There’s been a fair amount going on over the last week or so. On the workplace front, militant cleaners in London continue to fight for the living wage, and the rank-and-file electricians’ network certainly isn’t running out of energy: last Wednesday saw hundreds turning out for a disruptive early-morning demo in London, and a building site was successfully picketed in Liverpool (see here for a video from London). More events are coming up in London, Glasgow, and Manchester soon, so the only problem is that more cities aren’t joining in.
Away from the workplaces, the fight over benefits continues: last week saw protests in 17 different locations for a day of action against ATOS Origin, while the next few weeks will see action against a Welfare to Work conference and a Defend Welfare gathering.
On the legal front, we’ve seen two excellent victories lately with the acquittal of nine antifascists (although we shouldn’t neglect the six who are still inside), and two members of Newcastle’s “HSBC 3” managing to get their convictions overturned on appeal. Meanwhile, a mass show of defiance was successful in putting a stop to police repression of activists in Manchester in the run-up to the Tory conference. Omar Ibrahim, an anti-cuts activist from Glasgow, also had to face the courts recently, although I’m not sure how the trial went. Looking at a different aspect of the fight against repression, the Squash campaign against the criminalisation of squatting also looks like it’s worth supporting.
The biggest single event in the class-struggle calendar over the last few days was the mass protest against the Tory conference in Manchester, although I find it hard to get too excited about that: the turnout was certainly encouraging overall, but I can’t help worrying that the overall message of the day was too party political and anti-tory – and therefore, by implication, pro-, or at least not anti-Labour – rather than just generally opposing attacks on our standard of living no matter where they come from. While there was a visible anarchist presence on the day, with a giant circled-A banner being particularly noticeable, Occupy Manchester seems to have been considerably weaker than the black bloc and UK Uncut actions that accompanied March the 26th. This may reflect a general weakening of the radical wing of the anti-cuts movement over the last months, or it might be a product of badly-chosen tactics: no matter how unexpectedly nice the weather was, spending all day lounging about in a square in Manchester in October is never going to be as appealing as it might be in Egypt or Spain. At the risk of sounding nationalistic, we have our own traditions of resistance, and it’s worth thinking about how to tap into them in future. Considering that the tories had the sheer brass neck to meet in a city that had seen a violent uprising less than two months ago, the fact that the protests were so peaceful is a sign of our weakness, not something to boast about.
The most optimistic explanation for the weakness of the radical presence in Manchester – and I admit that this is the explanation I’d like to be true, not the explanation I believe to be true – would be that people are just moving away from the fixation on Big Days Out and towards a focus on long-term grassroots organising. People occupying spaces like Albert or Trafalgar Square aren’t that much of a threat to the government, but if examples like the proposed occupation of Chase Farm Hospital in Enfield and the occupation of Strathclyde University in Glasgow – the latter following on from the remarkably successful Glasgow Uni occupation – spread to become a standard tactic for defending facilities under threat everywhere, that really would pose a serious challenge to the government’s ability to enforce its policies.
Looking at the international picture, the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US has obvious similarities to the Occupy Manchester initiative. It’s hard to say anything definite about such a complex protest, although there’s definitely the possibility that, as with the anti-war and civil rights movements in the 1960s, the police repression these protests are facing could lead many participants to draw radical conclusions quite quickly. This article on the protests makes some interesting points about their limitations.
Meanwhile, other interesting struggles are continuing across North America: the impressively militant longshoremen of Longview, Washington fight on, thousands of Californian prisoners have resumed hunger strikes, and solidarity networks are still slowly rebuilding class power by winning small victories using direct action. Elsewhere, huge strikes rocked Egypt throughout much of September, strikes are also breaking out in Iran, Greece sees another general strike this week as it continues to slide towards total social collapse – or maybe even revolution – and here’s some pictures from the anarchist mobilisation last week in Spain.
Finally, a few quick plugs: Freedom and the Commune both have their October issues out now, and I’ve linked to the Zabalaza books site before but I’ll do it again because it’s just really fucking good and they keep on uploading interesting new stuff on everything from workplace organisation to technology and ecology to feminism all the time, massively recommended as a resource for anyone with access to a printer. Pro-tip: they do have an annoying habit of uploading stuff with odd numbers of pages which then come out fucked up, so if you find one of those then print the front cover separately and then print from page 2 onwards as an even number of pages and it should work fine. Everything else about them is good, though.