried. But the difference is tactical, not ideological.

    Social mobility means getting ahead, doing better than your parents and your peers: it means that while you move other people have to stand still. Social mobility requires both winners and losers. Hope – or aspiration – confirms the unequal world in which we live. And education – that formal process of differentiation, where some end up with degrees and contacts and others jobs without a future – is essential to the creation and maintenance of that inequity. It reinforces the role of the University in unequally distributing meaning, possibilities, wages and other forms of social wealth. Put this way, the right to education means the freedom to be unequal. The right to education works to underpin the myth of meritocracy – the myth that it’s through hard work and ability and not connections, class and privilege, that people get to where they are. The right to an education means that if you perform well in standardized tests (helped by being well off, going to the right school and having a stable family life) then you deserve to go to University and cement your place up near the top of the social hierarchy (as long as you make it into a relatively decent university, though how many ‘bad’ ones will remain after the cuts is an open question). The betrayal of the right to education – by either there not being enough jobs for graduates (as is the case for a third of existing graduates), or by the rising costs of ‘earning’ a degree, putting it out of reach for all but the very wealthy – is the betrayal of the right to not being working class.
    Thus if we are to join Labour, we are content to "merely defend." All we are doing is "defending the most sacred of neoliberal freedoms – the freedom to be unequal," and though the tactical difference from the Tories is palpable, the same ideological framework prevails unchallenged.

    What paying that penny prevents us from doing is "go[ing] beyond mere defence." It binds us into the very capitalist social order that breeds inequality, class divisions, and class conflict. The only difference is that we are trying to make it somewhat more dovish than the Tories and the Liberal Democrats would prefer. By joining Labour, we are playing politics, not agitating for genuine change.

    I've written about this many times before. See here, here, here, and here. But I repeat it now because we - as a class - face the biggest attacks in a generation, and we are still making the same mistakes that have stopped every great rebellion of the past short of revolution.

    To "vote Labour without illusions" is to hold to a delusion. "If the content of that struggle is only to restore that machine, to defend the freedom to be unequal, failure is all we can hope for."

    Thus, my advice to students, school children, and young people more generally is simple. Build from below. Self-organise. Don't join Labour. Don't be fooled into thinking you need anybody to be your voice or vanguard. One pence is the price of your own inevitable betrayal and demobilisation.