On the libertarian left, the Labour Party, and your mate who got to go on Newsnight once

Plan C recently published an article, which is apparently meant to be the first in a series of different perspectives, on the Labour Party, Momentum and so on. It’s clearly an individual perspective and not meant to be speaking for the group, and they stress that it should not be read as implying “uncritical support for the Labour party, Momentum, or any such organisation”. I’ll do my best to read it in those terms, but even so there are some troubling aspects to the text, especially the closing note on media/celebrity figures. To go through it point-by-point:

1) Is just an observation that there’s a lot of crossover between the Momentum-backed The World Transformed event (which is given the rather unfortunately abbreviation TWT) and the Labour Party conference itself, which is not particularly surprising. If there’s anything to quibble with here, it’s with what goes unsaid more than anything that’s actually said – is TWT wholly owned by Momentum, or is it semi-“autonomous”, as it were? And what does all that mean in the wake of the whole debate over Momentum’s internal structures and the whole imposed constitution thing?

2) Mentions that content and ideas from the libertarian movements was well received at TWT. Again, I don’t really have an argument with this as such (other than that I’m sure the phrase “boxing above our weight” was one of the SWP’s official patented clichés, but I can’t really hold it against the author), but I’d like to see this expanded on: what specific ideas? And, perhaps more importantly, what were the libertarian/autonomist comrades in attendance at TWT not saying? I’m not particularly arguing against the idea of adapting one’s message according to one’s audience and situation – God knows we don’t need any more of the kind of radicals who have the One Correct Line and believe that all political activity should just consist of repeating said line whatever the circumstances – but I do think that it’s worth paying close careful attention to what gets emphasised and what gets left on the back burner.

3) Is about the apparent connections between Big Flame and Corbyn’s journey into the LP in the 60s/70s. I’m a bit shaky about the exact details of Corbyn’s biography between his lowly birth in a stable and his riding into the Labour leadership contest on the back of a donkey in 2015, but I didn’t think he’d ever been particularly close to the “autonomist feminist/Big Flame” milieu – I thought he would always have been a bit more Morning Star and a bit less Beyond the Fragments, as it were. Certainly his mates, like Seumas Milne, come from quite a different set of traditions. But there’s a sense in which this is all beside the point – Corbyn himself being pretty much the least interesting thing about Corbynism as a phenomenon. On that note, it’s confusing that the author says the “‘politics of care’… can be seen to be reflected back by the base of this movement through Corbyn’s speeches, policy initiatives and his sensibilities”. Surely, if we’re bothering to distinguish between the base of the movement and other parts of it, few things could be further from that “base” than the speeches and policy initiatives coming from the head of the Labour Party. Clarity about this sort of thing is important.

4) I totally agree with the point that it’s best to see the LP “as a collection of tendencies and forms of politics as opposed to a” monolithic whole. I’d also add that it’s worth remembering that what it means to be “inside” or “outside” the Labour Party itself is a contentious question, as seen in the last two leadership contests, where different forces tried to define it as being anything from “anyone who fancies paying £3” to “only people who had held Labour membership prior to 12 January 2016”. But having this kind of analysis makes it all the more important to not do things like mixing up Corbyn himself with his base.

5) I broadly agree with, although I’d probably reverse the perspective – less “The progressive component of the ‘LP assemblage’… needs the support of the wider social movements” and more “The progressive component of the ‘LP assemblage’ has value insofar as it’s capable of providing support to the wider social movements”. But anyway, I’m certainly not going to argue that Labour members/supporters coming into conflict with Labour councils is a bad thing. The only other addition I’d make here is to ask again, while we’re talking about democratisation, what do the structures of Momentum/TWT currently look like, and what direction are they going in? And how far are the two separate from each other?

6) Again, I have no argument with – I’m certainly happy to agree that “It is here in these conversations that we should remain the most vigilant and challenge/level our criticisms of parliamentarian politics”.

