Updates on the Picturehouse and Lee Hecht Harrison disputes – 14 December and beyond

Thursday 14 December is set to be a busy day in London – while workers at five Picturehouse cinemas will be striking for the living wage and holding a united demo at Hackney Picturehouse, cleaners at financial firm Lee Hecht Harrison, in the heart of the financial district, will also be taking action for a living wage. Just like at Picturehouse, the cleaners have been threatened with the sack for striking. You can donate to their strike fund here, or join them from 5pm onwards outside LHH’s premises, just next to Monument station.

As part of an effort to spread the Picturehouse dispute, there’s also been a call for solidarity actions across the country over the weekend. So far, it’s confirmed that there’ll be events in Birmingham on Thursday 14th, Sheffield on Friday 15th, and York on Saturday 16th – that’s all I’m aware of for now, but if you message the Brixton, Hackney or Haringey fb pages, they might know of more.

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Organising around housing: some resources

A collection of a few recent resources that might be of interest to anyone looking at collective action around housing issues:

ACORN were on the BBC recently, in a short (15 mins or so) film:

Long-running group Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth were profiled in a three-part piece recently, and Novara had a piece on the upcoming attempt to launch a London Renters’ Union, which will be starting off in Newham.

The Housing Association Workers and Residents Network came up with this guide to rent strikes, looking at both the recent student rent strikes and threats to use this tactic from housing association tenants in Newham last year, along with practical tips for those thinking of organising their own.

On the subject of rent strikes, someone from Parkdale Organize, the group that forced corporate landlords to back down in the Toronto neighbourhood of Parkdale this summer, sat down for an in-depth discussion with the It’s Going Down podcast, talking through “class war on the lobby floor” and the various issues raised. The Parkdale rent strike was also the subject of the great half-hour documentary This Is Parkdale:

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Strike at Hackney Picturehouse on Thursday 14th, and national call for action that weekend

In the latest news from the long-running Picturehouse Living Wage dispute, workers at five cinemas across London will be striking on Thursday 14th, the day the new Star Wars film comes out, and will be joining forces for a mass demo to turn away punters at the Hackney Picturehouse. Following on from that, the various community support campaigns have put a call out for people to turn up to Picturehouse/Cineworld cinemas across the country that weekend to let customers know how Picturehouse treats their staff and show bosses that we support the strike. Full details should be announced soon, but if there’s nothing currently organised in your area, this is the sort of thing where it’s easy for just a few people to print off some leaflets and have a visible presence, so if you have even a small crew of like-minded folks around you might want to think about trying to pull something together for it. In their words:

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens in the UK on Thursday 14 December and Picturehouse workers will be striking on that day.

The opening weekend of Star Wars films sees many thousands of cinema goers go through the doors of Picturehouses and Cineworlds across the country, making the cinema chain a lot of money. Films like Star Wars are the single biggest earners for Picturehouse. Yet Picturehouse and Cineworld won’t redistribute this income to pay their staff the Living Wage!

Join us to let customers know how Picturehouse treats their staff and show bosses that we support the strike.

**Details of actions at individual cinemas to be up soon**

**Can you organise an event at a Picturehouse or Cineworld near you? Get in touch!**

**If you can’t organise a picket or don’t have a cinema near you, get in touch to find out how you can get involved in others ways**

www.picturehousefour.org” (note – that site doesn’t seem to have been updated since September, but hopefully something new will be up shortly)

Posted in Protests, Strikes, Unions, Work | Tagged | 2 Comments

Updates on blacklisting action and cleaners’ disputes

Almost certainly too late to be of any use to anyone, but Unite have finally got around to confirming full details of the blacklisting day of action:

09:00 – Skanska office, Goswell Road, Barbican, London, EC1A 4JY
12:00 – Westminster lobby of parliament and rally

9:30 – Meet at Unite Edinburgh Office
10:00 – Protest at St James Centre
12:00 – Lobby the Scottish Parliament

08:00 – 10:00 City Square, Leeds, LS1 2, United Kingdom

10am – Balfour Beatty, Sussex University, Brighton, BN1 9RH

12.00 – McAlpine site Exchange Square, Urban Village Site, Gate 4, Dale End, B4 7LN

17:00 – McAlpine site, Durham city centre (Milburngate shopping centre).

