It’s only a disappointment if you don’t expect it.

The strike action planned for this week, which never looked like it was going to be that powerful in the first place, has now been significantly weakened as the local government strike planned for this Tuesday and a dispute on the tube have now both been suspended. Health workers are still out on Monday, and the PCS should still be out on Wednesday, but both groups of workers will now be significantly more isolated. Plan C have a decent leaflet around the midwives’ strike, which looks worthwhile, but crucially falls short of actually criticising the Plan B offered by the unions. This many years into the crisis, with this latest botched strike coming after the drawn-out debacle of the pensions dispute and various other half-hearted attempts from the unions, it’s more obvious than ever that the unions are never going to offer much in the way of real resistance, and that workers need to be organising outside of the union structures and across trade divisions if we want to take control of our own struggles. There’s nothing to be gained by biting our tongues about this fact.

The one-day strike by health workers makes a sharp contrast with another dispute in the health sector, as the Doncaster Care UK strike has now become the longest-running dispute in the history of the NHS. I’m sure that there will be all kinds of local factors that have gone into shaping the Doncaster dispute that would be difficult to replicate elsewhere, but the essential thing to take away is that focusing our energies on organising with the people we live and work alongside in our daily lives can achieve amazing things. Focusing energy, as most of the left does, on lobbying official national structures to step in and deliver action for us will only deliver more half-arsed one-day strikes that may or may not be called off the week before, depending on how our representatives are feeling.

As well as the ongoing Care UK dispute, this week has also seen some grassroots class struggle in the form of the national week of action called by Boycott Workfare, which seems to have included an impressive number of events: most notably the occupation of Urban Futures and the mass blockade of Learn Direct in Edinburgh, but also protests in Norwich, Bristol, Sheffield, Brighton, Stroud, Amsterdam, and a total of ten events in London. Of those events in London, five were organised as a Unite Community event that targeted five jobcentres in one day. I might be reading too much into it here, but I think this might look like a re-run of the dynamics seen in the campaign that drove Atos out of the Work Capacity Assessment contract: first claimants set the agenda by organising independently, and then Unite have to go along with the priorities claimants have set in order to stay relevant. Unions supporting actions by claimants is certainly something that should be welcomed, but it’s not something that can be relied on: as long as the direction of a campaign is decided democratically by the people involved at a grassroots level, there’s no scope for external representatives to sabotage it; as soon as you start relying on an external leadership to organise action, you set yourself up for yet another predictable fall, as local government workers and tube staff are now being reminded.

Posted in occupations, protests, strikes, stuff that I don't think is very useful, stuff that I think is pretty awesome, the left, the unemployed | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hunting for a red October: events round-up for the next few weeks

"These people need homes - these homes need people": the Focus E15 Mothers getting their message out

There’s quite a lot of important events happening over the next few weeks. Some of them have been quite widely publicised, others less so, but here’s a round-up of events that look worth attending over the next month or so:

First, Plan C are holding a co-ordinated series of public meetings about work next week. In their words:

“We Need To Talk About Work: a series of public discussions about the crisis of the work society and strategies for moving beyond it.

Plan C is calling for two things in October:

* Mass support, solidarity actions and participation in the national trade union strike on October 16th.

* A bloc at the TUC demo on October 18th in London.

We want to open up the ideas and plans for these interventions to everyone who shares our problem with work. We’ve already started these discussion and want to continue them through a series of public discussions entitled: “We Need to Talk about Work” across different cities in the UK.

Through these discussions we’re hoping to collectively develop shared perspectives, and to translate our ideas into strategies for the struggle for freedom from waged slavery. These discussions will take place and the end of September, and we encourage everyone who can’t come to one of Plan C’s discussions to organise similar events in other places…

We look forward to meeting you at one of the public meetings or on the streets on Oct 18.

Dates and Venues

Manchester: 1st October, Working Class Library – 6pm

Leeds meeting 30th september, venue either leeds met or vic pub

London Sept 30 Tuesday 7.30pm Common House Unit 5E Pundersons Garden E2 9QG

Thames Valley: October 1st 7.30pm RHUL Geography building.”

