A lot of people are probably feeling a bit hopeless at the moment. The terrifyingly harsh treatment of anyone even vaguely connected with the riots seems designed to send out a clear message: money and property are more important than people, and anyone trying to disrupt that state of things will be punished ruthlessly. It’s certainly true that a lot of indefensibly horrible stuff happened that week, but the British state, like any state, has no real problem with the use of sickening violence: the real problem is that, for a brief period in some areas, people were acting as though money wasn’t the most important thing in the world, as if people who aren’t rich should still be able to have nice things. That’s what shocked the establishment to its core, and that’s why we’re seeing such a vicious crackdown now. But politicians and coppers are always going to be bastards, there’s no surprise there – the really worrying thing about what’s going on is how little opposition there is to it. I’m sure we’ve all heard friends, family or co-workers expressing saying some nasty shit; the near-total surrender of liberals to authoritarianism over this issue is perhaps best summed up by a disgusting article by Michael White, deputy editor of the Guardian, gloating over the fact that two people were given four-year sentences for posting things on facebook about the riots, and specifically revelling in the fact that they’ll be at an increased risk of serious sexual assault while they’re inside. It’s difficult to know what to say about something that vile, but I hope Mr. White finds himself in serious suffering at some point in the near future, so Perry and Jordan can have a good laugh at his situation the way he’s having one at theirs.
For those of us who think that freedom is more important than trainers or TVs, and want to loot the whole bakery and not just a few cakes, the situation is undeniably pretty grim right now. But we shouldn’t give up all hope. For one things, cracks are starting to appear in the wall of repression: Ursula Nevin, the woman jailed for wearing some shorts, has now been freed, and the first anti-eviction demo has now been held. No to Riot Evictions looks worth keeping an eye on, although I’m very suspicious of anything that’s got John Rees’ name attached to it. But, if we turn our attention away from the riots and the courts for a moment, there are plenty of examples of people not just fighting back, but winning. The 200-day Free Hetherington occupation in Glasgow, easily the most impressive student occupation I can remember, is coming to an end having declared victory. The list of gains is stunning, impressive enough to be worth reproducing in full:
1. No more course cuts.
2. No compulsory redundancies.
3. A new postgraduate club, to be opened in the next year.
4. No cuts for student services, a guarantee of transparency with the SRC (Student Representative Council).
5. A public meeting with the principal Anton Muscatelli, where students and staff may address their worries.
6. No repercussions from the University for staff or students involved in the occupation.
7. An assurance that no information will be volunteered to the police about people involved.
Direct action really does get results, and the list of things they’ve won from uni management doesn’t even cover the most important gain of all: the creation of new relationships among those involved in the occupation, who’ll move forward from this victory with a new-found awareness of their own strength, and the fact that they can rely on each other to help improve their situations.
At the other end of the UK, the Industrial Workers of the World cleaners demo at Heron Tower today was called off after they won a major victory including a living wage of £8.30 an hour and back pay. This is the second victory for cleaners in London in under a month, as it’s only a few weeks since the Guildhall cleaners, also organised in the IWW, also won major concessions.
Their American counterparts are also doing well, as workers at a New York Chinese food warehouse have just won $470,000 in wages that their employers were withholding. Also on an American note, the Seattle Solidarity Network have just won $3600 for a care worker after his employers tried to cheat him on expenses. A member of SeaSol just toured the South, but don’t worry if you missed it: there’s more important things coming up, especially the mass picket at Blackfriars Station next Wednesday called by a meeting of over 400 militant construction workers. If you live in London, get involved.
And these are just the most recent examples: over the last few months, we’ve seen the Solidarity Federation take on Office Angels and win, a daycare centre saved in Nottingham, two care homes saved in Sheffield, and free travel for the disabled saved in Reading. I don’t think revolution is inevitable, but as long as people are still getting together to transform their conditions by taking collective action, I think it’s still possible. What’s happened at Glasgow Uni, Heron Tower and the Guildhall could happen everywhere, in the right circumstances, and that’d still just be a start. And, even if we never win the final battle to end the rule of money over human life, it’s got to be better than just going down without any kind of a fight.