Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Quote of the day...

I would have them all shot. I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families.

I mean how dare they go on strike when they have these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed, while the rest of us have to work for a living.
This outburst, naturally, has offended a lot of people. Particularly, I imagine, those striking workers whom Clarkson would have shot. You know, cause they went on strike to protect a "gilt-edged" pension which is worth an average of £4,200 a year. All whilst people like Clarkson "work for a living" by driving lots of fast cars, meeting celebrities, giving interviews and writing ill-informed bullshit for The Sun.

How dare we, us selfish bastards, inconvenience this man? I mean, it's not like he's paid over a million pound a year to do nearly fuck all whilst we slog away in a job where most of us are paid five grand a year less than the average wage in the private sector. Is it?


I'll tell you what, though, Clarkson. I'll happily grant your wish. On the condition that, as one of the highest paid public sector workers (being paid with taxpayers' money by the BBC after all), you're the first to be shot. And I get to pull the trigger.

Come on, you worthless sack of shit. Put your money where your mouth is and get up against the fucking wall. Bellend.

Statement of the University of Liverpool Occupation

After the march and rally in town today, students occupied the University of Liverpool. Due to being caught up elsewhere, I wasn't able to go up and show support in person. However, as a show of solidarity, I repost their statement of demands below.

We Have Occupied University of Liverpool.

We do this to encourage the Vice Chancellor of the University of Liverpool to listen to and negotiated with us concerning our 10 demands:

1. To publicly condemn the White Paper for Higher Education and call for it to be withdrawn

2. To guarantee no course closures

3. To guarantee no job cuts and no adverse changes to staff terms and conditions

4. To provide bursaries for all students who need them – not fee waivers

5. To guarantee no cuts to library, student support or learning resources

6. To guarantee no cuts to access schemes or foundation courses

7. To guarantee that the university will remain a public and a not-for-profit body

8. To reverse the increase in tuition fees

9. To have complete transparency of corporate funding of the university (ie. BAE).

10. To allow all students to have access to the occupied space.

We are currently taking the top floor of the University Lecture Room Building. We invite people who agree with these demands to join us.

Love from The Occupiers.

N30 in Liverpool and Bootle

Fifteen hours later, and all I can say is that I'm fucking done in. Today was the N30 public sector strike, with 3 million workers across 29 unions taking strike action and holding marches and rallies around the country. It was a great day, and truly invigorating - but much more is still to be done before we can hope to win this fight.

I woke up at 4.30 this morning, laying wide awake for the next half hour until my alarm went off. After my normal routine of getting showered and dressed (with extra layers!), walking the dog, then having breakfast, I headed out to the bus. At this point, it was pretty obvious where I was going - with two bags full of placards, a rolled-up banner and a seven-foot long wooden flagpole. The streets were empty, and the only man who passed me wished me luck, saying he was on his way to a picket line himself.

With the bus arriving at half past six, I found myself the first one on the picket line. The next person to arrive at my work was a scab, with headphones in and doing their best to stare at nothing. When I approached them, they dutifully took out their headphones, however after I enquired whether they were going into work the request to stay out in order to defend pensions and jobs was met with "I'm not interested" and the headphones going back in. The second scab to turn up was also adamant that "I don't want to talk about it." Neither could offer up any justification for their actions.

Just before seven, several other pickets turned up along with several senior managers going into work. I talked to one who agreed with me that his pension was under threat too, offered that his wife was on strike and said he hoped we got a good result. But he kept skirting around the issue of why he was going in, referring to the struggle in third person terms. Clearly, the central point of withdrawing your labour was lost on him.

Others who went in were equally evasive with their reasons. Excluding private sector cleaners, maybe twenty people crossed the picket line. Most were of higher pay grades, their response to requests not to cross the line ranging from "I'm not in the union" to selective deafness. One even claimed that it was important that he went in and he couldn't disclose the reasons why. Needless to say, though none could answer the arguments for the strike, none were swayed by them either.

On the positive side, we had an incredible level of support from the public - cars honking at us, lots of people taking our leaflets and people coming up to say it was "about time somebody gave these bastards a fight." We also had a high turnout on the picket line, the numbers there at one point outnumbering the total scabs who came into work between 7am and 5pm. Other picket lines reported similar levels of support. My other half reported seeing lots of people outside both Walton Prison and a police station. There were also a lot of pickets on at Hugh Baird College in the morning.

At about ten to nine, I and other Solidarity Federation comrades who had come down to support the picket lines went on a tour of pickets around Bootle. These included a pharmacy, Job Centre, tax office, council building and call centre. We distributed the latest edition of Catalyst and chatted to strikers, most reporting low numbers of scabs and strong support for the public. They were all pleased to see the solidarity we offered, and the level of support for the action all around gave everyone a morale boost.

One example of such support was the "Battle Bus" organised by Liverpool Against The Cuts. Kicking off at seven o'clock, it toured picket lines around the city, picking up strikes en route to the Pier Head for 11.30. It toured through Bootle between 9 and 9.45, stopping at The Triad where the Liverpool Socialist Singers knocked out a few songs on the picket line before more people embarked on their way into the midday rally. Simply seeing it, union banners hanging off the side and flags waving from the top, really added to the tone of the day.

Just after eleven, I hopped on a normal bus with several others to head into town for the rally. At this point, I started getting phone calls indicating that fascists had been sighted in town. The Occupy Liverpool camp had even been told by police that they would facilitate an EDL demonstration close to the camp that they had made so many threats against. Clearly, there would be some added fun for the day.

The march turned out to be enormous. Several thousand people had gathered at the Pier Head, with several thousand more at the Crown Courts for the smaller march route. In all, there must have been fifteen to twenty thousand people marching through the city, making a hell of a lot of noise and thousands of shoppers lining the route, taking pictures and offering support. At one point, as we snaked past the Liverpool One shopping district, clapping rippled through the crowd and soon exploded into a full round of applause.

In the middle of this, however, I heard cries of "communists out," and turned to see several well known faces from the BNP and the far-right. They pointed and jeered, but even as I shouted back at them to fuck off, they were told to shut up by several old women both on the march and amongst the spectators.

As the march finished at St George's Plateau, you quickly realised the scale of the thing. It wasn't quite the 80,000-strong "monster demonstration" of 1911, but it wasn't too far off. People filled the plateau, the surrounding area, and the pavement right up to the road. It was near impossible to move and it was truly a sight to behold. This was the power of the labour movement, even limited to the public sector, which had until today not been fully realised in the fight against the cuts.

There was another fascist interlude, first with one of them taking pictures of the marchers, then with seven of them being marched from Lime Street Station by police after using minors to hand out their leaflets. However, other than that we mostly milled around by the Occupy Camp, talked to different people and handed out Catalyst.

