Workers win against transphobic discrimination, and other news – late May round-up

Two bits of inspiring workplace news: the organising drive among cinema workers in London has led to the Rio cinema in Dalston being successfully unionised, and the Sheffield IWW campaign against transphobic discrimination at Aviva has now ended with the fired worker being rehired on a better wage than they were before, an impressive win for a temp worker in today’s precarious economy:

In other bits of workplace news, construction workers in Teesside are continuing to raise concerns at the Wilton construction site in Redcar, with the latest news being that a worker has apparently been sacked for posting photographs of unsafe working conditions on site. Keep an eye on Teesside Construction Activists for further news on this case. Meanwhile, down in the South-West, Steve Barley, another construction worker active in the fight against blacklisting, has been sacked for refusing “optional” weekend work and other construction workers have been picketing the site he was employed on. Recycling workers in Sheffield are also fighting against the victimisation of two GMB shop stewards, and will be holding a rally next Sunday as part of their campaign.

On the housing front, down in London Lisa McKenzie’s been charged with a public order offence for carrying this poster at a Class War Poor Doors demo:

 

The poster the Met want to ban

An urgent call-out has also gone out for support for Jennifer, an ex-Sweets Way resident threatened with homelessness by Barnet Council and Barnet Homes, and Guinness Trust tenants will be meeting on Tuesday morning to blockade the construction work that threatens their homes.

Finally, another reminder that the Welfare Action Gathering called by Boycott Workfare is coming up next Saturday. And if you’ve not seen it, the video of immigration cops being chased out of Peckham is very heartening. Whether it’s standing with our fellow workers to help get them their jobs back, blocking evictions or disrupting UKBA raids, our actions can still make a real difference, even when the overall situation is looking grim. I look forward to hearing and sharing more good news soon.

Posted in Gender, Housing, Occupations, Protests, Strikes, Stuff that I think is pretty awesome, Unemployment/claimants and welfare, Unions, Work | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Mid-May round-up: don’t mourn, win

So, a few weeks into the the new government, it seems there’s quite a lot of people who want to fight back, one way or another. If big crowds come out for the various anti-government demos that are coming up, that’ll be good, and if people think creatively about how to make these events more interesting than just marching from one place to another, and get together with trusted friends to make ambitious plans, that’ll be good as well. But if we adopt the Big Day Out model so common among much of the left, and see the struggle as mainly being about big showy one-off events, we’ll be defeated before we even start.

We need to start by looking at our own lives, and thinking about how we can win. For instance, despite the general feeling of defeat across much of the left, hospitality workers in Brighton are still fighting employers and claiming wages that they’re owed, making real gains, no matter how small. For those interested in workers’ organisation, the Angry Workers of the World collective are hosting two film and discussion nights in London, as well as one in Leeds, and possibly others across the country, looking at struggles in the warehouse and logistics sector, and new forms of organisation emerging there.

Another ray of hope over the last few years has been the steady stream of victories won by claimants and their friends chipping away at workfare schemes. If you want to get involved in the ongoing organising around welfare, a good place to start would be the Welfare Action Gathering coming up on May 30th, and coming up after that there should be protests across the country targeting B&M Bargains on June 27th, after they were given an award for their commitment to workfare. Other employers have been forced to pull out, let’s make B&M Bargains the next name on the list.

Finally, the emerging movement around housing in London continues to be an inspiration – a new occupation by Guinness Trust tenants in Brixton started today, and eviction resistance is another form of action that’s continuing to make a real measurable difference to people’s lives. Big days out in London can be nice, but it’s by focusing on our own lives – where we work, where we live, and all the rest of it – that we have the chance to start building real power.

Posted in Housing, Occupations, Protests, Unemployment/claimants and welfare, Work | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Cold comfort: this is not our defeat

Obviously, I’m not feeling great this morning. But I also think I’m feeling better than a lot of my friends, so I wanted to take a moment to think about why that is. Some of it is just that I was never that invested in the possibility of a Labour win in the first place – over the last few days, great pieces from the excellent Johnny Void and Kate Belgrave have summed up a lot of the reasons why I didn’t hope for much from Labour.