The Focus E15 Mothers have got quite a lot of press lately for their brilliant occupation of four flats on the Carpenters’ Estate in London, and rightly so. They’re in court at 10am on Thursday 2nd October contesting Newham Council’s attempt to evict their occupation, and they’re asking for supporters to come down and show solidarity. Other than that, they also hold regular street stalls every Saturday, which sound well worth supporting. It’s also worth keeping an eye out for other groups of tenants organising collectively, like the New Era Estate tenants in Hackney.

There’s also another Boycott Workfare week of action running from 4-12 October. I’ve not seen a full list of events for it yet, but there’s definitely events confirmed for Edinburgh, Bristol and Brighton already, and hopefully more will be added soon.

There are three days of strike action being taken by various public sector unions from 13-15 October. As usual with national union actions, these look to be very tokenistic and unlikely to go anywhere, but they’re still worth supporting, and it’s always worth trying to have conversations about how to take action forward, and how rank-and-file workers can take control of our own disputes and make connections across the barriers imposed by the trade unions – hopefully someone like the Angry Workers of the World or Plan C might come up with some decent material on this theme.

On October 16, the ongoing campaign against blacklisters will be in the High Court for a hearing. I’ve not been able to find much more detail on that so far, but keep an eye on the Blacklist Support Group for more info.

Then, the weekend after that, there’s a whole host of things going on in London – a big TUC demo (again, waiting to see what kind of critical/fringe things will be organised for it – there doesn’t seem to be much so far, hopefully more exciting stuff will be sorted closer to the time), the annual London anarchist bookfair, and then on the Sunday there’s going to be an anarcha-feminist conference, as well as an interesting-looking commemoration of “the revolt of the ravers” – the twenty-year anniversary of the movement against the Criminal Justice Bill.

Finally, far away from all this action in the capital, up in Doncaster the Care UK workers will still be continuing their heroically dedicated strike, with another 21-day strike running through pretty much the entire time period covered in this post. As ever, donations to their strike fund will be received gratefully, and it’s worth keeping an eye on their facebook page to see where they’ll be travelling to, as well as if they’ll be holding any big events that might be worth travelling down to support if you don’t live too far away. We don’t often see industrial action as determined as that being taken by the Care UK strikers, and their militancy could set an inspiring example for other workers across the UK, so we owe it to them to make sure word of their struggle spreads and they get the support they deserve.
Between strikes, housing action, blacklisting, workfare, anarcha-feminism, the history of illegal raves and all the rest, there’s a lot to get stuck into over the next few weeks. Let’s make it a hot autumn.

Posted in anarchists, occupations, protests, strikes, stuff that I think is pretty awesome | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Ealing drama: call to support warehouse workers organising in West London

A group of warehouse workers in West London are asking for supporters to help an ongoing organising project. The Angry Workers of the World collective, who have previously organised a successful action to recover unpaid wages from a temp agency, want outside supporters to help spread information about their efforts without giving their own identities away to their employers. As they explain:

“It is difficult to do things alone because of the composition of labour and how the production process is organised. We also feel that here. It is difficult to meet or arrange meetings with co-workers because we all work different shifts, are knackered, have limited time and capacity to e.g. start a local newspaper for warehouse workers. So outside involvement is needed to aid workers’ self-organisation!

We plan to distribute a leaflet to fellow workmates at the two warehouse sites we work at very soon. The time is ripe, as a sizeable group of people who started at a similar time to us, who have been there a few months, are near breaking-point: fight or flight time. There is a sense that something has to happen, but with all the internal divisions and different shifts, we think that a well-timed leaflet could galvanise some action inside, to spread the idea of a common ‘going slow’-strategy that has been mentioned in various one-to-one conversations, and also to link up workers at both warehouse sites. We obviously can’t do this ourselves because we work there. We don’t fancy dressing up in a chicken costume to give them out either. So this is call for some practical support!

If you have some free time and want to get involved in any aspect of our work, from leafletting, setting up a newspaper, having some discussion…then get in touch! We will also be doing a session at the Anarchist Bookfair if people want to pop along to find out more…”

For those of us who don’t live in or around London but would like to keep informed about what they’re up to, they’ll also be holding a meeting in Liverpool at the end of the month. To get in touch with them, email angryworkersworld@gmail.com

Posted in stuff that I think is pretty awesome | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Still not laughing at the English Defence League

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes a caption is too.