The rally itself was nothing new. A bunch of speeches which offered the same sentiments heard on the last rally, the one before, the one before that, etc. Quite fun to see was how quickly most of the crowd dispersed once the music started, mostly covers of The Beatles and other old songs. The rain may have helped, but it was incredibly quickly that the vast majority chose the pub over the rally!

After this, I and several Solfed comrades returned to Bootle to show solidarity with those still picketing. The day ended with a call out that the fascists had finally showed up at Occupy, but by the time we raced back up they were gone. Enough people now seem clued into what their game is that they won't pose a serious threat to those camping at the base of Wellington's Column. However, both that and fatigue marked the end of the day for me.

The main positive of the day, aside from the tremendous turnout and support, is that it shows how much the current struggle is radicalising people. There were far more people stood on picket lines in Bootle who hadn't come down before, and overwhelmingly they were the people who had come along to our meetings, received our leaflets and heard me banging on endlessly about the need for workers to push beyond the limited strategy that the trade union leadership is offering and demand more. If we can build on that, it has the potential to become something incredible.

But there are also still limitations. We are still a long way from building up a militant rank-and-file to critical mass. There is much more work to be done if we want to see mass pickets and strikers assemblies on the next strike - and I do. The clear alternative to central rallies where you're talked at by bureaucrats is to rebuild workers' confidence to take the struggle into their own hands.

That work must be done, and moreover it can be done. November 30 was a truly impressive day of action, but if we want to win then the next step has to be shattering all illusions in the union tops and building a rank-and-file movement that can make the country ungovernable.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Let Gove whinge, this dispute should be militant

I hadn't been planning to return to Lisa Ansell after my post on her attitude to the word "scab." Some ideological chasms cannot be breached, and some liberals - though she rejects the label - aren't for turning. Still, her latest post on tomorrow's strike action provides a good excuse to make a point.

She is responding to the fact that Michael Gove has spoken out against militants "itching for a fight." However, whilst there are some valid points to be made about how Gove is framing this dispute - which I will come to - she chooses instead to argue that "the left" (as she dubs it) framing the action as militant will only "undermine action of a couple of million people." In essence, she sees the same problem as in the "scab" debate - dinosaur leftists trying to hijack a protest in the name of social democratic fairness.

However, to refer to militancy as "bollocks" which will undermine the strike misses the point entirely. As does the notion she espouses elsewhere that this is about sending "a message" because taking strike action "is one of the last ways to affect democracy." This only serves to reduce the strike to a protest, at which point we might as well keep the day's pay and do an A to B march instead.

Aside from anything else, the very point of a strike is that it is disruptive direct action. It is the act of workers exercising their economic power and shutting down production, the outcome of the dispute hinging on the balance of power between the strikers and the bosses using scabs to keep the wheels turning. This isn't a matter of opinion, but basic economics. Thus, when he says that those striking want schools closed and the inconvenience and disruption that goes with it, he is objectively correct.

Where he is wrong is in saying that it is the union bosses who are "itching for a fight." As I've written elsewhere, though they talk tough now the leaders of the trade unions aren't here by choice - it was the anger and, yes, militancy of their members that brought them to this point. As soon as the trade union leadership can get away with making a deal without provoking too much of a backlash, they will. Until then, they'll keep pumping out the rhetoric in order to maintain the pretence that they are anywhere approaching militant. So rather than "none of Union bosess mentioned" framing the fight as militant, "for good reason," they all have - and falsely.

Ansell will no doubt take issue with my suggestion that it is trade union members who are being militant here. However, bear in mind that militant means being combative in support of a cause, and that she herself admits that strike ballots came "after a year of their members begging" and that "many have fought and waited for this action." That, to me, implies a militant membership demanding that the unions put up a fight.

And far from undermining the struggle, such militancy is a necessity if we are to win it. I have previously detailed what comes next if the government win this battle, and god knows that the slow and lumbering response of the union bureaucracy has failed to stop the wheels turning - whilst militants such as the Guildhall cleaners who took wildcat strike action and the Sparks who've outflanked their own union from below have been much more effective. If that's just "bollocks" which will undermine us, then sign me up for being undermined.

We cannot vote away these attacks on the working class. Protest marches and "sending a message" may rally people but it doesn't hurt the state or the bosses. We need massive and continued disruption by broad sections of the working class if we're going to get anywhere. So instead of being ashamed and conceding the word to the likes of Michael Gove, let's be proud of our militancy and embrace it. Hell, let's demand more.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Alienation, racism and the white working class

A video is doing the rounds on YouTube called "My Tram Experience." In it, an obviously racist white woman rants against a carriage full of black people. Exposure of the video on the internet has led to a 34 year old woman being arrested by British Transport Police.

The video has sparked a lot of outrage and offence, which is quite understandable. This wasn't a somewhat right-wing rant or a Daily Mail editorial - it was unadulterated racist venom directed at people that this woman decided weren't British on the basis that they were black. Even without the racism, she was aggressive and abusive in a way that simply cannot be justified. Moreover, there is a high likelihood that she was drunk when this incident was filmed.

But though most people would be horrified by this woman's outburst, the fact remains that the views behind it are incredibly widespread. This point was reiterated today by a survey from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which found that white working class Britons "felt they were a forgotten community and had been ignored by policy-makers at local or national level." Citing both "neighbourhood change" and "the impact of immigration," they said that they "felt they had been unfairly treated by government, especially in terms of allocation to social housing." At the same time, they resented "the popular stereotype of being stupid and benefit dependent."

On the cultural side, the report found that many white working class people "stated that cultural identity – as evidenced in social clubs, public-sector housing and pubs – had largely disappeared, replaced by communities (minority groups and newly arrived immigrants) who had no allegiance to the neighbourhood, identity-based organisations and services." This tied in with the fact that "In employment, social services, community development and most notably housing, there was a strong and consistent view that residents lost out to minorities and new migrants."

It isn't hard to see how these views develop. Indeed, that the Mail today reported this with the headline "White working class Britons 'don't get a fair deal compared with ethnic minorities'" itself demonstrates the media role in putting a racial spin on issues. But it's not entirely media propaganda, and there is a very real issue of marginalisation and alienation that needs to be addressed.

The problem is that said marginalisation comes ultimately down to class, not race. As one example, the social housing stock is depleted because of both Thatcher's "right-to-buy" policy in the 80s and the continual sell-off to private landlords, whilst there has been no re-investment in the market. At the same time, even though housing is allocated on a need basis, that refugee families are amongst those with a greater need skewers people's perceptions - amply helped by the tabloids and right-wing propaganda.

