Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The last post

This will be my last post on Truth, Reason & Liberty.

The blog has, for the last couple of months, been winding down naturally. It has become little more than a holding pen for posts that have also appeared on the Liverpool Antifascists and Solidarity Federation sites. Particularly when organising the workfare campaign consumed huge amounts of my time, I could never sit down and write the kind of in-depth analysis of current affairs elsewhere that I used to.

Ending this blog also represents changes that I will be making in my personal life. I remain resolutely anti-fascist and anarcho-communist, but I will be stepping back from front line activism. A number of very recent events have made me realise that I have allowed it to take over my life at the expense of personal relationships - most importantly the one under my own roof. As that will and should always come first, I have found it necessary to stop and get my priorities - not to mention my life - in order.

As already stated, my politics haven't changed. I still support LiverAF and Solfed and hope to see them continue to go from strength to strength in my absence. Revolutionary, libertarian politics are more relevant than ever now and it is vital that those who hold them continue to organise, spread those ideas and take direct action wherever possible.

In the immediate term, I would encourage everyone to get involved in the national week of action against workfare. If you can't find any actions where you are, then set one up and do something!

As for me, I'll continue to organise in my workplace from a militant, libertarian communist perspective. I'll continue to tweet inaninties and profundities alike. I'll still be using my libcom.org blog whenever inspiration strikes and/or I need to rant about a subject. But I'll also be putting home and family life first, as I haven't done for too long.

I'm proud of what I've accomplished in just four years of being active in Liverpool. I'm also glad to have met so many of the great friends and comrades I have along the way. But, the revolution or a fascist military coup notwithstanding, I've got other things I need to be getting on with.

Health and anarchy!

Friday, 29 June 2012

Anarchists and trade unionists rattle Iain Duncan Smith in Bootle

Today (Friday 29 June), Iain Duncan Smith went to Bootle in what was planned as a low-key visit to Department for Work and Pensions offices. Instead it was the scene of a lively picket where local anarchists joined trade unionists from the area to oppose the capinet minister's arrival.

Obviously none of the ministers from the current government are popular with most working class people. Duncan Smith deserves particular attention because of his role in workfare - including lying in parliament about the "success" of the schemes.

He has also name-dropped anarchists on more than one occasion, from crediting us with wrecking the Work Experience scheme to more recently admitting that "I sometimes get confused as to who the anarchists are and who the Labour Party members are." With the absence of the Labour Party from his welcoming committee in Bootle, we would hope he now gets the distinction.

Notice of the visit came only days earlier, on the back of which text messages and emails were sent around to get people down for an impromptu protest. Roughly ten anarchists, including members of Solidarity Federation and Anarchist Federation, turned up alongside members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) and pensioners from the Unite community branch. The main picket waited at the entrance to the car park, whilst a handful of people gathered at the front entrance in case he decided to make his way in there.

Whilst we waited, a very nervous manager from the building stood with us, urging us out of the road every time a car approached. His aim was to ensure that the Work and Pensions minister's arrival was unimpeded by the protest. We had other plans, however, and the tone of his voice every time he asked us to "move out the way, please," suggested he knew it.

When at last Duncan Smith's ministerial car arrived, most of the around thirty demonstrators were stood blocking its entry into the car park. The driver edged forward, trying to nudge people out of the way, whilst the manager pleaded ever more desperately with us to be nice. Unfortunately, the car appeared to be making headway as many of the trade union demonstrators shifted to the side.

It was at this point that a female Solidarity Federation member parked her bike right in the car's path and refused to move. Other anarchists moved to join her and maintain the road block. The car still tried to move forward, but eventually the driver had to accept he was beaten and stop.

Now, PCS officials moved forward to reclaim the situation, asking that they be allowed to hand Duncan Smith a letter. This would apparently be the condition for him being allowed to move on. Incredibly, he got out of the car to take the letter from the North West Regional Secretary whilst trying to ignore everyone else around him who was heckling him with relish. Though he tried to hide it, his face was taut with discomfort.

He hastily accepted the request for a meeting with PCS following his other business in the office, before the manager escorted him as fast as possible from the picket and those less willing to sit down and talk with him.

Once he was gone, we allowed the driver to enter the car park and park up. That concluded the picket, and it is safe to say that it is as succesful as it probably could have been. The tactic of "lobbying" ministers is only likely to yield results on largely uncontroversial issues that have no bearing on class conflict. In this case, it is far more effective - and gratifying - to force them to confront our anger head on, however briefly.

Video via here.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

A4e Liverpool feel the impact of another picket and communications blockade


On Tuesday 26 June, Liverpool Solidarity Federation called a picket and a communications blockade against A4e in Liverpool. Both were well attended, with up to a dozen people joining in the afternoon picket whilst countless people from around the country jammed up phone and fax lines throughout the day.

From the morning, we were getting reports that the communications blockade was having its desired effect. People were hung up on as soon as they even mentioned the work programme, re-directed to central phone lines and met with exasperated staff on the other end of the line. By the afternoon, there were huge delays in answering calls and the fax machine was switched off - no doubt due to the huge volume of literature, complaints and sheer nonsense clogging it up.

By comparison, the actual picket was rather muted. Unlike last time, the building owner never made an appearence to have a go at us, whilst the police appeared for all of two minutes. They literally parked near the picket, glowered at us for a bit, then disappeared. In the meantime, we carried on with what we were there for.

Liverpool Solfed members were as ever joined by other local anarchists who have been extremely proactive in the workfare campaign from the beginning. We handed out a couple of hundred leaflets to largely receptive passers-by, spoke to claimants using the A4e offices and received a number of supportive honks from passing cars. As on previous actions, we had people wishing us well in our campaign and keen to point out that their own pedigree as trade unionists whilst cheering us on.

After two hours, we wrapped up and moved on. But this will not be our last visit to A4e. Like "ethical" workfare providers Holland & Barrett, the profiteers will soon be sick of the sight of us. We will certainly be paying them at least one visit during the national week of action against workfare.

Until then, our next action will see us return to Asda in Wavertree this Saturday. It seems that our last action has already had an impact on their trade, and we need to maintain that pressure in order to break the back of those exploiting the unemployed. Make sure that you come along and get involved, to add to our collective weight. This campaign doesn't end until workfare does.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Liverpool maintains the momentum against workfare


Another Saturday, another round of direct action against workfare providers in Liverpool. Members of Liverpool Solidarity Federation were joined by other local anarchists and activists to picket Holland & Barrett and Argos in the City Centre. The lively pickets saw 600 leaflets distributed and a number of shoppers turned away from both stores.

