Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Anti-fascist coordinating meeting, Sunday 4th March

An emergency appeal to all anti-fascists and anti-racists: we need to respond to the increasing threat of the far-right. Reposted from Liverpool Antifascists.

On Monday 6th February the British National Party (BNP) and English Defence League (EDL) along with other racists and fascists, were able to hold a confident, 100-strong demonstration , outside the hearing of a child sex abuse case at the Crown Court. The fascists were trying to capitalise on the case, as the accused were Asian men.

On Saturday 18th February some 250 far-right activists, bolstered by Loyalist and veterans’ organisations, were able to control parts of the town centre as they mobilised against a parade organised by Liverpool Irish Patriots. The combination of their numbers and the fairly relaxed attitude taken by Merseyside Police meant they were at liberty to harass and racially abuse the demonstration, other political activists in town, and black people who were simply out of a Saturday afternoon.

This increased confrontational street presence of the far right is extremely concerning. The British National Party seems to be abandoning its recent strategy of trying to gain electoral ‘respectability’ and is therefore becoming less hostile to its members getting publicly involved in street thuggery. The EDL seems to also be changing tactics. In addition to its set piece rallies and marches ‘against Islamic extremism’ some of its splinter groups have begun specifically targeting left-wing and labour movement meetings and stalls. The Unite regional office in Liverpool as well as the Occupy group in the city have already had hassle.

One of these splinter groups, the North West Infidels (NWI), have called a day of action on Saturday March 24th. It is possible that they will want to follow up their recent successes in this city and target Liverpool.

The response of our movement has left quite a lot to be desired. Much of this is understandable given many of us have been occupied with the enormous task of responding to the attacks this government is launching on health, education, welfare, pensions and the rest of it. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that the cuts and the uncertainty and misery created by them will create opportunities for racists and fascists, especially if there is not a serious fight against them.

We are therefore calling a meeting open to all anti-fascists and anti-racists, to discuss how to respond to the immediate question of March 24th and beyond.

Liverpool Antifascists coordinating meeting
Sunday 4th March, 1pm-3pm
Liverpool Guild of Students, 160 Mount Pleasant, L3 5TR

Friday, 24 February 2012

The Sparks kill off BESNA

In the last two days, all of the remaining employers trying to force the BESNA agreement on construction workers have pulled out. Though there is much more to be done in securing decent conditions for site workers, this marks an important victory. Particularly for the Sparks rank-and-file movement.

The Construction Enquirer reported on Wednesday that, following the decision last week of Balfour Beatty to withdraw, the remaining firms were left in the lurch. They were officially confirmed as having withdrawn the following day, whilst the Unite union has said it won't pursue further action and will engage in talks over where to go next.

The prospect of further talks is one that should raise concerns. Unite says that it is "ready to talk with sector employers at any time about how we work together to secure people’s livelihoods and the stability of the industry." To that end, it has agreed to "wide-ranging talks on modernising the industry." Given the union's previous willingness to enforce "modernisation" on members - from the lukewarm response to BESNA that inspired the Sparks to form, to the capitulation over strike action in December - rank-and-file workers should be watchful.

Because, we should be in no doubt, it was the mobilisation of the rank-and-file that won this dispute. Unite were forced to accept their existence after initially referring to them as cancerous, but this was more to avoid being outflanked from below than anything else. What was important was their continued ability to mobilise direct action across the country, most spectacularly when they made the strike that Unite called off go ahead unofficially.

More recently, the level of pressure being ramped up against the employers saw the courts accept Unite's ballot result for a one day strike despite legal challenge. No doubt the realisation that this would not stop industrial action happening, after last time, and that an official strike would be more controlled played a significant part in this decision.

This followed the Electrical Contractors Association annual dinner and dance, and the Sparks took direct action straight to the bosses. Being hounded and having the streets blocked by angry construction workers hammered home the level of opposition to BESNA.

If there is one lesson to learn from this, it is the power of rank-and-file mass mobilisation. Not to be "harnessed" by officialdom, not as a "bad cop" to their "good cop," but to seize control of our own struggles and take action where those who proclaim to lead us want to capitulate. Direct action gets the goods, and that lesson now has to go forward to every dispute that workers face - in Britain and worldwide.

Trouble in Rochdale

Rioting erupted in the Heywood area of Rochdale last night, as a number of Asian homes and businesses were attacked. This is believed to be connected to the ongoing grooming trial at Liverpool Crown Court, as various fascists have been boasting online about targeting the suspects and the North West Infidels claim to "have taken direct action against muslim gang rapist safe houses."

The details of the paedophile ring that have emerged in the trial are horrific, and do not make for comfortable reading. It is unsurprising that the far-right have been able to tap into a significant well of anger, because the abuse of children always - understandably - riles people up. Nor is this the first time that Britain has seen violence and rioting on the streets in connection to paedophilia. One high profile example being the Paulsgrove estate in Portsmouth following the murder of Sarah Payne.

The problem, then as now, is that rioting is by nature uncontrolled. Whenever people have taken to the streets against sex offenders, it is not just the guilty who had suffered. The two original suspects in the James Bulger case were hounded out of their homes even after Robert Thompson and John Venables were arrested. There has been at least one incidence were a paediatrician's home was vandalised after vigilantes confused her profession for a sex offence. And there are other examples of innocent people being hounded and attacked by mobs.

There is not only the potential for that kind of ting happening here, but also the possibility that it is being actively encouraged. The British National Party, English Defence League, and Infidels of Britain demonstrated outside Liverpool Crown Court on the premise that the important detail in the ongoing case was the ethnicity and suspected religion of those accused.

Those of us who witnessed the debacle on that day saw this, in the racist abuse hurled at people - including yelling that an Asian on the other side of the road was a "potential Muslim bomber" - and the speed with which those demonstrating resorted to lies. Steve Greenhalgh of the EDL-affiliated British Freedom Party took to telling people that the accused were friends of the anti-fascists outside. He even went so far as to admit "if the truth doesn't work, lie" to my face. The North West Infidels have on a couple of occasions made the ridiculous association between myself and the paedophile organisation NAMBLA, whilst my entry on Metapedia is an exercise in vicious bullshitting.

Clearly, these are not people engaged in a search for truth and justice. They are doing their best to whip up a frenzy of hatred against their racial and political enemies by exploiting emotive issues like child abuse. As such, whilst they claim that the takeaway they attacked was connected to the trial, it could as likely have no link whatsoever other than the ethnicity of the owner.

As I've said before, fascists are falling back on the old tactic of controlling the streets. As in the past, we are seeing a rise in racial and community violence alongside that, making the situation more urgent. This kind of trouble will not stop in Heywood.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Fascist threats against Occupy Liverpool come to nothing

Given the dreadful events of the weekend, it's worth noting that whilst the far-right have treated up my blog as an admission of defeat, it was actually a wake up call. Moreover, judging by what took place tonight, it's a wake up call that is being taken seriously.

Tonight, Occupy Liverpool had called a General Assembly at the Wellington Monument. The group have recently been evicted from their second indoor site - the old Rapid Paint Shop on Renshaw Street - and the assembly was called to discuss where they would go next. Word being that, with winter coming to an end, they are looking to return to an outdoor site.

However, the decision to hold the meeting at the site where they first set up camp prompted the local section of the North West Inifidels to make threats. They promised to be at the meeting, implying that there would be some kind of confrontation. However, lacking any kind of national mobilisation or support to bolster their numbers, the fash would be looking for Occupy to be an easy target simply to give them a bit of extra momentum following their success on Saturday.

We were determined that this wouldn't happen. As such, at short notice, Liverpool Antifascists decided that we would mobilise and provide security for the event. We put a call out among our members to see who could turn up so that there would be sufficient numbers to repel any threat at the column. At the same time, a number of people who had witnessed the violence by fascists first hand on Saturday got in touch. They were eager to get involved and start turning the tide against this new found confidence on the part of the fascists. So we set up a meeting point and decided to take the NWI up on their challenge.

A couple of lads had been sighted scouting the monument at about half five. Around seven of them were also seen following a member of Occupy Liverpool who they've taken a particular dislike. But when the General Assembly took place among 20 occupiers and under the watchful eye of about 30 anti-fascists, the far-right were nowhere to be seen.

The meeting lasted an hour, at the end of which I gave a brief talk explaining why it was important that people got involved in anti-fascism and the threat that the far right pose to the organised working class. Following which, everybody left in large groups and many of the anti-fascists retired to a nearby pub for a well deserved pint. All of which goes to show that, whilst the common perception of militant anti-fascism is one of violence, in some circumstances merely organising in numbers will for the fascists off the radar.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Fascists score a win on the streets of Liverpool

Yesterday, a mob of between 150-250 fascists ran free on the streets of Liverpool. As well as hounding a tiny demonstration against police brutality out of Derby Square, they were able to turn an Irish Republican march way from the City Centre. Yesterday was a definite win for the far-right and underlines the need for a serious re-evaluation of anti-fascist organisation.

