Friday, 30 September 2011

No War but Class War - September 2011

In the United States, unions have declared their support for the occupation of Wall Street and are planning supporting rallies. This certainly adds legitimacy to the action in terms of links to class struggle, however it is still far short of the wave of strikes which accompanied the Tahrir Square occupation, and so we are still a while away from revolution. However, there are still other struggles ongoing in the US from which we can draw inspiration.

I've already previously mentioned the longshoremen in Longview, whose militant picket lines and sabotage have managed to advance their struggle considerably. The latest development is that, as the union seeks legal recourse against “ongoing police brutality and harassment,” ILWU International President “Big Bob” McEllrath turned himself in to face misdemeanor charges for his role in the blockade of a scab train. A number of workers were arrested in home raids after the sabotage of other trains. However, the union posted bail for all those concerned and on the insistence that one-by-one raids weren't safe, negotiated the surrender of all 200 members.

This resulted in 200 workers, accompanied by family members and retirees, filing up to the courthouse and offering themselves up for arrest. The sherriff refused to arrest so many people and in the end handcuffed the local's vice president. A riot police escort meant that grain shipments - blocked since July - have now restarted. Though this was not without resistance, and a peaceful sit in on the train tracks was met with mass arrests and police violence.

At the same time, 4,000 striking healthcare workers in California found their three day strike action over health care and retirment cuts given extra weight when 17,000 nurses held a sympathy strike. The healthcare corporation Kaiser Permanente has made $5.7 billion in profits over the last three years, yet still insists on increasing their margins by cutting back on what staff get for working with them. This is on top of other issues such as hospitals being permanently understaffed with nurses skipping lunch and working up to 20 hours to fill the gaps. For health workers in Britain, it offers a stark warning of what privatisation offers and points to why mass strike action - and not just over pensions - is needed now before we reach that point.

Groups in San Francisco bay held vigils at the beginning of the month outside the Chilean consulate. The leaflets that they handed out, posted online by Libcom.org, give a hint of the struggle going on in that country;
While much of the world’s attention this year has been turned toward events in the Northern hemisphere—the Arab Spring, the Spanish and Greek street assemblies, the riots in the UK, the violence in Libya—an equally interesting and potentially more radical movement has been taking place in Chile. Chilean students and the poor who have been excluded from “the Chilean miracle” of American-trained free marketeers have waged fierce battles with the cops. One teenager has been killed in the streets, shot by police in Macul, a borough of Santiago. Initial reports described the victim as a protester; later ones say he may have been an onlooker. His family places the blame squarely on the police. Whatever the final determination, he was a casualty in a conflict that has pitted Chilean youth against a social order that is old, decrepit, and brutal.

The Chilean movement has emerged in the throes of winter in the Southern hemisphere, with young people going out into the icy streets, braving the elements, of course, and, more importantly, directly challenging the Chilean state and its gendarmes, showing determination and resolve in the face of the military police. These cops are the carabineros of sinister memory under Pinochet. Their vehicles include armored personnel carriers, and they shoot water cannons at demonstrators. They more resemble an occupying army than a riot squad.

We want to remember Manuel Guttíerrez Reinoso, the teenager killed on the night of August 24, but we want to do more than that: we want to actively support the broader rebellion in Chile. We see something in the protest movement there that we identify with: it is a struggle that is ours as well. The Chilean protests began as a student movement demanding the right to public education, and at no cost to students, even at the university level. The protests began on a whimsical note, with mass “kiss ins” and other creative gestures. What made Chile different from California was that Chilean workers and the poor saw the students’ fight as one they should support as well. As the movement spread, it encountered stiff resistance from the state and its armed wing, the police. What started with a kind of poetry turned into social war.
Since then, the mainstream media reports that the jobless rate in the country has eased, and the government has increased education spending by 7.2% in the wake of the social unrest. However, as the spending growth in in line with economic growth and the country's austerity measures remain in place, it is still to be seen what impact this will have on the movement in the country.

In Poland, the anarcho-syndicalist ZSP "call[ed] on workers to call in sick and use the day for protest and self-organization" in response to the call by mainstream unions for symbolic protests against austerity measures. Decrying "the cooperation between Solidarity, OPZZ and the employers' lobby," they reiterated that "we know that some groups of rank and file workers from supermarket chains (who want to strike and are held back by the unions) and the railways will be there - so we will too." Reports from the day of action aren't yet available.

The union is also involved in a struggle with the Torun Plaza shopping mall construction site, where subcontracted workers have not been paid for two to three months. The real estate firm Plaza Centers hasn't paid the general contractor, and workers at the bottom are left without wages. This is a common problem in Poland, and firms often shirk responsibility by claiming the workers aren't their employees.

ZSP is helping workers file court claims for payment, but has also stressed that direct action will be the most effective route to getting paid. A wildcat strike was suggested as the best option, and the union has said it will support any action that the workers take, including blockading the mall's grand opening. This appears to have made the main office at Plaza Centres very nervous, judging by the panicked reaction to the ZSP's recent visit. The struggle continues.

The CNT was one of four militant unions in Spain behind the 29S initiative, "towards a general strike," seeking to build a mass movement against austerity without the mainstream union federations whose collaboration with the bosses has not gone unnoticed. For background, see the initial joint statement here and the announcement of the 29th September as the initial day of action here.

Mainstream coverage of the action is non-existent, and decent English translations of the reports by the CNT and others have yet to emerge as I write this. However, the organisations supporting the initiative included not only the various radical unions but also the popular assemblies associated with the 15M movement. There were mass assemblies, protest marches and pickets in various parts of the country and promising developments in the build up towards a full general strike.

This, from a British perspective, is also probably the best model to work with when aiming towardssuch action. Slogans demanding that the TUC call a general strike have adorned Trotskyist placards throughout the anti-cuts movement here, but this is clearly an unrealistic notion. Even aside from the fact that such acall would be illegal and against the social interests of the TUC leadership, it would fall flat simply because of the sheer volume of workers entirely untouched by unionisation.

Such an approach as seen in Spain, however, could serve to galvanise huge swathes of rank-and-file workers as well as forgoing token actions in favour of long-term movement building. It would also have the effect of simultaneously tearing down the despondency and alienation of much of the working class whilst circumventing the traditional top-down approach of the mainstream trade unions. The problem comes in the fact that Spain are way ahead of us in the number of functioning anarcho-syndicalist unions that they have, though that doesn't mean that this idea cannot give us something to work towards if enough momentum builds.

Finally, Al Masry Al Youm has an interesting report on the wave of strikes that this month gripped Egypt;
The first two weeks of September have witnessed a massive wave of strikes, with many more planned for the rest of the month. These are taking place despite the law - issued in April - criminalizing strikes which harm the national economy, and despite regulations issued by the ruling military junta making negotiations during the course of strikes unacceptable.

Hundreds of thousands of workers and employees have launched strikes, sit-ins and marches to protest their working conditions. Among these are public school teachers - who are planning a general strike on the new academic year's first day of classes, 17 September; workers at private and public-sector textile mills; security and custodial workers at the American University in Cairo; farmers; and nurses and doctors in eight different governorates.

