March round-up – news on the war against women, workers and welfare

This was meant to be an International Women’s Day post, but my computer crashes a lot. Nevermind, if this stuff is worth thinking about on March 8th, then it’s worth thinking about on March 9th.

This post doesn’t really have a specific focus as such, it’s just another round-up of developments in ongoing struggles in the UK. To start off on a topical note, women in Liverpool chained themselves to the railings of Liverpool Town Hall yesterday to highlight the impact of cuts and austerity on women.

Another group of women fighting back at the moment are the Focus E15 Mothers, who are campaigning for social housing so they can afford to continue living in London after Newham Council evict them from their current homes. Johnny Void and Kate Belgrave have both written well about the campaign, and they continue to hold weekly stalls in London, as well as directly confronting the politicians responsible for the decision to make them homeless.

Continuing on the International Women’s Day theme, Police Spies Out of Lives is a group supporting women who’ve been harmed in a deeply personal way by the state: the partners of undercover policemen who systematically lied to them for years in order to preserve their cover. They’re planning to picket the Royal Courts of Justice on the morning of Tuesday 18th March, as part of a broader week of action running from the 17th-21st. If you can’t make it down to join their picket, there’s still a number of other ways you can support their fight for justice, such as signing up to their basic statement.

While the eight women bringing this case are perhaps those who’ve been hurt most deeply and intimately by spycops, they’re definitely not the only people to have been affected by police surveillance and repression. The recent Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance launch meeting in London brought together a number of different groups affected by this issue, including the family of murdered teenager Stephen Laurence, anti-racist and climate change activists, and workers who were blacklisted after raising concerns about health and safety at work at sites such as Crossrail. This week brought a tragic reminder of just how vital workplace safety is, after a worker lost their life in an accident on the Crossrail project. The Site Worker blog has a very moving piece by Stewart Hume on the true cost of industrial accidents, as well as some ideas on how to raise the profile of workplace health and safety on International Workers’ Memorial Day, which falls on Monday 28th April this year.

International Women’s Day wasn’t the only notable date this past week; it was also the 30th anniversary of the great miners’ strike, an event which in many ways shaped the Britain we live in today. The Durham Community Support Centre have a listing of many events commemorating the occasion, and the 30th anniversary facebook page is also worth a look. Those of us who were born after the miners were defeated have never seen a struggle on the scale and intensity of what happened in 1984-5, so it would be good to try and get to some of these to hear some of the lessons that were learned when a previous generation entered into open conflict with their employers and the state.

In more contemporary workplace news, care workers in Doncaster have staged a determined seven-day strike against pay cuts and plan more action to come, and Brighton Solidarity Federation report that their organising among hospitality workers is paying off – literally paying off, as several workers have managed to force their employers to cough up unpaid wages.

Finally, a look at upcoming actions over three key issues in the ongoing fight over welfare “reform”: Boycott Workfare are calling for a week of action at the start of April to coincide with the introduction of Community Work Placements, the new plan to sentence claimants to six months of unpaid work. The organisers of last month’s stunningly successful national demonstration against Atos are planning to keep the pressure up with a day of action on April 1st aiming to ensure that the Work Capacity Assessment is not just handed over to a different contractor but scrapped altogether. And finally, the start of April will also the be the anniversary of the introduction of the bedroom tax. It’s not been a great first year for the bedroom tax, and more successful appeals are coming in all the time, so hopefully a good turnout for local demos across the country could help make sure that it doesn’t stay around for too much longer, especially if they’re not just about venting anger at the politicians in Westminster but also focus on the councils and housing associations implementing the policy on a local level. As ever with the bedroom tax, the lack of national co-ordination makes it hard to tell exactly how much is going on across the country, but there’s definitely events planned for Leeds, Huddersfield, Greater Manchester, Milton Keynes, Bristol and London, so there may well be something going on in your area as well.

That’s all for now. Happy day after international women’s day, everyone!