It’s hard to say what Unite’s playing at leaving it this late to confirm full details, and whether its reluctance on this matter might have anything to do with the history of blacklisted workers raising uncomfortable questions about union collusion… anyway, in case you live in one of those places and see this in time, please try to make it down.

Grassroots union the United Voices of the World also have a few updates.

First off, Ministry of Justice cleaners have just organised their workplace and declared their intention to take strike action:

On a slightly more legalistic, but still very important note, Daniel, a cleaner at the LSE who was subjected to homophobic bullying, is trying to raise enough money to get decent representation when he goes to an employment tribunal in January – the bosses have deep pockets, so a low-paid worker like Daniel could use some help trying to get a vaguely level playing field here.

On Thursday night, there’s a free/optional donation event of films and discussion about organising in precarious workplaces, with someone from the IWGB, two cleaners who’ve been involved in UVW organising campaigns, and that bloke who’s now an academic but worked in call centres for a while. In their words:

“We have a diverse panel including a union organiser, a striking worker, an academic and more. We will be showing two 40 minute films, Limpiadores, and Until Victory, that both take a unique look at worker struggles for fair rights, pay, and treatment. The night will resonate with the daily lived experiences of workers across London, in addition to the current labour movements fighting for better conditions at Deliveroo and Uber. We look forward to welcoming you to a night of film about success, positivity, and change in a working world that seems to have the odds perpetually stacked against us.”

You can reserve a place here.

On Friday, cleaners who’ve organised through the grassroots union CAIWU will be striking at 200 Aldersgate, in the heart of London’s financial district, so please help support their picket lines if you can make it down there.

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Blacklisting day of action, Wednesday 6th December

It’s not clear how many places will be taking part in the day of action against blacklisting in the construction industry, but here’s the details I’ve managed to find:

London: 9am – Skanska offices, Goswell Road, Barbican, EC1A 4JY – direct action
12:15pm – Westminster Rally followed by lobby of parliament

Birmingham: Demo on 6th December at 12.00 at the McAlpine site Exchange Square, Urban Village Site, Gate 4, Dale End, opposite Scruffy Murphy’s Pub. B4 7LN

Leeds: Robert McAlpine Site, City Square, Leeds, 8.00-10.00

Nottingham: “The blacklisting of construction workers is a long running scandal that has blighted the industry for decades. Workers have been denied employment just for raising concerns about health and safety or simply being a member of a union. So how is it possible that the contract to renovate the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre has been awarded to McAlpine, one of the most notorious blacklisting companies in the UK? Join us at Broadmarsh at 10am and at City Hall, Market Square, at 12 noon to demand that McAlpines are stripped of this contract”

Edinburgh: Scottish Parliament, 12.00

Those are the only ones I’m aware of, but if you want to check if there’s anything going on in your area, here’s a list of regional contacts:

Scotland: steven.dillon@unitetheunion.org
NEYH: (north east) tom.usher@unitetheunion.org
NEYH (Yorkshire) mark.martin@unitetheunion.org
North West andrew.fisher@unitetheunion.org
East Midlands: shaun.lee@unitetheunion.org
West Midlands: martin.orpe@unitetheunion.org
London and Eastern: guy.langston@unitetheunion.org
South East: malcolm.bonnett@unitetheunion.org

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Friends like these: some thoughts on free speech, alliances, agreeing with people, and guilt by association

Another week, another round of disagreements over how to respond to transphobia. The latest news is that Peace News have weighed in with their take on the bookfair conflict, while over in Canada frat-boy “we’re definitely not fascist, we just really like fighting anti-fascists” group the Proud Boys had a hilariously unsuccessful attempt to stage a “free speech rally” in support of some teaching assistant who got told off after making the weird decision to show a transphobic video in the middle of a grammar and writing skills class.

The Peace News article takes the hardline “free speech absolutist” position, which I’ve always thought is unworkable, relying as it does on the unstated assumption that anyone who wants to say anything should have unimpeded access to whatever resources they want to use to amplify their voices. Of course, no one actually thinks this, which is why, for instance, Peace News might talk about how they think free speech is good, but they’re not likely to start accepting promotional content from BAE Systems, or editorials from Hilary Benn about why we should bomb wherever Hilary Benn wants to bomb this week, or from Michael Gove about celebrating the glorious memory of WWI.

In contrast to the hardline free speech position, which presents the act of making a decision about whether or not something is appropriate for a certain space as being a wildly exceptional act requiring exceptional justifications, the truth is that every day people are constantly making decisions to promote some perspectives and to not promote some others – the entire job of an editor, for instance, is to publish some stuff and to decide not to publish some other stuff, or to censor things and suppress free speech if you want to put it in those terms.

While the Birmingham bin strike now appears to be over, and the future of the Durham TAs dispute is very uncertain, if people had held a meeting at the height of either dispute to discuss the way forward, and representatives of the council had asked to address the meeting in order to urge everyone to give up, it would have been perfectly reasonable to refuse that request.

More broadly, any kind of vaguely progressive or pro-working class event happening in such a place while such a dispute’s on should probably avoid inviting councillors on to the stage in order to avoid insulting those affected by their actions. The example that always sticks in my head here is that one anti-EDL rally in Leeds where the SWP/UAF invited a Lib Dem councillor on stage, at a time when Leeds bin workers had been on strike for two months against a vicious pay cut imposed by that same council. To put it mildly, I think it would have been better to not give that councillor an invitation to speak – or to censor him and to suppress his free speech, if you think that’s a helpful way of describing things.

So, if we reject the Peace News position of “everyone has to have total access to all platforms at all times” (and again, I don’t think Peace News really believes that either, because I don’t think they would invite arms dealers to exercise “free speech” in their pages, even as they insist that anarchists should have to allow transphobic leafleting in our bookfairs), in favour of recognising that there’s nothing wrong with insisting on a little basic coherence in how spaces are used, the question is no longer an issue of principle – “it’s wrong to prevent anyone from speaking in any space ever” – and instead becomes a judgement as to whether a certain position is compatible with the space being used to promote it.

At this point, once again, I get stuck on trying to understand why people think the campaign against the Gender Reassignment Act is one that should be given space in anarchist/radical venues. I recognise that discussing the particulars of what does or doesn’t belong at the London Anarchist Bookfair is a bit of a pointless question at this point, especially since it seems unlikely that there’ll be a 2018 event, but it also seems likely that these people will attempt to hijack other events to promote their campaign. To me, it seems incomprehensible that people would demand that anarchist spaces be used to promote a movement which is very clearly part of a coalition with the right-wing of the Conservative Party, and I don’t really understand whether it’s because people think that the terfs aren’t really mates with the conservative right, or whether it’s because they think carrying out joint political work with the conservative right is fine and dandy and totally compatible with anarchism.

At this point, I want to stop and consider a possible objection to what I’m saying. It’s very easy to end up “on the same side of the argument” as someone – one very obvious example would be the EU referendum, where a lot of people supported Leave and so were “on the same side” as Boris Johnson and Tommy Mair, or else supported Remain and so were “on the same side” as David Cameron, the CBI and the European Central Bank. Similarly, at a time when most neoliberal centrist politicians at least pay lip service to the idea of equal rights for LGBTQ people, those of us who are opposed to homophobia and transphobia can be said to be “on the same side” of the argument as the neoliberal center. I don’t think that guilt-by-association reasoning is helpful to use in any of those cases, so I can see why people would be reluctant to do the same with anti-trans feminists and the anti-trans right. Here’s a quick review of why the conservative/radfem united front against trans people is qualitatively different to those other cases:

In the EU referendum, both the left leave and left remain campaigns, for all their flaws, were organisationally independent from their right-wing counterparts. I’m not aware of Nigel Farage ever citing Bob Crow, or trying to work with TUSC, and if he did I’m sure they would have made it clear that he wasn’t welcome. Similarly, we can’t equate all opposition to homophobia and transphobia with the neoliberal centre, because there’s a long tradition of radical queer and trans activism that’s actively opposed to state co-option, such as the clash between cops and the Police out of Pride protesters at Glasgow Pride this year, or the disruption of a Trans Day of Remembrance event which featured the chief of the DC police.

In contrast to this, the main voices of “gender-critical” anti-trans feminism seem very keen to work with any rightwing scumbags they can find – from Sheila Jeffreys’ admiration of Norman Tebbit, to Judith Green, Miranda Yardley and Stephanie Davies-Arai speaking at David Davies’ meeting and thanking him for organising it, to Maria MacLachlan selling pictures to the Mail, to Miranda Yardley giving an interview to Ian Miles Cheong, a troll who probably doesn’t really believe in anything, but is currently getting his money and attention from the anti-feminist 4Chan/gamergate crowd, to Yardley also writing articles for the Sun, to Linda Bellos giving interviews to the Mail. And that’s just the UK, before we even get on to people like Hands Across the Aisle in the US, or Lindsay Shepherd’s newfound friendship with the alt-right Rebel Media in Canada.

And we shouldn’t forget that people from the terf side of the conflict have been giving information to the police regarding the Hyde Park incident – you can’t claim to be opposed to violence and in favour of non-violent conflict resolution if you’re happy to invite active intervention by a group, disprortionately composed of cis men, who routinely carry and use weapons, the people who are linked to a huge string of deaths, the people who killed Edson and Daz and Rash and Yassar Yaqub and just hospitalised Terrell. There’s a reason why there’s an annual event for those killed by police brutality, but no comparable event for people who’ve died after someone called them a terf, or even after someone called them a terf and broke their camera.

Against this fairly sizable wedge of evidence showing direct collaboration between the anti-trans feminists and right-wing tory MPs, the very worst of the right-wing media, and the cops, is there anything at all to suggest the existence of a politically independent terf current that’s not directly tied to the right wing of the establishment? Has anyone in or around the terf camp publicly broken with the likes of Yardley, Bellos and Jeffreys, and sought to directly challenge these tory collaborators the same way the brave comrades in Glasgow and DC have been challenging the cops? And if not, why on earth should we treat them as being anything other than footsoldiers for the more powerful forces that they’ve chosen to align themselves with?

One more contrast, to reiterate the point: earlier this year, campaigners against “Imprisonment for Public Protection” – the cruel and broken scheme that’s turned sentences of a few months into an endless ordeal – found that far-right activist and former EDL leader Tommy Robinson had been speaking to IPP families. Instead of thanking him for his interest in the issue and encouraging him to carry on raising awareness, they issued a statement making it clear that fascists have nothing to offer working class prisoners and their families. Now, this is how Lindsey Shepherd reacted to alt-right journalist and Daily Stormer interviewee Faith Goldy taking an interest in her case. Just to be clear, Goldy is someone who was fired by the Rebel Media – Tommy Robinson’s current employers – for making them look too openly racist with her glowing coverage of Unite the Right in Charlottesville and her appearance on a neo-nazi podcast. Again, going out of my way to be reasonable here, maybe Shepherd just didn’t know who she was replying to… but if that was the case, you’d expect her to issue a correction at some point, and to try and distance herself from her “Western chauvinist” supporters. I’m not holding my breath on that one.

Posted in Anarchists, Bit more thinky, Gender, The left, The media, The right, Tories | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Brighton Deliveroo wildcat: a full report

The Transnational Social Strike site has just posted up a report and analysis of the weekend’s wildcat strike by Brighton Deliveroo riders. The same author also wrote a piece looking at how Deliveroo struggles have spread across Europe, which I’d not seen until now. As previously mentioned, you can help people in your town and city make contact with these struggles by printing or ordering a few copies of the Rebel Roo bulletin and passing them to Deliveroo riders on your way home.

