Sunday, 29 January 2012

Blacklisted agency worker loses appeal

Via Cautiously Pessimistic, I've come across this particularly worrying piece of news from the Blacklist Support Group;
The construction giant Carillion has admitted a construction worker was blacklisted because of his trade union activities and efforts to improve site safety, but has escaped responsibility because he was an agency worker. The revelation came during an employment tribunal last week brought against the firm by engineer and former UCATT safety rep Dave Smith. It ruled the construction firm could not be held liable because agency workers do not enjoy the same legal protection as directly employed staff.
This not only underlines the fact that workers are being blacklisted for their trade union activity, it also goes a long way to show that the law is reluctant to do anything about it. Even after hundreds to thousands of pounds in legal fees to get someone whose life has been ruined by the process to a tribunal in the first place.

It really cannot be overstated how much this campaign needs much wider support and publicity. Not only in pursuing the court cases, but in direct action as well. We know the firms which are engaging in the blacklisting of workers, and they should face pickets and other actions from those who support the right of workers to organise. But we know that this action won't come from unions - who've themselves colluded in blacklisting - and that the Blacklist Support Group only has finite resources.

A mass campaign is needed on this issue, and it should really be the one that militant workers never shut up about. Especially as the economy goes on another downturn, raising the prospect of more redunancies and more industrial conflict, that any employer can get away with this is a threat to all workers. Solidarity to all blacklisted comrades in the continuing fight.

The HMRC dispute and the need to defy strike laws

On Tuesday, PCS members in HM Revenue & Customs are taking strike action against privatisation plans. I've already explained the need for solidarity here, but this dispute also highlights another point that I've long made. It demonstrates the need of workers to organise in order to defy anti-strike laws.

The strike on Tuesday doesn't in fact involved all workers in HMRC, but only those in a section called Personal Tax Operations (PT Ops). In essence, this means that those not in PT Ops have to go into work on the 31 January - and if they work in a building that contains members of the striking section, as most of them do, it means that they will have to cross picket lines.

A previous anti-privatisation picket line at HMRC Euston Tower
Understandably, a great many are not happy or comfortable with this. There has been a lot of arguing internally over the matter, with many reps in the other areas saying they won't cross picket lines and with calls for the Group Executive Committee to issue guidance. The GEC happily complied with this, and provided a number of ways that those outside PT Ops could support the action. But, on the fundamental question, the union officials could only ever provide one answer: "as a union we cannot under any circumstances encourage or induce members to take part in industrial action for which they have not been balloted."

For a union to say otherwise would be suicidal. They would risk having their assets frozen and other measures that would in essence stop it functioning altogether. As such, when appealing to the union for guidance, the only thing that those outside of the balloted section were ever going to be told is to cross picket lines.

This is compounded by the fact that the choice of action by PCS has been poor at best. Previously, the dispute was challenged through short walkouts, which didn't as dramatically emphasise the non-participation of other members - and in fact allowed them to join in by taking longer lunch breaks or flexi time in solidarity with little fear of sanction. But a full day's action effectively forces the divide, which we should not be surprised at since the interests of the workers and the interests of union leaders can often be at odds.

For workers who do want to show solidarity - and, as importantly, to build a workers' movement that can seriously challenge the ruling class - something much more radical is needed. The trade unions themselves cannot and will not challenge restrictive industrial action laws. But militant workers can, and indeed should, do so.

The most basic starting point for this is to organise with your fellow workers. This doesn't mean getting them to sign a union form so they can be represented if they get in trouble, but by building an active movement within your workplace of those willing to take action - regardless of union presence or membership. For those unsure on how they might go about this, the Solidarity Federation workplace organiser training is an excellent starting point, whilst these articles on are well worth a read.

From there, what? The point of this post isn't to provide step-by-step instructions, but the easiest course of action is probably to convene off-site meetings for those affected. Talk to all the other workers, push attendance, make people interested in coming along. You can't promote unofficial action through a leaflet or casual chats, you need a meeting, and most importantly you need it to be one where everyone can have their say. If there's a debate, followed by either a consensus or a vote, people are more likely to follow through than if they're just nodding along to a speech by one person. It also brings everyone in on the act, rather than people just following the leader - which leaves said leader open to being singled out and targetted by management.

The Sparks rank-and-file group at a picket of Blackfriars in London
Of course, the one thing you absolutely must not guarantee is that nothing will happen to people. It may well, and the bosses will look for any opportunity to clamp own on such activity. But what you can say is that greater solidarity brings a greater chance of success. The prime example of this remains the Lindsey Oil Refinery dispute of 2009, where all of those (lawfully) sacked for taking wildcat strike action got their jobs back - because every other site across the country took wildcat action in support of them.

In a situation such as that PCS has forced upon HMRC workers, something like a sick-out may work better than a blatant wildcat strike. But either way, if the conversation isn't had and the topic not broached, then workers are left at the mercy of the bosses and union officialdom. Whereas if that kind of rank-and-file organisation gets off the ground, then we can reach the point that the Sparks did late last year - taking strike action even after the union capitulated to the threat of a court injunction. And we must even go beyond that, as the rank-and-file still face sell out from Unite officialdom.

We have now reached a point where the working class are literally being attacked on all fronts. An effective fight back requires a level of militancy which we have not seen here since the great unrest. But the ruling class have put in laws to prevent that whilst the union bosses are cosy enough to be complicit. In order to stand any hope of winning, we must defy both.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Demonstration against NHS privatisation a success after Labour pull out

Around 50 people joined a demonstration outside the Royal Liverpool Hospital against the privatisation of the NHS. Members of Solidarity Federation, the Anarchist Federation, Women Against The Cuts and the Socialist Workers' Party were all present, along with a number of unaffiliated individuals who supported the cause. Despite the wind and rain, it was a lively gathering which drew in a fair amount of support from the public and service users.

A demonstration had originally been called by the Liverpool branch of the Labour Party. From the start it was a very sectarian, party political affair - with Andy Burnham MP as a speaker and the tagline "the NHS is only safe in the hands of The Labour Party - join us." However, rather than "join Liverpool Labour Group Councillors & Members of Parliament," members of Liverpool Solidarity Federation decided to mobilise a turnout for the demonstration which was both against NHS privatisation and against the Labour Party.

This led to Labour desperately scrambling to bus people in from Manchester, fearing they would be outnumbered. This clearly didn't work and they soon instead announced that the demo was cancelled, citing "public safety" concerns. As a consequence, the UNISON branch in the hospital - of which Labour Councillor Jake Morrison is a member - also pulled out. Keep Our NHS Public and the Liverpool Socialist Singers soon followed suit, though there was disagreement about this in the latter group.