Posted in disability, gender, police, repression, strikes, the unemployed | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Self-organised claimant resistance to Atos: a success story for our time

An assessment centre closed by protests in Archway, North London

This week saw an important and encouraging development in the ongoing resistance to welfare reforms and austerity: a national day of action, largely organised by claimants themselves with little input from any larger permanent organisation, was successful in provoking Atos, the unpopular “healthcare” company that assesses disability benefits, into announcing their intention to pull out of the Work Capacity Assessment. Given the generally poor state of the class struggle at the moment, a win on this scale is a rare thing, definitely worth taking notice of. Apart from anything else, it’s worth examining the claimant-led protests against Atos just to see how far they differ from business as usual on the left.

The anti-Atos protests – which probably reached their high point in Southend, where Atos staff apparently walked out and joined the protestors, but also managed to close a number of other offices including Wimbledon -  lack a number of the features that the left usually seems to see as essential for any campaign: there’s never been a national anti-Atos trudge from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square, ending in a series of speeches from the usual worthies, and no left organisation has managed to set up a front group called something like Youth Fight Against Atos or Unite the Resistance to Atos to “co-ordinate” the protests on a national level. The absence of these things doesn’t seem to have done the campaign any harm.

Looking at the relationship between Unite and the day of action last week is interesting for anyone interested in the relationship between older established institutions like unions and parties and newer, horizontal internet-based networks. I think the support of Unite’s community section was certainly important to the success of the protests; in my area, it was only through Unite that flyers for the demo were produced at all, and the resources of an institution the size of Unite can’t be written off or ignored. On the other hand, this certainly wasn’t a case of Unite’s leadership setting the agenda, but rather them scrambling to catch up to developments outside of their control.

There’s possibly a comparison to be drawn here with the relationship between the PCS leadership and the rank-and-file civil service network, and there’s definitely lessons to be learnt for anyone hoping to push the unions into action on any issue: if the organisers of last week’s demo had followed the traditional route of lobbying union leaderships, submitting motions to annual conferences and running for executive positions, they’d still be waiting for a national day of action now. By simply organising independently without waiting for anyone’s permission, they were able to set their own agenda, meaning that Unite had to go along with them in order to remain relevant. Of course, for every call for independent action that succeeds in spreading and catching on in this way, there’s probably about twenty that just fizzle out without getting anywhere, but those odds are still better than the grim track record of attempts to push the unions to the left from within. Likewise, the leadership of the party that introduced the Work Capacity Assessment in the first place have now been pushed into trying to distance themselves from it: it’s unlikely that a strategy of trying to change Labour’s policy from within would have had anything like the same success.

It’s important not to overstate the importance of this news. Atos wanting to get out of their contract to administer the Work Capacity Assessment is not the same as the WCA being scrapped altogether. But considering the lack of resources available to claimants, the fact that they’ve got this far is hugely impressive, and I think the decision to focus on the company administering the tests rather than just the DWP themselves has shown itself to be justified. Governments can be very resistant to pressure, but by targeting assessment centres, the claimants resisting Atos have managed to hit the government’s welfare reforms in a vulnerable spot, just like the tenants and their allies fighting the bedroom tax through the appeals system or the workfare campaigners who’ve managed to pressure company after company into withdrawing from the schemes.

The WCA contract will be a much less tempting prize for rival companies now that Atos is fleeing it in terror, and the policy as a whole is tainted by the fact that even Atos admit it’s not working. This victory is still just a small ray of hope at a time when we’re still losing badly overall, but the self-organised protests that’ve shamed Atos, together with the ongoing appeals victories over the bedroom tax and the strategies and tactics that were shared at the recent Boycott Workfare gathering, are one small contribution towards the wider task of building a claimants’ movement that’ll be capable of leaving Iain Duncan Smith’s dreams in ruins.

Posted in disability, protests, stuff that I think is pretty awesome | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Against liberalism, for intersectional class politics

Whenever controversies around issues like race, gender or sexuality erupt in the left, they always seem to produce a fairly predictable set of responses. As if by clockwork, a certain set of male leftist writers spring into life to churn out another attack on “identity politics” and “intersectionality”, eager to defend what they claim is the purity of class politics against the dangers of contamination. What’s curious about this phenomenon is that the arguments of the diehard anti-intersectionalist warriors, when examined, don’t actually seem to offer that much in terms of practical suggestions for how to take the class struggle forward. Instead, in their eagerness to attack “identity politics”, they tend to abandon the basic perspective which antagonistic, materialist class politics is based on, and instead ground their arguments on a set of straightforwardly liberal principles.

For the benefit of readers who might not have encountered these arguments, a quick introduction to a few of the more noisy and visible anti-intersectionalists: there’s Ross Wolfe, a valiant opponent of identity politics who writes articles about subjects like “Marx called Bakunin fat, so that means that there can’t possibly be anything problematic about publicly shaming women for their weight” along with other weighty issues facing workers in the age of austerity, such as early Soviet architecture; James Heartfield, a member of Brendan “look at me look at me LOOK AT ME LOOKATME!” O’Neill’s bizarre Trot-turned-tory clique; and the CPGB, a small and almost entirely male group of Kautsky enthusiasts and leftist trainspotters with a knack for the fine art of unintentional self-parody, who regularly publish articles defending Marxism against the feminist menace, alongside other topics of pressing concern to workers everywhere, like how the Socialist Platform of Left Unity’s refusal to exclude the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty demonstrates their lack of principles, or attacking the Socialist Party and the Communist Party of Britain for their failure to write more articles about the Socialist Workers’ Party.

As representative examples of the genre, I’ll take James Heartfield’s rants against intersectionality and Charlie Winstanley’s article on a recent row about race and sexuality within the International Socialist Network, itself a recent, libertarian-leaning, split from the SWP. These pieces aren’t identical, but they share enough common ground that, taken together, they can be treated as fairly representative of the anti-identity camp.

These articles always tend to be a bit short on suggestions as to how to deal with the actual problems that intersectional approaches aim to address – most notably, the issue of people with certain privileges, and especially men, acting in ways which completely devastate the organising efforts they’re involved in. From Gerry Healy to Tommy Sheridan* to Julian Assange to Martin Smith, the behaviour of powerful men becomes an issue time and time again, and if the approaches suggested by intersectional feminists aren’t sufficient to deal with it, then we urgently need to find a more constructive alternative. Sadly, the anti-intersectionalist warriors don’t seem to have a huge amount of time or energy for this particular task, preferring to concentrate on other issues, like explaining why they think feminists are silly.

When dealing with critiques of “intersectionality” and “identity politics”, it’s important to address the truths that they’re based on. It is certainly the case that many people influenced by these perspectives tend to have a habit of getting into quite heated and vicious arguments on the internet, particularly on twitter (of course, this is to be contrasted with the behaviour of everyone else on the internet, where people just have calm, rational and respectful exchanges). Watching, let alone taking part in, these arguments is often quite tiring and depressing, and it’d be ridiculous trying to pretend that everything said in them is in any way justified. But if we’re to judge ideas by the behaviour of the people who hold them, then anarchism’s tainted by Proudhon’s anti-Semitism, Kropotkin’s support for WWI, and the CNT’s collaboration with the government, Marxism’s fatal flaws can be identified by looking at the jaw-droppingly stupid positions held by at least 99.9% of all Marxist groups that have ever existed, from defending the USSR as a workers’ paradise to insisting that it’s possible to reclaim the Labour Party in 2014, and intersectional feminism is discredited by the fact that some of its supporters are unnecessarily abrasive on the internet, so we might as well just junk all the ideas gained from past efforts to abolish exploitation and oppression and start over from scratch. For myself, I think that a society without government is still desirable no matter how many anarchists say stupid or embarrassing things, I think that historical materialism is still a useful way of trying to understand the world despite all the repressive dictators who’ve claimed to be inspired by Marx’s ideas, and I think it’s worth trying to understand how different forms of oppression intersect with each other even if some other people who share my ideas are unhelpfully rude when they get in arguments on the internet.