These strike actions come against a political backdrop that once seemed encouraging to Egypt’s 27-million labor force.

Shortly after President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in 11 February, over 500,000 workers, professionals, farmers, employees and pensioners moved to establish their own independent trade unions and federations to provide a bargaining mechanism for workers long deprived of negotiating with both the state and the business community. These independent unions are reportedly playing a significant role in organizing protest actions and strikes nationwide.

Yet the recent resurgence of widespread strikes, analysts say, reflect a deep disillusionment with the democratic transition process, with workers feeling more and more that improving their economic and political conditions were but hollow promises from the revolution.

"The primary demand behind all the strikes - in the public, private and informal sectors - is improved incomes in line with increasing living expenses," said Karam Saber, director of the Land Center for Human Rights. Other common demands include the payment of overdue bonuses, incentive payments, fixed or full-time contracts for full-time work, among other demands.

"The interim authorities have made very little progress in terms of raising wages, incomes and salaries; or in terms of putting a cap on the salaries of managerial officials in the form of a maximum wage," Saber said.

According to Saber Barakat, a member of the caretaker council at the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, there are other reasons motivating the working class to protest and strike. One of the main factors causing dismay is the fact that Mubarak's officials and generals are still calling the shots and pulling Egypt's strings. The old guard is still in power.

"The revolution gave workers the impression that their conditions would improve; but reality has proven otherwise," said Barakat. "The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has sent signals to investors reassuring them that their interests will be protected and upheld."
You can read the full article here. However, the point on investors' interests being upheld is important because it shows that a political revolution can only achieve so much. Egyptians, after the inspiring movement that came to define the Arab Spring and - through Tahrir Square - become a popular meme for radical action now faces conditions not too far removed from those they dealt with before. The dictator may be gone, but workers are still struggling to get by and having to fight tooth-and-nail for wage increases.

The ultimate aim of the class war is not to usher in a slightly nicer form of capitalism or to replace a dictator with a (very) gradual move towards social democracy. It is to fight for the complete revolutionary transformation of society in the interests of the people rather than of capital - libertarian communism. Until that day comes, the class war will never be over.

BNP day of action drowned out by local opposition

Today was the BNP's much-vaunted day of action against the BBC and Question Time. As part of their "Operation Fightback" to challenge "corruption and prejudice" against them, they would descend on the show being recorded in Liverpool and make their voice heard. Unfortunately for them, it didn't quite work out that way.

Taking this picture, the BNP were to my immediate right. The "sterile zone" for anti-fascists is behind the steel barricade at the back of the picture.
I arrived at the counter demonstration just after 5pm, having heard that about 50 BNP members had already been in town handing out leaflets. However, I hoped, there had been enough publicity about the counter-protest to guarantee a sizeable opposition to their presence and thus no chance that they would be able to air their views without objection or challenge. One of the local UAF organisers had also told me that they had been publicising it heavily and, whilst I have issues with UAF's politics, I had no reason to doubt this particular person's word or their commitment on this.

The fly in the ointment, however, turned out to be Alec McFadden. Alec is the President of Merseyside TUC as well as the President of Hope not Hate affiliate Merseyside Coalition Against Racism and Fascism (MCARF). The problem with this is that MCARF has no members, and has not been a functioning anti-fascist organisation since at least 2008.

This little fact didn't stop the police inviting him to negotiate the location of tonight's demonstration, or him accepting and presuming to make representations to the police both on behalf of and without informing Liverpool Antifascists and Liverpool UAF. That's without getting into the fact that LiverAF objects in principle to negotiating with the police since our aim is to disrupt and confront BNP demonstrations and the police's aim is to ensure that the opposing sides are kept apart.

The validity behind our principle became evident very quickly when the police insisted that anti-fascists demonstrate at a distance not only from the BNP but also from the venue in which Question Time was being filmed. This was met with surprise, as it was supposedly the "first time in 21 years" that the two sides hadn't been able to reach a compromise. But those with a long memory will remember when, in 2008, both Alec and UAF joint secretary Weymann Bennett took the cops at their word and declared "victory" in demonstrating against the BNP whilst the police were able to keep them out the way and the fascists marched unmolested through Liverpool City Centre.

When I got to Greenland Street, it looked like we were set to see the same again. Despite insistence that nobody had agreed with the police's suggestion, it had been followed to the letter. The anti-fascist counter-demonstration was far enough away from the BNP that you could not identify individuals from their gathering, and both a steel barricade and a line of police stopped anybody even going into the shadow of the Question Time venue. Though this didn't seem to phase those gathered, with banners aloft and megaphones out ready to defeat the far-right with a repertiore of about four different chants.

Thankfully, there were people who would rather get in the face of the BNP than stand away from them to have a sing song. When we were told that people had bypassed the police presence by going down the next street, I and a few comrades decided to follow suit. Sure enough, when we got to the BNP's protest we found a small but growing crowd of anti-fascists, youth, and local residents having a go at the fascists.

The strengthened line of police protection for the fascists once it became clear the anti-fascists wouldn't keep our distance
It was telling that the police, who had insisted that anti-fascists be shoved out of the way where nobody could see them, had allowed the BNP to hold their demo right by were people were going in to take part in the Question Time audience. There were several police vans between the "official" anti-fascist demonstration and the BNP, and both the officer in charge and police liason officers in blue hi-viz jackets continually went over to speak to the party's members. They also studiously ignored both an assault on a black man who lived nearby and had joined the counter-protest and BNP goon Andrew Tierney/Brennus telling the man whom he'd been arrested for assaulting that he was going to saw his head off.

Every movement by anti-fascists was met with a response from the police. If we took one foot off the curb, someone rushed over to tell us to get off the road. If we paced about, they appeared to tell us to move back. We were continually told to return to our "sterile area," and when we refused we were told that we would be moved soon anyway.

I made a point of telling them that Liverpool Antifascists had not been consulted and had not agreed to any sterile area and that we would thus continue exercising our right to free assembly. I also demanded to know why we were supposed to stand in a cage whilst fascists had been allowed to wander over and take our photos and their "Truth Truck" was freely moving through the streets blasting out a recording of Nick Griffin. It didn't take long before an extra line of coppers appeared and put themselves between us and the BNP, but fortunately by this time the gathering had grown to a point that it was clear we weren't going anywhere.

Meanwhile, the BNP contingent comprised about 30 people at its height. This included members from outside Liverpool, a few purported Liverpool EDL members, and a crew of local youth who had been involved in various smaller neo-Nazi outfits like the British Freedom Fighters and the Liverpool Front. Their main rallying cry appeared to be calling everyone "paedophiles" and saying "Google the Labour 25 paedophiles." Local BNP crone Hazel Hesketh decided to announce my arrival by pointing and saying "here's Phil Dickens, the one who whips up all the trouble and gets people to hate us." Which prompted national organiser Adam Walker to sum up all of his wit in order to declare "here's Phil Dick...ens," which honestly just blew my mind.

That may have been the height of the political debate on offer. I responded to a claim that the BNP would stop privatisation, cuts and job losses by asking "where are the BNP when Sure Start Centres are being closed? When libraries are being closed? When people are striking for their jobs? We're fighting for that whilst you're just stirring up shit about immigrants." Peter Tierney's considered reply was to rub his crotch and gyrate with his tongue out.