When we arrived at the main Holland & Barrett store in town, the security guard immediately got on the phone to the police. When they arrived, they took no action against us, but a complaint by the manager that our picket had abused staff (a claim which was entirely untrue) suggests that the continued pressure is starting to have an effect. Whilst the response from the public varied from largely ambivalent to positive and supportive, local security were clearly extremely hostile.

Over the next half an hour, security guards and other heavies arrived at the shop until a crowd of them were huddled just inside the entrance. A number of them were recogniseable from an incident last year when guards attacked a UK Uncut protest, and at least one of them was friends with prominent members of local far-right groups. They repeatedly left the shop in ones or twos to stand across the road and glare at us before returning inside. Once the picket was wrapping up and we were ready to move on, they all stepped outside to continue staring at us, presumably to make themselves feel hard in the absence of any excuse to actually pick a fight.

Their behaviour didn't intimidate us, however. We stayed for the same length of time as normal on these actions, moving on to Argos of our own accord.

At Argos we continued to hand out leaflets and talk to shoppers about Argos's involvement in workfare. Here, we were joined by local musicians who - as two weeks ago - added a lively soundtrack to the action. We stayed here for another hour and a half, until we had fully run out of leaflets, before finally packing up and calling it a day.

Alongside the pickets, we had called an all day communications blockade against the Liverpool Holland & Barrett store. This was picked up and supported by anti-workfare campaigners nationwide, so we're willing to bet that the disruption we caused on the doors was matched by that to their phone lines.

We will be returning to the city centre once more for the beginning of the national week of action against workfare on 7 July. In the meantime, there will be another communications blockade against profiteers A4e on Tuesday, and another day of action in Wavertree next Saturday. Make sure that you get involved because the more of us there are, the bigger impact we can make!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Anti-workfare activity at Bootle Jobcentre Plus


Today, activists including Liverpool Solidarity Federation members held an informational picket at Jobcentre Plus in Bootle. There, we handed out advice leaflets and Solfed workfare pamphlets to claimants, alongside more general leaflets to the public.

In all, we stayed there for about an hour and a half. The response we had from claimants and members of the public alike was overwhelmingly positive. Most took our leaflets gratefully, whilst more than a few people stopped to chat about workfare and our campaign against it. Several trade unionists from the local council also promised to take the information back to their branches as it affected their staff as well.

Given the responses that we got today, we will look to return to Bootle in the near future with more high profile action. We will also be looking to expand our Jobcentre-specific leafleting, which has so far occurred in Wavertree and Toxteth as well as Bootle. Workfare is an issue affecting people everywhere, but particularly in those areas hit by greater levels of poverty and unemployment. Talking to and empowering those who face having to do it is always a valuable first step towards succesful actions.

In the meantime, this Saturday we are holding another day of action against workfare providers in the City Centre. We urge everyone who can to come along and get involved. Even if you can't make it, there will be a communications blockade of Holland & Barrett - one of the prime targets of the Solfed campaign - that you can take part in from the comfort of your own home.

The fight against workfare is really gathering steam now, and people are really starting to get behind it virtually everywhere we go. The task now is to keep up that momentum, and bring welfare-to-work in all forms to a halt, once and for all!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Liverpool Antifascists benefit gig - 6 July

Reposted from Liverpool Antifascists

On Friday 6 July, the Next to Nowhere social centre is playing host to an array of acts, all donating their time to raise money for the fight against fascism. Come along, bring friends and bring your own booze, and enjoy a night of top quality local ska and punk.

Doors at 7.30. Entrance £3.


You can RSVP on Facebook here.


Map here.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Statement on sexual harassment within the Liverpool activist community

What follows is a statement drafted by the feminist group Angry Women of Liverpool and signed by a number of individuals and organisations. It concerns a specific individual, whose behaviour is utterly unacceptable in any walk of life, but also addresses a wider issue that has for too long been inadequately dealt with.

Because sexual harassment within activist circles has not been dealt with for such a time, this action has caused a stir. Predictably, defenders of misogyny came forward to suggest that this was somehow an evil or malicious act, and it should be made clear that in this scenario the presumption of innocence is the presumption that the victim is lying. Nobody should be the victim of deliberate false charges, but by the same token the accounts of those who face such actions should not be taken lightly nor left alone until a jury in some bourgeois courtroom passes a guilty verdict - especially given that such is all too rare.

I also wholeheartedly endorse the statement by the North London, South London and Brighton locals of Solidarity Federation, which tackles this issue more broadly.

TRIGGER WARNING

We, as survivors, opponents of sexual violence, feminists and/or feminist allies have taken the decision to publicly oppose and name a man within the activist and anarchist community who we know to have repeatedly sexually harassed several young women*. This harassment is known to have taken place in person, via social media and/or text message.

*All references to women refer to any self identified women.

The individual concerned, Paul Cunliffe, of Merseyside, has sexually harassed young women within both the local and UK-wide anarchist and activist movement. This has caused varied impacts upon their lives, and the lives of other women who are aware of his actions. One woman for example, quit activism due to Cunliffe’s aggression towards her when she rejected his unwanted sexual advances.

Presently we are aware of six different women affected, of the four we have spoken to, two declined to make a public statement - a decision we completely support - with one too fearful for her safety to do so. However another two women have offered brief descriptions of what happened to them:
My communications with Paul Cunliffe occurred for several months when I was 17 years old. He first contacted me via the internet, where he began talking to me most days, and most of the time I replied amiably, out of a wish not to offend. After a while speaking online, some of his conversations became inappropriate. I told him at this time that I was not interested in pursuing a romantic or sexual relationship with him, but he persisted in making sexual jokes, which, as he was ten years older than me, made me feel uncomfortable. He became seemingly obsessed with me, made several comments about us having sex, sent text messages referencing sexual acts, and told me that he had masturbated over me. This was all done when he was in full knowledge that I was not interested in him. I didn’t want to upset him if I would have to see him again, as I knew he was capable of violence, and so I didn’t feel able to tell him outright to stop. He apologised several times for his behaviour, but it continued. Towards the end of our contact he was talking to me every day on social media, and sometimes became annoyed or upset if I ignored him. He was also verbally abusive towards a friend of mine. Our contact ended when he sent me a final message, in which he swore at me and insulted me. I would urge all women to be very careful about getting involved with him – I wish that I never had. Having had time to reflect on the events, if anything similar happened again, I believe I would feel forced to contact the police in concern for my welfare.”
A second woman, Romana, who has waived the anonymity we offered her, has told us the following:
It was December 2011 when I started talking to Paul via DM on Twitter. We’d been interacting since November or October, as I was going through a stressful time with both religion and anarchy which are opposed each other. He was polite, joked around and gave me advice. He is an anarchist who tried to explain things which I found helpful and I could also talk to him about problems at home such as violence which built a trust bond.