Liverpool Solfed members responded by urging people to still attend the demonstration:
This doesn't mean that those of us who are both anti-cuts and anti-Labour will be staying at home, though. If it did, it would only show us as standing for the same narrow, sectional interests as the Labour Party when that is not the case. The ruling class is determined to roll back all of the gains made by workers in the last century, and we stand opposed to that whichever party holds the seat of power.
At the beginning, there were about fifteen people at the demonstration. This escalated quickly enough to fifty, from a variety of organisations, rallying against the privatisation of the NHS. None of those present were surprised - or bothered - by the absence of the Labour Party and its parliamentary stooges.

Solfed members handed out 800 copies of this leaflet, making the point that only direct action - not voting - can stop the NHS reforms. It was very well received, with a number of people stopping to talk about how bad the proposed changes were and thanking us for making a stand against them. Some people made comparisons to the 1930s, before the NHS came to be, whilst others talked about the system in the US - where having an operation to save your life could genuinely see you bankrupted.

The only moment of contention came when a senior manager from within the hospital said that we couldn't demonstrate on hospital premises. The Labour Party had sought the Chief Executive's permission, and now that they had pulled out that permission was removed. He was placated, however, by a banner being moved from one railing to another and soon left.

After two hours, and with weather conditions starting to worsen substantially, the demonstration wrapped up. In all, it was a quite succesful event - with all of our leaflets handed out and lots of public support for the cause. It's not going to save the NHS, of course, though with luck it may get people thinking about the best way to do this. But it does hammer home the message that if we want to fight back we need to do it ourselves, not wait for leadership from the likes of the Labour Party who are only in it for their own gain.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Liverpool picket against Adecco in solidarity with the CNT

Today, members of Liverpool Solidarity Federation picketed the office of employment agency Adecco in Liverpool City Centre. With the support of members of Occupy Liverpool, we handed out around 400 leaflets to the public during a picket that lasted around two hours.

When we began the picket, the sight of us tying the Liverpool Solfed banner to the railings in front of the entrance immediately drew attention. Two female workers came out to ask what we were doing - initially seeming to think we were a rival recruitment agency! We explained that we were acting in solidarity with the CNT union and Adecco's role in the ABB-EULEN dispute, handing them copies of our leaflet to that effect. After this, they retreated indoors and we had almost no further interaction with staff.

The public were overall supportive and happy to take our leaflets, though we did have one person walk by who refused a leaflet saying "I don't agree with any of it!" On the other hand, we did have two people who stopped to talk at length and express their support for what we were doing. Many others wished us good luck in our cause as they passed.

Throughout the day, Adecco received very little custom and nearly all of those who we gave leaflets to were passing by rather than going in. This suggests that, despite the sign in the window listing them as a Sunday Times top employer, many people are already aware of the realities of the casualised and precarious employment that companies like Adecco offer. Meanwhile, they felt threatened enough by our presence to turn off the automatic doors so that they had to let their few clients in manually.

The picket ended at three, though not before a police Matrix van passed, the cop in the passenger seat doing a double take as a saw us. Not too long after, a police car turned up to see what was going on. Unfortunately for them, at that point most of those present had already left whilst the few of us still there were just loading everything into cars. Which offers a somewhat amusing counterpoint to the violent police response to an anti-cuts protest outside Liverpool Town Hall.

The CNT's dispute in Corboda goes on, and whilst it does we wish them full solidarity in their struggle. It demonstrates just how much of a threat outsourcing poses to workers, and should their be prolongued strikes in the UK in the near future, we should have no illusions that agencies like Adecco will be happy to supply scabs here too. Their fight is our fight.

Oppose the BNP and EDL - Liverpool Crown Court, Monday 6 February‏

Reposted from Liverpool Antifascists.

On Monday 6 February, the British National Party and English Defence League will be holding concurrent demonstrations outside Liverpool Crown Court.

These demonstrations are in response to the court appearance of 11 men from Rochdale, accused of operating a child sex ring. The crime they are accused of is a despicable one, and we will shed no tears if they are jailed for a very long time. Yet the far-right is demonstrating here because they happen to be of Asian origin.

The fascists are exploiting the abuse of children to promote their nationalist agenda. They claim that Asians and Muslims are more likely than any other group to abuse children and that there is a media blackout to cover up this fact. But how do they propose to change things? If there is less coverage of the issue than is deserved, it is precisely because the far-right use it to stir up racial and religious hatred. They use such horrific incidents to turn people against entire communities.

The vast majority of those arrested for sex crimes in the UK are White British. In the past year, the world’s attention has been drawn to the scandal of widespread child abuse by Catholic priests. Where was the fascists’ demand that the “white community” or “Christian community” be held accountable for these crimes? The fact is, they only show their face when they can pin the issue on Asians and Muslims.

These crimes are not an attack on white people by muslims or Asians, but on vulnerable children by sexual predators. Abuse of children is an indescribably revolting crime, whoever commits it. Racist spin won’t save children from abuse, and nor will the sick opportunism of the EDL.

Don’t let fascists exploit child abuse for political gain.

Oppose the BNP and EDL – assemble by the Victoria Monument, Derby Square, from 8.30am on Monday 6 February.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Liverpool Labour pulls out of NHS demo, protest still going ahead

Jake Morrison, the Labour councillor for Wavertree, has announced that the demonstration against NHS reforms on Friday has been cancelled. Offering apologies for the cancellation, he assures us that there will be another event in the next few weeks. This post is to confirm that, regardless of Jake's and the Labour Party's withdrawal, Friday's protest will still be going ahead.

In his announcement, Jake claims that police "have raised concerns, which I share, about public safety." Supposedly, they "weren’t able to guarantee that the necessary space was available for several hundred people to protest outside the Royal Hospital safely" and as such "we have agreed the best course of action is to no longer go ahead with the protest." The "we" in question being not the great number who had expressed their determination to come to the demo, but Councillor Jake Morrison and Merseyside Police.

If the reason given is true, then it is beyond pathetic. Police permission or cooperation is not a pre-requisite for static demonstrations in any event and I would at the least question their motives for trying to shut the protest down. Especially after the events of last Wednesday, when cops attacked protesters whilst Jake sat inside the town hall nearby, dutifully voting for millions of pounds of public spending cuts.

If - as is also likely - the reason given is just a cover for pulling out, then it only proves the sectarian motives behind organising a "Labour Party" demonstration in the first place. With the prospect of opposition from those who also opposed the privatisation of the NHS but weren't going to fall for the idea that "the NHS is only safe in the hands of The Labour Party," the party loyalists have bottled it. Last week, there were rumours that they were desperately scrambling to bus people in from Manchester for fear of being outnumbered. Today, they have simply declared a retreat.

This doesn't mean that those of us who are both anti-cuts and anti-Labour will be staying at home, though. If it did, it would only show us as standing for the same narrow, sectional interests as the Labour Party when that is not the case. The ruling class is determined to roll back all of the gains made by workers in the last century, and we stand opposed to that whichever party holds the seat of power.

