A tale of two black flags: some confused thoughts on anti-state resistance to the Islamic State

The black flag of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria

The black flag of anarchism being flown at an anti-war demo in Tel Aviv.


Over the last few weeks, people across the UK have been taking to the streets to voice their anger at massacres happening in the Middle East. Some of these people have been protesting against Israel’s slaughter in Gaza, a relatively common sight which is well-worn territory for the left, and these demonstrations have been full of familiar faces and slogans. But there’s also been protests organised by the Kurdish community against the rise of ISIS, and here we’re on far less familiar ground.

Across the political spectrum, there’s been some fairly predictable responses: pro-war conservatives like Breitbart have eagerly backed the protests, while Lindsey German has jumped at the chance to trot out her standard simplistic “everything that Western governments do is bad, things that aren’t done by Western governments aren’t worth caring about” line once again, refusing to engage with the protesters  on any real level, and the EDL’s leadership have declared their support for the demonstrations, although it remains to be seen whether many of their supporters will actually manage to restrain themselves enough to stand near non-white people without abusing them.

So far, so predictable: but for those of us who want to try and form a response  that acknowledges the complexity of the situation, rather than just repeating dusty old one-size-fits-all slogans, where to begin?

First of all, I think it’s worth addressing the question of whether this issue is worth engaging with at all. There is a position, and it’s one I find myself increasingly sympathetic to, that says our political activity should always be based on our everyday lives and the concrete problems that we face, and abstract political protest should be avoided entirely in favour of direct action. For people who take this attitude, the whole question can safely be ignored; in any given situation, the most useful thing to do is just to carry on with our own struggles, and hope that in some minor way our activities can begin to make a contribution toward a future international wave of revolt.

That’s a legitimate attitude, and one I respect, but it’s not the only perspective on what anarchists “should” be doing. There is also a position, broadly but not exclusively associated with the platformist tradition, that says anarchists should be active wherever movements against injustice exist. For instance, looking at the Anarkismo statement, they say that:

“We oppose imperialism but put forward anarchism as an alternative goal to nationalism. We defend grassroots anti-imperialist movements while arguing for an anarchist rather than nationalist strategy.”

So, even if there’s no need for a syndicalist group like SolFed or the IWW to engage with anti-ISIS protesters, it is certainly justifiable that others might want to do so. Certainly, there’s a long tradition of anarchists being involved with protests against Israel’s massacres, and it seems hard to give any good reason why a murder carried out by the IDF is inherently more objectionable than one carried out by ISIS. Our solidarity should not be selective and self-serving: oppression and injustice are oppression and injustice, and they don’t suddenly become alright just because our rulers happen to condemn them.

Having said all this, it’s hard to endorse the solution being pushed by the anti-ISIS protesters, who are essentially calling for the UK to intervene in one way or another. But anarchists have always joined protests to express a common opposition to a problem, even if we don’t share the strategy being pushed by the main organisers, whether it’s marching against austerity policies alongside people who want to see Labour elected, or standing against Israel’s attacks on Gaza together with supporters of Palestinian nationalism. The goal has always been to find common ground based in our shared anger at injustice, and then to argue for a solution that’s compatible with our basic principles. But then the question becomes: faced with a situation like the rise of ISIS, what would that solution look like?

Of course, there are some things that no-one could object to: in the wake of the Kony 2012 campaign, Invisible Children’s critics suggested ways that people who cared about the situation could contribute to humanitarian assistance for Kony’s victims without backing military intervention, and I’m sure it would be possible to help send humanitarian aid to ISIS’s victims in a similar way. But the protesters are explicitly saying that supplying sticking-plasters to put on the wounds is not enough, and they want to see ISIS defeated outright.

Personally, I don’t think I could ever back call for “our” ruling class to sort the problem out: I don’t think US/UK intervention has a very good track record of making the situation in Iraq better, to put it mildly. Calls for the state to arm anti-ISIS fighters might seem less obviously problematic, but I still don’t think they’re supportable: military aid always comes with strings attached, and would only be supplied as part of a deliberate policy of creating a force that would act as a proxy for US/UK interests in the region.

