Saturday, 31 March 2012

Anti-workfare pickets target Asda and Holland & Barrett

Members of Liverpool Solidarity Federation were joined on pickets by other activists today as part of the Solfed national day of action against workfare. We took the action out into Wavertree for the main portion of the day, before returning to the City Centre as the afternoon wound down.

Assembling at 1pm outside the Asda on Smithdown Road, we were immediately met by police. They had "heard there was something going on either here or by the clock tower," alluding to the current and former meet up points mentioned on the internet. However, they seemed quite content to let us go about our business, and we headed to the store entrance to begin picketing.

Immediately, our presence drew store management, who claimed we were causing an obstruction and were keen to remove us from their premises. We held our ground for about twenty minutes, the hostility of security and management encouraging sympathy from a fair amount of shoppers. Many people were grateful to take our leaflets and offered their support for the action and the wider campaign. However, eventually the police intervened and we were forced to move away.

The entrance on the public highway received much less traffic, since the one at the back was used by those who drove in, but we were still able to cause a stir. We distributed around 600 leaflets and talked to members of the public who remained largely receptive to the cause.

After about two hours outside Asda, we called a halt to the picket and made our way into the City Centre. There, we targeted both outlets of Holland & Barrett, who were the focus of most of today's pickets around the country. We were able to convince a number of people not to shop in the store and drive the point home that companies using unpaid labour to undermine jobs and conditions would not be tolerated.

Today's action was a success. But, ultimately, it was just the beginning. Despite a number of high profile drop outs, workfare remains a serious factor in the ongoing attacks on the working class and this day of action has to mark the start of a sustained campaign. We will be back - in the City Centre, in Wavertree, and in other areas. Not just picketing, but organising - so that until workfare goes away, the opposition to it doesn't either.

A copy of the general anti-workfare leaflet can be downloaded as a PDF here.

A copy of the Holland & Barrett anti-workfare leaflet can be downloaded as PDF here.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

A poor show for the NWI in Bolton

Today, the North West Infidels went to Bolton. There was a month of hype and build up, especially after the events in Liverpool on February 18, and in the past week threats and tough talk were bandied about on the internet. But ultimately, the demo fell flat on its face.

Having been first with the call out for opposition on the 24th, Liverpool Antifascists bussed 50 people to Bolton for around 11am. Away from the town centre, we met up with a car load of anti-fascists from Brighton. Other militants were already in the centre from Portsmouth and the midlands, as well as a local group from Manchester.

At this point, there was a heavy police presence at the train station and all the fash who came in, perhaps around 20, were holed up in a pub under the watchful eye of the cops. They were clearly watching out for people entering via other avenues as well, as no sooner had the coach parked up than an unmarked car produced two uniformed officers, asking questions. However, after being told twice that we were from an anti-cuts group liasing with comrades in Bolton for future protests, they were then happy to tell us which areas to avoid if we wanted to go into town for a pint and not bump into the far right!

Having thanked the cops for their concern and seen them on their way, we moved in the general direction of where the fascists were being herded, splintering into smaller groups to avoid being surrounded by police.

We were close to the town hall when a van pulled up, and the Liverpool "Scouse Nationalists," BNP, NWI and CXF - about ten, all told - piled out. Producing a large union flag branded "Combined Ex Forces" and placards, they marched into the market square chanting "Muslim bombers off our streets." They were very quickly met with police horses and two, including fan favourite Liam Pinkham, were lifted.

Whilst our scouts continued to watch this spectacle close up, the larger group headed into the main shopping area. There, we were able to meet up with a couple of groups of Asian lads who wanted to get involved, and regroup with our comrades from Manchester and Portsmouth. We also happened upon a small contingent of anti-fascists from Sheffield who had come up on the back of our call out.

Meanwhile, Bolton Unite Against Fascism marched through the town centre to their static demonstration. They were penned in by barricades and kept separate from the opposition, but contrary to earlier reports the two protests were set up in sight of one another.

As UAF marched into their pen, they were heckled by fascists in the pub, who chanted "EDL, EDL" and "get a wash." However, once the full compliment of around 100 militant anti-fascists took over the road, they were nowhere to be seen. Bar one woman who was jeered at as she tried to film us and a toothless goon who was laughed back into the pub when he started shouting that we were paedophiles.

Eventually, the NWI demo which numbered at about 20 was herded away by police. UAF then marched in the opposite direction, calling for those gathered on the streets to join them. The militants declined, however, instead preparing to make our way to the train station to head off the fascists.

We were prevented from taking the direct route by a hastily assembled police road block, and so moved as a block through the town centre and down various back streets to get there. When we arrived, the two police present hastily called for backup and soon several vans arrived on the scene. They didn't move on us there, but it was clear that they wanted to prevent us heading back into town and when we moved away from the station we were kettled by police whose numbers clearly matched ours.

Two anti-fascists were attacked as the kettle was formed, but the one who was arrested was released without charge before the kettle was lifted. At this point, local Asian youth had those fascists who weren't part of the demonstration cornered in a pub, and whilst we weren't getting back into town it was clear that there was no urgent need to. So we got our coach home, and ended the day with a well deserved, cold pint.

We had heard before the day began that there were going to be flash demos in Hyde and Heywood whilst the Bolton demo went on. However, even accounting for these (which were themselves small and met with local opposition) the turnout today by the Infidels was utterly abysmal. UAF outnumbered their opposition, and militant anti-fascists outnumbered both groups combined.

Today served well for linking up with other anti-fascist groups around the country, and our thanks go to comrades from Manchester, Sheffield, the Midlands, Brighton and Portsmouth for mobilising on the day. Not only did it mark an impressive showing against the NWI's dismal turnout, it shows the potential of a real mass movement of militant anti-fascists. The task now is to build and grow that movement.