I first put a picture of myself on Twitter in December, after which he contacted me and said it was attractive. I said thank you, as at the time I thought he was saying it in a friendly way because he hadn’t made any advances at this point. He asked for my number and I gave it as I trusted him. He then texted me sexual comments. I said I was 16 and he said he had thought I was older and made another sexual comment. At the time I was going through confused feelings and he being someone I looked up to and trusted, I responded initially.

He then started to take sexual comments a bit further at which point I felt uncomfortable but was worried that if I did not respond at least politely that he’d take offence and accuse me publicly of things, as he’d said things about another girl he was involved with that made her out to be a bad person (I later found out that she’d rejected him). I very often would tell him I felt uncomfortable and wanted him not to say things. Quite a few times he texted me along the lines of ‘I’m horny, wondering what you’d do to turn me on’ or ‘I’m so hard right now’ and go on to tell me how he would have intercourse with me.

I started to feel very uncomfortable a few days after and told him I’m wasn’t in a good mental state and I’d like him to stop. He continued. I’d say ‘please stop, seriously…I really want you to stop’ and he’d continue to text sexual things or just ignore me and then on the next day/next few days I would receive a text along the same explicit sexual lines.

At one point I lost my temper and told him to leave me alone and he got very angry, after which I became fearful that he’d spread rumours about me making me out to be a bad person as he had done with two women by this point, so I apologised. We stopped talking for a month or two after but then he suddenly started speaking to me again, apologised for his behaviour and told me about some stuff he was going through for which I gave him some advice.

Towards the end of that correspondence he began to make sexual comments and I ignored him initially but began to feel uncomfortable and in the same position again, I thought he would say that I’d come on to him. As he was friends with James and I have a good friendship with James and I didn’t want him to turn James or any friends in Liverpool against me, I responded, feeling very upset and angry and helpless until he started to mention threesomes. He suggested having a threesome with Anna (Anna is 16) and a 17 year old friend of mine called Holly. He also suggested a threesome with a girl he’d been involved with.

I asked him to stop and said I was incredibly uncomfortable with him degrading other women like this. I eventually talked to Anna about the situation as she mentioned he perved on young women. On the same day Holly told me that he’d made sexual advances and suggested threesomes to her in a dm. She felt very uncomfortable and avoided the comments but he gave up eventually after asking outright if she was sexually interested in him. At this point I became very angry as not only had I found he’d been harassing other young women in Liverpool and talking about women as if they were objects for him to masturbate over, but he’d also been trying to put my friend in the same situation.

The next day I decided to do some research and told a girl he had been spreading nasty rumours about what he had said, and she was very upset and told me she was scared of him as he’d said some aggressively sexual things and she thought he sounded violent at times. I confronted him that day and told him enough was enough and I won’t allow him to put any more women in positions where they feel helpless or uncomfortable – shortly after this he deactivated Twitter and Facebook.
Due to abuse received from misogynists on social media websites regarding this statement, Romana has also written a piece for her own blog which can be found here.

The aims and purpose of this statement are three-fold:
  • To ensure that others, particularly women, are aware of his behaviour and thus can make an informed decision about whether they feel comfortable having any kind of relationship with him;
  • To ensure the safety of women, within Merseyside in particular, and to allow those who own or take care of places with a ‘safe spaces’ policy to consider whether they should continue to grant him access;
  • To encourage political organisations to consider their policy on the safety of their female members and how they can avoid compromising this.

We believe that misogyny, sexual aggression and violence are NEVER acceptable and that such consistent harassment shows blatant misogyny and disregard for the oppression that women face under patriarchy. A person cannot class themselves as an “Anarcho-Communist” and then show such misogynist aggression, which is diametrically opposed to the values Anarcho-Communism espouses.

We ask that women, men and groups share and sign this letter to create a network of support and solidarity for those involved in exposing Cunliffe’s behaviour and to minimise any potential backlash that may be caused by doing so. Perpetrators of harassment, aggression and violence towards women should not be allowed to continue to do so without repercussions and we urge all feminists, feminist allies and organisations who support women’s rights to endorse this statement.

In solidarity,
Angry Women of Liverpool

To sign the above statement, please email smashmisogyny@gmail.com.

Signed:

Liverpool Solidarity Federation
Brighton Solidarity Federation
Merseyside Anarchist Federation
Edinburgh Anarchist Federation
Leila Davey (AWOL)
Emma Segar (AWOL, AFed)
Anna Fleur (SolFed)
Liam O’Brien (SolFed)
Claire Elliott (AWOL, AFed)
N. Gatch (AWOL)
Stacey Long
Hannah Ryan (AWOL, Merseyside Women’s Movement)
James Moffatt (SolFed)
Maria Ng (AWOL, News from Nowhere)
Adam Ford (The Commune)
Sean C (Anarchist Federation)
Jane Nolan
Sam Ambreen
Jane Calveley
Natalie Dzerins (Intersect)
Rhiannon Lowton (LRC)
Sam Talley
Sean Mollan (SolFed/Uncut/ACAB)
Jerry Spencer (Anarchist Federation)
Naomi Beecroft (EUSA Women’s Liberation Convenor)
Matt Moore (Anarchist Federation)
Kashka Georgeson (Merseyside LGBT Student’s Network, SWP).
Helen Holmes
Nicky Clark
Romana Begum (All London Anarchist Revolutionary Mob/ALARM)
Sam Rabin (ALARM)
Maev McDaid (President: University of Liverpool Friends of Palestine)
Paul Robinson (Anarchist Federation)
Toivo Hartikainen
Helen Sheridan (AWOL)
Andy Meinke (Editor Freedom Newspaper)
Louise Whittle (LRC)
James Cleveland (Brighton Feminist Collective)
Brendan O’Malley
Nyika S
Al Derby (Wolvo Anarchists)
Jacob Richardson
Anna Machell
Sarah Hickmott
Les Rich (SolFed and IWW IU 560 member)
Jasmine Pike
Pierre Lapin (Job Seeker’s Alliance)
Mark Lees
Takiyah Eshe Daly
Martyn West
Andy Bean
Emily Rice
Sean Court
Alison Banville
Jon Squires
Matt Moran
Omar Sahal
Anna White
Iain Hilton
Phil Dickens (SolFed)

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

A4e in Liverpool hit by picket and communications blockade


Today (12 June), around a dozen anti-workfare activists joined a picket of the Liverpool offices of A4e, called by Liverpool Solidarity Federation. At the same time, hundreds of people took part in our communications blockade of the same office - effectively jamming up the phone and fax lines for a considerable portion of the day.