As such, I would urge people to see the withdrawal of Jake and Liverpool Labour as a victory against the illusions offered by parliamentary politics, but also realise that it doesn't remove the real issue at stake. The NHS is still under attack, along with so much else which the working class depends on, and we have to be willing to stand and fight against that. It will be direct action rather than static protest which saves the NHS, but how can we hope to reach that point if we let police and politicians dictate when and where we can demonstrate?

Demonstrate against NHS privatisation, Friday 27 January
Assemble outside the Royal Liverpool Hospital, Prescot Street, 11am til 2pm

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The fight continues for sacked strikers at EULEN-ABB

Workers at the ABB factory in Corboda, Spain have been on indefinite strike since 28 November. On 11 January, the contractor EULEN fired all of the striking workers. This marks the culmination of the company's plans to get rid of militants and replace them with cheaper, non-unionised labour.

This development was not a surprise. The strike occurred over plans to outsource labour to EUROCEN. Previous victories, such as forcing a collective agreement on the management and fighting arbritary dismissals of union activists, have convinced the bosses that something needs to give. Clearly, outsourcing gives them an option whereby pesky details like workers' rights don't have to come into the picture, whilst the defeat of the CNT union sends a clear message to the new recruits about where fighting back gets you.

This isn't to say that the fight is done, however. Indeed, the greatest weapon that the workers have here is solidarity. To which end, the outbreak of this struggle has seen solidarity demonstrations by other sections of the CNT across Spain. Their Polish sister section, the ZSP, has picketed the headquarters of both ABB and Adecco - which owns EUROCEN.

In Britain, the Solidarity Federation has organised pickets of Adecco in Glasgow, London and Brighton in support of our Spanish sister section. This Wednesday Liverpool Solfed will be following suit. Our Manchester local held a picket at the national headquarters of ABB in Warrington.

All of this only adds to the pressure on the companies involved in the dispute. It demonstrates that the workers camped out in Corboda are not isolated, which provides a morale boost for them whilst damaging EULEN-AAB and Adecco by providing them with bad publicity. Moreover, given that Adecco owns the Office Angels recruitment agency, we already know that the pressure brought to bear by such actions can have an effect.

As Brighton Solidarity Federation said in the leaflet handed out at their picket;
Employment agencies have exploited us long enough. A win for workers at ABB, a giant multinational that operates in over 100 countries, will not only improve working conditions for Spanish workers, it will let employment agencies like ADECCO know that workers are willing to fight back against their unscrupulous practices.
With that in mind, here's hoping that the workers at ABB do win. All power to the strikers, and solidarity in their fight against outsourcing and union busting!

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Solidarity with the HM Revenue & Customs strike on 31 January

On 31 January, workers in HM Revenue & Customs are taking strike action over the threat of privatisation. The department is bringing in private contractors Sitel and Teleperformance to hire temporary staff at vastly reduced rates of pay to take calls, offering the spectre of privatisation.

Previously, this dispute has been handled quite badly by the Revenue & Customs Group Executive Committee. As I reported after a three-hour walkout in December, the initial intent was to see how the trial went and raise the prospect of industrial action at the end, once the contractors were safely embedded in HMRC. Anger from contact centre workers forced them to ballot, and even then they tried to water the matter down by calling action over two disputes at the same time.

One significant effect of this was that the sickness absence dispute saw low support beyond the directorate taking action over privatisation. This was compounded by the fact that, after the initial action in June, strikes were suspended on the basis of "moving towards a resolution" which turned out to yield nothing. Having completely demobilised this dispute it has now been effectively dropped - with the contentious procedures still standing. Nor is this situation alien to PCS members in HMRC, with the union balloting over Christmas on an agreement over policies their members had taken industrial action to oppose, the timing forcing through a yes vote on an incredibly low turnout.

The prospect of a full day strike sees those who don't work in the directorate which will be receiving the private contractors having to cross the picket line of those who do. The ballot for industrial action and the action itself both being very clear on this point. During short walkouts, this wasn't too significant a problem, and there was a strong showing of solidarity in mixed directorate buildings, with other workers joining the walkouts. Nonetheless, in doing this PCS has put staff in a very difficult position.

From a personal perspective, principles mean that I would never cross any picket line, no matter whose it was. But obviously that sense of class solidarity doesn't exist everywhere, and the threat of the anti-union laws on top of this mean a lot of people will still be going in. At a time when we should be generalising disputes and encouraging greater solidarity, PCS has effectively narrowed this action as far as possible and encouraged a number of its members to cross its own picket lines. Though far from atypical behaviour, this is still utterly appalling.

It will be the task of those more militant workers outside of the strike to agitate for unofficial action in support where possible. But it will also be the task of all workers to return the solidarity of those who stay out despite the law. Any conduct charges brought against workers for supporting strikes should be met not only with representations to challenge them, but picketing and direct action against those offices where charges are brought.

Returning to the privatisation issue, it really can't be overstated how important this is. Not only does this undercut contact centre workers, driving down wages, but it puts jobs at risk. At a time when massive cuts are throwing government workers on the dole, low paid private sector staff will be taking the work that they could have done to avoid redundancy. Meanwhile, any hope that newly employed temporary staff have of retaining their jobs in the long term is lost if privatisation isn't defeated.

But this is not just about workers in HM Revenue & Customs. The CBI has been remarkably candid in admitting that the recent attacks on public sector pensions were a vital first step in opening up public services to private contractors - and success in privatising tax jobs will show give them confidence that the unions can be defeated when they privatise vital services wholesale.

An attack on one group of workers is an attack on all of us. We need to show solidarity with striking workers at HMRC on 31 January, and make a stand against the bosses' assault on the services we all depend on.

We should also support initiatives by militant workers to go beyond the limitations of PCS and take control of their own struggle - a key example of which being the call out for a national week of action against privatisation on 13-19 February. Voted for by a strike assembly in Bootle, this initiative demonstrates that workers can fight back without waiting for instruction from above.

Details of HMRC picket lines in Liverpool and Bootle can be found here.

Friday, 20 January 2012

An update from the Merseyside Police attack on anti-cuts protesters

Since I reported the police attack on a demonstration outside Liverpool Town Hall, all of those arrested have been released. However, it seems that the incarceration was not without incident either. The task now is to take action, and let the police know that their behaviour will not pass without opposition.

All but one two of those arrested was given a fine for breaching section 5 of the Public Order Act (or, in essence, swearing). I'm told that they are refusing to pay and will be going to court to contest the charge instead. Whether it succeeds or not, this is good because it is vital that this kind of action doesn't go unchallenged. With luck, their days in court will see solidarity demonstrations and an opportunity to raise awareness with the public about the true nature of the police.

Of the two not originally charged with public order offences, one eventually left with a fine as well, but it is telling that he was originally arrested with assaulting an officer. Reaching the station, the police essentially freed and immediately re-arrested him, with a charge of breaching section 5. Clearly, the cops were quick to realise that whatever story they had concocted wouldn't stick. At this point, the other arrestee is still being charged with assault, though obviously it is hoped that this charge will also be dropped when all the facts come to light.