7) The key question is here whether or not “a combative class movement is forming in [Labour]’s immediate shadow”, and if so what does that look like? As far as I can see, Corbynism has definitely been very successful in drawing large numbers of people into first taking part in the two leadership contests and then in campaigning for Labour in the general election; its influence on extra-parliamentary class struggle activity still remains to be seen, imo. As ever, there’s a pessimistic reading of electoral activity, usually associated with anarcho/ultra-left perspectives, that sees it as broadly demobilising, sucking people in who are or might potentially become involved with more direct forms of struggle and focusing their attention on parliamentary stuff, and an optimistic reading, which I’d (perhaps crudely and unfairly) tend to associate with Trots, which sees it as a kind of gateway drug through which people can then get involved in other forms of activity. I’m genuinely unsure how the impact of Corbynism has actually played out in “the movements influenced” by its ascension; more reports and discussion on this point would be very welcome.

8) Point 8 continues on this theme, asserting that “Any movement that could emerge and go beyond the limits (real or imagined) of the LP will almost certainly grow from within the base of the LP and its external support networks (think Momentum groups or Unite the Community groups- which are beginning, tentatively, to develop the ‘social reproductive infrastructure’ necessary to support workers and their families when they take strike action).” Again, I’d be very interested to see more reports and discussion on what the actual activity of Momentum or Unite Community groups looks like in different local areas – my guess would be that there are probably some places where they do perform genuinely useful functions (as with Lewisham Momentum organising a “Night of the Living Wage” in support of striking cinema workers – good on them for doing that, shame on us in the “autonomous/libertarian left” for not doing more of it), and some places where they just function as talking shops, or purely as a way to funnel people into doing Labour Party Stuff (in the case of Momentum) or to get people along to whatever stunt the SP/SWP/People’s Assembly are pushing this week (in the case of Unite Community). It’s hard to get an accurate impression of which tendency is more prominent on a broad scale.
But when we consider places where an emerging movement could start to grow from, there are still a number of places where some kind of conflict is taking place where the immediate, unavoidable enemy will be local Labour Party structures – obvious ones being Birmingham, Durham, Derby, as well as pretty much every social housing campaign in Labour-controlled boroughs. At the risk of repeating myself, I’d be very interested to hear more about what left-Labour/Momentum types are doing in these situations.
When the author says that “we need to get involved with these initiatives… and get organised within these forms”, again I’d like to hear more about precisely what initiatives and forms are being pushed here. As is probably clear, I’m not convinced that there’s much use in joining Labour/Momentum/Unite Community for the sake of it; if there are specific practical initiatives coming out of Unite Community, Momentum or even local CLPs that point in useful directions, it’d be good to hear more about what they are.

9) Finally we get onto the last, and most objectionable point, which concludes with “As a comrade said to me in passing ‘Lenin once noted that one Bolshevik was worth 50 Mensheviks, perhaps we could now state with some certainty that one connected/media savvy autonomist is worth 500 Bolsheviks.’” There’s a good chance I wouldn’t have bothered typing up these notes if it wasn’t for how irksome the last sentence is, with its coldly hierarchical, quantitative measuring up of how much people are worth. When considering that equation, a few more problems present themselves – like, who gets to be a “connected/media savvy autonomist”, and who doesn’t? Where do these “connections” come from?* I’m really not asking these questions because I want to demonise these people or I think everything they do is bad, but I think we should recognise that things like “celebrity culture” or the condition of being “connected” are not innocent, neutral things, and our engagement with them should always be critical, not just cultish fawning.
Also, the mention of Bolsheviks reminds me – part of the appeal of Bolshevism is that democratic centralism presents itself as a way of solving the problem of how large groups of people can make decisions and co-ordinate their actions together. Of course, in practice it turns out to be a horrifically flawed way of dealing with this question, but it does at least recognise it as an issue to deal with. “Alternative media platforms”, on the other hand, tend to operate as a pure tyranny of structurelessness – at least with regard to the lack of structures through which we non-connected, non-savvy autonomists can have a say on what our brave celebrity heroes are doing and the directions they’re going in. (I hope we can all agree that social media beef is not an adequate substitute here, for all kinds of reasons.) It’s probably true to say that Novara has played some role in orientating the content and sensibilities of this movement, but surely they’re also a prime example of how, when you enter into Labour, Labour also enters into you.