The picket was, by the standard of recent actions against workfare, remarkably brief. As A4e was on an upper floor of a building with multiple tenants, any form of occupation was unviable. However, we did have an extremely visible presence outside the front doors, distributing Boycott Workfare leaflets (PDF) to the public and Solfed workfare pamphlets to claimants who had been referred to the company.

We had a number of conversations with claimants who shared their experiences of A4e with us, as well as with members of the public who wanted to know what was going on and were generally supportive.

The only opposition came from the owner of the building. When we arrived, a security guard told us we had to remain on the public highway. He tried to get us to move from right in front of the building, but we declined this request. For most of the afternoon, our picket passed without incident - but at every miniscule slip over the imaginary line where the land became "private property," either the guard or the owner would come out yelling. They even harassed a parent at the picket whenever her toddler wandered the wrong way!

Despite this, the day was succesful and we ended the brief picket knowing we had made an impact. But not as much of an impact as the communications blockade had. From playing music down the phone and pretending to order a pizza, to giving the staff an earful about their involvement in the work programme, opponents of workfare kept the lines tied up. So much so that desperate staff tried to re-direct people to a centralised contact centre number. Meanwhile, using a free internet fax service, supporters were able to waste the companies ink on complaint letters, random gibberish and even full length novels!

Everyone who got involved today has helped to make an impact on A4e, and the task now is to keep the pressure up. We will be returning to the Liverpool office soon enough, but this Thursday our target is Bootle - see here for details of the communications blockade. Not to mention that our Saturday direct action will continue, with Wavertree the target this week.

The fight against workfare is one we can win, if we fight hard and maintain focus. Get in touch with Liverpool Solfed if you want to be a part of what we're doing.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Lively picket kicks off hectic month in Liverpool anti-workfare campaign


On Saturday 9 June, Liverpool Solidarity Federation called action against workfare in the City Centre. Upwards of 40 people, including members of Solfed, the Anarchist Federation and the wider anarchist community in the city, took part. We were also pleased to have local musicians on board, providing a ska/punk soundtrack to the day's activities.

The first target was Holland and Barrett, which Solidarity Federation continue to target on a national scale due to its claim to be an "ethical" store. Here, we had lots of interest from passers by, with plenty coming over just to take a leaflet off us as well as a number of unemployed people expressing their support for the campaign and chatting about their own experiences with the various workfare schemes. We are pleased to say that a number of people refused to cross our picket, and that many who did came out shortly after with no purchases and our leaflets still in hand.

After a while, it was decided to move on to Argos. We marched through the main shopping area in the city centre, banners and flags aloft, the musicians continuing to play as we marched.

At Argos, there was an occupation as well as a picket, effectively disrupting trade and seeing a number of customers leave after taking leaflets. Again, there was a lot of support, as well as a chance to have a brief conversation with at least one member of staff about the effect workfare would have on their job. There was one brief altercation with the owner of the store next door, who complained that he would look guilty by association, and threatened to rip down our banner. However, again there was broad support and several additional people joined the action.

Marching through the streets once more, our final target was Tesco. Tesco has been a particularly misleading participant in the scheme, claiming to have withdrawn whilst in reality carrying on using the forced labour of claimants.

Here, again, we had both a picket and an occupation. We effectively managed to shut the store down for most of that time, with very few people venturing in and several happy to take our advice and use Sainsbury's around the corner as it has withdrawn from the scheme. We continued with the picket, and the lively song set, until we wrapped up the action for the day.

Overall, this was one of our most succesful anti-workfare actions yet. However, it doesn't end here - at our last meeting, Liverpool SF agreed on a series of pickets and other actions leading right up to the national week of action on 7-14 July, as called by the national conference in Brighton.

This coming week, alone, we are calling for two separate communications blockades of A4e - one for the Liverpool office, one for the Bootle office - and workfare pickets in the Wavertree area. If you support the campaign against workfare, we urge you to get involved in these actions in any way you can. Only by keeping up the pressure and using sustained direct action, can we shut down those who exploit us and end workfare.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Where now for the fight against workfare?

Since the action on 5 May, the campaign against workfare in Liverpool has almost ground to a halt. This has not been the case elsewhere - as even a quick glance at the Holland & Barrett tag on the Solidarity Federation website will attest. But it does highlight a difficulty with this issue that will have to be addressed in order to keep the campaign fresh an active.

This lack of activity is not going unaddressed. There will be a further action in the city centre on Saturday 9 June (Facebook event here), and a proposal is going forward to the next Solfed meeting for a fairly intensive schedule of actions over the next month. All of which is leading towards the national week of action against workfare on 7-14 July. This being one of the outcomes of the national conference called by the Brighton Benefits Campaign on 26 May.

A scene from the last action against workfare in Liverpool, on May 5
Nonetheless, it does underline how difficult it has been to kickstart some elements of the three-pronged strategy first agreed by Liverpool Solfed last November. From the first national day of action, initiated by one of our members through UK Uncut, the campaign has almost exclusively involved members of the local anarchist and activist milieu, whilst attempts to get claimants on board - let alone establish any kind of unemployed workers organisation - have seemingly gone nowhere. A comrade from the Anarchist Federation, in particular, clocked up loads of hours leafleting Job Centres and speaking to people, with almost no return. Solfed had a similar experience ahead of our action in Wavertree.

This doesn't mean that such attempts should stop. Far from it, as workfare is fundamentally an attack on the unemployed it should be they who are at the forefront of fighting it. Indeed we do have several unemployed workers heavily involved in the campaign. But this is an attack on the class as a whole, part of a more fundamental restructuring of the labour market, and even whilst it is proving difficult to get one specific form of organisation off the ground the attack must still be fought.

The other organisational aspect that is lacking is the workers within those companies that use workfare. Most providers are non-unionised, and when taking action we have been distributing leaflets encouraging staff to organise. But, again, people won't organise just on your say so and, though most have taken leaflets and reacted positively to the actions, there has been little follow through. The very real fear of retaliation by the bosses will be a consistent sticking point here, alongside things like high turnover, lack of militants in the workforce, etc.

The established unions, as in most struggles, are as much a hindrance as anything else. The most extreme case being the Communication Workers Union's support for workfare, which saw its headquarters picketed by Boycott Workfare, Solfed and the IWW. Other unions are slightly better, being prepared at least to pass resolutions against the scheme, but this has yet to translate into numbers on the ground at or taking the initiative with workfare pickets.