Have a read of other blogs on the day by Magic Zebras, Anarcho-bastard and Working Class Self Organisation.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Managing down the pensions struggle

On Monday, the National Executive Committee of the Public and Commercial Services union voted not to call a national strike on 28 March. This, despite a ballot that specifically named that date and endless rhetoric around "M28," naturally left many feeling deflated. But the consequences of this decision are far broader than that.

Before I go any further, I'd like to lay my cards on the table. This won't be a secret to regular readers, but I'm a member of PCS and a lay rep in my office. I do a low paid clerical job in the civil service and I've absolutely busted my balls organising around the pensions issue, often despite a significant clique of reps in my branch whose ambitions don't tally up with members' interests. In other words, I am not writing this as an outsider observing the struggle, but as an active participant in it.

I make this point because, in the past two days, I have seen various snipes at those of us who disagree with the PCS NEC decision. I am, it seems, a "sectarian" whose criticism is "destructive" and something that should be left to the Tories. Twitter and Facebook are full of people vociferously shouting down the critics, all of whom appear to be members of the Socialist Party and (on the rare occasion that they are actually members of PCS) of the ruling Left Unity faction. And, to be quite frank, being called sectarian by them as they cosy up to officialdom is really beginning to fucking grate.

Returning to the main issue of March 28, the PCS decision was informed by the fact that "the NUT executive had voted not to proceed with the one day national strike on March 28 as previously discussed." The teachers union are striking on the day, but only in London. This "may provide a platform for a decision on national action at the end of April," but until then PCS "must now work tirelessly to build the alliance of unions willing to take the serious national action we need to defend pensions."

All well and good, but there are too many ifs and maybes. The PCS executive insists that it is looking at a "clear and unambiguous strategy" of "joint national strike action with other unions in the civil service and education sectors; joint national, regional and local protests; lobbying of Ministers, MPs and other politicians; and coordinated targeted industrial action in some sectors." However, when grilled by lay reps at a pensions briefing in the North West ahead of the recent ballot, PCS Vice President Paula Brown was forced to admit that no details of this had been discussed and the old favourite of a one day strike was still the only concrete action PCS had ready.

On top of such a lacking and reductive strategy, even if the union lives up to its own hype, there's the delay. Joint action was first mooted for February. Then 1 March. Then 15 March. Finally, 28 March seemed to be concrete. Now it's the end of April. Maybe. In the meantime, members are seeing the government press ahead with its attacks whilst the unions offer next to no opposition. Because 3 days of strike action in a little over a year, even if they're really big, are never going to defeat austerity.

Don't believe me? Ask the Greeks.

The answer to this point is always one about "the will of the membership" and how we "must take the members with us." In other words, the nonsense of a radical or militant officialdom held back by conservative or apathetic members. But that idea is demonstrably untrue.

I'm a member myself. I work in an office with 1,000 other members and I speak to them - both individually and in union meeting settings. I know that the appetite for a real fight is there, because the people who declare that we need more than a one day strike, like going out for a week, aren't socialists or anarchists. The people who actively started talking about wildcat action at members meetings aren't far left militants waiting for revolution. They're not even reps. They're ordinary workers and union members who can see themselves getting screwed over, who want to do something about it, and who more often than not are sold only passivity by the trade union leadership.

You can see it in the wider working class, too. The trade union movement lumbers on, bolstered somewhat by the escalating struggle. But any pretence of militancy is thrown into stark contrast by the students in 2010, by UK Uncut, by the Sparks, and most recently by the incredible anti-workfare movement. A growing minority of people - often new to struggle - are punching above their weight and giving the working class what they haven't seen in a long while: victories. The unions continue to punch below their weight and to win only the concessions that take the most moderate out of the game.

It is in this context that the PCS position needs to be seen. Sure, by the standards of the official union movement as a whole, they're "militant." But this isn't the level of militancy that can win struggles - indeed, it can't be by the nature of the trade union structures. Rather, in most government departments and nationally PCS members have been sold out on various issues by the Left Unity leadership. I've documented the sickness absence and privatisation disputes in the Revenue & Customs group, for example, whilst nationally the union already conceded a two-tier pension scheme several years back under a Labour government. Far from being a "fighting left leadership" (is there such a beast?) they are simply more hard-nosed than some of their compatriots within the same structures and facing the same interests and pressures.

What we are seeing with the decision to postpone the strike is not exactly a "sell out," as some have termed it. More, it is the latest increment in a gradual winding down of the struggle.

When it began, the PCS ballot mandate was for jobs and pay as well as pensions, with "fair pensions for all" being the answer to the attempt to play up a public/private divide. Over time, pay and jobs disappeared from the rhetoric. In the recent ballot, we weren't even fighting for fair pensions for all, just "concessions." Now, the date that is actually mentioned on the ballot paper is set to simply pass us by.

There are a number of reasons for this. One is undoubtedly that the capitulation of Unison et al knocked the wind out of a lot of people's sails. As a result, this will have dampened the rank-and-file pressure that forced strikes over the issue in the first place, giving the leadership some breathing room. Add to this that the thunder and enthusiasm has been stolen by the more vibrant and exciting struggles led on the ground, like workfare and the Sparks as cited above. All of which will have meant that N30 was a peak in this fight that has now passed.

But this was not an unpredictable occurrence. The fact that Unison dragged its heels so long told everyone that they would always be the most reticent to strike and the first to capitulate. That could have been planned for. And if action is only effective if "coordinated," in a "coalition," where was this sectional and targeted action going to come from? The unions and the left have been good at picking up buzz words to sound militant, but it is clear that they have no appetite to actually fight and win.

If more coordinated action does take place, it will only be after a hard fought battle within the unions. Even then, it will be after the first pension contribution increases have been imposed and enthusiasm will dampen further. We then face the prospect of a "deal" that can be sold as a win but isn't, somewhere down the line, and an open door to privatisation, job losses and attacks on workers' conditions across the board. In short, not only a defeat in this dispute, but a crushing defeat for the working class over a whole raft of issues relating to austerity.

