Sunday, 27 May 2012

PCS leadership forces continued reductive pensions strategy on Annual Delegate Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Why October 20 must be hijacked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Fascists botch attack on Bootle picket line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Guilty verdict in Rochdale grooming trial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solidarity with the state's monopoly of violence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Action against workfare continues in Liverpool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 4 May 2012

Far-right embarrass themselves at the polls - and at the count

The far-right failed miserably at yesterday's elections. This was a nationwide trend, with the BNP losing all of the seats it contested, but it was particularly heartening to see on Merseyside. Given all the commotion they've been causing recently, it remains the case that the people of Liverpool resoundingly reject the politics of hate.

National Front members including Peter Tierney, Liam Pinkham, Stephen Dumont and Gary Lucas try to unveil an "Anti Zionist League" banner during the election count
Not that this message is likely to sink in with the boneheads. At last night's election count, they yet again made a holy show of themselves and underlined exactly why most people have no time for them.

A large number of National Front supporters were present in Picton Sports Centre whilst ballots were counted, and spent the whole time acting like thuggish dickheads. Despite all being in their best court suits, it didn't take long before a fight nearly kicked off. Through the night, they attempted to intimidate a number of people, ranging from supporters of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition to Liberal Councillor Steve Radford and a young woman with the Conservatives.

When the Mayoral election was declared for Labour's Joe Anderson, they really threw their dummies out the pram. As ever, everyone they didn't like got called a paedophile, and rather than discrediting anybody else it simply made them look absurd.

It's worth remembering that these infantile morons offer themselves as the saviours of our nation. All I can say is that if the day comes that they're the best hope for anything, then it's a fair bet that salvation isn't coming. Thankfully, however, the vast majority of people rejected all they have to offer and they were trounced at the polls.

Mayoral Election

In the contest to be Liverpool's first directly elected mayor, it was always pretty much guaranteed that Joe Anderson would win. With the backing from the local media, being the incumbent council leader, and people's instinctive fear of the Tory government (even though he's making the cuts in Liverpool), he had every advantage.

For the fascists, the result pretty much proved the point of those nationalists who argue for appearing more "respectable" to the mainstream. On the basis of numbers of activists, the National Front - who gained virtually all active members of Liverpool BNP - should have done the best. Yet they were dead last, a brand associated with racial violence and whose candidate is a raving lunatic with a conviction for ABH winning over just 566 votes.

The BNP fared a little better, since they have spent over a decade trying to shed the Nazi image. However, their legacy still haunts them and even with the resurgence of the NF they remain the party that springs to mind when talking of fascists. Only the English Democrats managed to scrape out of the bottom three, a combination of the party having no Nazi legacy (and managing to play down defections from the BNP) and of candidate Paul Rimmer talking to the press about football rather than Zionist plots.

Council Elections

The bad results for the far-right extended into the individual wards where their candidates stood.

For the BNP, the only two wards up for grabs were Wavertree and Belle Vale. In the latter, Christopher Beatson polled 134 votes, 3.88%, which might not be too bad for an unknown whose party haven't previously stood in the ward. In Wavertree, Mike Whitby got a pathetic 45 votes, the 1.16% polling indicating that being a better known face didn't do him any favours. Nor, perhaps, did BNP leafleters being told to shove off by anti-racist residents.

Over the water, Nazi-saluting candidate Joe Killen got just 60 votes.

It was the British Freedom Party who replaced the BNP in wards they had previously stood. In Everton, Jacqueline Stafford got 1.7% of the vote compared to Denis Leary's 4.2% in 2011. Peter Stafford Snr got 1.51% of the vote in Fazakerley, against 4.7% in 2010. Peter Squire got 2.77% in Norris Green with 78 votes, whereas John Edgar got 6.4%/312 in 2010.

In Clubmoor, Andrew Harvey apparently had only 26 people who liked him and got just 0.78% of the votes. This was massively down on Peter Squire's 6.33% of the vote in 2010. Peter Stafford had just 17 people (0.6%) of County voting for him, compared to 222 (4.5%) in 2010.

The National Front's only candidate on Merseyside (outside the mayoral race) was Peter Tierney's brother Andrew. Standing in Stockbridge Ward for Knowsley Council, he came 2nd place - though this becomes less impressive when you consider that he did so with just 71 votes. This gave him 5% of the vote against the winner's 92%, and the Liberal Democrat's appaling showing will have more to do with his own party's failures than the NF's success.