As the demo wore on, the jeers, heckling and banter on the anti-fascist side - much of it from the youth who used the nearby skate ramps and people who lived down the road in Toxteth - only increased and it was clearly eaing away at the fascists' morale. As they descended into sullen silence, barring the occasional piss-poor attempt at goading people, the opposition only became more lively. A huge cheer went us as Tranmere Rovers Anti-Fascists unveiled their huge new banner, and leaflets from Liverpool Anitfascists were gratefully received. Soon enough, even those behind the "official" demo cottoned on to what was happening and deigned to join us.

Not long after, the BNP and their various hangers-on got fed up and packed away. It was about half an hour before recording of Question Time was due to finish, but clearly they'd had enough. Some tried to look defiant as they left, and Peter Tierney continued to act like somebody in need of serious help, but ultimately they left. There's no point in overstating this as some grand victory for the anti-fascist movement, but it's clear that it's more than we would have gotten by obeying police orders and staying at a safe distance whilst the BNP got a free platform.

This message was lost on precisely the people who would have done just that, though, as they chose to push their banner to the front of the crowd once they cottoned on to the fact that nobody was content to stay behind police lines and subsequently led a "victory march" towards Chinatown. In reality, it was the liberal anti-fascists yet again obeying a police instruction - i.e. "go that way or you'll all be arrested."

Rather than march behind the banner of an anti-fascist organisation which exists in name only, I decided that this was about the right time to head off. It was clear when I raised the issue that the potential damage wrought by negotiating with police wasn't a lesson some would ever learn. There was no point in dwelling on that. The main point was that confronting the fascists in defiance of police instructions was what sent them packing, and that those who were there had seen this for themselves.
The unofficial anti-fascist gathering - photo credit Chemical Oli

Thursday, 29 September 2011

My speech to my PCS branch AGM

Today, the branch of PCS which I belong to had it's Autumn General Meeting. We had our main AGM in February before PCS Conference, but today offered a chance to report back on how things have progressed since then as well as to keep members of the branch informed and involved. High up on the agenda, as I'm sure you can imagine, was November 30.

My branch's campaigns committee, of which I'm chair, made a halting effort before June 30 to contact other union branches around Bootle and to hold a public meeting ahead of the strikes. We made a little headway, but as I've mentioned in a previous post, it's my intention to ramp things up ahead of the next round of strike action. We really need to increase rank-and-file involvement in both action and decision making in order to make it more difficult for union leaderships to sell us out if not to sideline them completely.

As such, at today's AGM I moved the following motion;
That this Autumn General Meeting notes the severity of the current attack on pensions. Not only is being asked to pay more and work longer to get less a fundamental attack on our terms and conditions, it is part of a wider assault upon jobs, pay, conditions and public services.

This AGM further recognises the need to fight back in order to defend pensions and stop further attacks. Only by sticking together and taking action can we hope to stop the government in its tracks.

This AGM therefore fully endorses the coordinated strike action on November 30 and instructs the branch to adopt the following campaign strategy:
  • To make contact with all other union branches and political organisations in the Bootle area
  • To call a Public Assembly of union members and service users in Bootle ahead of the November 30 strikes
  • To elect a Bootle Strike Committee at that meeting in order to coordinate action locally
  • To build mass support for picket lines on November 30
  • To call a strike-day Public Assembly so that strikers can have their say on the next steps in the campaign
The success of such a strategy will depend upon all the affected unions being willing to take part, and with luck we will be meeting with them soon in order to urge them to support this strategy. If they can build for it in their branches - as well as in the wider area amongst claimants and service users - we should be able to create something quite impressive. Nonetheless, the starting point for this was getting the members to vote on it and have their say, rather than acting without a democratic mandate.

I moved the motion with the following speech;
As most of you will have seen by now, the TUC has called a “day of action” for November 30. This potentially means that thirteen or more unions representing around 3 million people could be on strike on the same day over the attacks on public sector pensions. That includes PCS and the other three unions which joined us on June 30.

The argument in favour of striking is unanswerable. As far as pensions go, we're being asked to work longer and to pay more contributions, in order to get a worse pension when we retire. But that's not all. The head of the CBI has been quite plain in stating that public sector pensions need reforming in order to pave the way for privatisation. They want as much of our jobs farmed out to the private sector as possible, which will be bad news for service users just as much as for workers. There's already been an announcement that they want to trial this in contact centres, and we all know that if we give the bosses an inch they'll take a mile.

So we need to strike to defend our pensions. But we also need to strike because pensions are the first domino. The heads of business, and the governments who serve them, don't believe in frivolous things like the welfare state or decent working conditions. We have these things in the first place only because people were willing to fight for them, and we'll keep them only as long as we are willing to fight for them.

November 30 is an important part of that fight. It's potentially the biggest strike in a generation and the first time the entire public sector's been out since the 1926 General Strike. But the important part isn't that some trade union leaders in suits agreed to a strike date whilst they were down in London – the important part is us, the workers and union members who will be taking the action.

This fight belongs to all of us. It's our pensions under threat, and with them our jobs, our living standards and our pubic services. We all need to take an active part in the campaign. This means joining the pickets and marches and rallies, but it also means having your say on where we go from here.

I've spoken to a number of people who've said that a one day strike isn't enough. I agree. From the conversations I've had it seems a lot of people think the same way. But whilst we're happy to grumble about that, we're not coming together to demand more and so it's not happening. If you think things could be done better or differently, don't be afraid to speak up. We should be having that kind of strategy debate in meetings and voting on it so we can demand that action takes a certain course.

But even within the action that we've got, there's more that can be done. There's an old saying that “the longer the picket line, the shorter the strike.” Obviously, November 30 is only one day, but as it's a rolling campaign the same logic applies. The government and media will always play down support for a strike to try and dismiss it or encourage people to cross picket lines, and that's easier if most of the people on strike stay at home.

But if we're all on the picket line, it's a lot harder to sell the lie and the words ring hollow. If we're all attending meetings ahead of the strike, if we're making demands through a strike committee that we've elected, and coordinating our action across an entire community, the lie simply falls apart. Not to mention that there's less people to hear it anyway.

June 30 was incredibly well supported. Hardly anyone crossed the picket line. Nearly every passing car and bus beeped in support. Thousands of people joined the march and rally in Liverpool, where people cheered on the streets as we went by and people came out of pubs to chant and wave and roar in support of the strike. Despite the barrage of propaganda on the news and from the government – who couldn't make their mind up whether the strikes had hardly any effect or had been overly disruptive, by the way – the overwhelming sentiment of people who we spoke to on the picket line was “I'm glad somebody's fighting back!”

So let's do it again. Let's ramp up the pressure on the government and show them that we won't take these attacks lying down. Please support the motion, give these bastards a fight!
The support that this got was incredibly encouraging. Not just the enthusiastic applause (though as someone who's not a confident public speaker I must admit that did give me a thrill!) but also the enthusiasm and passionate debate it sparked in what had been a quite muted meeting.