There is no easy answer to this, of course. A rank-and-file movement like the Sparks simply doesn't exist amongst public sector workers, and whatever strategies we come up with will not be implemented by the leadership. Though of course we should try to build that rank-and-file movement, and re-apply the pressure to force the union tops that very short distance they will actually budge to the left. The fight goes ever on.

Whatever happens, this incident serves as yet another example of why talk of "left leadership" is a red herring. The spectrum of left to right is very narrow, and on opposite ends of it the union structure still has its own interests as the keeper of industrial peace. Putting all our energy into propping up one end of it for supposedly being "left" or "more militant" only takes us away from what we really need to start scoring victories - the confidence to take control of our own struggles at a rank-and-file level.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Alternative Futures Pay Cuts – Demonstration 30/3/12 at Lion Court

The following is re-posted from the Carer's Talk blog, run by class struggle anarchists in social care. For background to the dispute, see the previous entries here and here.

Support workers facing pay cuts at the hands of Alternative Futures Group need your solidarity. On Friday the 30th of March a Unison branch AGM will be held at AFG’s head office, Lion Court (in Kings Business Centre, Prescott, L34 1BN), AFG support workers are calling for a demonstration against pay cuts outside the building from 1pm till 3pm.

If you can’t make the demonstration, please consider calling or e-mailing Alternative Futures Group during the demonstration and letting them know that you oppose the pay cuts they are imposing on us.

Contact details for head office are:

Tel 0151 489 5501
Fax 0151 481 4818

Neil Campbell (Chief executive of AFG):

Gill Dolan (Director of Operations):

You may want to ask why Alternative Futures Group is cutting the pay of its lowest paid employees while continuing to pay Chief Executive Neil Campbell over ten times the wage of a support worker (in excess of £140,000 per year) in salary and an undisclosed sum in bonuses, why AFG’s Human Resources department have been making repeated threats of dismissal against support workers who speak out against the company or why a charity that, according its own accounts, ended the last financial year with a budget surplus of £15 million now claims to be at risk of going bankrupt if it doesn’t cut £5.1 million from it’s budget.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Thuggery and machine guns at the Save Our NHS demo

You might not know that yesterday there was a demonstration in London against the privatisation of the NHS. If you don't know that, you definitely won't know about the heavy-handed police tactics deployed against it. It appears that a media blackout has been enacted on the repression of peaceful protest.

Thankfully, whilst the mainstream media is studiously ignoring it, Twitter provided those of us who weren't there with regular updates. Full reports can now also be found on Latent Existence, Storify, Kate Belgrave, and Beyond Clicktivism (update: Staavers also has a report on the day). There are also photosets from Heard in London and MELPRESSMAN MELPRESSMAN on Demotix. None of these have the same audience as the BBC, Sky et al, of course, but they do have an audience and so what happened yesterday did not go unnoticed.

The story is one that will be wearily familiar to veterans of countless demonstrations in recent years. Several hundred people had gathered peacefully to protest, and soon enough the police decided that they were a threat. Throughout the day, there were reports of several kettles, protesters being knocked down by police and even officers armed with sub machine guns patrolling the streets.

The Metropolitan Police have always been something of a benchmark for police brutality and skullduggery in Britain. From killing Ian Tomlinson, Jean Charles de MenezesSmiley Culture, Mark Duggan et al, to attacking peaceful occupiers on March 26 and igniting the riots in Tottenham, they have always stood ahead of the crowd. But their example is spreading, and examples as diverse as Greater Manchester police attacking youths on bikes during the riots and Merseyside police sending two horses against a five man picket show that all concern for appearances has gone out of the window.

The examples are innumerable. Some merely add a threatening presence whilst others break out in violence, but it is ever clearer that the police and the state are acting on the presumption that the act of protest itself is a threat. Not breakaway marches or property damage, but the simple act of standing in public and saying "I don't like what is happening."

Nor can this be seen as an aberration or a perversion of democracy. It is a very deliberate escalation, to match the increased frequency of protests and the growing anger at government policy, in much the same way that riot police no longer being used to smash picket lines simply marks out how much less threatening industrial action is when contained by the anti-strike laws. Whilst the trade union movement is stuck in a reductive pattern of one day strikes and liberals still insist against all evidence that lobbying and vigils work, a growing minority of militants have been taking direct action and scoring victories. With each victory, their example spreads and protest itself becomes a danger to the status quo.

The point, underlined over and over again, is that the police are not on our side and can never be trusted. Anybody who tries to persuade people otherwise only puts them in danger. When we're on the streets, the cops will be too. So the only answer is to stay together, stay mobile, stay safe - and don't let your guard down around the bastards for even a second.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Direct action against Allied Irish Bank and Daniel Silverman Solicitors

As part of the international week of action against Ryanair, on Friday 16 March Liverpool Solidarity Federation members joined John Foley of the Ryanair Don't Care Campaign for pickets in the City Centre. The targets of our action were a bank and a solicitors who are complicit in the budget airline's recruitment scamming.

The Allied Irish Bank formerly provided 3500€ loans to probationary cabin crew for their training with Ryanair, though they stopped this practice in 2010 under pressure from the Ryanair Don't Care campaign. More recently, however, it has come to light that they are still sending threatening letters to terminated staff, warning them to pay up outstanding fees (for training they did not finish!) or face bankruptcy.

When we arrived at the branch in the commercial district, we found the bank manager and his staffstanding around drinking beer. There were collective groans at the sight of us, bearing banners and placards, though they allowed John to present them with a demand letter and condemn their practices before we headed out for the picket.

Outside, we put placards and flags on display and handed out leaflets to the public whilst John got on the megaphone to condemn the bank. By and large, the public were receptive to the message - with many expressing their disgust at Ryanair and support of our picket, whilst others came over to have their picture taken with the man who had handcuffed himself to the goalposts in the Everton match.