I've said on numerous occasions before that we're seeing the return of the traditional fascist tactic of controlling the streets. The British National Party is in electoral decline, whilst the English Defence League's limited strategy of having people shout in a police kettle has disenchanted followers in much the same way as the left's penchant for A to B marches. However the splinter groups, in particular the Infidels, offer those up for it a more genuine chance to run amok whilst being free to be as violent and racist as they like due to the lack of electoral ambition as a moderating force.

The response to this, however, has been at best inadequate. In theory, the fact that we're facing the biggest crisis in a generation and that we're seeing an upsurge in workplace and community struggles should have the left in the ascendancy. Instead, it remains stagnant to the point of stubbornness, with the left sects doing their best to co-opt grassroots movements where the bureaucracy cannot extinguish it altogether. In the midst of which, the threat of fascism is almost forgotten.

Unite Against Fascism, the best known incarnation of anti-fascism, is not up to the task. It never has been, in truth, but over a decade of the fascists being confined to electoralism and moderation after retreating from Anti-Fascist Action had given them some cover. Now, with a renewed willingness from the fascists to take on the left and use physical force, it has become apparent just how hollow a strategy of waving placards inside police kettles, marching away from confrontation, and propping up mainstream politics as a foil for the far right really is.

This is underlined by the fact that UAF has never mobilised against the EDL splinter groups. When they opposed the EDL in Leicester, it was down to independent anti-fascists to mobilise against the Infidels in Rochdale, as it didn't even warrant a mention by UAF. On Saturday, with the Infidels and Combined Ex Forces mobilising to "smash the IRA," the lack of BNP and EDL meant that as far as mainstream anti-fascism is concerned the day might as well have not happened at all. Hope Not Hate, even more wet and mainstream as well as being tied to the security services, give threats to Occupy Liverpool a mention but find Tommy Robinson's Irish heritage more interesting than physical violence against Liverpool's Irish community.

So what of militant anti-fascism, then? It's still here, in the sense that there are still those around who believe in a class response to fascism and direct, physical opposition to their presence on the streets. But the plain fact is that the movement that once existed currently doesn't.

Antifa fell off the radar several years back. The Alliance for Workers' Liberty's Stop Racism and Fascism Network failed to really get off the ground. Manchester Anti Fascist Alliance folded not too long ago. Other groups, such as Liverpool Antifascists and Brighton Anti-Fascists still exist, but certainly in Liverpool the ability we had to punch above our weight due to very active comrades has recently been strained by the pull of other causes in the fight against cuts, privatisation and the wider class struggle.

I say this not with any air of fatalism, but simply because the only way to build up and overcome your weaknesses is to start from an honest appraisal of the situation. The anti-fascist movement is in a dire state at the moment, and there's a lot of work that needs doing. In terms of which, discussions are happening internally, and soon hopefully across the workers' movement as well. We're not about to jack it all in and admit defeat, any more than we would march away from the confrontation and declare a victory where there was none, UAF-style.

One definite mistake made yesterday was that there was no public anti-fascist call out, locally or nationally. Liverpool Antifascists did mobilise, but that we did so amongst ourselves but were severely limited in numbers due to no demo being announced. This meant that any response we were going to offer to fascists who had mobilised nationally was going to be inadequate.

The Infidels, Combined Ex Forces and Casuals United assembled at St George's Hall from 11am, with the intention of going on to Derby Square for a static demonstration. Their reason for being out - the Irish Republican Flute Band march in honour of an Irish republican fighter called Sean Phelan - was kicking off from Kirkdale at 12.30 and marching into the City Centre. Already, the fascists' choice of muster point at Derby Square has hampered their plans and the march now had no idea of its end point.

The wild card in this was a demonstration against police brutality, also set to take place at Derby Square from 12pm. This had been called in response to police attacks on an anti-cuts demo outside the town hall, and was set to largely be composed of young and inexperienced protesters, mainly with a background in the Occupy movement.

In the event, that demonstration's presence in Derby Square largely confined us there as well, since the anti-fascist mobilisation effectively tripled their numbers and nobody would have felt comfortable leaving about ten kids to fend for themselves against a mob of baying fascists.

That was exactly what we faced, from the offset. The crowds pouring past jeered and hissed at the demo, instantly deciding that it was "pro-IRA" and therefore a worthy target. A couple of local boneheads decided to jump in and act like hardmen against the younger ones in the crowd, whilst the broader gathering of fascists only grew in confidence at the sight of this small opposition.

The police, for their part, apparently decided that the fascists were the perfect weapon to use on those demonstrating against them. Two fascists were ushered over to "have a chat" with the other demo, the fascists were allowed to half-surround the anti-police protesters, and the use of cameras by the far right coincided perfectly with a Section 60 AA order for all protesters to remove masks and face coverings. When this was, naturally, objected to, several officers barged into the crowd and started ripping face coverings off whilst threatening arrest.