The real issue is a class one, with profit being put before need - further exemplified by compulsory purchase orders and the sell-off of land to developers in the name of "regeneration." Not to mention that there are 651,000 empty houses in England to 61,000 homeless households. Clearly, there is something other than immigration at the heart of the matter.

But the sad fact is that most white working class people don't see that. What they see is a relentless attack on their community and local culture whilst refugees and migrants are shoved into the same deprived areas - and then the government and media tells them it's a matter of nationality and immigration. The left has long abandoned them, the middle class liberals sneer at them as "chavs" and all the while everything they've ever known is torn down around them. What else are they to believe?

This doesn't excuse the woman in My Tram Experience for a second. As I said before, she is clearly racist and her behaviour aggressive and abusive. But whilst the video on YouTube may leave us shocked at her actions, we should be more shocked - and angry - at the social order that is leading ever more people to think like her.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Occupy Liverpool sets up camp

Yesterday, Occupy Liverpool finally managed to establish a camp at the foot of Wellington's Coulmn. This belated action came after the initial attempt on October 15 turned into a UK Uncut-style bank occupation, and numerous indoor general assemblies. I was at the site on the first day, and able to make some initial impressions of what the action represented in Liverpool.

Along with a number of other people, I had arrived in town early not because of the camp itself - but because of the threat that fascists would disrupt it. The EDL threats against the St Paul's Camp were fairly high profile, as was the middle of the night attack on Occupy Newcastle. Liverpool's fascists were equally outspoken in their opposition to any occupation. Even after they went back on their plans to oppose the 30 November strike and claimed to be in full support of it, they were still saying "set tents up in Liverpool and we will move you by force, plain and simple."

Thus it was a pretty safe bet that as soon as word got back to them about the camp, the local fash would come down to show their opposition. With the occupiers issuing a request for as many people as possible to be present as the camp was established, and a tip off that the far-right would be meeting in a Wetherspoons in town on the same day, about 15 members of Liverpool Antifascists gathered to scout out the City Centre and ensure that there would be no unwelcome visitors as the camp was set up.

The Occupy group met up in St John's Gardens, behind St George's Hall, before heading over to the monument to pitch tents. Predictably, it didn't take long before police showed up to question them on what they  were doing. At this point, however, there were only two cars and there didn't seem to be anything beyond words exchanged between the two groups. Once several tents were pitched, the police returned to their cars to put in some calls about the occupation. Meanwhile, with no fascists on the streets, those of us who had come down under the banner of Liverpool Antifascists decided to get a proper look at the camp and talk to those who would be staying there.

From the beginning, the Occupy Movement has been a positive one but also one riddled with internal contradictions. For example, whilst both Occupy Wall Street and Occupy The London Stock Exchange were by definition actions aimed at causing physical and economic disruption at the heart of key financial institutions, many subsequent occupations that followed have deliberately minimised disruption. As did Occupy LSX after they were forced to relocate to St Paul's Cathedral. In many ways, largely inspired by the mythology of Tahrir Square, the protesters have fetishised the occupation of public space rather than seeing it as a tactic which can be effective depending on the particular situation - Tahrir being one such example because it is a centre of public life, though even then it was the wave of strikes alongside it which brought down Hosni Mubarak.

Likewise, non-violence has been elevated to a cardinal rule at many occupations. This has proved to be especially dangerous where the camps have come under attack from police, only for liberals to cry "sit down! Sit down!" rather than urge resistance. I won't go into this too much here, as Cautiously Pessimistic's post on the subject still stands out as the key argument against absolute pacifism.

On the other hand, there have been some incredibly inspiring and militant actions coming from the American occupations. Particularly, the Occupy Oakland general strike and the call for a coordinated blockade of ports. This demonstrates that, despite some truly cringeworthy moments from the liberals in the movement there is - particularly in America - a strong current of anti-capitalism and class consciousness that can produce some genuinely brilliant results.

In Liverpool, the same contradictions have been evident, though more often than not the negatives have outweighed the positives. Most obvious was the fact that Occupy Liverpool had failed to establish a permanent camp. But there were also tales filtering through of people insisting that no leafleting or connection with people in real life was necessary as the internet allowed them to "connect with people who are already switched on" and of those who aren't "we don't want to know." There was an attempt to initiate a legal occupation, seemingly missing the entire point of the matter. This being aside from the "Zeitgeist" conspiracy stuff that has permeated a lot of local Occupy groups.

However, thankfully, most of the people I spoke to at the camp didn't appear to fit this bill. It was clear that there were a lot of politically inexperienced people present, evidenced by the almost complete absence of the "professional left" you can recognise at every protest, march and rally, but this in itself is no grave sin. It is potentially dangerous, given that one woman at the camp had no idea who the EDL were when told of the fascist interest in the camp. But this can be rectified through open debate and education.

Also dangerous, in a different way, is the level of trust shown towards the police. Even after some of the more outrageous occurrences that we've seen. After the police told the occupiers that they could stay, there was a cheer when this was announced over the megaphone, and all of the anarchists present at the camp groaned in unison when this was followed by a call for a round of applause for the cops. As we explained to the person who had spoken, this kind of thing allowed for the illusion that the police could ever be on your side, an illusion which could have dangerous consequences when there came a need to resist. They could be amiable as required, true enough, and there is certainly nothing to be gained in randomly provoking them, but their job is to enforce the state's monopoly of violence and maintain what the powers-that-be view as order. They will never be on our side.

Still, it remains the case that most of those present were quite switched-on, including recognising that the camp would be more useful as a hub for organising other protests and actions than anything else. There was one comment about "camping out until things change," but I doubt that anybody there was seriously under the impression that sleeping in tents at the base of a column dedicated to the Duke of Wellington would somehow lead to social revolution.

I left the camp for a few hours in order to get lunch and deal with some other matters in town, returning not long before it started going dark. The camp was now well established, and had received a fair amount of press and public attention. It had also received some less welcome attention, with a couple of lads on a motorbike acting as spotters and the Liverpool EDL Facebook Page announcing to its members where the camp was and urging them to go along and have a look. There was also a warning to the occupiers: "remove your tents before you become legitimate targets for reprisals."

Soon after dark, I was alerted to the fact that there were five lads standing outside the camp shouting up at a woman standing by the tent facing them. Nobody else appeared to have noticed, as there was a group of tourists asking questions of the occupiers whilst others were sorting out provisions or chatting amongst themselves. However, from the lads still kept their distance and though at first I couldn't make out everything they said, their tone was clearly mocking or goading.

I exited the area in which the camp sat, enclosed by pillars connected by chains, and walked around to where the lads were stood. As I came along and leant against one of the pillars, one of them looked up at me and said "alright Phil." This pretty much confirmed who they were, alongside the pointed question "what do you and Liverpool Antifascists hope to gain by occupying a war memorial?" Only fascists take such obvious pleasure at knowing on sight who a "red" is, and whilst we had shown up yesterday because of the threat of fascists, LiverAF had never previously made any mention of Occupy Liverpool and the local EDL were the only ones to make any connection between the two things.