But the Heartfield/Winstanley camp aren’t just offended by the tone of the intersectionalists: they also seek to attack the intersectional project on a more basic level. For Heartfield, the problem “is a philosophy, the philosophy of anti-humanism… The main claim of the anti-humanist philosophy is a rejection of the assertion of a common human essence. All such claims to the anti-humanists are false and ideological supports to oppression. Claiming, for example, that men and women, or white and black are fundamentally the same, in this argument, is to hide the oppression of the one by the other under the appearance of equality.”

In his post-script to Heartfield’s article, Wolfe complains about people who  “hold the view that thought is not universal, but embedded, not true for all, but specifically attached to races and groups.” Similarly, Winstanley objects to “the intersectionalist assertion… that all intellectual disagreements sit within a broader system of oppressions, directly manifested by the ethnicity, sexuality, race or gender of the individual involved. In essence, within the context of any discussion in any environment, it is impossible for an individual to remove themselves from these characteristics.” In short, these gentlemen seek to object to the idea that people are shaped by their experiences, and that having different life experiences can lead people to form different ideas.

For the likes of Heartfield, Wolfe and Winstanley, individuals are not the products of their environments, and there’s no need to look for material factors to explain the course of human affairs: we’re all just pure, abstract citizens engaged in a reasonable discussion of ahistorical, universal truths. This is, of course, the classic position of liberalism, but it isn’t the only way of seeing of the world. Against the liberal position, there are those who believe that a genuine human community is possible and desirable, but it cannot exist within this society, so it needs to be created by the active, conscious destruction of all the structures that separate us from each other. This is the perspective on which intersectional feminism is based, but there’s an older name for it: this idea has gone by a number of names, but it has sometimes been referred to as  “communism”.

Antagonistic class politics always relies on the insight that the truth is not a simple, objective thing, but reality always looks different depending on the perspective you approach it from. The pyramids meant different things to the pharaohs and to their slaves, just as Britain today looks different depending on whether you’re viewing it from Downing Street or Benefits Street. Class politics is all about seeking out the perspectives of those who’ve traditionally been denied a voice. It’s about viewing World War I through the eyes of the soldiers who fought in it rather than the generals who ordered the slaughter, the USSR through the eyes of the Kronstadt sailors or the Hungarian rebels rather than the various ideologists and central committees, and the reality of free-market liberalism from the perspective of those who’ve always paid the price for it, from the slaves and industrial workers whose blood and sweat laid its foundations to those being exploited by neoliberalism today, not the abstract, free-floating individuals dreamt of by liberal theorists. And it’s this insight – both the project of seeking out and amplifying perspectives that have traditionally been repressed and ignored, and the realisation that these perspectives exist at all – that also defines the approaches that get labelled as “intersectionality”.

But my problem with the hard-line anti-intersectionalist approach isn’t just that I find its theoretical foundations to be questionable. I also find it difficult to work out how exactly this vision of a pure class struggle untainted by questions of race or gender plays out in practice. A note of humility here: I’m not claiming to be an unsung hero of anarcho-syndicalist organising. I’m not Big Bill Haywood or Lucy Parsons or Durruti: I’m a young(ish, even if not quite as young as I used to be) worker who, like most people of my generation, hasn’t taken part in any mass workplace struggles comparable to things like the Miners’ Strike, and I’ve spent most of my working life alternating between more-or-less insecure temporary work and periods of unemployment. But by now I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time within workplaces trying to think about how to strengthen my fellow workers’ sense of solidarity and self-organisation, and I’ve played a minor part in a few attempts at community organising: again, I’m not talking about campaign that beat the Poll Tax here, but I’ve tried my best to do what I can.

In my experience, it’s fair to say that, in most cases, workplace organising consists of trying to identify the informal groups and networks that always already exist, and then trying to strengthen their internal sense of solidarity and confidence to challenge management, as well as trying to break down barriers between the different informal groups that exist and bring them together. In other words, it’s about paying attention to other people, and thinking seriously about who they talk to, how they talk to each other, who they look out for, who’ll stick their necks out to protect other people and who they’re prepared to do it for, and who has whose back.

To me, it seems unimaginable that anyone could spend any time paying this kind of attention to their fellow workers and still think solely in terms of class, without at the very least taking gender into account. Depending on where you work, you might have an all-white workforce or a workforce with no workers who are openly, visibly not straight, but there is at least some gender mix in the vast majority of workplaces, and, in my experience, the composition and behaviour of these kind of informal social groups is always heavily gendered. To go into a workplace determined to only see workers and bosses, without seeing the way that gender intersects with these relationships and plays out in all kinds of ways, is to blind yourself to a crucial part of the ways that power operates within a workplace, and to ignore a whole set of challenges and opportunities that are deeply relevant to the task of building workers’ power at a grassroots level. If you don’t want to use the language of intersectionality to talk about these things, then that’s up to you, but these issues are worth thinking about for anyone seriously concerned with class struggle.

Likewise, let’s say that your organising project, whether in the workplace or the community, is going well, and starting to make some ground. You can more or less guarantee that, very early on, your opponent will seek to divide you by buying some people off. This may or may not take place along the lines of “identity” – divisions like permanent versus temporary workers are just as useful for the bosses – but if you’re interested in trying to build a movement that won’t just collapse at the first hurdle, you need to think about the potential faultlines that exist within the group you’re trying to organise, and the ways that your opponents can exploit these to turn people against each other by giving some of you access to limited benefits. In other words, to think about the kinds of questions that people who talk about privilege are talking about. Again, I don’t care that much about whether you find the language of privilege useful for discussing these questions, but if you display the kind of frothing-at-the-mouth hostility that some leftists do to even thinking about the idea of privilege, then you’re not going to be able to deal with these issues when they inevitably arise.

On closer inspection, the whole question of “serious class politics versus post-modern liberal identity politics” is a false one. The crusade against intersectionality means abandoning class politics for liberalism in theoretical terms, and it has nothing useful to say about practical questions of organising for class struggle. It’s not about class politics versus identity politics: it’s just a choice between an approach to the class struggle that starts from people’s lived experiences, which in turn means taking into account all the different identities which affect those experiences, or a toothless, abstract liberal universalism.

*to be clear, by including Sheridan in this list, I’m not trying to say that his behaviour is the same as that of Julian Assange or Martin Smith, but if we’re considering “powerful leftist men with big egos who act in damaging ways” as a category, then I think a strong case can be made for including him.

Posted in bit more thinky, debate, gender, racism, stuff that I don't think is very useful, the left | Tagged , , , | 20 Comments

Stand up to repression: defend Mark Harding

https://scontent-b-lhr.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-frc3/t1/1660838_10152191698476023_1088618051_n.jpg

These are the bail conditions that were imposed on Mark Harding, a tube worker who was arrested during last week’s strike for asking a strikebreaker to respect the picket line. There’s going to be a meeting in the Exmouth Arms pub in Euston at 17:00 on Monday 10th February, open to all supporters who want to see the charges dropped. It sounds like an important event for anyone who wants to challenge the growing use of police powers to crush any kind of dissent – not being a Londoner myself, I won’t be able to make it, but it’d be good if people involved with other ongoing anti-repression campaigns like Cops Off Campuses can make it down. The facebook event is here, and the official page for the Defend Mark Harding campaign is here. Please share with anyone who you think might be interested or able to attend.

Posted in police, repression, strikes | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Is the bedroom tax beaten in Scotland?

The Scottish government have voted to make £50 million available to tenants to cover the cost of the bedroom tax. So far, I’ve seen very little discussion of this, especially not from any kind of critical perspective. I know the left have often been quick to claim defeats as victories, and I’m not keen to take the claims made by the politicians in Holyrood at face value, so I don’t want to rush to celebrate just yet. But if this is as good as it seems, it’s huge news – probably the single biggest victory in the class struggle in the UK we’ve seen since the start of the economic crisis. The No2BedroomTax campaign have a piece analysing the news, and highlighting the guarantee that “if the DWP says no, the Scottish Government will put in place a scheme to make this additional £12 million available to social landlords so that we need not see any evictions in Scotland this year as a result solely of the bedroom tax.”

If this is all just a cruel trick, and the Scottish government are counting on the tories to block their plans so they can get all the glory of being seen to oppose the bedroom tax without having to pay for it, then it needs to be exposed so we can see clearly where we stand and how much more still needs to be done. And if it’s not, and grassroots community organising and resistance really has forced the state to shell out millions to keep people in their homes, then we should be shouting this news from the rooftops and celebrating. Either way, this development will put the tax in the rest of the UK under even more pressure. Tenants should appeal, especially as a recent tribunal has found that a room has to be used as a bedroom in order to count as a bedroom so the whole idea of a tax on spare bedrooms might yet turn out to be completely unworkable, and local campaigns should pressure local councils into following Scotland’s lead and refusing to evict tenants for bedroom tax arrears. It’s grassroots pressure that forced the Scottish parliament to reverse their original refusal to help affected tenants, and that kind of pressure kept up across the rest of the country can turn the entire policy into an unenforceable mess.

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Scots to scrap the Bedroom Tax?

I’ve not seen a lot of discussion yet about the latest bedroom tax news from Scotland. At first glance, it looks like a great victory, but I don’t want to rush to conclusions too quickly about how far this is genuinely going to make things better and how far it’s just politicians saying stuff that sounds good. Still, for the record, here’s what the Scottish Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation have to say about it:

“Victory – Mass campaign sinks the Bedroom Tax in Scotland The Bedroom Tax has been defeated in Scotland. The imminent announcement that the Scottish government intend to effectively end the crushing burden of the hated and reviled Bedroom Tax is a huge victory for the thousands upon thousands of working class people who refused to accept the so-called inevitable, and are responsible for its defeat.

It’s a victory reminiscent of the defeat of the poll tax in the early 1990′s. Mass campaigning, hundreds of public meetings the length and breadth of Scotland, thousands on demonstrations, lobbies and protests and a refusal to accept any possibility of evictions proved an unstoppable force. Unlike the poll tax, the Bedroom Tax directly attacked only a small percentage of the working class. Yet it aroused huge anger among the overwhelming majority, whether directly affected or not. That the elected politicians in Scotland have now acted, albeit almost a year after its introduction, is down to the unending campaigning work of the scores of anti-bedroom tax campaigns, the Scottish anti-bedroom tax federation that united the majority of them, and an unbreakable will not to allow the Bedroom Tax to pass. This victory will give confidence to the millions suffering cuts and brutal austerity inflicted by Con-Dem government of millionaires. It will give a huge boost to the campaign in England and Wales who will demand its abolition.

How the Bedroom Tax was defeated. In February and March of 2013 campaigns against the bedroom tax were springing up across the country, with thousands of tenants looking to build a defence of their communities. Local anti-Bedroom Tax campaigns sprung up across the working class communites of Scotland. In the West of Scotland a Federation of local campaigns was formed on a democratic basis to raise awareness, organise a march on the streets of Glasgow in defiance of the Tax, and to organise a conference for any interested campaigns to debate the best way to defeat the Bedroom Tax. On the 30th of March 2013 5,000 marched in Edinburgh and over 8000 people marched through the streets of Glasgow, from Glasgow Green to George Square in a show of strength from the schemes not seen since the poll tax. “Axe, Axe the Bedroom Tax” was the slogan, along with the promise to build an anti-eviction army to prevent any attempts at evictions. From the podium the call was made to assemble an Anti-Eviction Army to stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone who’s home was under threat. and that call was widely accepted, with local campaigns from Inverclyde to the Lothians, Dundee to Dumfries, all willing to engage in a campaign of civil disobedience if the need ever came.

Bin the Bedroom tax Dundee had won the first Bedroom Tax concession from the SNP run council, a heavily caveated ‘no evictions’ policy for a year, and the other campaigns were looking for a forum to share tactics and lessons from each other. The Scottish Anti Bedroom Tax Federation was formed at it’s founding Conference on the 27th April 2013. This conference was attended by over 250 Delegates from over 40 campaigns and Trade Union branches.

From its founding the Scottish Anti Bedroom Tax Federation and scores of local affiliated campaigns have been leading the fight against the Bedroom Tax. From the beginning the Federation called for:

1. The Scottish government to come up with the £50million a year needed to ensure that all those affected by the Bedroom Tax would not have to pay.

2. That the Scottish government change the law to rule out evictions for Bedroom Tax arrears

3. That councils and housing associations refuse to carry out evictions.

We have supported the Govan Law Centre’s campaign to have the Scottish Parliament change the law in order to prevent evictions for Bedroom Tax arrears. These Proposals now form the basis of the Private Members bill that has been put forward by the Labour Party MSP Jackie Baillie, but back in April when the Bedroom Tax was introduced the Labour party didn’t take a position against it. We campaigned on the streets of housing schemes helping the petition to get 5000 signatures. We were lobbying the parliament in April when the petition was heard by the petitions committee. We were back at the parliament in June when the petitions committee referred the proposal to the welfare reform committee. We have supported the proposals put forward by the Govan Law Centre that are now contained in the Jackie Baillie bill, and have been instrumental in building the public pressure that has dragged the Labour party kicking and screaming into taking a position against the Bedroom Tax.

The Campaigns affiliated to the Scottish Anti Bedroom Tax Federation have won some major concessions from Local Authorities up and down the country. The SNP controlled Dundee council was forced to take a ‘no evictions for a year’ position very early on after tenants rallied and lobbied a council meeting demanding action. While the campaigners recognised the limitations of these ‘no evictions’ policies, they also recognised how difficult it would be politically to evict once these proclamations were made. This policy became policy for the SNP controlled councils as the party pushed motions through where they could. In Renfrewshire the Labour group who control the council faced pressure from three high profile local campaigns who used the local press to build immense pressure that forced the council to take a ‘no evictions’ policy but without the one year time limit. Tellingly the SNP voted against this policy in Renfrewshire, a fact that was noted by the other campaigns in the Federation. With the Labour party nationally still lost at sea, and the SNP saying that only if there was a YES vote in the referendum would the Bedroom Tax be gone from Scotland, it was clear that on a National level there was no intention to do anything to protect tenants.

Over the Summer with new local campaigns still springing up and affiliating, and established campaigns calling actions to force local politicians into taking a definite position, The Scottish Anti Bedroom Tax Federation was co-ordinating the campaigning work and keeping the Bedroom Tax firmly in the spotlight. There was a national demonstration on June the first and the Mass Sleep out event outside the office of Ruth Davidson MSP.

As the Autumn began, the Labour run local authorities began to crumble under the pressure that had been built. Renfrewshire Council were forced to set up a tenant’s fund worth £600’000 in order to relieve the strain that the DHP fund was under. North Lanarkshire council tried to evict Lorraine Fraser, a disabled tenant who had fallen into arrears. A mobilisation was called and at a packed meeting in Viewpark council leader Jim McCabe was forced into a humiliating U-Turn and announced a ‘no eviction’ policy.

In the Autumn it was the conferences of the major political parties. With the Lib-Dem national conference being held in Glasgow, the Scottish Anti Bedroom Tax Federation mobilised again. We held a successful lobby right outside the building as the Bedroom Tax was debated inside. Through talking with delegates and with our very visual presence we were instrumental in having the delegates vote a motion calling for a review of the Bedroom Tax that was later ignored by the Lib-Dem leadership. In September the SNP-led Scottish government announced that they would top-up the DHP money by £20 million for 2013/14 Just before the SNP conference in Perth in October, it was announced that there would be a further £20 million put into the discretionary housing payment fund by the Scottish Parliament. The timing of this announcement was no coincidence, as the Federation had called a demo on the Saturday of the conference. The SNP were trying to placate the campaigners but the announcement just gave them a taste of victory.

The Scottish Anti Bedroom Tax Federation and it’s affiliated campaigns has shown what can be achieved with a strong campaign. We have forced the political agenda to address our demands and led the way at every stage of this fight. We have helped thousands of tenants through the appeals process, using the Govan Law Centre Tool-kit in an attempt to clog up the system. We have forced councils to top up their DHP to the maximum allowed and forced the £40 million out of the Scottish government meaning that over 70% of those originally affected now have access to protection in their homes. We have Shaped Labour party policy on this issue and didn’t accept the SNP position that only a YES vote would end the misery of the Bedroom Tax In Scotland and today’s announcement has proven us to be correct.

Now we must ensure that all the Bedroom Tax Debt that has accrued over the last year is written off, and any court proceedings for possesion of tenancies due to Bedroom Tax should be suspended.

This just shows what is possible when we have a cause to unite around, and are willing to say that enough is enough!!!”

I can’t say how accurate that is, and I’ll be happy to share more critical accounts if I find any, but that was the first substantial statement from Scottish anti-bedroom tax campaigners I’ve been able to find so far. The Govan Law Centre have also released a statement welcoming the news, and I’ll close with some words from a claimant that I found in one of the anti-bedroom tax groups on facebook:

“Listen up Daily Record lets get it straight … you were not in the front line of the action in the anti bedroom tax campaign you did not have a constant report of action against it, not only me but many other people in Face Book campaign rooms shared posting of what they were doing and any letters posted to the Media were never acknowledged or published, including your offices. It was the vulnerable people on low incomes that were being affected by the bedroom tax that started this campaign and the result is OUR result.”

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Endless Contempt: our silence is more powerful than their prisons

Anarchist prisoner Jerry Koch has been released after spending eight months inside for his refusal to give information to an FBI investigation targeting radicals in New York. Legally, the US government has the power to imprison people to force them to inform them on others, but they’re not allowed to imprison people as a punishment for not informing. So, as long as there’s the possibility that a prisoner’s will might break and they’ll agree to become an informer, the government can keep them inside, but if they can demonstrate that nothing will break their spirit and they’ll never snitch then there’s no legal grounds for keeping them locked up. This is how the Pacific North-West grand jury resisters got out, and the courts have now been forced to admit that Jerry’s resistance is equally unbreakable. In the words of the judge, “this court found him to be in civil contempt. Koch has chosen to remain in contempt – indeed, he promises continued and endless contempt.”

 

Once again, I’m reminded of the words of an earlier generation of American anarchists. When facing execution during the Haymarket Affair, the state crackdown on anarchists that led to May Day, August Spies shouted “There will be a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.” His words perfectly capture the defiance of those remaining silent in the face of state investigations today.

 

I’ll close with some words from Jerry himself, writing from prison in December last year: “Very soon, Judge Keenan will decide whether to order my release or to continue my incarceration. He will make this decision based in large part on my claim that what began as coercive confinement has clearly become punitive – meaning that there never was any chance that incarceration would intimidate me into cooperating with this Grand Jury, and that after serving 7 months in this place, my resolve has only grown stronger.

This is not to say that I haven’t suffered – I’ve lost more during my incarceration that I ever thought possible. I grieve for every goodbye, and I doubt that some of these scars will ever heal. It is during truly difficult times that reveal what lives in the core of people, and that knowledge can sometimes be incredibly painful. But so too can that knowledge make us stronger; I take comfort from those of my fellows who have also refused to be made into subjects of this place. My own resistance is far from unique. It is found in those who have always said NO to those in power. My refusal to cooperate is my contribution to this tradition of defiance to arbitrary and repressive power. I will not cooperate. I will not be institutionalized. No compromise in this. I will not sacrifice my dignity in order to leave this place, and that’s not nothing.”

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