The English Democrats on the rise

The English Democrats are ones to watch, though. In Riverside, Neil Kenny polled 3.15%. In Warbreck, 216 votes for Steve McEllenborough put him in third place with 6.15% of the vote - an impressive climb on Lee Walton's 1.4% in 2011. In Croxteth, Lee Walton polled 3.10% - up on the 1.5% Paul Rimmer and Steve McEllenborough got between them in the 2010 by-election. In Old swan, Steve Greenhalgh got 3.10% with 111 votes. This is up on Steve McEllenborough's 1.4% in 2011.

In all of these results, there could be other factors for growth such as the absence of UKIP, but it confirms the English Democrats' place as the only fascist party whose vote isn't falling. Paul Rimmer's standing in the mayoral race will have helped in this regard, as will the fact that the former BNPers haven't brought overt racial politics with them when defecting.

The struggle in the streets

Electoral intervention will always be an important part of anti-fascist activity. Not so much telling people who to vote for (or whether to vote) but getting out the message that the fascists offer no solutions to the problems of the working class. That will remain the case until the day they give up on achieving power through the ballot box altogether.

But a significant section of the far-right has come to the conclusion that this is secondary. The shift back to "march and grow" tactics has become more acute with the rise of the Infidels and the re-emergence of the NF. The main threat that they pose isn't that they'll gain power, but that they'll pose a physical danger to the left and the organised working class. This demands a response from anti-fascists and - whilst groups like Hope not Hate wave bye bye to the BNP - militants must say hello to the new reality.

The fascists' appealing show at the polls is a welcome result indeed. But it cannot be cause for complacency. They are not going to disappear because there is no election to contest, and we cannot rest on our laurels whilst they continue to organise.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

A most abysmal May Day

May 1st is International Workers Day. It started in honour of the Haymarket Martyrs - the anarchists framed and murdered by the state whilst fighting for the 8 hour day. This year, it was a day for inspirational struggle against austerity and oppression around the globe. Except in Liverpool, it seems, where what actually happened was beyond abysmal.

Photo credit: David J Colbran
Firstly, it should be noted that May Day in Liverpool is often shit and I am judging this one against an already incredibly low standard. The formula is pretty much the same every year - Merseyside Trades Council organise an A to B march, nodding obediently as the police give them the route that will cause next to no disruption, invite a bunch of useless bureaucrats to give droning speeches, then fail to publicise the event at all so that hardly anyone turns up.

There have been attempts to break out of this formula in the past. The anarchist-organised Merseyside May Day Festival in 2010 was very successful. There was a full day of festivities for people to enjoy, even as the organisers of the TUC march reneged on their promise to lead workers to the festival and instead decided to beg for votes for Labour councillor and now-chief-cuts-maker Joe Anderson. However, the sheer amount of time and effort that organising the event required, combined with the limited resources of the organisers meant that it hasn't been repeated.

Last year, a number of activists from UK Uncut called for people to breakaway at the end of the march in order to take direct action. This led to Socialist Party members demanding to know where they were in the 80s and trying to get them arrested, as well as Socialist Workers Party members denouncing the whole thing as "factionalist." As ever, the young and angry - looking to actually do something rather than pontificate about it - were marginalised.

This year, that didn't happen. There have been enough fights with officialdom over the past twelve months that most of those who have become active since the crisis erupted know which side their bread is buttered, to the point that the anarchists aren't always the most cynical about the officials at the moment. The Trots and the union tops aren't so much marginalising the radical end of the movement any more as occasionally showing up to embarrass us - whilst we continue to get on with taking direct action at every opportunity. Which is why, if there is an event at the start of May in Liverpool which epitomises the spirit of International Workers Day it will be the direct action against workfare by Solidarity Federation and UK Uncut this Saturday.

Of course, the official movement does realise this to a degree, and does try to harness that militancy for its own ends. But most militants don't like being put in a harness, and it isn't hard to see that even direct action takes on a totally different meaning with the bureaucracy in charge. A case in point being last Saturday's workfare walk of shame - absent nearly all anarchists because we were busy with anti-fascist activity, it lasted a grand sum of an hour and a half, visited just three shops (with the police warned which in advance) and failed to stop trade in any of them.

Returning to the May Day march, the turnout might have topped a hundred. However, most of this number was not down to any effective building on the part of the TUC but because I had set up a Facebook event through the Liverpool Solfed page. The biggest contingent on the march were anarchists, anti-fascists and other radicals, whilst the trade unions were notable by their absence.

The march was due to kick off at Derby Square at 5pm, but was re-directed to the Town Hall on police orders thanks to the fascist shenanigans earlier in the day. Not to mention Merseyside TUC's puppet-like compliance with the police. There, we were told that a Section 60 AA was in force, and all of the youth were ordered to remove their masks. This was beyond ridiculous, of course, but no doubt down to the trouble caused by the far-right being used as an excuse for the police to throw their weight around more generally.