One of the AIB suits didn't take it as well as her colleagues, however, and told us that we were on private property (we were in fact on the public highway) before rushing to call the police. This led to the absurd spectacle of a Police Community Support Officer accompanied by two mounted officers coming along to see what we were up to. Though they insisted that we move away from the door, and tried to take our details (we refused), they largely accepted that this was a peaceful picket and let us carry on.

Having sustained it for about an hour, we ended the picket soon after the police left and took a break for lunch.

Having eaten, we then headed over to the docks and Daniel Silverman Solicitors. The solicitors are also guilty of sending threatening letters to terminated Ryanair staff, demanding payment or bankruptcy, and they had to be told that this was unacceptable.

We gained entrance to the office building they were located in when staff from other businesses in there exited for a smoke, and quickly made our way up to the second floor. As soon as John entered the Daniel Silverman offices, a manager appeared and declared that she would speak to him outside, indicating that she knew who he was and didn't want her staff to be aware.

John refused to leave and insisted on handing her the demand letter in front of everyone. This led to a brief confrontation were two men tried to force John out the door, but he left of his own accord having said his piece and handed over the letter.

All in all, it was a succesful day, with two companies complicit in the Ryanair scam having gotten the message that people are prepared to oppose them and take direct action to that effect. But the week is not over yet, and tomorrow we will be picketing Liverpool John Lennon airport as part of the continuing protest.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Day of action against workfare - Liverpool

Reposted from Solidarity Federation

The International Workers Association has called days of action against austerity, exploitation, and oppression on 29, 30 and 31 March. As part of this, on Saturday 31 March, Solidarity Federation locals will be taking action against workfare.

Following on from the succesful day of action initiated by Liverpool Uncut on 3 March, our aim is to spread the action beyond the City Centre and get claimants and local communities more involved.

Our action will take place in Wavertree, at a target to be announced on the day. There, as last time, we intend to engage staff directly and encourage them to organise against their employer's use of workfare as well as encouraging the public not to give their business to the target.

We encourage everyone to come along and take part, and make the point that as long as workfare persists so will direct action against providers.

Meet by the Picton Clock Tower, at the junction of Childwall Road, Church Road North and the High Street in Wavertree (map) from 1pm. Bring home-made signs, flags and banners.

Useful links:
Liverpool SF on Twitter

Facebook event here.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Second Merseyside factory employs lock-outs as a tactic

In February, staff at Mayr-Meinhoff Packaging in Bootle became the first British workers in 54 years to experience a lock out. I said at the time that this action by the bosses, still ongoing,"sets a worrying precedent." It now appears that this precedent is being acted upon.

Tranfoods staff addressed by Unite regional organiser Franny Joyce
The Working Class Self Organisation blog tells the full story;
Bosses at the Tranfoods plant in Wirral, Merseyside have 'locked out' the workers during negotations over redundancy. The Unions claim that the bosses have reneged on a redundancy offer and are now only prepared to pay 'statutory redundancy'. The owners of Tranfoods, 'Tulip', have only owned the business 38 days and plan to move production to Cornwall. This is the second 'lock out' on Merseyside in less than a month.

Around 200 workers at Tranfoods in Wirral, Merseyside today held a demonstration outside the factory after being ‘locked out’ last week by the management.

The owners of the factory, ‘Tulip’, had started a period of consultation with a view to closing the factory due to a decline in orders. The unions had been in negotiation with Tulip regarding redundancy pay, but have accused Tulip of reneging on an agreement. Tulip deny that any agreement was ever reached, and are now saying they will only pay the basic legal minimum redundancy.

When workers arrived for work last week, they found the gates locked. They were handed letters advising them that:
Production had ceased at the plant due to significant operational issues
No further information was provided. Today’s demonstration will coincide with a meeting at the plant between the bosses and the trade unions.

A trade union spokesman said:
The workers have been treated with contempt by Tulip which is the UK arm of Danish Crown, who took over the plant last December. After just 38 days of ownership they have announced the closure of this site, locked out the workers, and boarded up the site.
Tulip have issued a brief statement in which they say:
All the staff are Tranfoods have been working extremely hard, but the operational difficulties are far worse than we envisaged.
Tulip, who make cooked meat products for Tesco now plan to shift all production to a factory in Cornwall.
It is difficult to imagine it being a coincidence that this follows on so close after the MMP lockout began. Certainly, the fact that it has continued for this period of time despite the continual large presence on the picket line may have emboldened Tulip.

MMP workers picketing in Bootle
In part, this will be down to the way that the original lockout was handled. Though the fact that an occupation followed that first act was indeed promising, Unite the union managed to scupper this by negotiating an end to the occupation without any guarantee on the lockout ending. The picket line has remained solid, but either an occupation or a lock-in is needed to turn the tables on the bosses.

Either way, those facing these attacks need as much practical solidarity as possible. No doubt there will be a presence at the Tulip factory much the same as there is at MMP, and it takes no effort to stroll down to the pickets, join the line, and express your support.

As well as that, next week there will be a rally in Liverpool City Centre in support of the locked out workers at MMP. The Facebook event can be found here, and this will be a prime opportunity to demonstrate your solidarity with those suffering these attacks if you aren't able to attend picket lines in the morning. Come along, and invite others from your workplace, union branch, etc to do the same.

But above all there needs to be a serious debate about how we respond to such attacks by employers. Clearly, static protests, a to b marches and one day strikes aren't enough to beat bosses willing to lock out their staff wholesale. As they up the ante, so should we.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

An ASBO cannot stop international action against Ryanair

Tomorrow sees the beginning of an International Week of Action against Ryanair. Initiated by Liverpool Solidarity Federation in support of the relentless direct action campaign waged by John Foley, it will see pickets of numerous locations connected to the budget airline across the world. But the courts have tried to make sure that John has no part in any of it.