But I think there’s something more than that: ultimately, I don’t think that our defeat is something that happened last night. Looking at the big picture, our defeat, our lack of power over our own lives, is something that’s been happening for centuries, something that’s recreated every time we get up and go to work and make money for our bosses, every time we sign on and accept the DWP’s authority over us at the jobcentres. Even in the short-to-medium term, our defeat can only be meaningfully understood as something that’s been going on for decades: the destruction of the old forms of collective organisation, the total inadequacy of the attempts at creating new ones.

I don’t think our defeat lies in the fact that, on the 7th of May 2015, the Labour Party didn’t manage to get enough votes to form a government. I think that it’s more meaningful to understand our defeat as lying in the fact that this election took place in a context where, in large parts of the country, pissed-off ex-Labour voters found that voting UKIP was the most meaningful anti-establishment alternative open to them. We can argue about what form it would be best for an alternative to take, and what its relationship to the electoral process would be, but what’s unarguable is that that alternative does not meaningfully exist right now.

So, yes, we’re fucked this morning, but we were always in a situation where the best we could hope for was to be very very slightly less fucked than we are right now. The fact that we didn’t get the least worst outcome is a shame, but it’s not a tragedy, certainly not when compared to the tragedy of being brought so low that choosing between Tory austerity and Labour austerity feels like a meaningful decision. (By the way, I wonder whether Rachel Reeves is starting to regret telling the millions of British voters who’re on benefits that Labour doesn’t want to represent them yet?)

We’re in trouble. We’ve got a fight on our hands, and it won’t be an easy one. If Labour had won, we’d still be in trouble. We’d still have a fight on our hands, and it still wouldn’t be an easy one. Go back to your everyday lives, and prepare for struggle. Still, having said all that, this is also true:

(edit: fixed the formatting, belatedly, now that the vast majority of people who’ll have seen this have already seen it. No idea where the line breaks went to, but that’s the danger of writing things in rush I suppose.)

Posted in Bit more thinky, Labour, Stuff that I don't think is very useful, The left, Tories | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Baltimore and beyond

So, there’s various things I’ve been meaning to catch up on, but the events in Baltimore have grabbed my attention a fair bit. A quick round-up of sources worth paying attention to:

For those of us too far away to get directly involved, one thing we can usefully do is to donate to this legal/bail fund (if you’re broke now and counting the days till payday, it might be worth saving the link now to revisit at the end of the month).

Mask Magazine are aiming to compile updates from Baltimore here.

This libcom thread features eyewitness reports, along with a good deal of links.

Baltimore Uprising has information for people on the ground, as well as background information about police violence in Baltimore and recommendations for further reading.

This reportback is definitely worth a read.

The best discussion pieces I’ve seen so far have been Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Nonviolence as Compliance, Radical Faggot’s defence of smashing police cars, and this call to disband the police from Salon (this last piece comes via Plan C’s Demanding the Future project – more on that in a bit). UPDATE: Add this statement from Sic and this one from the WSA to that list.

Finally, while it’s a long way from Baltimore, ILWU Local 10’s promise to shutdown the port of Oakland on May Day as a protest against police terror sounds very interesting.

Also over on the West Coast, Black Lives Matter organiser Jasmine Richards was arrested at the end of March, and is currently being held on $90,000 bail on a variety of charges, including “making terrorist threats”. You can donate to her legal defence here.

Outside of the US, there’s also been a fair bit of stuff going on. One more legal fundraiser worth chucking a few quid to if you have anything to spare is this one for Katie Nelson, who’s facing serious charges up in Quebec for her role in the last big revolt up there back in 2012.

Meanwhile, back in Blighty, Bristol ABC have a new zine out featuring writings from Emma Sheppard among others, Brixton kicked off against gentrification at the weekend, and the fascist March for England found that marching through Blackpool isn’t any easier than marching through Brighton, all of which are events which deserve more attention and commentary than I have time for at the moment. And finally, I wrote a little piece on tribunal fees, court charges and legal aid cuts for the Demanding the Future series – if you’d like to submit a demand of your own, information about how you can do so is here.