This, understandably, panicked those who had come to demonstrate against police brutality. Fearing a repeat of the town hall incident, they moved away from the square and down the street. As the rest of us took heed of what was happening and made a hasty attempt to keep people together, they turned it into an unofficial march. Chants of "we won't take police brutality" rang out and a banner was unfurled at the front.

All of this whilst fascists continued to flow past towards their demo, sneering and snarling as they did. The situation had now become unsalvageable, and it was all we could do to intervene when boneheads tried to lunge at demonstrators. Several were able to throw punches, with the police response being to simply move them along, if not ignore them entirely. At the same time, the chants and flag waving continued as if this was all just part of the plan.

Ultimately, we herded the march to News From Nowhere, and disassembled it in the social centre. It was infuriating to concede the streets to the fascists, and a decision that will only see them grow in confidence for future actions, but we were essentially left with no choice in the name of safety. As it was, several passers by were still assaulted by fascists in town, and during the incident that caused police to block the road and turn the Republican march back, several people were assaulted there as well. All in all, an ugly end to an ugly day.

The events yesterday were in turns grim and frustrating, as well as frightening for those new to this kind of activity. But they should also serve as a wake-up call to anybody who claims to oppose fascism. This is not an activity for armchair activists, nor something you can outsource to "specialists." A violent ideology is growing on the streets, and we can only stop it by mobilising as a class to physically oppose them.

To those who would look to someone else to do this, I ask two simple questions: if not now, when? If not us, who? Fighting fascism is a job for us all, and it's about time we got to it.

Bootle sees Britain's first lock out in 54 years

Union news reports that workers at Mayr-Meinhoff Packaging have become the first workers in Britain to be locked out by bosses since 1958. This follows three 24 hour strikes in nine days, over plans to make workers redundant. In response, the workers occupied the factory, and informed management that nothing would go in or out until the lock-out ended.

The occupation has currently been suspended pending talks, but there will be a demonstration at the factory tomorrow at 10am. I would strongly urge everybody who can make it to get down to this and show their solidarity with the affected workers.

If you can't make it down, you can always phone MMP on 0151 523 2222 or fax 0151 522 2747 to let them know that you support the workers and demand they end the lock-out.

lock-out is, essentially, the reverse of a strike. It is where an employer denies staff work and pay unless they submit to certain conditions. It is used quite frequently in industrial disputes across the world, though hasn't been in Britain for over half a century. If it starts being used by British bosses now, it will reflect the idea that the anti-strike laws are no longer enough to contain worker militancy.

This threat needs to be beaten down as fast as possible. With more cost-cutting and layoffs no doubt planned by companies in response to the economic climate, and an increase in industrial conflict over the cuts, privatisation and other issues, the use of the lock-out as a tactic sets a worrying precedent. It shows that, whilst this climate is sparking a renewed militancy in workers, it has the potential to do the same in the bosses. And it's easier for them to get away with.

That it was met with an occupation in Bootle is an extremely good sign, and a strong solidarity demonstration will only hammer home that message. But if the bosses continue to use this tactic, workers must continue to respond with such unofficial action - and perhaps even measures like lock-ins or "bossnapping". The message must always be that they will not get away with it!

Solidarity demonstration with locked-out MMP workers
MMP Packaging, Dunnings Bridge Road, Bootle, 10am Monday 20 February

Thursday, 16 February 2012

A national day of action against workfare - and beyond

An advert on the Jobcentre Plus website offers a permanent job on the night shift at Tesco. The going rate? JSA plus expenses. Thus has the reality of the government's work programme hit home. More and more people are waking up to what workfare really means for the worst off in society - now it's just a case of doing something about it.

Already, there are plenty of people who do good work on this issue. The Boycott Workfare campaign has scored a considerable victory by getting Sainsbury's to withdraw from the scheme, for example, and momentum is building. The pinnacle of this being the national day of action on Saturday 3rd March, with activists in Liverpool and London leading the way on taking direct action against companies that use workfare. If you are organising an event in your area, let Boycott Workfare know.

This needs to escalate into a full scale offensive against workfare across the country. Liverpool Solidarity Federation are taking forward our own campaign strategy, which has drawn interest and support from other quarters, and I've heard similar plans being mooted elsewhere. The basic lynchpin of the various ideas floating around being that workfare will stop when we make it unprofitable.

