Monday, 31 October 2011

Police repression and general strike call in Oakland

The following is reposted from Bay of Rage (via Cautiously Pessimistic), as it represents the most promising move of the Occupy movement from 99%-ism to explicit class warfare.

Oakland Takes Out The Trash
Tuesday, 3am – 7am

On Monday, October 24th the second weekend of #OccupyOakland had come and gone; charisma from Saturday’s march [link] had passed and a police raid was imminent. Beyond popular speculation that the city and the police were planning the destruction of Oscar Grant Plaza, there were a few obvious clues that Monday night would be the night. For one, the city had issued letters to select businesses around the plaza suggesting that there would be police activities sometime in the coming day. In addition, the city seems to have forced the Fire Marshall to come to the occupation to “remove” the propane tanks (and thus restricting us from cooking on site).

Before the rubber bullets and concussion grenades, the hundred or so arrests and unrelenting spider mobs that saturated downtown Oakland, there was joyous, eager barricading. It was trash night. The already desolate streets surrounding Oscar Grant Plaza were quickly cleared of whatever debris could act (symbolically and/or effectively) as an impediment to the police. Locked in an alley of City Hall were nearly one hundred metal police barricades. They were quickly liberated from their cage and placed strategically around the encampment. Reports trickled in slowly: several police units, from many agencies all the way out to Vacaville, were mobilizing and traveling to the plaza via motorcade or BART. Arguments broke out at the occupation – some called for a united strategy of defense, while many continued building barricades, spray painting and hammering away at the cobblestone floor. Eventually, around 4am, the distant sirens quickly turned into dozens of police units in formation, giving dispersal orders before attacking the encampment.

There was hopeful but little supposition that these people and barricades could deter the police, let alone defend the camp. When the spotlights from police helicopters began indiscriminately scanning the plaza, a panic fevered the already frantic people. It took only moments to realize that to stay inside the plaza was hopeless. Those intent on posturing and symbolically “standing their ground”, were subject to projectiles, batons and ultimately arrest. The scene was panicked, oppressive and defeating. For now, the fight for the plaza had been lost and most everyone inside dispersed.

Outside police lines, many looked to reconvene, others arrived responding to the emergency text messages and phone calls they’d received from others – they found each other at 14th and Franklin, one block east of the plaza. To the police it was clear that this massing crowd would not be reduced to impotent spectators. Moving away from the sidewalks into the street, what was now the morning traffic detour route, the intersection filled with hateful slogans directed at the police. There was a startling impatience and lust for revenge. It had grown to nearly 200 people when a police motorcade was ordered to intimidate and disperse the crowd. Shape shifting and turning over trash cans, the group headed in the opposite direction. Shouts of excitement, more seething remarks toward the police and a medley of thudding and crashing filled the streets. The police came prepared to assault the plaza, not to be met with the consequences of doing so. From 5am to 6am the streets east of the plaza held a familiarity to some and an unprecedented emotion for others.

An offensive decision by the city and its allies brought opportunity to those subject to their increasingly irrelevant authority. Tuesday morning, the city took to actively discouraging people from going to work in the downtown area. Despite this official suggestion, one could overhear security guards, baristas and other service workers phoning into work announcing their absence on their own initiative. Someone initiated a campaign to eject Jean Quan from her position as mayor. Tweets and texts exploded with announcements to rally at the downtown Oakland Library at 4pm. The Alameda County Labor Council among other local unions had publicly denounced the actions of the police and the city.

Yet to take shape as either a spectacle or rebellion, The Town, once again, opened itself to the freedoms found in possibilities.

Library. Riot. Continued.
Tuesday, 4pm – Midnight

12 hours later, the contingency plan approved by the GA in case of a raid, was put into place. At 4pm, close to 1000 people gathered at the main Oakland Library to listen to inspirational speeches and condemnations against the police. One could not avoid the general feeling of animosity towards those responsible for what happened last night. Something spectacular was going to happen tonight.

After the speeches, people marched to the Downtown jail to show support for those arrested the previous night. Along the way, the march passed through two separate lines of police, but on the third one, as the march was a block away from the jail, the police pushed back. They grabbed two people from the front of the march and threw them to the ground. Seeing this, the crowd immediately surrounded the cops yelling at them, trying to grab the comrades and free them. People pushed and paint was thrown. As the tension continued to escalate, the police knew they were fighting a losing battle, so they brought in reinforcements with tear gas and flash grenades to disperse the crowd. Those being arrested initially, amongst the chaos, were secured by the pigs and loaded into a van. One of the arrestees was fucked with while in jail, called racist slurs and physically harassed. How could we not hate the police?

Throughout the arrests of Occupy Oakland’s resistance, we demonstrate solidarity with the state’s hostages in a multitude of ways, emotionally and physically. The march regrouped and proceeded past the jail making noise and letting those inside – every single one of them – aware that the march was here for them in total solidarity. A comrade who has been released from jail, arrested the previous night, said that it was one of the most beautiful and powerful things they have ever seen. To hear and see 1000 people outside making noise, making their solidarity known to those on the inside. Solidarity means attack.

The march returned to Oscar Grant Plaza where the group proceeded to try and retake the plaza. After 20 minutes of confronting the police at 14th and Broadway, rounds of tear gas and flash grenades were used once again (there would be somewhere around seven different instances of the police using tear gas and flash grenades in an attempt to disperse the crowd. The crowd did not deteriorate this time nor any other).

This was only the beginning…

This first major tear gassing was also the incident were a veteran was hit in the head with a tear gas canister and either knocking him out or causing his system to go in shock – he was on the ground in front of the police with eyes open, not moving and not responding to anything. People immediately ran up to him and tried to get him out of the way, which is when the police throw another flash grenade directly on top of him and near those who responded in aid. This bears repeating: the police throw a flash grenade directly on someone that was lying motionless on the ground, dispersing the crowd that was trying to take him out of the warzone. The injured protester was eventually removed and taken to the hospital with a skull fracture and is currently in critical condition and undergoing surgery. Many were injured. Not everyone has reported their injuries for obvious reasons.

By this point, the march had doubled to more than 2000 people. The group marched to Snow Park to gather, but it wasn’t long until people marched back on the plaza again. In what became the standard of the night, the march confronted the militarized area formerly known as Oscar Grant Plaza and was met with tear gas and flash grenades causing people to faint and throw up. But this didn’t stop anyone; it only galvanized the crowd and incited many at home to head downtown and join the resistance.

The march started at 5 and lasted until late into the night with over 6 hours of snake marches and almost constant confrontation with the police throughout downtown.

Towards the end of the night, people began to worry about being kettled, so some people took it upon themselves to set up barricades around the surrounding intersections. This action would allow people to respond before being trapped, by either getting away or fighting back. The barricades included the city’s own barricades that were established throughout the area, dumpsters and trash cans (some of these were set aflame to relieve the lingering tear gas present throughout all of the downtown and to cause more trouble for the police if they dared to intimidate or assault crowd).