While looking for coverage of the far-right’s attempts to exploit the tragedy in Rotherham to stir up a bit of cheap publicity, I stumbled across something that stuck in my head and bothered me in a way that silly facebook posts don’t normally do. The post in question was from “Patriots Against Society”, one of the myriad of daft EDL News-style pages and accounts that parody the far right:

Thoughtful, helpful commentary there.

Something about the combination of that banner and that “antifascist” response really gets to me. It’s a powerful message: drawing on a memory of class hatred of the police going back thirty years to their actions as an occupying army in the miners’ strike, making links between the contempt shown for working-class football fans in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster and the contempt for young working-class girls that enabled the horrific abuse in Rotherham to go on for so long. And what do “anti-racists” have to say in response? “Lol, look at the thickos who can’t spell.”

The case against “anti-fascist” snobbery has been made before, of course, but it seems to be one of those arguments that needs to be made time and time again. The situation in Rotherham is a difficult and complicated one – I’m not used to finding myself agreeing with the demands put forward by far-right groups, but it’s hard to see how anyone could disagree with the EDL’s demand that Shaun Wright needs to go. The standard UAF model of organising demos where the speakers’ platform is a lash-up between the SWP and local bigwigs was never that good to start with, but it could be terrifyingly counter-productive in a situation like Rotherham, where a platform dominated by Weyman Bennett and local councillors would look like a who’s who of abuse enablers.

Orgreave, Hillsborough, Rotherham. The person who made that banner was angry, and they had good reasons for being angry, and the fact that they were out marching with the EDL should give us pause for thought. In a situation like this, the need for an anti-fascist movement that’s populist, anti-state, anti-establishment and can talk about class is more urgent than ever. The Anti-Fascist Network statement on the situation is a good start, but the amount of EDL News/Still Laughing at the EDL-style crap that’s out there means that there’s still a lot of dead wood that needs pruning if we want to have an antifascist movement that can seriously compete for the hearts and minds of people who drawn towards racist groups, instead of just instantly putting them off with blatant snobbery. I’d like to say the attitudes I’m complaining about are just a liberal problem, but anyone who’s familiar with the Malatesta blog will be aware that some anarchists have just as much difficulty with the difference between taking the piss out of racists for being racist and taking the piss out of racists for being fat/bald/alcoholic/uneducated/tattooed/etc.

There’s a place for satire and ridicule, of course, but good satire should be about examining what your target is actually saying, looking at their arguments to expose the holes, absurdities and inconsistencies in their logic. There’s a world of difference between that and shit like this:

Seriously. This - this - is how some people think it's helpful to react to that banner.

If opposition to the far-right is ever going to go beyond frantic attempts at damage limitation, we need to be actually engaging with the people drawn to far-right ideas – yes, even the fat ones, the bald ones, the ones with alcohol problems and crap tattoos and bad teeth and a poor grasp of the English language and all the other things that seem to mark people out as subhuman in the eyes of many “anti-fascists” – and arguing why their justified frustrations should be expressed along class lines, not national or racial ones. And if we can’t do that, then we could at least do with some better-quality satire, so we’ll have something to laugh at while everything continues to get worse.

Posted in racism, stuff that I don't think is very useful, the left, the right | Tagged , , , , | 36 Comments

Know your rights at work: requesting flexible working hours

As workers, the law is often stacked against us; there are plenty of laws that benefit employers, and when there’s a change to employment law, the effect is usually to leave us in a worse position than we were before, as with the introduction of fees for workplace tribunals, a change that meant anyone being victimised by their employer now has to pay a huge sum of money for the privilege.

This is one of the reasons why I thought it was worth writing something about the new flexible working regulations that came into effect this summer, because they’re a rare change that actually gives us new rights as workers. There are guides to what the new regulations mean available from gov.uk and the conciliation service ACAS, but in short, if you’ve been in your job for six months and you’d like to change your hours to ones that’d suit you better, then you can apply in writing and your employer has to either approve your request or show why it fits one of the official criteria for refusing: the burden of additional costs, an inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff, an inability to recruit additional staff, a detrimental impact on quality, a detrimental impact on performance, detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand, insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work, or planned structural changes to the business.

Of course, that’s quite a long list, and any reasonably savvy employer with a half-competent HR department will probably be able to come up with a legally convincing excuse for why allowing you to work the hours you want would have a very detrimental effect on their business, but there are still a lot of small, incompetent employers who’re so used to always getting their own way that they might be likely to reply to a request with something along the lines of “no, because I said so”, and so end up finding themselves on the wrong side of employment law.

As with any legal protection, these new rights are only as good as our power to defend them. In well-organised, confident workplaces where denying staff requests unreasonably is likely to cause trouble, employers are likely to allow requests for flexible working; in workplaces where the workforce is weak, divided, passive or scared, any requests that get made are much more likely to be ignored. So, the big question is whether we can use these new regulations to increase the confidence and organisation that’s needed to get make any progress. I think we can: not as some magic bullet that’ll sort everything out, but as a small step in the right direction.

Ultimately, our power as workers comes from our willingness to stand up for each other, so having conversations with our co-workers about the problems we face and things we can do to solve them is a vital part of building that power. And that’s why these new rights are important: they’re something practical we can drop into the conversation that reverses the usual perspective that our bosses and most of official society promote, where the needs of our employers always come first and our needs count for nothing. Next time someone you work with is complaining about the hours they have to work, ask them if they know about the new regulations, and if they’re thinking of putting a request in, and you can start to change the conversation from powerless, passive complaining to actively planning how we can alter the balance of power in the workplace to suit us.

We can’t rely on the law to protect us; the only protection worth having comes from the confidence and solidarity of our fellow workers. But right now, that confidence is at a very low level, so if a new legal right might help to improve that confidence, then it’s worth thinking about how to make the most of it. Making a legal request to alter your working hours is a very small step to take, but for a worker with no experience of collective action or asserting their own needs against their employers’ interests, it could feel like a great leap. And once they’ve taken that first step of standing up for themselves, who’s to say where things might lead?

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Solidarity with anti-G8 prisoner Liam Harriman

I missed this at the time, but the Legal Defence & Monitoring Group report that Liam Harriman was jailed at the end of July, with a sentence of 16 weeks, of which he’s likely to serve 8. He was arrested at the protests against the G8 in London last summer. Please support him. You can write to him directly:
Liam Harriman (A0131DG)
HMP Pentonville
Caledonian Rd
London N7 8TT
You can also use the web site emailaprisoner.com to write via the internet, messages get printed out and given to prisoners the next day.

Prison is one of the harshest weapons the state has available for crushing dissent. In turn, prisoner solidarity is one of the most effective things we can do to undermine the power of that weapon. If we’re serious about building movements for social change that don’t just collapse as soon as our rulers decide we’ve gone too far, then we all need to make sure that we support our prisoners.

 

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May we continue to surprise each other: A Ferguson reader

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few weeks reading and thinking about what’s been going down in Ferguson. I still don’t have a great deal of original commentary of my own to add, but here’s a selection of some of the best sources and analysis I’ve found:

As far as I can tell, the main fundraiser for the legal costs of people arrested during the uprising requires a US address before you can donate to it, but if you buy one of these posters from Corina Dross the money goes directly to the Ferguson legal fund. You can donate directly to Mike Brown’s family here.

The News of Opposition page on the Dialectical Delinquents site has a comprehensive round-up of news coverage of the situation, along with original analysis and a few eyewitness accounts not available elsewhere. (EDIT: The DD coverage has now been collected here as Ferguson: Fighting Fear With Fire).

The best on-the-ground coverage of Ferguson has come from the Anti-State St Louis folk; An Eye For An Eye Makes Our Masters Blind, Let Us Not Become Police, Let Us Not Become Sheep and Ferguson Over One Week In are all pretty much essential reading.

CrimethInc’s The Making of “Outside Agitators” and “What They Mean When They Say Peace” are both well worth a read. Other US anarchist commentary on the subject has included this piece from Exiled Arizona, and this solidarity statement from Black Rose Anarchist Federation folks.

One of the first defences of the riots to circulate widely was “Hey, Step Back With the Riot-Shaming” from Mask Magazine. The best pieces of more indepth analysis I’ve seen have come from Unity & Struggle and ULTRA.
Finally, many of these pieces are available in printable form, along with posters and a huge list of suggestions for further reading about the history of anti-police struggles, from Ferguson and Further. Print, read, and share widely

Posted in America, anarchists, police, racism, repression, riots | Tagged | 1 Comment