Part of this is the consumer boycott, and in response to the public revalation of the extent to which Tesco is involved in workfare their Facebook page has been flooded with people promising to never shop there again. But this has its limitations, not least in that precisely the reason shops like Tesco receive so much custom is that they offer cheap food and at a time of rising prices and stagnant/falling prices more people are inclined simply to go where costs the least. A boycott could never be total, and so something more direct and overt would be needed.

This is where direct action comes in. The national day of action on 3rd March will be about picketing stores involved, encouraging people not to use them or even shutting them down UK Uncut-style depending on what is possible. This will have the effect of both hitting profits and drawing huge publicity to the issue, potentially impacting profits further, in a way that a straight-forward boycott would not. Following from this, campaigns across the country have the potential to escalate and exacerbate this, by making the pressure constant and by spreading it out from the City Centres to the areas of cities where unemployment has hit people the hardest. Certainly, this is what we will look to do in Liverpool.

Workfare is undoubtedly one of the biggest attacks on the working class at present. It will hit the unemployed most obviously, forcing them into effective slave labour. Particularly precarious are those who have been chucked off Incapacity Benefit onto Job Seekers Allowance, the prospect of forced labour only adding to their stresses and the detrimental impact on their health.

But for workers, it will be almost as bad. Free labour paid for by the state is clearly more lucrative to employers than those they have to pay, give time off to, speak with the unions of and respect their duty of care for. Workers' pay and conditions will be drastically undercut because, if you don't take it, they can always get someone to do the job for free. Not to mention that, if you lose your job, the volume of those on the work programme means you're unlikely to get another one soon - putting you into workfare as well.

So, on 3rd March, take part in the national day of action against workfare. Join an action local to you, and if one isn't happening - organise it yourself! Then let's use this great strength of the libertarian workers movement - the decentralised, do-it-yourself nature of the action - to build a campaign of sustained direct action and make workfare bad for business.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Unions seek another set-piece strike

After rumours about March 1 and March 15, it now appears that the next big day in the pensions dispute will be March 28. The PCS union is holding a consultative ballot to seek its members approval for the date, following NUT's confirmation that its members support a rejectionist stance. Other unions including the FBU are set to follow suit.

This is certainly good news in the context of what followed the November 30 strike, with the leadership of UNISON and the TUC urging almost immediate compromise for no tangible gain. The prospect of a "sell out" highlighted the tensions within the coalition of striking unions and their different levels of expectations. For UNISON at one end, this was always just a "damage limitation exercise," with participation effectively forced by rank-and-file demand. For PCS at the other, such damage limitation had already been done several years back and this new change is nothing but an unnecessary extra imposition.

There is also a matter of inclusion. The current pension reforms have been brought up without the involvement of the union, and in the dispute the government has worked hard to isolate them. Thus, alongside an unwillingness to compromise twice there is a fight to restore the union's role in the management of workers' conditions.

Both the left and the establishment have, falsely, portrayed this dichotomy as one between "militants" and "moderates." This isn't the case, and to ignore the material reasons behind PCS and others sticking it out longer is dangerous. For a start, it brings us back to the illusion of "good" union leaders, removing the need to build up a genuinely militant rank-and-file that can take control of its own struggles. When that illusion takes hold, it becomes a lot harder to resist when the "good," "militant" leaders also inevitably sell out.

A similar suspicion should be taken for union leaders' and the left's support for "rank-and-file" action. Whilst they may use the same language as militant workers and libertarian communists, for them the role of the rank-and-file isn't to control its own struggles. Instead, they want to "harness" such militancy to bolster the leadership - the way one Unite bureaucrat defined it in a debate over the Sparks' struggle being as a "good cop, bad cop" relationship, wherein "the message to the employer is, deal with us and settle, or deal with them and face occupations, sabotage and wildcats."

However, whilst it is true that "the more militant the rank and file, the better the legal agreement the union can win," this idea ignores the long history of active collaboration by union leaderships to suppress rank-and-file movements. It is disingenuous at best to suggest that this - rather than discontent with how officialdom is operating - is why workers organise on the ground, or that they are content when it comes time to settle.

Returning to the prospect of March 28, we can see where this (unwitting) good cop/bad cop dichotomy gets us. For though there is a feeling and a pressure on the ground that there needs to be a fight over pensions, there isn't a conscious movement threatening to outflank people like Mark Serwotka from below. Thus he can continue to talk idly of escalated, selective and drawn out action, whilst delivering nothing more than periodic one-day strikes. The only response being a collective grumble at ground level.