As the night went on, the group slowly dissipated, confident that this fight was not close to over.

The Retaking of Oscar Grant Plaza
Wednesday, 6pm – Midnight

It was obvious to everyone the previous night that people were heading back to Oscar Grant Plaza. By this time, police were nowhere to be seen around the plaza. The only thing that was there was a metal fence erected around the spot of the occupation. Well, it only lasted a little while. Before the General Assembly even started, people spontaneously began to tear down the fence. Initially, some “peace police,” spouting something about non-violence were trying to get them to stop – that was of course to no avail as the fence quickly was torn down.

The GA that happened that night was the largest one yet for #OccupyOakland, with over 2000 people participating. Since it was such a large GA, everything took more time, but the one proposal that was passed was worth it all. Following announcements that various occupations around the US were participating in solidarity marches, and that people in Cairo are going to march on Tahrir square this Friday saying that “Cairo and Oakland are one hand,” the proposal to call for a General Strike this Wednesday, November 2nd was passed with overwhelming majority (97%). Get ready Oakland, shits about to get real…

Following the GA, people announced that OccupySF was under threat of eviction. People made a call out for people to go to San Francisco and make their solidarity physical. But this wouldn’t happen. Before people could even make it into BART, the station was closed. Pissed, the small group that was heading to SF instead took to the streets in Oakland where the rest of the GA, who was still around, joined them. The march immediately headed towards the jail to show solidarity with those still inside. Everyone could see the inmates hands on the windows and the flickering of their cell lights, letting us know that they see us.

Over the next couple of hours, the group marched around downtown Oakland with no police interference. There were reports of police staging close by, but they never made themselves visible more than a few cars in front and back. After the previous night, they realized how badly they fucked up. Tonight, we controlled the streets. It finally ended in Oscar Grant Plaza, with people just chilling, standing and sitting in the middle of 14th and Broadway (the main downtown intersection), with no attempt by the cops to disperse the crowd.

As the proposed General Strike is just but a week away, there is a lot of work that needs to be done and a lot of connections to be established and strengthened. Some people began to set up camp again at Oscar Grant Plaza, but others are merely taking this time to rest, to regroup, to gather themselves for what is to come.

The last stretch towards #N30

Regular readers will be aware that I am currently trying to initiate a Bootle Strike Committee ahead of the November 30 public sector strikes. Despite the first attempt to gather reps from all striking unions together being less than successful, I and several others are pressing ahead with our efforts. Despite the various hurdles, it looks like we might be getting somewhere.

One of the most significant obstacles to what I am trying to accomplish is my own branch. I don't necessarily want to go into the internal politics in any depth here, because although it continues to piss me off it is also affecting others in far more significant ways and I have no wish to breach their trust by spilling all on a blog. However, it can be said as an overview that there is heavy factionalism which has disenfranchised and isolated a significant amount of reps outside of the Branch Executive Committee as well as a solid minority on it.

It has also reduced the members of the branch to almost complete passivity. "Dead wood," in the words of one of the dominant clique. This is a problem across the trade union movement, whereby the servicing model of trade unionism renders the members as clients to be provided with a service rather than active participants in a movement, in turn breeding apathy. However, the will of a certain faction to cling onto power has exacerbated the problem significantly, even as that same faction blame members for their own apathy and insist that it is a waste of time trying to involve them in members meetings or decision making and they should just be told what is happening and pulled along for the ride instead.

This, of course, isn't the case. The way the branch has gone is certainly a problem, but the answer isn't to write the workforce off and act as though you know what's best for them. It's to rebuild that culture of mass participation and democracy. Though I have no doubt it'll be slow going at first, because of the depth to which the alienation is ingrained, I also don't doubt that it can be done and we can return to that basic idea that the members are the union.

The first step in this direction will be holding a members meeting ahead of November 30, with the hope of encouraging more people to join the picket lines and get involved on the day. Now, my branch has around 1,300 members, and I'm by no means optimistic enough to presume that anywhere near that number will attend. But even if it's only fifty, or five, that's more than the none who would have turned up as a result of us not acting. If we give them something constructive to feed into, and something positive to take back to their colleagues, then we have something to build on so that in future we can reach the point where we can call 1,000-strong mass meetings in the event of a dispute. It's all about building.

The other major problem was the lack of involvement from other unions. This may have had something to do with the fact that Unison's ballot doesn't close until Thursday, whilst Unite's is running until 16 November. Whilst those of us in PCS - and the NUT, ATL and UCU - already have a mandate and can concentrate on the wider campaign, the new participants are still building for their yes votes. As such, it may seem of lesser importance to get involved with cross-union meetings at this point.

The answer to this is to pull people on board as we go. I would like to see at least one delegate from every single striking workplace in Bootle on the strike committee, but if we don't reach that target that doesn't mean we stop. We have already drafted in the assistance of Liverpool Against The Cuts to do public campaign stalls, and have a date set for a public meeting ahead of the strike. As we produce the materials for those, we can draft in people from other workplaces along the way. Again, even if we don't accomplish everything that we set out to do, we should at least have given ourselves a head start for next time. It's all a learning curve and as we build, so we grow.

This isn't to say that it's all plain sailing, of course. The internal politics of my branch (and, for that matter, of my union) are depressing - and it's easy to see how otherwise passionate workers get completely despondent and just say "ah, fuck it." Likewise, the tendency of some to take a step back when others start being proactive is absolutely infuriating. But of course this is just a symptom of the wider malaise, and if we are to beat it then we need to expect such things and batter through them.

On Friday, Adam Ford wrote about The Sparks rank-and-file network and the battle they're facing against both the bosses' attacks and sell out by the union leadership. Of course, most of us are nowhere near the point that the Sparks have reached of establishing our own independent structures, but we still face the same question: "Will anger win out over demoralisation this time round?" I certainly hope so.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Liverpool EDL's vendetta against the working class

Liverpool EDL's appearance at a march of female asylum seekers
Although I and others have long noted the English Defence League's anti-working class agenda, it seems that of late the Liverpool Division have decided to ramp it up a notch. Today, few will have been surprised to hear that several EDL members came out in opposition to the demo against the BNP conference. But it's not just anti-fascist events they have been targeting.

At the end of September, they had stood with the BNP at a demonstration outside the filming of Question Time after telling their members: "Liverpool City Centre will be swarming with UAF, LiverAF and Trade Unionists tonight. Get Involved and Enjoy. On Thursday as 100+ people demonstrated against the City Council's plans to cut another £50 million in jobs, welfare and public services, two EDL came along to heckle. The following day they announced that they were "patrolling for leftys" [sic] and soon found some "protesting outside the LMH building on Lime St/London Road." These were workers who had been laid off by the council after an outsourced company went bust and had been holding regular demonstrations since the end of August.

Clearly, any working class person standing up for a cause has now become fair game for Liverpool EDL. No matter where they are from or what they are protesting, they are "lefties" and it is their duty - as they put it yesterday - to "do the cunts."

