New Deliveroo wildcat in Brighton, and other workplace stories for late November

A few updates on various different workplace disputes:

The wildcat bug seems to spreading among Deliveroo riders, at least in the South, as riders in Brighton went out on a wildcat strike on November 25th as part of a long-running dispute over Deliveroo over-recruiting riders, making it impossible for everyone to earn a living wage. Now that the Rebel Roo project has been restarted, you can help share the bulletin around the place to encourage Deliveroo riders in your area make contact with those in places like Brighton, Bristol and Leeds.

In other news from the radical/grassroots end of the union movement, the militant cleaners’ union UVW has opened a new dispute at Lee Hecht Harrison, another successful business in the heart of London’s financial district that pays its cleaners poverty wages. The contractor in charge of the cleaners, City Central Cleaning, have threatened to sack any staff going on strike. No strike dates announced yet, but more news should be coming shortly – keep an eye on the UVW for updates.

Meanwhile, CAIWU, another small new union working with cleaners, are fighting for the reinstatement of Beatriz, one of their members who was recently sacked without cause at Number 1 Finsbury Circus. You can help her get her job back by joining them on Friday December 1, December 8 or December 15th. Their website also talks about an upcoming strike by cleaners at 200 Aldersgate on December 8th.

The new mini-unions like UVW, CAIWU and IWGB have been getting a bit of attention recently, with a positive writeup in the Morning Star and an appraisal in the Huffington Post.

Up in Scotland, workers at the BiFab wind farm factory, which was threatened with closure, launched an occupation, and appear to have secured the future of their workplace.

In more mainstream union news, the big news is that the Birmingham bin strike has come to an end, in what Unite is calling a victory. Other Unite news includes the ongoing strike by housing maintenance workers employed by Mears/Manchester Working, where workers are reporting shockingly high levels of stress and ill-health. They’re out on strike right now, and will be taking 48-hour strikes on December 4, 7, 11, 14, 18, 21, 28, January 4, 8, 11, 15, 18, 22, 25, 29, February 1, 5 and 8, as well as being out on 24 hour strikes on November 30, December 1, and January 2. You can follow news from that dispute at housingworkers.org.uk, which also has some other interesting pieces like a report from a housing summit and a practical guide to rent strikes.

Unite and GMB members at Arriva North West are also in dispute, with workers at the Birkenhead, Bolton, Bootle, Green Lane (Stoneycroft), Macclesfield, Runcorn, St Helens, Speke, Southport, Winsford and Wythenshawe depots taking action over pay on 4, 7, 12 ,13, 14, 20, 21, 22 and 23 December. There’s also an ongoing dispute at First Manchester, where drivers at the Rusholme depot are making £95 a week less than drivers doing the same job elsewhere, so drivers will be striking on every Monday, Wednesday and Friday until December 15th, with a student boycott campaign being launched in support of the dispute and a call to join the pickets on December 1st.

Elsewhere, booze delivery drivers based in Sheffield are threatening action over health and safety issues like excessively long hours and inadequate loading machinery, in a dispute that threatens to cause a “beer drought” over Christmas across large parts of Yorkshire and the North Midlands.

At Fujitsu, a long-running dispute over job losses and victimisation of union reps continues, with a call to turn up at Fujitsu’s London HQ at 10am on Tuesday 5th December, when victimised rep Ian Allinson will be facing a redundancy hearing.

One other bit of Unite-related news is that their community sections will be holding a “stop and fix Universal Credit” day of action on December 2nd – might be worth checking if there’s something going on in your area, since there’s not that many other groups actively fighting on welfare reform at the moment, especially not much on a national scale.

Over in the public sector, cleaners employed by ISS to clean the HMRC building in Bootle will be protesting for a living wage and better working conditions at 12 on Tuesday 28 November. If you can’t make it in person, they’re also asking for people to print off this card, take pictures with it, and send them in to pcshmrccleaners@gmail.com, tweet them to @PCS4cleaners using the hashtag #justiceforcleaners, and share them to the One for All – Justice for HMRC cleaners Facebook page.

The PCS also had an sobering post for trans day of remembrance, sharing the story of one of their members who “has endured a workplace campaign of transphobic hate, receiving over 50 letters containing multiple threats against themselves and LGBT staff.

The member was attacked, including being stabbed in a restricted work area, and had their home targeted in an arson attack while they slept.