Image from a London workfare picket on May Day
The recent PCS conference highlighted some of the problems with trying to address this through the reformist unions. Whilst the motion in support of the campaign at the national conference passed overwhelmingly, the motion that passed on the issue at the Revenue & Customs Group Conference was a lot more problematic.

The motion made noises about how "workfare is 21st century slavery" and should be opposed, but then went on to say;
This conference instructs the GEC [Revenue & Customs Group Executive Committee] to ensure that HMRC does not agree to the Government Work Programme until such times as it is clear that:-

  • The scheme is entirely voluntary
  • The scheme does not breach any existing rules surrounding eligibility to receive JSA or other benefits
  • That any workfare participant who works longer than 16 hours per week is paid at NMW [National Minimum Wage] at the least, but preferably the same as any comparable worker in HMRC; and
  • That the parameters of the scheme are published by DWP clearly and unambiguously
I spoke against this, making the point that negotiating on the terms of workfare is essentially acceptance of it. Further, that even if we were able to obtain these guarantees, we would still have a second tier workforce which could be used to undercut existing staff. Unfortunately, despite these objections, the motion passed.

The national motion effectively supercedes it by setting union policy that is against the scheme at all. However, that both motions have gone through suggest that in most cases unions would take this line - opposing it before implementation, but negotiating its terms after. After all, as one member of the GEC said to me in defence of the motion once it had passed, that is the union's job.

But then the fight against workfare was always going to have to be done outside the trade unions. Their role will always be to seek a seat at the table, negotiating the terms of capitalism's adverse effects on the working class. Our aim is to stop these attacks dead and to attack capitalism itself.

South London Solidarity Federation picket Holland & Barrett on 19 May
Direct action is of course the most vital component of that fight. Propaganda work is essential in terms of getting people on board, and there has been a knock-on effect of providers pulling out early over "bad publicity" fears. However, this amounts to a microcosm of what sustained direct action can achieve - damage to profit margins. Those first providers who "bottled it" did so from a fear that the negative publicity would lead to people boycotting their stores en masse. This evidently hasn't been the case, underlining that a reliance on consumer boycotts is problematic at best for a variety of reasons, but pickets and occupations that shut stores down on a regular basis can cause far more damage in the same respect.

It does have to be sustained, though, as the case of Holland & Barrett is proving. The Trots jumped in to grab headlines at the point when interest was at its highest, but have quickly lost interest and moved on now that not everybody is folding as fast. Then there are plenty of people who are exclusively activists and will leave it to others to do the organising, drifting onto a new cause if that doesn't happen. Thus, the real difficuly comes from making sure there is a sizeable group of people properly committed to keeping the campaign going.

This will probably always be a tension in the workers' movement in its current state - between a reliance on "activism" to sustain momentum and the need for people who are more than just activists. This dynamic will change in the face of more victories and thus the class becoming more confident in itself. But we still have a long way to go to reach that point, and so that central contradiction remains.

In struggling through it, I would urge everybody who has a stake in this to get involved. There are and will continue to be shortcomings to this campaign, as I have sketched out above. But as long as we're willing to look at them honestly and do our best to overcome them - learning from any mistakes we make along the way - there's no reason this fight cannot be won.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

PCS leadership forces continued reductive pensions strategy on Annual Delegate Conference

Last week, I was in Brighton as a delegate to the PCS Annual Delegate Conference. There are, in such an event, many subjects covered and many debates had. But the centre-piece of Conference - the debate on the pensions dispute, and what actually came out of it.

We always knew what would be said of it. The union reported on Tuesday that delegates "will be looking to steer the union through a period of unprecedented attacks" and "step up [the] pension campaign." Once the debate had been done, the Socialist Worker told us how the "defiant" PCS had called for "more united pensions strikes," and the Morning Star that we "threw down the gauntlet to the Con-Dem government."

PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka addresses delegates to Conference - picture copyright Pete Grubb
In reality, the motion that passed was simply a re-affirmation of the same reductive strategy that I have previously outlined as marking a managing down of the dispute. The union still offers up fighting talk, as it has to for a membership who are under attack and rightly worried about their future. But there is no genuine block of rank-and-file militants demanding an effective fightback, and so action matching the rhetoric can safely be somewhat lacking without upsetting anybody but the ultra-leftists (that being everyone who's neither a scab, a moderate or a cheerleader for the current leadership).

Hence what passed on that first morning of national conference. There were eight motions in general debate, the National Executive Committee's at the head of the pile (unsurprisingly, despite the standing orders committee supposedly being a body independent of the NEC) and all after it falling if it passed. Passing being almost a formality, given a number of factors - from the order to the general secretary being the one moving the motion.

Urging conference to support the motion, Mark Serwotka said that "we are clear on the NEC that we cannot win on our own" because "even though we would rather move faster and quicker you have to accept that other unions make decisions and we have to work with them." Which underlines my own view that they are now fighting to manage expectations. Hence the key instruction in the motion being "to argue for further national industrial [action] on pensions at the end of June with as many unions as possible and to take final decisions once the position of other unions becomes clear [my emphasis]."

This gives two get out clauses. The first being that they are simply arguing for industrial action rather than taking the initiative and calling it, so of course if it doesn't happen they have simply not won the argument. The second being that the position of other unions is their foil - as when March 28 never happened, they can simply turn around and blame it on someone else that they do nothing.

The other instructions are even more wet. They call on the TUC to demand that the government enter central negotiations, again something which if it doesn't happen doesn't fall on their shoulders. A number of instructions simply reaffirm the need for "joint campaigning" and "coordination" without adding anything except an extra bullet point. "Community campaigns, protests and peaceful civil disobedience" get an honorary mention, whilst we'll try and get lots of people to the TUC's October 20 exercise in letting off steam.

"PCS Groups and Branches [...] taking industrial action" is declared "an essential part of our programme of action." However, at a campaign briefing in the PCS North West Regional Office a while back, I actually challenged NEC member Paula Brown on this. I pointed out that the disputes provoking such action were already happening and action around them separate to the national campaign - in essence, allowing PCS to declare it had a "programme of action" whilst offering absolutely nothing new. She effectively conceded this point, only arguing that there was "nothing wrong with that" since all the disputes should be linked. Not actually a point I was disagreeing with.

So, in essence, the motion gives the NEC a mandate to carry on with pretty much the same reductive strategy as before with periodic one day protest strikes, adding only that it can use other unions as a foil for inaction. Or, as Serwotka put it, "not potentially going it alone and being defeated."