Posted in Protests, Racism, Repression, Riots | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

We’re all equal in the eyes of the law… as long as we have a spare grand lying about

Another quick round-up of news across a few different areas:

In the workplace, Brighton SolFed are reporting another victory against a wage-stealing pub, and they’ve also finally resolved the long-running Caffe Bar Italia dispute, and construction workers in Teesside have been out protesting against bosses in Redcar trying to get away with undercutting wages. Coming up, workers at the Royal College of Art, having secured a commitment to the London Living Wage, will be protesting on the 22nd to demand that the increase should happen now and not be put off till September. There’s still the demo in support of victimised union rep Petrit Mihaj planned for May Day, and International Workers’ Memorial Day events will be taking place across the country on Wednesday 28th. Hazards magazine have made a range of posters you can use to advertise events in your area.

On the legal front, the government have introduced a range of new court charges that penalise people further for getting convicted and particularly for exercising their right to a trial. To anyone on a low-to-average income, these charges are going to act as a huge deterrent – for instance, getting convicted at the magistrates’ court after a trial might cost you £1000, put pleading guilty to the same offence will only cost £180, so unless you’re absolutely sure of winning, fighting to clear your name in court could become very expensive. Oh, and if you want to appeal against a sentence and your appeal’s rejected that’ll be another £150-£200 on top. As with the introduction of fees for workplace tribunals, justice is going to become harder and harder to get for anyone who’s not rich.

In welfare news, the Black Triangle Campaign are celebrating the fact that they’ve been able to pressure the British Medical Association into informing all GPs about some important regulations that could save people from failing the dreaded Work Capacity Assessment. And the next Boycott Workfare week of action is getting closer – there’s already events planned for Edinburgh, Bristol, and two separate events in London, but hopefully more will be announced closer to the time.

Looking at London’s developing movement around housing, Johnny Void reports that last Wednesday’s March for the Homeless went well. Coming up, the London Property Awards will see a bunch of landlords and similar parasites gathering to slap each other’s backs, so it’d be good to have a presence there letting them know what people think of them, and then there’s the Reclaim Brixton stuff happening next weekend.

In antifascist news, people have been out on the streets today confronting the EDL in Solihull and nazis in London. Coming up, the major mobilisation is against the March for England in Blackpool next Friday, although there’s also a few more events coming up in the Midlands in May. And, indeed, the antifascist 0161 Festival in Manchester.

Finally, as if anyone’d forgotten, it’s May Day soon, and it should be marked by events across the country including Newcastle SolFed’s party in solidarity with imprisoned Spanish anarchists, the Radical Workers’ Bloc marching through Cardiff, and Class War’s street party in London, as well as the Petrit Mihaj demo, Bristol workfare picket, and Manchester antifascist festival mentioned above.

Posted in Disability, Housing, Protests, The right, Unemployment/claimants and welfare, Unions, Work | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Mid-April round-up

Just another quick plug for a few upcoming events:

Housing:

The most urgent news is that Annington Homes have served High Court bailiff notices to all the families still living on the Sweets Way estate, so they’re asking anyone who can make it to Barnet to come out and help fight this dirty piece of social cleansing.

There’s also a march for the homeless coming up in London on Wednesday 15th, and a day of action against the gentrification of Brixton planned for the 25th. Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth also have a few events coming up including a training session on the 18th and a birthday party on Sunday 26th, and a few of them are hoping to make the trip over to Oxford for the re-launch of Oxford Tenants’ Union on the 22nd.

Workplace:

Cleaner and RMT activist Clara Osagiede has been sacked from her job, and has an appeal coming up on April 15th, so she’s asking for people to come along and support her demand for reinstatement. There’s also a May Day demonstration planned in support of victimised RMT member Petrit Mihaj. Up north, construction workers on Teesside have been protesting against unscrupulous employers paying lower wages to foreign workers, and will be paying a trip to Redcar next Saturday to make their case at the Wilson International site there. They’re keen to stress that “This protest is not against european labour working in this country but unscrupulous employers who insist on undercutting existing terms and conditions.”

On April 28th, it’s International Workers’ Memorial Day, and events will be held across the country (and the world) to commemorate all those who’ve lost their lives as a result of their jobs.