Liverpool Solfed supporting John Foley following his arrest for occupying the roof of Liverpool John Lennon Airport
On Tuesday, John appeared at Liverpool Community Justice Centre charged with unlawfully entering a football pitch on January 31. The court was told that, in handcuffing himself to a goalpost as Everton played Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary's favourite team Manchester City, he caused “harassment, alarm or distress” to fans. This clearly absurd charge provided Merseyside Police with the grounds to impose an interim ASBO on John which - unsurprisingly - covers the Week of Action and will be reviewed when his trial begins on 23 April.

According to the terms of the ASBO, John cannot visit any sports ground hosting an event to which the public has to pay to gain admission. He also cannot protest on high buildings or structures where he "may cause harm to himself, anyone dealing with the incident, or cause anyone harassment, alarm or distress by his actions."

There can be no doubt that the aim of this order is to prevent any further direct action protests, because they have been able to draw attention to his cause in a way that more conventional protests never could. It will also mean that Michael O'Leary and the other top names at Ryanair can sleep soundly knowing that events they are pouring money into will not be disrupted with the inconvenient message about their exploitation of workers.

However, John Foley is but one man. His work on the Ryanair Don't Care Campaign has been tireless, but the whole point of the International Week of Action is to escalate it and bring the strength of much broader solidarity. The Solidarity Federation supports the action, as does the International Workers Association to which it is affiliated. No doubt, other anarchist and libertarian class struggle organisations will also take up the call. It is up to all of us, as opponents of the exploitation of workers - particularly in the horrendous fashion of "recruitment for termination" - to make sure that the message is heard and that Ryanair do feel the heat.

In case we need a reminder, this is the reason why;
Ryanair's current policy of “recruitment-for-termination” is part of the massive exploitation of young 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 are sacked at one time after this initial training period with up to 200 people a month losing their job. All those sacked lose the money they have paid out for training. There are 11 Ryanair cabin crew training courses already underway to end of March which gives you some idea of the amount of money Ryanair is making out of the “recruit-for-termination” scam.

Rynair target young people who are then based away from home to make it easier to pressurise and exploit. The day before being sacked a Ryanair supervisor tried to persuade John’s daughter, Sarah, to resign. If she had resigned the company would have charged her 200 euro the standard amount charged to all those staff who resign. After being sacked she requested a flight home but was told by the company that she was not eligible for a flight as she was no longer a employee of Ryanair. With no money to get to her home to Liverpool her parents had to travel to Dublin to collect her.

Those who survive the initial training period 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 £20 million per year. Pay in the first year can be as low as 520 Euro after stoppages, such as the 25 Euro charged for the uniform, are deducted.

Working conditions are no better, workers are expected to work 2 standby duties each week, one a Home Standby, lasting 11 hours for no pay and an 8 hour Airport Standby, for which 30 Euro is paid, working out at 3 Euro an hour after tax. Workers are also only paid for the time they are in the air. As one Ryanair worker noted:

"You only got paid for your time in the air. You didn't get paid for the 45-minute pre-flight briefing or while the passengers were boarding. My flight from Alicante was once diverted to Blackpool and we didn't get paid for the three hours while it was sent on to Liverpool”
If you are near to a location of strategic importance to Ryanair - an airport it flies from, a travel agent that promotes its packages, a recruitment fair or agency it uses to hire - join in with any planned pickets you can find. If you can't find one, organise it yourself! Leaflets and posters should be available to download from the Solfed website come Monday, but even a basic leaflet and signs with the main points on will get the message across.

If you are by the Cheltenham Festival, then I strongly urge you to help make sure that the Ryanair Chase does not go off without opposition. This is a cornerstone of the airline's self-promotion, and needs to be met with picketing, leafleting and if possible direct action. Again, if nothing is already planned for the event, feel free to take the initiative yourself.

If you aren't near to such a location, you can still phone, email and fax Ryanair to let them know that you oppose their practices. Pro forma letters of complaint should also be available as the week of action begins. Below are the easiest ways to contact Ryanair to complain:

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

More addresses and phone numbers can be found at here.

The courts and the police are trying to stop John Foley from continuing his campaign of protest and direct action. We must show them that he is not alone, and that this issue cannot be swept under the carpet by an Anti Social Behaviour Order. Fight recruitment scamming, and take action against Ryanair across the world this week.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

The CNT calls a General Strike for March 29

Reposted from here, Solidarity Federation's Spanish sister section decided to call a 24-hour general strike for March 29, against the Labor Reform, the cuts, and the assaults on the working class. The strike call extends the call that has already been made for Galicia and the Basque Country. This call will be formalized in the coming days.

The CNT rejects any kind of negotiation over the rights conquered by the working class through years of struggle. We call for this strike with the primary objective of immediately repealing the the labor reform that was approved yesterday by the Parliament, which we consider a head-on assault against the working class. This reform continues the measures started by the previous government, such as the labor reform of 2010 and the cuts to public employee salaries, to pensions, and to public services, cuts which are being deepened by the current government.

The CNT demands the end of an economic policy designed to make the workers pay for the crisis of the banks and the employers. This policy has led to an unacceptable number of unemployed workers, a number which does not stop growing, as well as to an impoverishment and worsening of the working class’s living conditions.

The CNT also calls this strike against the cuts. The strike will happen the day before the setting of the General State Budget which will incorporate a brutal attack against public services and social rights.

The CNT rejects the agreement reached in February between the CCOO and UGT unions and the employers’ confederation, the CEOE, as well as the amendments that those unions have presented to the parliamentary process of the labor reform. The CNT rejects these amendments as a valid alternative, since they share the spirit of the reform and assume the logic of the employers and the government, who suppose that the only escape from their crisis must come through the workers surrendering their rights, placing the working class into a position of weakness from the start. The same logic has already led these unions to accept the raising of the retirement age to 67, even after the general strike of September 29, 2010.

For the CNT, the strike on March 29 must be only the beginning of a growing and sustained process of mobilization, one which includes the entire working class and the sectors that are most disadvantaged and affected by the capitalist crisis. This mobilization must put the brakes on the dynamic of constant assaults on our rights, while laying the bases for the recovery and conquest of new social rights with the goal of a deep social transformation.