Recently this member was dismissed.  Management made clear they had not done anything wrong, their dismissal was instead due to security concerns and their inability to protect the member in work.” I don’t know if there’s an active campaign for this person’s reinstatement or anything, but it seems like a situation worth keeping an eye out for.

There’s not much in the way of specific news from McDonald’s, but the union involved in organising there, the BFAWU, is talking up the possibility of action spreading across the North, Scotland and Wales, over issues such as over low wages, zero-hours contracts and mishandling of sexual assault. There’s an event on December 20th for anyone who wants to get involved in organising McDonald’s workers in Manchester.

In other struggles, the Blacklist Support Group are holding a national day of action on December 6th, with an event at Parliament for those in London, as well as one at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, and regional events planned, although at the moment there are only email contacts for these – hopefully there should be more definite info released soon, but at the moment they’re just saying to get in touch with the following contacts: NEYH: (north east) tom.usher@unitetheunion.org, NEYH (Yorkshire) mark.martin@unitetheunion.org, North West andrew.fisher@unitetheunion.org, East Midlands: shaun.lee@unitetheunion.org, West Midlands: martin.orpe@unitetheunion.org,  London and Eastern: guy.langston@unitetheunion.org South East: malcolm.bonnett@unitetheunion.org.

Finally, the increasingly farcical spycops “enquiry” drags on, and continues to get attention in places like the Guardian and Elle, while the cops are still being allowed to dodge basic stuff like giving the real names of undercover officers. If you’re in or near Peterborough, there’s going to be another demo against former spycop and current tory councillor, Andy Coles, at 6pm on December 13th, demanding the resignation of this creep who groomed a teenager into a relationship when he was a 32-year-old undercover cop.

So, just to offer some of those dates in a handy diary format:

Tuesday 28 November – HMRC cleaners in Bootle
Friday 1 December – big push to support bus drivers’ picket in Manchester, supporting sacked cleaner at Finsbury Circus
Saturday 2 December – national day of action against Universal Credit/welfare reform
Tuesday 5 December – supporting sacked union rep Ian Allinson at his redundancy hearing at Fujitsu HQ, London
Wednesday 6 December – national day of action on blacklisting
Friday 8 and 15 December – Finsbury Circus cleaners’ dispute, 200 Aldersgate cleaners’ strike
Wednesday 13 December – demo against sleazebag spycop Andy Coles, Peterborough
Wednesday 20 December – open meeting for people wanting to get involved in McDonald’s organising, Manchester

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Posted in Occupations, Protests, Strikes, Unemployment/claimants and welfare, Unions, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

G20 trial updates: Fabio is free (for now), Peike remains imprisoned

A quick update on the latest news from Hamburg: after the prosecution’s delaying attempts finally ran out, Fabio was granted bail today, and so will be out of prison until at least the end of his trial, and hopefully for much longer.

On the other hand, the trials are continuing, and have already seen some harsh prison sentences handed down: one case I’ve only just seen is that of Peike from Amsterdam, who has given 2 years and 7 months for fighting back when the cops attacked one of the anti-G20 demonstrations, including a charge of “resisting arrest” which apparently consisted of lying down on the ground in a foetal position. You can send letters of support to Peike via a mailbox at an Amsterdam social centre: Eerste Schinkelstraat 14-16, Amsterdam

From a speech given at a demonstration in solidarity with Peike in Amsterdam:

“Back in the old days, I used to worry sometimes, when doing a talk, that
there were cops present, and I might be breaking this or that law by,
you know, inciting to riot or whatever, until one days a cops walked up
to a friend of mine and asked: Hey, how long is that guy gonna stay
speaking…and what the hell is he talking about? Ha, cops, us, different
worlds, don’t even hear what we are saying. Add to that that today, we
are apparently no more important than three Moroccan kids hanging out:
only one sad cop car showed up.

Anyway, thanks for hanging out here on this wind torn island of relative
political awareness, I hope to send you back to reality and its many
joys and horrors in a few moments after dousing you in some big words
and hollow phrases. It will be up to you to make them a reality.

So I think we can conclude we don’t want our particular G20 arrestant in
jail. But is there perhaps more we want? Will we ever be satisfied? No.
We are insatiable. Does Peike deserve to be free because he is a fellow
anarchist, or because of what he did or did not do in the streets of
Hamburg? Does he deserve freedom because we may feel solidarity with the
participants of the demo he was at, that was attacked by water cannon,
baton and pepper spray? Does he deserve freedom because he is such a
friendly guy, such a joy of a person to hang out with?

All of that may be true, but it isn’t quite the point here, I think. He
deserves to be free because living creatures do not belong in cages. And
why is it that we still have to debate that? Why do we still have to
protest this shit? What do we want, what is an attractive vision for us
to live together? Let’s see…Freedom, or Repression? Jails or grassy
fields? Laws and prisons and police, or dealing with our problems as
real human beings? How is that even a debate? How is it not self-evident
that being against repression is the right thing and the fun thing,
while being for repression is fucking pathetic?

The point is not to ask for such a grotesque thing as a more
‘proportional’ punishment. Freedom is the point. Talk, debate, argue,
break fences, break Laws, of the mind and of the State. Come to the demo
in your most decent outfit. Come to the demo dressed in black. Come in a
clowns costume for all I care. Come peaceful. Come militant. Come funny.
Come filled with love. Come filled with anger. Or you know what, don’t
come to the demo at all but go out there and spray paint the walls,
organize a prisoner support group, write a beautiful and personal letter
to Peike or someone else the assholes are trying to crush. Be kind, be
courteous, share stuff, bake cookies, squat houses, get real about
direct action and decide what is in your power to do.

The bottom line has to be and has always been, as we say it in Dutch.
“Alle arrestanten onmiddelijk vrij!” All prisoners need to be released,
yesterday. Also, do not limit yourself to prison abolition. I think,
just assuming, that Peike would be happy if you fight racism, borders,
sexism, heteropatriarchy, your boss or the Grey Blanket and the Boredom
of Business as Usual.

Now let’s see that we organize in such a way as to make these hollow
phrases a lived reality. So that we can see face to face with those
people we miss and that are locked up for a thousand bullshit reasons.
So that we can go bake apple pie or lie around in the grass or read a
book instead of hanging out on political meetings where some idiot was
dragged onto the stage to talk Utopia without actually doing anything.
But achieving something real will not prove very difficult if everyone
does a bit of the work. If the, shall we say ten percent of the people
who have any affinity with radical freedom had done just a word here and
there, a little bit of breaking a fence, a little bit of de-arresting, a
little bit of being very clear in stating that the threat of putting
people in cages is a perverted basis for living together, if we all
would have just kept on ruggedly sprinkling sand into the machine, Peike
and the others would not have to be freed, because jails would have
already been an absurdity from the Dark Ages.

The judge who sentenced Peike had an interesting word of warning for all
of us. He specified police officers are no free game, free shooting
material for the Spassgesellschaft. I thing in my limited understanding
of German that this would translate roughly to the Society of Joy,
although he may have meant it to sound less appealing. Now I don’t know
what herr Krieke wants instead of a Society built in Joy, but it cannot
be much good. So let’s give him what he accuses us of. Let’s lay the
First Stone in this monument to human empathy and pleasure tonight and
let’s continue building the Monument until it stands solid and vital
enough to wipe away the joyless and sterile Knastgesellschaft: the
prison society. So let’s infuse these hollow words with enough love for
each other and hate for the system. Let’s go out and build the
Spassgesellshaft.”

Posted in Anarchists, Protests, Repression | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Hamburg G20 case: Fabio Vettorel to be released on bail

In the latest developments from the case of Fabio Vettorel, who’s been held in pre-trial detention since July on charges related to the Hamburg G20 protests, the prosecution’s attempts to stop him getting bail have now been exhausted, so he should be released within the next few days (at least until the end of his trial), although probably not till Monday.

Machine-translated story:

The German court granted the freedom to Fabio Vettorel, the 18-year-old Italian comrade arrested in at the beginning of July, during the NO G20 days, and in prison for 4 months and a half. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal by the Court of Appeal to keep Fabio still in jail. A decision no longer appealable.

However, the judges have imposed two very strict conditions: the payment of a security deposit of 10 thousand euros, paid on behalf of the 18-year-old, and the appointment of a person who has a lawyer in Hamburg.

Fabio can not leave the city for the entire duration of the trial and will have to reside from his mother, Jamila Baroni, who has taken an apartment in Hamburg. Fabio will also have to sign three times a week at the police.

The 18-year-old comrade – will be 19 years old next December 2 – for now he remains in prison, at least until the next hearing on Monday, November 27th. It is not immediately timely for the fulfillment of the bail – already paid by the mother, but now to be “poured” on behalf of the child – and the appointment of a trusted person, a sort of German “prosecutor” who can receive for him the proceedings of the ongoing judicial process.

If your Italian is better than mine, you might get something out of this brief audio interview with Fabio’s mother.

Also, Fabio’s initial statement to the court has now been properly translated into English:

“Madam {judge}, gentlemen {jury}, madam {public prosecutor}, gentleman {assistant of the juvenile court},

Today you are called upon to judge a man. You called him an “aggressive criminal” and “disrespectful of human dignity”. Personally, I don’t care about the monikers you ascribe to me. I am just a good-willed boy. First of all, I would like to say that probably petty politicians, police commissioners, magistrates think that by jailing and arresting some brat dissent in the streets could be stopped. Probably their highnesses think jails are enough, in order to quash rebel voices raising everywhere. Probably their highnesses think that repression will stop our thirst for freedom. Our will to build a better world. 
Well, they delude themselves. And it is history to prove them wrong.

Because countless boys and girls like me went through a court like this one.
 Actually, today it is Hamburg, yesterday was Genoa, and earlier again was Seattle.
 You try to fend off the voices of revolt rising everywhere by any “legal” means, by any “procedural” means. 
Anyway, whatever the ruling of this court will be, it will not affect our protest. Once again many boys and many girls, driven by the same ideals, will take it to the streets of Europe. In spite of the prisons that you strive to fill with political prisoners with such trouble.

But let’s get to the point, madam {judge}, gentlemen {jury}, madam {public prosecutor}, gentleman {assistant of the juvenile court}.
 Let’s get to the point.
 As you can figure out, today I want to exercise my right to not declare anything regarding the specific event I am convicted for. Yet, I would like to emphasize the reasons that drove a young worker hailing from a remote town in the eastern Prealps to come to Hamburg.
 In order to protest the G-20 summit. 
G-20. Just the name has something wicked in itself. 
Twenty amongst men and women, representatives of the twenty richest and most industrialized countries in the world take a seat around a table. They take a seat all together, in order to decide our future. Yes, I meant it: our one. Mine, as the one of all the people sitting in this room today, as the one of other 7 billion people dwelling in this nice Earth. 
Twenty men decide about our life and our death.

Of course, the populace is not invited to this fancy banquet. We are just the stupid herd of the powerful of the Earth. Powerless spectators of this charade where a handful of men keep an entire humanity on the palm of their hand.
 I, madam {judge}, thought thoroughly before coming to Hamburg.
 I thought about mr.Trump and his United States of America that under the flag of democracy and freedom style themselves as the world’s policemen. I thought about the many conflicts triggered by the American giant in every corner of the world. From Middle East to Africa. All of them in order to hoard this or that energy resource. It matters little that are the same people – civilians, women and children – to die over and over.  I also thought about mr. Putin. Russia’s new czar. That systematically violates human rights in his country and mocks any opposition. I thought about the Saudis and their regimes based on terror, with which us Westerners make good business. I thought about Erdogan who tortures, kills and imprisons his opponents. I also thought about my country, where every government relentlessly cancels with a barrage of legislative decrees students’ and workers’ rights.

In the end, here we go with the protagonists of the lavish banquet held in Hamburg last July. The greatest warmongers and assassins known by the contemporary world. Before coming to Hamburg I also thought about the injustice scourging the world today. It seems to me to be almost taken for granted to state again that the 1 % of the world’s richest population holds the same wealth as the poorer 99%. It seems to me to be almost taken for granted to state again that the world’s 85 richest men hold the same wealth as the 50% of the world’s poorer population. 85 men against 3 billions and half. 
These few data are enough to figure it out. 

And then madam {judge}, gentlemen {jury}, madam {public prosecutor}, gentleman {assistant of the juvenile court}, before coming to Hamburg I thought about my land: Feltre. The place where I was born, where I grew up and where I want to live. The medieval citadel is nestled like a gem in the eastern Prealps. I thought about the pink-dyed mountains in the sunset. About the astounding landscapes I’m so lucky to watch from my house’s window. About the beauty that sweeps that place. 
Then I thought about the rivers of my beautiful valley, defiled by the many businessmen that covet the concessions in order to build hydroelectric plants. Not caring about the damages to the populace and to the ecosystem. I thought about the mountains being hit by mass tourism or that became place of gloomy military drills. I thought about the most beautiful place where I live, that it is being sold off to speculators without qualms. Exactly like many other valleys at every corner of the world. Where beauty is destroyed for development’s sake.

Then, in the wake of all these thoughts, I decided to come to Hamburg in order to demonstrate. For me, to come here was more a duty than a right. I deemed it right to stand against these heinous politics driving the world towards an abyss.  I deemed it right to fight in order to make something slightly more human, dignified, fair.
 I deemed it right to take it to the streets to reaffirm that the populace is not a herd, and has the right to be consulted at the time of choices.

The choice of coming to Hamburg was a partisan one. The choice of being on the side of who demands rights, and against those who want to take them away. The choice of being on the side of all the oppressed of the world and against the oppressors. The choice of fighting the big and small powerful ones that use the world as their plaything. Not caring about the populace always paying for it. 
I made my choice and I am not afraid if there will be, unjustly, a price to pay. However, there is another thing I want to tell you, believe me or not: I do not like violence. But I have ideals, and I chose to fight because of them. I am not done.

In an age where everywhere in the world new borders rise, new barbed wire is laid, new walls rise from Alps to the Mediterranean, I find it wonderful that thousands of youths from every part of Europe are willing to take it to the streets of a single city together, for their future. Against any border. With the only common goal to make the world a better place than how we did find it. Because madam {judge}, gentlemen {jury}, madam {public prosecutor}, gentleman {assistant of the juvenile court}, because we are not the herd of twenty landlords. We are women and men that want to have the right of deciding about their lives.
 And we fight and will fight for this.“

Posted in Anarchists, Repression | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Repression updates: Fabio from the Hamburg G20, Vaughn uprising prisoners and more

A few more pieces of prison-related news:

In Germany, the case of Fabio, who’s been detained since the Hamburg G20 this summer, drags on. There’s really not a lot of English-language news about his case, it’s almost all Italian or German, but here’s an automatic translation from the Osservatorio Repressione:

For over 4 months Fabio Vettorel is in jail in Germany . The 18-year-old Feltre is the only Italian companion still in Hamburg to attend the protest days of July against the G20 summit .

Imposed of minor offenses, such as “disturbance to public peace,” launch of objects, and “resistance to public officials,” its preventive detention assumes the character of a real revenge against the conflict practiced during those days of mobilization .

There are no specific allegations, but it is only said that “he did not depart from the group where violent acts occurred” and that “he did not act to stop violent protesters” . In fact there is no evidence against him.

Meanwhile, perhaps today, perhaps tomorrow, is the decision of the High Court on the release or not. Fabio risked being imprisoned not only for the upcoming hearings – November 27 and December 4 – but also for his 19th birthday on Saturday, December 2.

Against the vindictive nature of his preventive imprisonment, Fabio’s lawyers and family are thinking of resorting to the European Court of Human Rights, whatever the decision on the release and the possible ruling of the trial, denouncing an open violation of the defense rights.

Here’s an interview you can listen to if you speak Italian. It is possible that Fabio will be released in the next few days, but it’s also possible that he might not, so if you can, it’s probably a good idea to get a card out to him for his upcoming birthday – his address at the moment is:

FABIO VETTOREL
JVA Hahnöfersand
Hinterbrack 25
21635 Jork
Germany

Hopefully this will be completely out of date by the time you read this, but then again it might not.

Here in the UK, there’s a call to support Sam Faulder, an anarchist prisoner wrongfully convicted of a murder that another person has confessed to, who has been diagnosed with  cancer and is not receiving adequate treatment. Find out what you can do here, you can write to her at Samantha Faulder A1209CF, HMP Foston Hall, Foston, Derby, Derbyshire, DE65 5DN, or using emailaprisoner.com, or you can email your message to info@freedomforsam.org and they can print it off and send it for you.

In the US, the J20 trials of the people caught up in mass arrests at Trump’s inauguration are starting, you can keep up with the latest developments at Defend J20 Resistance, and It’s Going Down have released the first in a series of audio reports direct from the courts. IGD also have an update on the prisoners who took part in the Vaughn Correctional uprising in Delaware, where prisoners revolted against both their immediate living conditions and the incoming Trump regime back at the start of the year. 18 people are now facing serious charges for their alleged involvement in that revolt.