As the march began, the Irish Republican group Cairde na h√Čireann joined the anarchists and anti-fascists in a bloc at the front. It wasn't difficult to dominate the body of the march given its small size. The TUC did try to assert control by sticking their banner in front of ours, but it was clear who had the power when they had to halt because most of the marchers had rushed to the aid of a young activist being confronted by police. As soon as they let him go, with a threat to arrest him if his mask went back up, a "cheer for our young people" drowned out the police before we left them behind. The march continued once its anarchist bulk was back in place.

The march itself was dull as arseholes. Bar a brief jaunt through the main bus station, it went nowhere visible. Radical chants quickly died out, whilst the bureaucrats at the front were pretty much chanting to themselves. When we reached the rally point, most people milled about wondering what to do, eventually choosing between the pub and home. Next to nobody actually bothered to listed to Tony Mulhearn drone on about the 1980s, and the only positive was that the platform was one speaker short.

There is a desperate need for a radical alternative to the TUC march to be organised next year. It is nothing short of an embarrasment, especially given all of the militant action being taken in the city and around the world at present. Not to mention that May Day exists in honour of anarchists, and to let it curdle in the hands of the useless eaters of the labour movement is almost a sin.

This year, I urge everyone in Liverpool to come along to the action against workfare on Saturday. It will be the closest we'll get to a real May Day event. Next year, if we are not able to offer up an alternative to this dreary ritual, then we must be honest about what it really is - and bring a crucifix.

Peter Tierney nicked AGAIN after Infidels demonstration at Liverpool Crown Court

Today's Liverpool Echo leads with the news that National Front mayoral candidate Peter Tierney has been arrested and charged with a public order offence. This follows a demonstration by around thirty National Front / North West Infidels members outside Liverpool Crown Court.

The demonstration was related to the trial of those accused of being part of a paedophile ring in Rochdale. The jury retired to consider the evidence yesterday and the verdict is due tomorrow. The case has been a focus of attention for fascists in the North West mainly because of the ethnicity and (presumed) religion of the suspects. The official reasoning for this being that there is an official blackout on sex crimes by Asians and/or Muslims, which they are fighting against - which seems spurious given that there has been plenty of coverage in the media both of this case and of the supposed phenomenon of "Muslim paedophile gangs."

Nonetheless, the case inspired a 100-strong demonstration following national mobilisations from the British National Party, English Defence League, Combined Ex Forces and Infidels of Britain back in February. During this, the suspects in the case were attacked by the fascists after being caught posing outside the courts. Nothing to shed tears over there, though the same can't be said of the subsequent rioting in Rochdale.

As is often the case with cases of child abuse, there was little difficulty in whipping up hysteria which risked hurting plenty of innocent people alongside the guilty. It has emerged that the shops targeted in the night of violence had nothing to do with the court case. The one with a possible connection now has a new owner, whilst others were hit in the rampage simply for being nearby and Asian-owned. Yet the fascists continued to point the finger and stir things up, for the simple reason that this is an easy rallying call for them and facts are easily lost in the heat of a riot.

Aware of this volatile combination, it appears that yesterday Merseyside Police were taking no chances. They were enforcing a Section 27 dispersal order, which gave them the powers to arrest people for not sticking to a designated protest zone, alongside a Section 60 AA which said that face coverings had to be removed under police orders.

As a result, National Front (formerly BNP) members Peter and Andrew Tierney, Phil Marriott and Karen Otty were all arrested and charged with breaching the order. 16 year old army cadet Stephen Dumont received a youth reprimand whilst a 22 year old man from Wallasey - presumably Liam Pinkham since it's very rare he has a demo where he doesn't get nicked - was given a caution.

What exactly they intended to do at the court besides cause trouble isn't known. Having already attacked the suspects and threatened their solicitors - risking the case being thrown out - it seems the Infidels have now lost focus. Their signs yesterday declared "British Jobs for British Workers" and "End Social Housing Shame" - nothing at all to do with the horrific crimes on trial in the court where they were protesting. Which only underlines that this case is political capital for them rather than about any kind of real support for the victims.

The Infidels have vowed to return to the court tomorrow, for when the jury gives its verdict. Given what has already happened, and the public call out on Facebook, it will be interesting to see how the police handle them. More importantly, it will be good to see the end of this case and hopefully - despite the fascists' wrecking tactics - justice done for the victims of these horrible crimes.