In the discussion that followed, most of the people who spoke picked up on my saying that a single day of strike action not being enough. Various alternative strategies were offered, pleasingly by people who weren't reps or known militants, and there was a considerable appetite for a fightback and causing disruption beyond the official one-day action. I pointed out after this that although it would be technically illegal, a mass assembly on strike day could decide on even something as simple as not going into work before 10 o'clock the next day and achieve success with it - as long as we all stuck together.

This again got cheers and applause. Especially when I pointed out that, whilst individual discontent with the National Executive Committee's strategy could be ignored, by organising effectively to place demands on how we want the campaign to progress and by encouraging similar tactics across other branches we could make sure that our wishes weren't ignored.

I sincerely doubt that this is what PCS wanted when they put together the national campaigns committee briefings that I and others attended recently. Especially as PCS Vice President John McInally made a point of saying that "whilst we can all disagree and debate in here, as a democratic organisation, in public we need absolute discipline." He's not wrong - that's exactly what the leadership need in order to avoid being outflanked from below. But I have no interest whatsoever in helping grant that wish, as whilst there is a leadership my view is that they need to be in constant fear of a militant rebellion from the rank-and-file. We need to make it as difficult as possible for them to sell industrial peace.

It is heartening to see that, even if they don't use those terms or identify as militant workers, I seem to be far from a minority amongst the members of my branch even if I am amongst reps and in the PCS hierarchy. At the very least, there should be enough potential there to build on that we really can give the bastards a fight. Those at the top of the union as well as those in government.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

BNP to demonstrate against Question Time

Tomorrow, the BNP are planning a demonstration outside the Contemporary Urban Centre (CUC) when Question Time is filmed there. This is a national demo, so there will likely be a lot of fascists there from across the country. Both Liverpool Antifascists and Liverpool Unite Against Fascism have called a counter-protest.

The BNP are demonstrating, they claim, "to raise awareness of the deep-rooted corruption and prejudice inside one of Britain’s public-funded and supposedly impartial rip-off merchants, the Blatantly Biased Corporation." Beyond the hyperbole and excessive adjective use, the central grievance is that the BBC "have been hounding [the BNP] for years with various so-called exposé programmes" and are "barring us from taking part in their beloved programme [Question Time] by using constant goal-moving tactics and blatant discrimination."

Now, it's certainly true that the party has been the subject of a lot of exposés, from the Cook Report to BNP: Under the Skin. One of the more recent ones with which they have a gripe is The Secret Agent, which saw BNP leader Nick Griffin and others being charged with inciting racial hatred. It all fits into the party's narrative of victimisation and discrimination for steadfastly defending the British people from invasion.

It's hard to argue that the BNP is not the subject of a disproportionate amount of exposés and negative media coverage compared to other parties. However, in all fairness, this is because of the disproportionate number of criminals and violent thugs they've had standing as candidates and their links to terrorism. Not to mention their far-right politics and the overt fascism, racism and street violence of the party's past. Even now, in the era when they have supposedly forgone the combat boots in favour of suits, we still see thugs like Peter Tierney and his brother Andrew viciously attacking political opponents.

This line of thinking leads others to call for Griffin and his ilk to be barred from media appearences. I'm told that there is a plan tomorrow by some anti-fascists to deliver a letter congratulating the BBC for their decision not to invite him on the programme. However, here I find myself disagreeing quite strongly, just as on the subject of asking the state to ban fascists from marching.

My own thought is that “if we are to try and censure that which is hateful or offensive, then an obvious question arises: who is left to decide what is hateful and offensive?” History tells us that the state is more likely to censure genuine radicalism before it does the reaction of movements such as fascism, and the primary victim would be the ability to question established power.

What, then, is the militant version of “no platform?” Is it not covered by the criticisms made above? It is not, because in fact groups such as Antifa agree with the sentiments I have expressed. “None of us have the power to stop fascists saying what they think, we cannot legislate against their words no matter how vile we consider them to be and neither would we want to be in a position to do so,” as they say on their own website.

However, there is a distinction to be made between speech and organisation.

As the Workers’ Solidarity Movement declare in a policy statement, “we do not oppose the right of racists to free speech,” although “racists should be actively challenged and opposed on all occasions. The task is not to prevent racists from speaking but to defeat their arguments by putting forward a strong alternative, and by challenging the assumptions and myths on which racist arguments are based.” However, “attempts by fascist groups to recruit members to fascism cannot be tolerated” and “racist organisations/individuals who physically attack people … do not have the right to organise, to recruit for such activities.” Thus, “in such instances, force should be met with force.”

Antifa agree. “If all Nick Griffin and his disciples were doing was talking amongst themselves about repatriating migrant workers, clamping down on those they saw as deviants and splitting communities along lines of race then there wouldn’t be a serious problem.” But this is not the case. “The reality is the BNP are organising to gain seats of power and to implement their white nationalist policies,” and “this attempt to gain power and influence must be challenged by all effective means.”
Moreover, in the specific instance of programmes like Question Time, the issue isn't whether or not the BNP are getting a free platform. It's the propaganda role they play when they get it.

Once the programme had been aired, I argued that "Nick Griffin was not invited onto the show in order to uphold the BBC's "responsibility of due impartiality." It had nothing whatsoever to do with freedom of speech across the political spectrum, lest we are about to see members of the Anarchist Federation on the panel, and it certainly wasn't about the BBC pandering to racism." Rather, "he was invited on specifically to flail and flop. In doing so, he and the BNP serve well their role, both as convenient foils for mainstream parties, and as part of the flak machine driving the political agenda rightward."

Of course, the BNP get something out of this deal as well, and are able to play the poor beleaguered white nationalists in order to aid their recruitment. But the fact remains that anti-fascists are in no position to get the far-right censored from political debate, and even if we were all it would do is add an extra layer of credibility to the "mainstream" who aren't barred from the television and make it even less likely that radical voices from the left would ever get similar exposure.

So, tomorrow, I'm not going to be outside the CUC because I want the BNP banned from the airwaves, nor to hand in a letter of congratulations to the BBC. I'm going to be there for the same reason I always turn out to oppose fascists. Because fascism needs to be opposed by the working class - both ideologically and on the streets.

Demonstrate against the BNP
5pm, Thursday 29 September
Contemporary Urban Centre (CUC),
Greenland Street (off Jamaica Street, near Cains Brewery)
Liverpool L1 OBS (Map)
View the Facebook event set up by Liverpool UAF here.

Why the young politicos creep me out

Yesterday, at the Labour Party conference, Rory Weal gave a speech which "wowed" delegates and "stole the show." This had nothing to do with the actual words he said, but the fact that he is only 16 years old. This was Labour's William Hague moment - but rather than be impressed with the fact that he stood up and spoke in such a high-profile setting, all I can feel is a little creeped out.

Already, Weal has sparked a media frenzy. The most absurd end of it came from the Daily Mail, with Melanie Philips declaring (without a hint of irony) that he was the "new star" of Labour's "mantra of hate" and a team of three reporters taking pains to point out that he has a rather privileged upbringing. The Guardian chose to focus on whether or not he would end up regretting his speech and the Mirror wondered about his "bright political future." Others such as the Telegraph chose to focus on the details of his speech and ask whether or not he was right.

For me, however, there's an altogether different concern. As an anarchist, I obviously have very little interest in party politics. If there is a problem besetting the working class, the best way to address it is through direct action rather than appealing to leaders to save us. My attitude to Labour, in particular, is summed up by Cautiously Pessimistic: "fuck the Labour Party conference, fuck all those socialists who really should know better but continue to bang on about Labour as if that useless shower of bastards have any relevance to the class struggle, and doublefuck that massive hypocrite Dave Prentice for sabotaging the June 30th strikes and then having the cheek to lecture others about the importance of supporting strikes."

So why give a damn that some 16 year old posh boy has been drawn into this? Because of the entirely wrong sentiment that it evokes - partly summed up in the Telegraph by Christopher Howse compairing it to "fairground freakery." It's hard to top his metaphor that Weal (as all prodigies) "is in the position of the dog walking on its hind legs." We aren't "particularly interested in what the dog is doing, except that it’s unusual for a dog," and "the dog on its hind legs is always ready to fall."

That's not the whole picture, though. As part of the spectacle, people will always comment that it's "good to see young people interested in politics." Or some such similar sentiment. Features on "young, ambitious and idealistic" would-be politicians regularly make good copy ahead of party conferences and we're told how they "explode the idea that teenagers are selfish and self-absorbed." They are "passionate about social justice and have more than a grasp of economics" and won't "head off to a music festival, or even a riot," and the implicit message is that despite - or even perhaps because - of the freak show element, there's something to be admired about young people joining political parties.

This only has the effect of creeping me out even more, however. It's just not right, and as I said when talking about this with my other half earlier today, my only response to a child of mine announcing that they'd signed up to a political party would be a profound sense of disappointment.

This isn't to say that I'm against young people giving a damn about what goes on in the world around them. If anything, I believe more young people should. As a young members' rep in PCS, one of my roles is to get under-27s more interested and active in trade union activity. Having taken part in actions with UK Uncut, I know more than a few young people who have a level of passion for their cause that most adults would struggle to mirror - indeed it is remarkable that the driving force behind the group in Liverpool was a 15 year-old schoolgirl. Likewise, Liverpool has a quite young local of the Solidarity Federation and our youngest member is 17 years old.

All of these things are incredibly positive. Far away from the world of party conferences, these young people genuinely do have a sense of social justice - or, better, a class consciousness - that drives them to act. Not by wearing a suit or giving a speech, but by taking part in the active resistance of ordinary people who want to defend the gains won for the working class over the past century and a half and push forward to fight for a better world. They're engaging in one of the oldest passtimes of the teenager, rebellion, but in a positive and collective way rather than an individual, nihilistic one.

By contrast, the Rory Weal's of this world are dressing and acting like politicians because they want to be one themselves. Rather than being part of the fightback against the political class, they want to become part of it. Perhaps they believe they can change the world for the better this way, but if so it just shows the limit of their imaginations and how the illusions of reformism continue to ensnare people.

That's why, whilst the media buzzes around Weal and over analyses or tries to demonise him, my only reaction is to cringe. It might only be a passing phase, and you imagine that even signing up for a Trotskyist party would be a step up. But it could well be the beginning of a promising political career, and we've just witnessed the emergence of one of the bastards whom our children will be picketing, marching, protesting and rioting against in the class war of the next generation.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

A chance to start writing ourselves back into the story

The following is reposted from the Cautiously Pessimistic blog. The struggle it discusses truly is one of the most important and vital to the British labour movement today.

I’ve already plugged the rank-and-file electricians’ network quite a few times on this blog. Today I’m going to do it again, because I believe that the current struggle taking place against attacks on wages and conditions across the construction sector could be the most important thing happening in the UK at the moment. To start at the beginning: most of us don’t have a lot of say in the big decisions that get made about our lives. And, if we try and change that by getting involved in protest, we find the same pattern existing across most of the left: the TUC bosses choose a date every few months for a protest or a one-day strike, and the rest of us are expected to just go along with it, to march out obediently when they tell us to and then go home and do nothing for the next few months without making a fuss. There are some groups and projects where decisions are made at the grassroots, but pretty much all of these are tiny, and this lack of numbers makes it impossible for them to have any real impact most of the time.

This situation is what makes the electricians’ rank and file network so important: they offer a way out beyond the two unsatisfactory options of getting involved with either ineffective, top-down mass protest or a tiny, isolated subculture of activists. It’s a rank and file group that’s out of the control of the union bureaucracy, but still capable of pulling out impressive numbers at short notice, mobilising people in London, Newcastle, Manchester, Glasgow, Grangemouth, Cleethorpes, Liverpool and Edinburgh. They haven’t really challenged the authority of the union itself and are urging people to join Unite, but that hasn’t stopped union leaders from describing them as “cancerous”.

What’s possible and impossible at any given moment is determined by what people think is possible or impossible, which in turn is a reflection of what’s happened in the past. At the moment, someone looking for an excuse to stay in bed rather than putting their time and energy into fighting back against the attacks this system makes on all of us can point to a lot of examples to justify their apathy: from the Miners’ Strike through to the anti-Iraq War movement and right up to recent cases like the campaign to save EMA or stop the attacks on the NHS, there’s no shortage of defeats to teach us how weak and powerless we are.

Positive examples to show how we can win are a lot rarer: we have to go back as far as the Poll Tax, or else look at much smaller-scale victories like the recent Office Angels campaign, the IWW cleaners’ disputes in London, or the Seattle Solidarity Network’s impressive success in the US. We need some stories with happy endings, and the rank and file electricians looks like our best bet at the moment: they certainly have the determination and spirit needed to win, so it’s just a question of the numbers they can pull out. They’ve already won a partial victory with the surrender of MJN Coulson, but that still leaves seven other employers to beat.

This is bigger than just the wages and conditions of one group of workers: the fundamental question here is whether or not it’s possible for a group of ordinary people to assert some kind of control over what’s going on in their lives. A victory for the electricians would be a victory for all of us who share that goal. Respect is due to those folk, like the Commune and North East Anarchists, who’ve been out supporting the protests, I’d strongly advise anyone else with anything happening in their area to think about making it a priority.

Quote of the day...

For most traders we don't really care about having a fixed economy, having a fixed situation, our job is to make money from it. Personally, I've been dreaming of this moment for three years. I go to bed every night and I dream of another recession.
Others have picked up on his comment that "governments don't rule the world, Goldman Sachs rules the world." However, this isn't a startling or revalatory statement. Any serious analysis of the capitalist system would place the real power in the hands of those who control the flow of capital, not through some grand conspiracy but by the simple nature of how our economy works.

Likewise, his prediction that "this economic crisis is like a cancer, if you just wait and wait thinking this will go away, just like a cancer it's going to grow" isn't particularly novel. Capitalism is eating itself, and as the central banks scramble to save failing financial institutions they're doing so by squeezing the living standards of the working class, those who drive the real economy through production and consumption. But it's the line above - "our job is to make money from it" - which sums up the economic madness we're all trapped in.

But this also offers a perfect demonstration of what is neeeded to win the class struggle.

The people we're facing off against are not possessed of rational thought. They may know that the financial sector only exists on the back of the real economy. That without real-world production which benefits society in innumerable ways whilst allowing us to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads they wouldn't be able to gamble tangible capital to generate the obscene numbers which allow them to live as kings. That strangling the real economy to prop up the money markets is tantamount to a parasite killing its host to survive. But they don't care about any of it. Ultimately, "our job is to make money from it."

We cannot win the argument with this mentality. Instead, we have to hit them where it hurts - their wallets. They will not see beyond the short term gains unless those gains provoke the workers to flex our economic muscles. They will not change unless we act so that their relentless drive for profit is met with significant economic damage.

In short, as the Solidarity Federation have been saying all along, "the only way these plans can be derailed is if we simply do not accept their imposition, and make the country ungovernable."

Monday, 26 September 2011

Some thoughts on #OccupyWallStreet

Despite receiving little attention from the press, Occupy Wall Street has managed to capture the imagination of the American Left. The reason why is obvious - since Tahrir Square, the idea of occupying public space as the means to enact social change has become a powerful meme across the world. But it is also too simplistic, and those hoping for a repeat of events in Egypt are setting themselves up for disappointment.

The idea for the occupation of Wall Street arose in July, originating in a call out from Adbusters but not taking any direction from the organisation. The US Day of Rage - with its openly reformist slogan of "one citizen, one dollar, one vote," has also been connected to the action. But it is the General Assembly, operating on the basis of consensus decision-making, which is responsible for what happens on the ground - as well as for their poignant and poetic "one demand."

Like many similar initiatives around the world, the movement has drawn in people from a wide variety of backgrounds and is thus fraught with contradictions. This in itself isn't much of an issue, as most broad-based action is. What is important is that though the media chose to studiously ignore it, it was deemed at least enough of an irritation to draw a rather angry, illiterate counter-protest from Tea Party members as well as jeering snobbery from the suits on Wall Street. It has also faced continuous harrassment and violence from the police, from mass arrests to open and public beatings.

Certainly, it is a radical enough action in its own right that it cannot be dismissed out of hand. It is also true, if there were the numbers for a much deeper and more solid incursion into the financial district, the economic impact would be significant. That is not something to be sniffed at, since the power of the working class lies in our ability to collectively shut down sections of the economy through direct action.

The problem that the action faces is that it is happening almost in a vacuum. Though America does not lack for class antagonism - most notably of late the longshoremen's struggle in Longview - a broad movement to connect the struggles against austerity and the capitalist reaction to the recession hasn't flowered. It could even be argued that since the battles in Wisconsin declined into electoral politics and ended in defeat there has been a vacuum left behind. US Uncut couldn't mirror its UK forbear in forcing the unions forward for fear of being outflanked from below, and Americans aren't even facing the limited prospect of a coordinated public sector strike over pensions.

This is important because, for all the Tahrir-fetishism that has consumed the left, it wasn't the tents in the square which were pivotal in forcing Mubarak to stand down. It was the wave of strikes and economic disruption. The Square occupation played its part, and served as a useful focal point for people looking to coordinate resistance, but liberals and the soft-left have overstated it to fit direct action (of which more people are realising the importance) into the narrative of "peaceful protest" and omit the centrality of class combat to revolutionary events.

Occupy Wall Street organisers have grasped at least some of this, it seems, with truth-out.org stating that they have "had to start scrambling to relearn how to make fliers, reach out to membership organizations and find people where they are to make the movement's numbers grow." Initially gripped by the idea that all you have to do to make something happen is announce it on the internet, they have acknowledged that this is erroneous and adapted their tactics accordingly. By the same token, there is no reason to presuppose that the necessity of such actions feeding into the working class and to broader class struggle in order to be effective could not be similarly learned.

We are not witnessing, despite truth-out.org's headline, a "revolution in formation." Pitching tents in Wall Street will not be enough to bring about the collapse of capitalism. But by the same token that does not mean it's entirely a wasted venture. Even if all it achieves is to drive home the message to young would-be radicals that you need more than a tent and a Twitter hashtag to bring about social revolution, it will have done some good.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

The vote will not emancipate the women of Saudi Arabia

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has announced that women are to get the right to vote and to stand in municipal elections. The move is certainly extraordinary in one of the most repressive and patriarchal systems in the world, and has been welcomed by campaigners. However, it is also the absolute least that the country could do for women's rights and leaves a lot to be desired.

There is no doubt that, as with all reforms and improvements across the world, this new right comes as a result of heavy pressure rather than ruling class beneficience. The conditions endured by women in the country are no secret, but it is in the past year that a number of rebellions on issues from driving to male guardianship have challenged the status quo. Not to mention the broader context of the Arab Spring, which did see some protests within Saudi Arabia and has more broadly frightened rulers enough for them to grant concessions in the hope of appeasing discontent.

In terms of the treatment of women, both international pressure and the economic question of having half the population restricted in what work they can do will also play a role. I would certainly be willing to state that the king's "reform agenda" is based more on economic pragmatism and the need to quieten discontent than with any overwhelming concern for human rights. On both fronts, giving women the vote serves a useful purpose.

But, in terms of how much it can do for the real struggle for equality, we have to be very sceptical. Though liberal feminists will use the date women were granted the vote as one indicator of the progress of women's rights, it remains the case that most of the progress towards equality was won by struggles that were largely independent of the right to enter a polling booth and mark an "x" in a box. Indeed, though it now appears that women will have the right to vote in Saudi Arabia long before they ever do in the Vatican, nobody would seriously argue that women have it worse in the latter.

Most eloquent on this subject was Emma Goldman, who was contemporary to the Suffragettes;
Our modern fetich is universal suffrage. Those who have not yet achieved that goal fight bloody revolutions to obtain it, and those who have enjoyed its reign bring heavy sacrifice to the altar of this omnipotent deity. Woe to the heretic who dare question that divinity!

...

Woman's demand for equal suffrage is based largely on the contention that woman must have the equal right in all affairs of society. No one could, possibly, refute that, if suffrage were a right. Alas, for the ignorance of the human mind, which can see a right in an imposition. Or is it not the most brutal imposition for one set of people to make laws that another set is coerced by force to obey? Yet woman clamors for that "golden opportunity" that has wrought so much misery in the world, and robbed man of his integrity and self-reliance; an imposition which has thoroughly corrupted the people, and made them absolute prey in the hands of unscrupulous politicians.

The poor, stupid, free American citizen! Free to starve, free to tramp the highways of this great country, he enjoys universal suffrage, and, by that right, he has forged chains about his limbs. The reward that he receives is stringent labor laws prohibiting the right of boycott, of picketing, in fact, of everything, except the right to be robbed of the fruits of his labor. Yet all these disastrous results of the twentieth century fetich have taught woman nothing. But, then, woman will purify politics, we are assured.

Needless to say, I am not opposed to woman suffrage on the conventional ground that she is not equal to it. I see neither physical, psychological, nor mental reasons why woman should not have the equal right to vote with man. But that can not possibly blind me to the absurd notion that woman will accomplish that wherein man has failed. If she would not make things worse, she certainly could not make them better. To assume, therefore, that she would succeed in purifying something which is not susceptible of purification, is to credit her with supernatural powers. Since woman's greatest misfortune has been that she was looked upon as either angel or devil, her true salvation lies in being placed on earth; namely, in being considered human, and therefore subject to all human follies and mistakes. Are we, then, to believe that two errors will make a right? Are we to assume that the poison already inherent in politics will be decreased, if women were to enter the political arena?

...

The women of Australia and New Zealand can vote, and help make the laws. Are the labor conditions better there than they are in England, where the suffragettes are making such a heroic struggle? Does there exist a greater motherhood, happier and freer children than in England? Is woman there no longer considered a mere sex commodity? Has she emancipated herself from the Puritanical double standard of morality for men and women? Certainly none but the ordinary female stump politician will dare answer these questions in the affirmative. If that be so, it seems ridiculous to point to Australia and New Zealand as the Mecca of equal suffrage accomplishments.

On the other hand, it is a fact to those who know the real political conditions in Australia, that politics have gagged labor by enacting the most stringent labor laws, making strikes without the sanction of an arbitration committee a crime equal to treason.

Not for a moment do I mean to imply that woman suffrage is responsible for this state of affairs. I do mean, however, that there is no reason to point to Australia as a wonder-worker of woman's accomplishment, since her influence has been unable to free labor from the thralldom of political bossism.

Finland has given woman equal suffrage; nay, even the right to sit in Parliament. Has that helped to develop a greater heroism, an intenser zeal than that of the women of Russia? Finland, like Russia, smarts under the terrible whip of the bloody Tsar. Where are the Finnish Perovskaias, Spiridonovas, Figners, Breshkovskaias? Where are the countless numbers of Finnish young girls who cheerfully go to Siberia for their cause? Finland is sadly in need of heroic liberators. Why has the ballot not created them? The only Finnish avenger of his people was a man, not a woman, and he used a more effective weapon than the ballot.

As to our own States where women vote, and which are constantly being pointed out as examples of marvels, what has been accomplished there through the ballot that women do not to a large extent enjoy in other States; or that they could not achieve through energetic efforts without the ballot?

True, in the suffrage States women are guaranteed equal rights to property; but of what avail is that right to the mass of women without property, the thousands of wage workers, who live from hand to mouth?

...

There is no reason whatever to assume that woman, in her climb to emancipation, has been, or will be, helped by the ballot.

In the darkest of all countries, Russia, with her absolute despotism, woman has become man's equal, not through the ballot, but by her will to be and to do. Not only has she conquered for herself every avenue of learning and vocation, but she has won man's esteem, his respect, his comradeship; aye, even more than that: she has gained the admiration, the respect of the whole world. That, too, not through suffrage, but by her wonderful heroism, her fortitude, her ability, will power, and her endurance in the struggle for liberty. Where are the women in any suffrage country or State that can lay claim to such a victory? When we consider the accomplishments of woman in America, we find also that something deeper and more powerful than suffrage has helped her in the march to emancipation.

It is just sixty-two years ago since a handful of women at the Seneca Falls Convention set forth a few demands for their right to equal education with men, and access to the various professions, trades, etc. What wonderful accomplishment, what wonderful triumphs! Who but the most ignorant dare speak of woman as a mere domestic drudge? Who dare suggest that this or that profession should not be open to her? For over sixty years she has molded a new atmosphere and a new life for herself. She has become a world power in every domain of human thought and activity. And all that without suffrage, without the right to make laws, without the "privilege" of becoming a judge, a jailer, or an executioner. 
The struggle for gender equality in Saudi Arabia is in its infancy, and the fact that women there can vote will not alter that. Indeed, it may be enough of a sop to some interests that it will serve to derail it for a time, as it celebrates this victory.

Women in Saudi Arabia, as everywhere, deserve to be given equal standing to men. Nobody can doubt that or make a credible argument against it. But that equality will not come from the ballot box. It will come when women win, through struggle, the right to their own person, to independence in life and love, and to walk through the streets without either religious veil or male companion without fear of reprisal.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Block the bridge, block the bill!

October 12th sees the House of Lords vote on the Health and Social Care Bill. In response to this, the TUC are upping the stakes from revolutionary candle lighting to insurrectionary letter writing. Thankfully, whilst the trade union movement has been caught with its trousers down, some people did think it was worth mobilising and staging an actual fightback against attacks on the NHS.

Step forward, UK Uncut;
On Saturday 8th October, just four days before the Lords vote, join UK Uncut in a spectacular act of mass civil disobedience to block the bill. By blocking Westminster Bridge we symbolically block the bill from getting from Parliament to our hospitals. Yes, it will be disruptive. Yes, it will stop the traffic. But this is an emergency and we have to shout as loud as we can.

Get to the middle of Westminster Bridge shortly before 1pm. When Big Ben strikes one, pick one of the tactics below and help block the bridge:
  • Bring some fake blood and play dead
  • Bring hospital radio to the bridge with some music and comedy
  • Bring a nurse for a resuscitation skill-share
  • Dress up in scrubs and perform an operation
  • Enjoy a picnic overlooking Parliament
  • Share stories about the the NHS
  • Invite a friend from across the pond to describe the reality of a privatised healthcare system
  • Invite older generations to describe a time before universal healthcare
  • (if you’ve got other good ideas, email them to ukuncut@gmail.com)

Invite everyone you know to the Facebook event, and make sure you click ‘attending’ – the action will only go ahead if 1000 or more people plan to attend. We'll be in close contact with St. Thomas’ before and during the protest to ensure access for emergency vehicles.
It needs to be acknowledged that, on its own, this action will not be enough to force a climbdown over health reforms. In no situation is there one action which will clinch the deal. What we have always needed is a sustained campaign of direct action, relentlessly geared to causing physical and economic disruption. That fact hasn't changed.

But what has changed is that since 26th March, if not before, the workers/anti-cuts movement as a whole has lost considerable momentum (June 30th notwithstanding). This can in large part be put down to the same people who thought that the best response to gutting universal healthcare was to light a few candles. As I've said before, the TUC have always been far more adept than other bodies at demobilising from above, and so when the reins of officialdom passed from the NUS to the TUC it became far easier to derail that troublesome radicalism.

We were never going to see Brendan Barber chased off a march, kettled by those he purports to represent, or hounded to resignation. Trade union bureaucrats have to be more savvy than that quite simply because the complete lack of activity on any front from the NUS meant they were unprepared for any kind of rank-and-file militancy. Not so Barber and his ilk.

Thus it was that we saw such a stupendously pathetic response to the Health and Social Care Bill. There was and is a current of rank-and-file militancy in the unions, which has seen a step up in rhetoric from those who don't want to be outflanked from below, but with officialdom defining that struggle purely in terms of pensions it has not been able to touch the issue of universal healthcare. Even the threat of strikes in the health sector arose over retirement rather than the gutting of an invaluable public service. The bureaucracy has worked hard to control and stifle the struggle and its grip will be difficult to break.