Ahead of March 28, the task for militant workers remains the same as previously - to organise, build and make the argument for rank-and-file workers taking control of their own struggles. That task looks more difficult than ever as the roadshow of one-day set-pieces trundles on. But if we don't try, we know that whatever we get at the end of this dispute, it won't be a victory.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Opposing the fascists in Liverpool

Today, national mobilisations of the British National Party, the English Defence League and the Infidels descended on Liverpool. Ostensibly there to draw attention to the trial of a suspected paedophile gang, they were in fact exploiting the case to promote their respective brands of nationalism. Their presence was met with opposition by local anti-fascists.

When members of Liverpool Antifascists arrived at the Crown Court, there were already a number of union flags flying and groups of BNP members milling about. The former Liverpool Division of the EDL, now disaffiliated, was waving a white nationalist flag. We were the first anti-fascists on the scene and soon drew the attention of the fascists. But, bar some heckling, they largely kept their distance at that point - whilst our numbers were small, so were theirs.

A police liason officer quickly came over to inform us that the "designated area" for Unite Against Fascism to protest was beyond the Victoria Monument. "Closer to the court," as he sold it, but also entirely out of sight of the public whilst the fascists were free to peddle their propaganda. We declined, and set about handing out leaflets to passers-by.

In response, the fascists gathered together in a more orderly fashion - producing signs saying "fight grooming gangs" in mock Arab lettering, and a banner declaring "our children are not Halal meat." As numbers started to grow, the Liverpool Division lads also started being more confrontational, calling us "rotten cunts" and accusing us of being "paedophile supporters." We stood our ground, as at that point we had people leafleting on either side of the fascists, but the war of words only made the police more anxious to fully partition the two groups. Initially, we resisted this, but ultimately they got their way and two lines of police stood between the rival groups.

Unite Against Fascism had by now joined the anti-fascist demonstration and there were lots of crossed words between the two groups. However, the effect of multiple fascist groups mobilising nationally was that the fascists ultimately mustered around 150 people against around 40 anti-fascists from the local area. Given that it was a smaller-scale call-out, and that it was a week day, it was a good turnout. But in the context of that many extremely vocal fascists, it left something to be desired.

Throughout the day, the same argument came up again and again - "why are you supporting paedophiles?" Our answer, of course, is that we weren't and don't. Child abuse is a horrible crime, whoever commits it, and many of the anti-fascists demonstrating had children. We were there because we recognise that paedophiles come from all backgrounds and wanted to highlight that - far from being the defenders of children - the fascists were there only to exploit the issue and promote themselves. The most overt form of this being the BNP, whose logo was stamped across almost all of the material the far-right had to hand and whose signs declared that the answer to the problem of child abuse was to "join us."

Most of the general public recognised this, taking our leaflets and engaging in conversations with us about why we were there. Where they didn't, it was down to the presence of opponents screaming "these people support paedophiles," and at one point openly lying by saying that those up in court were our friends. But even that backfired as often as it put people off, with many seeing through the lies and taking our leaflets anyway.

On the other hand, most of the fascists couldn't see past their own blind rage, and in the face of this continued to scream and shout obscenities. As well as accusations of being paedophiles or paedophile supporters, there was also some disgusting racist, sexist and homophobic abuse thrown about. At one point, a woman in the fascist demo screamed "paki lovers" at anti-fascists, whilst later on some Asian lads walking past were met with shouts of "potential Muslim bombers." An Irish anti-fascist was accused of being an IRA supporter and told to "fuck off back to Ireland." One woman was faced with chants that she "takes it up the arse," and a male anti-fascist was asked if he "liked to bum men." Unperturbed, he responded "if it offends you, I do."

During the day, I did have some interesting conversations with EDL and British Freedom Party supporters. I came across three EDL who were staying on the other side of the road from the main demo because "I'm against paedophiles, but I don't want to stand with the BNP and that white power shite." We engaged them in fairly length conversation and, though I doubt that we'll "build bridges" - as one police liason officer over-optimistically suggested after eavesdropping - it did illuminate the contradictions that still exist in the EDL.

Likewise, a conversation with Peter Stafford - formerly of the BNP, now of the British Freedom Party - indicated how uneasy the day's alliance was. Stafford faced homophobic abuse after splitting from the BNP, and I pointed out that the BNP and others have a history of equating paedophilia with homosexuality in the same way they were today equating it with Muslims. He remarked that this was why he was staying across the road (though he later joined the main demo) and throughout the conversation seemed visibly uncomfortable with the scenario. His discomfort only increased when Hazel Hesketh of the BNP appeared and said hello to him, which can't have been too pleasant since she was still with those who had dismissed him and the rest of the splitters as "queers and trannies."

