Sunday, 31 July 2011

No War but Class War - July 2011

One of the more significant events that has taken place this month is the Israeli housing revolt, and I have covered it in depth here. Whilst this is ongoing, with the possibility of a general strike tomorrow, Palestinian government workers are demanding their pay within 48 hours, or they will take indefinite strike action.

Elsewhere in Israel-Palestine, Libcom.org reports on a quarry workers' strike;
Palestinian quarry workers at an Israeli settlement in the occupied territories have gone on strike over unpaid wages.

The strike began last month at Salit Quarries in Mishor Adumim, in occupied East Jerusalem. The workers demands included a pay raise, and end to the withholding of pay, arranges pension provision and signs a collective agreement with the workers. 

The action is supported by WAC-Ma’an, an independent trade union based in Israel that states that is aims to unite “workers regardless of nationality, religion, gender or the color of their skin.” The strike began on June 16th after quarry management failed to attend a meeting organised to discuss a collective bargaining agreement.

The Israeli-owned Salit quarry are employed to break rocks down to gravel. Tens of thousands of Palestinians work in similar conditions in Israeli-owned businesses, rarely with any form of union organisation. 
It is a promising sign that, even in the region arguably worst affected by sectarian and nationalist divisions, class issues continue to push themselves to the fore. In part, this is because these issues are not only directly tied into the behaviour of states and other injustices, but they have a direct impact on people's ability to survive day to day even when bombs aren't dropping or rockets flying. The emergence of these struggles also gives hope that resistance can be built on a class basis, and the ruling class on both sides held accountable for their actions.

In South Africa, twelve shack dwellers arrested following an attack on their settlement in Durban have been acquitted of all charges brought against them. The African National Congress and the local police were complicit in the original attacks, which saw two residents killed and many others beaten. It was only when the residents moved to defend themselves that police intervened, charging residents with murder for the deaths of several attackers and seeing the settlement handed over to the pro-ANC militia.

After two years, all charges of murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, public violence and damage to property have been thrown out. Shack dwellers movement Abahlali baseMjondolo have declared this a victory "for all poor in South African who are suppressed every day when they try to resist their repression," and say it shows up "those in high authority" as well as "the regressive left that would rather support state repression against a movement than to allow the poor to organise ourselves and to speak for ourselves." The latter point refers to the attitude taken by the likes of the South African Communist Party.

The movement of the shack dwellers continues to be an inspiration to the most alienated and isolated sections of our class everywhere. As I've written elsewhere, they show the revolutionary potential of those dismissed by Marx as "social scum." As they say, their struggle continues, and let's hope that they live up to their word and "move forward without any fear of any thuggery from any politician."

In Britain, whilst the focus of the left has been on the set-piece J30 strike, there have been two key struggles worth following. One, the strike by IWW-organised migrant cleaners in Guildhall. The other, the ongoing battle of council workers in Southampton.
In Guildhall, 34 cleaners employed by Ocean Contract Cleaning London struck for 2 days in June over under-paid wages dating back three months. The workers are on poverty pay as it is and this reduced wage could not be tolerated. The dispute was suspended on a promise that the wages would be paid, but when the employer failed to keep its promise a new strike date was set for 15th July.

In the face of a solid strike and strong shows of solidarity, the management gave proof that they were addressing the wages issue worker by worker. This is a small victory and the cleaners have vowed to now fight for the living wage. But it demonstrates what a united workforce, acting for itself, can achieve.

In Southampton, the threat of 250 immediate job losses and a 5.4% pay cut for everyone earning over £17,500 sparked a two-month dispute. Targeted and rolling strike action has seen two thousand tonnes of rubbish pile up and considerable inconvenience caused locally. Despite which, 63% of residents polled still support the strikers.

One concession already won is that a formal pay cut for children's care workers has been revoked, but they still face a three year pay freeze. At present, social workers are engaged in a seven-day strike, but as Libcom.org notes "the organisation and militancy was not there to organise an effective boycott of the new contracts." As such, it is vital that there is "effective further action, espectially when the inevitable next cuts are proposed, to show that declaring war on the council's workforce in this manner will have dire consequences." Council leaders elsewhere will be watching this action closely, and workers should too.

In Greece, the tent occupation of Syntagma Square was evicted yesterday morning, with riot police destroying and removing tents on the order of the attorney general and the mayor of Athens. There was a call to assemble at 6pm that night and to have the general assembly as normal, but there has been no word on whether this occurred.

The Spanish "indignants" have set off on a march from Madrid to Brussels, in protest "against what they see as governments bowing to financial markets and ignoring the needs of their own people in the economic crisis." In the spirit of the open and democratic movement which emerged on 15th May, they "plan to hold meetings, collecting complaints and proposals as they go." They aim to meet up with similar movements from other countries, who have followed their lead and also taken up the march.

There are limitations to the movement, and no end of internal contradictions between reformist demands and radical, direct action means. But it offers a glimpse of the class anger boiling over across Europe and across the world, as well as the power it holds if rank-and-file workers organise themselves and take direct action.

Anarchists are in season once again

Yesterday, I was tweeted a link to the Project Griffin weekly briefing sheet. My attention was drawn to page 3 of the report;
Anarchism is a political philosophy which considers the state undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful, and instead promotes a stateless society, or anarchy. Any information relating to anarchists should be reported to your local Police.
As Random Blowe points out, "leaving aside the rather limited definition of 'anarchism', [this] is another example of the attempted criminalisation of ideas." Not least because Project Griffin exists to "advise and familiarise managers, security officers and employees of large public and private sector organisations across the capital on security, counter-terrorism and crime prevention issues."

But there is more here than just routine fear-mongering from the state. Last week, the Independent on Sunday reported that "organisers of next year's Olympics believe there is a greater threat of disruption to the Games from anarchist protesters than Islamist terrorism." This, too, is a rather tenuous and pointless story, but given the experiences of this year alone (let alone prior precedent) we have to be wary of the motives here and on the lookout for a trend developing.

The IoS claims that "the Games are a likely target for anarchists because of the heavy corporate sponsorship of the events," but if this was true then every sporting event would be beseiged by anarchists. That is clearly not the case. Instead, most anarchists will recognise that "heavy corporate sponsorship" is a reality of capitalism and that workplace and community organising to challenge that system will have far more effect on this than stunts at the Olympic Games. As North London Solidarity Federation said when the same nonsense was swirling around the royal wedding, "our feelings on the matter are those of indifference."

However, it is the royal wedding that tells us what we could expect as we get closer to the Olympics. Then, too, we saw absurd scare stories about "hardcore militants," and it became the pretext for raiding squats, the pre-emptive arrest of the entirely harmless Charlie Veitch and Chris Knight, the invocation of section 60 of the public order act to prevent people wearing masks. 55 people were arrested and the only one who had done anything harmful wasn't an anarchist but a man who had sexually assaulted a 14 year-old girl.

All of this is in the wider context whereby "police resources have shifted towards anarchists and anti-government movements after the series of anti-cuts protests on the streets of London, and elsewhere in Britain, over the past 12 months."

Indeed, since the anti-cuts movement began, it is fair to say that Britain has been caught in the grip of another red scare. The point now is to make sure that we are alert to it, and in a position not only to counter the propaganda but also to defend ourselves and our comrades from the repression that follows alongside such hysteria.

Quote of the day...

...can only be either a statement of extreme irony or a total and utter lack of self-awareness;

The English Defence League: the Leading Force Against Far Right Extremism in the UK

This headline comes from an article on the EDL's website, following on from leader Tommy Robinson's appearance on Newsnight. But if that alone wasn't enough, the statements that accompany it go beyond absurdity.

Aside from being "the world’s leading counter-jihad protest movement," the EDL are also apparently "remaining vigilant for all other forms of extremism." Alongside the Islamists, "there are three main forms of extremism that we are helping to defeat," and this includes being "one of the best forms of protection that this country has against far right extremism." Yes, really.

The brave troops of the EDL also apparently challenge "the view that in order to defeat fascist ideologies (Nazism, Islamo-fascism, Stalinism, etc), it is necessary to resort to violence or other extreme action" and of course the old chestnut of "violent anarchism." Because these self-styled heroes of the working class deride the idea "that the existing establishment (the banks, the government, the media, leading industries, etc) are responsible for the world’s problems and deserve to be attacked in some way."

I've dissected much of this claptrap previously. In my report on the poppy burning incident, I explained how the EDL are at best ineffectual at challenging militant Islam, I've responded to their position on class, and as well as tearing down their mission statement I've explained why - far from being "anti-fascist" - the EDL's actions and politics vindicate the use of the term "far-right" to describe them.

As for the bullet points in this article, it isn't difficult to show them up as falsehoods or delusions. Taking them one by one;
  • We are committed to peaceful protest; stewarding our demonstrations and cooperating with the police.
 This is demonstrable bollocks. Not only do the EDL have a record of going on the rampage at demonstrations, they turn on one another when there is nobody else to fight. This is alongside preparing for such demonstrations by issuing threats to Asian taxi drivers, hardly conducive of peaceful protest.
  • We educate our supporters about the threat posed by Islamic extremism; analysing its cause and encouraging a public debate, rather than making unfair generalisations.
If this is true, you have to wonder the value of their education. Taking Liverpool as an example, of late the EDL have demonstrated against a vigil for the people of Palestine which they automatically equated with "supporting Hamas," and a march for female asylum seekers. Then there was their threat to cause disruption across the country on the basis of tabloid myths. If these are people educated against unfair generalisations, we can only wonder what the ignorant bigots are like.
  • We argue that extremism cannot be fought with extremism – not only is it wrong, but it doesn’t work.
This is too vague a statement to address. The EDL do not define "extremism," and at any rate their attitude appears to be that of the state's - fall in line with a prescribed way of thinking or be declared an enemy.
  • We speak out against prejudice, and defend the reputation of ordinary Muslims.
By chanting "Allah is a paedo" and "we hate Pakis more than you?" Or by demonstrating against the very idea that Muslims ought to be allowed a place of worship?
  • We celebrate the efforts made by truly reformist or modernising Muslims.
If somebody has evidence of this, anywhere, please feel free to present it. I have seen none.
  • We regularly accept opportunities to debate with our critics and those with whom we disagree: encouraging mutual understanding between people on different sides of the argument.
Perhaps why, when they invaded News from Nowhere, an admin of the Liverpool EDL page pointed out that some bits of literature "promote communism and are anti-royals" and "A[s] a[n] Englishman I find this unacceptable."
  • We give a voice to people who have might otherwise believe that no one speaks for them.
This one is true. However, as I've argued before, what this amounts to is leading the working class down a nationalist blind alley. They have demonstrated their support for "the banks, the government, the media, leading industries, etc," and serve their needs by twisting class resentments and interests to present them as nationalist ones.
  • We help prevent resentment from growing between communities.
I refer to my point on "peaceful demonstrations" above. The EDL not only causes and exacerbates tensions between ethnic and religious groups, it plays up the myth that such groups can be organised into homogenous "communities," which is the very basis of the divide and resentment.
  • We refuse to cooperate with known extremists, and have made ourselves very unpopular with the far right for refusing to endorse their views.
I've addressed this earlier, looking at why the EDL should be called far-right and fascist.
  • We celebrate diversity, by establishing ‘specialist divisions’ such as our separate religious divisions, and LGBT division.
Indeed, they have their token divisions, rejected by the "communities" they are supposed to represent. Moreover, their Jewish Division leader Roberta Moore quit precisely because of those using the group "for their own Nazi purposes."

Clearly, far from being "one of the best forms of protection that this country has against far right extremism," the EDL are the far-right. They attempt to mask it with sophistry, but their is no escaping their origins as a gathering of fascists and football hooligans. It is the duty of real anti-fascists to oppose them, both by dissecting their dogma and by standing in front of them when they advance upon our communities.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Do not ask for the EDL to be Banned

Via Liverpool Antifascists, the following is a statement from Tower Hamlets ALARM in response to calls for the EDL's protest in Tower Hamlets to be banned.

Ban the EDL march. The current chant right now of the Left. They are insane.

Some people are getting into the old rhetoric “We are proud of Tower Hamlets, a vibrant multiracial area, which has along and proud history of resistance to racism & fascism. From Cable Street in the 1930s, to Brick Lane in the 1970s and to Millwall in the1990s, the people of Tower Hamlets have come together to see off racism and fascism before. We will now stand united against the racist and extremist EDL.” Reads a letter from Hope not Hate in which they repeatedly ask for a ban.

In the 30’s they did not ask for a fucking ban they stopped them. The answer to Nationalist right wing nuts is never State oppression. The EDL must be defeated on the streets. There is no other solution to them.

All the EDL have to offer is a paranoid partially twisted dystopian future, one shared with people like Anders Behring Breivik who’s grotesque actions in Norway are fuelled by the same hateful ideology of anti-immigration hysteria. They rub shoulders in the same political world alongside a plethora of religious bigots. They may claim not to be an explicit fascist organisation but they fail to realise that they are igniting a political vacuum that allows and even encourages it’s behaviour. Is there a chance of EDL activists turning down this path of lone wolf bombs and gun attacks? Yes, London has seen an example before with David Copeland the nail bomber. This EDL is where their politics ends, with violence.

Banning their march’s only further legitimises their arguments. A tiny tiny tiny minority of orthodox Islamic followers do need to be criticised and protested. If their march’s are banned their narrative of victimisation, that all Muslims are a problem and that the Left are willing to allow this country to fall into this minority hands becomes more acceptable, despite lacking any proof. If their marches are banned it makes them seem right, their numbers will grow, this is unacceptable. They must be stopped. And they must be stopped by the only language they know. On the streets.