This isn't to say that other motions in the debate necessarily provided an effective alternative to this. Some of them were extremely limited, from a motion to "name the day" for the next strike to one that simply said "find other forms" of action "instead of spasmodic 1 day strikes." One motion called for PCS to take out members in HM Revenue & Customs indefinitely with a levy of other members, though its intention of limiting "the government's ability to collect revenue" was somewhat ill-thought out given that most tax is taken automatically through Pay as You Earn.

The main effective rival to the winning motions was one which called for "national, regional and paid selective action" and "seek[ing] to take action with as many unions as possible" whilst being willing to "go it alone" if necessary. This motion and the NEC motion effectively underlined the difference of strategy between the Independent Left and the ruling Left Unity faction. Neither necessarily contains enough to win, but the former (perhaps mostly because it doesn't hold power) is willing to recognise the pitfalls of the existing strategy even whilst the latter winds us down to a managed defeat and remains baffled by the possibility that it as the "fighting left leadership" could face criticism from the left.

The debate took a number of turns, with as many opposition speakers as supporting ones. Safe to say, however, nobody took the position that the NEC strategy was too militant or radical - which is apt when it was neither of those things in any sense of the word. However, the problem outlined above of nobody offering an alternative strategy which didn't come with its own pitfalls, was what won it rather than the NEC motion offering the perfect strategy.

It is almost certainly true that action with less unions in this dispute will be less effective. That was always going to be the case after building up to a strike as big as that on November 30. But this doesn't mean that all action should be suspended if there is no "coalition" of unions - after all, if a strike by one union marks a significant downturn in the dispute from what went before, what is it when absolutely no unions take strike action? Rather, the question at hand becomes one of going beyond one day strikes, of being more imaginative with industrial action, and of utilising other forms of direct action alongside them such as occupations, economic blockades, et al.

But that only brings us back to the glaring point that there is no effective rank-and-file movement in this dispute. If we want to see one, it will have to be built from scratch and such a process will be painstakingly slow. The union tops, meanwhile, have an interest in keeping their strategies limited and reductive for a number of reasons. This goes for the IL faction if they were in power as much as LU, since their strategy  removes the limitations imposed by an opposition to going it alone but not those that are inherent in the union as a legal entity which needs to maintain its own existence.

This all makes the situation sound rather bleak, but for the simple reason that it is. The PCS NEC is pursuing a reductive strategy that will ultimately end in managed defeat and this needs to be recognised. But there is no magic formula that will change this or secure victory. The vital ingredient for such - a militant, self-organised rank-and-file pushing to control its own struggles - remains non-existent in the public sector.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Why October 20 must be hijacked

The Trades Union Congress has called for a national demonstration against austerity on 20 October. You'll have to forgive me if I don't quite hail the revolution yet. Or even, as Right to Work do, start spouting that "massive demonstrations in October can help finish [the Tories] off." At best, this is an exercise in letting off steam.

Part of the radical workers bloc on the TUC March For The Alternative, March 26 2011
The TUC has been the driving force in demobilising the trade unions. First by making the case effectively that the fight against austerity and broad attacks on our class should be reduced to an industrial dispute over pensions, then by leading a significant contingent of that dispute to make a deal once they'd given workers a huge one-day protest strike as a bit of a show. With the last, and most "militant," section of that fight also winding down to managed defeat, it's safe to say that they stamped on every spark of resistance they could in the official labour movement.

Dave Prentis, in leading the call for a demo, was particularly cynical. Calling for "the biggest demonstration in our Labour movement’s history," he says that we need "to show the government that there is a real alternative." But the best way to do that is through direct action, and particularly industrial action, which he was one of the first to back out of.

After well over half a million people took to the streets of London on March 26 2011, the government blithely announced that it would change nothing. They were right - because the state and capital are not moved by protest, but only by effective exercising of class power. This is why, on the fear that "if we don't give them reform, they'll give us revolution," we got the welfare state. It's also why, with an A to B march here, a one-day strike there and some candle-lit vigils in-between, they feel safe to roll it all back.

Effective resistance to austerity will not come via the TUC or any of its affiliated unions - even the "awkward squad." It will come only through the working class, in the workplace and out of it, organising for ourselves and taking direct action independent of these rusting hierarchies. Whether the people in those hierarchies are "left" or "right," they will still defuse workers' anger into A to B marches and limited protest actions, whilst seeking to place themselves into the discussion on the degree to which our class is screwed over. That is their structural role within capitalism, and that is why every last one of Adam Ford's public sector strike predictions came true.

Our aim, without concession and without apology, should be to cause economic damage. To flex our muscles and tell the ruling class: as long as your cuts are inevitable, this country will be ungovernable. That was the case this time last year, and all that has changed now is that the trade unions are well into their routine of letting off workers' steam to ensure that doesn't happen. October 20 will be just another case in point on that.

This is why the march must be hijacked. Rather than letting the TUC have their stale and passive march from one end of London to the other, where a bunch of bureaucrats and Labour Party apologists will waffle at people for the rest of the day, there needs to be a huge and visible bloc of anarchists, militants and radical workers.

Not only that, but this bloc needs to steer as much of the march as possible away from speakers corner and towards areas where they can cause significant economic disruption. On March 26 2011, Oxford Street and Fortnum and Mason were effectively shut down and the day's trade lost as a result of UK Uncut and the radical workers bloc. When we see the next national demonstration, something similar needs to happen - perhaps with the breakaway bloc meeting up with a picket against workfare rather than one against tax evasion.

The student demonstrations, at the height of the class anger the unions are working to demobilise
Such an action will not bring down the government. It will not bring about revolution. But it will be an effective expression of class struggle which actually impacts on those we are fighting, whilst sidelining and stealing the headlines from those working to demobilise us.

No doubt, as ever, the media will flap about violent anarchists planning to hijack a peaceful protests. They will pull out every absurd stereotype and red scare bogeyman they can, and the liberals will wring their hands and beg for clemency. Just this once. Can't we leave it alone, so that they can have an unblemished, peaceful protest?

The answer should be no. Politics is not PR, and we are fighting a war against a class enemy intent on rolling back everything we've won. If a huge mobilisation in central London isn't hijacked for effective, militant direct action, then the movement is in far more dire straits than we thought.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Fascists botch attack on Bootle picket line

On Thursday May 10, hundreds of thousands of public sector workers took strike action around the country. Amongst these was my own workplace, with one of the largest and liveliest picket lines at least in Bootle. It was also the scene of a brief clash with fascists intent on disrupting proceedings.

On the whole, the strike was an astounding success. From a building of 1500 people, well over 1400 took part in the strike. Whilst most picket lines were on from 7 til 11 at the latest, we stayed on til 5.30 due to the evening shift in our building. Across the course of the day, around 40 PCS members and supporters took part in the picket, with a solid block of 25 people for most of the morning.

Around 3pm, we got word that Paul James/Walsh - booted out of the army for robbing houses and until recently second-in-command of the Combined Ex Forces would be leading a bunch of fascists down to visit us. Their target, predictably enough, was me. They had been threatening revenge ever since Liverpool Antifascists picketed Quiggins Attique and kept Peter Tierney closed until two in the afternoon. Now, with me stood outside work on strike action, they apparently saw their chance.

About half an hour later, we spotted them moving down Stanley Road towards the picket. There were six of them - the only unknown being a lad with a rottweiler. As they reached us, they all started shouting my name and gobbing off about supporting paedophiles. Paul Walsh was the first to step forward, whisky on his breath and white marks around his flaring nostrils, and start screaming that I was scum.

The initial confrontation lasted about a minute, if that. The pickets gave as good as they got, holding their ground in a block whilst the fascists jumped around screaming, trying to single people out. Particularly noteworthy is that whilst they're quick to gob off about being "real men" and the "smell of testosterone" (whilst the enemy are just "effeminate feminists"), it was the women of the group who were the most vocal and the first to get in their faces. Their macho bullshit wasn't intimidating anybody, least of all those whom they expected to be seen and not heard.

Before anything really kicked off, the police intervened. They had perhaps also gotten wind of what to expect, as a van had been present for much of the afternoon by the building, and it wasn't long before one officer on foot became half a dozen, plus two vans.

Walsh was taken to one side, complaining that he was being reprimanded for calling people paedo supporters whilst we were allowed to call him Nazi scum. Because, obviously, an utterly false allegation against anti-fascists is just the same as an observation about a goon who associates with the openly fascist National Front. Sure enough, he was nicked and taken to the police station under Section 5 of the Public Order Act.

Meanwhile, with the police separating the groups, a stand off emerged between the small band of fash and the now-swollen ranks of trade unionists. Whilst senior management from the building came out, bewildered, to see what was going on, police tried to disperse those supporting the picket. One officer in particular was very aggressive, to the point that I had to shout over him to say that the fascists were at the picket line because of me and, since they'd tried to attack, they were the ones who had to fuck off.

After a while, this was the case and the fascists disappeared having achieved little to nothing. Whilst Peter Tierney had been stuck inside Quiggins for four hours as a result of the Liverpool Antifascists picket, we had held our ground when attacked by fascists. Coked up and ready for a brawl, they were able only to hurl idiotic abuse and make dicks of themselves before disappearing.

Today was personal in the sense that it was targeted at me. But it is also not the first time that the far-right in Liverpool have made their anti-working class agenda clear. On the day of the last big pensions strike, they attempted to heckled the march through Liverpool with cries of "communists out," and once more given short shrift. Today, whatever the reasons given, they proved that they have no qualms whatsoever with attacking trade union picket lines.

It needs to be emphasised, over and again, that the threat of the far-right is a physical one that needs to be tackled head on. This isn't the job of "specialist" anti-fascists, but of everyone who wants to ensure that workers' organisations and the left have the space to organise openly. Well done to all who stood their ground today.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Guilty verdict in Rochdale grooming trial

NB: This post has been updated slightly to reflect subsequent developments.

Nine men have been found guilty at Liverpool Crown Court of operating a child sex ring in Rochdale. The verdict sees all of the offenders jailed, and will hopefully offer some closure to the victims and their families. There is no doubt at all that these were truly horrendous crimes, made worse after police cock-ups allowed them to go undetected for two years.

The trial is the same one which saw a mob of 100 fascists demonstrating outside the courts and rioting against Asian-owned businesses in Rochdale. For the far-right, the case has been proof of a so-called epidemic of Muslim grooming gangs terrorising white girls because they view them as easy meat. It also inspired conspiracy theories about a "news blackout" as a result of political correctness, and "cultural Marxist" complicity in "racist" sexual attacks on whites. Thus, any opposition to the British National Party, North West Infidels or others exploiting the case was portrayed as "supporting" paedophiles.

However, there can be little doubt that the far-right was exploiting the case. To see their attempts to whip up hysteria over the issue, you need only look at the "Labour 25." The website was set up by Liverpool BNP (now National Front) members as a way to associate the Labour Party with child abuse, contains blatantly doctored pictures, distortions, and outright lies. Not to mention that 0.015% of the Labour Party's total membership being convicted of paedophilia is about consistent with the percentage of paedophiles in the country as a whole. It's not at all like, as the far-right's rhetoric implies, there is a large and organised bloc of child sex offenders within the party doing their utmost to push pro-paedophilia legislation.

The fascists' willingness to brand anybody as a paedophile for virtually any reason underlines that their motives are purely reactionary. They have not been at the courts to support the victims, and indeed their violent antics during the protests nearly wrecked the whole case. As those who suffered at the hands of these men relived their harrowing ordeal, the knobheads outside the court wanted only to wave flags and piss about.

Since the verdict, there has been further evidence of far-right attempts to wreck the trial, with BNP leader Nick Griffin tweeting leaked jury deliberations and the North West Infidels revealing the name of one man whose identity was subject to reporting restrictions. This is due to him being charged in other, ongoing cases which may now be prejudiced as a result of his name being leaked.

That doesn't mean there aren't serious questions to be answered. Not the least of which should be why the police convinced victims as far back as 2008 not to press charges. This allowed the crimes to continue for a further two years, only lengthening the ordeal and suffering. There will now be an independent investigation into why this happened, and rightly so.

Rather than any kind of cultural Marxist plot to cover up the crimes of Muslims, however, this fits in with how sexual offences are dealt with generally. With a 6% conviction rate, rape cases as a whole are dealt with poorly - and up to two thirds do not go beyond the investigation stage. This betrays not some politically correct agenda, but rather a horrendous attitude to sex crimes which makes it difficult for victims to seek - let alone get - justice.

The question of race and/or religion is a lot harder to pin down. Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of The Ramadhan Foundation, says that "they think that white teenage girls are worthless and can be abused without a second thought; it is this sort of behaviour that is bringing shame on our community." Whereas Assistant Chief Constable Steve Heywood of Greater Manchester Police believes that this was simply a case of "adults preying on vulnerable young children" and "it just happens that in this particular area and time, the demographics were that these were Asian men."

There is a strong case for both positions being true. Certainly, the statistics back up Heywood's position, and we're faced with an "outgroup homogenity bias," whereby "if a white man commits a rape, he’s just a rapist but if a Pakistani does so, he’s a Pakistani rapist." This (perhaps with Muslim exchanged for Pakistani) is where the far-right is coming from, and I have no doubt that their claims of the predators being "racist" is ridiculous.

That being the case, then, how can Shafiq also be right about a problem in the Muslim community? The answer, I'd posit, lies with multiculturalism. Specifically, in that the form of multi-racial society promoted by the state for the past decade.

As Brighton Solidarity Federation once put it;
[M]oney is parcelled out to different imaginary, homogenous ‘communities’ on a racial basis, under the control of ‘community leaders’ – who supposedly represent this entire community and repay this with votes. This corrupts the great lived experience many of us have with multiculturalism, into something repellent – official state ‘multiculturalism’ which explicitly divides people on the basis of race, and gives out money and favours on the basis of a series of different ‘communities’ who need representing.
As a result, this view that "white teenage girls are worthless and can be abused without a second thought" is a convenient one for sexually repressed males looking for an outlet within a culture where socially conservative community leaders frown upon far more healthy expressions of sexuality. At the same time, because this phenomenon happens in areas where "communities" are segregated rather than where people mix freely regardless of race and religion, it is equally true to say that "it just happens that in this particular area and time, the demographics were that these were Asian men."

The ethno-nationalism of the far-right isn't the answer to this, but only the other side of the same coin. In both cases the working class is divided against itself on the basis of arbitrary differences, only what are inadvertent effects of multiculturalism are the intent of fascism. Nazi sexual violence against Jewish women during the holocaust being a case in point. To move away from this kind of phenomenon, we need to move away from trying to package people into "communities."

This won't stop crimes such as the abuse of children. Ultimately, the actions of individuals have to be dealt with as such, and the vile acts committed by the men in this case fall on their heads alone. That they face some form of justice for this has to be a welcome result.

Solidarity with the state's monopoly of violence?

On May 10, I will be one of several hundred thousand public sector workers on strike over pensions. At the same time, in London, the Police Federation will be marching against cuts to policing. As every time there is talk of police marching, striking or in any way protesting, liberals and leftists have put out calls for solidarity and support.

I've explained before why the police will not be getting my solidarity and I have no sympathy for the devil. Others have made similar points in various blogs and articles, and so there's no need to labour the point here. Ultimately, as we saw with the police's actions in Wisconsin last February, the way to bring police into any kind of broader working class movement is "not appealing to "good cops" to show mercy, but by encouraging mutiny in state ranks and asking those in uniform to remember where they come from."

However, Pierce Penniless makes a couple of good points that need to be underlined when it is argued that the police share our interests because they are "against cuts;"
(iv) We defend against cuts because they involve dismantling things like the NHS and welfare services, not because the organs of the state are inviolable goods.

(v) Hence this tautologous argument that anti-cuts activists ought to oppose cuts because they are anti-cuts activists elides the reasons that people oppose cuts. This elision is significant.

(vi) The arguments put by serving police officers as to why they shouldn’t be cut largely involve their subsequent inability to afford water cannon, tasers, routine arming, &c. They also often extend to their need to exist to keep scum (etc) ‘off the street’. This is not benign civil work: it is racist, it victimises the poor, the inconvenient and the vulnerable. Any argument that we attain a moral victory by defending their working conditions and thus enable them to further fulfill their structural role seems to me rather weak.
The Police Federation's own propaganda (pdf) underlines this. The image before us is a line of riot police blocking a road, presumably less able to do their job because their numbers are cut. If you choose to support or join their march, that is what you are standing in solidarity with.

Remember that. Every baton swung at the head of a protester just for being in the way. Every horse charge to keep the crowds in line. Every kettle because people wanted to cover their faces. Every taser that kills or paralyses somebody. Every stop and search of youth simply for being youth. Every Ian Tomlinson, Jean Charles de Menezes, Smiley Culture or Mark Duggan.

It's on your head as well as theirs. Because you marched to defend it.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Action against workfare continues in Liverpool

Saturday 5 May saw joint action against workfare by Liverpool Solidarity Federation and UK Uncut Liverpool. We held pickets at both Holland and Barrett stores as well as at WH Smith and distributed over 1,000 leaflets to the public.

When we arrived at the first Holland and Barrett, the security guard instantly shut the doors on us, fearing an occupation of the shop. Instead, we lined up outside with banners, signs and flags and began distributing leaflets. As well as announcing why we were there over a megaphone, we spoke to members of the public who were curious what we were doing and were largely receptive.

There were one or two people who were hostile to the picket, but they were in the minority. We also had a visit from a security guard who had tried to get pictures of everyone's faces at the last event, but he soon left after being followed around with a camera.

We weren't as succesful as hoped when asking people not to use the store, though most did stop and take a leaflet before crossing the picket. However, a fair few people did turn away, whilst one older woman went in aftertalking to us specifically to give the manager a piece of her mind!

After about an hour and a half, we packed up and moved on to WH Smith. At this point, we had picked up a number of extra people as a result of activists turning up late and a couple of members of the public deciding to join in. This meant that things were a lot more lively by the time we reached Smiths, allowing for a simultaneous picket and occupation.

Here, many more people turned away when asked, whilst others made a point of saying that they were only going in to use the Post Office upstairs. A number of youths decided to hang around and find out what was going on, engaging particularly with the younger UK Uncut activists. Again, most of the public was receptive to our message and received leaflets gratefully. We stayed at this picket for about an hour before deciding to move on to the final target.

At the last Holland and Barrett, we set up as before and began handing leaflets out to the public. However, after a short while the manager of the store came out to tell us that they didn't participate in the scheme. During a conversation, it turned out that whilst the chain as a whole still did, he had refused to accept any more placements in his store. The one placement who had been there now had a permanent job, whilst the regional manager had been told unequivocally that if she wanted workfare there she would need to get another manager.

Following this he allowed us to leave some leaflets in his store and was seen handing them to customers asking what the commotion outside was about. We had conversations with a number of them who shared our (and the manager's) opposition to the scheme, whilst handing out the last of our literature. Finally, we wrapped up the picket and drew the day to a close.

The day was a success, given how many people we turned away from the store, as well as how many people we spoke to about getting involved with the campaign. Successive actions in the city centre are part of the Liverpool local's strategy to fight workfare, alongside branching out action into local areas outside the centre. However, it also underlined that these kind of actions have a lot more dynamism with larger numbers and that we can't be complacent about getting them every time.

No doubt there will be other lessons to learn along the way. But either way, we will continue to pile on the pressure against workfare providers. The same threat as before remains: if you exploit us, we will shut you down. As many times as it takes.