There was a flashpoint at the height of the fascist demo, when the majority of those present charged towards the court. They remained there for about twenty minutes, lobbing eggs at anti-fascists who tried to see what they were doing, before returning and having to be physically restrained by police to get back on their side of the grounds. Rumour is that they were able to attack the suspects in the case, though this has as yet not been substantiated.

As the hours wore on, the far-right's numerical superiority disappeared, and eventually they were down to about twenty people packing up. They did so slowly, but there could be little doubt that they were leaving. At which point UAF decided that all the anti-fascists should leave as one. Not a bad idea, in the abstract, though in practice it meant retreating from the courts even as a depleted far-right packed up and prepared to leave. This led to the absurd scene of being ferried towards the Town Hall by police, with local boneheads following us and heckling from across the road. Not a wise move, either tactically or in terms of publicity.

This fits in with a lot of UAF activity around today that I have issue with. Such as the popular frontism of getting people like Joe Anderson to support the demo - not only unlikely to win over working class people who are suffering Anderson's cuts, but of no consequence in terms of turnout  - and the stubborn refusal of UAF speakers to address the issue at hand, instead choosing to go on about Holocaust denial. As a response to the revival of street fascism, liberal anti-fascism is at best ineffective, at worst actively counter productive.

Ultimately, the day wasn't a defeat but it definitely wasn't a win either. What it demonstrates is that the battle against fascism isn't won simply by standing in a police cordon and shouting. The revival of street fascism must be met with an equivalent revival of militant anti-fascism, willing to face down the far-right both physically and ideologically, if we're to get anywhere.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

CWU leadership supports workfare

Boycott Workfare report that the Communication Workers' Union is effectively supporting workfare. They have issued a letter to branches, ensuring them that a job placement scheme for unemployed 16-18 year olds has the union's full support. This is not only a betrayal of the fight against workfare, but puts CWU members in considerable jeopardy.

The letter to branches includes the following joint statement;
Royal Mail has committed to participate in a new government initiative to offer young people the opportunity to gain valuable work experience within a business, which will have a positive impact upon their confidence, their employability and their future prospects. Following full consultation on the detail of the initiative the CWU are pleased to support the Royal Mail Work Experience Programme and would encourage our representatives and members to ensure that the Work Experience participants placement with Royal Mail is a positive experience that will reconnect them to the world of work.
Such a position shouldn't come as a surprise to most, given that the role of union officialdom isn't to support the class struggle against capitalism but to mediate it. However, even by the standards of union bureaucrats, it is a particularly horrendous decision. Not to mention short-sighted in terms of even just the union's own interests.

As Johnny Void points out;
Reports have already been received of workfare candidates at ASDA being forced to work on Christmas and New Year’s Eve for no pay whilst waged workers were sent home. The creation of a two tier workforce, with one group of workers having no employment rights or pay, should not just trouble the consciences of union leaders.

With Royal Mail privatisation on the agenda this year industrial action seems inevitable. Workfare staff may find themselves in the unenviable position of being forced into scabbing or face dismissal without even the safety net of benefits. This is the thin end of the wedge that could ultimately be used to break any strike action by the CWU.

Already workfare staff have been spotted on the London transport network, presumably in an effort to quieten public concern about unstaffed stations due to station staff being laid off. CWU members, who themselves may face redundancy, must resist this assault on working conditions at the Royal Mail. Workfare will doubtlessly be used to justify lay offs, undermine industrial action and in the long term lead to lower pay and poorer working conditions across the Royal Mail.

Young people need and deserve support with beginning a career at the Royal Mail should they choose to do so. However these positions should come with a living wage and full Trade Union rights. Whilst the CWU has said that all Workfare placements will be introduced to the role of the Union in the workplace, this is of cold comfort when even if they join, they will face crippling poverty and immediate dismissal should they fail to cross a picket line.
Boycott Workfare are asking people to contact the CWU - Deputy General Secretary Dave Ward's email address is dward@cwu.org - and urge them to reconsider their position. Work Experience is a compulsory scheme, with young people subject to sanctions if they don't take part. It is effectively forced labour, and will only serve to undercut and undermine the terms and conditions that CWU workers have fought for over the years.

This is not the first time that a union leadership has stood with the bosses on workfare. The GMB previously supported the project, until a mass outcry forced it into retracting its position. The same needs to happen with the CWU now, and every union leadership that dares take such a stance.

IWW day of action against Pizza Hut

On Saturday, the Industrial Workers of the World held a day of action against Pizza Hut. The call-out was part of an ongoing dispute over pay and conditions in Sheffield, but was met with solidarity from across Britain and the world. It also demonstrated the weight that class solidarity adds to independent workers' organisation.