This all fits in with the agenda announced back in March by "Snowy" - a member of the EDL splinter group, the Infidels - whereby the fascists would "put all our efforts into opposing everything [left-wingers] do regardless of the issue at hand." As I noted at the time, it was clear that "the fascists have thrown their lot in against organised workers," and Liverpool EDL have been more than willing to follow that example. They are now promising to put all their energy into counter demos and "run the streets like a mob."

The EDL, and their Liverpool Division most explicitly, are enemies of the working class. This fact was already apparent to many, but an open declaration of war against organised workers willing to stand up for their interests only underlines this fact. By taking such a stance, they have put themselves firmly on the same side as the bosses - as fascists so often do at times of heightened class conflict.

This point renders the need for working class unity against fascism more urgent. Fighting the far-right is not a specialised task to be outsourced to specific groups, but a job for all of us who do not wish to be divided by bigotry and violence. When the BNP, the EDL, or any other fascists are on the streets, working class people should be out there ready to stand up against them. This means countering their propaganda and making our voices louder than theirs. But it also means being prepared to physically resist them when they attack us or invade our communities.

¡No PasarĂ¡n!

The Cricketers in Wavertree hosts BNP Conference


This weekend, the BNP are holding their annual conference in the North West. In the run up to the event, it was largely assumed by anti-fascists that the event would be held in Manchester. However, on Friday it emerged that the conference would be held in Liverpool and locals called a demonstration.

The venue being used by the BNP is the Wavertree Cricket Club The Cricketers. The venue has been suspected for a while as the location of Liverpool Branch meetings once the fascist party's previous haunt of the Aigburth People's Hall was exposed. In pictures on the Liverpool BNP blog, the party's banners are openly on display, and at a national conference with Nick Griffin present this would be even more the case. Therefore, we can presume that the Cricket Club is aware that they are playing host to fascists.

As I write this, about thirty people - including members of Liverpool Antifascists - are in attendance at a demonstration outside the venue, in opposition to the BNP.

Several members of the City Council, including Labour Leader Joe Anderson and Wavertree Labour Councillor Jake Morrisson, have also shown up at the protest as well. However, whilst they have gotten the press attention and the photo opportunity, it is important to note that the bulk of those protesting are doing so not in a political capacity but as working class people who oppose the divisive poison of the far-right.

Liverpool Antifascists has since its foundation, and will continue to, put the bulk of its efforts into leafleting on working class estates and organising physical opposition to fascists on our streets. This has seen the BNP's vote plummet substantially in the last two years, whilst every appearance they've made in the city centre has seen them run out by angry locals - only a fraction of whom are active anti-fascists.

A full report and pictures will hopefully follow once the demonstrations and the fascist conference have concluded.

Update: Wavertree Cricket Club have issued the following statement;
Wavertree Cricket Club wish to clarify they have no involvement whatsoever with the meeting of the BNP reported by the Liverpool Echo on Saturday 29 October 2011. We have complained to the Editor of the Liverpool Echo about its inaccurate statement. We have been incorrectly linked with a meeting held by the BNP at the premises of a separate organisation who are occupants on the same site as us. The site is owned by Wavertree Recreation Company (1921) Limited and has two tenants – Wavertree Cricket Club and B & I Leisure. The event was held by B & I Leisure who have no connection with Wavertree Cricket Club and we object to being incorrectly identified as the hosts for this event.
The post above has been amended accordingly.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Airline wages war on staff with lockout

The Australian airline Qantas has taken extreme measures in an industrial dispute with three unions. According to a press release on the company's website, they have grounded all flights and locked out staff until the unions "drop the extreme demands that have made it impossible for agreements to be reached." The unions have condemned the move as a "maniacal overreaction."

The lock out comes after a series of strikes by the Australian Licenced Engineers Union (ALAEA), the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and the Australian and International Pilots Union (AIPA).

It was back in July that AIPA voted to take its first strike action since 1966 against the potential of long-haul pilots jobs being outsourced. The following month, the announcement of a restructure and outsourcing, which would cost 1,000 jobs. Supposedly, this would prevent the A$20 million losses the company was suffering annually, yet later the same month Qantas announced that it had doubled its full-year net profit to A$250 million. A wave of strikes followed the restructure announcement, with the last one by the TWU taking place only yesterday.

As with the British Airways dispute in Britain, there was heavy pressure applied on the strikers. Travel agents called on the government to intervene, only days after it had threatened the same thing if a resolution wasn't reached. The media narrative has focused on the plight of the passengers, with talk of disruption during a busy period (perhaps deliberately) missing the point of just how a strike works.

The CEO of Qantas, Alan Joyce, insists that this has left him with no choice. He says that agreeing to union demands would be "the easy way out," but "that would destroy Qantas in the long term." As such, he is "taking the bold decision, an unbelievable decision, a very hard decision" in order to stop them "trashing our strategy and our brand." This now explicitly pushes the struggle into a war of attrition, and one which Joyce must know that workers cannot hold out on forever - indeed, that after a shutdown the company can survive on the accumulated labour of its employees whilst they will suffer hardship much quicker only underlines the injustice that is wage labour.

Clearly, this situation has no easy resolution, and unfortunately it looks as if it is the workers who will suffer most. As TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon says, "Qantas has always wanted this dispute." The company "trained strike-breakers nine months ago to do the work of TWU members" and are determined in "their ambition to outsource Australian jobs to Asia and detonate the Qantas brand."

The action has split the ruling class, with the government's application "to terminate all industrial action at Qantas" now "aimed at both actions by unions and by Qantas management." This will certainly add to the economic pressure on Joyce to end the lock out.

However, before that pressure yields results he will still be able to do damage to the unions with what is - after all - one of the most explicit examples recently of an employer taking industrial action to destroy the collective power of the workforce. This dispute raises the question of how such tactics can be resisted. Whilst it may be novel and extreme at the moment, there is no guarantee that in a period of heightened class conflict it won't become the norm, and in that situation - especially in austerity-related struggles as are occurring across the world - there needs to be a way out other than defeat.

But in the immediate term what is needed is solidarity, not only in words but in deeds. At the least there should be a serious effort to raise funds for the locked out workers and to help them last that bit longer in this siege. An injury to one is an injury to all, and we never know when other workers may find themselves faced with the same situation.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Equal rights for princesses?

The leaders of 16 commonwealth countries have unanimously agreed that the first born child of the monarch will inherit the throne regardless of gender. At the same time, they have lifted the ban on marrying Roman Catholics. David Cameron thinks that these changes reflect "the modern countries that we have become."

The pronouncements on this subject are nothing short of absurd. Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard declares this "a change which equals equality for women in a new area," and the Queen herself has suggested that "it encourages us to find ways to show girls and women to play their full part" in society. The Guardian, meanwhile, opines that "it would be churlish not to welcome the news that a zephyr of egalitarian zeal has at last blown through court and political circles." They give credit to David Cameron and say "Labour should be ashamed" for not addressing "an egregious breach of human rights and equality" such as the rules of succession to the throne.