* while writing this, I spent a while trying to find a quote that I was convinced was from one of the Webbs, but it turns out it was actually Orwell who’d said “If only I could become Nye’s eminence grise we’d soon have this country on its feet”, which is a shame, because it being one of the Webbs would have been much more satisfying. But whatever, the general attitude is recognisable, and it’s one to be wary of.

Posted in Bit more thinky, Debate, Labour, The left | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Early October round-up for workplace news and other social struggles

As ever, there’s a lot going on. In workplace news, the Picturehouse Cinema strikes are continuing, with Hackney and Central out from the 11th-14th, and then all five London sites out on the 15th. As ever, check the local Central, East Dulwich, Hackney, Crouch End and Ritzy (Brixton) campaign pages for more specific updates. Lewisham Momentum are suggesting a “night of the living wage” spoopy Friday 13th event at Picturehouse Central, which might appeal to anyone who’s into both horror films and workplace organisation.

Cleaners organised through the grassroots union UVW are gearing up to take action against the HR Owen luxury car dealership and Templewood cleaning agency after they suspended two cleaners involved in organising over low pay. You can donate to the strike fund here, email HR Owen/Templewood management at info@hrowen.co.uk; Denise.Grimston@hrowen.co.uk; info@templewoodsecurity.co.uk; Sharon.Stuart@templewoodgroup.com to tell them to reinstate Freddy and Angelica, and keep an eye on the UVW page for other ways to get involved. Meanwhile, tube cleaners will be holding a “Justice for Tube Cleaners” demo on Thursday 12th to highlight their ongoing struggle for decent treatment.

Up North, the Durham teaching assistants are currently voting on another offer from the council – the Lions of Durham blog has published posts arguing both for and against accepting the deal, while their FB page says “Despite yesterday’s notice from Unison advising Durham TAs to accept this latest offer, please be aware, this is NOT the advice of the majority of the County Durham Teaching Assistants Action Committee. A statement will be released soon.”

Earlier this year, a similar dispute in Derby was suspended for negotiations carried out by Unison, but those negotiations have now broken down, and Unison is looking at carrying out a ballot for industrial action in some schools. In an interesting piece of wording, Unison say “You will be aware that we had invited each school to enter into discussions directly with UNISON to seek a resolution to the dispute. Regrettably, these schools have chosen to not respond to this invitation. It is for this reason that UNISON will now enter into consultative ballots for further industrial action in these schools only.” I don’t know much about the internal workings of Derby Unison, so I can’t really say if this represents some workers wanting to sack Unison off in favour of something more autonomous like the Durham action committee or what.

In other mainstream union news, Royal Mail staff just voted by 89.1% for strike action on a 73% turnout, so a national post strike over pensions, pay, working hours and future job security seems likely soon.

In education, Leeds UCU are out on strike from 11-13 October in response to plans that’ll make it much easier to fire staff on undefined grounds, and they’ve organised a brilliant-looking “teach out” programme of alternative education activities for those days, with sessions such as “No borders no nations? Anarchy, asylum and border politics in revolutionary Spain, 1936-37”, “How to strike when you don’t have a workplace? Students and the university in and against capitalism” and “Ruins of Blarism: A critical geography of contemporary Leeds”. University of Manchester staff are also set to walk out over potential job losses on October 23-24 – no idea if they’ll be doing anything similarly interesting during that time.

There’s a few ongoing disputes that Unite’s involved in, especially in Manchester: bus drivers at Rusholme and Bolton depots are striking every Monday in October over a pay dispute, while low-paid cleaners employer through Mitie at Manchester airport have also just voted for strike action over pay, and housing maintenance workers at Mears/Manchester Working are now balloting for further action in a dispute over pay and attacks on terms and conditions.

Elsewhere, at Sellafield nuclear plant, GMB members are already striking over pay, and Unite members have now voted to join in. Workers at Fujitsu are voting on taking action against new plans that are seen on an attack on union reps, and there’s complaints that specific reps are being targeted – see the Unite Fujitsu site for more.

In terms of more general social struggles, there’s a few things happening on October 14th. If you’re in London, there’s going to be a silent walk to Grenfell Tower, which the Radical Housing Network are helping mobilise for. In Coventry, Ricky Tomlinson from the Shrewsbury building workers (and being on the telly), blacklisted construction worker Dave Smith, and McLibel defendant/spycop target Helen Smith will be talking on the extraordinary lengths to which the ‘secret state’ will go to defend the Establishment. In Ramsgate, Kent Anti-Racism Network were organising against a planned Britain First demo, but BF have now bottled it, so the day will just be going ahead as a celebratory anti-fascist carnival.

Further ahead, local health service campaigners will be holding events in defence of Huddersfield Royal Infirmary on the 21st and Barnsley Hospital on the 28th. As previously noted, there’s also court dates for people facing charges for anti-arms trade action in Burnley on the 24th and an anti-fracking campaigner in Preston on the 27th. Then on Hallowe’en the Orgreave Justice Campaign are holding their “Death of Justice” event in Sheffield – they’re now flogging benefit t-shirts to help with the event, so if you can’t be bothered to think of a Halloween costume you can buy a scary Thatcher t-shirt and help the Orgreave campaign out. Going into next month, the next national demo to close Yarl’s Wood detention centre will be on November 18th.

Finally, to close on two genuinely good pieces of news from across the Atlantic: Herman Bell, the elderly Black Panther/Black Liberation Army prisoner who was brutally beaten by prison guards last month, has now been released from solitary confinement after the amount of outside solidarity he received made the prison authorities give up on their attempts to charge him with having attacked staff, and he’s written a really lovely thank-you letter. And the singing workers who organised through the IWW at Ellen’s Stardust Diner in NYC have now won reinstatement for the 31 workers who were fired in an attempt to break their union – I still think there’s potential for a really great class-struggle musical in this story.

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

Legal/repression news: upcoming court dates in the North-West and US prisoner birthdays

A few pieces of news from the legal/prisons/court side of things:

There are two upcoming court dates of interest in the Lancashire area. On October 24th, Sam and Dan, the two people being charged with criminal damage for attempting to disarm military planes that were bound for Saudi Arabia, are going on trial at Burnley Combined Court, and there’s a call for a vigil outside. The trial is expected to last up to three days. Then, on the 27th, Joe, who was convicted of obstructing the highway during an anti-fracking protest, will be having his appeal heard at Preston Crown Court and trying to prove the police lied – again, he’s asking for anyone who can make it to turn up in support.

Mid-October also sees a few notable birthdays of US comrades behind bars. October 15th is the birthday of Jermaine Parker, who was given 14 years for his participation in the Ferguson revolt. It’s also the birthday of Robert Seth Hayes, a long-term political prisoner who’s been jailed since the early 1970s for shooting a cop during the conflict between the police and the Black Panthers/Black Liberation Army. Recently, Seth’s been suffering from medical neglect at the hands of the state, and went into a diabetic coma last month, having been warning that he needs more equipment to cope with his condition for a long time. On the 18th, it’s the birthday of Jalil Muntaqim, another very long-term Panther/BLA prisoner, who was sent to solitary from December 2016 to March 2017 after the authorities objected to the content of a history class he was teaching. You can learn more about Jalil’s case here.

To let our comrades know they’re not forgotten, you can send them birthday cards at the following addresses:

Jermaine Parker
18701 Old Highway 66
Pacific, MO 63069

Robert Seth Hayes
Sullivan Correctional Facility
325 Riverside Drive,
Post Office Box 116
Fallsberg, NY 12733-0116

Jalil Muntaqim (address envelope/card to Anthony Bottom)
Sullivan Correctional Facility
325 Riverside Drive,
Post Office Box 116
Fallsberg, NY 12733-0116

Roberth Seth Hayes (third from left) and Jalil Muntaqim (second from right) in 1982

Posted in Protests, Racism, Repression | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Picturehouse dispute escalates: cinema workers strike during BFI Film Festival, 4-15 October, management threatens to sack them

A very quick update from the long-running Picturehouse dispute: workers at several sites are set to strike during the BFI London Film Festival over the next few weeks, and the bosses are threatening to sack them all.

More detail about the planned strikes:

“BECTU members campaigning for the Living Wage at the Picturehouse circuit will be on strike tomorrow (4 October) in action which coincides with the start of the BFI London Film Festival.

Strike action will take place on nine days during this year’s festival.

4 October – opening day of festival

All London sites – Crouch End, Central, Hackney, Ritzy and East Dulwich – will be on strike from 3.30pm. In place of picket lines a demonstration will be held in Leicester Square from 5.30pm – 7pm.

6-8 October

Strikes at Hackney Picturehouse and Picturehouse Central only from 5pm-7pm. Picket lines will be in place.

11-14 October

As above, strikes at Hackney Picturehouse and Picturehouse Central only from 5pm-7pm. Picket lines will be in place.

15 October -closing day of festival

All London sites on strike from 3.30pm.

The renewed campaign to secure the Living Wage at Picturehouse is now in its second year. Find our more about the campaign and show your support here.”

Facebook event for the strike is here. There’s also a strike solidarity gig on the 13th October in Hackney/Shoreditch, and you should be able to find more specific information on the local Central, East Dulwich, Hackney, Crouch End and Ritzy (Brixton) campaign pages. As well as those “official” contacts, there are also community support campaigns running in Hackney, Haringey and Brixton that might be worth contacting if you’re in that area.

Posted in Strikes, Unions, Work | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Appeals for solidarity from Hungary and Brazil

Two recent fundraising appeals that seemed worth sharing:

In Hungary, Ahmed H, a Syrian migrant, is being charged with terrorism offences for taking part in a protest against the closing of the Hungarian border in September 2015. The “Free the Röszke 11” defence campaign is now fundraising to get him a decent lawyer. In their words:

“The government of Hungary has been widely criticized for recent xenophobic actions that target migrants. The case of Ahmed H. has been a flagship of the government’s efforts to scapegoat refugees and migrants as terrorists. Applying vaguely formulated anti-terrorism laws to minor offenses such as throwing stones as an instrument to silence protest opens the door to further arbitrary arrests and has implications way beyond the tragic destruction of one, Ahmed H.’s, life.

We try to support Ahmed with enough money to be able to pay for a good lawyer. We demand freedom for Ahmed H. and want to support him and his family in the struggle against the politically motivated persecution by the Hungarian government…

Unfortunately there is no pro bono lawyer with sufficient knowledge to defend Ahmed in front of the court in Hungary. This is why Ahmed had to hire a private lawyer, who charges a total fee of 15000€ for the upcoming trial. Ahmed H.’s family is not able to cover those expenses, as his wife has been supporting their 2 young children alone since Ahmed’s imprisonment.

Without being able to pay, there is the risk that Ahmed will not have a defense lawyer who knows his case. We won’t leave Ahmed and his family alone with those expenses. Let’s stand in solidarity and help them cover the costs for the lawyer!


On September 15th, 2015, the Hungarian government closed the border to Serbia and – from one day to the other – made it illegal by criminal law to cross into Hungary. Hundreds of people got stuck at the Röszke-Horgoš border crossing without legal information or support. The situation got more and more tense until protest started and escalated with protesters throwing stones and police massively using tear gas.

Ahmed H. participated in the protest against the border closure by communicating as one of several people between the police and the crowd with a megaphone – saying things like “please open the border” and “we are getting impatient here” – and throwing three stones at the police. Together with ten other people (altogether commonly referred to as the Röszke 11) he was randomly picked out and arrested in the police operation. But, unlike the others he is not accused of “participation in a mass riot” and “border violation”, but of “terrorism and other crimes”. This charge is exclusively based on his use of a megaphone and participation in throwing stones.”

You can donate here, or read more about the case here.


In Brazil, Rafael Braga, a young black man who’s been subject to police harrassment since being caught up in the repression of the 2013 movement against bus price increases, is currently under house arrest, having been released from prison for health reasons. The Campaign for the Freedom of Rafael Braga is now fundraising to allow Rafael and his family to live in decent housing. You should be able to donate here (although the page is all in Portugese, so might be worth running through a machine translation first).


Posted in Internationalism, Racism, Repression | Tagged | 1 Comment

Good, thoughtful, non-reductionist writing on class and “identity”/intersectionality

Arguments about things that are described as identity politics, or intersectionality, seem to be more or less a constant on the contemporary left. These more-or-less constant debates are often characterised by unhelpful reductionism, messy use of terminology, arguments that assume bad faith on the other side, and generally seem set up to generate more heat than light. If I find the time and energy, I hope to write something soon in response to some recent not-very-good writing on the subject; but for the moment, I’d just like to welcome two articles that have appeared recently which are genuinely thoughtful and actually do justice to the complexity of their subjects.

First, Asad Haider’s critique of Mark Lilla and Ta-Nehisi Coates in Viewpoint:

Whiteness is not magic. It is also not a psychological disposition or a particular type of body. It is a material social relation, as material as that of class. It is absurd to try to determine in the abstract which of these relations is primary. It is instead necessary to study a very specific concrete history—the history of plantation slavery and the development of capitalism in the United States—to explain both kinds of social relation. Capitalism is a fundamental target of any emancipatory struggle not because of some kind of priority of the “economic” over the “cultural” (whatever these would mean as essential categories), but rather because in actual history, racism has been an integral component of capitalism.

Secondly, Eleanor Robertson’s article on intersectionality and its critics in Meanjin magazine (which at first I thought must be about six months old, but apparently Australians think it’s spring right now):

Regardless of its definitional vagueness and susceptibility to being co-opted by ruling-class elements, the enthusiasm with which intersectionality has been taken up by feminists suggests that it addresses itself to a real problem: the tendency in radical spaces to repeat forms of hierarchy and domination present in wider society. It also signposts the danger of imposing a predetermined form of universality—one based on the glorification of implicitly white, implicitly male industrial labour—onto a twenty-first-century proletariat that is extremely different in character.

It is hard to overstate the importance of this insight for anyone interested in building a mass movement against wage labour and capitalism in the present day. Many of the old tools, the old lines, the old certainties simply will not work any more, because they belong to a different era. The task at hand is to extend, deepen and radicalise people’s expressed dissatisfactions with life under capitalism in a way that shows the universal character of particularist grievances without falling into historical re-enactment. This requires listening carefully to what people are saying about their lives and experiences.

Crucially, we must understand that the content of identity politics in general and intersectionality in particular was not injected into radical movements from the outside. It is better viewed as a set of demands from inside, made by marginalised and ignored members of the working class at a time when the ‘traditional’ left was in the wilderness. What better time to conduct a proper internal audit than when you’re out of power? It is a profound strategic error to conflate all criticism of the left with the neoliberalism that was crushing it at the same time. This applies even if some of that criticism reflects the defeatist assumptions of neoliberal reformism, and even if it has been clumsily co-opted in the service of power. I think we are smart enough to sort out which bits are which.

Both are really good (in my opinion), and highly recommended. I don’t particularly have a conclusion to offer here, I just think you should read them and make up your own mind. Maybe write your own responses.

Posted in Debate, Gender, Racism, The left | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Latest calls for support from US prison struggles

A quick update on a few different US prison rebels currently requesting outside support:

Long-term political prisoner Jalil Muntaqim is still asking for regular twitterstorms in support of his appeal for clemency, with the next one being scheduled for Wednesday 27th. If you use twitter, Jalil’s asking that you tweet NY Governor Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) saying

“I add my voice to demand: Commutation of sentence for Anthony Jalil Bottom #77A4283 NOW! #clemency4jalil”

If you don’t use twitter, there’s a contact form you can use here.

Another New York Black Panther/Black Liberation Army prisoner, Herman Bell, was recently given a brutal beating after prison guards claim that this 69-year-old man mysteriously chose to attack a guard for no reason, and just happened to do this somewhere where there were no witnesses present. Herman’s friends and family are asking that people email Anthony.Annucci@doccs.ny.gov to send the following message:

“Dear Commissioner Annucci:

I am writing in concern and outrage over the unprovoked beating by Great Meadow C.F. correctional officers of Herman Bell, #79C0262.

On September 5th, with no provocation, five or six correctional officers assaulted this widely respected elder. These guards punched and kicked Mr. Bell all over his body while he was on the ground.  He was kneed in the chest and stomach, breaking two of his ribs.  One guard then grabbed his head and slammed it into the ground three times, at which point Mr. Bell thought his life would be ending.  He was excessively maced at close range all over his face and eyes, causing temporarily blindness and inability to breathe.

Mr. Bell is accused of assaulting one of the officers. This charge is absurd. The assault on Herman Bell is part of an epidemic of violence by NYS prison guards against the incarcerated population–an epidemic documented by the New York Times and other journalists, as well as by criminal justice agencies.

The idea that this 69-year-old man would have hit an officer is ludicrous, as he was about to have a family visit (the first in two and a half years) and was beginning preparations for an appearance at the Board of Parole this coming February. Mr. Bell was looking forward to the family visit with great anticipation, and he is optimistic about his chances at the Board, given recent changes in parole regulations and the appointment of new commissioners. There is absolutely no doubt that he did not commit any infraction on September 5th; he also has not had a ticket in the past 20 years.  Mr. Bell has been imprisoned in the NY State system for over 38 years and has never been accused of assaulting staff.

This brutal assault by Great Meadow guards constitutes not only staff abuse but also elder abuse.  Mr. Bell will be 70 years of age in four months.  He was badly injured in the beating. Mr. Bell requires both a CT scan of his head and an ophthalmology examination.

I write to demand that you take these actions:

That Herman Bell be immediately given adequate medical screening and attention at an outside hospital;

That CO J. Saunders and the other officers responsible for the beating be fired;

That the ridiculous charges brought against Herman Bell be dropped immediately and that he be returned at least to general population (he had been on the Honor Block at Great Meadow and despite his request was never given a reason for being moved to general population);

That Mr. Bell’s family visits be reinstated;

That Mr. Bell be moved to a facility where his family visiting can take place and be rescheduled at the earliest possible date.


In the Wabash Valley facility in Indiana, an inmate was involved in a confrontation with a guard who’s been described as “part of a network of closely associated guards and administrators who maintain the prison as a machine of racism, dehumanization and torture. Numerous inmates of Wabash Valley have testified to their treatment by the cabal of “good ol’ boy” guards, who take pleasure in humiliating and abusing inmates in their custody. Spitting in food, confiscating mail, making general threats against family and supporters are common practices of this network of officers and administrators.”

A second inmate, who’s been active in helping to get word of this situation out, is now also facing disciplinary charges as a means of retaliation. Supporters ask that you call Wabash Valley warden Richard Brown at 812-398-5050 and IDOC Commissioner Robert E. Carter Jr. at 317-232-5711, or email IDOC officials at rcarter@idoc.in.gov, rbrown@idoc.in.gov, mauxier@idoc.in.gov, jbasinger@idoc.in.gov, and lsalinas@idoc.in.gov, to say that you are aware that Shaka Shakur, 135647, is being charged for defending himself against mistreatment by guards and that Jimmy Jones, 891782, is facing repression for exposing the situation. Demand that charges against Shaka be dropped and all disciplinary action against Jones be ceased.

Finally, down in Texas, Keith “Comrade Malik” Washington, an incredibly prolific writer and organizer who’s done some amazing work in exposing the horrific conditions in Texas prisons, is currently asking for support against retaliation. He asks for people to email Ombudsman@tdcj.texas.gov with the following message, and to send a copy to him if possible:

Attn: Ombudsman Office – Media Correspondents – Prisoner Rights Adcvocates & Texas Legislators

Subject: Follow-Up Complaint Citing Retaliation Against Prisoner Keith H. Washington and failure of Eastham Unit Administration to implement remediation measures to eradicate black mold

Dear Ombudsman and All Interested Parties,

I am submitting this formal public complaint on behalf of Keith H. Washington (TDC#1487958) who is currently housed at the Eastham Ad-Seg Unit located in Lovelady, TX.

I and many other media correspondents as well as prisoner rights advocates are very upset and disappointed concerning the reports we have received in reference to the reprisals visited upon Mr. Washington because he has brought to light the existence of black mold and cracked/peeling paint in the cells at the Ad-Seg Unit at Eastham.

Our primary problem concerns TDCJ prison officials at Eastham conspiratorial practice violate Keith’s first amendment rights.  Specifically, to petition the government and file complaints in order to resolve inhumane living conditions.

Keith reports that on 9/7/17 at approximately 6pm on F-Line at the Eastham Ad-Seg Unit Lieutenant Salvador Villanueva arrived at Keith’s cell front (F-1-14) and said: “Did you have your family call up here to complain about something?” Keith replied “yes,” and he proceeded to show Villanueva large amounts of cracked and peeled paint on his cell walls. Lt. Villanueva told Keith that Assistant Warden Gregory Vaughn had told him to come talk to Keith but he was unclear as to what was to be done.  Lt. Villanueva said he would call the Warden back in order to receive further instruction.

Please be advised that prior to this incident, prisoner rights advocates Joan Kain, Dr. Heinz Leitner, and Ms. Julie Schneyer had filed complaints on Keith’s behalf in order to address the pervasive and systemic problem of black mold and cracked/peeled paint in the cells at the Eastham Ad-Seg Unit.  In her rebuttal complaint Ms. Joan Kain requested that an independent third party take digital photos of the cell walls in Keith’s cell (F-1-14) and other cells on F-Line which have similar problems.  In a previous Ombudsman complaint (INQ-11-5229-76) Eastham Ad-Seg employees had erroneously reported the inside of the Ad-Seg cells were free of cracked and peeling paint.

Note: On 9/5/17, TDCJ Lieutenant Baker did take digital photos of the walls in Keith’s cell and that of one of his neighbors, Noah Coffin (TDC# 1795167).  These digital photos taken by Lieutenant Baker must have revealed some glaring inconsistencies in earlier reports, because Mr. Coffin was moved immediately and on 9/8/17 Keith was moved from cell F-1-14 to E-1-13.  Keith reports cell E-1-13 also has a serious problem with cracked and peeling paint as well as black mold spores!

We view this as a retaliatory act by Assistant Warden Vaughn and Lieutenant Villanueva.  Keith reports that Eastham prison officials moved different prisoners in both he and Mr. Coffin’s previous cells!  It is obvious that Eastham Unit prison officials refuse to acknowledge serious infrastructure and safety hazards. Eastham Unit prison officials will not initiate remediation measures to eradicate black mold spores.

We do not want Keith moved!  We want an independent third party to immediately take digital photos of allthe walls in cell E-1-13 as well as the areas around the toilet and under the sink where Keith reports mold being present! TDCJ’s own Employee Rules of Conduct prohibit this unethical behavior of Assistant Warden Vaughn and Lieutenant Salvador Villanueva.  P.D. 22 Rule 22b states:  the agency prohibits “harassing or retaliating against an offender or another individual for participating in an official investigation/inquiry or for pursuing legal activities (i.e. petitioning the courts) – Violation Level 1.”

Be advised, Keith does have two federal lawsuits pending and one specificially cites not only retaliation for engaging in “protected conduct” but he also challenges unconstitutional conditions of confinement such as this exposure to toxic substances such as black mold.

I am requesting that an immediate investigation be undertaken at the Eastham Ad-Seg Unit namely into Assistant Ward Gregory Vaughn’s performance methods supervising the Ad-Seg Unit.  There are noticeable appearances of a pattern of neglect and retaliation.  It is high time the American Corrections Association start performing thorough inspections of these aging structures and actually look closely at the living conditions of prisoners who are trapped in solitary confinement for decades!

Lieutenant Villanueva and Assistant Warden Vaughn should be held accountable for their actions. Black mold, toxic water, rodent and rat infestation–no human being should be forced to live in these conditions.  Let’s stop making excuses and commence to rectifying these serious issues.

Respectfully Submitted,”

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