All of these reasons have led the CNT to make this call for March 29 on its own account. With this call the CNT wants to give coverage to everyone who is taking up positions for a real and continued confrontation that will pay back the assaults on the working class with the same force with which we are receiving them, together with all workers’ organizations that share these objectives and reject the policies of agreement and social peace.

For the CNT, a confrontational rejection of the policies and the bureaucratic union model of the CCOO and the UGT, and their discredit among broad groups of workers, must not become excuses not to take action or struggle. Instead, this rejection must spur us on to reinforce our struggle through a different form of unionism – one based on direct action, on autonomy, and on mutual aid. Against assaults of the magnitude that we are facing, working-class unity is fundamental. This unity must take place in the rank-and-file, in workplace and neighborhood assemblies, in industrial actions and pickets, until the mobilization against those who are responsible for and benefit from this situation – the employers, the banks, and the government – is turned into an unstoppable dynamic that raises a barrier against the temptation to turn the rights that belong to everybody into a bargaining chip that belongs to nobody.

It’s time for all workers – unemployed or employed, retired, on the black market, students, and the precarious – to say “Enough!” We must seize the streets rather than abandon them in order to impose our strength and our demands.

March 29 – everyone in the street, everyone on the strike.

Fascists met with spontaneous opposition in Liverpool

Today, the British National Party held a stall in Liverpool City Centre. Much like the last time they did this in 2010, it was met with spontaneously organised opposition from local anti-fascists and members of the public. The event is instructive with regards to recent developments in the fight against fascism.

The International Women's Day march a number of anti-fascists were on before heading to confront the BNP
Firstly, and crucially, it is worth noting that the BNP presence was next to nothing. Their numbers were tripled by the presence of the self-styled "Scouse nationalists," and it was probably still generous to say they numbered thirty at their height. Aside from highlighting the ground the BNP is losing to street fascism, it also underlines that the far-right's recent strength has come mostly from mobilising nationally under the banner of populist causes. With no nationwide call out, and without being able to claim they are out against paedophiles or the IRA, they simply didn't have the numbers to dominate the streets.

The anti-fascists, on the other hand, should have been at a disadvantage. We only knew about the stall once it appeared on Church Street. Most of the local left was out of town for the protest against the Liberal Democrat party conference and those that weren't were attending the march to commemorate International Women's Day. Yet still, when a number of us broke away from the march to seek out the fascists, rapid text and email callouts meant that we arrived to find about fifty people already standing in opposition to them. Apart from the nearby Socialist Party stall and Circle of Silence refugee vigil, neither of which were actively standing against the BNP right under their noses.

This doesn't, for a second mean that the fascists can be dismissed. Clearly, if their strength is in national mobilisations against populist causes, this is what they will continue to do. And if they are able to do that with any success, it will give them the confidence to be more aggressive and pro-active at spontaneous local actions, which could catch anti-fascists off guard if we take our ability to outnumber them at that level for granted. This would not only damage the anti-fascist cause, but put the wider class struggle - from picket lines and occupations to street stalls - under threat of attack.

Today was an easy victory for anti-fascists. Our numbers were quickly bolstered by members of the public, making it impossible for the police to enforce Section 14 of the Public Order Act and move us away from our opponents. This was important because we have seen, both at anti-cuts events and against the far-right, whose side the police are on when we don't have the numbers to impede them. That we were able to stand our ground and surround them was the reason that the fascists ended their day complaining of "Nationalism oppressed by the anti British left wing of Liverpool." [sic] This is definitely a positive, but it always needs to be measured against other recent actions which show the cost of complacency.

The far-right can and must be beaten by mass mobilisations of the organised working class. But this is not something that just happens, or that we can leave to others. Fighting fascism is a task for us all, and when the North West Infidels demonstrate on the 24 March we have to show that we're serious about this task, or face the dire consequences.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Another round of police thuggery outside the town hall

The last time that there was a demonstration outside Liverpool Town Hall, it was attacked by police. The lessons of that incident, particularly of building large numbers and standing together, clearly weren't learned. Last night, very similar events unfolded, and young protesters were the ones who suffered.

The demonstration clearly wasn't built for in any serious way. There was an event on Facebook, and it may have been mentioned at a meeting of all those who attend these sort of things anyway, but that was about it. Certainly, given how many such demos had gone before, and the generally reductive nature of such protest, there wasn't much to be hopeful for - either in turnout or in content.

At first, it appeared that some of us had been over-cynical about turnout. At 4.30pm, there were about 40 people gathered at the side of the town hall. Mostly older protesters, associated with the Socialist Party and the Trades Council. Younger people turning up initially gathered over the road, no doubt at least partly inspired by the already over-the-top police presence. There were four horses, and around twenty officers, including two evidence gatherers and two police liaisons.

Content, however, was as dismal as ever. I switched off as soon as Tony Mulhearn uttered the magic words "in the 80s," to the point where I couldn't even be arsed to scoff at his interminable nonsense about lobbying being effective and a way to make the council change tack. The Liverpool Socialist Singers doing renditions of classing trade union songs, but with liberal/leftist slogans about "bankers" and "Tories" replacing the traditional lyrics, was equally dire. Especially given that this idea of capitalism's follies boiling down to immorality or excess by "bad" groups was being stamped on songs previously about militant class war and armed struggle against fascists.

However, once this dirge had ended, almost the entirety of this group - Socialist Party, Trades Council, Socialist Singers, etc - disappeared. This left some anarchists, some Socialist Workers Party members, and all the really young members of Occupy. Not forgetting the aforementioned buttload of filth, obviously.

For a while, it looked as if the demonstration would just spiral into nothing. Protesters took a stroll around the town hall a couple of times, purely because it was amusing to watch the police panic and follow us every time as if something bed was about to happen. The evidence gatherers seemed to get the joke, but the rest just had expressions of either boredom or anger etched into their face.