On Saturday night, over fifty Deliveroo workers in Brighton stopped work. The wildcat strike was organised through rank and file networks and led by migrant workers. They are demanding stable, decent wages – and using new tactics to increase their leverage. ‘We have to fight or else they f** us’, one striking rider said. ‘There is no other option’.

The strike follows a consistent reduction in wages for workers in the city over the last month, caused by Deliveroo’s refusal to guarantee a minimum hourly wage. In Brighton pay is a £4 a drop only – so pay can fall to £0 an hour if there are too few orders and too many riders. It is also the first mobilisation since a court denied Deliveroo workers the legal rights of the ‘worker’ category and continued to define them as ‘independent contractors’. Workers have now responded, and proved that if judges deny them rights, they will take them through their own organisation and action.
After a rally in the city centre, workers set off on a flying picket in a large moped convoy, followed by a quick-response police van. The pickets were able to persuade large numbers of other Deliveroo workers to cancel their orders and join the strike.  Within half an hour, the Deliveroo customer app was showing a warning: ‘Not seeing your favourite? We’re very busy in your area right now’. Even in the conditions of platform capitalism, strikes have the power to stop capital accumulation in its tracks.

There was a new element to this Saturday’s action. Unlike the earlier strikes, there was a picket line at the new Hove ‘editions’ kitchen, owned by Deliveroo. These kitchens are hired out to popular restaurants and used specifically for delivery purposes, allowing restaurants to expand their production capacity at a relatively low cost. For the duration of the strike, workers shut the site down. As the composition of capital changes at Deliveroo, so does the form of the struggle. Workers are developing methods to intervene in the labour process and stop it dead. Wherever Deliveroo has invested in constant capital, the workers will use that chokepoint to exert leverage.

Labour unrest first broke out in Brighton earlier this year, with a large strike and a series of demonstrations taking place between February and May. The initial struggle was organised through the small union the Independent Workers of Great Britain, and made three demands; 1. A pay rise of £1 to £5 a drop, 2. A hiring freeze, 3. No victimisation of striking workers.

The demands of the old struggle still apply, but they are less prominent than before. Since the last strikes, the pressure of low wages and rapid turnover mostly got rid of the unionised core of cyclists, meaning that the union has been less central than previously. This time, the strike was led by non-unionised migrant moped riders, who communicated via WhatsApp groups to organise the action. The fall in wages has hit them particularly hard, as they are more likely to work full-time. Their initiative is now the determining factor in the political composition of the struggle.

During the strike, workers didn’t put much effort into communicating formally with management. Instead, they created chaos and waited for Deliveroo to respond. The lack of street-level management, whose role has been automated by the app, means that the relationship between workers and bosses tends to be antagonistic and uncommunicative. There is nobody to make demands to in the workplace, and no route to take towards collective bargaining.

Given that Deliveroo externalise the cost of bikes and equipment onto riders and don’t pay a minimum hourly wage, they have no incentive to prevent labour oversupply. If workers are sat on the street earning £0 an hour, it costs them £0 per hour. This constant over-supply guarantees there is always a pool of available labour to deal with variation in demand. For workers, however, labour oversupply is disastrous. On a total piece rate system, there is nothing to prevent wages hitting zero. They have to either win a guaranteed hourly wage or enforce limits on hiring in order to control wages. So far, they have chosen the latter option.

The political dimension of the struggle is, at the moment, evident but underdeveloped.
Like in the French Deliveroo workers’ slogan ‘La rue est notre usine’ – the street is our factory. These conditions mean that strikes tend to take on a general political resonance about the conditions of exploitation. However, the analysis of precarity and the cross-border scale of the struggle which was evident earlier this year are not so prominent now. It will take further developments in this direction before workers start demanding guaranteed hourly wages for all or making connections to the transnational movement.

If they eventually chose to do so, however, they will find allies across Europe. In November alone there have been office occupations, demonstrations and strikes by food delivery platform workers in BrusselsAmsterdamBerlinBologna, Turin and Milan. This sector-wide hot autumn shows that the transnational strike wave in food delivery platforms is far from over.”

Posted in Strikes, Unions | Tagged , | 1 Comment