One good anarchist principle that I think it’s worth bearing in mind is that, rather than appealing to our rulers for help, it’s better to make links directly with other working-class people across national borders. I don’t think this aim is any less “pragmatic” or “realistic” than calling on the state for help: it’s not easy to influence foreign policy, and any movement that was powerful enough to have any real impact on government policy (as opposed to just providing a convenient excuse for something the government wanted to do already) would also be powerful enough to act directly for itself. But this then raises the question of what forces, if any, we could try and make these connections with.

I should admit here that I’m not an expert on Kurdish, Iraqi, or Syrian politics by any means, and it’s very possible that there are forces acting in the area that I’m completely unaware of. But, to the best of my knowledge, while Kurdistan’s recent history certainly contains examples of mass autonomous class movements that overshadow anything seen in the UK, I’m not aware of any force resisting ISIS that could be described as a genuinely working-class movement, rather than a nationalist, capitalist faction of one shade or another. Even as I type this, I can feel a certain discomfort with my own conclusions: am I really saying that we can’t show any support for attempts to stop a massacre until there’s a sufficiently pure force opposing it?

But the path of lesser evilism is a dangerous one to go down: saying “No war but class war” may sound like a rigid dogma, but any attempt at a more flexible, realistic politics always seems to end up sooner or later by making excuses for terrible bastards. To silence our criticisms of the peshmergas, or any other nationalist force, on the grounds that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, is to follow the same logic that led the US and UK to supply arms to Islamist fighters resisting Assad in the first place.

So, do we have anything to say to those who’ve been taking to the streets protesting against ISIS? Repeating the basic internationalist principles of class solidarity across all national borders may not be terribly helpful, but then it’s worth remembering that, as a small, marginal movement on the other side of the world, nothing we do is likely to have that much direct impact on the situation: it’s better to put across a principled position, and be aware of how little we’re doing to help, than to express a more populist, unprincipled position, and delude ourselves into thinking we’ve done something practical.

It’s possible that there’s a force somewhere in the area that we should be expressing our total support and solidarity with – if anyone does know of such a movement, please let me know in the comments. But if there’s not a simple side to pick, we can at least stand in solidarity with those who are opposing ISIS’s oppression, and try and make space to argue for internationalist, anti-state politics. It won’t change the world tomorrow, but it’s better than either closing our eyes to all suffering that  can’t be directly blamed on our own rulers, or dropping our own principles to join in demanding solutions that we know won’t work.

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Mid-August round-up: direct action and strikes in London, Brighton, Barnsley and Doncaster

The action against unpaid wages at a temp agency in London this week was a success, with the organisers reporting that “They saw that we were talking to other people who had come to register with the agency, that there was a gang of us, that we could argue back with them, that we weren’t going to leave without getting this sorted, and that we had placards and wouldn’t be afraid to use them! Another manager bloke then stepped in and managed to sort things out there and then, surprisingly easily considering that they hadn’t managed to sort this out in the 6 weeks before. We left some flyers so that other workers know that they can contact us for support if the same thing happens to them.”

Meanwhile, Brighton Hospitality Workers have achieved their fifth victory in a row, and have made a video documenting their latest campaign. Both examples show the power of well-focused direct action based around winnable aims.

Up north, another campaign of direct action is still going strong: the Freedom Riders, a group of pensioners and disabled people fighting travel cuts in South Yorkshire, have secured another meeting with Northern Rail to discuss their demands. Unlike many top-down struggles, they’re not letting the promise of negotiations demobilise them until they’ve got everything they want, and so further freedom rides are planned for Tuesday 19th and Thursday 21st August, and then every day of the week starting on the 25th. At a time when there’s little visible resistance to austerity, the determination of the Freedom Riders is a huge inspiration.

Care UK strikers showing their solidarity with sacked Tesco delivery drivers

Not far away in Doncaster, striking Care UK staff have voted to continue their campaign: having already taken 48 days of strike action, they’ve now voted to strike for another three weeks. This kind of militancy is practically unheard of in contemporary union disputes. Disappointingly, while the Trot left have provided consistent coverage of the dispute, there seems to have been very little discussion of it in libertarian class struggle circles. There’s a lot we can do to support this fight, even if you don’t live close enough to be able to visit their picket lines: public collections help to both raise awareness of the dispute and to raise much-needed money for the strike fund, or you could put on a fundraising gig or club night. Equally, you could leaflet other Care UK offices or Bridgepoint outlets in your area to try and spread the dispute, and I’m sure they’d be happy to send speakers for any events that want to host them – organising a meeting about the dispute could be a good way to start conversations about how care workers in your area can start organising towards a similar level of militancy and confidence. Cheques for the strike fund should be made payable to Doncaster Unison 20511, and posted to Unison, Jenkinson House, WhiteRose Way, Doncaster DN4 5GJ; to get in touch with the union branch, whether to send a simple message of solidarity or to make more detailed plans, you can email admin@unison-dab.org.uk. Of course, having all contact going through the union hierarchy isn’t ideal, and it’d be better to make links with rank-and-file workers directly; but it’s only possible to do that when you’re already involved in supporting the dispute.
Finally, it’s good to see that the Police Spies Out Of Lives case seems to be going well, having forced the Met to back down and confirm that Bob Lambert/Robinson and Andrew James Boyling/Jim Sutton were indeed involved in sexual relationships while acting as undercover policemen. They still refuse to confirm the identities of John Barker/Dines and Mark Cassidy/Jenner, but with their defence falling apart it’s difficult to see how they could continue trying to hide the truth for much longer.

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Action against rip-off temp agency, Wednesday 13th August, London

This upcoming action against a rip-off temp agency in West London looks worth attending if you can make it, or helping to publicise if you can’t:


We are 4 agency workers, on minimum wage, whose holiday pay is being withheld. We think this is systematically being done by this agency. We have tried calling and going in individually, phoning their head office, all to no avail. They never call us back, and come up with different excuses as to why they’re not coughing up e.g. “we’ve sent your P45 now, it’s too late to get your holiday pay” or “You needed to have given us one weeks notice before you left the agency so we don’t have to pay your holiday pay” etc. etc. Our contract states that if we are owed holiday pay upon leaving, i.e. we have holiday days that we have not taken, this money will be paid to us instead.

Our individual efforts have failed, so we want to go together and not leave until they pay us what we are owed! We have all now left the agency so we have nothing to lose. We also want word of our action to spread amongst local workers so that they know that they could also do something if their agency fucks them around.

The plan is to be at the agency at 9.30am. we want to go inside, make our demands to get paid and basically refuse to leave until they’ve done what they’ve had to do e.g. phone head office, find our records and the exact amounts they owe us, and sign something that the payments have gone into our accounts. in the meantime, it would be good to have people inside with us, and also maybe talking to other workers inside who will be there to register with the agency. if we get chucked out, would be good to have some kind of presence outside for a while, speaking to people as they come in, maybe handing out some flyers…? Also, if someone could film it, that would be good.

So, the details are:

When? Wednesday 13th August.

Meeting point: 9am, outside Tescos, 229 Greenford Road. UB6 8QY. The easiest way to get there if you are coming from centre of london is to go to greenford on the tube (zone 4 on the central line, westbound) and then get the 92 bus outside the station for 10 minutes along the road until you get to greenford broadway. If it’s easier, I can meet people at greenford tube station at 8.30am and we can go to the tesco’s together.

Because of work/flight commitments of some of us, we’ve only got until about 11.15am at the latest before we have to quit the action.

We haven’t done something like this before so any advice with regards to strategy is welcome!

I’ve not had anything to do with organising this, I just saw the announcement and thought it was worth passing on, but if you fancy getting in touch with Angry Workers of the World, the group who seem to be behind the call-out, you can try angryworkersworld@gmail.com.

On the subject of direct action, a few recent victories won by direct action struggles over housing: a huge crowd prevented bailiffs from carrying out an eviction in Nottingham, the Seattle Solidarity Network have pressured landlords into signing up for a huge repairs programme costing over $50,000 after a nine-month fight, and Bristol ACORN also report that they’ve had some success in forcing landlords to make needed repairs.

All these stories demonstrate the power of solidarity to win real victories and improve our lives. The more good examples we can point to, the easier it will be to persuade our friends, coworkers, neighbours and families that they don’t have to just passively take it next time they get ripped off by a landlord or employer. If you’re in London and free during the day, joining the temp agency action next Wednesday might be a good place to start.

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#NoVoteNoVoice? No thanks.

The Mirror are launching a new campaign, #NoVoteNoVoice, hoping to persuade a million people to vote in next year’s general election. Supporters include the pro-establishment anti-fascists of Hope Not Hate, as well as the National Union of Teachers and Unite the Union – apparently some of Britain’s largest and most active trade unions are happy to endorse the idea that there’s nothing people can do to make their voices heard other than by voting. To give credit where it’s due, Anna Leach’s “why YOU should vote in 4 charts” is a very good piece of propaganda – it’s nicely designed, and puts its case across in easily accessible terms. It’s also very wrong, and makes a dangerous and disempowering case.

While the campaign is not officially aligned with any political party, it obviously has Labour’s fingerprints all over it. Huge numbers of people recognise that the government don’t care about them, and is actively attacking us in all kinds of ways. The key question for Labour is whether they can channel the distrust of the government into active support for Ed Miliband, or whether that disaffection will take another form, like mass abstention or a rise in votes for the anti-establishment posturing of UKIP.

#NoVoteNoVoice is the left-wing of the political elite attempting to shut down any discussion of potential alternatives. They recognise that, faced with a choice between Iain Duncan Smith and Rachel Reeves – or, to put it in loaded terms that make it clear exactly how disgusting this “choice” is, a choice between the party of Cyril Smith, the party of Leon Brittan and Margaret Thatcher, or the party of Margaret Hodge and a minister in Blair’s cabinet who has not been named yet – many people will just stay at home. There’s no reason to be smug about this mass disaffection, since it’s not showing any sign of taking on any organised form, let alone a progressive, class-based one, but as long as politicians are widely loathed and distrusted, the potential for an alternative exists. And that’s why Labour’s friends in the media are rolling out #NoVoteNoVoice now, to try and close down the space needed for a genuine alternative.

It's possible I may have slightly altered this chart.

To examine their arguments in a bit more detail:

1. Politicians care more about people who vote

Who politicians don't care about - #novotenovoice

The problems with this claim are pretty obvious. As a full-time worker, I’m apparently one of the groups that politicians care about. They seem to have a funny way of showing it, seeing that they’ve been happy to watch the value of my wages fall by a massive amount while also bringing in huge tribunal fees that essentially charge workers large amounts of money for being victimised by our employers. The latest plans to ban strikes are another sign of how much politicians care about us. If this is what it’s like to belong to a group politicians care about, I wouldn’t mind a bit of indifference. Equally, the pensioners who were attacked by the state’s thugs for protesting against cuts to their travel allowances may not be feeling hugely grateful for the loving care lavished on them by those in power. Ultimately, whether you’re in full-time work, part-time work, studying, retired, disabled, or on JSA, this system doesn’t work for any of us, and we’re all facing attacks on our living standards. Drawing lines between full-time and part-time workers or pensioners and other claimants only hides the problem.


2. Older people have more power at the ballot box because they almost always vote

Another divisive attempt to portray OAPs as somehow getting an easy ride from the political elite. This is absolute rubbish. George Osborne has made vicious cuts to pensioners’ income, and now pensioners are being threatened with homelessness as a result of these cuts. Our rulers are even considering the possibility that those who are too old to work paid jobs should be forced into unpaid work by threatening to cut their pensions, describing retired people as “a negative burden on the state”.

There’s a further problem here: it’s true that young people are less likely to vote, but it’s also true that, as well as being less likely to vote, they’re the people most likely to vote Labour. Two graphs from the Ipsos MORI generations study, which defined “Generation Y” as anyone under 31, make this clear:

So, even if politicians in general don’t care about younger people, Labour should be bending over backwards to keep the youth vote, right? Except it doesn’t quite work like that. From introducing tuition fees in 1998, to introducing variable tuition fees in 2003, to commissioning the Browne Report that recommended scrapping the cap on tuition fees, through to their latest threats to scrap benefits for young people, Labour have always been happy to introduce policies that penalise the age group most likely to support them. This attempt to encourage people to vote by setting young against old really doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.


3. Wealthier people have more power at the polls

#NoVoteNoVoice renters vs mortgages - who votes more?

This comes a lot closer to making a worthwhile point, but it gets cause and effect all mixed up. It’s true that politicians are more likely to care about rich people, and richer people are more likely to vote, but that’s not the same as proving that the first fact is caused by the second. People who do most of their shopping at Harrod’s probably have a much higher average income than people who do most of their shopping at Aldi, but that doesn’t then mean that if you and I started to do our shopping at Harrod’s we’d end up being richer as a result of it. Equally, the fact that rich people are so much more likely to vote than we are is not a cause but an effect of the fact that politicians care about them and not about us. It’s completely backwards to blame working-class non-voters for not taking an interest in the question of which set of rich scumbags get the job of attacking our living standards.


4. The people who didn’t vote in 2010 could change everything in 2015


Ok, this one is actually 100% true, and an important point to make. There are a lot of us, and we’re an important group, and we really do have the power to change everything. But that’s not the same as proving that our power to change things lies in the ballot box. The 15.9 million people who don’t trust politicians to represent our interests could make our voices heard in all kinds of ways and still remain non-voters. It’s right to point out that renters, a group who overwhelmingly don’t vote, get a raw deal from the system, but instead of trusting a bunch of rich arseholes with two homes each to represent our interests, we could try building power collectively with other tenants, along the lines of the Bristol tenants who’ve come together to oppose the use of rip-off tenancy fees, the London council tenants organising to resist gentrification, the Nottingham tenants standing together to resist an upcoming eviction and other groups like Hackney Renters. Elsewhere, other organisations like Bristol Solidarity Network and Solidarity Federation groups in North London, South London, Brighton and Newcastle have managed to recover unpaid wages from thieving bosses, and Bradford Industrial Workers of the World are taking up the fight against zero-hours contracts. On a bigger scale, it wasn’t the election of a Labour government that got rid of the poll tax, it was scrapped by a Tory government terrified by the mass non-payment campaign. That might seem a long time ago, but more recent cases like the government’s abandonment of the pastie tax or Nick Clegg suddenly discovering that he opposes the bedroom tax show how it’s still possible to effectively pressure right-wing politicians without going down the electoral route. Unlike #NoVoteNoVoice, I’m not going to try and tell you whether you should vote or not, because in all honesty I don’t really care one way or the other; whether or not you make the choice to vote, there are a lot of other things you can still do, and I think that talking about all those other things is a much more interesting conversation to be having. From workplace organising to anti-racist football tournaments to feminist music festivals to mass creative direct action by disabled people, there’s a whole world outside the electoral process that’s worth exploring.

Whatever you care about, whatever matters to you, it is possible to make a difference, it is possible to make your voice heard. But that means getting together with the people around you and organising to build power collectively. No matter how appealing it looks, and how nicely it’s presented, #NoVoteNoVoice is an attempt to discredit the idea that we change things by acting outside of the ballot box. We can make our voices heard, but if we’re going to do it, we need to start by ignoring the liberal bullies who insist that if we don’t do things their way we don’t deserve to get a say.

Posted in bit more thinky, debate, labour, stuff that I don't think is very useful, the media, the spectacle | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

No such thing as a free ride? Pensioners and disabled people take direct action against transport cuts

The cuts continue up and down across the country, chipping away at useful services in an endless series of local attacks. We’re still a long way away from seeing any kind of large-scale, generalised anti-austerity movement, but specific cuts are still capable of provoking very impressive reactions.

One such example is the scrapping of free travel for elderly and disabled people in South Yorkshire. At first glance, this might seem no different to many other similar stories: distressing, and certain to make life worse for vulnerable and impoverished people, but likely to pass without much effective resistance. But South Yorkshire pensioners and disabled people haven’t taken it lying down, and they’ve not just used the standard campaign tactics of lobbying and petitioning either: they reacted to the cut by launching a sustained campaign of direct action, organising mass faredodging sessions where large groups ride the train for free. Now, after an embarrassing stand-off between pensioners, disabled people and cops at Barnsley station, the local transport executive have suddenly decided to reconsider their decision, and are looking at bringing back free travel for disabled people, and half-price travel for pensioners. Of course, no-one should claim victory before a deal’s been fully worked out, and I hope that they keep up their actions until the transport executive are forced to fully reinstate free travel at the same conditions as before (if not better). But even at this stage, the fact that those in power have been forced to back down from their initial position is very encouraging, and the attempt by Sir Steve Houghton, leader of Barnsley Council, to “stress this is not a result of people who have been breaking the law” is obviously laughable.

Focusing on resistance and small victories is not an attempt to look at the world through rose-tinted glasses: obviously, the overall situation is very bleak right now, on both a national and international level, and there’d be no point trying to deny that. But the important thing is to keep focussed on the stuff we can affect. Nothing that you, or I, or some pensioners from Barnsley, say or do can have a serious impact on the worsening situation in the Ukraine. But if we follow the example of the retirees and disabled people in South Yorkshire who identified a problem that seriously affected their day-to-day life, and joined forces with other people around them to take audacious, brave, determined action outside of the law, then we can change things – perhaps only small things at first, but aiming higher as our collective confidence and solidarity grow. Sometimes individual issues can spark something much bigger. Most of the time they don’t. But they more experience of collective action and power we have, the better off we’ll be when large-scale crises do erupt.

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How do you solve a problem like Nigel?

So, it’s happened. That moment we’ve all been waiting for has arrived: an ever-growing number of people are turning their backs on the business-as-usual politics offered by the mainstream parties and are pledging their support for an explicitly anti-establishment alternative. The bad news, of course, is that this alternative is the rabidly nationalist populism offered by UKIP, who currently look set to take more votes than any other party at the upcoming European elections. This has generated a huge amount of attention among the mainstream media and most of the left, but there seems to have been very little serious discussion of it among libertarians, especially when compared to the amount of energy that goes into countering much more marginal nationalist projects like the March for England.

To some extent, this reluctance to seriously engage with the rise of UKIP is entirely understandable, in that it reflects a very justified suspicion of electoral politics. Nationalist gatherings like the March for England or EDL protests take place within our “comfort zone” – which isn’t to say there’s anything comfortable about anti-fascist activity, but it is an arena where direct action methods obviously make sense. There’s a long tradition of militant opposition to fascist street marches, so the tactics and principles of militant anti-fascism are fairly  well-defined by now. In contrast to fascist street groups, UKIP operate much more on the terrain of electoral politics, an arena that’s much harder for anarchist to engage with. If we can’t block them in the streets, and voting for the mainstream parties to stop them gaining seats is an unpalatable option, what else is left?

But while working out an anarchist strategy to counter UKIP is difficult, it’s also important. The idea of a “three-way fight”, as promoted by the blog of the same name, is useful here: “we believe that fascists and other far rightists aren’t simply tools of the ruling class. They can also form an autonomous political force that clashes with the established order in real ways… We believe the greatest threat from fascism in this period is its ability to exploit popular grievances and its potential to rally mass support away from any liberatory anti-capitalist vision.

Leftists need to confront both the established capitalist order and an insurgent or even revolutionary right, while recognizing that these opponents are also in conflict with each other.”

While UKIP definitely aren’t fascists, the basic thinking behind this analysis seems relevant. If UKIP are allowed to define what it means to be angry at the political elite – if they become the voice for all those who are angry about our daily grind funding the celebrity lifestyle of politicians and bureaucrats – then there’s no room for an alternative based on class solidarity to emerge. At the same time, we also need to firmly distance ourselves from the kind of liberal anti-UKIP campaigning that ultimately serves as a defence of the established political elite. The Third Estate and Suzanne Moore have both written good criticisms of the limits of most opposition to UKIP, and the Thurrock & Basildon Heckler has made a good start at putting across a class-based argument against UKIP.

Looking at the history of campaigns against the BNP gives us some examples of how to oppose a radical nationalist party without defending the political mainstream: the Hereford Antifa leaflet against the BNP is still worth a look as a classic piece of populist anti-fascism from a clearly defined working-class perspective, as is the old Anti-Fascist Action leaflet that branded the BNP as “the Ultra Conservatives”. Whether it’s explicitly linked to a positive alternative, as with the “blaming immigrants just lets your boss off the hook” defacement of a UKIP poster in Swansea, or just a purely negative message that UKIP can’t be trusted, we should be able to find ways to attack UKIP without endorsing the rest of the political class.



But what should the content of our anti-UKIP propaganda be? It’s clear that just highlighting the bigoted statements that various UKIP members have come out with isn’t enough. Instead of the standard “anti-extremist” message that ultimately seeks to undermine UKIP by showing how far they are from the political mainstream, I think the most useful thing to do is to try and undermine their anti-establishment appeal by highlighting how far they represent business as usual, and in particular how far they’re just a continuation of Thatcherite Toryism – a point that UKIP make no effort to deny. Of course, not everyone hates what Thatcher stood for, and many UKIP voters will be very happy to back a party that wants to continue her legacy, but then these people were never going to listen to anything anarchists have to say anyway. What’s important is that UKIP are seeking to make gains in Labour heartlands, as shown by their visits to places like Sheffield and Gateshead. Crucially, Nigel Farage says both that UKIP are “the true inheritors of Thatcher” and that “Two thirds of our voters would never vote Conservative anyway”, and that is a contradiction that is ripe for opening up. We may not be able to prevent disaffected tories from drifting further right, but we should be able to engage with angry working-class people looking for an alternative to the status quo and argue that class solidarity, not Thatcherite nationalism, is the answer. It won’t be easy – international solidarity is a tough sell to people who have little or no connection to the traditions of the old workers’ movement, and have no actual experience of the power of direct action – but it’s got to be better than sitting on the sidelines while nationalist conservatives sell themselves as the only alternative to the political establishment, or lining up with our Labour and Tory enemies in defence of the status quo.

Posted in bit more thinky, racism, the right | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

April round-up: workplace, housing, and other news

For various reasons, it’s been a while since I’ve been able to post much on here. I still don’t have a huge amount to write about at the moment, but I thought I’d throw together a few links to things that look interesting:

Internationally, 60,000 Chinese workers at the world’s largest sports shoe maker have walked out, and in the US, prisoners in Alabama are organising towards a strike, a project that’s being supported by the IWW, although the latest news I’ve seen suggests that they’re experiencing difficulties. Still, Chinese garment workers and the forced labour of American prisoners both play a hugely important role in the economies of their respective countries, and both countries are pretty central to the global order as a whole, so it definitely sounds like the situation’s worth keeping an eye on.

Closer to home, low-paid workers at the Ritzy cinema in London have launched a campaign of strike action, and care workers in Doncaster are waging an incredibly determined struggle against a 35% pay cut, and have taken 20 days’ worth of strikes so far, with a further two weeks planned for May. Messages of support can be sent to their facebook page, and the strike has attracted the support of other care workers from as far away as Port Talbot, where a similar strike is brewing. From my own personal experience, care work seems like a field where anarchists and other radicals appear to be disproportionately concentrated, so there could be strategic potential here.

Away from the workplace, struggles over benefits and housing are still a live issue: the Focus E15 Mothers are continuing with their campaign, and the hard, unglamourous but hugely important work of appealing against the bedroom tax is still producing a continuous trickle of small victories, including one on human rights grounds that could set a precedent for a huge number of wins by disabled people.

Workers’ Memorial Day is coming up soon, the international day of remembrance for all those killed by their jobs, (Harpymarx writes movingly here about the importance of health and safety in the workplace) and it’ll be closely followed by May Day. May Day events around the country include one organised by Solfed in Newcastle, a Teeside Solidarity Movement event in Middlesbrough, a 3-day anti-fascist music festival in Manchester, and a carnival starting from Senate House in London.

Finally, a look at recent developments among anarchists and the left: Brighton Solidarity Federation report that a campaign of direct action was able to force a multinational hotel chain into coughing up unpaid wages, Plan C have recently published a brilliant article about anxiety which is well worth reading and discussing, and the London-based Angry Workers of the World have got itchy feet and would like to go wandering this summer and maybe visit your town for a discussion about what they – and you – have been up to. Speaking of you, the Kate Sharpley Library would also like to hear from you – if you want to tell them your life story, they’d be happy to hear it.

And finally, a few more contentious issues: the Marxists Internet Archive have been ordered by Fisher & Wishart, who hold the copyright on Marx & Engels’ collected works, to take down all material they own the copyright on. Of course, you can remove material from a single site, but it’s a lot harder to remove it from the internet, so those of us who want to keep radical theory freely available can and should share other ways to access the relevant material – for instance, by posting up zip files like this one, or this archive copy of the MIA Marx-Engels page before the copyright order was served. And, much more seriously, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition have decided to select Steve Hedley as a candidate in Newham in the upcoming local elections, despite his ex-partner publicly accusing him of assault and the Crown Prosecution Service only deciding not to prosecute due to the amount of time that had passed between the original incident and the allegation being made, a loophole that’s been seized on by his supporters to try and clear him of all blame, along with other incidents of sexist behaviour. There’s a petition you can sign if you don’t think it’s OK for Hedley to pose as a public face of the working-class movement with this kind of record.
That’s all for now. Happy May Day, everyone!

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