A sign of what was to come was the behaviour of those on horseback. When we were stood by the windows to the council chamber, they moved their mounts between us and the railings, presumably to stop anybody hurting the poor things by climbing on them to have a look inside. When we moved up to the side door, resulting in all the police running to man the barricades around it, they rode in and forced the demonstrators back from anywhere near the pavement.

I stood to one side, leaning on a bin and mostly being bored, only to have a horse walk up to me and force me away from it. When, out of sheer devilment, I moved around to where it had previously been, the two horses moved to sandwich me. Clearly, we could only have been more dangerous had we come equipped with automatic weapons.

Everything kicked off when an ambulance stopped outside the town hall. Some of us crossed the road to see what was going on, and soon most of the demonstration followed and two young women started shouting and chanting.

A rather portly and disheveled Councillor appeared from the meeting to say that one of his colleagues had been taken ill and to quiet down "out of common respect." When one of the women responded by saying she didn't care about the health of a Councillor making cuts and started heckling about her having to use services she was trying to slash. Again, the Councillor demanded silence, earning the reply "I hope the bitch dies."

This was apparently all the excuse that the police needed, and a moment later two of them swooped in. They picked up the other young woman, who immediately started having a panic attack. As a group of us moved in to try and stop them taking her, more cops stormed over to ensure that the burly thugs could drag away a frightened teenager in order to quell their boredom.

I followed them, demanding answers, along with two other protesters. One filmed the scene, whilst the other explained that he was a medic and that she was clearly having a panic attack. The only response to questions of whether they knew what to do in this situation was us being told to stop shouting at the police. That was when we heard that, whilst we were away from the main group, another woman had been knocked down by a police horse. Her blog on the night is here.

As we got back, the horses were still stomping around despite what had happened, and there was a general sense of confusion amongst the protesters. A lad standing with the victim of the horse called another young woman over, and as she went to see what had happened four police officers pounced on her. She started screaming and ended up being picked up and carried, each arm and leg held by a different cop. Once again, all those objecting were shoved back, perhaps the only difference to last time being that nobody was punched in the face.

In sheer frustration once the cops had steamed away, I whacked the wooden pole of my flag against a lamp post and roared "fuck's sake." This brought a horse steaming over, its rider telling me to calm down. I yelled at him that I was letting off steam because his ilk had riled me up. When he said "we're here to protect you," I laughed in his face before storming off. Had I carried on arguing with him, I probably would've wound up in the back of a van myself.

Ultimately, the night ended on a sour note and everyone left deflated. There was a vigil at St Anne's Police station, and I'm glad to report that those arrested were released without charge. However, it serves as a stark reminder that the state is not on our side. If there is a chance for violence and summary arrests to demobilise and scare off demonstrators, they will take it.

The only response to this kind of behaviour is to make sure that our actions are built for mass involvement and complete solidarity. As the cold, dead hand of the left tries to guide a youth crying out for direct action towards lifeless lobbying and petitioning, it is inevitable that their frustration will come out in ways that don't have an effect on the class enemy but do leave them open to arrest or attack by the police. And the architects of that frustration will by then have abandoned them to their fate. Clearly, this will get us nowhere.

Perhaps we have to pick our battles. The anti-workfare action was successful because the vast majority in attendance were on the same level, and stood together. We have to learn from that, and learn who we can trust to stand in solidarity with us no matter what. Otherwise people will continue to get hurt whilst the old, and often aged, left convinces itself that it is affecting change.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Stop the North West Infidels – Saturday 24 March

Reposted from Liverpool Antifascists

The North West Infidels (NWI), a splinter group from the English Defence League, are planning a demonstration in the North West on Saturday 24 March. Liverpool Antifascists is calling on all anti-fascists, anti-racists and organised workers to mobilise in opposition to the presence of these fascists on our streets.

This demonstration comes in the wake of a number of incidents which show that the far-right is aiming to re-assert itself as a physical force on the streets. The British National Party’s electoral support is hemorrhaging thanks to internal splits, whilst the EDL is viewed as just not radical and racist enough for hardcore supporters, allowing the NWI to gain prominence with disillusioned far right activists.

With much of the left pre-occupied by the governments attacks on the working class – from pensions and job cuts to workfare and the NHS – the NWI and similar groups have been able to operate largely unmolested. Each action that is met with no or inadequate opposition allows them to grow in confidence and draw more people to their cause. This has to stop.

We do not yet know where in the North West the NWI demonstration will be, but wherever it is it must be met with resistance.

Liverpool Antifascists will be gathering in Liverpool City Centre from 10am on the day of the demonstration – if the fascists are coming to our city, we will defend our streets. If they are going elsewhere, we will have transport ready to ensure that we can still oppose them. The public meeting point for the mobilisation will be announced closer to the date.

We call on other anti-fascists across the North West to do the same.

Liverpool Antifascists

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Anti-fascist coordinating meeting report

Today, Liverpool Antifascists hosted a meeting at the Liverpool Guild of Students to discuss building an effective resistance to fascism both in the immediate term and beyond. Following the events of 18 February, it was organised as an opportunity to regroup and to make sure that the same mistakes were not repeated in the future. About 45 people attended.

The meeting opened with the secretary of LiverAF briefly recounting that Saturday and explaining that, whilst the organisation has had numerous successes over the past few years, the situation has changed dramatically of late. Both the electoral collapse of the BNP and disillusionment with the nature of EDL demos had led to the rise of the NWI and similar groups, with a much younger base up for more direct and physical confrontation with the left. This was why militant anti-fascists needed to build up the links to mobilise greater numbers and to be able to take much more effective direct action in opposition to the far right.

Following from this introduction, there was a broad discussion on the way in which fascism had shifted focus back to controlling the streets, political answers to the alienation that drove working class youth to the far-right and the tactics of ideological and physical opposition.

A fair amount of the discussion revolved around the strengths and weaknesses of existing organisation. This included criticisms of LiverAF's handling of the demonstration on 18 February, part of which was down to under-estimation on our own part whilst part was down to the unique combination of factors which saw us having to protect the anti-police brutality demonstration. Certainly, we have acknowledged where mistakes were made and will be making sure we don't repeat them.

The main focus of the meeting was the decision by the NWI to call a demonstration in the North West on Saturday 24 March. It isn't yet known where this demonstration will take place, and though there are a number of likely targets we will only know when it is announced. A proposal was put forward that LiverAF publicly call a counter demonstration, that we decide a meeting point in Liverpool for those attending and that transport from their to the mobilisation is arranged once we know where the fascists are headed. It was further proposed that we call on other anti-fascist groups to do the same. This proposal passed unanimously and a statement will be released shortly.

The rest of the meeting focused on other practical questions such as defence of meetings and events from attack, anti-fascist stewarding and building within the trade union movement, particularly at a grassroots level. It was also stressed that this should occur in a non-sectarian manner, with individual political differences put aside when it came to repelling attacks by the far-right. A number of constructive points were made and no doubt building on the issues raised and the actions agreed is something that will continue on in the long term.

The threat of the far-right is not something that will go away any time soon. The task for militant anti-fascists is to respond effectively to this realignment towards controlling the streets and build a broad working class movement that is willing to oppose them directly. If you wish to get involved in Liverpool, then make sure you get in touch.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

A day of action against workfare in Liverpool

Today saw a national day of action against workfare. The nationwide protest was called by the Boycott Workfare campaign, in solidarity with an action called in Liverpool by a member of UK Uncut and Solidarity Federation. 

The action kicked off at 1pm in the Next to Nowhere Social Centre. Just as with innumerable UK Uncut actions in the past, protesters gathered in the basement to equip themselves with signs and flags and hear where the target would be. This has always been a useful precaution against the police being able to pre-empt any protests and block access to intended targets, as well as keeping an element of surprise to proceedings. Today, this had a double benefit.

Already, I had heard from elsewhere in the country of campaigners arriving at planned protests only to find an army of Trots already there. With branded placards bearing the names of their respective front organisations, Right to Work and Youth Fight For Jobs, the Socialist and Socialist Workers Parties had hijacked demos whilst competing for paper sales and signatures on "petitions" that were actually mailing lists. This was predictable given that the SWP had jumped in to grab national headlines and be held responsible for "defeating" workfare despite the fact that all the hard work was put in by others, but nonetheless dispiriting.

In Liverpool, it looked for a while as if we would see similar scenes. Absent from the social centre and any part of the planning protest, around a dozen Trots greeted the workfare protesters as they stepped onto the streets, handing out placards and ready to flog papers. When we reached our first target - WH Smith - they even unfolded stall tables from which to flog their wares!

The bulk of the protest at first went into the store, holding a demonstration inside where a number of people spoke over the megaphone about why they were taking part. I approached the staff in the store, explained what the protest was all about, and handed them a leaflet on workplace organisation. I made a point of explaining that the protest was not directed at them as workers, and that the workfare programmes affected them just as much as those forced to take part. Though obviously bewildered by the event, they took the leaflets, including some to distribute to other staff who weren't present.

After about twenty minutes, the occupation ended and those taking part joined the picket outside. We handed out leaflets, spoke to people and addressed the public on a megaphone for the next half hour or so. For the most part, this was good natured and both the police and private security kept their distance. By this point the demonstration numbered about fifty, at least as many holding up homemade signs as were brandishing the Right to Work placards. There were also a fair number of red-and-black flags flying as well.

The SP had set up stall away from the rest of the demo, as is long-established custom for perhaps the most sectarian of the left sects in Liverpool (outside of the really bizarre Stalinist ones, anyway). However, they must have only had plans to attend a single picket, as they disappeared altogether when the decision was made to move on. In the style that both UK Uncut and the Occupy movement in Liverpool have long since perfected, we were off on an impromptu march through the Liverpool ONE shopping district to our next target.

Tesco was next on the list, though this was clearly expected and as soon as the group arrived the guards closed the doors to prevent an occupation. As people stood outside I, with no protest paraphernalia on me, asked if we were still allowed to enter to shop. I was allowed in and, with the attention of security on those outside, once again spoke to and handed out leaflets to staff.

Returning to the street, I was amazed to find the SWP stall across the street from us. They had, apparently, legged it after us carrying an open stall table! If nothing else, we were at least making them work for their paper sales.

After another half hour, the picket of Tesco naturally reached a point where most people were ready to move on. So we marched back through Liverpool ONE to end up at McDonald's. Initially, this led to a breakdancing display outside being interrupted, until the decision came to occupy and the store was essentially blockaded by the sheer number of both protesters and customers inside. Outside, the SWP were still keeping fit and chasing us with their stall.

After this, the last target on the list was Holland and Barrett. Here, again, leaflets were handed to the workers and the store was occupied. However, it was also at this point that we began to see signs of more overt agression from security staff, including one who came into the shop weilding a video camera and getting in people's faces whilst filming.

An SF comrade responded by filming him as he moved around the shop, whilst others continually blocked his shot. Ultimately, a confrontation with him forced a police officer to lead him outside where a legal observer and a number of demonstrators challenged him on what he was doing. He refused to show his badge when asked, and decided to show protesters the middle finger when leaving to demonstrate his position on the event.

Mindful of the violence that occurred at the last similar demonstration, the decision was taken to make sure that everybody ended the protest together. The last thing we wanted was a group of kids trying to carry on running riot after the bulk of those present had gone elsewhere, and getting a smack for their troubles. Thus once this picket had run its course we marched back to where we had begun and wound the demo up outside the Social Centre. There, most chose to go inside to wind down, and the private security thugs effectively deprived of a punch up.

Ultimately, the day was a success. It passed without arrest and without the Trots being able to effectively hijack the campaign, whilst hundreds of leaflets went out both to the public and to workers in the places operating workfare. However, workfare itself is not defeated, and until it is the campaign against it will continue onwards. Expect more action soon!