But let's stop for a moment and remember that we are talking about a monarchy. That is, the institution by which a person is installed as head of state on the basis of which vagina they shot out of. The last relic of feudalism and horrendous inhumanity and injustice that went with it. On what level, in what backwards interpretation of reality, does that have anything to do with equality?

So, women can ascend the throne ahead of men. Awesome. But after all is said and done we still have a throne, at the head of a state which claims a monopoly of force over those within its territory whilst serving the interests of capital at the expense of the working class. The vast majority of people are still excluded from the possibility of ever being head of state on the basis of their birth, and even if they weren't - as in America and elsewhere without a monarchy - we would still have capitalism and a class system that is the very basis of inequality.

The Guardian will have to forgive me for being churlish. But that the government finds the time to address something as pointless as establishing gender equality in hereditary privilege - more, that the media finds this laudable and newsworthy whilst working class people suffer attacks on their livelihoods and futures at the hands of these same governments with the assent of this same monarchy - is just fucking bollocks.

The only reform of the monarchy worth taking notice of will be when they tear it down and dismantle it entirely. Followed closely by the entire capitalist system within which this relic exists.

Demonstrating outside Liverpool City Council's Budget Question Time

Tonight, 100-150 people turned up at the Town Hall to demonstrate against the Budget Question Time called by the City Council to consult over the next round of budget cuts. It was a lively protest, which included some disruption within the meeting itself and direct action in the form of a road block.

I arrived at the Town Hall before the protest began, to find a bunch of people whose faces I recognised from other demos milling around over the road. I also met up with several other members and comrades of Liverpool Solidarity Federation. During this time, a student journalist from the University of Liverpool approached us and asked for some quick quotes. I explained that the protest was in opposition to the cuts, particularly those imposed by the council, and the job losses and service cuts they would impose on everybody.

Around five o'clock, a number of people turned up carrying loads of freshly made placards and leaflets, and this seemed to be the cue for everyone to head across the road and join the demonstration. It was also my indication to give Solfed's newly-made placards and the giant red-and-black flag for which I now had a long enough pole their first public airing.

For the first hour of the demonstration, we were contained to the pavement in front of the hall. This gave people little room to maneuver, and the line of police just off the pavement obscured the view of the Liverpool Against The Cuts banner and other signs. However, it was lively and there was plenty of chanting and people making noise with air horns which sounded like car horns when blown. Even if too much of it was of a "this isn't what a Labour council should be doing" or "the Tories are really to blame vein."

At six, when the event was due to begin, activists threw red confetti in the air as some kind of symbol of protest. More importantly, a bunch of us marched out into the road and blocked it, the bulk of the demonstration quickly following suit. The police didn't seem too happy with this state of affairs, and soon formed a line to push us back from the junction so that we could only block one stretch of road. At this point, there was a large amount of media attention and a general buzz which kept the chanting and noise going. It also, though there was no way we would be able to storm the Town Hall with police on the door and so little will for it, at least saw some disruption to the normal flow of events.

As time passed, people's enthusiasm began to wane somewhat, and individuals were dropping away surreptitiously. A decision to march around to the back of the Town Hall so that we could be better heard by those inside knocked the number present down to about 50. However, it did provide opportunity to shout through the windows at the council and generally vent spleen.

This didn't keep long, and it was soon decided to move back around the front of the Hall. However, this also put us back on the pavement as we were unable to reclaim our road block. There was still more chanting, and a suggestion that councilors were leaving via a side entrance leading to there briefly being a group on both entrances. However, we were soon down to thirty people on the front and enthusiasm had waned somewhat with so many people leaving the demonstration.

It picked up again with the appearance of two lads who turned out to be from the English Defence League. They took some pictures and chanted "E-E-EDL" at passers by, but otherwise were reduced to sniping from the other side of the road until they finally fucked off. Though not, it should be noted, before shaking the hand of the officer in charge of the police presence at the demo.

After this, several new people turned up at the protest, however two of them were drunk, had no idea what was going on and just wanted to wave placards about. A third decided to pace up and down shouting out various slogans, but it was unclear where he had actually come from.

Inside the building, we heard that Joe Anderson and the council got a tough time from the audience, to the point where people were threatened with removal, though this was never followed through in the end. However, whilst it was an embarrassment for them, there wasn't the force of numbers for more dramatic disruption or for an occupation as some had suggested. Instead, both the demo and the meeting ended fairly incongruously with people melting away.

We are a long way from the levels of anger - or at least militancy - that would see the kind of disruption I advocated ahead of the event. However, that doesn't mean we won't get there, and as the crisis of capitalism continues on more people are having their eyes opened. It may not be today but there will come a time when we make the city, and the country, ungovernable.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Quote of the day...

...is the Liverpool Division of the EDL's rallying cry against the left;
They call themselves "Activists, Trade Unionists, and Anti Fascists" we and the paper's call them Anarchists.

We've all seen what's happening at London's St Pauls and the same scum wish to do that here in our city and on your streets tomorrow at 5.30pm Liverpool Town Hall. Many of you inc the media see them and shake your heads in disgust, but just how many of you will actually get off your ass and do something about it.

The vast majority of these Anarchists are students or ex Students, the same students who received THOUSANDS of pounds funded by the tax payer YOU! So your paying your fees to see Buses and Transport delayed, weddings cancelled and a logistic nightmare.

All by the same people funded by UNITE the Union, praised in socialist media and consider it justice to URINATE on Police officers who have simply been sent to do their job.

Left Wing Anarchists off our streets. Join the fight GET INVOLVED.
Firstly, as someone who actually calls myself an anarchist, it's good to see us getting all the credit for left wing activity of late. Even if it does just underline how politically illiterate the far-right are. This is the kind of hysterical Red Scare bullshit you'd read in the Daily Mail, except without any sub-editing.

Secondly, it'd help if they at least got their facts right. Tomorrow, nobody has any intention of imitating the occupation outside St Paul's Cathedral in London. What is happening is a protest against the cuts being implemented by Liverpool City Council - £91 million in 2011/12 and £50 million in 2012/13. Cuts to jobs and public services, including hospitals, libraries, the fire brigade and Sure Start centres amongst others. If delays in transport irk you, lads, how exactly will the wholesale annihilation of public services affect you? And you're getting pissed off that we're opposing that?

Third and finally, it's worth noting that these people always contend that they're not fascists. Yet, alongside the authoritarian nationalism and ethno-religious scapegoating that are fair indications of fascist tendencies, what we're also seeing is an increasing hostility to the left and organised workers as the financial crisis escalates. That'd be another box ticked - since the 1926 General Strike saw pickets battling with squads of fascists, and trade unionists were amongst the targets for Hitler's political violence. Thus, when they publicly urge their supporters to join the fight against the organised working class they're following in a long tradition of fascist scumbags doing the dirty work of the bosses.

So yeah, join the fight and get involved. But it's not the fight you think it is. There's a class war raging and the politicians are helping the bosses attack us to save their own hides. No matter what bollocks you want to spout about patriotism the choice is simple - side with the working class or do what fascists always do and be the boot boys of the ruling class. The choice is yours.

Beware liberals and leftists bearing "politics"

On Friday, Owen Jones had a piece in the Independent which argued that "Protest without politics will change nothing." This refers to the Occupy movement and its professed "anti-politics" stance, which Jones argues lacks "a coherent alternative to the tottering global economic order." This reflects a position on the occupations which is being voiced across "the left."

Jones obviously comes from a centre-left perspective, and his "coherent alternative" is the Labour Party of which he is a member. On the other side of the coin, liberals argue why Labour should support the occupations with an explicit view to helping it "forge a successful electoral coalition." In other words, the aim of both sides of this argument is to prop up the party's vote and hopefully propel it into power. John McDonnell - through actions such as Early Day Motions supporting the occupation - is the most proactive advocate of this strategy.

But this kind of attitude is not limited to the soft-left. Equally, we find the Socialist Party's coverage of the worldwide occupations on 15 October concluding with the argument that "to be successful, the struggle against capitalism requires ideas, a political programme, and an organisation that is able to unite workers and oppressed people across the globe. The CWI [Committee for a Workers International - of which the SP is the British section] aims to build such an organisation." They also use the slogan "we are the 99%" and the imagery of the tent city in London to try and draw attention to their recreation of the Jarrow March, a prolongued A to B stroll which emphatically does not invoke the same spirit as the occupations.

The most obvious reason to be wary of this is that it is an obvious attempt at deflecting working class anger towards the ballot box. Jones, for example, states that although the occupations are "making a point about the 1 per cent" they can't "dislodge them from power." Presumably, unlike voting for a different party. But that is emphatically not the case and, though there are limitations to the movement as it presently stands, it is only through direct action that the ruling class - and not just a faction of that class - has ever been dislodged from power.

Likewise, the naked party-building of these groups should be a concern for a movement based on openness and direct democracy. Whether it's the authoritarian left or liberals, "vanguardism lives by sucking the life out of mass movements, and lives the more the more it sucks." In the present, this mainly takes the form of siphoning away support and slowly killing off or neutering a movement. But the consequences can be even worse than that.

As Cautiously Pessimistic argues;
This is the important one that needs to be borne in mind: these people are part of the problem. From Germany in 1919 and the Kronstadt rebellion to the Spanish revolution and May 1968, those claiming to be on the side of the working class have often ended up as the most dangerous enemies of a revolution. But this isn’t just some dry historical point: there’s plenty of examples to prove the same point today. Of course, the most dramatic case is that of Greece, where Communist Party members joined with the police to protect the Parliament from attack last week, a move which has been condemned by the popular assembly of Syntagma Square. Elsewhere, an “Anarchist Watch” twitter account has been set up by McCarthyite elements in Occupy Denver to try to drive radicals out of the Occupy movement; it’s already inspired an “Anarchy Watch UK”, which may or may not be a pisstake, it’s anyone’s guess.

But, even though the left here doesn’t actually assemble squads to fight in defence of capitalism, and the “Anarchy Watch UK” account may well be fake, there’s still plenty of examples to show how keen the left are to serve our rulers: from the tiny Trotskyist groups mourning the tyrant Gaddaffi to the Labour Party supporters taking the opposite approach and arguing that “now the left should back UK big oil”, the perspective of international working-class struggle against all dictators and exploitative companies doesn’t even get a look-in. I don’t often look at the Weekly Worker, but I happened to do so this week* and found a very revealing article on the recent violence in Rome, which is especially relevant in light of last week’s battle in Greece, where they complain about the fact that anarchists and autonomists had been “allowed” to fight the cops, and blaming this tragedy on the Spanish movement’s hostility to political parties, because “parties have a degree of internal cohesion, group loyalty and discipline” that would have allowed them to take control of the situation. In an article complaining about the black bloc’s fighting with the cops, this can only mean that, as in Greece, the left groups see their role as being to act as an external guard for the police, beating back militants before we can even reach police lines. Of course, groups like the Communist Party of Great Britain or the Workers’ Revolutionary Party are far too weak to actually play the thuggish, reactionary role they’d like, and they’re totally irrelevant to most people’s lives, so confronting them won’t be a strategic priority for the forseeable future; but still, just because they’re weak enemies doesn’t mean we should forget that supporters of Gaddaffi, UK oil companies and the police are still our enemies.
By contrast, though anarchists are heavily critical of the movement in a number of ways, we aren't arguing that those taking part in the occupations should join our organisations or that they need our "leadership."

Where we argue that there is a lack of politics, we are talking about explicit class politics. Clear examples of this were the absurd declaration from Occupy London that it was not anti-capitalist and the extremely misguided notion that police are on our side. Anarchists have also been critical of absolute pacifist stances and the unwillingness to challenge and break the law in order to ensure the occupations caused maximum disruption.

At no point, however, have we patronisingly (and wrongly) suggested that direct action wasn't enough and that The Party and/or electoral politics are the real route to change. Indeed, anarchists have often provided the strongest arguments that it is the power of the working class to disrupt the economy and the status quo which forces real change in the political arena.

There are valid criticisms to be made of the Occupy movement and arguments to be won within it. But the idea that "politics" translates to party membership and the ballot box is a deliberate obfuscation. Beware all vanguards, and always remember that direct action gets the goods.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

After the death of Gaddafi

The entire world has now seen the last moments of the Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, dragged from a sewer, beaten and pelted, and finally shot dead. Though there are many who think he should have lived to face trial, few will mourn his passing. But the big question for Libyans now that the man is dead is what the future holds for their country.

There are two signs that, after a brutal and bloody civil war, the promise of the initial uprising and the Arab Spring which gave it context has already fallen flat.

First, there was British defence secretary Philip Hammond's proclamation that "British executives should be packing their suitcases and heading to Libya for contracts." Adam Ford explained back in February that Western intervention was inspired not by humanitarian concerns but by spiking oil prices and the threat to economic interests. And if you needed proof that the new boss will be somewhat similar to the old one, there was National Transitional Council head Mohammed Busidra's comment that he will "remain favorable toward the West and its governments and oil companies."

Thus, just as we saw in Iraq, getting rid of one dictator doesn't necessarily mean freedom. Rather, the important point for the west is that their strategic economic interests are upheld. If that is best done through a social democracy, then so be it. But equally, if it is best done through a brutal and draconian dictatorship, that is also acceptable. Remember, Gaddafi was no less a dictator when shaking Tony Blair's hand than when being bombed by NATO.

The second worrying trend is the promise by the country's new rulers that Sharia law would be the "basic source" of all legislation. Existing laws that contradict Islam will be revoked. A 14-page "constitutional declaration" drafted by Busidra in August states that "Libya is a democratic and independent state. The people are the source of authority, Tripoli is the capital, Islam is the religion, and Islamic sharia is the principal source of legislation." The author has also explicitly stated that alcohol and homosexuality should be strictly illegal in Libya, along with “the praise of any religion other than Islam.”

It should go without saying that these two occurrences, largely predictable, don't justify the kind of lunatics who claim that Gaddafi's "heroism will inspire millions of Libyans, Arabs, workers and youth throughout the world to take up the struggle to smash imperialism." Just as the fact that Gaddafi's regime has been toppled doesn't validate the smug liberal triumphalists who believe that uncritical support for NATO military intervention was the right choice all along.

What it does demonstrate, however, is that states will always act in their own interests no matter their stated aims. And that a change of leadership does not necessarily guarantee an improvement in the present conditions, let alone the kind of total revolutionary change that would see society organised for the needs of the masses. 

An anarchist perspective on an EU referendum

On Monday, MPs are set to debate and vote on holding a referendum over Britain's membership in the European Union. This has quickly become the focus of mainstream political debate, with rightists furious that the three main parties are whipping their MPs for a "no" vote and liberals debating what approach would best benefit the Labour Party. But should those of us outside the political class care?

If I had to pin myself down to a position on the matter, I would say I'm anti-EU. Not because I'm concerned by myths about straight-banana regulations or the absurd notion that Brussels is trying to wipe England off the map. Nor am I concerned that Europe is imposing a "yuman rites [sic]" culture on us that "gives criminals more rights than victims." This is clearly bollocks and, as I have argued before, legislation such as the Human Rights Act - though far from perfect - is a necessity as long as we have the state and capitalism to contend with.

No, I am against the European Union because it is a neoliberal, capitalist enterprise. The eurozone was established as a monetary union to facilitate the free flow of capital, and in the wake of the financial crisis quickly took on a role similar to the IMF by demanding economic reforms in exchange for emergency loans. The most prominent culmination of this policy is Greece, where the country is being battered by austerity measures as the workers rage against the system. More generally, measures such as the liberalisation programme which applies competition law to the public sector and support for pension reforms and increasing retirement ages that are the focus of industrial disputes in Britain illustrate that the EU serves the demands of capital just as all states do.

On top of this, we might look at how the stated aim of "free movement of goods, capital, services, and people" is applied to the latter. I've written on this before, and it is evident that the creation of a multi-tiered system renders those on the outside desperate and entirely dependent on the goodwill of others before pitting them against workers on the inside. Thus you have an "open labour market" which as a result of both the harsh external migration system and the inconsistency internally forces workers to compete in a race to the bottom, exacerbating the normal issues created by a reserve army of labour.

This is just a quick glance at the problems I have with the European Union, from an anarchist communist perspective. All of which, surely, points to the need for a referendum on the subject? Well, not exactly.

The case for a referendum (without getting into which way we vote) is essentially that the citizenry gets to decide the course of policy. It is direct, rather than representative, democracy and so is arguably far more democratic than choosing who will lead us for the next five years. However, this falls down when you consider just how limited such a notion of "direct democracy" is. The masses aren't debating and discussing the subject openly, before putting a number of choices on the table. We are essentially being offered up as a focus group, to choose agreed in advance by those who rule us. Even then, as the Irish know too well, the vox populi is in no way binding upon our political masters.

The choices on offer are "whether the UK should: (a) remain a member of the EU on the current terms; (b) leave the EU; (c) renegotiate the terms of its membership in order to create a new relationship based on trade and co-operation." But whilst we know that the status quo (a) is unacceptable, are we to presume that pulling out would be better since those leading that call would use the opportunity to scrap the human rights act and annihilate health and safety protections? At the same time, the only compromise (c) is that we push for an Anglo-Saxon capitalism (PDF) to take precedence over a European one.

Even the fourth option suggested by Caroline Lucas is inadequate. It offers that we "seek to build support for radical reform of the EU, increasing its transparency and accountability, refocusing its objectives on co-operation and environmental sustainability rather than competition and free trade, and enabling member states to exercise greater control over their own economies." But this is little more than the "nice" capitalism illusion writ large, presuming that "member states" wouldn't simply continue to be capitalist if "greater control" passed to them from Brussels. Even if the idea weren't to be watered down by the fact that those enacting it wouldn't be Greens, the Green Party's own approach is still not genuinely radical.

This isn't an argument for things to stay as they are. My only point is that we should hold no illusions in the "reforms" handed down to us from above, especially when driven by the agenda of rightists who are aggressively pro-capitalism and anti-working class. If this referendum comes to pass, the only choice we will get is between them and a status quo which we know to be equally fucked up.

The real answer to the problems described above is workers organising as a class, across Europe, to take direct action in our own interests. Not to make the choice dictated by those who are at the top of the political power structure and at least as much of an enemy as those in Brussels.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Demonstration against Andrew Lansley

Today saw the start of the Royal College of GPs conference in Liverpool. Keep Our NHS Public held a protest outside the venue, the BT Convention Centre, as health minister Andrew Lansley was set to be the day's keynote speaker. Members of Liverpool Solidarity Federation joined the action.

As the land was private property, the security had taken the trouble to set up a protest pen using steel barricades, in which the demonstrators were to be contained. Liverpool Solfed members and others were resistant to this, but too many of those who turned up complied willingly either by going inside or by keeping their distance from the centre whilst giving out leaflets. The minority who chose not to be caged - especially as there were no police present! - simply kept moving about so that they were never static enough to be herded back to the pen.

At the beginning of the protest, there were up to 100 people in attendance. The Socialist Singers broke the silence, and the steady flow of delegates to the conference meant there was always someone to engage with and hand out leaflets to. However, whilst most remained inside the small pen and much of the open space nearby was empty it emphasised that this was a small demo and the lack of union banners aside from some Unite and Unison flags and one PCS branch banner only added to the sense of isolation. There weren't even any paper sellers from local Trot groups milling about as there usually are on such demos.

After about 10 o'clock, half the demonstration disappeared and silence began to creep in. There was an interlude when the megaphone was passed around for both chanting and speaking, including several delegates from the conference who came out to voice their support for the cause. And again when a photographer for the Liverpool Daily Post had people posing for pictures. But for most of the time people milled around talking and the stillness grew.

At half past eleven, as Lansley was due to give his speech, the protesters took up their banners and marched around to the other side of the convention centre. But once there it was simply a case of more chanting and holding banners whilst the numbers began to whittle down. There was no sign of the health minister, and a growing sense that the protest would pose little challenge to him if he did show his face.

In all, the demonstration only served to highlight just how absent the left and the trade unions are from the fight over the NHS. The campaigns exist, and the people working on them cannot be faulted in their dedication. But people need to engage far more with them and not abdicate responsibility to a handful of protesters.

We have the NHS and the welfare state because the government feared that a war weary working class would turn its guns on them. In the words of the Tory MP Quintin Hogg, "if we don't give them reforms they'll give us revolution." In fighting to defend the NHS today, we need to inspire the same fear. The TUC's candlelit vigil was at best an utterly inadequate response to the Health and Social Care Bill. UK Uncut's attempt to block Westminster Bridge was more along the right lines, but ultimately not enough on its own.

What we need to defeat the government is not static protests and petitions, but direct action. This means strikes in the health sector alongside blockades and occupations with the explicit aim of causing disruption. When people like Lansley show their face in public, they need to be hounded at every step and driven out by the collective anger of the people whose health system he is ripping away. But we can only do this if more people put their time and energy into fighting for the NHS. The next time there is a mobilisation on the subject, it shouldn't dredge up 50 people, but 5,000.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Liverpool City Council and the second wave of cuts

On Thursday 27th October, Liverpool City Council are holding a "Budget Question Time." They are "facing some tough decisions as we put together our budget for 2012-13" and so want "residents and business owners" to "quiz leaders about how the council can save £50 million next year." Liverpool Against The Cuts have agreed to call a protest at the event.

We already know that the Labour Council's concern for the city amounts to crocodile tears. Leader Joe Anderson is proud to say "we aren't deficit deniers," and when he led the "fair deal for Liverpool" march, it wasn't to oppose cuts but to demand they be fairer in relation to what other cities were having to make. Fortunately, most people have seen through his facade, and the visceral anger that greeted the budget meeting in March has hopefully scared him off from trying again to claim an anti-cuts mantle ever again.

Since then, the fight has continued and Sure Start Centres have been a key battleground. Anderson falsely tried to claim a win again when he granted a 12-month reprieve to four centres. However, given that he flipped his lid at the Liberal Democrats when they tabled an amendment to the budget that would have saved the same four centres, and that anyone attending Liverpool Against The Cuts Meetings will have heard Lisa Dempster describing her antipathy for and clashes with Anderson, I know this to be a crock of shit. Especially after Augusts announcement that three of the centres will close in November.

As such, when the council tells us that they "want to make sure you have a say in these important decisions" for next year's budget, it inspires only anger. We may be "invited to quiz leaders," but I fail to see how anything less than stomping their heads into the ground until they are a bloody puddle will be helpful. Mostly, that's hyperbole, but the very sight of that fat-headed scum fuck Joe Anderson now fills me with murderous rage.

So what do we do? There are limited spaces at this consultation meeting, which have already been taken. No doubt the event will be steered in such a way that the council don't have to face anything too difficult - as when Anderson ejected the public gallery during the budget meetings. Likewise, whilst a protest outside may serve as a rallying point for people and certainly has value in challenging the Liverpool Labour propaganda, it will not change the city's course over the next few years. That course being £50m of cuts in 2012/13, £18.5m in 2013-14 and £33.3m in 2014-15.

What we do need, as we saw at the March budget meeting, is disruption. That attempt to storm the council building failed because it happened too late, but this time it needn't. We know that the council will not listen to those who oppose the cuts, as the different ways to make savings are the extent of the dissent they are prepared to tolerate. But they cannot ignore disruption.

In Wisconsin, this tactic ultimately failed because reformist political methods such as the recall vote took precedence. There is the risk of that too in Liverpool, as certain groups peddle illusions about "what a real Labour council would do," or voting for "anti-cuts candidates." But as we head towards November 30, and as the Occupy movement - for all its limitations - sweeps the world, it will be so much harder to dismiss direct action as secondary to electoral politics.

Disrupting the Budget Question Time is only a first step. Following from that, we need strikes and economic blockades. Occupations based on anti-capitalist mass action rather than liberal adventure activism. As much disruption and economic damage as we can inflict by exercising our power as a class. In short, to stop the cuts, we must make Liverpool ungovernable.

PROTEST THE LIVERPOOL CITY COUNCIL BUDGET QUESTION TIME
5.30pm Thurs 27th October
Liverpool Town Hall
Dale Street
Liverpool

Thursday, 20 October 2011

A learning curve on the path to November 30

Last night, I was due to attend a meeting with union reps from various workplaces around Bootle as a first step towards the establishment of a Bootle Strike Committee. To say that it wasn't well attended would be something of an understatement. However, rather than making us disheartened, this simply reinforces how much work we need to put in in the coming weeks.

I was under no illusion that we would see a union rep from every public sector workplace in the area and immediately have a strike committee up-and-running. However, the scale of the poor turnout did startle me somewhat and I must admit to an initial feeling of despair. We seemed to have not moved since our initial efforts at building ahead of June 30, despite there being a far wider pool of unions this time and their reps seeming far less reticent about getting involved.

In part, those of us who did turn up can put this down to our own mistakes. There was too much reliance on a small pool of contacts who, ultimately, turned out to be unreliable. And our progress in making contact was far too slow, almost taking the amount of time until strike day for granted.

However, there were also other hurdles which still need to be overcome. Unison reps, for one, seem unwilling to commit to broader activity until their own ballot has been won. This is perfectly understandable, of course, and there have been a number of members' meetings locally as part of the drive for that all-important "yes" vote which will be taking people's time. However, it is also frustrating, and at any rate doesn't account for the absence of other unions who already have a mandate for strike action.

Then there is the inactivity within my own branch, even amongst reps. This was always going to be a problem, giving that I am essentially talking about rebuilding a culture of mass participation and self-organisation that has been all but stamped out in the last thirty years. But this is compounded by factional issues within my branch, and the fact that the people who hold the power their are not only reluctant to let it go but are even closing ranks further as a demand for more openness spreads and militancy grows. I also have it on good authority that I'm viewed with particular suspicion by some reps because I openly advocate anarcho-syndicalist aims and tactics.

Particularly, this has been frustrating when my being more proactive - such as  in designing a steady flow of strike propaganda and actively pushing people to volunteer their time in handing it out - has seen others take a step back. Having a third of our campaigns committee in a hurry to leave meetings after agreeing to a leaflet I've written, and abdicating responsibility for planning things such as coordination with other unions, is also incredibly infuriating.

Still, despite these hurdles, I remain determined that we will come out of November 30 with something to build upon. Thus, despite the poor attendance, the meeting went ahead. The first decision we made was that we would initiate planned activities now anyway and pull others in as we gained momentum. This would include going out to individual workplaces and seeking out somebody who would talk to us and get involved rather than rely solely on contact lists and branch officials. After all, whilst we may be hitting a brick wall at an inactive or disinterested official, there may be plenty of people at shop floor level just itching to get involved.

As we head into November, we will be looking to hold regular campaign stalls, leaflet the public and claimants, and perhaps even hold a demonstration in the town ahead of strike day. On the day itself, the aim is to hold picket line assemblies where workers can decide what happens next in the struggle, followed by a strike day party which would raise money for a local strike fund.

Before all that, though, the first step is to build. We have hopefully learned from our complacency this time around and can redouble our efforts to get at least one person from each workplace onto a Strike Committee-in-formation. We will also be holding a public meeting on the evening of Wednesday 9th November, though the details of this have yet to be finalised. All of which, with luck, will see yesterday's disappointment fast turn into real momentum.

I'll continue to update this blog as our attempt to build progresses over the next month. No doubt it will be far from perfect, but our failures teach us as much as our successes, if we are honest about them. And ultimately we are in a far better position already than if we were doing no building at all.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The eviction of Dale Farm

An army of riot police invaded the travellers' site at Dale Farm this morning as they tore down barricades, arrested protesters, and evicted the residents from their homes. Typically, the media have seized upon the "violence" by those defending the site, but ultimately the police were the aggressors here. When faced with violent means to rob us of a place to live, we all have the right to resist.

The injustice of Dale Farm is particularly acute because the travellers legally own the land on which they have built their homes. They are not squatting on somebody else's, or on a playground or anything similar. Thus, those who claim to champion property rights in the face of council bureaucracy  - including the right to build a mock castle in your back garden - should be piping up in support of them. Instead, because we're talking about gypsies, they are all of a sudden leading calls for the state to act against those who own the land.

Then there is the fact that 90% of requests for planning permission by travellers are rejected (PDF), compared to 20% more generally. But whilst the 20% get column inches in national newspapers to voice their outrage and get high-profile backing, 100% of travellers are the subject of hate and scorn by the press.

In this situation, after a ten year battle, it is entirely understandable that the residents have no wish to leave peacefully. This is a clear instance of law and right being on opposite sides, and I will not condemn people for throwing bricks, bottles and buckets of piss at the cops in this instance. Had they been able to successfully repel the invaders, as the barricades and mass of protesters were no doubt intended to do, then it would even have been more than just an expression of justifiable outrage.

In all eviction scenarios, we reach this point when all other avenues have failed us. There are no more appeals, no more reprieves, and the bailiffs are coming. If we don't want to end up out on our arses, then we have to resist them - physically, and by all means necessary. In the case of Dale Farm this meant barricades and missiles. In other situations, such as resistance to the Poll Tax, this meant keeping watch for bailiffs, occupying their offices, and physically defending the homes they tried to enter. In any case, the principle is that when they come knocking we come out fighting.

Here, liberals might start wringing their hands, but the fact remains that non-violent civil disobedience can only go so far. Whether it is travellers who fall foul of racist planning laws or working class people snowed under by capitalism, when the bailiffs come calling we either resist eviction or face destitution.

Monday, 17 October 2011

The Sparks' struggle rages on

The Sparks rank-and-file network continues to be the most important and inspirational development in the workers' movement. Not only have they successfully challenged the inertia of the Unite union bureaucracy, they have invigorated their struggle with well-supported, unofficial direct action. This Wednesday, they are taking the fight to Blackfriars in their biggest action yet.

Balfour Beatty, who run the Blackfriars construction project, are not only the driving force behind the 35% pay cut and withdrawal from the JIB National Agreement. They are also one of the main culprits in the blacklisting of construction workers for taking part in trade union activities. It is appropriate that their most significant opponents are now the workers also taking on Unite, since full time officials were revealed to have collaborated in this insidious practice which cost many workers their livelihoods. Both that scandal and the current dispute reveal the urgency of the need for workers to control their own struggles.

Last week, Balfour Beatty issued 1700 termination notices to workers, and have begun sacking those who took part in protests and refused to cross picket lines. In response, the Sparks have defiantly declared that "we intend to shut this building site by sheer force of numbers if need be."

The Sparks represent where all trade union workers need to be, if we are to stand up against the bosses in a time of increasing class antagonism. If you are in London, get down to the action and show your support. If you are in Manchester or Newcastle, there are also actions close to you which you can find out about on the Facebook group here.

Wherever you are, these workers deserve whatever practical solidarity we can offer them. Not only in support of their own cause, but because against both the attacks of the bosses and the pragmatic compromise of union tops we all face the same struggle. The Sparks' victory in this will serve as a demonstration that any of us can win the same fight, whilst where there is defeat we must remember that an injury to one is an injury to all.

SPARKS PROTEST AGAINST 35% PAY CUT & DE-SKILLING
7:00am Wed 19th October
Balfour Beatty
Blackfriars Station construction project
London

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Beware a conservative unemployed movement

Over at Conservative Home, Tim Montgomerie makes an argument that's generally not to be expected of the Tories: "what Britain needs is a campaign group for the unemployed." Many would argue that such groups already exist - on the left. However, Montgomerie isn't arguing for a Tory version of Youth Fight For Jobs - he's talking about promoting "the pro-growth side" of the government's programme.

Hence, he makes the call for "the CBI, BCC and other business groups" to "put their hands in their pockets and fund it." The Tories would then have "a spokesman for the unemployed" to help them "change the narrative in favour of growth." In other words, whilst the focus at the moment is on cuts - an easy target for the left and for Labour (from an electoral perspective) - everything the government is doing is going to be perceived in a negative light. But by talking of growth and jobs, you very quickly put a positive spin on things and it is much harder to claim that the Tories are throwing more people onto the dole when they have a front group which claims to speak for the unemployed supporting "growth."

So far, so what. This is a matter of electoral politics, and whilst such things may tip the balance in Westminster, it is the ability to mobilise working class people on the ground and build up disruptive direct action which determines if our objective material conditions get better or worse.

However, it is clear that Montgomerie also wishes for his campaign to influence the constituency of the working class it will claim to represent. He writes that it "should also be the lead opponents of the trade unions who want to protect the rights of existing employees, making it expensive for employers to recruit." Here, we go beyond political spin and into the arena of dividing and overcoming the working class. It is hard to think of how the capitalist use of the "reserve army of labour" to undermine wages, terms and conditions for all could be stated any more explicitly.

It may be true, superficially, that by annihilating workers rights you would create more jobs. But these will be jobs in which all the security, decent pay and tolerable working conditions that 150 years of class struggle have won are null and void. We know that these things exist only as long as people are prepared to fight for them, and even with the laws as they stand in unorganised workplaces basic workers' rights might as well not exist. So, yes, you might get more jobs - but they will be jobs in a labour market objectively weighted in favour of the bosses. Without stability and security, fear will rule and the bosses will face little to no opposition from organised workers - at least until we collectively remember how we fought back in similar conditions a century ago.

So, although Montgomerie insists that the government's measures "shouldn't be presented in terms of helping British business but in creating jobs for the people of London, Manchester and the Midlands," the fact is that the former is true. Indeed, under the logic of capital, it will always be true - labour is a cost, and employers can afford more if the costs are driven down, hence more jobs. Thus, as Junge Linke noted when critiquing the TUC's choice of "jobs, growth, justice" as a slogan, "if everything is subordinated to economic growth mass poverty prevails."

Escaping that logic, we of course find ourselves in opposition to the very social conditions of capitalism. The alternative is a world organised on the basis of "from each according to their ability, to each according to their need," libertarian communism. Striving to that goal, we must fight tooth and nail against Montgomerie's organisation if it ever comes to be, as it only serves to divide the working class against itself in the interests of the bosses.