So, it’s been an interesting week. As you may well have heard by now, events got quite heated last night in Bristol.
The riot wasn’t the only thing to have happened this week of course: An unemployed ex-miner was able to win a major victory over A4e thanks to the support of Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty. Victories are always worth celebrating, but this one’s particularly important as it involves the unemployed, a group who are often seen as being powerless to fight back. We also saw Jobcentre workers become one of the first groups to take strike action – one day is not enough, but it’s a start to build from. Meanwhile, the Vivergo workers, going against their union’s advice, rejected their employer’s attempt to buy them off. Also on the industrial front, Socialist Worker is hyping up the possibility of united strike action by at least four public sector unions on the 30th of June. Of course, it would be a big mistake to take either Leninist newspapers or union leaders at face value, so it’s worth reading Phil Dickens’ piece on the limitations of this action, as well as this article on Unison’s role in sabotaging the struggle. But bearing all that in mind, anything that begins to move beyond the traditional divisions between the unions has to be a good thing.
Another interesting piece of commentary was this article on the Black Bloc by a member of the Hackney Housing Group. Of course, there’s been no shortage of criticism of the Black Bloc over the last month or so, but I think that any criticism written from a perspective that’s unashamedly pro-direct action should be treated a little more thoughtfully than the standard liberal or vanguardist perspectives. This sort of discussion is even more important considering the high likelihood of more militant conflict over the weeks and months to come. Looking further abroad, it’s good to know that school occupations have been spreading across France in recent months. And finally, on a lighter note, the Great Unrest have produced another issue of the excellent Weekly Smirker.
So, having got all that out of the way, back to Bristol. I wasn’t there and I don’t have anything particularly interesting to add, other than to note that one of my major criticisms of the London riots was that they stayed at the level of smashing stuff to make a political point, rather than looting, which goes beyond symbolism and starts actually meeting people’s needs. I can’t take any credit for it, but it appears that those responsible for the great sale at Tesco last night share my thoughts on that point. Here’s a bunch of reports from people who were there and so can say more interesting things than I can, from Neurobonkers, Freedom, Indymedia, Bristol AF and the Commune.
So, it looks like it’s going to be an interesting summer. If UCU, PCS, ATL and NUT members are starting to move closer to each other in terms of taking action (and the Commune piece suggests similar developments might be happening in terms of different social groups rioting together), that’s a good start, but it’s not enough. It’s likely that we’ll see more riots and strikes over the next few months, and it’s important that those involved see each other as part of the same movement, rather than being divided and ruled. That means making the case to trade unionists that “the violent minority”, far from undermining their case, actually help strengthen their position – the cops who put down riots are the same people who enforce the anti-strike laws and protect scabs, so the more overstretched they are the better. A strike is an attempt to disrupt the economy, so anything that helps achieve that goal is increasing the strike’s impact. But it also means arguing against the elitist attitudes of some anarchists who see riots and other violent tactics as being the only effective ones, and look down on the majority of people who don’t join in with them. (Just because Leninists will massively overstress the importance of such people in order to discredit all anarchists doesn’t mean they don’t exist.) If anti-worker attitudes among anarchists are less harmful than anti-anarchist/general anti-rioter attitudes among workers, it’s only because there are many fewer anarchists than there are workers, so their ideas have less of an impact on reality. Both positions are harmful to the goal of building a militant, united and effective working-class movement.
Finally, one last thought: if, as seems likely, we’re going to see things kicking off more regularly, and so it’s advisable for militants to hide their identity, and if the weather stays as lovely as it’s been lately, it’s going to be bloody boiling under all those masks and scarfs. Anyone who tries wearing a full balaclava in this weather is likely to be in as much danger from heatstroke or dehydration as they are from the cops. Just goes to show that every silver lining has a cloud, I suppose.