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 a 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 , , , , | 5 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.

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

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.

Posted in activism, anarchists, bit more thinky, Internationalism, protests | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

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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