Details of the dispute, as described by the Sheffield Pizza Hut Workers Union, are as follows;
In April of last year Pizza Hut workers placed a collective grievance about the following issues:

  • Bank Holiday Pay – The standard practice in the UK is for workers to be paid a rate of time and a half for working unsociable days, such as Boxing day, or New Year’s eve. However, Pizza Hut has reversed this in all cases now across all its stores, and now even if a worker was to be in on Christmas day they would still be paid the standard wage. We demand that Pizza Hut pay all workers time and a half for working Bank Holiday days.
  • Delivery Drivers Commission - Delivery staff, using their own cars, are paid a commission rate of 60p per delivery. The rate has remained static for several years. This is despite a changing delivery radius and the rising price of petrol. A driver can deliver a pizza that could be part of a 6 mile round trip, giving them a rate of 10p per mile. A worker on minimum wage is expected to pay for the cost of running a car as well as towards the cost of fuelling it while at work. Despite a review and the promise of a new rate, the rate has remained the same.

The Pizza Hut Workers Union also has concerns outside of this dispute, including delivery staffs safety gear, a decreasing pay packet that falls behind inflation and a demand for a real living wage for all Pizza Hut workers. We ask for your support in our on-going dispute.
Wobblies in Sheffield braved the snow to picket the store at the heart of the dispute, handing out leaflets to staff and the public. The leaflets handed out included a pro forma letter to send to Pizza Hut in support of workers, whilst many signed a petition and were directed to eat at other pizza establishments until the dispute is settled.

They were not alone, and similar pickets took place in Birmingham, Glasgow, Hull, LiverpoolLondon, Bristol,  and elsewhere. International solidarity came from Richmond and Germany. Such solidarity is important in demonstrating that workers in any given location do not stand alone in their struggles. At the same time, the use of direct action in the form of pickets against the company helps workers to demonstrate their strength and gain in confidence.

The service industry is one of the most exploitative and casualised in the modern economy, and the already limited approach of mainstream trade unionism has little relevance there. A direct action approach, based on organising rank-and-file workers to act for themselves, is the only adequate way to shift the balance of power against the bosses. When getting off the ground, there is also often a need for discretion and to avoid "going public" that full time union officials by the very nature of how they operate are not capable of replicating. Which is where self-organisation comes into its own.

But, of course, self-organisation doesn't simply mean leaving workers to their own devices. It means giving them the tools to operate in this way, and being willing to provide full support and solidarity when they do. This is something that a trade union movement hamstrung by anti-union laws and riven with sectionalism simply cannot match up to.

As such, those of us who support independent worker organisation will undoubtedly offer our continuing solidarity to Pizza Hut workers in their struggle. But also to any workers making the effort to organise and fight back in the service sector and elsewhere. The such workers that refuse to take the exploitation of their employers lying down and are willing to fight back without playing by their rules, the much greater chance we have of shifting the balance of power in the entire class struggle.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

John Foley disrupts Everton match to highlight exploitation by Ryanair

Last night John Foley, who runs the Ryanair Don't Care Campaign, staged a direct action stunt at Goodison Park. During the match between Everton and Manchester City, John handcuffed himself to a goalpost. The protest was aimed at Ryanair executive Michael O'Leary, who is a Man City fan and was reportedly at the game.

The incident happened just before half time. John was able to stay on the pitch and disrupt the game for five minutes, refusing requests to leave, before the police used bolt cutters on his handcuffs and led him away. He spent a night in the cells before being bailed. He will appear before Liverpool Magistrates Court on 17 February, charged with going onto the playing area under the 1991 Football Offences Act for his pitch invasion.

A full interview with John over the incident can be seen here.

The Ryanair Don't Care campaign was founded in order to draw attention to Ryanair's "Recruitment for termination," whereby staff are sacked before their training is complete whilst the company still pockets both their €3,000 training fee and the value of their labour. Many, such as John's daughter who suffered under the scam, are left stranded abroad as a result.

Previous actions to draw attention to the company's recruitment scamming include a banner drop on the roof of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, an invasion of the racetrack at Cheltenham during the Ryanair Chase and an occupation of the rooftop of Liverpool John Lennon Airport.

The campaign is fully supported by Liverpool Solidarity Federation, who are calling for an International Week of Action against Ryanair on the 12-18 March. This call is supported by Solidarity Federation nationally and is being circulated to other sections of the International Workers' Association. John has also been pushing for support amongst other trade unions and workers organisations around the globe.

All power to John in his continuing and tireless efforts to promote this cause. What needs to happen now is that action against their employer on a global scale motivates Ryanair workers to organise. Recruitment for termination is a particularly insidious form of exploitation and it needs to be tackled.