One horror story of the night was the response to one woman who refused for six hours to give her name. The police responded by stripping her of her clothes and leaving her with just a blanket, claiming that she was a suicide risk. To say that this is fucked up is an understatement to say the least, and may even be tantamount to sexual abuse by the state. (This PDF provided by a comrade makes interesting reading on the matter.)

Occupy Liverpool, whose members were the majority amongst those attacked, held a meeting today to discuss how to respond to the attacks. Despite some worryingly liberal and hippy-pacifist attitudes from supporters online, those who were there appear to have had their eyes opened. They are seeking legal advice and will likely be taking action against the police in response. As well as those arrested contending their charges, as already mentioned.

Tellingly, in a follow-up report in the Liverpool Echo (whose original report was utter watered down shite at best), Joe Anderson's only response to this is to worry about being insulted;
Everybody inside the chamber could hear what they were shouting – they were calling me a fat bastard and a lot of the councillors were worried about what might happen when they stepped outside.

I have no problem at all with people demonstrating, but I don’t want to have to hear this kind of insult.
Well, fucking diddums. As one of the people who called him a fat bastard - and, as he forgets, pointed out that he lied about being assaulted - I can safely say I don't feel bad in the slightest. Innocent protesters, most of them young, were assaulted and a woman was stripped in the cells. Next to that, the fat waster can shove his hurt feelings up his arse.

As Mark Hoskisson of Liverpool Trades Council noted;
People were being arrested and mistreated simply for being on the demo. Like Anderson, the police want to shut us up and scare us away.

This was an attack designed to try and brand the anti-cuts movement as violent troublemakers. They have no answer to our arguments against the cuts, so they are now trying to silence us by physically attacking our protests.
There can be no doubting that what happened on Wednesday was an attack on demonstrators by the police. In Liverpool, this marks a significant up-shift in the antagonism between the two groups, and one that will need to be guarded against in the future.

In the meantime, those who suffered at police hands deserve our full support. Whether that is in the form of turning up when they face the courts, demonstrating against police brutality or supporting legal action against the force, we should help in any way that we can. When, in defence of capital, the full force of the state is waged against us, solidarity is our greatest weapon.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Merseyside police attack demonstration at Town Hall

Today, as Liverpool City Council met in the Town Hall to implement the city's budget cuts, a small number of protesters gathered outside in opposition. It started as a decidedly muted and tame event. But it would not end that way, thanks to the violent intervention of Merseyside Police.

Police force a protester to the ground, photograph by Michael Kirkham
When I arrived, the police had blocked off the road at the side of the Town Hall, by the entrance that councillors and members of the public (who needed a ticket and ID) would be entering. Steel barricades were erected around the doorway. A small number of police and City Watch, supplemented by two officers on horseback, lined the road whilst demonstrators mostly just milled about aimlessly and almost silently.

There were a very small number of Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party paper sellers hanging about, as well as several comrades I recognised from a number of events. The Socialist Labour Party had their banner out as well. However, overwhelmingly, those present were from Occupy Liverpool and the majority of them were also young, late teens to early twenties, with a few who were older. Of the Trades Council, who called the demonstration, and other unions there was no sign, whilst the Socialist Party also disappeared after about an hour.

Soon enough, with a megaphone to hand, the demo warmed up somewhat. There was chanting, a bit of piss-taking about how the City Watch would be "doing an impression of real police," and lots of jibes at Joe Anderson. After a while, we move towards the windows where the meeting was taking place and chanted and heckled at those inside. The police intervened a number of times to ask people to stop climbing the railings, but were quickly enough told where to go.

After a while, a few of us took note of a van load of police reinforcements who arrived to join a flank around the small demonstration. Mindful of being kettled in a side-street, I announced over the megaphone that we were "going for a stroll," and we marched around the front of the building. This coincided happily with the lights stopping traffic, and so we proceeded into the road in order to block the traffic.

This brought the police hurrying towards us, with the two horseback officers trying unsuccesfully to drive us back whilst those on foot forced enough of a gap to let a bus and a cab through. After a short while, though, they appeared to give up and withdrew to form a line across the road.

The horses stuck around, though, and there was an incident where one of the animals bumped into a comrade who was facing the other way. The copper on its back then accused him of hitting the horse with his flag and she moved to grab it and/or him. In response, the megaphone siren went on, startling the horse and allowing him to stay out of her reach. She later warned me that my flag would have out her horse's eye and, even when I shifted it so that wasn't the case, threatened to take it off me. When challenged as to why, all she could do was scowl.

At this point, a couple of the younger Occupy members decided to sit down, and one of them began rolling a cigarette. They were quickly advised to stand up again, and when they did the police line charged. The police dived at one young lad, prompting an attempt to de-arrest him. This unfortunately wasn't succesful due to lacking numbers, and more police screamed in, hitting people and pinning the lad to the ground under their collective weight.

What followed was chaotic, to say the least. But the result was that around seven people were arrested, whilst one comrade came out of it with a bloody nose. The police refused to say what the charges were or even where those arrested would be taken, justifying this only with "I don't have to answer to you." My querying whether the officer who punched someone in the face would also be arrested (asked with no illusions of such happening) was met with "that's none of my business." The demo had now devolved into an uneasy stand off, with police on one side and a gang of pissed off protesters on the other.

Some of the younger ones present decided that this was the best time to consider what to chant at the police, whilst I decided to inform the public of what had just happened in an obviously angry rant over the megaphone. The police didn't bat an eyelid as I described them charging peaceful protesters andpunching someone in the face.

Ultimately, we reached the conclusion that numbers had dwindled too much to maintain the stand off indefinitely, and that the result would be a bloodbath. People were urged to leave as one group, to avoid further arrests or attacks. We marched, via Liverpool ONE, to the Occupy building, with the police in tow. As we moved, those in hi viz coats shrunk to the back, whilst those all in black, with tasers prominent on their belts took the lead.

There was also one surreal moment where a female comrade, travelling on a bike with her child strapped to the seat behind her, was confronted by three police. This was apparently just to tell her not to cycle on the pavement, but it was a clear intimidatory tactic and the protesters surrounded the police until she was allowed to move on.

After leaving the Occupy building, the police eventually gave up following when it became apparent that we were simply getting people home. This allowed everyone to disperse in groups to buses, trains and cars.

The questions raised by this incident are serious ones. It is clear that the police were in the mood for violence, perhaps after they failed to evict Occupy just over a week ago. However, following on from the attack by private security on UK Uncut, this is the second use of violence against protesters in Liverpool this month alone. And as a result of diminished numbers, no serious defence against it was possible, essentially resulting in those arrested being left to fend for themselves.