There were some words exchanged between us, with them - all in their early twenties bar one who looked about twelve - claiming that we were disrespecting a war memorial before denying being any part of the EDL or fascist groups. However, this was quickly belied by their parting shot that they would return later with petrol bombs to "warm our feet up." Pointing out that throwing petrol bombs at Wellington's Column was somewhat more disrespectful then camping by it, I got the reply "the petrol bomb's for you, you cunt."

During the exchange, a couple of people had come up and asked me not to antagonise them. I was also told that "if you ignore them and don't rise to it, they'll go away." This was worrying given the fetishisation of non-violence I mentioned earlier, and so once they were gone I told several people in the camp what had happened and reiterated the point about taking security seriously. I underlined that ignoring fascists does not make them go away but merely allows them to come closer unimpeded, and that they would continue to harass the camp (or worse) if not chased off. Thankfully, this appeared to have been taken on board by a lot of those present and after I left other LiverAF members made the same point at the General Assembly. Security rotas were put in place for the night.

Though they didn't live up to their threat, the fascists are not to be taken lightly. We have seen what they've done at other Occupy camps, and we know that they are invested in the traditional fascist tactics of trying to control the streets by force. As for the camp, it remains early days to see what will actually come of it. However, it has at least marked its territory, and that the negative tendencies of the Occupy movement so far seem muted certainly appears to be a good sign.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Strike ! Occupy! Resist!

If, like me, you think that the TUC single Let's work together is a bit of a pants anthem for the biggest strike in living memory, then you might be more taken in by this. It's called Strike! Occupy! Resist! by Cosmo.

It's now been released as part of a three-track EP, which you can purchase here, with the proceeds going to Occupy Cardiff. If you're going to have a sound system on your picket line, I'd suggest that this is a far more worthy addition to your picket line playlist than the dross by The Workers.
Don't follow leaders, they just take the piss,
Strike! Occupy! Resist!
Couldn't put it better myself.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The next offensive in the class war

The government is proposing a series of changes to the law as part of a drive to "reform employment relations." In essence, the aim is to make it easier for bosses to hire and fire at will and to give workers far less recourse to defend themselves. The proposals demonstrate just how much we have to lose if we do not stand and fight now.

The most significant change to the law is the extension from one year to two of the time after being hired in which you cannot claim unfair dismissal. If this happens, the inevitable result is a speed-up in the casualisation of the workplace, with ever-more workers placed in a precarious situation and having to look for new work within two years of each job they get. It will undercut wages and conditions, since more a precarious workforce will be less inclined to stand up for itself, and drive more families into a poverty that sees them living hand-to-mouth.

Even worse than this is the proposal to allow firms with less than ten employees to dismiss workers at any time without reason under "no-fault agreements." This effectively removes all employment rights from those workers, since the boss can get away with firing them at any point in their career if they ever press said rights.

At the same time, the government wants to introduce "protected conversations" - essentially a space in which an employer can say as they wish to a worker about their performance without fear it will serve as evidence in a constructive dismissal claim. The consequence here, too, is fairly self-evident. Employers will have greater freedom to bully, intimidate and demoralise staff until they are driven to resign and the worker who has suffered such treatment will have no recourse. Because reducing constructive dismissal claims doesn't, of itself, reduce constructive dismissal.

If a worker does get to an employment tribunal, and this will be harder as alongside the above measures more costs are being piled on the process as an "incentive" against seeking redress, there are still more hurdles to jump. All claims will first be referred to the conciliation service ACAS. Because, of course, if you've been the victim of harassment or discrimination, or forced out of your job by a bullying boss, all you really want is to sit down over a cup of tea and chat about it.

The other big reform on the table is to reduce the consultation period for redundancy from 90 days to 30. This makes it easier for the bosses to sack staff wholesale, and gives workers less time to organise a response. The implications of this in office, shop and factory closures when big firms are cost-cutting really doesn't need to be stated.

All of this will face considerable opposition from organised workers. Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey has already said that it's “appalling that this government should concentrate on making it easier to fire people, rather than getting people back to work.” The Citizens Advice Bureau has called the measures “nothing short of a charter for rogue employers.” The plans should be opposed, too, as they represent a rolling back of some of the most significant wins of the British labour movement.

However, the country's strongest unions are currently caught in a winner-takes-all dispute over public sector pensions. The strike on November 30 will be the biggest action since 1926, and from their reactions in the media of late it is clear that the government are worried. But they also know that if they win this fight, then the last stronghold of the trade unions will be broken.

This is no small matter. In the pensions dispute itself, the issue is workers being made to work longer and pay out more to get less when they retire. However, as deputy director-general of the CBI John Cridland has noted, "public sector pensions remain the biggest barrier to the private and third sectors providing public services." In other words, if they win this fight the government can carve up and sell off the welfare state for private profit. Already they are preparing to do this with the NHS, and the lukewarm response from the TUC will have emboldened them to try it elsewhere.

With privatisation, of course, comes casualisation, and a whole extra rank of workers caught by the government's proposed reforms. More than that, with the trade union movement defeated - and laws enacted to neuter any resurgence - they wouldn't have even a fighting chance of taking them on. The roll back would only continue, and accelerate, until all the work of our movement is undone.

This isn't some nightmare scenario, either, but a real possibility. We know that the unions have only come this far because they have been led here with the anger of their rank-and-file members at their back. They will be looking for the first opportunity of a safe get-out, as demonstrated by Brendan Barber running around to private talks with the Tories whilst the workers he claims to represent demonstrated against them. Indeed, you only have to look at the truly appalling pop song they have put out as the "anthem" of this action to know that they haven't a militant bone in their body.

No, if workers want to win this struggle we will have to do it for ourselves. This means re-building the bonds of solidarity that have been broken down over the last thirty years, re-building a culture of mass participation and direct democracy, and giving people the confidence that if they stand together and take action they can win. Some people, myself included, are already attempting to do that and learning the pitfalls as we go. There have even been some inspiring successes, such as the Guildhall Cleaners.

In such a context, November 30 is still only a beginning. Down the official route, it may or may not be followed by another one-day strike in a few months. But there will be a deal, and though painted as a victory much will be lost. From there, we witness the loss of absolutely everything organised workers have ever won.

We all need to stand together on November 30, making the pickets and rallies some of the biggest and liveliest in living memory. But we also need to build beyond them, to restore the solidarity culture that enables us to take longer action and unofficial action on a mass scale. This should happen not just in the workplace but outside it too, from direct actions such as picketsoccupations and blockades to campaigns against attacks on the unemployed such as workfare.

