Rent strike wins in Parkdale, Canada!

Residents in the working-class Parkdale neighbourhood of Toronto have been on rent strike since the start of May, as chronicled in this interview. Now, they’ve declared victory:

Statement of the Rent Strikers’ Negotiating Committee

Today we are pleased to announce that the Parkdale rent strike has ended in victory. The organizing of hundreds of working class people in Parkdale, including us and our neighbours, has shifted the balance of power between landlords and tenants in Parkdale in our favour.

For the past six months we have organized our neighbourhood to take on our landlord directly. We know that the laws, courts, and bureaucracies of this system do not serve our interests and throughout this fight we would not be trapped in their dead ends. We refused to play by the rules. Instead we set up independent organizations in our buildings and linked those organizations up across Parkdale. Three hundred of us in 12 buildings went on rent strike and hundreds more of our neighbours joined our actions. What’s more, our organizing has built a new power in our neighbourhood, a power which is based in our own capacities as working class people.

We have won the following concessions from our landlord:
•A substantial reduction in the above guideline rent increases at each building
•A program of additional rent relief for tenants in financial hardship
•A program of maintenance and repair work in each building

Our rent strike won because it expressed the collective strength of working class people in Parkdale. Yet we feel we have only made a beginning. We will continue to organize in our buildings. We will reach out to neighbours facing rent increases in other buildings throughout the neighbourhood. We are prepared to take up the struggles of all working class people in our neighbourhood whether around housing, education, employment, or any other area of our lives. By continuing to organize, we will become stronger and build our power in Parkdale.

We would like to thank everyone who supported us in this fight. Moreover we urge you to organize and build power in your own neighbourhoods. There is no limit on what we as working class people can accomplish when we organize together in our own interests.”

Posted in Housing, Strikes, Stuff that I think is pretty awesome | Tagged , | 2 Comments

August 11th: Solidarity with Indiana prisoners – end the mail ban!

There’s a call for people to contact the Indiana Department of Corrections on August 11th in co-ordination with a protest that’ll be taking place against the incredibly restrictive  new mail rules. People can ring IDOC director Rob Carter at (317) 233-6984, or for international supporters who don’t feel up to making US phone calls, you can email them at rcarter@idoc.in.gov, mauxier@idoc.in.gov, jbasinger@idoc.in.gov and lsalinas@idoc.in.gov. In the words of Indiana prisoner Kwame “Beans” Shakur:

“On April 1, 2017, the Indiana Department of Corrections implemented a new policy that targets our incoming mail: ALL mail must be handwritten on white lined paper in a white envelope. This policy restricts us from receiving any greeting cards on birthdays, Father’s Day, holidays etc., any typed letters or political documents, or any type of drawings from our kids!

Whether it’s simply more convenient, or out of necessity, our elderly family members with medical conditions like arthritis can’t handwrite their letters, and typing is the only way they can send us mail. With the increase of political education material like this very memo coming into the prisons with the intent to educate, agitate and organize prisoners, this new policy is also aimed to eradicate any such efforts.

This is blatant censorship and repression from the state. In their words, they “are going to see how it goes” from April to October before they actually put the policy into effect permanently. If there is no public outcry and resistance from the people on the outside against this policy, then they will have no reason to retreat: Once it goes into effect across the entire state, there will be little we can do.

The powers that are over Pendleton Correctional Facility are slowly attempting to turn this prison into a supermax facility, cutting us off completely from the outside world. Aside from the restriction of incoming mail, those of us like me who are housed on the G Cell House lock up unit (administrative disciplinary segregation) have also been stripped of our phone and video visitation the past 10 months. The policy states that we are entitled to phone privileges at least three times a week.

This cell house is only allowed visitors two days out of the week, Monday and Wednesday. With work and school during the week, it is extremely difficult for our loved ones to travel here during visitation hours. Fortunately, we were able to receive video visits on the JPay kiosk with our loved ones in the comfort of their own homes any day of the week – after work hours until 8 p.m.

However, the lieutenant of this cell house – not the facility or the DOC – recently made it to where we can only receive one 30-minute phone call per week. We can only receive video visits once a week, on the same day and time as our phone call.

We are locked in cages 24 hours a day. The courts and policy have determined that we are entitled to leave these cells for at least an hour of recreation five days a week; however, on average we may get rec once or twice a week, a direct violation of their own policy and procedure.

We have pushed our pens until the ink runs dry and filed the necessary grievances to seek relief. The same individuals who we file our paperwork on are the SAME individuals who respond to our claims, making the entire grievance process ineffective and contradictory.

If the policies and court rulings can be so irrelevant to these people, if the process we are told to follow in order to seek relief and correct such violations is ineffective, then where is the justice? Again, we’re being silenced and censored; we are powerless in these cages against the prison politics of prison autocracy.

Nobody is investigating or calling into question the death of an inmate who was excessively sprayed with multiple cans of mace, shot by pepper balls – a paintball gun that shoots paint balls filled with mace – and then left in a cell untreated to die last year!

For far too long, these people have gotten away with their crimes, without any blowback and resistance from the masses. For far too long, they have gotten away with the exploitation of our families through overpriced phone calls, vending machines in the visit room, JPay fees and commissary.

All across the country, we have formulations and prisoner advocacy organizations assisting us in our struggle to expose the prison industrial slave complex and fight for our rights. It is time that we organize and mobilize right here in our own back yard; our captors must come to learn that there will be consequences for their actions, that they will have to answer and face the people here in Indiana as well.”

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Workplace round-up for early August

Once again, there’s a lot going on. In London, employees at two McDonald’s stores are balloting for strike action over working conditions and bullying of union members, which has to be the biggest action at a UK McDonald’s since at least the days of the old McDonald’s Workers’ Resistance group. The bakers’ union BFAWU are also launching an ambitious push to organise Amazon workers:

Also in the capital, the long-running Picturehouse living wage dispute continues, with workers at the Brixton Ritzy and the Central, Crouch End, East Dulwich and Hackney Picturehouses on strike from 4pm on Friday 4 August until 5am on Sunday 6 August. Picket lines will be in operation 4pm-8pm on Friday and Saturday.

Unite seem to be keeping impressively busy: there’s the hospital workers, BA cabin crew, and Bank of England staff striking in London, with the BA strikers in particular seeming willing to carry on into August, while further north there’s the Birmingham bin dispute, with action planned to run into September, the Mears Housing workers in Manchester who’ve just finished a solid month’s strike action, scaffolders striking over pay at Eggborough power station near Goole, and more action expected in the Teesside “pay the rate” dispute. The last dispute is significant, not only for the degree of rank-and-file organisation shown by the Teesside Construction Activists network, but also because the dispute has been caused by the companies involved bringing in foreign workers and underpaying them. These kinds of issues can lead to nationalist responses, but it’s also possible to respond with internationalist solidarity, like at Fawley Oil Refinery, or the messages seen in Rotherham during previous rounds of #paytherate disputes:

From the #paytherate protest in Rotherham

Further north still, the Communist Workers’ Organisation have a pretty good write-up of what’s going on with the Durham Teaching Assistants’ struggle.

Finally, while it’s a way off at the moment, the tireless Orgreave Justice Campaign are already planning their next step: since it was on 31 October last year that Amber Rudd announced there’d be no Orgreave enquiry, they’re planning a spooooky Hallowe’en action to mark the first anniversary of that event. More info and resources are available here.

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

Know your rights at the jobcentre: claimants have the right to appeal a decision for up to 13 months

In another high-profile legal defeat for the government, following on from the scrapping of tribunal costs, a court has just ruled that claimants have the right to appeal for up to 13 months, meaning that the previous one-month time limit has to be scrapped.

To quote from the Child Poverty Action Group, who brought the case:

“The Upper Tribunal (UT) has today declared the Government’s restrictions on access to the social security appeals system to be unlawful, in a test case brought by Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) The Tribunal’s decision enhances and protects the appeal rights of the hundreds of thousands of benefit claimants who each year seek to challenge refusals of benefit…

Since 2013, where a claimant wishes to challenge a refusal of benefit, there has been a requirement to apply for a ‘mandatory reconsideration’ before appealing to an independent tribunal. The Department for Work and Pensions has consistently asserted that where it decides a mandatory reconsideration application has been made too late, no right of appeal arises. The effect has been to exclude large numbers of benefit claimants from access to the justice system, and in the words of the UT, ‘result in a significant number of claimants who are entitled to benefits not being paid them’.

CJ and SG are women with serious health problems who were refused employment and support allowance and made late applications to challenge the refusal decisions. In both cases it has subsequently been established that the refusals were wrong and the claimants should have been receiving benefit. However, in both cases the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions initially refused to change the decisions and refused to let a tribunal consider whether that was correct.

The UT, chaired by Chamber President Mr Justice Charles, finds the Secretary of State’s position unlawful…

The correct position, as declared by the UT, is that where a claimant makes a mandatory reconsideration request at any time within 13 months of the original decision, she will, if dissatisfied, subsequently be entitled to pursue her challenge to a tribunal…

Commenting on the tribunal’s decision, CPAG’s legal officer Carla Clarke said:

“This is fantastic news. Not only is it a vindication for our two clients but it stands to provide justice for significant numbers of families wrongly denied the financial help to which they are entitled. This decision ensures that even if the DWP thinks there is no good reason for their delay, it cannot prevent such individuals pursuing an appeal before an independent tribunal. To have found otherwise would have been to uphold a system where the decision maker also acts as arbiter of whether an individual could challenge their decision or not – a clear conflict of interest and an affront to justice.””

Of course, rights handed down from above can be taken away just as easily, and this decision only gives claimants the ability to enter the maze of appealing DWP decisions, it’s no guarantee that they’ll manage to get through it successfully. The best defense of claimants’ rights is always through organisation, like the activity of Unite Community in Newcastle, or the Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network. But still, good news is good news, and anything that gives claimants a little more breathing space is to be welcomed.

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Know your rights at work: Overtime and holiday pay

In a relatively low-profile case this week, a tribunal ruled that payments for entirely voluntary duties, such as voluntary overtime, standby, call-out work and travel-time linked to that work, should be included in the calculation of workers’ holiday pay. This comes on the back of a similar ruling a few years ago, which first established the principle that anyone who regularly works overtime should have that taken into consideration when getting their holiday pay.

From Unite’s write-up of the ruling:

“Today’s ruling is of major significance to workers nationally, many of whom receive payments for voluntary duties while working, but do not receive those payments when they take holiday. It sets a legal binding precedent which employment tribunals across the UK are obliged to follow.

The case against Dudley council involved 56 Unite members employed by the council as tradesmen, including plumbers, electricians and carpenters, working on maintaining Dudley’s housing stock.

They worked regular overtime, including on Saturdays, on a purely voluntary basis. They also elected to go on a standby rota every four weeks to deal with emergency call-outs and repairs.

In some cases their earnings for this additional voluntary work amounted to around £6,000 a year on top of their basic salary. While they would receive these payments while working, these amounts were not included in their holiday pay. The underpayments of holiday pay suffered by each claimant varied depending on how much voluntary work they performed between around £350 and £1,500 per year.

Commenting, Unite assistant general secretary for legal services Howard Beckett, said: “Today’s landmark victory further clarifies the law on holiday pay and is of major significance to workers across the UK. It means employers must now include all earnings, including payments for voluntary duties and overtime, in calculating holiday pay.””

And to recycle some of my own commentary from the previous tribunal case:

“Our legal rights are only ever worth anything if we have the organisational strength on the ground to enforce them, so the most interesting question about this story is whether it has the potential to spread organisation and confidence among rank-and-file workers. At the most basic level, this is a story that it’d be good to start conversations with our co-workers about: it’s a convenient, practical way to open up conversations about our shared material interests, how much of our lives we sell to our bosses and how little we get back in return, not at a hopelessly abstract level but in very immediate terms.

Things like the TUC’s pay rise demonstration can feel like quite vague political gestures, the relevance of this to our own lives is immediately obvious, and what it says about the bigger picture is worth discussing as well: at a time when workers across the UK are divided along all kinds of lines, and various forms of divide-and-rule ideology are deepening their hold, this issue is one that draws a straightforward line between workers and our bosses, and the reaction of the government has made it clear what side they’re on.

Getting extra money from our employers is a good thing, and the chance to do so shouldn’t be missed; getting together with our co-workers to discuss how we’re going to get extra money from our employers, the ways they’re likely to try and cheat us out of it, and what we can do to support each other against our bosses’ tricks, could yet be the start of something really interesting.”

Posted in Know your rights, Unions, Work | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Direct action blocks eviction in Sheffield!

This week, members of the tenants’ union ACORN took to the streets in Sheffield to prevent a landlord from carrying out an eviction, as reported in Evolve Politics and the Sheffield Star. They have now entered into negotiations with the landlord, and will be meeting for talks next week. An ACORN co-ordinator said:

“I know from experience that living in privately rented housing is precarious at the best of times and the possibility of eviction reminds us that we are not in control of our homes or our lives. But when renters unionise, we can say no to evictions, which is especially important when evictions are illegal and will leave families homeless, like in this case. That’s something we can’t do as individuals… Not only will our action help stop a family from becoming homeless, it will send a message to rogue landlords in Sheffield that they have a union to contend with.”


To keep updated with ACORN’s activity in Sheffield, see their fb or twitter pages; or see the website for what the organisation’s up to nationally.

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

Democratic confederalism and state counter-revolution: the example of Sheikh Maqsoud

An article recently appeared in Reuters examining Sheikh Maqsoud, the YPG-controlled district inside Aleppo. While the article itself is certainly not concerned with any kind of radical critique, I think it’s still worth circulating and discussing, just as a reminder of how complex the relationship between the Assad regime and the Rojava project is. For all the comparisons that get made to Spain 1936, I certainly can’t imagine Franco putting up with a revolutionary area existing inside a city he controlled.

It’d be good to hear more opinions, both positive and critical, about what the peaceful co-existence of an area like Sheikh Maqsoud means – for those who are more pro-Rojava, is this something that they’re fine with, or is it worth accepting as a necessary product of the messiness and complexity of the real world? Equally, for those who might be more critical, it’s worth asking what alternatives we can pose – if Sheikh Maqsoud’s apparent ability to happily coexist alongside the Ba’ath regime’s rule is unacceptable, what do we think its inhabitants should do instead? Should they insist on being heroically slaughtered? Is the “right” answer to become refugees, and if so, are there ever any situations in which revolutionary projects should insist on holding on to territories? I really don’t have any clear answers to any of these questions, and would like to hear more perspectives from others on the subject.

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