Welfare:

Following on from a string of successes so far this year, Boycott Workfare are having another week of action at the end of the month. Keep an eye out for more events being announced nearer the time, but there’s definitely ones planned for Edinburgh and Bristol so far, as well as someone asking if anyone’s up for leafleting Rochdale jobcentre.

Antifascism:

Midlands antifascists are having a busy time of it, with the EDL in Solihull on April 18th, West Midlands Infidels in Coventry on May 2nd, and then Britain First in Dudley the weekend after that. If you can make it along to any of those events, they’d definitely appreciate the support; if you can’t make it, but you have a few spare quid burning a hole in your pocket, they’re also running a fundraising appeal to help cover the costs of all these mobilisations. Further north, the main upcoming attraction is against the March for England in Blackpool, with transport being planned from Sheffield, Manchester and Newcastle. It’d be a real embarrassment if, having been chased out of Brighton, they were able to march through Blackpool unopposed. And there’s also the anti-fascist 0161 Festival happening in Manchester the following weekend.

International solidarity:

A few more events have now been organised against the ongoing repression of anarchists in Spain, with a demonstration in Brighton outside the clocktower at 6 on Sunday 12th, a solidarity protest in Edinburgh on Friday 17th, a benefit gig and film showing also in Edinburgh on the 19th, and a May Day party on Saturday 2nd in Newcastle hoping to raise funds and awareness for the case.
And finally, in case anyone’s forgotten, at the start of next month there’s also May Day, the international workers’ day born out of the struggle for the 8 hour day. May Day is a thread that ties a lot of these themes together, whether you’re having a dance with antifascists in Manchester, partying in Newcastle in solidarity with Spanish anarchists, demanding the reinstatement of a victimised catering worker in London or hassling workfare exploiters in Bristol. But there’s also going to be lots of events just marking the day itself, like the Radical Workers’ Bloc marching through Cardiff, and Class War’s street party in London, so keep an eye out for events near you.

Posted in Housing, Protests, The right, Unemployment/claimants and welfare, Unions, Work | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Hey student! You’re still not saying anything.

The round of articles, replies, and further replies about Kurdistan continues to roll on and on. We now have Stefan Bertram-Lee’s “Dear Mr. Anarchist, you aren’t listening”, which (for those who haven’t been paying attention) is a reply to Peter Storm’s reply to Petar Stanchev’s reply to GD [Gilles Dauve] and TL’s article on Kurdistan. Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin…

Bertram-Lee’s case is essentially a restatement of the central theme of Stanchev’s article, which is that paying attention to the social experiment happening in Rojava is of vital importance for Western anarchists, not because of any solidarity we can offer, but because of the lessons we can learn from it… lessons that Bertram-Lee, like Stanchev, politely refuses to actually elaborate on.

What’s immediately noticeable about Bertram-Lee’s article is that, for all it’s meant to help refute the perspective that GD&TL have outlined on Rojava, large chunks of it actually confirm it. Most glaringly, on the issue of cultural relativism, the GD&TL article on Kurdistan stated

“If some people in Europe and the US see in such goals the announcement of social revolution, fault lies without doubt in “cultural relativism”. In Paris, this program would only provoke mockery among the radical milieu, but “over there, it is already not bad…”.”

This observation is entirely backed up by the Bertram-Lee argument that

“The social reality of the Kurds, (And the history it is constructed from) is decidedly different to that of those who have grown up in the west, and so their perception of what a revolution is (and so what their revolution was) is very different. To a western Anarchist who first crossed blades with his oppressor during the Anti-Globalisation movement the idea of a free territory asking for foreign investment stinks of nothing less than counter-revolution, but our experience is not the experience of all.”

That’s not a counter-argument to GD&TL’s point, that’s a paraphrase.

But all this is secondary to the main point: the malaise Bertram-Lee and Stanchev have diagnosed in the UK anarchist movement, and their proposals, however vague, to cure it. On the symptoms, at least, we can all agree: the UK anarchist movement, whatever else you can say about it, is not terribly impressive. It’s not so terrible that I’m about to give up on anarchism and embrace one of the various get-communism-quick schemes that get peddled around, but I can’t say that I expect it to go anywhere tremendously fast either. In fact, I’d say it’s more or less entirely as impotent and marginal as you’d expect a group of people brought together by a dedication to the experiences and lessons learnt from the high points of past collective struggles to be, in a situation where the very memory of those struggles, as well as the cultures and traditions that made them possible, have been under a ferocious, concentrated, and very successful, attack from the state and the ruling class for decades now. If we’re ever to escape from this rut, it can only be as part of a broader shift within the working class away from the current norms of more or less individualised powerlessness towards a culture of solidarity and direct action.