Ultimately, we have to face up to the fact that militant workers essentially have to rebuild a movement here. And to make it effective it absolutely must be built from below and led by the rank-and-file.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Solidarity Federation victory against wage theft

The South London local of the Solidarity Federation were due to picket a pub in London this Friday, in support of an ex-employee who had asked for their assistance. However, today the owner caved into the threat of direct action and paid up.

The local themselves explain the background;
Laura had her contract terminated after she refused to work because she hadn't been paid for 6 weeks, that is over £700 she has had to live without since mid September. They have had numerous opportunities, broken many promises, ignored calls, not replied to emails and have sent her round in circles passing responsibility between themselves. It was only after Laura contacted us and mobilised friends and family to support her that they paid around half the money she was owed.
South London Solfed's campaign was asking supporters and comrades to show solidarity with this campaign by phoning and emailing complaints on the day of the picket. Clearly, combined with the picket itself, the pressure of such disruption was too much for the employer to bear.

Most of us who have worked in less secure employment will have had a similar experience at some point or another. With austerity measures and the growing casualisation of work, the problem is only going to get worse. In the first instance, bad work conditions need to be addressed by workplace organisation and the collective pressure for improved terms and conditions. But redress is also needed for those in situations such as Laura's, where they are no longer employed.

Solfed have won a similar victory previously - against the employment agency Office Angels. Clearly, direct action or the threat of it works against employers who think they can get away with exploiting their workforce in a casualised or precarious environment.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, I would strongly urge you to contact the Solidarity Federation for support and assistance. Winning direct action grievances is one of our main objectives, and we will be more than happy to take such action where there is a fight to be had. An injury to one really is an injury to all, and the more victories like this we can win, the more employers will think twice before robbing their workers.

Sparks protests continue with occupation in London

This morning, I went along to the Unite union office in Liverpool City Centre to meet up with Sparks planning a demo outside a construction site behind the central library. At the same time, similar demonstrations were taking place in Newcastle, Manchester, Edinburgh and London. The struggle - over de-skilling and 35% pay cuts - remains one of the most significant of the moment.

Here in Liverpool, the numbers were small. I had made a brief appearance at a similar demonstration a week ago, where 50 to 60 protesters had turned up and around 20 site workers had stayed off the site in response. This time, we began with eight people, though that number later grew to around 25 or 30. I wouldn't attribute this to failing momentum, given both the upcoming Balfour Beatty strike ballot and other events which I'll get to, but rather short notice.

After arriving, I introduced myself to a couple of the lads protesting and had a chat with them about how the dispute was progressing. On this there were mixed views, as though there was a positive reception from most workers and very few refused leaflets there was also a feeling that too many were afraid to put their heads above the parapet. In an industry where you can be let go very quickly with little recourse, and at that one with the continuing legacy of blacklisting, this makes serious organisation difficult to achieve. There is a broad feeling that if this struggle against the changes is won, the next one needs to be against the status quo.

Among the issues that the workers worry about is the introduction of the semi-skilled grade, which essentially allows employers to bring in cheaper labour for those jobs that require less technical or specialist knowledge. As this amounts to about 80% of the work, it reduces the amount that skilled workers are needed for - not only amounting to a pay cut but also increasing competition between workers for work which will further deflate wages.

Also evident from talking to workers was the contradiction between being critical of the union's role in the dispute and often seeing no other alternative to them. Since the Sparks' demos began to capture the imagination, and Unite's view of them as "cancerous" became public, the union has worked hard to regain control of the dispute. This included Len McCluskey addressing the November 9 demo and saying "I want to be clear. I welcome the work of the rank and file committee. I welcome direct action as part of this campaign." However, not only is this so much hot air like his support for civil disobedience that he has never followed through, it is also clearly a response forced by the pressure of rank-and-file anger.

The question now is whether the workers realise that pressure can only push union leaders so far, and organise to take control of their own dispute beyond that point. A key test of this will be the strike ballot - tellingly called only for Balfour Beatty as a "test case" even though there are seven employers involved - and whether the momentum of unofficial protests continues during and beyond whatever action is called.

There is certainly hope of this, evidence by the fact that the London demo today ended with the occupation of Gratte Brothers head office. About 60 electricians padlocked themselves into the site as over 100 provided support outside.

The Sparks dispute is important for two reasons. One, because it is a demonstration of the power of rank-and-file militancy over officialdom. And two, because the problem it addresses of organising in an increasingly precarious sector is one that continues to grow in Britain with little redress. In both cases, we must hope that they are able to succeed and that in doing so they can ignite the kind of militant class struggle we need to be able to combat the bosses' onslaught.

Egypt's struggle continues

Nine months after Hosni Mubarak fled in the wake of the Egyptian uprising, protests and clashes continue on the streets. Tahrir Square is once more occupied, and there have been violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces. There are some who argue that, as a result of the ongoing struggle, Egyptians are on the verge of a general strike.

The latest news comes as most of the world has long since shifted its attention from the Arab Spring to the Occupy movement. That continues, of course, and the Americans remain the most radical end of that movement - with Occupy Oakland calling for a coordinated blockade of ports. They have also been the first to abandon the fetishisation of square occupations, moving indoors in Seattle, St Louis and Washington DC. As somebody said to me today, "who'd have thought we'd be taking the lead from the Americans?"

Returning to Egypt, the immediate problem is that - after taking power in the aftermath of Mubarak's fall - the army have failed to make reforms fast enough. This should come as little surprise, following the early decisions to ban strikes and protests, and the repressive constitution they put in place around the same time. Since then there have been a number of demonstrations, as well as a wave of strikes in September. However, it is proving a lot harder to oust the military and the ruling class than it was to get rid of a single figurehead, and it is hard to know what will happen next.

Liberals in Egypt are simply demanding elections and that the army speed up reforms, but it is clear to many that this is not enough. For a start, the aftermath of the revolution has been a brutal lesson in the fact that a repressive structure goes beyond a single person. That chants of "peaceful! Peaceful!" were met with the response of "enough 'peaceful' already" demonstrates that the reality of the Egyptian resistance and its mythos among left-wing activists are two very different things.

Those who said that the Egyptian revolution was peaceful did not see the horrors that police visited upon us, nor did they see the resistance and even force that revolutionaries used against the police to defend their tentative occupations and spaces: by the government’s own admission; 99 police stations were put to the torch, thousands of police cars were destroyed, and all of the ruling party’s offices around Egypt were burned down. Barricades were erected, officers were beaten back and pelted with rocks even as they fired tear gas and live ammunition on us. But at the end of the day on the 28th of January they retreated, and we had won our cities.