As such, UK Uncut's action is a long overdue direct action intervention into voting on the Health and Social Care Bill. It is a pointed reminder that there are ways to resist without helplessly appealing to those who have class interests that conflict with our own, or resorting to absurd token gestures like putting a picture of a flame in your window. We, as a class, are under attack and it is vital that we fight back. Though their politics are far behind their actions, UK Uncut reminds us that not only can we do that, but we have immense collective power when we do.

I would urge everyone who can attend to make it down to London in order to block Westminster Bridge. But more than that, I would say that we need to escalate from that point as long as everything we've won is under threat. As we head into a potential winter of discontent, we need to make life as uncomfortable as possible for the ruling class.

Monday, 19 September 2011

The EDL, class, and the fallout from Tower Hamlets

Since the English Defence League's demonstration (almost) in Tower Hamlets, the fascists have been doing their best to portray themselves as victims of class snobbery as well as leftist violence and police persecution. They've been backed up in this by several mainstream commentators. However, whilst there are class issues connected with fascism, it is important to continually untangle the distortions from the right.

Before moving onto the subject of class, it is worth looking at EDL leader Tommy Robinson's brief status as a "political prisoner." Declaring himself such, he went on hunger strike and the EDL declared him a "martyr" for his cause, declaring that "we are all Tommy Robinson." They even demanded that Amnesty International divert its attention from the plight of victims of the Burmese Junta to speak up in Tommy's favour. After all, since his bail conditions explicitly forbade him from attending or promoting EDL events, wasn't he too being denied freedom of speech, association and assembly?

Well, no. At least, no more than any other person arrested during a demonstration. If we're playing the "but what about" card, I don't recall the EDL speaking up for the freedoms of those arrested on March 26th for sitting down in a shop. In fact, as I recall, their only response to anti-cuts demos was to declare their support for the police. It's kind of hard to play the defenders of civil liberties when you've previously thrown your hat in with the state, and continue to say nothing on the repression of those other than yourself. Aside from which, Tommy was neither the first nor the last person to receive bail conditions barring him from activism until his case had been heard. Not to mention that goading the police to arrest him was just plain stupid.

The other significant issue to arise from the Tower Hamlets demo came when an EDL coach broke down near the mosque and was attacked by locals. Video footage shows a woman lying on the ground and being kicked by attackers as the coach drives off. Then there is the video of two lads telling the story of the attack and laughing about it.

Even as somebody who believes in using direct action - and if necessary physical force - to repel fascists on the street, it is hard to find words for this. This was not a defensive act, and whilst there is an argument for provoking a bus load of EDL to flee the area as fast as possible, there is no legitimate argument for attacking a lone woman (or man for that matter) abandoned in the meleé. There is no threat to the local community, and misogynistic violence doesn't suddenly become acceptable because the victim is an EDL supporter.

However, as far as claims that this is a reflection of anti-fascists or anti-fascist tactics more generally, Richard Seymour of Lenin's Tomb hits the mark here;
While [Telegraph blogger Brendan] O'Neill used the issue to incriminate the left and anti-fascists in general, [Telegraph leader-writer Damian] Thompson went further and asserted falsely that UAF describes EDL supporters as "chavs", and had no problem declaring the two men on the video to be "middle class [sigh] supporters of United Against Fascism".  Making up quotes and playing fast and loose with the facts is roughly the sort of behaviour that this weaselly scribe was lambasting Johann Hari for not long ago.  So, before going any further, it is worth noting that the men behind the video have nothing to do with Unite Against Fascism.  The charming personality on-screen is that of comedic hopeful, Anthony Richardson.  He, in a public apology for the video (to the best of my knowledge, this is genuine), explains that "We were bystanders and had not been actively involved in either side of the protest."  He goes on to say that: "I can categorically state that I am not part of any political party or particular leaning".  The pair were not anti-fascist protesters, middle class or otherwise.  Nothing they did or said, and nothing about how they did or said it, tells us anything about why people protest against the EDL.
Which brings us around to the subject of class, and the idea - expressed by both O'Neill and Thompson - that opposition to the EDL marks some kind of burgeoning hatred for the working class from middle class activists. Thompson goes further to ask if the EDL are "the new voice of the white working class," an idea that the group themselves have offered previously and which I've dealt with here.

The argument about class and fascism keeps rearing its head for the simple reason that there is relevance to it. Now, it's not the relevance that the EDL or their Telegraph apologists would ascribe to it, but the fact remains that the far-right have been able to play off a media narrative which ties social class into ethnicity and offers racial and religious out-groups - asylum seekers, Muslims, etc - as a scapegoat for anger at the problems afflicting society, which we know is better aimed at the ruling class.

Richard Seymour also makes an important point on the juxtaposition of "working class" fascists with "middle class" anti-fascists;
There is a conception of class implicit in this argument that has nothing to do with class as a category of political economy. It is not even the old status-culture model of class that underpins official statistical classifications. It is a chimera, a purely sentimental, pseudo-ethnic model of class, in which a working class person is defined by certain sumptuary and sartorial habits, attributes which make for convenient genre markers but which by themselves yield no sociological insight. It is an object of nostalgia and melancholia, the deus ex machina of reactionary polemic that strictly does not coincide with the working class as it actually lives and reproduces itself. That working class, the 'actually existing working class' for want of a better term, has anti-fascists and anti-racists in it. And leftists, and trade unionists. And students, and autodidacts, and other educated people. And people who dress well. Once this is clear, the identification of the working class as the natural home of the far right cannot but appear as a patronising slur; and talk of the 'white working class' a sleight against the actual working class, which stubbornly resists colour-coding.
He makes this point whilst refuting the idea that the EDL or the far-right more broadly has a "working class base," arguing that those who gravitate towards fascism "they tend not to be class-motivated voters abandoning Labourism for some nebulous fascist proletarianism, but rather tend to be traditional right-wing voters - people shifting their votes from Tories, UKIP and other right-wing parties."

However this is the point where I would find myself disagreeing. Although this may be true in some cases, my own experience with fascists - from pensioners campaigning with the British National Party to young lads wearing swastikas and giving Nazi salutes - is that class only serves to make racial questions more potent for them. This is why fascist groups are able to gain support in times of crisis, and why key questions of working class need - jobs, homes, public services - are the same ones given prominence by the far-right.

It may be a "purely sentimental, pseudo-ethnic model of class" that the EDL et al promote, but it is the same model of class that the mainstream media promote also. Socialists and communists are not in the majority in society, and you can be sure that most people who identify (largely correctly) as "working class" do so not on the basis of their relation to capital but because any number of cultural and sociological norms. Plus, whilst we might recognise the rich intellectual culture which has long defined the working class, an awful lot of people far beyond the ranks of the far-right equate education with being middle class.

This means that conceptions of class are skewed, and that the questions of class conflict in society are being distorted to suit racial narratives (or simply divisive narratives of any kind in some cases). But it doesn't mean that the EDL lacks a working class base or that class plays no part in driving people into their hands.

The answer to this, as I've said before, is not to dismiss the grievances of the white working class but "to put forward the arguments as to why fascism divides the working class, why unity between natives and migrants is the only way to end the exploitation of both, and why capitalism - not a perceived lack of border controls - is the root of working class problems."