The only thing that is certain is that a ban on the EDL march in Tower Hamlets will be a nightmare.

Without the EDL on the 3rd to protest, our community will be attacked by another invading army, the police as seen before on June 20th last year. The groups that turn out to oppose the absent EDL will have the shit kicked out of them by the police. Kids will be rounded up beaten, arrested and months later sent to jail.

The EDL can be defeated politically (just not by Newsnight’s Paxman) because their ideas are mental. They want to pit us against our neighbours. We live here and we know for a fact that “English” and “Muslim” people can and do live side by fucking side in shit cramped housing and get along just fine.

And if they do head down to Tower Hamlets on the 3rd they will be defeated on the streets. And this is what NEEDS to happen. We don’t need a ban on the EDL, we need to stand against them. Not walk away to Weaver’s field, but to stand in front of them. Stop them marching, show them that they cannot not intimidate, divide and batter a community.

If the EDL are not beaten on our streets they will never go away, if they are not smashed to atoms – physically and ideologically – then they will continue to grow and infect. If the EDL are banned and go underground without being definitively defeated on the streets we will never be able to operate without a fear of them. They will become the bogeyman to radical politics.

State intervention is a worrying turn, the State stepping in and banning EDL protests is not a sign of a left wing section of the State acting, or even an Islamic element gaining strength, it is a sign of a further move to a totalitarian State. We already have the camps in Yarlswood, thug police that get away with murder and an ever watching State gathering information on us. We don’t need to campaign for them to ban political groups. Today the EDL, tomorrow us.

We don’t need the State to stop the EDL. We need to do this ourselves. We need our communities to work together, overcome divisive elements and tackle the threat of fundamentalism in whatever forms it takes. This is the only way the working class can stand strong in the Governments onslaught of public service cuts. United we stand, divided we fall.

See also ALARM's letter to the unions in Tower Hamlets and response to the message they received from the EDL's "Angels."

Working class rebellion in Israel

The Israeli working class has added its voice to the protests and discontent spreading across the Middle East. There are twenty five tent cities across the country, demonstrations and road-blocks have occurred daily, and now there is the very real possibility of an unofficial general strike taking place on Monday.

The protests began two weeks ago, in response to an average 27% rise in rents over the last three years. As WSWS reports, this has been exacerbated by the occupation of Palestine;
Since the 1993 Oslo Accords, successive governments—Labour, Likud or Kadima—encouraged Israelis to move to the settlements in the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights, rather than build in Israel. This led to a shortage of new affordable housing in the outlying areas and an increase in prices and rent. The recent property bubble has seen house prices in the prime areas rocket.

Within the Tel Aviv area, only three percent of the construction over the last decade was public housing. Not one public housing unit was built between 2006 and 2009.
But it is not just house prices that are the problem. "Israel is a predominantly low-wage economy, with 75 percent of workers earning $1,700 or less a month," and whilst wages are declining, the price of food, electricity and fuel has increased significantly. Thus, as elsewhere, what we see is a working class pushed to revolt by steadily more aggressive attacks on their living standards.

The scale of that revolt has been enough to force Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel his visit to Poland in order to try and appease the demonstrators with concessions. However, Haaretz notes that the protest "has not waned since the news conference" and is now spreading to include "a number of large, diverse groups joining in amid a general feeling of anger at the government." It was then that the campaign also escalated to include blockading the knesset and occupying the roof of the Tel Aviv stock exchange.

It is also promising that the movement has - like a significant portion of the Arab Spring as well as the people's assemblies in Spain and Greece - rejected official leadership. The Histradut, the Israeli labour federation, has recently "stepped in" to the protests, trying to lead from the front with token promises of "a small strike" and a pale call on Netanyahu to "join with him" and "to solve the problem of the middle class, and to show young couples and students that there's hope." However, protesters have responded by explicitly stating that "no establishment body can step in to lead this protest." Since this began, they "were getting proposals from official institutions that wanted to take over," but "the people are having their say, and no one is going to take that away from them."

It is an extremely welcome development that people are taking to the streets in Israel on the basis of class. WSWS points out that "Israeli society is wracked by divisions," with "Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, known as Mizrahi Jews, earn[ing] 40 percent less than the Ashkenazi Jews of European origin." Palestinians, the Bedouins in the south, and ultra-orthodox Haredim Jews are worse off still. Not to mention the struggles of immigrants in the country, which I have documented previously. The movement now emerging is a chance to tackle the divisions which allowed this hierarchy of labour to develop.

As the struggle in Israel develops, we also have the chance to demonstrate the power of working class unity. It is the sense of nationalistic loyalty that creates the division between Jews and Arabs and not only provides a base of support for the occupation of Palestine but also isolates the Israeli working class. A strong show of solidarity - across the borders of nation, religion, and ethnicity - could destroy that nationalism and help the Arab Spring advance into the summer.

Friday, 29 July 2011

The difference between fighting talk and putting up a fight in the public sector pensions struggle

Yesterday, the government confirmed the changes to public sector pensions - leaving two million workers to pay an extra £1.1bn in contributions. The unions immediately responded with "anger," Dave Prentis of Unison calling it a "crude and naive tactic," whilst others agreed that it was "undermining talks." But the fact is that the government did this for just one reason: nothing is stopping them.

PCS make the point that the government is pressing ahead "despite the evidence clearly demonstrating that changes are not required." They "know that our pensions are affordable and sustainable" and urge the government to "engage in serious and honest negotiations" on the issue. But such a statement, whilst supposedly showing "anger," entirely misses the point. Whilst it is true that "there is an alternative" to what is currently going on, it is likewise true that "our society is not a debating chamber, but a power struggle between different groups with competing interests."

If we want the government to back down - especially if we want them to go in retreat rather than just allow union bureaucrats to slow down the attacks and claim victory - we need to take direct action. "We might have right on our side, but might will determine the outcome." This is something Mark Serwotka appeared to acknowledge when he said that mass strikes "will grow incrementally." But this is mere sabre-rattling, as he doesn't want a class struggle but merely "to ensure the so-called consultation is taken seriously by government." Clearly, this is not enough, as it guarantees only that union leaders will be involved in the process of changing public sector pensions. Not to forget that, as the pensions issue has become a proxy for the entire anti-cuts movement, the wider fight is substantially weakened if there is enough compromise on this issue for Serwotka et al. to safely withdraw strike action.

Beyond the "militant" members of the so-called "awkward squad," the situation becomes even bleaker. As I mentioned in my last post, Unison is keen to delay action as long as possible - perhaps until next year - if it is to strike at all. This means that, whilst PCS is already releasing materials to build for strike action in the autumn, there is a significant possibility that the ranks will not swell beyond those seen on June 30th. Not least because the reformists' only response - lobbying the TUC to call the action - is a guaranteed non-starter.

As a counterpoint to this, there needs to be a much greater effort to build up rank-and-file action. Already, on June 30th, we saw a positive response to campaigns aimed at "generalising the strike." But we can go further, for instance ensuring that other anti-cuts actions - from pickets of Atos Origin and student demonstrations to UK Uncut direct actions - take place at the same time, and by expanding our tactics to include economic blockades and attempts to shut down entire sections of the economy. In short, the aim should be to cause the maximum possible chaos and disruption at the same time as the strikes, with the aim of forcing the ruling class onto the back foot through our economic power.

This should all be underpinned by efforts to get as much of the working class organised as possible. Not with token numbers-boosting exercises such as Unite offering cut-price membership to students and the unemployed, but through serious efforts to empower the rank-and-file to act collectively upon their own initiative, using direct action to force concessions - whether that be from bosses, landlords, or local authorities.

Not only will a broader section of the working class winning victories shift power in our favour more generally, by fostering a culture of solidarity and direct action over legalism it presents an untold mass of additional forces for when mass strikes arise. At that, forces which have the strength and confidence to act without heed to the caution of bureaucrats or rigged strike laws.

If we do not do this, then all we can hope for is defeat.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Whither the anti-cuts movement?

Something of a spat is beginning to emerge between Youth Fight For Jobs (YFJ) and the National Campaign Against Fees And Cuts (NCAFC). It is, on the face of it, little more than a squabble between the front groups of various would-be revolutionary leaderships of the working class. But it also invites questions about how far we have to go to build a serious resistance to austerity in Britain.

The issue has arisen because NCAFC have called a national demonstration against the privatisation of education on November 9th. YFJ responded to this by accusing NCAFC and the Education Activist Network (EAN) of "try[ing] to divide the resistance." They are holding a demonstration four days earlier to mark the end of their re-enactment of the 1936 Jarrow Crusade, and feel that "one demonstration on 5 November that all activists can build for at the start of the new term" would be the preferable option. As far as I'm aware, there has been no response from NCAFC or EAN.

The sectarian nature of this dispute becomes clear when you realise that YFJ is a Socialist Party front, NCAFC an Alliance for Workers' Liberty one, and EAN the Socialist Workers Party. Clearly, with the latter two deciding to take the lead on a revived campaign of student protest, the SP is worried that its Jarrow March will be overshadowed and its claim to "leadership" of the movement undermined. Not least because NCAFC does have a genuine grassroots base and EAN is fronted by the leftist sect best at self-promotion, whilst YFJ is made up almost exclusively of SP members - along with some PCS Left Unity and Young Members Network activists dragged into its orbit for good measure due to the party's domination of the union through those elements.

Here, I would reiterate a point I have made previously about why left unity is a noose around the neck of class unity and class struggle.

However, it also shows how quickly the so-called revolutionary leadership adopts the conservatism of the official bureaucracy. Last year, the student movement ignited the movement against austerity with a series of demonstrations in quick succession - the two on November 25th and 30th mirroring the gap between the two coming demonstrations - with innumerable occupations serving as exclamation points in the struggle. This year, all of that momentum has collapsed under the stewardship of the TUC, to the point where having two demos in quick succession (and not even on the same specific issue) is seen as potentially divisive.

It seems that the left has learned nothing from experience. Last year, whilst the students binned their official leadership in order to take the struggle forward, trade unionists lobbied the TUC to ask them to call a demonstration. The result was March 26th. Though it attracted at least half-a-million people, it was still a passive protest march, called five months in advance. And the TUC still tried to demobilise it once they realised it had the potential to be far more radical than they anticipated, and refused to follow it up once it was over. They had nothing to do with the coordinated strike action on June 30th and have been all but invisible as the struggle has escalated. Yet, still, the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) - another SP front - is going for a repeat in September by lobbying the TUC to "call a one-day strike of all public sector unions as the next step in this struggle."

If it acts with the same speed as it did last time, the TUC will see this "next step" taking place sometime around March 2012. Clearly, this is far too late. But the likelihood is that it won't even do that, since it is not about to break the law in order to appease leftists. Such a strike would have to come about by getting Unison and Unite to enter the fray by balloting their members. With Unison already trying to delay such action until next year, clearly energy would be better spent agitating within that union than on ineffectual lobbies of the TUC.

Then there is a question of where we want such agitation to go. Yes, rank-and-file pressure will force leaderships into action where they cannot contain or ignore the anger and will to fight, but there will always be a limit to what that pressure can get. That we know the TUC and individual union executives will never step outside the bounds of the law is one key example of this. By the same token, because the various would-be vanguards of the working class depend upon the illusion of leadership in order to keep rank-and-file workers open to the idea of their leadership, they adopt the same limitations as their own.

In contrast to this, what we need is to build a rank-and-file confident in its own strength and ability to organise. This is not an easy task by any means, and there is an awful lot to do just in laying the ground work for such a thing. But only in doing so can we ensure both that leaders are pressured into actions by class anger and, once we meet the limitations of such pressure, we can push beyond it and act of our own initiative.

Another key element of this is realising that we struggle as a class, rather than as employed workers within any one sector. The protests on January 29th showed the contradictions that exist between the trade union and student movements. At that point, the rank-and-file of the student movement had torn away from the official leadership whereas the TU movement was much more dominated by the bureaucrats. The TU movement also had an extremely condescending attitude to any section of the working class unable to take strike action, and since it took the reigns (so to speak) of anti-cuts protests has increased alienation and ground out most of the momentum. Returning to the supposedly conflicting protests in November, YFJ demanding that the students tag their issue onto the union-oriented protest only compounds this problem.

A bottom-up movement without any such employment bias would be better placed to embrace the kind of direct action tactics necessary to beat the cuts. With strikes, there is a need to go beyond one-day set pieces with wildcat actions, rolling strikes, and ultimately indefinite walk-outs. But we also need economic blockades and occupations in order to generalise the resistance across the working class and bring about the only thing that will make the government back down: making the country ungovernable.

But if we're still at the stage where even having more than one passive demonstration within a week provokes consternation, we're clearly a long way from that point. The case for building a rank-and-file movement and rejecting the reformist conservatism of the left has never been more urgent.

Monday, 25 July 2011

On the Norwegian terrorist attacks

The facts should be well known to everybody by now: Anders Behring Breivik, a Christian fundmentalist and white nationalist, killed more than 90 people in a bomb attack in Oslo and a shooting on Ut√łya island. However, the facts have been reduced to a side issue as most of the copy released by the media and other commentators has consisted mainly of speculation and finger-pointing.

This began with "pundits" and "experts" speculating on why a highly organised Islamist cell would attack Norway. The certainty of the blame being laid at the feet of the Islamic far-right is exemplified by the Sun's Saturday front page and by Fox News juxtaposing the story with that of the New York Islamic Centre.

Once it became clear that the perpetrator had no connection to Islam, the rhetoric shifted seamlessly. The Jerusalem Post was just one of those who said that this was not only "a warning that there may be more elements on the extreme Right willing to use violence to further their goals, but also as an opportunity to seriously re-evaluate policies for immigrant integration in Norway and elsewhere." The comments sections of various online reports on the attacks included far less eloquent and more openly racist versions of this same sentiment.

However, it is worth noting that the statements released by the Norwegian Defence League and its sister organisation the English Defence League were unequivocal in their condemnation of Breivik.

The veracity of further claims that the EDL has a "history of being anti-fascist, anti-violent and anti-extremist" should be challenged. As I noted when dissecting their mission statement, there is a continuing disparity between the sophistry of their website articles and their behaviour on the ground. In distancing themselves from Breivik's attacks, the EDL are taking the very real splits and tensions between different sections of the far right and leaping from that to the idea that they are just a "peaceful and patriotic organisation."

After all, it should be noted that Breivik's criticism that the EDL "condemns any movement that use terror as a tool" and "believe that the democratic system can solve Britain’s problems" could equally be applied to the BNP. They, too, face criticisms from more openly neo-Nazi and terrorist organisations of being "too moderate" and yet are still demonstrably fascist, as are the EDL.

However, returning to the main point, this doesn't mean that the EDL or NDL are in any way culpable for Breivik's actions. The reports, such as that in the Guardian, overplay the supposed "links" and UAF's linking of the attacks to an anti-EDL protest in Tower Hamlets is dishonest. To use an example on the left, it is the same folly as equating the Socialist Workers' Party with the Red Army Faction. It is perfectly possible to disagree with both organisations, and from the same political standpoint, without making the leap that they are both the same. For anti-fascists, this is not just a question of political honesty, but also of tactics - as clearly resisting a murderous neo-Nazi terror cell is a very different matter to opposing a loyalist/fascist group whose street protests are prone to descending into violence.

In short, if we're looking for profound "lessons" from the tragedy that occurred in Norway, I doubt that there are any. We could say that with a more broad rise in far-right popularity we see a rise in acts of far-right terrorism, but this is hardly a revelation. It is also something that can apply to any political movement beyond the mainstream to varying degrees.

The only thing I will say is that, in all the speculation, hot air, and facile finger-pointing that surrounds such events as flies surround shit, we must be wary of the state's response. As we have seen innumerable times over, violence not perpetrated by the state quickly becomes an excuse for "clamp downs" and repression. This needs to be rejected, no matter where the repression is targeted. For a start, militant anti-fascism is about fighting our own battles rather than demanding that the state does our dirty work. Not to mention that such repression very quickly becomes generalised against all dissenting positions if it is not opposed.

I will end with the most important point, and the one which is quickly forgotten in hysterical clamour. The attacks in Norway were a terrible atrocity, and one for which the victims' families deserve unreserved sympathy. Regardless of anything else, that point holds true.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Revolution in Egypt: Interview with an Egyptian anarcho-syndicalist

Radical Notes Journal has recently posted up a PDF of an interview with an anarcho-syndicalist in Cairo. My attention was drawn to it because the same document was sent to me by email.

In the following conversation, Jano Charbel talks about the character of the revolution in Egypt, the recent history of workers’ struggles, the role of Islamists and unions, gender relations and the perspectives of struggles. The interview was conducted by two friends of the classless society in Cairo in spring 2011.

You can read the full text here (PDF).

Friday, 22 July 2011

Quick thoughts on Murdoch

As I write this, I'm on the A74, heading towards Tarfside via Dundee. A weekend of camping and drinking means that I won't be blogging for the next couple of days.

I have scheduled a post for tomorrow to tide you over. However, in the meantime it's worth making a quick comment on the ongoing News International scandal. (I refuse to describe anything using the suffix -gate, as it's meaningless.) In particular, on why I haven't said much about it or taken much interest in it.

Firstly, no doubt the original actions - hacking a dead girl's phone, deleting her messages, etc - were abhorrent. However, as Adam Ford has noted, this wasn't due to any inherent evil at News of the World so much as of the marketisation of sensationalism. If NotW hadn't done it, someone else would have. Moreover, as tempting as it is to single out Murdoch as a cartoon villain, it's folly to presume that taking down one individual will alter the fundamental nature of capitalist mass media. News outlets aren't selling stories to us, but us as an audience to advertisers, and that determines the way the market functions.

The other point worth noting is how much has been buried by this affair. The further privatisation of the NHS, a public services white paper, the continuing wars in Libya and Afghanistan, the possibility of plunging into a new economic crisis, etc. This scandal isn't the potential end of the government, it's a circus. At the end, an illusory "bad apple" may be removed from the barrel, but capitalism prevails.

That's the point we need to remember. Capitalism won't reform itself, and though they've been shoved from the front page the key struggles of the class war continue. We need to carry on fighting them, and not let ourselves get side-tracked.

We can, however, take a break from it all for a while and recoup our energy. That being said, I'll bid you adieu until I return from Scotland.

Update: Links and formatting added at 19:56 on 24/07/2011.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.1

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Riot police take the piss

If it were ordinary workers in a job that demands minimal aggression, I might sympathise. However, when the Police Federation complain that riot police suffer a "lack of comfort breaks," I can't find it in me to do anything but laugh. Are these people serious?

According to health and safety lead Brian Higgins, "if you have not been able to go to the toilet and you desperately need to go, you are not going to be concentrating on the task in hand." Even more absurdly, he cites this as the reason for their potential "incivility, impoliteness and intolerance." One has to wonder exactly how much self-awareness the Police Federation possesses.

For a start, if they would offer these characteristics as a result of not being able to go to the toilet, should they not oppose the practice of kettling? After all, kettled demonstrators are also deprived of the "ability to take a meal break or to go to the toilet" that riot cops demand. More so, in fact, since there is no possibility of "rotating" the population of a kettle. As Freedom points out, "Any attempt by people to leave the cordon would result in physically being attacked by police (usually with batons, often with riot shields, boots and fists) in order to preserve the kettle."

This, surely, would provoke a considerable amount of "incivility, impoliteness and intolerance" on the part of demonstrators. If you are "forcefully corralling people together into a space then surrounding the whole group on all sides preventing them from leaving the cordoned-in area," you are going to provoke strong emotions - and with good reason. People caged up try to break out.

But whilst this reaction is frowned upon, and liberals will cheer on the naive newcomers whose response is to get in the way of such outpourings of frustration, we're to feel sympathy for the police. They're doing the corralling, beating back students with batons - sometimes forcefully enough to cause real damage - and generally repressing protest and dissent. This is clearly hard work, and it's only reasonable that they should be allowed to take a comfort break and have a piss.

Poor lambs. The sight of protesters simply relieving themselves when necessary - on their van or on a statue of Churchill - must really gall them. After all, it's reasonable for an agent of state repression to want the toilet. The protesters contained for their own good are simply "disgraceful" if they can't hold it in, as their captors so stoically do.

Or maybe, just maybe, if they don't want to have to hold it in for so long, riot police should avoid kettling people? Call me cynical, but I find it hard to believe that the police will cease to brutally enforce the state's monopoly of violence just because their bladders are empty.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

What are the TaxPayers Alliance "independent champions" of?

On Friday, the government published a white paper on Open Public Services (PDF). It forms part of the government's cuts and reform agenda, and in particular promises to allow for increased privatisation and marketisation of public services. None of which is particularly surprising.

However, via Political Scrapbook, my attention was drawn to this clause;
Commissioners can be held to account for their decisions by users (whose rights of redress we are strengthening), by independent audit and inspection bodies (for example, the National Audit Office) and by independent champions (such as the TaxPayers’ Alliance).
I can't say I'm surprised by the wording here, but it does take a certain level of audacity to describe the TPA as "independent champions." As the Scrapbook points out, it was founded by former Tory councillors, researchers and activists. It has an explicit goal to "reverse the perception that big government is necessary and irreversible" and thus make the case for the right-wing "small government" ideology. And, just for laughs, its director isn't actually a taxpayer.

More than that, they have a naked anti-working class agenda. They have previously attacked facilities time for trade union reps (attacks answered by the TUC in this PDF) and more recently played the Daily Mail's card of equating the workers' movement with the highly-paid bureaucrats at the top of the unions. (This false dichotomy is dissected by Cautiously Pessimistic here.)

Perhaps the most explicit revelation of their anti-worker agenda was revealed by Matthew Sinclair last September, when he advocated getting "1,000 people to protest" against "the strikes on the London underground." The US Tea Party movement took up this idea more recently, when its reactionary supporters decided to stage protests against workers in Wisconsin who were fighting for their very right to combine and assert their interests against those of the bosses.

They also endorsed the Rally Against Debt, which I described thus;
In essence, it is the privileged and elite crying out for increased hardship to fall on the working class so that they can be better off. Whilst Cameron and Clegg tell us we’re “all in this together,” this is the crowd who sneer and gloat at every job loss and every cut.

Hence the contempt with which people like the Devil's Kitchen dismiss us as "evil" and "abominations." The working class, who through our labour produce all the wealth in society, represent "indolence, extortion and stupidity" and are thus a burden on "those of us who produce wealth through our hard work, our ideas, our capital and our innovations." That is, the parasites of the ruling class and petty-bourgeois for whom the state exists only to assert their property rights through its monopoly of violence so that they can expropriate our labour as their own profit.

The name, “Rally Against Debt,” is also misleading. The government programme that these people are cheerleading – from increased tuition fees to a slash-and-burn approach to welfare – will see household debt for most people skyrocket

Already, ordinary workers are saddled with debt. The past 30 years have seen the percentage of GDP that goes on wages shrink considerably. In real terms, even most effective pay rises of the past few years have been pay cuts when measured against inflation. Whilst the rich have gotten ever richer, the rest of us have had to turn to credit to make up the shortfall or just to make ends meet. As those at the top steal the fruits of our labour to line their own pockets, we are forced to borrow it back and pay obscene interest rates on it. 

With the recession and the banks, bailed out by the taxpayer, tightening credit supplies, this has only gotten worse. The credit rug is being pulled out from under us when there is nothing to replace it because the government promoted it as the only game in town whilst our wages shrank. 

Those attending the Rally Against Debt – from Tories and Liberal Democrats to the Taxpayers’ Alliance and so-called “libertarians” – are protesting not only for this to continue, but for every safeguard that working people have against it to be ripped away and torn down.
So, no, the TPA are not "independent champions." They are one of the most vociferous advocates of the class war being waged against workers. Though the white paper and this passage seem to have been buried by the News International scandal, we should not forget that and make sure that - whatever role they take in the dismantling of public services - it is fiercely resisted.

75 years after the Spanish Revolution

On 19th July 1936, the working class of Barcelona and Madrid succeeded in defeating the army and repelling the fascists in their attempt to take over Spain. It marked the beginning of an anarchist revolution, the lessons of which remain relevant 75 years later.

There are numerous accounts and analyses of the revolution's successes and failures in print and on the internet. This article from Do or die at the 70th anniversary provides a succinct overview, whilst An Anarchist FAQ goes into considerably more depth from a theoretical standpoint. The pamphlet Towards a Fresh Revolution, written by the Friends of Durruti in 1938, offers a radical position from in the midsts of the war as it raged on.

However, to mark the anniversary, I would like to draw people's attention to the documentary Living Utopia: The Anarchists and the Spanish Revolution. Featuring personal testimonies from numerous anarcho-syndicalist militants who took part, it is in my view a fitting way to mark this anniversary of a significant milestone in revolutionary class struggle.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Anti-fascist Prisoner Support UK

Reposted from Liverpool Antifascists.

A new website has been set up by an informal solidarity group formed of families, partners, friends and comrades in order to provide financial support for imprisoned anti-fascists. After being arrested, having property confiscated, losing jobs and being left on bail for two years, a group of anti fascists have been sent to prison and they need our support.

Resisting fascism is important, and people that are persecuted by the state for resisting fascism should not be forgotten or ignored.

There are a number of ways to support these prisoners. You can organise sending letters, put on benefits (and attend benefits that are being put on) and you can donate money. As important as emotional support and acts of solidarity in letter writing are, it is still important for us to raise money to put into their prison bank accounts so they can get stamps, paper, tobacco, sweets, television and anything they need to make their time inside easier for them.

If you are able to help with this, please click on the donate button on the website. Its quick, it’s secure and every penny goes to supporting these prisoners.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

The need to change workplace organisation in Sainsbury's

Unite the Union have just held a protest outside the Sainsbury's annual meeting in central London over wages. As a former Unite shop steward in Sainsbury's, I thought I'd use the occasion to reflect on worker organisation within the retailer and what can be done to improve it.

Firstly, a note on the wage dispute. It goes without saying that - despite being above the national minimum wage - £6.31 an hour isn't an amount you can live comfortably on. That's without the fact that, with inflation rates, having no pay rise for two years is a significant real terms pay cut. Something those at the lower end of the pay scale can ill afford. When it's compared to Chief Executive Justin King's £3.24m of salary and bonuses for 2010 alone and the company's £665m profit margin, it becomes an obscenity.

But pointing out injustice doesn't make it go away. Conditions within the workplace improve or decline on the basis of the balance of power between workers and bosses, and it is quite clear that within Sainsbury's the bosses hold the power. That is not about to change. But if workers within the company want improvements, then drastic action is needed.

This will not come from the trade unions. Broadly, the unions have little interest in extending themselves beyond their last stronghold in the public sector and engaging in a serious campaign to organise casual workers. Specifically within Sainsbury's, the situation as far as unions go is a mess.

Alongside Unite, USDAW also organise workers within the company. The two unions have parallel recognition agreements, and have effectively agreed to split the workforce between them. For example, when a new store opens if one union got to recruit in the last new store of the same size (small, medium or large based on the number of staff), the other union gets first dibs this time. When I was there, Unite had about 20% density and I imagine USDAW about the same. The agreements they have give them the right to be consulted - but not to negotiate - and all but tie the hands of shop stewards.

So, how to begin challenging that? The answer is for workers to go back to basics and begin building rank-and-file workplace committees. Such committees would initially consist of the most militant workers within any given workplace, but expand to include everybody - except of course management and those hostile to unionism.

This isn't a task to be taken lightly or to be boldly announced to everyone. We should be under no illusions that, whilst the balance of power is in their favour the bosses will do everything they can to prevent such things emerging. Existing unions are unlikely to be a barrier against this, and if they see their own role in the workplace threatened may even assist the bosses in rooting out such a union. This is why a fine balance has to be struck between using the union for what benefits it may provide (and shop stewards may be amongst those most militant workers who form the initial structure of the workplace committee) and not letting full time officials get wind of what you are doing.

With such committees established, what you essentially have is a power base - a group of workers willing to take action in order to defend existing conditions or press for improvements. This will initially be on a small scale, but as the numbers grow so too can the activity.

One example of direct action that actually occurred in Sainsbury's was when one store was fighting to get the management to put the heating on. In the name of cost-cutting, the store refused to accept that it was too cold. Temperature readings taken across the store and a petition signed by staff had little effect on this. However, one day it was agreed that all staff would wear woolly hats and scarves, as well as stickers asking for the heating to be turned on, to highlight the problem. This happened to be the day that Justin King visited the store for an inspection, and the store manager had to explain why his staff were all wrapped up. The heating was fixed almost immediately thereafter.

As well as allowing for such actions to become more frequent and widespread when issues crop up, workplace committees also involve the entire staff in the decision-making. This means that the demands, and the victories, are controlled at a rank-and-file level and the risk of being sold out is considerably reduced. It also forms the basis of a directly democratic and accountable union structure which - if it spreads across workplaces - can provide an effective alternative to the top-down servicing union model currently in operation at Unite and USDAW.

Such a thing obviously takes considerable time, effort, and risk. But it is not something you have to do alone. Libcom.org's Organise section covers the mechanics of setting up workplace committees and taking direct action in more depth, whilst the Solidarity Federation have developed a workplace organiser training scheme which a number of people have found useful in getting this kind of activity off the ground.

Not only that, but even though the official trade unions might move to hinder such things if they found out about them, there are many other groups which would provide practical solidarity. Solfed's recent victory against the employment agency Office Angels is part of a wider campaign against casualisation and to help precarious workers organise themselves. We are always more than willing to support workers in their struggles where we can, and that includes providing advice and support beyond the workplace organiser training as people get committees up-and-running.

But I have addressed this post specifically at Sainsbury's because I have experience of the organising situation there and of the drastic need for improvement. Make no mistake: without building up workplace militancy from the ground, there is no way to stop Justin King growing richer from your labour whilst leaving you to struggle with rising costs and stagnant wages.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

A funeral for education

Cross-posted from the Solidarity Federation website.

Teachers, parents, and students in Sefton are currently engaged in a struggle to stop a number of schools in the area becoming academies. As part of that fight, they today held a "funeral for education" in Liverpool. Despite the wet weather, a number of people joined the mock funeral procession from St George's Hall to St Luke's Church and handed out leaflets to the public about the issue of academies and why they should be opposed.

Members of Liverpool Solidarity Federation were amongst those present on the march, as were those involved in a similar struggle over Shorefields College in the Dingle - whose picket lines we have previously supported.

The drive to turn schools into academies - as well as to establish falsely-named "free schools" - is nothing more than the privatisation of education. The state wants to give those with capital the free reign to do as they like in the education, leaving the door open for various forms of indoctrination and abuse, as well as the erosion of terms and conditions for those who work in the schools. Despite being dressed up in libertarian language, there is no "freedom" except for the proprietors who can set up their own unaccountable private tyrannies.

Liverpool Solfed offers its full support to the fight against academies and argues that a more libertarian education system can only come about through the democratisation of the school system and giving pupils a say in how they learn. Michael Gove's proposals offer nothing of the sort, and our solidarity goes to all those protesting and taking direct action against the system he wishes to create.

The Ryanair Don't Care campaign

Recently, a comrade from Liverpool Solidarity Federation came across the Ryanair Don't Care campaign. It was formed by John Foley to expose and fight Ryanair's exploitative mistreatment of employees. John has been arrested numerous times for direct action, and blogs exposing how workers are treated in the company have been shut down by service providers.

In this interview, John explains the history of the campaign and what its aims are;

Soon after this chance meeting, Liverpool Solfed agreed to support the campaign. John responded by saying "this is a great day today as Liverpool Solidarity Federation support our campaign to help stop Europe's Greatest Training Robbers Ryanair from wrecking even more students lives."

Solfed's sister section in Spain, the CNT, has had a long-running dispute with Ryanair over similar issues. This article from the Summer 2009 issue of Direct Action gives more details;

Ryanair workers in Zaragoza, Spain, are currently in dispute. The workers involved are members of the anarcho-syndicalist union, the CNT. The dispute started in March when Ryanair cut the hours of staff by reducing the working day. The strikers are also protesting at Ryanair’s refusal to make staff on temporary contracts permanent.

The dispute deepened when the delegate of the CNT’s union section in Ryanair received a letter of dismissal, for reasons of unsuitability, claiming a drop in the worker’s performance – a claim that is clear nonsense. Ryanair hoped that by sacking the CNT delegate the rest of the strikers would be intimidated back to work.

The move backfired, however, with the sacking only stiffening the strikers’ resolve. The strikers have made it clear there will be no resolution of the dispute until their delegate is reinstated. They have also made it clear that they will reject any attempts to pay compensation as an alternative to the full reinstatement of their sacked comrade.

But the dispute should not just be seen in the context of defending pay and conditions. Since the CNT began organising in Ryanair, management have tried everything possible to discourage staff from joining the union. This should come as no surprise. Ryanair are no lovers of even reformist unions, so it’s no shock that they have resisted the spread of the revolutionary CNT. Should the strikers fail there is little doubt that Ryanair will try to break the CNT as a force within the workplace.

As well as demanding the full reinstatement of the sacked worker the CNT is demanding an end to short term contracts and part time working. In pressing their demands, the strikers have not only received the support of the CNT membership across Spain; the anarcho-syndicalist international, the IWA, has also organised two international days of action in support of the Zaragoza strikers, and further such events are planned.
Full details can be found, in Spanish, at the CNT Ryanair Zaragoza blog.

Returning to Britain, the campaign's latest action was a protest at Liverpool John Lennon Airport against the treatment of pilots by the company. In particular Paul Ridgard, a pilot who committed suicide. Liverpool Solfed joined the action, and once again interviewed John, who was more than happy to explain the issues.

Liverpool Solfed is currently making enquiries about how to make the campaign against Ryanair go continental, drawing upon the CNT's previous experience in this area.

Such problems are rife across workplaces. Beyond the last strongholds of the reformist unions, the bosses get free reign to abuse and exploit workers almost without regard. Ryanair is just a single example, and in many workplaces the weak employment law that we do have might as well not exist.

This highlights the continuing need for working class organisation and the road down which non-unionised workers are led. It needs to be challenged, and Solfed are one of the organisations doing that through our workplace organiser training and our wider campaign against casualisation. It is definitely a positive that we are not alone in doing this, and the actions and commitment of the Ryanair Don't Care campaign is to be commended.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Debating Marxism and anarchism

Last Thursday, I took part in a debate on Marxism and anarchism with some comrades from the Alliance for Workers' Liberty. As Freedom in the 21st has already written an account of the same debate, and Iain McKay has done an extremely long write-up of a similar debate in London, I figured it was time to get my own thoughts in gear and do a review. So here it is.

The AWL have, to their credit, been more willing than other groups to host directly address the ideas of anarchism. At times when our ideas have gained in prominence, there have always been hack-job articles - a case in point being this latest piece in the Socialist Worker, expertly torn apart by Cautiously Pessimistic. But the Leninist response to anarchism remains largely that of hacking away at straw men. The SWP held a meeting on the subject in Liverpool not too long ago which I found to be comradely and largely honest, but it was only the AWL who actively sought out anarchists to share a platform and debate with.

This wasn't initially the case. In March, the AWL published a truly god-awful piece on anarchism and class struggle in their paper Solidarity, which was annihilated by Cautiously Pessimistic, who also took umbrage with their reply to critics. In order to tackle accusations of dishonesty, they published a response by the North London local of Solfed as part of what they called "an ongoing debate."

Locally, I've had a number of these arguments before, in informal settings. I get on well with the AWL members in Liverpool. As the spiel for the debate says Liverpool Solfed and Merseyside AWL "work together in struggles and campaigns against the cuts, against racism and fascism, sometimes agreeing, sometimes disagreeing, about how to take them forward." So, although the context above is important to understand how the two organisations relate to each other nationally, even without it a debate in Liverpool has been on the cards for some time.

Overall, the debate was comradely, though at times heated. The AWL speaker opened by talking about anarchism broadly, followed by where it and Marxism differed, before finishing on why the Marxist approach was to be preferred. She stressed continually that she wasn't trying to create a caricature of anarchists, but to sketch out the ideas that diverged significantly and explain why they were wrong.

However, despite the intentions, it was a caricature that emerged. Others pointed out the falsehoods in the accounts offered of the Paris Commune and the Spanish Revolution, and not being the expert in debating history I will again leave this to others - most notably Iain McKay's write-up of his talk in London, which adds Russia to the list. However, what I did challenge in my speech was the idea that anarcho-syndicalist methods of organisation didn't actually constitute organisation.

Though the old chestnut that "anarchy = chaos" wasn't actually rolled out, it was hinted at. Having a self-organised society, delegate systems, direct democracy, etc, was all well and good, but "you have to have something to defend it with." This came with the absurd claim that in Spain "the republican government was ready to hand over everything to the anarchists" but they didn't take it and without a state there was no way to defend the revolution. In fact, it was that some members of the CNT did enter government that was the significant mistake, and the anarcho-syndicalist militias such as Durruti's column were a way of defending the revolution without entering or rebuilding statist structures.

There was also an argument that "what we call a worker's state" was simply the organisation of administrative functions to replace the "bourgeois state." But this didn't answer the fact that such a state invariably took on the form as well as the function of the state as we know it today and that the kind of non-hierarchical organisation anarchists advocate represents such administrative functions without bureaucratic or bourgeois form.

I also argued the point about Solfed being a "revolutionary union initiative." This, according to the AWL comrade, was the wrong approach because unions are not revolutionary and because the class struggle needs political organisations alongside economic ones.

However, I made a point of explaining the distinction between trade unionism and anarcho-syndicalism, tracing back to traditional syndicalism. With the acceptance of unions by capitalism, they took on capitalist forms - with a top-down hierarchy, salaried bureaucrats, full-time staff, etc. This provoked a rank-and-file backlash which gave birth to syndicalism. Seeing how union officials served as mediators between labour and capital - the "keepers of industrial peace" - they argued for militant rank-and-file action as opposed to bureaucracy and direct action as opposed to mediation.

Anarcho-syndicalism breaks from traditional syndicalism by applying the same ideas in the community as well as the workplace. Such direct action, in place of lobbying, seeking votes, and all the other electoral activities that many on the left engage in, is the political equivalent to our economic organisation. As the pamphlet What is anarcho-syndicalism (PDF) says, "anarcho-syndicalism unites the political and the economic and opposes representation in favour of self-organisation."

On the point about elections, I specifically argued against the idea that we should engage with voting on the grounds that "many working class people believe that's the way forward." I said that if this was the case, we ought to make the argument for a different way of operating, and to raise people's consciousness about their own power as a class rather than encouraging illusions. The Labour Party is the prime example of where the various pressures of entering the legislature lead a workers' party. If you want to get ahead, then you have to serve the realities of the capitalist system. If not, you face either marginalisation or defeat. History bears this out, and it's no surprise that across the world "socialist" parties are amongst those implementing austerity.

As one comrade from the Anarchist Federation noted, "it's not even a case of 'power corrupts.' Hierarchies and power structures don't allow themselves to be dissolved."

From my standpoint, the comebacks to this were incredibly weak. One comrade noted the situation in Egypt, and that without something to defend the revolution they face either the Muslim Brotherhood taking over or the army smashing them to pieces. But, aside from the above argument that something doesn't have to mean a hierarchical state structure, we already see "leaders" of the uprising collaborating to preserve the capitalist system and stop the revolts going further.

There was no answer to the crimes of Leninism, including the argument that the Russian Revolution died in 1917 when Lenin created the Cheka and started to systematically repress opposition, culminating in the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion. Instead, "Stalinism" (or, in reference to the Socialist Party, pseudo-Stalinism) was the stock answer for Leninist ideas leading to repression or corruption.

Despite these flaws in the arguments, the broad debate itself was interesting. It was also relevant, because we are talking about the kind of world we wish to create as we resist the injustices of the current system and our methods for getting there.

Anarchists argue that the way we organise to fight struggles today prefigures the organisation of the world we wish to create. That being the case, we cannot simply leave well enough alone until after the revolution in the name of "unity," as some would disingenuously argue. The point is to promote and build class struggle, and we cannot do that without open, honest debate on the shape that struggle takes.