It is not our desire to participate in violence, but it is even less our desire to lose.

If we do not resist, actively, when they come to take what we have won back, then we will surely lose. Do not confuse the tactics that we used when we shouted “peaceful” with fetishizing nonviolence; if the state had given up immediately we would have been overjoyed, but as they sought to abuse us, beat us, kill us, we knew that there was no other option than to fight back. Had we laid down and allowed ourselves to be arrested, tortured, and martyred to “make a point”, we would be no less bloodied, beaten and dead.
The other problem with looking to elections to resolve the problems in the country is the fact that those most likely to benefit from them are the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood. The struggle on the ground has been largely secular in nature, exemplified by Christians and Muslims standing side-by-side - the former joining hands to protect the latter as they prayed in recent demonstrations.

There has been a backlash against the Muslim Brotherhood because they are seen as collaborating with military rule, underlined by the fact that the US supports pressing ahead with elections even if they are likely to win. This will not be for the benefit of the Brotherhood themselves, but on the basis that this is the better option for stability - and thus US economic interests - given the level of anger military rule is provoking and failing to quell. The Brotherhood will happily accept this since it grants them power, and meanwhile the Egyptian working class lose out.

The far more positive option, and the one favoured by neither the military, the US, nor the Islamists, is for the Egyptian workers to stand against all their would-be rulers. This will involve making the potential of a general strike into a reality, and seizing control of their own communities and workplaces whilst repelling the government. Otherwise, they are caught between particularly unpalatable options.

This might seem far-fetched at present, but no doubt that initial revolutionary moment did when people first entered Tahrir Square. And as has been said by revolutionaries of the past, "be realistic - demand the impossible!"

Sunday, 20 November 2011

On scabbing, stereotypes and liberal outrage

Those of you who don't spend an inordinate amount of time on Twitter may not have heard of a freelance journalist called Lisa Ansell. However, she has spent the past few days arguing vociferously that the use of the word "scab" is divisive and attacking those who thought otherwise. After some consideration, I've decided to fling myself into yet another internet flame war.

I've written on this subject before. Most recent was my response to the no-strike union Voice on, however I have also written on it in relation to last year's BBC strike and more generally as part of a series on anarcho-syndicalism. Each of those articles talked of the power relations between workers and bosses, the economic impact of striking, and how scabbing undermines that. I won't repeat myself on that point as I believe those posts cover it sufficiently. Here, I wish to respond to Ansell's specific allegations.

Before I go further, I should point out to anybody unfamiliar with my writing or what I do that I'm a union rep in PCS and will be striking on 30 November. I live with my partner and I work primarily to pay the bills, keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. I'm working class and would feel the impact of a strike just as much as anybody else that I work with - it's no gap year adventure for me.

The reason I make this point is because, in response to criticism and hostility after her original post, Ansell wrote a follow up. In it, she refers to how "a new left of privileged students spent the year shouting about solidarity, delighting in the language of a working class who haven't existed for decades." The word scab "sounds different with a posh edinburgh lilt or eloquent London drawl" and this is just "radical politics as understood by post-adolescent physicists who until this year acted out political fantasies meekly at the Green Party Conference." To say that this is patronising, contemptible bullshit is to be polite.

Ansell offers no examples of how workers "have been drowned out by their ludicrous movement," by which she means last year's student protests. Nor does she expand on who is demanding "reciprocation of solidarity that has never been shown." Instead, all we have is empty platitudes and self-righteousness, most bizarre being the statement "if 'scab' is a word hovering near your lips before industrial action has even commenced, aimed at people you don't know, it probably more accurately describes you."

The problem here is that Ansell isn't talking about a specific tendency on the left, a specific group who can be identified as middle class adventure activists. We all know that they exist, and that they can be as patronising as fuck even when their motives are good. But in my experience (and I realise I'm talking anecdotally) they are also the ones who shy away from serious confrontation. It is the middle class liberals who tell us in the Occupy protests that the cops are on side, or whose idea of anti-fascism is holding a placard and chanting, and likewise their response to a strike will be detached and academic. The people you see yelling scab are the same ones you see fighting the fascists and physically repelling the cops - the pissed off working class, whose jobs and lives are on the line and who just don't want to put up with this shit any more.

To put it bluntly, from a public sector worker who'll be losing a day's pay on November 30 to a freelance journalist who won't, it's those of us who are actually taking the strike action who get pissed off by those who don't. This isn't an abstract notion. It's our action they're undermining, our colleagues who are betraying us, our bosses who get to keep the workplace open despite the withdrawal of labour.

Even more tenuous is Ansell's assertion - at the end of her original post - that shouting "scab" at strikebreakers automatically means "the left shouting scab at the women they have marginalised all year, while regenerating a cause on their hardship."

Yes, there is an argument to be had about unions being "boys' clubs" despite a majority female membership. But this is a general point about leadership and doesn't necessarily translate to the picket lines. The most active people in building for the strike on November 30 in my branch, for example, have been women. Whilst they are under-represented in the leadership of trade unions, it is an astonishing and patronising level of sexism to gauge from this that women are somehow less radical or more likely to scab. It may be true that "striking costs mothers and children more than recently radicalised post grad students enjoying their early experience of paid work," but this doesn't in reality translate into the former crossing picket lines as the latter shout "scab."

As a final point, it's worth remembering that the insults and the animosity only come once the picket line is crossed. Before that moment, pickets will talk to those who come to work and try to persuade them not to go in. We'll even sometimes be succesful, and I've seen a workers cheered after they turned around and refused to cross the picket line. This is something Ansell should really know, given that her most recent post promotes Solidarity Federation's "don't cross picket lines" leaflet.

If Ansell is really concerned about division and the breakdown of solidarity as she claims, I'd suggest she puts her effort into convincing more people to stick together. Not defending those who break strikes and attacking those willing to take action for not responding to such betrayal with a shit-eating-grin and a slap on the back.

Organising against workfare

Cross-posted from the Solidarity Federation.

Workfare is a growing problem, as demonstrated by recent stories of a number of supermarkets had volunteered to be providers for the scheme and that young people were providing 30 hours a week of unpaid labour. This presents a problem both for the claimants trapped by this scheme, essentially as slave labour, and for the providers' workforce who are being undercut by those doing their job at practically no cost. Equally worrying is that, despite the growing anger over government attacks and emergence of anti-cuts groups across the country, nothing is being done to challenge this.

At our latest meeting, members of Liverpool Solidarity Federation agreed that this is a significant issue which needs to be tackled. Organisations such as the London Coalition Against Poverty offer an incredibly positive example of claimants' organisation, but they are one of the very few. Other groups which supposedly exist to tackle unemployment issues, such as Youth Fight For Jobs, do little beyond set piece demonstrations whilst the trade unions' new "community membership is little more than a gimmick to try and stem the loss of members and thus subs income. It is clear that no real help is going to come from this direction, and that a more substantial effort at organising against workfare and other problems is therefore needed.

At our meeting, Liverpool Solfed members discussed this in depth and agreed to pursue a three pronged approach:

  1. Organise claimants: we will, in the near future, be calling a meeting with the express aim of establishing an unemployed workers' union in Liverpool. This will involve leafleting job centres around the city and appealing to claimants to attend. We will also be looking at venues that are accessible and welcoming to the unemployed, such as the Kirkby Unemployed Centre.
  2. Build solidarity: though we recognise the limitations of the reformist trade unions and are critical of them, we also recognise that solidarity from the workers within them will be vital in building the unemployed workers' union. For example, it would be incredibly useful to have PCS members in the Department for Work and Pensions recommend the union directly to claimants.
  3. Direct action: ultimately, whilst moral pressure such as boycotts may prevent individual companies from being workfare providers it will not stop the practice itself. It is also problematic for workers who are struggling with rising food prices and stagnant wages to boycott the cheapest supermarkers. However, disruptive direct action against providers - from pickets to blockades and occupations - will cause significant economic damage. We will seek to initiate a campaign of such action and encourage others to follow our example. Workfare will only stop when the consequence of being a provider is disruption and economic damage.

Once the November 30 strikes have happened and we can pour all our energy into the campaign, we will begin putting this strategy into action. This will also tie in nicely with the month of action against Atos Origin called by the National Campaign Against Benefit Cuts.

Cuts and "reforms" to welfare constitute the most significant attacks upon the working class in Britain. Especially as we are set to face more job losses from the public sector and the private sector job market isn't about to perk up any time soon, more people will begin to feel the pain being suffered by those at the sharpest end of the austerity programme. An injury to one is an injury to all, and it is long past time that we fought back on this issue.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

"We're coming to see you on the 30th" - Liverpool's fascists stand against the workers

It's no revelation to say that fascism is an anti-working class ideology. Even though many groups play on the fears and frustrations of the white working class, they soon come out in opposition to effective action by workers trying to improve their lives. So it will surprise few to learn that the next far-right day out in Liverpool will be to oppose the strikes on November 30.

The English Defence League have been in rapid decline of late. Tensions between the national leadership and a hardcore of supporters who demand the right to be openly racist have led to a number of splits - most recently with the entire Liverpool Division splitting off and dedicating all their time to targeting the left. This has previously seen them turn out in support of the BNP at both a demonstration against Question Time and their national conference.

Meanwhile, news that EDL leader Tommy Robinson has joined the British Freedom Party - themselves a "liberal" split from the BNP - pretty much confirms the group's demise. With the BNP doing very little of note and the BFP little more than a blog and a Twitter account that was fairly fond of trying to troll me, that pretty much gives those who want to "run the streets like a mob" a monopoly in the fascist scene.

Now, at present, there is nothing to be gained in over-stating the danger that they represent. This is not the British Union of Fascists or the National Front in their respective heydays, and we are a long way from them being able to control the streets - especially as more and more people are mobilised and radicalised by anger at the government's austerity measures. But by the same token, we cannot deny that there has been growth, even if it is from two people shouting drunken inanities behind the police at a council cuts demo to around fifteen of them "attacking" News from Nowhere and Unite the Union on Armistice Day.

Their announcement on Liverpool Solidarity Federation's Facebook Page that "were coming to see you on the 30th" is the last confirmation that they are explicitly opposed to the organised working class. I'd add that they're not politically literate enough to comprehend this themselves, having laughably referred to Solfed as "UAF scum" and the strike demonstration as "3 million kids who say we have to pay 9k lets go and smash a city up." Not to mention that they'll get nowhere trying to intimidate a several thousand strong march of workers striking for their jobs and their future. They seem far more confident attacking those they perceive as easy targets, such as a women's cooperative bookstore and remain a long way from controlling the streets by force.

So we're not going to see what we saw during the 1926 General Strike, where the state employed squads of fascists to attack strikers. Rather, this represents the embryo of what its participants would clearly like to see become a force to be reckoned with on the streets, and if we leave it alone to grow unhindered then that it is what it may well become.

As explain;
Fascists use public demonstrations to look and feel powerful. Some young people join fascist groups because of their gang-like “hard man” image, but this quickly evaporates if they are attacked. Many fascists are simply petty bullies, who will not keep attending fascist events if anyone stands up to them. This is born out by the rapidly dwindling numbers of active fascists in areas where they were targeted by AFA in the 80s and 90s.
The working class is under attack like never before, and the last thing we need is a resurgent far-right street movement. We will continue to counter their propaganda and the growing movement against austerity around the strikes will help fill the political vacuum that they grow in, but as long as they continue trying to control our streets and intimidate those who think differently to them, we have to physically resist them.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Opening up the space for debate in the unions - report back from an N30 members' meeting

On Wednesday, my PCS branch held a members meeting upstairs in the Strand Tavern ahead of the public meeting taking place this Thursday. This was a first for a number of reasons, and I believe a step in a positive direction. However, there is still a lot further to go both in the last week before the November 30 strike and beyond it.

I've previously commented on the horrendous internal politics of my branch, and it's worth noting that they played a role in how Wednesday's meeting came about. Every time previously that I have brought up calling members' meetings, it has been met with incredible cynicism from others in the branch, in particular those "higher up" in its structure. Members won't attend in their own time, they know all about the strike anyway so why bother, we've done this before and got nowhere so you'll fail this time, and so on and so forth. Even chairing the branch campaigns committee, and with members' meetings part of the national strategy, this was the battle I faced.

In part, of course, the argument is true. There is an incredible amount of apathy among union members generally - even as some are being awoken or radicalised by the current dispute, so many more aren't. But as I've argued until I was blue in the face on numerous occasions, this is precisely because they have been marginalised and ignored by the trade union hierarchy. Especially in the last thirty years as most unions have made a full transition from organising to servicing, members have been reduced to clients.

Undoing that damage is not an easy task and not something that can be done with a snap of the fingers. In my branch, where a clique of reps have held onto their positions by excluding other reps from activity and kept members almost entirely uninformed for a long time, this fact goes double. I don't think I'm blowing my own trumpet if I point out that I've already made a considerable dent in this through sheer persistence, and often just putting things out or getting things organised myself when it's clear nobody else will. In fact, that the Branch Executive Committee now appears to regard any proposal from myself as something which could make the entire world burn down is something I consider a sign of progress.

Returning to the main point, it soon became clear that organising the members' meeting would fall on me and a few other reps who are of a similar mind to myself. None of these are amongst those who "run" the branch. We drew up the flyers to hand out, got emails circulated, got the room booked and arranged for food to be put on. Not difficult tasks by any means, but when those who have been elected to positions of responsiblity within the branch and who clearly think it their job to manage the reps and members don't give so much as a flying fuck about any activity connected to strike organising (and certainly not keeping members informed and involved), it says a hell of a lot. Indeed, it's telling enough that they look for the earliest opportunity to dart out of campaigns committee meetings and have shirked all responsibility for trying to build the Bootle Strike Committee.

With all of that said, the meeting itself was an incredibly positive experience. The turnout wasn't great, objectively - about 40 people from a branch of 1100 members - but given that this was the first members meeting called in years other than those we've been given facility time for it was something to build on. As was the fact that very few of that number were reps. That may be a problem in itself given that we have about twenty reps in all, but that's a separate issue.

I opened the meeting by explaining the progress we had made since our AGM passed the motion to establish a local strike committee. I went over the hurdles we had faced and the limitations as well as the progress made, and reiterated that whilst it was unlikely we would get as far as might be ideal it still gave us something to build on for the future. Another rep then talked briefly about the branch's affiliation to Liverpool Against The Cuts and how they were helping us run campaign stalls to build for the strike action. From here, I opened it up by reiterating that the meeting wasn't about having speakers talk at the members and that this was a forum for them to talk about how to get involved with the campaign, where it could go further than it has, and what we're not doing-.

It was slow going at first, but soon enough there was a lively debate ongoing about picket lines, extending the action beyond the 30th, and raising money for the branch hardship fund. Although I did make a point about how union leaderships only take militant action when they cannot ignore the anger of the rank-and-file, it was heartening to see that people were reaching that conclusion on their own and there was an appetite for far more than walking out on a single day of action. Even where that might mean local or unofficial action.

What was doubly heartening was that, though there were sandwiches available and the bar was open, people had clearly come for the meeting itself rather than for these things. People were engaged, angry, and itching to do something about the attacks that we are all suffering.

The task now is to build on that, both for the picket lines and action on November 30 and for reviving the culture of active and inclusive unionism beyond it. Cautiously Pessimistic recently noted that in the unions "anarchists have to fight tooth and nail to create any space for debate – not even to win arguments about our principles, but just to open up the possibility of having arguments and voicing different perspectives, rather than just loyally and quietly building for the Next Big Event." But as we have that fight, that space is opening up.

Now it's just a question of what we do with it.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The eviction of Occupy Wall Street

On Tuesday, police in New York evicted the Occupy Wall Street movement from Zuccotti Park. This is one of a number of evictions of occupiers in recent days, including Oakland, Oregon and Vermont, with protesters vowing to return. It demonstrates just how put out by the occupations and associated actions the ruling class is, suggesting escalation as the only feasible way forward.

Campers were awoken by riot police at 1am on the day of the eviction. The official reason given was that "the continued occupation of Zuccotti Park poses an increasing health and fire safety hazard." However, it is quite clear from the outset that this is not the case. Indeed, that the city "had come under pressure from residents and businesses to shut down the camp" is the more probable reason, the emphasis being on businesses. This is no surprise given that, as one vendor put it, "we have to work, not do revolution." The threat to the established order will obviously raise the fears of those who profit from that order.

In the eviction, 70 people were arrested. Tents were torn down, the books of the People's Library were carted away in garbage trucks along with people's personal belongings, and the media were barred from the site so that the full details of the heavy-handedness employed by police couldn't get out. Except, obviously, on Twitter.

Since then, demonstrators have regrouped and returned to the park, though this time without tents in tow. In a clear example of being absolute dicks whilst attempting to look reasonable, the authorities have deemed that they can stay in the park 24 hours a day - but they can have no shelter and cannot lie down. However, the defiant movement has issued a press statement declaring that "you can't evict an idea whose time has come" as "his moment is nothing short of America rediscovering the strength we hold when we come together as citizens to take action to address crises that impact us all."

But where, practically, can the demonstrators go from here? There is little doubt that, as the symbolic heart of the Occupy movement, it is important that a New York camp be re-established. But to do so requires violating a court order and being prepared to combat the police. I would heartily recommend such a move, but whether it would happen is quite another thing. The more radical elements of OWS will have to argue vigorously for it.

But it is also clear that, if radical action is necessary, it should go beyond re-taking a symbolic encampment. If those on the ground do turn out willing to battle the police, the aim should be to cause as much disruption as possible. The Occupy Oakland General Strike is a key example here, but even managing to live up to the original threat of shutting down Wall Street would be an achievement. It would require both the resolve for direct action and the force of numbers. The latter is certainly possible, but due to the domination of much of the movement by liberals and some incredibly bad experiences with the police already, the former is not guaranteed.

If Occupy Wall Street is to recover, though, it needs to get more radical. Though anarchists have never been shy to point out the limitations or contradictions of the occupations, we have largely done so from a constructive and supportive position. As the state gets more aggressive with the movement, my position in this regard is that action has to become more radical, militant and disruptive. If it becomes less so, then the ruling class will have achieved their aim.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Monday, 14 November 2011

Week of protest (14-18 Nov) against the Social Pact and towards the General Strike

Joint statement by CNT, CGT and SO in Spain, reposted from the Solidarity Federation website.

The Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT), Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) and Solidaridad Obrera (SO) trade unions met on 17th October last with the aim of continuing along the path towards unity of action, mobilization and the General Strike.

Mobilizations that have become necessary in order to fight policies of cuts in social spending, the dismantlement of public services (healthcare, transport, education, etc.) and the loss of labour and social rights that are currently being promoted by European governments and institutions at the behest of the employers and markets, and also against labour reforms, changes to the pension system and the reform of collective bargaining. Because they want the working class and the most vulnerable sectors of society to pay for the crisis and make sure the capitalist system survives.

The CGT, the CNT and SO recognize the positive nature of the demonstrations of anger and indignation that have been seen on the streets and in squares all over the country, and we call for fresh, united action to be taken.

We call on all trade unions, social movements, popular neighborhood and village assemblies, the 15-M working groups and all workers in general to participate and to come together and endorse a week of protest against the Social Pact and for the General Strike, to be held between the 14th and 18th November and culminating in the call for decentralized mobilizations on 18th November, calling into question an election process designed to legitimize the political class that continues to act against the working class.

It will only be possible to reverse the current measures of the political class in favour of the banking system and large employers and work instead for the benefit of the working classes by developing a strong process of struggle on the streets and in the workplaces.

That's what 18N will be all about...

Confederación General del Trabajo
Confederación Nacional del Trabajo
Confederación Sindical Solidaridad Obrera

The original Spanish version can be found here.