I've previously posited that this suggests a serious need for militant stewarding, and though the details of such have yet to be worked out I stand by that assertion. With luck, this will also offer a harsh lesson in the role played by the police in society, and of the need to work back from the assumption that they are all violent goons out to cause you harm.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Call for a national week of action against privatisation

The following statement has been issued by PCS Bootle Taxes Branch after members voted to support it during walkouts against privatisation that took place today. Please share it amongst your contacts and urge your union or organisation to support the initiative.

PCS Bootle Taxes Members during a previous walk-out in June
HM Revenue & Customs are engaging in a 12 month pilot with two private contractors, Sitel and Teleperformance, to handle calls alongside existing staff at contact centres in Bathgate and Lilyhall. The department claims that this is merely to look at ways they can address call backlogs during peak times. However, this is a transparent attack on the jobs, terms and conditions of PCS members.

PCS has been arguing consistently for long-term investment in HMRC. With a £120bn tax gap that would erase the alleged need for public sector cuts, and significant backlogs and delays in call handling, cutting jobs and outsourcing work to private providers simply does not make sense. By preserving existing jobs and recruiting more staff to address the shortfalls in the department, HMRC can help ease unemployment and provide a better service to beleaguered taxpayers.

In order to fight for this alternative – and against the government’s drive to cut jobs and privatise the public sector – PCS members in HMRC have been taking strike action. This has so far taken the form of short walkouts, which have been succesful in causing significant disruption to HMRC with minimal cost to staff.

However, PCS Bootle Taxes Branch believes that the campaign needs to be escalated and the fight against privatisation broadened for the maximum possible impact. To that end, we are calling for a national week of action against privatisation on 13-19 February.

We call on other PCS branches, including those outside of HMRC, other trade unions, anti-cuts groups and all who oppose the privatisation of the public sector to take the following action:

  • Organise pickets outside any Sitel or Teleperformance sites in your area;
  • Hold lunchtime demonstrations against privatisation at HMRC offices in your area, in support of staff fighting privatisation;
  • Contact Sitel and Teleperformance by telephone, email, fax and post to complain of their involvement in HMRC’s privatisation trials;
  • Contact HMRC by telephone, email and post to let them know of your opposition to privatisation.

We further call on the PCS Revenue & Customs Group Executive Committee to support the national week of action, to publicise it on the PCS website and to supplement it by calling further industrial action through the week.

The fight against privatisation is a fight that affects all of us. We urge everyone to show their solidarity with workers in HMRC during this fight and to take part in the national week of action in February.

PCS Bootle Taxes Branch

Contact HM Revenue & Customs

Locations: Find your nearest HMRC Office through this contact list of PCS Branch Secretaries –

By email: Chairman Mike Clasper –
Personal Tax Director General Stephen Banyard -

By phone: 0845 300 0627

By post: HM Revenue & Customs
Pay As You Earn
PO Box 1970
L75 1WX

Contact Sitel

Watford (Head Office)
Building 600 Leavesden Park
Hercules Way
WD25 7GS
Tel: 01392 889 200
Fax: 0192 324 2555

3 Manor Court
Dix’s Field
Tel: 01392 889 200

Kingston upon Thames
Mitre House
Canbury Park Road
Hampton Wick
Kingston Upon Thames
Tel: 020 8784 1000
Fax: 01795 438953

Newcastle upon Tyne
Sitel House
Balliol Business Park
Benton Lane
Newcastle Upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear
NE12 8EW
Tel: 0191 3502000

Stratford upon Avon
Sitel House
Timothys Bridge Road
Stratford Enterprise Park
Stratford upon Avon
CV37 9HY
Tel : 01789 299622
Fax : 01789 292341

Phone: 01923 689 600 | 0800 444 221

Email: |

Contact Teleperformance

Bristol (Head Office)
St James House, Moon Street
Bristol BS2 8QY
Tel: 0117 916 8000
Fax: 0117 914 0000

Clandeboye Business Park
West Circular Road
Bangor, County Down BT19 1AR
Tel: 02891 474 500
Fax: 02891 474 505

Teleperformance House
1 Duchess Place, Hagley Road
Birmingham B16 8NH
Tel: 0121 410 5000
Fax: 0121 410 5001

Coalfield Way, Ashby Park
Leicestershire LE65 1JF
Tel: 01530 419 500
Fax: 01530 419 501

The Quays
County Down BT35 8QS
Tel: 02830 831 250
Fax: 02830 831 299

Keel Row
1 The Watermark
NE11 9SZ
Tel: 0191 493 5000

Electronic complaints:

Sunday, 15 January 2012

The work programme privacy invasion

On Wednesday, I attended a meeting to thrash out the details for Liverpool Solidarity Federation's strategy to organise against workfare. With luck, this will get off the ground within a month or so, with the emergence of the first local Unemployed Workers Union in the city. In the meantime, the programme rolls on - with the injustices going beyond the core question of unpaid labour.

The following is the personal data given to the provider at the point the customer is referred to the Work Programme –

The customer’s Title (Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms or Other)
The customer’s Forename
The customer’s Surname
The customer’s NINo/Reference number
If held the customer’s Address (up to 4 lines) and Postcode
The customer’s STD code, Telephone Number and Alternate Telephone Number and STD code
The customer’s Disabled Person status (Disabled/Not Disabled)
The customer’s Signing Day, claim Cycle, and claim Pattern
The Referral Date
An indication (yes/no) of whether an Incident has been recorded relating to the customer on JCP premises
An indication of a customer’s Childcare Requirements (Yes/No/Not Known/Not Disclosed)
If the customer has expressed a preference for Written and/or Verbal communication in Welsh
An indication if the referral to the Provider is Mandatory/Non Mandatory

The following items from the customer’s Action Plan:

Aims (free text);
Job Preferences (1 to 3);
Preferred Hours of work;
Employment History (free text);
Last Job 1;
Last Job 1 Start and End Dates;
Last Job 2;
Last Job 2 Start and End dates;
Driving Licence(s) held;
License Endorsements; and
Additional Info relating to Action Plan (free text).

The following items from the customer’s Jobseekers Agreement (JSAg)

Other Activities (free text); and
Agreed Restrictions (free text).

The following information about the customer’s recorded Qualifications:

Subject of Qualification;
Level (e.g. GCSE etc);
Outcome achieved;
Date Started;
Date Completed; and
Whether the Qualification relates to a Basic Skills Assessment.

During the currency of a customer’s time with the Work Programme provider their
circumstance may change. The provider will be notified of the following changes –

Telephone number
Status, for example joint claim identified, lone parent, changes to partner details.
Signing day / cycle
Appointee / Power of Attorney
JSA Permitted Period
Available hours, for example attendance at court
Caring responsibilities
Sickness / accident – Only the details of when the claimant may be unavailable to attend
interactions face to face or training courses etc
Admission to hospital – Only the details of when the claimant may be unavailable to attend
interactions face to face or training courses etc
Part time working (starting /ending or change of hours)
Part time education
Voluntary work, for example Territorial Army, Reserve Forces
Employment Support Allowance / Incapacity Benefit Permitted Work
Incidents – unacceptable customer behaviour
Employment Support Allowance, Work Capability Assessment appeal received form the
customer or outcome of appeal received
Customer moves to live abroad, whether payment of benefit continues or ends
Benefit claim terminated
New claim to Jobseekers Allowance or Income Support
New Work Capability Assessment outcome known
Customer is at or over the age at which they are eligible for Pension Credit
Employment Support Allowance, Work Related Activity Group lone parent whose youngest
child reaches 5 and starts school
Employment Support Allowance, Work Related Activity Group lone parent is now responsible
for a child under 5
Becomes or ceases to be Employment Support Allowance credits only
Employment Support Allowance safeguard measures (vulnerable customers) identified
Special Customer Record Case
Transfer to another Jobcentre Plus District
The extent of the disclosure is only known due to a Freedom of Information request, whereas the "customer" (whose custom is guaranteed through menaces) is only told "we have passed your contact details on" to the provider. Clearly, this is much more than contact details and offers a glimpse at the level of control being exerted over claimants.

Fortunately, there is a way out. Claimants are advised to never sign the consent form, as this essentially waives your rights under the data protection act. There is also a standard letter to withdraw your consent if it has already been given, and as there is no legal requirement to provide any of the above information no action can be taken against you. Unfortunately, most claimants will be blissfully unaware of all of this, and so the information along with tips on enacting your rights are all helpfully compiled here.

As noted above, this is just one front in the attack that workfare as a whole represents. Through collecting and retaining such information, the DWP can monitor and control you effectively, and most people will be too afraid of losing their only means of support to speak up. But beyond that, the programme itself remains something that must be organised against.

The Boycott Workfare website helpfully lists the companies gaining from workfare in various areas. This list (.xls download) contains all public, private and voluntary sector organisations involved.

All of these providers, including charities such as Barnados and the PDSA, are benefiting from the exploitation of the unemployed. In essence, they get free labour which allows them to boost their own profits on the taxpayer's dime, at the same time undercutting the security of those actually employed in such roles and diluting the job market for those whom workfare is supposed to provide with opportunities. In essence, it is a way of funneling tax money into private profit.

For those who actually do the jobs, it is even worse. Sure, all employment is exploitation, and those of us who've worked in retail (as one example) will know how demeaning and dehumanising the whole experience is. But we at least get an actual wage out of the experience. A shit wage, to be sure, but one that far out-weighs £67.50 (or £53.45 if you're under 25) a week in JSA.

This is why organising against workfare is all important. As Liverpool Solfed's campaign builds momentum, hopefully we will be able to see the results. One of the easiest, but most important, things to do is to make claimants aware of their rights - as with the specific issue of privacy and data protection described above, this is the most vital aspect of any campaign. It is claimants themselves who should be at the heart of any actions and demonstrations that emerge, and we will be striving to see that this is what transpires.

But those already in employment are also affected, and their solidarity is also important. This goes for workers in the Department of Work and Pensions, who are best placed to offer practical support through their jobs to those facing the work programme. But it also applies to those who work for providers, who can form a direct link with any campaign of protest and disruption against those companies which use workfare.

The House of Lords may have defeated the Welfare Reform Bill, but the attacks on claimants will continue. Only through solidarity and working class self-organisation can we defeat workfare and related initiatives. To end the exploitation of the unemployed, we must make it unprofitable through direct action.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Sacked shop workers occupy La Senza

Update: the occupation has now ended in a victory for the workers, who have been paid all monies owed.

Workers at lingerie retailer La Senza in Dublin have been occupying their workplace since Monday. The 25 members of staff taking part took over the store after losing their jobs, as the company has refused to pay out any redundancy pay. Importantly, they are refusing to leave the store until all 100 redundant staff receive every penny that they are owed.

La Senza applied for administration just before Christmas, citing "trading conditions" and "the overall macroeconomic environment." As a result, 1,300 jobs are set to go in the UK. For the Irish workers already sacked, this means that the fruits of their labour over the past month are also being robbed from them. A report from the Irish Socialist Workers Party explains that "within the [Irish] laws of liquidation the workers are considered to be creditors and wages owed are bottom of the list" to be paid back. As such, the most viable option seems to be applying for statutory redundancy pay.

However, whilst the law offers scant protection and the Mandate trade union gives the matter a single sentence on its website, the workers aren't giving in that easily.

As former supervisor Tara Keane put it;
We’re not going down without a fight. We've been told that La Senza will not be giving us a cent. We’ve worked hard for the company, especially over Christmas, even with the threat hanging over us. Some of us have worked for the company for a long time. We don’t want a lot. We’ll be here as long as we can be here.
This willingness to take direct action by low paid shop workers reflects a growing awareness that it is those at the bottom who will bear the brunt of the bosses' economic failings. We are, after all, just another cost and in times of difficulty we can be dropped as such. Thus, the only recourse that workers have is to organise and defend our own interests.

It is important, too, to note that this won't happen through the channels of trade union officialdom. The retail workers' union Mandate may be "discuss[ing] issues of concern to our members," but there is no indication that it is doing much else. By contrast the workers, taking matters into their own hands by way of a sit-in, have forced the issue into the limelight and put up a real struggle against what's going on. As one worker told the Irish Times, "we have to stand up for ourselves because it doesn’t look like the Government is going to."

This offers a powerful example to other low-paid retail workers - who are disproportionately women - about the need to self-organise. It's not just the government who won't stand up for us, but the trade union leadership too. Workers can only win real victories and concessions when we stop looking to others to save us and take direct action.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Questions raised by private security attacks on UK Uncut

I've already shared this video with friends on Twitter and Facebook. However, I'm posting it here because the events relayed within raise serious questions. In particular, in my mind it begs the question of stewarding at this kind of action.

There are plenty of legitimate criticisms of stewarding at demonstrations generally. With good reason, I might add, since on a march or at a demonstration the role of the guy in the hi viz jacket has long been to collaborate with the police and keep protesters to a designated route. In some instances, this role of policing the demo has even gone so far as handing people over for arrest. It is a collaborator's role and thus one typically shunned by demonstrations not organised by trade union or left leaders.

However there is another, far more positive, role that stewards can potentially play. In this instance I'm thinking of the kind of militant stewarding groups that Anti Fascist Action used to operate - their role being not to police demonstrators but protect them, whether that be from fascists or from the equally thuggish bastards that populate police units and private security firms.

The video above shows events that took place at the end of Saturday's UK Uncut action in Liverpool City Centre. This was after I and others had left, so unfortunately I don't have a first hand account to offer. However, what I have heard from a comrade is pretty damning. He and others who tried to intervene were told by one goon in uniform that he would "bite your fucking face of next time I see you," as well as being assured that bouncers "run this town." These people clearly think of themselves as a cut above, and so of kicking the shit out of students and kids during a protest as sport.

As more and more people are drawn into such actions, an increasing degree of political inexperience leaves people vulnerable. The choice for those of us who support more radical and direct action then becomes one of shouting indignation from the sidelines, or taking action.

For me, the latter course of action is the only one that can be justified. These people are nothing but jacked up bully boys, thinking they're hard because they can punch a teenager or a pregnant woman. With the possibility of their being violent stand alongside the long time threat of attacks by the far-right and police brutality, the case for stewarding groups and the physical defence of radical protest and direct action has never been more forceful.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Demonstration in support of sacked Liverpool Mutual Homes workers

At the end of August, I wrote about how a group of workers had been sacked by Liverpool Mutual Homes (LMH) as a result of their age. They have been protesting at their workplace and at LMH offices in town near constantly since then. Alongside them, 200 of their colleagues are facing the sack.

It was last June that the council saved 273 jobs by bringing the company back "in-house." However, with the council now in full gear implementing multi-million pound cuts, it appears that this was only a temporary reprieve. LMH claim that there is not enough work and are therefore making redundancies. The union reject this on the basis, as elsewhere in the public sector, that the workforce is already understaffed. They also have evidence that LMH are addressing this issue, whilst still getting rid of staff, through the use of subcontractors.

The workers have commenced a ballot for industrial action and are hoping for a positive result. This will allow them to go beyond the protests that have gained considerable sympathy over the last few months and hit the bosses where it hurts - in the pocket. Once strike dates are announced, I'll be publicising those here as well in a similar call for support.

In the meantime, if you can get into Liverpool City Centre, come along. Show your solidarity with the 11 workers already sacked and the additional 200 facing redundancy - send a message to LMH that they do not stand alone.

Assemble 12pm, Friday 13th January, at Steble Fountain on William Brown Street.
Bring flags, placards and banners.
RSVP on the Facebook event page, here.

Running around Liverpool with UK Uncut

Yesterday, I headed into Liverpool City Centre to take part in a UK Uncut day of action. It turned out to be one of the most successful recent actions by the group. Working Class Self Organisation's write up of the afternoon is here, and what follows is my take.

The assembly point for the action was the Liverpool Social Centre, in the basement of News From Nowhere. Having already been in town on other business, I arrived early and was there when Anna - the organiser of the event and a fellow member of Liverpool Solidarity Federation - arrived, camera crew in tow. It turns out that she was the subject of a documentary by Al Gore's Current TV channel, and thus the day's action was to be filmed.

This created a weird dynamic in the Social Centre, to say the least. The camera crew set about filming the smallest details of their surroundings whilst the presenter Andrew Mueller asked about the significance of the Centre to radical movements. Even I was weirded out by the way one of the cameras was following Anna around - even when she was literally doing nothing.

Once more people started to arrive, most from Occupy Liverpool, there was an incredibly staged unveiling of the banner that had been created for the occasion. Mueller interviewed one member of the Occupy camp about how their organisation worked and his role as a figurehead since he was more visible than many others during actions. He then interviewed me and I offered an anarcho-syndicalist perspective on UK Uncut, from how its actions were far more radical than its politics to the need to cause economic disruption in order to force any change of direction from the government on austerity.

With a few initial interviews done, the target of the day's action was announced as HSBC and the group left the Social Centre on mass. Moving down Bold Street, it soon became apparent that the police were expecting something to happen, though they clearly didn't know where had been targetted yet. For them, it would clearly be a case of reacting to the situation as it happened.

Three people got into HSBC and announced themselves before the doors were closed, leaving the rest of us to picket outside. The banner and cardboard signs were unveiled, and a gathering crowd were informed that the aim of the protest was to highlight the tax dodging by banks and corporations and how this money could prevent public sector cuts. A few people moved around, engaging with the public or taking pictures, whilst others milled about, holding up signs and talking amongst themselves.

During the time we were there, a number of security guards gathered and looked on. They kept their distance, but some were clearly itching for a fight, and it had been established from previous UK Uncut actions that they would seize any opportunity for a melee with the demonstrators. Their interest in confrontation was confirmed by the sight of two men, who turned out to be guards from Vodaphone in Liverpool One, observing the picket from a shop on the opposite side of the street almost for the entire time it was there.

At three o'clock, with HSBC shut down for the day, the protesters moved off. An instruction had already been passed around discretely, and the group charged back down the street and into Topshop. Not long after this, the doors were closed and shoppers ushered out. This occupation lasted about twenty minutes, with any shoppers wanting to make purchases being taken through the tills and leaving by the fire exit. Outside the shop, a considerable crowd had gathered, and once more another group of security were milling not too far away. Some Uncutters remained on the outside, explaining to passers by and the gathering throng - many of them kids excited by the hubbub and disruption - what it was all about.

Eventually, the occupiers all left in a procession via the front doors, to cheering and applause. They then moved into the middle of Church Street, to rally people together. Across the road, Vodaphone had already shut down in anticipation and Burtons had its shutters half way down. This was followed by a spontaneous march down Church Street and through the Liverpool One shopping centre, where both the other Vodaphone branch and Natwest closed in anticipation of protest.

It was not long after this that I had to leave because of a prior engagement, although I understand that Tescos and Starbucks were among other stores targeted. My suspicions about the security were also confirmed by news that one was arrested for assault, along with a member of Occupy Liverpool on the same charge. This suggests a potential need for stewarding on demonstrations such as these - not stewarding in the sense of wearing a hi-viz jacket and acting as lackeys for the police to keep people in line, but in the sense of being there specifically to provide security for the demonstration against police, security or fascist violence as the case may be.

Nonetheless, the day was ultimately a successful one. Such actions cannot be measured individually in terms of the impact they have on the broader issue, but it is pretty much a guarantee that they have greater effect if they impact upon trading than if they are reduced to a passive protest - as the last demo at Topshop was. Yesterday, at least six businesses closed as a result of this action, an undoubted win.

Friday, 6 January 2012

The Stephen Lawrence verdict

On Tuesday, Gary Dobson and David Norris were found guilty of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. For Lawrence's parents, this was the vindication of an 18-year hunt for justice, perhaps some closure over the death of their son. For others, it has proved another occasion to promote their own agendas and to re-awaken old vendettas.

The most significant fallout from the Stephen Lawrence murder is that - via the MacPherson Report - it exposed the institutional racism of the Metropolitan Police. The recommendations that came with this revelation can be seen as one of the main drivers of an institutional focus on diversity and race relations, and thus the "political correctness" that would become the bug bear of both the conservative and far right. The Lawrence verdict, particularly as a counterpoint to other events, has become an excuse to wheel out the same arguments.

For example, one article doing the rounds - re-blogged by BNP supporter Centurean2 and ex-BNP, now British Freedom Party supporter Lee Barnes - is this one over at the Libertarian Alliance. In it, Robert Henderson "contrast[s] the elite response to [Richard Everitt's] death and that of Stephen Lawrence." He notes that whilst Everitt's murder was also racially motivated, "there has been no public inquiry into Richard’s murder," "there has been no concerted media campaign stretching over nearly two decades" and "pressure was put on Richard’s parents at the time to go along with the usual Maoist pc line that they were not racist and so on." This proves that "in really important matters such as the administration of justice [political correctness] was already solidly entrenched two decades ago."

However, presuming that use of the phrase "Maoist pc line" hadn't already set alarm bells ringing, there are glaring holes in this narrative. For one, as Henderson himself points out, "the gang were arrested the same night for a separate incident" which saw Richard's blood found on them. "After nine months the police had arrested 11 people in connection with the murder," and two people were jailed in connection with the crime in 1997 - three years after the murder.

It is true that the entire gang involved did not face trial, let alone sentencing, and that there appear to be serious problems with the way in which this issue was dealt. But, in trying to prove that somehow Lawrence's murder was taken more seriously, Henderson is on to a loser. Let's not forget that the Lawrence murder took eighteen years to see any kind of resolution, and that the killing wasn't the result of a mass campaign and parliamentary inquiry on the basis of being a racist murder - it was so because of a mishandled police investigation, rooted in the Met's institutional racism.

Casuals United take issue with the fact that the Attorney General considers the sentencing in the Lawrence case "unduly lenient." Trotting out cases of white people being killed where they consider the sentence lenient, they thus conclude "our legal sytem is dominated by political correctness and is not there for white people, except to persecute them." Thus, the fact that bad things also happen to white people with shitty redress (and that Stephen Lawrence's parents were able to build a campaign with considerable momentum and support) becomes proof that non-white people are somehow privileged and political correctness has run rampant. Though, if you want to see what that argument boils down to with all sophistry removed, I'd suggest a quick glimpse of this Facebook thread.

As an example of how far this ridiculous, desperate scramble to salvage white victimhood goes is in the response to what Diane Abbott said on Twitter. In fact, the only mention on the BNP website of the Stephen Lawrence verdict is the briefest of references when bemoaning Abbott's turn as an "anti-British bigot." Which is, of course, an utterly ridiculous comment coming from someone with as long and proud a history of bigotry as Griffin has.

What Abbott said was "White people love playing 'divide & rule' We should not play their game." This, as Adam Ford points out, was not offered as a reference to the tactics of colonialism - tactics that remain in force today. The ruling class have long played off one section of the working class against another in order to avoid being challenged themselves, and racism is just one example of this. It is true that "by couching her Tweet in purely ethnic terms, Abbott has laid herself open to easy and convenient accusations of racism," but that doesn't mean that it was racist.

If anything, the context of her tweet actually leaves her open to criticism from the opposite direction. Namely, that she was incorrectly referencing the divide-and-rule tactic in order to silence a legitimate criticism of official, state multiculturalism by another black person. Journalist Bim Adewunmi had tweeted "I do wish everyone would stop saying 'the black community'," clarifying that "I hate the generally lazy thinking behind the use of the term. Same for 'black community leaders'."

This was a legitimate point, since the liberal habit of referring to imaginary, homogeneous "communities" has long been used for political capital, with "community leaders" having funding thrown at them in exchange for votes. Meanwhile, it serves only to emphasise ethnic separation (albeit from a "progressive" point of view) and over-write issues such as class. In defence of this practice, Abbott responded to Adewnmi's criticism by declaring "you are playing into a "divide and rule" agenda" and later, "ethnic communities that show more public solidarity & unity than black people do much better," with the hashtag #dontwashdirtylineninpublic - in other words, shut up and accept the official line.

Ultimately, Abbott was herself playing divide and rule - in its multicultural rather than colonial guise. But to suggest that it is racist, thus equating a reference to colonial tactics to suppress non-whites with the insinuation that all blacks are criminals or all Muslims terrorists, is a nonsense.

Returning to the Lawrence case itself, here too there are serious criticisms to be made about how it was handled. For example the cynical opportunism with which people attached themselves to the cause - not least the Daily Mail, who have claimed an enormous amount of credit yet started out with a considerably more hostile editorial line. Yet this is nothing new, nor exclusive to cases of racist murder. We might remember how Tony Blair used the murder of James Bulger to raise his profile, as David Cameron exploited the case of the "torture brothers", or tabloid hysteria over any number of high profile murders and disappearences. Cynical political maneuvering doesn't equal political correctness.

Also of concern is the change in the law which resulted in this conviction - the removal of "double jeopardy." In essence, where once people were protected from being tried for the same crime twice, they are now not. This is something with potentially far-reaching civil liberties implications, and a point that I can't claim to have an answer to. It could be said that this is the inevitable result of campaigning for the state to intervene on your behalf - especially given the government's form in this area.

This is not something that can be laid at the feet of the Stephen Lawrence campaign or of "political correctness." The lesson here is only that a racist murder doesn't change the interest of the state to consolidate its own power. Meanwhile, beyond the fury, opportunism and right-wing propaganda, the verdict may bring a sense of closure and justice to at least two people.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Call for an international week of action against Ryanair

The Ryanair Don't Care campaign, supported by Liverpool Solidarity Federation, is calling for an international week of action against exploitation and recruitment-scamming by Ryanair starting on March 12th 2012.

The Ryanair Don't Care Campaign was started by John Foley when his daughter was sacked as a flight attendant mid-flight and abandoned abroad, penniless. This would lead to the exposure of a cynical and highly exploitative recruitment scam by the airline.

Ryanair’s current policy of recruitment-for-termination is part of the massive exploitation of people who apply to work for the company. As it stands potential cabin crew have to pay a fee of 3000 Euro through an agency to undergo training for Ryanair. As many as 60 people are sacked at any one time after this initial training period, up to 200 people a month. Those who survive are put on a 12 month probationary period on a lower rate of pay than normal cabin crew and Ryanair pocket the difference, as much as £20m a year.

Liverpool Solidarity Federation have already put their full backing behind the campaign, and behind John, who has been arrested six times for his direct action activism against the airline. We are now calling on others to do the same in support of the campaign's call for an international week of action against Ryanair in March.

We call on other Solidarity Federation locals, the International Workers' Association, and all who support the struggle of workers against exploitative employers, to take the following action:

Support the call-out for an International Week of Action against Ryanair, on the 12-18 March
  • Hold pickets of airports where Ryanair put on flights, offices of Ryanair and agencies / recruitment fairs through which they hire staff
  • Picket the Cheltenham Festival, which Ryanair sponsors, and particularly the Ryanair Chase on Thursday 15 March
  • Phone, fax and email Ryanair to complain about exploitative recruitment practices
End recruitment scamming! End the exploitation of workers at Ryanair! Support the week of action against Ryanair!

To contact Ryanair and complain about their practices, below are the easiest ways to contact them. More are listed here.

Phone: +353 1 812 1212
Fax: +353 1 812 1676

Follow the Ryanair Don't Care Campaign online: Blog | Facebook | Twitter