But according to Bertram-Lee, there’s a shortcut that will help with this: learning (unspecified) lessons from the PYD. The problem is, without any explanation of what these lessons are and how they can be put into practice, it’s hard to say how worthwhile they are. Here, once again, it’s worth returning to the GD&TL text:

“Today it is much easier to get excited about Kurdistan (as 20 years ago it was for Chiapas) while militants despair over Billancourt.. “Over there”, at least, there are no resigned and drunken proles who vote for the FN [Front Nationale] and dream only of winning the Loto or finding a job. “Over there” there are peasants (even though the majority of Kurds live in cities), the mountain people in struggle, full of dreams and hope….”

For the sake of our friends in Essex, let’s replace Billancourt with Billericay and FN with UKIP, and the point stands. If Bertram-Lee and friends want to convince UK anarchists, and, more importantly, non-anarchists, of the wisdom to be learned from the PYD, they need to explain what the actual content of that wisdom is. It’s not enough to just say that things in Kobane are more exciting than in Billericay, they need to explain exactly what it is that people “over here” need to do to become more like the exciting folk “over there”.

For the next PYD supporter who wants to write an article about how learning from the experience of Rojava will help us to start winning, a few questions: how will your new approach help me to organise together with other public transport users to demand better services? How would the insights of democratic confederalism help benefit the social movement over housing that’s currently emerging in London? How would the teachings of Uncle Öcalan have helped the Doncaster care workers to win their epic dispute? In their ongoing fight against Caffé Bar Italia, what are the “Western anarchists” of Brighton SolFed doing wrong, and how could learning from Rojava help them do better? What teachings of the PYD could help us to come up with a more adequate response to the mass child abuse scandals? What would this perspective contribute to the ongoing fight against the gutting of the benefits system and the spread of forced unpaid work? When one of my friends is threatened with illegal eviction, when I ask a friend how they’re doing and they say something like “not great, I’m sort of dreading going to work tomorrow, my manager’s been really disrespectful to me lately and it stresses me out”, when someone I work with gets that tap on the shoulder from a manager and a request to speak to them quietly outside and I only have a few seconds to process what’s going on and react before they’re both out the room – what does your fresh new perspective have to say that would help me in those situations, that will set me right where “tired old anarcho-syndicalism” will fail? Not that I think “tired old anarcho-syndicalism” automatically has all the answers to these situations, but at best it manages to at least ask the right questions.

If Bertram-Lee and co. can manage to come up with convincing answers to these questions, and better yet to demonstrate the superiority of their approach in practice, I would be very interested to see the results. When they’ve started putting the wisdom of Uncle Öcalan into practice to solve real problems of everyday life, and other anarchists still stand aloof from their experiments, then will be the time to rebuke us for refusing to learn from new approaches, not before they’ve provided the basic outline of what those approaches even look like.

As it happens, the Bertram-Lee article ends with a point I’d pretty much totally agree with:

“Subcomdanate Marcos says that when he first went to Chiapas all he could do was talk, and not listen, and so he failed. The peasants did not listen to those who could only talk. It is only when he learnt to listen that he was able to move forward, and this lesson is one that must be learnt by all Western Anarchists. We are not winning, and we need to listen to those who are.”

There’s a lot of truth in that, and in some ways it reminds me of the perspective of the IWCA – a group whose priorities are, to put it mildly, quite different from the Essex Zapatista Solidarity Group. It’s important to listen. But I’m not convinced that listening to voices from Rojava needs to take precedence over listening to voices from Montreal or Dublin, and particularly those of pensioners in Barnsley or construction workers on Crossrail. Perhaps our friends in Essex should stop despairing over Billericay and Basildon, and start paying more attention to the concerns and needs of the people who live there.

Posted in Activism, Anarchists, Debate, The left | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment