Conflicts in construction, strife at Sotheby’s, and more: late July round-up

Another round-up of a few things that’re going on:

Looking at the ongoing housing movement in London, the occupiers at the Sweets Way estate have started work on their “people’s regeneration show home”, aiming to make a condemned and derelict house livable again. You can read more about their project here. Further ahead, the Focus E15 Mothers are calling for a march against evictions to mark their two-year anniversary in September, as well as being part of an East London day of action this Saturday. Also in East London, there’s East London Rising, a week of free events at the London Action Resource Centre in early August, that’ll include a day focused on anti-eviction and housing campaigns, as well as a day on claimants’ and workers rights and more.

The Blacklist Support Group joining the #paytherates protests in Teesside

In workplace news, things have been incredibly busy in the fight against blacklisting and the construction sector more broadly. To just pick a few of the biggest stories, as well as the spectacular immediate victory won by rank-and-file direct action at Canary Wharf earlier this week, last week was supposed to see the Blacklist Support Group secretary Dave Smith go on trial for charges related to an earlier protest against the sacking of a worker on the Crossrail project, but at the last minute it was put back to early January. Apart from anything else, this story shows why every worker in the country should be green with envy at the uniquely relaxed working conditions enjoyed by the incompetents at the Clown Prosecution Service – can you imagine turning up to work, explaining that you’d not prepared properly to meet an important deadline, and being told “oh, it’s fine, just come back some time next year and do your best to have it sorted out by then”?

Staying with the blacklist theme, this week also sees the start of the Pitchford Inquiry into undercover policing, and to mark the occasion Undercover Info have published a long list of blacklisters who’ve been named after a court order. They share information on us, let’s share information on them.

The busy times in the construction industry certainly haven’t been all confined to courtrooms and building sites in London either. Up in Teesside, construction workers have been continuing their campaign against the undercutting of wages which has been running for sixteen weeks now, and has seen cops with guns turning up on picket lines in Redcar. Reel News have been covering the dispute, and for more information or to show your solidarity, check out Teesside Construction Activists and the #paytherate hashtag.

In other workplace disputes, the United Voices of the World union is still fighting for the reinstatement of the last two sacked workers at Sotheby’s, as well as for the original demand of sick pay and fair treatment, with their next protest scheduled for Friday 31st at 5.45. Bike couriers in London are also continuing a campaign of flashmob protests at clients of courier firm Citylink as part of their fight for the London Living Wage. And throughout August, September and into October, Dave Pike, national secretary of the IWW, will be doing a national speaking tour to introduce this fighting union and its activities.

Looking at the fight against racism and nationalism, reports are circulating of sabotage against an immigration raid in Shadwell, while the next big antifascist mobilisation coming up is against the White Man March in Liverpool on August 15th, with transport now running from Sheffield, Manchester, and the East and West Midlands, as well as an open mobilising meeting in Leeds in early August.

And finally, two pieces of cheering international news: comrades from down under report on how Sydney Solidarity Network won a worker money that her employer was refusing to pay up, and the US-based Workers Solidarity Alliance have a round-up of recent grassroots victories in the class war over there, including another success for the long-running and incredibly effective Seattle Solidarity Network. Over there, as over here, solidarity and direct action get the goods.

Posted in Housing, Protests, Racism, Stuff that I think is pretty awesome, Unions, Work | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

More Corbyn confusion

By pretty much anyone’s standards, the Corbyn leadership bid is a weird phenomenon. Here we have a man who, by all accounts, is a very nice and principled fellow, trying to become the leader of an organisation so totally venal and amoral that, when asked a question as simple as “do you support or oppose the idea of taking away £30 a week from disabled people?”, most of its elected representatives responded with something along the lines of “oh, I dunno really, that’s a bit of a tricky one.”

Seeing a self-professed socialist making a bid to become leader of the modern Labour Party in 2015 is a bit like if Mary Poppins came to life and announced that she was going to try to take over the Mafia. Sure, on some level you’d have to wish her well because she seems nice enough, but it’d be very hard to imagine her succeeding, and even harder to imagine what on earth she’d be able to do with her new position once she’d got it.

So it’s no wonder that many people on the left, particularly those who’ve historically been in favour of working outside the Labour Party, have been a bit confused about how to respond. I thought I’d seen this confusion in its purest form with Ian Allinson’s recommendation that we should sign people up as affiliate supporters in order to then tell them to leave, but another article has now offered a stance which might be even more confusing. In a new article by Richard Seymour, he makes some perfectly valid observations about the pointlessness of signing up to Labour if you’re not willing to commit to it, states that he won’t be paying his £3 to vote – and then concludes that what he’s said “doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to support Corbyn’s bid…, in whatever ways we can.”

Just to repeat: this is someone who thinks he has a responsibility to support Corbyn, “in whatever ways we can”… except for by voting for him. If anyone actually tried to apply this approach in practice, it’d make for some pretty odd conversations:

“Hey, could I have a minute of your time? I’ve come round to encourage you to vote for Corbyn.”

“Hang on, aren’t you that lefty who’s always banging on about how bad the Labour Party is? Huh, never thought I’d see the day you voted in a Labour leadership contest.”

“Oh, no, I’m not going to do it myself. I have a responsibility to support him, in whatever ways I can, but I won’t be voting for him. But I’m here to tell you that you should.”


Like Seymour, I can’t see much point in signing up to an organisation you’re not willing to commit to. Unlike him, I don’t think I have any responsibility to support someone’s quest to become an anti-austerity, social democratic leader of a firmly pro-austerity neoliberal party. My perspective now, just like it was a few months ago before all the Corbyn hype blew up, and just like it’ll be in a few months’ time when it’s all died down, is still based around what was once described as the “tendency of working class struggles to go outside and against the government and politics, and to create new forms of organization that do not put our faith in anything other than our own ability”. It may not be an especially popular stance, especially not at the current moment. But it’s coherent, it makes sense, and it helps me to avoid coming out with claptrap like proclaiming that I have a responsibility to support a candidate who I have no intention of voting for.

As someone once wrote long ago, “Because the traditional parties cannot be ‘reformed’, ‘captured’, or converted into instruments of working class emancipation – and because we are reluctant-to indulge in double-talk and doublethink – IT FOLLOWS that we do not indulge in such activities as ‘critically supporting’ the Labour Party at election time, calling for ‘Labour to Power’ between elections, and generally participating in sowing illusions, the better at a later date to ‘take people through the experience’ of seeing through them. The Labour and Communist parties may be marginally superior to the Conservative Party in driving private capitalism along the road to state capitalism… But we are not called upon to make any choice of this kind: it is not the role of revolutionaries to be the midwives of new forms of exploitation. IT FOLLOWS that we would rather fight for what we want (even if we don’t immediately get it) than fight for what we don’t want and get it.”

Posted in Labour, Stuff that I don't think is very useful, The left | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Direct action once again beats the bosses

Construction workers from Teesside supporting the picket

After the Monday morning picket against the victimisation of a shop steward at Canary Wharf – a picket that defied a high court injuction banning the protest – the bosses at electrical contractor Phoenix have now caved in and reinstated the sacked worker. As reported on the Blacklist Support Group facebook page:

Sacked unite steward Graham re-employed following meeting between Unite FTO Guy Langston and Phoenix MD Lee Compton.

Despite the threats of arrest and a High Court injunction, direct action once again beats the bosses. Rest of the trade union movement, please take notice. Ongoing protests are now suspended while Unite has ongoing negotiations about direct employment.

Many thanks to all those who supported Graham and all the construction workers who refused to cross the picket line.”

Graham himself commented:

“I would like to say a massive ‘Thank You’ to all those who came down to support me today. I would especially like to thank the vast majority of construction workers on site who showed such solidarity by respecting the picket line, despite all the intimidation from the police and senior managers.
Millions of workers are being denied their basic employment rights by the use of zero hours contracts, employment agencies and umbrella scams. But we don’t have to passively accept these abuses. Today has proved that if we fight back, we can win”.

Interestingly, a minor role in this story is played by one Frank Westerman, a former union official turned blacklister who now works as an industrial relations consultant and represented the bosses in this dispute. Anyway, this story shows once again the power of rank-and-file direct action to win real victories. Now Graham’s reinstated, onwards to Sotheby’s

Posted in Stuff that I think is pretty awesome, Unions, Work | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Fight victimisation at Canary Wharf and Sotheby’s

Just a quick plug for two upcoming events in support of victimised workers.

First, starting at half 6 on Monday morning, construction workers will be picketing Canary Wharf after the sacking of a newly-elected shop steward, and are asking for people to come down, especially if they can act as legal observers. If you can make it, it’s happening from 6.30am outside 25 Cabot Square, Canary Wharf.

Secondly, the United Voices of the World union has been fighting to get four sacked cleaners reinstated at the Sotheby’s auction house. They’ve now got halfway there, but further action is needed to win the reinstatement of the remaining Sotheby’s two. The next step is a protest on Friday 31st at 5.30 in the evening, meeting at Oxford Circus station, United Colors of Benetton exit.

An injury to one is an injury to all. Let’s make sure the Canary Wharf shop steward and the Sotheby’s two win their jobs back as quickly as possible.

Posted in Unions, Work | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Steven Bennett is free!

After an eight-week stay in prison, a jailing that was shockingly under-reported almost everywhere, water charge resister Steven Bennett was freed this week. From Solidarity Times:

We are delighted to hear that water charges campaigner Steven Bennett has been released after spending 8 weeks in Cloverhill prison without trial.

The judge tried to make him accept bail conditions which would have banned him from protesting. Steven refused to accept these conditions and because of this stance has been in Cloverhill prison until his release after todays court appearance.

What happened to Steven exposes the extremely hollow nature of democracy and legal process. This was an internment without trial intended to prevent Steven taking part in protests. The media outlets that were outraged that Joan Burton was delayed in her car for a couple of hours in Jobstown were silent about his eight week detention. To them its wasn’t even a news story, never mind material for outraged editorials.

In other prison news, don’t forget that Saturday July 25th is the international day of solidarity with antifascist prisoners. If you’re in the Welsh valleys or Bristol, there’ll be events marking the occasion; if not, why not send a card or a letter to a prisoner, either off your own bat or with a group of friends?

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I wouldn’t start from here: more thoughts on social strikes and directional demands


The ongoing debate started by Keir Milburn’s article about social strikes and directional demands, and continued by useful contributions from the Angry Workers of the World collective and now Australian blogger withsobersenses, is highly recommended reading for anyone interested in strategic thinking about how to come up with a plan to get out of the mess we’re in. (In a refreshing change from the normal rule of “never read below the line”, the discussion in the comments on the withsobersenses piece is also really interesting and thoughtful). As a small contribution to the debate, I’ve typed up a few notes on the two concepts inspired by reading all three pieces:

On social strikes:

I think one of the strengths of this idea is that, if approached correctly, it can be used to shift focus back onto our immediate conditions as a starting point – not “lobby the TUC to call a general strike”, or, indeed “call on the diffuse social multitude to declare a social strike”, but “starting from this or that concrete struggle, what possibilities are open for us, as workers/claimants/service users/pensioners/proletarians/whatever to generalise and socialise this particular conflict?”

Echoing the AWW criticism, I have mixed feelings about the idea of “making visible”, an idea that sounds a little too close to the old activist fixation on “raising awareness”. A lot of the time, what’s lacking is not awareness of the ways in which we’re fucked over, but any realistic idea of how we could hope to challenge our conditions. Indeed, some of the key weapons of capital depend precisely on visibility for their effects: if benefit sanctions, or mass redundancies in workplaces deemed to be falling too far behind in the race to the bottom, weren’t visible, they’d lose a great deal of their power.

At the same time, I don’t want to dismiss the idea of “making visible” altogether: following on from the ideas raised in We Are All Very Anxious, the epidemic of mental illness that accompanies contemporary conditions seems like a particularly suitable candidate for trying to move out of the private realm and into the social and political spheres.

The point about disruption of circulation is a valuable one, and, again echoing the AWW’s points, I can’t stress enough the importance of examining the practical experiments that have been made in this field in the US over the last few years – at the risk of leaning too much on an overused Luxemburg quote, the errors of the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements in this area are of far more value than the most correct formulations of the most sussed small theoretical circles.

A further point: it might be worth trying to think of ways to connect weaknesses in supply chains and transport infrastructure to the limits of current policing strategies. The kettle, after all, is essentially a cop blockade, a way of making sure that no-one and nothing moves in or out of a certain physical space: when aiming to shut down the movement of capital, would it be possible to get our enemies to do a large part of the work for us?

The question of social reproduction, and how we can disrupt the circuits of capital’s reproduction without simultaneously blocking our own, is an interesting one, and worth thinking through in depth. After all, both teachers and transport workers are in a relatively powerful position precisely because the withdrawal of their labour can cause a knock-on effect that prevents other workers from getting to work. In the case of both the Parisian carpoolers and the Bradford crèche, feelings of sociability and co-operation might have been increased, but it also sounds as if the effect was to make it possible for people to get to work who otherwise would have had to stay at home. Is the effect of these activities to heighten sociability, but at the cost of lessening the disruptive impact of the strike?

On directional demands:

While I thought a lot of Milburn’s original article was really good, the discussion of directional demands seemed like kind of a weak point to me. In recent years, some currents of (mainly US) anarchism have made a hostility to demands one of their defining features. As with voting, I don’t think that fetishing a refusal to issue demands is any more use than fetishing the act of making demands in the first place: I’m tempted to say that what’s important is finding formulations that resonate with people, whether those take the form of demands or not.

I don’t think it’s necessary to go all the way and reject the idea of ever issuing demands in any situation to note how many of the most notable movements in reject years, from the riots of August 2011 to Occupy, have taken place largely without demands, and to question Milburn’s idea of demands that “aim to provide a direction of travel”. The big defining feature of a demand is that you have to demand it from someone else, it’s not something you can do for yourself. So, for instance, We Are The 99% and Black Lives Matter, whatever other criticisms you can make of those slogans, are not demands, because they make sense as truths in themselves, without needing to appeal to an external body to justify them.

I certainly wouldn’t say no to a universal basic income, a debt jubilee or a raise in the minimum wage to £10 an hour, but I don’t think any of those things in themselves “leave us… in a stronger position, able to better articulate what we want and better able to exercise the power to get there”. There’s no demand you can make of capital and the state that points to a future without capital and the state.

All this is in danger of getting impossibly abstract and vague, so to look at some real-world examples of the limitations of demands, directional or otherwise: the Living Wage has functioned as one of the most useful demands seen in the UK in recent years, and by bringing together different groups, such as cleaners and cinema workers, it can be said to have played “a compositional role”. The government’s decision to grant a living wage that’s not actually a living wage directly undermines the usefulness and coherence of this demand by ensuring that future conversations about the living wage will be much more confusing, and it seems likely that a similar trick would be pulled with any other “directional demand” that achieved enough popularity.

Similarly, the recent impasse encountered by Syriza, and their abandoning of many of their own policies, show that even when some levels of the state want to grant our demands they still might not be met: just as the local council tell us that they’re very sympathetic to our campaign, but that their hands are tied by central government, when we try to get around this by voting in “erratic Marxists” to run the government it turns out their hands are tied by international financial capital.

But in saying all this, it’s important not to throw the baby of serious strategic thinking out with the bathwater of wanting demands to do things that they can’t do. I think an idea very similar to “directional demands” could be useful, if  we just change the emphasis away from demanding things from the state and towards building up our own capacities. Instead of demands, I’ll use the word ambitions here, although that’s a fairly dull way of putting it – if you prefer, feel free to think of them as dreams, relationship goals, desires or SMART Targets instead.

For instance, looking at the Black Lives Matter movement from the perspective of police abolition, instead of making demands for body cameras and other reforms, we can think about what it would take to move us towards the ambition of being able to take and hold space free from the police for an extended period of time, and to preserve peace and order in that area so we didn’t just end up inviting the cops back in again. Looking at Greece, which can probably be taken as an indication of what lies in store for any country that tries to enact social democratic “Plan B” policies, the important thing is not to make any specific demands on the state – a state that is ultimately always at the mercy of international capital – but to set up networks that can realise the ambition of taking care of each other, meeting as many needs as possible, and that can continue to function when the state and the market break down.

Thinking about the situation of claimants and the ongoing dismantling of the welfare state in the UK, the same ambition applies: to make sure that, even if the market can’t provide us with waged work and the state isn’t prepared to help us survive, we can still take care of each other and help each other to enjoy decent, worthwhile lives. Equally, in the workplace, instead of demanding more legal rights for trade unions, we can think about moving towards the ambition of being able to act together with our coworkers in the ways that we think are most effective, rather than in ways the state considers to be legal.

Much more can be said on these matters. Go ahead.

Posted in Bit more thinky, Debate, Strikes | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Support Steven Bennett and Linus Soinjoki

It’s a measure of how shockingly under-reported the Irish water charges revolt is that I’ve only just learned of the imprisonment of Steven Bennett, who’s been held in prison since May for protesting against the installation of water meters. In his own words:

“To my Friends, Comrades and to the Irish Water movement

I send this message of solidarity from my cell in Cloverhill prison, where i have been since May 20th.

The Irish state prevents me from my right to protest. While the high court has granted me restrictive bail, it would be at the cost of surrendering my Fundamental, Political and Civil rights. I can not accept this as it would kill my revolutionary spirit, so i am forced to stay here in prison until i can appeal the bail, or until my hearing at the Criminal Court of Justice on the 22nd of July in Dublin City.

I also want to say loud and clear without hesitation that our struggle is morale, ethical and just and that our form of protest, non-violent Direct action is successful at preventing the Meter installations and drawing wider public attention and to our protest raising the profile of our opinions in the national debate, that has helped build our movement today.

I would encourage you all to continue to build on what has been achieved so far, people and communities standing shoulder to shoulder against the bullies and building a non-violent leaderless resistance movement that is capable of defeating not just the water charges, but winning any issue we choose to fight.

It is of absolute importance that this movement stays in control of the people and is unaffiliated with any political party or to be used by cynically those who only want to gain your vote in the election. We need a movement that will fight not just this government but any future government, all politicians should fear people.

Power to the People!”

You can write to Steven at:

Steven Bennett
Cloverhill Remand Prison
Cloverhill Road,
Dublin 22

In other prison news, July 25th is an international day of solidarity with antifascist prisoners, and the list of suggested names to write to contains several long-term prisoners, as well as a new name: the Swedish anti-fascist Linus Soinjoki, who was also sent down in May. If you’re interested in writing to Linus, he requests that you contact the Swedish prisoner support group Föreningen Fånggruppen for his address.

On a similar theme, repression against anarchists continues in the Czech Republic, and comrades there are asking for whatever solidarity we can give.

Finally, let’s not forget that Emma Sheppard and Shilan Ozcelik remain imprisoned here in the UK as well.

Posted in Anarchists, Repression | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments