Monday, 28 February 2011

Take 'Em Down!

Dropkick Murphys are one of my favourite bands. The fact that they are unapologetically pro-union and pro-worker figures into this as much as their hyper energetic brand of Celtic punk does. That is why they have released the song "Take 'Em Down" in solidarity with workers in Wisconsin.

The band are working with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and others to make sure the song is available to be played at rallies across the country. They have also released a limited edition "Take 'Em Down" t-shirt, which you can buy here, with proceeds going to the Workers' Rights Emergency Response Fund.

The song has, naturally, upset the right almost universally. You can find a myriad of blogs denouncing the "violent theme song" of the "union thugs," along with one utterly laughable "Libertarian" commentator who is clearly unfamiliar with the band when he claims that by demonstrating their political affiliations (evident from their very first album, if you're interested) Dropkicks will now "lose 50% of their audience." But then, this just adds up to another reason I love this song and this band.

I'll end by echoing Dropkicks' pledge of support and solidarity to all the workers fighting for their rights in Wisconsin, and across the world. This really is a great song for any picket line, and I will urge people to spread it as far and wide as they can. Enjoy!

No War but Class War - February 2011

This month, the working class of the Arab world have proven that the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt were no blip. The revolts have continued to spread, and we have seen protests spread to Algeria, Bahrain, Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, Oman, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and even Saudi Arabia. It is already a cliché to call this a "tidal wave," but there is no other apt description for it.

The unrest in Libya has perhaps been the most violent, protests meeting with a violent response from Gaddafi's regime. More than 200 people were killed at the height of the violence, and this has been the only Arab uprising where the UN has stepped in to issue sanctions. As Adam Ford explains, this is no doubt due to Libya's role in the world oil markets, but nonetheless it is significant. Now, with migrants fleeing to Tunisia to escape the violence, and the opposition seizing territory close to Tripoli, it is clear that events are drawing to a head.

In Egypt, as I noted last time I wrote on the subject, the takeover by the military means that although Mubarak has stepped down, the people there are no closer to freedom. However, despite threats by the army and the effective banning of industrial action, strikes continue. Though the actions initially began as part of the protests against the Mubarak regime, they have now been linked to demands for a national minimum wage and the right to form independent unions.

What is promising not only in Egypt but across North Africa is the class character of the uprisings. Though there have been attempts by some to link these struggles to religious or nationalistic concerns, the economic divide between rulers and ruled remains a paramount concern. If this tendency continues to dominate, then there is far more hope for the region than in any revolution previously.

The other significant struggle this month is that of workers in Wisconsin, protesting against attacks on their right to bargain collectively. In response, workers occupied the State Capitol and its grounds. This became a focal point for rallying and protest, and so the authorities were keen to cut it off and made plans to evict people from the building. However, in an unprecedented move, the police sent in to do this job instead announced their solidarity with the workers and joined the occupation.

Now, the IWW in particular is pushing for a state-wide general strike. Whether or not it happens remains to be seen, but if it does go through this will be a pinnacle of the most significant labour struggle in America for almost a century.

What makes it all the more volatile is that the right-wing Tea Party movement has responded with hostility. As workers across the United States rallied in solidarity with the workers, the forces of reaction staged counter-protests. The Tea Party's star has declined somewhat as working people have woken up to the attacks facing them, and their poor showing in the US mid-term elections seemed to indicate that they had had their moment in the sun, but it remains true that the state will deploy any means necessary when organised labour becomes too significant a threat and it is no great leap to imagine these reactionaries being used to smash picket lines in the same way as fascists were early on in the last century.

Meanwhile, workers in Greece staged their eighth one day general strike since the current government took office. As usual, this saw all sectors of society come out, with public transport and flights severely affected, and protesters fighting back against police violence.

However, that this is the eighth general strike in the country and the IMF-imposed austerity measures which people have been struggling against since last May are continuing says a lot. Though they bring rank-and-file militancy to the streets, these actions are nothing more than extremely grand token gestures by union leaders to appease their membership - this latest one coming the day after parliament passed a deregulation bill.

However, in spite of this inaction by official leadership, there is a growing movement of people refusing to pay the increasing cost of public transport, health care, and toll roads. This is, as MSNBC reports, a reaction to "higher taxes, wage and pension cuts, and price spikes in public services."

If there is hope for the Greek working class to reverse its fortunes, it will be in this kind of popular rebellion, rather than in token gestures by trade union leaders. The same is true in Britain as well. Whilst the working class across the globe is erupting, we are waiting patiently for March 26th and the TUC's grand gesture. But if ever there was a time for workers to come out in open rebellion, it is now.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

What the Wisconsin Police Union's show of solidarity means

For almost two weeks, workers have occupied Wisconsin's State Capitol building. They took over the building on February 16th, and hundreds of people have been camping out each night since. Now, official plans to bring this to an end have been foiled in the most extraordinary way.

According to The Understory, radical folk singer Ryan Harvey broke the news on Facebook today;
Police have just announced to the crowds inside the occupied State Capitol of Wisconsin: ‘We have been ordered by the legislature to kick you all out at 4:00 today. But we know what’s right from wrong. We will not be kicking anyone out, in fact, we will be sleeping here with you!’ Unreal.
He offers a fuller dispatch from the Capitol, which is worth reading, here.

It is worth noting just how monumental an event this actually is. As The Commune, among others, have noted before, the police's role in society is to serve the state and to contain or put down dissent. In Britain, the latest example of that came from their behaviour during the student protests. In the Arab world, the point is made far more brutally.

This is why I have previously argued against showing solidarity with the police when they are marching against cuts imposed upon them. After all, "working class solidarity should not be reserved for those who exist to smash it."

That said, I have previously made the point that winning agents of the state over to our side of the class war is not unthinkable. The 1920 Listowel Police Mutiny and the role of soldiers in war resistance and revolution are just a couple of examples. As such, "we should not be willing to write off an entire segment of society as “class traitors” until we have at least made the effort to show them that there is a choice and to offer a perspective on solidarity and rebellion."

The police in Wisconsin appear to have taken such a perspective on board, and that being the case it is not unthinkable that we could agitate for the same response from police forces elsewhere.

However, this should not be taken lightly. We cannot win the apparatus of the state to our side, and the police in Wisconsin have effectively surrendered their role as law enforcers to stand with the working class. And that is the point: not appealing to "good cops" to show mercy, but by encouraging mutiny in state ranks and asking those in uniform to remember where they come from.

Friday, 25 February 2011

How to derail the government's anti-strike "war games"

Government ministers are bracing themselves for coordinated strike action by public sector unions over the summer. They have apparently been engaged in "war games," including plans to respond to action with an army of scabs. So it's time to start talking about how workers defend against this.

A number of people, myself included, have dismissed the TUC's resolution on "coordinated strike action" as bluff and bluster. It is clear, not least from how they are organising March 26th, that they want to defuse rather than lead working class anger against the government. But this doesn't mean that there won't be strikes, and unions such as PCS are confident that action will come over attacks on pensions later in the year.

And whatever we think about the bureaucrats at the top of the pyramids, it is the rank-and-file of the organised working class who will be on any picket lines that emerge. They deserve our solidarity and every last drop of support we can offer, because whilst "left unity" is a con for use by would-be vanguards, class unity is what has brought us every last concession won from the state and capital.

The government undoubtedly knows this, and it is why they have been doing their homework. The Independent quotes a government source as saying that they "are looking across the country at things like which prisons have a high number of militant staff and which schools have a high proportion of NUT [National Union of Teachers] staff. The idea is if they go on strike we will be prepared." Although they retain the "nuclear option" of further anti-strike legislation, they also have teams "looking at examples of the ongoing strikes on the London underground network and British Airways to provide a model of how private-sector contractors could be brought in at short notice to limit the effectiveness of any mass strike action."

In other words, they want to divide the working class along public and private sector lines, and draft in an army of scabs from the latter.

Fully aware that they are waging a class war, the government have been "looking at who we are likely to enrage" with the cuts "and when we are likely to be doing it," and from that "working out where we are most vulnerable." But, the question becomes, how do we fight back when they move to implement their strike busting strategy?

There are a number of things that can be done, and indeed need to be done, here. Not only to respond to the "war games," but also because we are in a period of particularly acute class warfare. Here, I will touch upon the most important.

Firstly, and most vitally, we need to see mass pickets. Legal guidelines (PDF), and common practice in the last twenty years, has seen lines outside the workplace reduced to six official pickets. Thus, the line is merely a small visible demonstration of the larger action of workers withdrawing their labour. But, especially if the government is going to draft an army of scabs to cross those picket lines, then the effects of the action have to be physically defended at that line.

One of the most recent examples of this was in the firefighters' dispute in London. There, all those on strike were on the line, and there were blockades to prevent scab fire engines from entering. Though this saw hit-and-run attacks on pickets, it was largely successful.

Such action also provides a focal point for solidarity from those outside the affected workforce, which is another vital point. Liverpool Solidarity Federation have recently made a habit of supporting PCS picket lines, and myself and another SolFed comrade also showed up at a BBC picket line during their pensions dispute. But this should be happening far more often, and on a far larger scale. Socialist Worker reported on a gathering of 200 people supporting the fire dispute, and there is no reason whatsoever that public demonstrations couldn't be assembled alongside mass pickets.

At the same time, as I argued during that same fire dispute, the firms which provide the government's army of scabs need to be outed and targetted.

This includes making the case for solidarity to the workers being asked to cross the picket lines, and making the argument for stable, secure employment over scab jobs - as was done at Job Centres during the postal workers' dispute in 2009. But it also includes more militant tactics such as sabotage and the occupation or blockading of such scab firms. As I said preciously, "If six people can put a munitions factory out of action, surely we can do the same to a scab depot?"

Ultimately, alongside these tactics, the best way to side-step the government's contingency plans is to break the law. A legal strike ballot and notice period allows the employer (and the state) time to prepare, but a wildcat strike does not. However, even with trade unions staying well within the confines of the law, militancy as described above can strike a powerful blow for the working class.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Quote of the day...

...has to go to News Line, paper of the Workers' Revolutionary Party (no, me either) yesterday offered up this absolute gem in their editorial on Libya [emphasis mine];
We urge the working class of the world to oppose the imperialist intervention into Libya that is being made, and the greater, possibly military intervention to come into the affairs of the Libyan people.

We urge the Libyan masses and youth to take their stand alongside Colonel Gadaffi to defend the gains of the Libyan revolution, and to develop it.

This can only be done by the defeat of the current rebellion
and a major national discussion about the introduction of workers control and management of the Libyan economy and society, as well as the introduction of the political organs for exercising that political control and management.

Further, the Libyan workers must take their place as a leader of the revolutionary wave that is sweeping through North Africa.

This can only win through the establishment of the United Socialist States of North Africa.
To which my initial response is "err, sorry... what?!?"

But yes, that is "the British section of the International Committee of the Fourth International, founded by Leon Trotsky," calling for the rebellion in Libya to be put down. You know, that rebellion of working class people against the dictator ruling their country? The one that's part of "the revolutionary wave that is sweeping through North Africa?"

I suppose asking these people to explain how exactly the Libyan working class can "take their place after a leader" of that wave when their own part of it has been violently suppressed would be futile.

There are western interests at stake in Libya, and Adam Ford explains them in some depth along with the complex relationship between Gaddafi and the West. But to boil it right down to "Gaddafi good / America bad," and describe those protesting as "a right-wing reactionary uprising" is absolutely, blindingly, bat-shit insane.

Which will be another reason why, when the same paper declared that "NOW is the time to build the WRP and the Young Socialists into the leadership of the working class and the student youth," nobody bothered to argue against it. Nobody even listened. Sorry guys...

Don't lobby - occupy!

Across the country, as councillors gather to vote on their budgets for the coming year, people are coming out in protest. The two most recent examples of this are in Lambeth and Milton Keynes. The difference in the two approaches, especially if applied nationally, couldn't be starker.

In both cases, of course, the council set a budget which included cuts to jobs and services. However, at this point in time, it is likely that only a hostage situation could have produced a different outcome. The balance of power remains such that both local councils and central government remain confident that the only opposition they face will be nominal. Working class anger still isn't a significant enough threat.

Protests such as the one against Milton Keynes council will not change that. 50 people stood outside the council building, chanting and waving placards, but did not go further. Councillors saw that people were angry, yes, but they also saw that this anger didn't translate into militancy.

By contrast, in Lambeth, more than 150 people stormed the council chamber and took over to hold a "people's assembly." The official meeting was not just disrupted but utterly derailed, and councillors had to flee the chamber and to make the vote on the cuts in private. In terms of scale, it wasn't quite the takeover of the Wisconsin Capitol, but it was done with the same spirit of defiance.

The reason that, after retreating to a private room, they still made their cuts was that this action is still fairly novel. In Islington, there were 200 protesters on the streets and 60 got forced out of the chambers for disrupting the peace, but elsewhere what we are seeing is passivity. These events are not organised as direct action, or even as protests, but as "lobbies." The aim being to somehow convince councillors to vote against the cuts which, aside from being a weak appeal to authority in place of mass action, is quite obviously not working.

In its place, as I've argued before, what we need is an increasing number of town hall and council chamber occupations. Not only will these build and maintain momentum outside of demonstrations - as the university occupations did for the student movement - but they will turn class anger into something tangible.

Of course, it doesn't end there. As well as attacking the state apparatus we need to go on the offensive economically, through a campaign of strikes, blockades, and occupations. Not just in our workplaces, but on the high street, at the point of delivery for services that are being cut, and anywhere else we can make an impact. Not, as UK Uncut does, to draw attention to concepts such as Tax Justice, but with the specific aim of inflicting economic damage and showing the ruling class that it is the workers, not them, who hold the real power in society.

It is only when popular unrest renders the country ungovernable that we will see the tide turn, and the state offer up concessions. But getting there isn't something that can happen overnight. It has to be built for, organised, and spread by example. The most obvious starting point for that is the town hall, where councillors are claiming that their hands are tied as they wage class war against us.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Why the choice between voting systems doesn't matter in the slightest

It emerges, today, that a bill to allow a referendum on reforming the voting system has passed through the Houses of Parliament. As such, on 5th May, people will be able to choose whether or not to abandon the First Past the Post (FPTP) voting systen in favour of the Alternative Vote (AV).

There are a number of arguments both for and against adopting AV as a voting system. There is also an argument that we shouldn't be arguing FPTP versus AV as the real alternative is Proportional Representation (PR) and this is just a sideshow to distract from real voting reform. Some even argue that in the campaign for fairer votes, AV is a step backwards.

My own opinion on the matter is somewhat more straightforward;
What we are opposed to is not the very act of voting, but the practice of electoral politics. That is, the system wherein a cross-section of the public gets a say in who runs a given body – party/union executives, local councils, national governments, etc – but that body, once elected, holds autonomy to make decisions as it sees fit, regardless of the will of those it theoretically answers to. This is bourgeois or parliamentary democracy, and to anarchists it isn’t actually democratic at all.

What it boils down to is not decision-making by the people, but the people delegating that decision-making power away to persons assumed to know better on such matters. This is not exercising power, but surrendering it.
This doesn't change if the method of surrendering power is "fairer" or "more representative" of which party people choose. We are still choosing from a range of parties whose only differences "are strategic – reflecting differences of opinion amongst the ruling class."

Whether we have AV, FPTP, PR, or any other model, the fact remains that "whoever you vote for, the government wins," and "the working class remain under the yoke of one or other set of bosses out for themselves." Not only that, but campaigning around votes "takes an enormous amount of energy, time, and resources," all of which "could be much better spent building practical alternatives to the current system."

Thus;
as long as people continue to participate in the electoral system, they are validating the same governance that we are fighting against. If voting changes nothing, and that is exactly the point I have been arguing, why freely offer the ruling class the pretence of a democratic mandate? Why expend so much energy on the process?

Electoralism is nothing but a dead-end road. Especially now, as we once more face a heightened period of class struggle and austerity measures, it has the potential to be the pressure-release which completely derail active resistance. If people want change, they need to reject the ballot box and get on the street to make it for themselves. 
Need I say more?

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Why "left unity" is a noose around the neck of working class struggle

Today, Liberal Conspiracy hosted an edited version of this article by Paul Cotterill. Titled "10 reasons the Left should support Labour Council Cuts," it is a masterpiece of apologia for Labour Party reformism. It also shows why the poisonous totem of "left unity" needs to be destroyed.

The article itself lays out the reasoning for why Labour councillors cannot avoid making cuts in line with the government's grant reductions. Specifically, it is a rebuttal of those arguing for the tactics deployed by Militant Tendency in Liverpool and Lewisham in the 1980s. It then goes on to offer reasons why Labour cuts will not be as bad as Tory and Lib Dem cuts. Yes, really.

The first part of the argument is actually fairly sound legal reasoning. Whatever your opinion on Militant's tactics, it is a fact that the state has been efficient at making sure they cannot be repeated. What it boils down to is that, if Labour councillors refused to make the cuts, then either unelected bureaucrats or central government would step in to do so. Thus, what Tony Mulhearn and others are touting as a tactic of resistance in fact boils down to a grand, but fruitless, gesture.

However, it does not follow from this that we "should support Labour Council Cuts." Rather, that councils cannot (and, at any rate, don't actually want to) oppose the cuts simply exposes the limits of reformism and appeals to authority. It demonstrates that we should oppose the councils' actions as vociferously as the government's, not that we should accept a supposed lesser of two evils.

The only evidence that Cotterill can cite for the notion that "the most vulnerable will, in general suffer less under Labour cuts than they would under Tory administrations" is Liverpool City Council's own words. However, using that as the benchmark for credible evidence, I can easily counter with council leader Joe Anderson's admission that "life-line services for the young, elderly and disabled will not escape the cuts and libraries and leisure centres will also face the axe." Not to mention 1,500 jobs. That's 1,500 families that will suffer under Labour cuts, and their being the "less" which would only increase under the Tories will be cold comfort as they join the dole queue.

Hence why I baulk at the suggestion that "what is needed in these circumstances is proper engagement with Labour councils over what cuts are being proposed and why, rather than a blanket refusal to engage with any cuts at all." This is nothing other than pro-Labour nonsense to save face and (of course) votes amongst the working class suffering the cuts.

But this is why the notion of "left unity" is so virulent. In essence, as articulated by this post on Liberal Conspiacy, it is the notion that left wingers "need to accept those who hold views we disagree with in order to challenge those we oppose." Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. Even the author of that article admits that the centre- and far-left are and should be utterly divorced from one another. And, the master of utter bollocks about "unity," Sunny Hundal, effectively boils it down to leaving the moderates in charge of the movement.

Because "unity" inevitably means falling into line with the policies and leadership of whoever's advocating it. Whether that be Labour councillors working with Liberal Democrats and Greens to impose cuts, bureaucrats only interested in their own careers, centre-leftists who want to march about and shout things but shy away from things like class struggle, or party-building, paper-selling Leninists.

But the fact is that we don't need "left unity." We never did, and it will always be the noose that chokes the life out of effective class struggle.

Instead, what we need is class unity. That is, the working class organising ourselves in order to exercise our economic power against the ruling class. Only when a rank-and-file movement of strikes, economic blockades, occupations, and other direct actions paralyses the country will we see those in power shift on their cuts policies.

Society is a power struggle, not a debating chamber. Only a campaign of mass militant direct action can force concessions from the state, and only by learning to organise ourselves without bosses or leaders can we build the new world in the shell of the old.

On Aaron Porter's departure

Aaron Porter has announced that he will not be seeking re-election as President of the National Union of Students (NUS) in April. I class myself as amongst the many glad to be rid of the man. But we should be under no delusions that the NUS itself will operate any differently.

It's true that Porter's personal conduct has generated a lot of flak. He condemned the seige of Millbank Tower - without which there wouldn't have been a movement against the cuts of any significance - as "despicable," and tut-tutted over "violence" by students against inanimate objects as those same students had their heads bashed in by police. Then there was the hollowness of his political stance, at one point suggesting that slashing grants to the poor may be the best way to avoid a fees hike.

In short, Porter was willing to sell out those he supposedly represents at every turn. For such callous betrayals in the name of his own self-interest, he is no better than a scab marching across a picket line for a few extra pounds.

But it also has to be recognised that the problems of the NUS do not begin and end with Porter. For a start, it is a servicing union. It exists mainly to negotiate discounts and promotions for students, alongside the occasional squeak in the non-commercial interests of its members. As such, even if one believed in the need for top-down leadership, its mandate to lead a street movement against fee hikes and education cuts was always flimsy at best.

Then there is the fact that he has hardly broken a trend by being a bureaucratic sop. His predecessor Wes Streeting - now a Labour Party councillor - was the one who pushed for the union to drop its support for free higher education. And the organisation's list of presidential alumni includes such figures as Jack Straw, Phil Woolas, and Charles Clarke. Hardly a hotbed of left-wing radicalism.

The fact is that, as it stands, the NUS is not fit for purpose as a militant fighting organisation. And if the transformation from a servicing union to a campaining union were possible, as happened with PCS, it would be such a drain of energy and resources that one needn't bother. Especially as such a reformed NUS would still carry all of the inbuilt limitations which weigh down even the most militant mainstream trade unions. Sure, it would be without the utter embarrasment that is Porter, but this would in no way guarantee against the rank-and-file being demobilised from above.

Porter's departure from the student movement should be a lesson for everyone. But if that lesson is that we can push for better leadership, then we haven't moved forward at all. Because the truth is that we are better without leadership, and it is rank-and-file militancy that wins struggles.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

When the British working class fell behind the American working class

One phrase I used to hear quite often, talking to trade unionists about apathy and low levels of organisation here, was "at least we're not in America." It has long been a truism that, effectively, there was no American labour movement. But the reality is quite different. To the point where I am coming to believe that British workers are far behind Americans in terms of both organisation and militancy.

A prime example is the recent unrest in Wisconsin. Adam Ford offers a full analysis here, but the upshot is that - faced with pay cuts and an attack on union bargaining rights - workers across the state have been rallying. Most dramatically, they occupied the state Capitol and its grounds.

This is, according to Monthly Review, "the beginning of a new American workers movement." Certainly, something of this scale in a long time. But I have written numerous times of America's ongoing class struggle, and the actions which define it - particularly with the IWW at the forefront. Though it has remained hidden from public eyes for a long time, class antagonism is still very real in America.

But it is worth contrasting it with Britain. Here, 58.8% of public sector workers and 23.5% more broadly are members of a trade union. In America, the figure is 36.2% in the public sector, 11.9% overall. Much lower. And yet, despite the AFL-CIO having much the same role in pushing moderation and compromise as the TUC, the militancy on offer across the Atlantic appears much greater. Although the postal workers in the CWU are known for their wildcat strikes, for example, we haven't seen unorganised workplaces honour a spontaneous picket line, nor any serious efforts to organise workers in Starbucks or the fast food industry.

We certainly haven't seen workers on mass take over a government building and refuse to leave. In fact, the closest thing to it - the seige of Millbank Tower - was roundly condemned for its violence and our trade union leaders are determined that peaceful protest and "lobbying" can win out.

This is why, when the Institute of Directors proposed a similar restriction on public sector collective bargaining here, there was hardly any response. The TUC has "accused" the IoD over its recommendations, and not much else has happened. But then, Britain has the toughest restrictions on trade union rights in the free world, and absolutely nothing has been done in response to that.

In the wake of the ongoing revolts in the Arab world, left-wing groups have quickly latched onto the slogan "walk like an Egyptian." But, with attacks intensifying and the bureaucracy of the labour movement unwilling to do anything about it, we could do worse than look to America for inspiration.

Marching with the axemen in Liverpool

Today, I attended the "Fair Deal for Liverpool" march. As I predicted yesterday, it was nothing more than a photo-opportunity for Liverpool City Council, the leaders of each party trying to justify the cuts whilst claiming to oppose them. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of myself and others, they got away with it.

The march itself might as well have been a funeral procession. Despite up to 5,000 people taking part, it was gripped by silence, and attempts by some to get chanting going quickly died a death. The Liverpool Socialist Singers were at the back of the march, but even by the middle you couldn't hear them singing. At the front, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the leaders of the council were able to bask in their own smugness.

If there was going to be an attempt to reclaim the march and opposition to the cuts from these career politicians, now would have been it. But the banner saying "No to City Council cuts" was in the hands of Tony Mulhearn and the Socialist Party. They refused to move until even the tail end of the march was quite far ahead, and retain ideological purity a whole five people strong. For the former Militant Tendancy, this was less militancy and more of a strop.

Personally, I would have been in favour of muscling into the front of the march. If an event like this ever happens again, it will be worth noting that a large enough number of people could have flanked the Lib-Lab contingent at the front and shut them down, also allowing people to give out literature and talk to people, arguing for a different approach.

Unfortunately, due to a number of factors, those numbers didn't exist. Thus, we were reduced to a funeral posession that snaked almost silently through the City Centre to St George's Plateau.

At the rally, the Lord Mayor of Liverpool took the role of compere. Which, I suppose, really puts all those middle class trade union bureaucrats who refer to everyone as "colleagues" into some perspective. She told us how great it was to see people pull together as a city and other similar cockwaffle before introducing each speaker in turn.

Joe Anderson was first up, his speech getting louder and more aggressive as people heckled and booed him. In response to my yelling that he was the one making the cuts, and that he was the enemy locally, he returned to his tried and tested "my hands are tied" rhetoric. He also branded me and others "the loony left," before moving on to claim that when he presented his budget to Cameron (with all the job losses and service cuts it entails), he would be "telling them straight" how "unfair" this all was.

However, despite the fact that he has announced 1500 job cuts and said that life-line services will not escape cuts, he will apparently be "leading the fightback." And whilst he's at it, he will "build schools, houses and hospitals." But how you can defy the need for cuts whilst having your hands tied by the exact same point wasn't quite explained. Maybe we're just too stupid to understand.

From there, it was downhill. Warren Bradley, the local Liberal Democrat leader, and Sarah Jennings of the Green Party made similar self-justifying speeches. Blame lies with the Tories, doing what we can to protect people, etc ad nauseum. Jennings even told the crowd that we would have to accept the need for cuts at present, which led to a hail of boos and chants of "off, off." At which point scolding people for not accepting this reality wasn't the smoothest move.

But, to show just how backwards the whole charade was, the Lord Mayor reminded us that we needed to maintain a united front. Again, how uniting across class lines with those wielding the axe was preferable to working class unity against those in power remains to be explained.

But then, as ever, those who call for "unity" only support it when it's on their terms and under their mantle.

As if to prove the point, Joe Anderson closed the rally by calling for people to stand together and slagging off everyone who disagreed with what he was doing. Particularly surreal was his telling hecklers that "the fightback in Liverpool started before you even got here," before closing with "the fightback starts now!" Gotta love consistency, eh?

Immediately afterwards, there was an attempt to have an alternative podium. However, one megaphone was no match for the council's PA system (wonder how much of the budget that took?), and it attracted a much smaller crowd. It was nothing like Manchester on the 19th January, where the bureaucrats and career politicians could be in no doubt that the rank-and-file had vociferously rejected them. Here, it was largely acceptance. Joe Anderson and Warren Bradley got their set-piece victory.

It may be the case that this was a one-off. The politicians have had their photo opportunity and kept up pretences for electoral purposes and can now retreat to make working class peoples' lives so much harder and miserable. But if it is not, and they call another demonstration, much more organisation needs to go into derailing their big moment and arguing for people to lead their own struggles rather than looking to leaders. As satisfying as it was to see Anderson's jowls shudder in anger as we heckled him, it achieved nothing.

Until people like him are, as Aaron Porter was, driven away from the demonstrations altogether, working class militancy will be suffocating under their dead weight.

Quote of the day...

...goes to Edd Mustil at The Great Unrest;
Since the Second Great Chasing of NUS president Aaron Porter in Glasgow, a certain attitude has been floating around along the lines of: “Let’s not make this personal. We don’t want to resort to personal attacks and bullying. Some of the language used against him has been too strong.” And so on.

I’m sensitive to the fact that we don’t want to make our criticisms of Porter too personal, for the political reason that the problems in NUS go far beyond his personal role and lack of leadership.

This said, he is obviously a scab, and we should call him on this. There is a dispute occurring in British universities over fee levels and funding. He is ostensibly the leader of the students’ union. However, his role has been to attempt to subvert the radical action of students. He has decried and dismissed radical action, his has implicitly made false allegations against his political opponents, and has presided over an NUS leadership which has abandoned the fight against higher fees in stark terms.

“Scab” isn’t a word that should be thrown around lightly, but it is entirely appropriate in Porter’s case. 
And I would have to agree wholeheartedly.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Liverpool City Council attempts to march the working class up a blind alley

Liverpool City Council leader Joe Anderson's efforts to paint himself as some kind of anti-cuts crusader - whilst implementing the cuts - continue. His latest stunt is to ask people to march, tomorrow, for "a fair deal for Liverpool." This has to be shown up for the pathetic charade that it is.

I've already written about why Anderson is not to be trusted, and his crocodile tears should be scorned. And I'm far from the only one who thinks the same way. By all accounts, his appearence at a recent Liverpool Trades Council meeting was brave to say the least, and not one person there fell for his "I'm so sorry, but my hands are tied" act. People are more than aware that this is cheap electioneering ahead of him making unpopular decisions, and nothing more.

Nonetheless, he continues to ham it up. The BBC quotes him as saying that having to make cuts of £91m is "absolutely heartbreaking," and that "it hurts me and it hurts other people, I know that, but they're the types of decisions we are having to make." The blame, as ever, lies anywhere but with him.

And yet, whilst he's telling us that this "hurts like hell," what he's asking people to march behind him for tomorrow - even on the presumption that he can do nothing - isn't opposition to the cuts altogether. It's for, as the Facebook event states, "that the city isn't forced to implement the Government's cuts in just two years; and that we are not given the biggest cuts in the country, but rather only the average cuts in the country - which would reduce our cuts by some £26million." In other words, we accept the ideological framework laid out by the government, but simply ask for less of the burden to fall on this particular area of the country.

If that wasn't wet enough, pile on top the request that "members of all ... political parties" take part. Thus the march "will be led by the Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green and Liberal councillors who worked together on the budget." Or, to you and me, the bastards putting the cuts in place!

This march is a clear attempt to divert anger at austerity measures down channels that are safe and acceptable to the ruling class. Implicit in the invitation to march is the idea that the cuts are neccesary, and our only concern that we face more than other parts of the country. Thus, rather than marching against all politicians and their class war agenda which is going to hit the most vulnerable hardest, we are to march in the name of Liverpool City Council's electoral ambitions.

Fuck that for a game of soldiers.

I fully intend to be there tomorrow, but only because there will be plenty of people along for the ride who risk being duped by this nonsense. The media narrative is the same as the political narrative. The Liverpool Echo states that the council "has tried to protect frontline services," but "finances are stretched almost to breaking point because the Government withdrew funding," reinforcing Anderson's line. On the ground, where people are angry and scared enough to come out on the streets, that must be challenged.

The only way to defeat the government's attacks is through mass direct action. We need to make the country ungovernable, not open our arms to parasites like Joe Anderson. He is an enemy of the working class, and he must not get away with trying to claim otherwise.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Why we should stay for one day

Yes, it's another post about March 26th. However, given how much hangs on what happens that day, it has to be discussed. The problem still remains of how to stop the bureaucrats of the TUC killing the struggle against austerity.

Of course, many will argue that we should pull against everything hingeing upon a single day of action, and they're right. See, for example, my argument for occupations, strikes, and economic blockades as a way to attack the capitalist economy and build the strength of the working class. This remains a necessity. But it doesn't reduce the importance that - for a number of reasons - March 26th still holds.

The TUC called this demonstration, months ago, to placate those petitioning them to act against the cuts, and saw it as a hook on the back of which they can get away with doing nothing. But now, estimates place the number attending at a million plus. It will be the largest mobilisation of the working class in at least a decade.

That is why the TUC is afraid. They are doing their best to derail militancy by making the event as tightly stewarded as possible, and by agreeing to absurd concessions such as sending coaches away to Wembley to park, so people have to get the tube in to the march. They're putting Ed Milliband on the stage with a line-up of bureaucrats, and will be doing their best to see that people listen to speeches, wave flags, and go home. Deflated. To watch the movement die.

For the same reason that the TUC is afraid, those of us who want effective opposition to the government's agenda should be hopeful. No, it isn't the be-all and end-all of this fight. But it will be an important milestone, and we need to see it bear the fruits of mass militancy.

This is why the plan currently gaining momentum, to "turn Hyde Park into Tahrir Square for 24 hours," is exciting. The whole point, rather than for a few people to show off their radical credentials, is to encourage mass action. In essence, it boils down to occupying the park for 24 hours following the TUC rally. But the potential is for much more than that.

In the words of the Resist 26 website;
Imagine a village within central London where people can camp, organise, relax, eat, dance and hatch plots.

Imagine a having a space to create a truly free micro society based on mutual aid, universal respect and combined power to hold a siege of London, that will have those in power running for the panic room!

Because going home empty handed is not an option. 

But mainly: We need a place to celebrate the death of apathy.
And this is the point. We don't merely want a big set-piece, to give our "leaders" a nice photo opportunity, we want the ruling class running scared. And that only happens when those they rule become ungovernable. When they feel the balance of power shift.

That can only happen if everyone protesting against the government is willing to not just wave a placard but actively disobey.

Actions like the seige of Millbank Tower saw the movement explode into life, rose class consciousness amongst the young, and galvanised untold numbers who had never taken to the streets before. But there were (and are) still too many convinced by liberal and bureaucratic hand-wringing over "violence." They still believe that society is a debating chamber, and that if we only win the argument then the powers-that-be will be reasonable enough to back down.

We can change that mindset, but to do so we have to draw people into the power struggle - to take them beyond protest into the realms of direct action.

Occupying Hyde Park is perhaps the best way to do that. After all, "if we chose to take parliament square whilst everyone else gets the coach home, we lose a vast amount of people and taking the space will almost certainly result in some confrontation." This will allow the bureaucrats to turn people against militancy with greater ease, whereas "Hyde Park is a neutral place for people to decide what actions they want to take part in."

This can, ultimately, involve taking Parliament Square, or any number of other actions. Already, a number of different possible actions in the pipeline, and Hyde Park (like Tahrir Square) will serve as more of a hub than a stand-alone event. Because what happens next has to be organic.

Nonetheless, it should now be self-evident what needs to happen next. We need to sell this. The Resist 26 website is serving as an online hub for information about the day, whilst you can find the "Stay 4 1 Day" Facebook event here, and the "Fuck off Ed Milliband" event here. "Puppets for Protest" and the "Pink and Black Bloc" are also worth checking out. But not everybody is online. Groups and individuals need to spread the word as far as possible, with leaflets and word of mouth, not only on the coaches and trains but before the event - encouraging people not only to come down, but also to stay.

We need to strive for a wave of militancy which maintains the momentum up to and beyond March. But it is equally important that March 26th is truly monumental. If we let the bureaucrats have their way, it will be much harder to effectively fight back.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Anarchism and the Big Society

The following comes from Anarchist Writers. It is a point I have made before, but also one that it certainly won't hurt to reiterate...

In the Independent (16/02/11), Brian Lincoln from Edinburgh wrote a letter discussing David Cameron’s “Big Society” and anarchism:
“In proposing the ‘Big Society’ as the antidote to ‘big government’, has David Cameron converted to anarchism, the political philosophy which most wants to get the state out of everything?
“In an 1896 text, the Russian revolutionary Peter Kropotkin explains that anarchism "seeks the most complete development of individuality combined with the highest development of voluntary association in all its aspects, in all possible degrees, for all imaginable aims; ever-changing, ever-modified associations which carry in themselves the elements of their durability and constantly assume new forms which answer best to the multiple aspirations of all’. Familiar?”
Yet this is a selective account of anarchism, completely ignoring its economic ideas and the means advocated to achieve it. This can be seen from the text quoted, namely Kropotkin’s Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Ideal. Yes, Kropotkin does argue for free association but he recognises that this is only truly possible in a society without class division for “we know full well today that it is futile to speak of liberty as long as economic slavery exists.” Thus capitalism meant the worker must “sell his labour power for less than it is capable of bringing in” and Kropotkin points to “the fatal consequences of the present forms of property.” Thus:
“when we analyse the evils of the present economic system, we see - and the worker knows it full well - that their essence lies in the forced necessity of the worker to sell his labour power . . . he renounces the benefits his labour might bring him in; he abandons the lion's share of what he produces to his employer; he even abdicates his liberty; he renounces his right to make his opinion heard on the utility of what he is about to produce and on the way of producing it.”
Interestingly, given the current economic woes being used to justify Cameron’s ideological agenda, Kropotkin notes that these are inherent in capitalism and so the “industrial crises, the frequency and duration of which are always augmenting, have passed into a chronic state in many industries.” He was also clear, given his analysis of the exploitative nature of capitalism, that an economic revolution was required as well as a political one:
“a conception of society arises, in which conception there is no longer room for those dominating minorities. A society entering into possession of the social capital accumulated by the labour of preceding generations, organising itself so as to make use of this capital in the interests of all, and constituting itself without reconstituting the power of the ruling minorities.”
Such a “society, having recovered the possession of all riches accumulated in its midst, can liberally assure abundance to all in return for four or five hours effective and manual work a day, as far as regards production.” Libertarian communism, Kropotkin stressed, was “the best basis for individual development and freedom; not that individualism which drives man to the war of each against all.” No Tory would agree with that perspective.

Similarly, it is doubtful that Cameron would conclude that “this ideal presents itself based on the necessity of Communism, imposed on our modern societies by the eminently social character of our present production.” Anarchy, argued Kropotkin, “refuses all hierarchical organization and preaches free agreement.” This applies economically as well as politically. The hierarchical capitalist workplace based on wage-labour must be replaced by the self-managed socialist one based on associated-labour. Anarchists, unlike the Tories, “loudly ask for the return to the community of all riches accumulated by the work of preceding generations” and the “holding in common of land, mines, factories, inhabited houses, and means of transport.”

Again, unlike Cameron, anarchism sees free association as being created from below rather than legislated from above:
“Communist organisation cannot be left to be constructed by legislative bodies called parliaments, municipal or communal council. It must be the work of all, a natural growth, a product of the constructive genius of the great mass. Communism cannot be imposed from above; it could not live even for a few months if the constant and daily co-operation of all did not uphold it. It must be free.”
Again, unlike the Tories, anarchism sees a free society being created by the direct action of the working class:
“The worker perceives that he has been disinherited, and that disinherited he will remain, unless he has recourse to strikes or revolts to tear from his masters the smallest part of riches built up by his own efforts”
Unlike the attempts by the Tories to restrict the right to strike and to organise unions, Kropotkin stressed the need for “collective revolt - strikes and working class insurrections.” This was the means by which “they will be able to start the destruction of the present economic system” as well as the state which protects it, that “mutual insurance society of landlords, bankers, priests, judges, and soldiers.” The means of production would be seized and run by those who use them, for “how can the peasant be made to believe that the bourgeois or manorial land belongs to the proprietor who has a legal claim . . . how make the worker in a factory, or the miner in a mine, believe that factory and mine equitably belong to their present masters”?

Would Cameron be praising such actions as the “Big Society” or would he be invoking “Big Government” to crush such revolts? The answer is all too obvious.

To conclude, it is not a wise thing (unless you wish to discredit anarchism!) to suggest Cameron’s visit of a privatised society is similar to anarchism’s socialised one. It staggers belief that anyone could suggest David Cameron has “converted” to anarchism or seeks the same society as Kropotkin. Yes, anarchism is for free and self-managed association but it is premised on a transformation of economic relations and property. Cameron has not decided to become a (libertarian) socialist nor, like Kropotkin, renounce his own social position to work for the self-emancipation of the working classes from our slavery from capital and its defender, the state. Quite the reverse as the cuts and the Tory agenda he is trying to hide begin his “Big Society” rhetoric are aimed at increasing our slavery to capital. The road to private serfdom, if you like...

Suffice to say, anarchism has never been purely anti-state and to suggest otherwise is to impoverish it. As can be seen from Kropotkin’s 1896 text, we recognise that free association cannot exist as long as capitalism does.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The wave of revolt continues to spread

Across the Arab world, unrest continues to mount. Though they can't quite be called revolutions, the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have set the example that more and more people are standing up to follow. As we watch history unfold before our eyes, it is hard to know what comes next.

I make this point about uncertainty because, as much as people are ready to declare it so, we are not on the verge of global revolution.

In Tunisia, Mohamed Ghannouchi is still prime minister, as he was under the now-deposed Ben Ali. from 1999. Though most of the regime's senior figures have been removed from office following further unrest, the same infrastructure remains in place.
In Egypt, the army has dissolved parliament and set a time frame of six months to hand over to a civilian administration. Meanwhile, they have effectively banned strike action, and reports are emerging of the detention and torture of demonstrators by the same people now handed the reigns of power. Several thousand people are still protesting in Tahrir Square.

In both cases, it remains to be seen what the final outcome will be. But the talk among elites continues to be of "reform" and "transition," in the name of "stability" and a return to normality. In other words, throw the people a bone, but leave the existing power structures in place.

No doubt, where they cannot be put down entirely, the same argument will be made regarding unrest elsewhere.
In Algeria, the foreign minister has promised to end 19-year-old emergency laws "within days," hoping to quell the discontent there as people call for more protests. In Jordan, restrictions on public assembly are to be eased. Both countries are eager to placate their populations in order to avoid the scenes which overtook their neighbours.

On the other hand, both Bahrain and Yemen are going with the stick over the carrot. After a death during Bahraini protests, riot police further stoked tensions by opening fire upon the funeral of the man killed. This will no doubt see protests escalate, the most popular chant being "The people demand the fall of the regime!" In Yemen, the state is deploying the tactic we saw in Egypt of plainclothes agents masquerading as "pro-government supporters." Supported by police wielding tasers and batons, they have turned demonstrations into a violent battleground.

Kuwait, not yet caught up in the tidal wave, has announced the distribution of $4bn and free food for 14 months to all citizens. Between the concessions and the confrontations, it is clear that the rulers of the Arab world are finally starting to fear their subjects.

As I stated earlier, it is impossible to predict what comes next. The elites in the affected countries, as well as their foreign backers, will certainly wish to preserve the status quo - whether entirely unaltered or with a new face at the top and some appeasement. The people, yearning for freedom, are building their own vision for society as their movements grow - and self-organisation and mutual aid certainly appear integral to what they are forging for themselves through rebellion.

We don't yet know what will win out, and the result could be radically different in each locality. But, as the struggles continue, our solidarity has to go to the working class of those nations now in upheaval. Not just against the dictators, but against the capitalist system that supports them.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

(Not) tearing down the fabric of civilisation...

The government has announced plans to allow gay couples to get married within religious settings. They will also change the legal definition of marriage so that it isn't limited to being between one man and one woman. As you might expect, a variety of bigoted traditionalist interests are outraged.

However, I would like to draw the fundies' attention to this fact [emphasis mine];
Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone is to propose lifting the ban on civil partnerships taking place in religious settings in England and Wales.

There are no plans to compel religious organisations to hold ceremonies and the Church of England has said it would not allow its churches to be used.
In other words, if you are still of the opinion - like Joseph Ratzinger - that gay marriage is one of the "most insidious and dangerous challenges that today confront the common good," that's your beef. You don't have to open your church, synagogue, mosque, temple, etc, to "the gays."

However those from more enlightened denominations, such as the Quakers, are no longer barred by statute from allowing same-sex weddings in their churches.

This is not a case of the state dictating what religions should believe or how they should act, but of it stepping back to allow religious freedom. Because religious freedom, I might add, gives people the right to not be an uncompromising bigot as much as it gives them the right to be one.

Of course, this won't stop certain people from complaining. Such as Mad Mel Phillips, who equates schools acknowledging the existence of homosexuality with "McCarthyism" and the "abuse of childhood." Or Stephen Green of Christian Voice, who actively advocates the death penalty for sodomy. For them, subtle nuances such as - say - reality make little difference. The gays are at it again, tearing Christendom apart at the seams, and must be stopped. Ahem, all in the name of "freedom," of course.

But this is just further proof that such people are far beyond the fringes of rational debate. They don't deserve to be taken seriously. And when a barrier comes down that gives everyone the same rights regardless of their sexuality or any other harmless characteristic, we should applaud it.

Take VAT - or, where tax justice goes horribly wrong

A new "UK Uncut-esque" action group, calling itself Take VAT, has recently emerged. Where UK Uncut directs its action at tax dodgers, Take VAT has issue with the recent increase in VAT to 20%. However, almost immediately, it has taken entirely the wrong approach.

On Saturday, protesters from the group invaded Heathrow Airport, where they "ran around Terminal 3 ... ‘confiscating items’ such as luggage trolleys and toilet roll." In the first instance, this action was quite simply ridiculous, and the only impression it would have given to onlookers is that of a small bunch of students causing havoc. But it also shows that they have no idea how VAT works.

Take this quote from a spokesperson;
It is simply unfair that aviation pays no VAT. Why should one of the dirtiest and noisiest industries in the world get away scot-free when ordinary people are charged VAT on basic necessities like toilet rolls?
In the Guardian on Thursday, they further claimed that "the biggest companies are getting away with paying nothing" in VAT, and that "that avoidance is costing the public millions." This is simply wrong. It's true that there is more than a measure of unfairness about the tax, but that cannot be addressed by asking that more companies have to pay it.

Value added tax is paid by consumers, not retaillers. Occasionally, shops will offer customers a "VAT holiday," where they absorb the cost of budget increases themselves. But this is a short term gimmick, and ultimately all such increases are absorbed into the price paid by shoppers.

So, if we demand that the aviation industry pays the tax, we are actually demanding that the ordinary people who use its services do. If we complain about HMV and Tesco exploiting a legal loophole to sell CDs and DVDs cheaper, we are complaining about working class people having those goods at a lower price. And all the while the fundamental issue - that VAT has risen to 20% as part of a broader rise in the cost of living which makes it harder for all of us to get by - goes unchallenged.

Even PCS, whose Tax Justice campaign inspired UK Uncut and the message that "there is an alternative" to public sector cuts, states that Tax Justice "mean[s] higher income tax rates for the richest and cutting regressive taxes like VAT and council tax."

PCS argue that closing the £120bn "tax gap," between the taxes due and those collected, would save far more money than the present austerity measures. They argue for investment in jobs over cuts, and for scrapping real waste such as the Trident nuclear missile programme and the war in Afghanistan, which together cost around £4.1bn every year.

On the other hand, all that Take VAT are arguing for - perhaps inadvertently - is the cost of the VAT increase (which goes hand-in-hand with public service cuts) to be borne by ordinary people. Not only is this an argument the public won't sympathise with, it is one that shouldn't be made.