Even if you can’t reach out to all these people (18 is a lot, just writing 18 addresses and return/sender addresses can be pretty time-consuming), any support you can offer to any of them will be a welcome response to the isolation that the state always tries to impose. One suggestion: if sending cards is a thing you do at this time of year, and you buy a bulk thing of cards in a multiple of ten or whatever, but the amount of people you have to write to isn’t exactly the same as the number of cards, you could use up the extras by sending some to Vaughn rebels.

Also, just a reminder that long-running black liberation prisoner Herman Bell is due for parole soon, and the cops and their supporters will be mobilising to make sure it’s denied, so it’d be really helpful if people can write letters in support of his parole application.

His supporters write:

“Herman Bell has been to the New York state parole board 7 times and been denied 7 times. His next parole board appearance will be in February 2018, when he will be 70 years old. At this next appearance, we hope that Herman will have a better chance of being seriously considered and therefore released. New regulations governing parole hearings mandate that an applicant’s risk of recidivism be considered as a “guiding principle” of the hearing. Herman has the very lowest risk score, based on the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision’s measures. In addition, six new parole commissioners were added to the Board and several, though not all, of the older, law-enforcement connected ones have been retired. The new commissioners are mostly from social service and reentry backgrounds. Personal letters of recommendation and community support can play an important role in Herman’s next hearing.

On September 5th, Herman was brutally assaulted by a group of correctional officers at Great Meadow Correctional Facility. As is most often the case in these incidents, Herman was initially charged with assault on a guard. In fact, Herman had done nothing to provoke this attack – and, furthermore, showed restraint, non-violence, and discipline in the face of brutality.  In 95% of the cases in New York where a prisoner is charged with assaulting a guard, the prisoner is convicted and sentenced to box (Security Housing Unit) time.  However, the charges against Herman were dropped within a few weeks, as letters of support poured in from all over the world.  This is a stark reminder that, while Herman poses no danger to society, his continued imprisonment as an elder subjects him to extreme danger. He needs to come home.

How you can help:

Herman has accepted full responsibility for his part in the Black Liberation Movement. His years of excellent accomplishments in prison show that he has taken deep responsibility to the broad community and to creating a better, more peaceful society. He has paid a great price – 44 years of imprisonment, thus far. He is going to the New York state parole board for the eighth time in February, 2018 and deserves to be paroled, to come home to his family and community.

1 – Your letter should “accentuate the positive.”  Rather than pointing out the injustices of prior parole appearances, the letters should state that Herman Bell will be an asset to the community if released.

A – Those who have met/know Herman should speak about their impressions of him and why he will be an asset and lead a law abiding life after release.  Those who have known him a long time should speak of how he has matured over the years of his imprisonment.
B – Those who have not met Herman should state how they have become aware of him (through writings, etc.) and also reiterate their belief that he will be an asset and lead a law abiding life.
C – Those who know Herman and/or only know of him should offer to make available whatever support they have in re-integrating him back into the community (jobs, counseling, medical, educational).

2 – Please write your letter to the attention of the New York State Parole Commissioners — on professional letterhead, if possible.
3 – Please indicate how you know Herman, or if you don’t know him personally, how you know of him.  The “Re:” line of your letter should be “Herman Bell, 79C-0262.”
4 – Please sign your letter and mail to:

Tyler Morse & KB White
Parole Preparation Project
c/o Law Office of Michelle L. Lewin
168 Canal Street, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10013

Letters Due By:  December 15, 2017

Herman very much appreciates your efforts and your support.

Click here to read the text of his message.”

Posted in Anarchists, Racism, Repression | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“I had no idea we agreed on so much” – the Christian Right makes new friends

In light of recent controversies over trans exclusion, it might be useful to take a look at a conference that just happened in the US, as reported on by Right Wing Watch and the SPLC.

The Values Voter Summit is an annual gathering of the Christian Right, sponsored by the Family Research Council (FRC). To give some background, the FRC assert as one of their basic positions that “homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large, and can never be affirmed. It is by definition unnatural, and as such is associated with negative physical and psychological health effects… We oppose the vigorous efforts of homosexual activists to demand that homosexuality be accepted as equivalent to heterosexuality in law, in the media, and in schools.”

This year’s Values Voter Summit was addressed by predictable figures like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, but probably the most interesting panel was one on “Transgender Ideology in Public Schools: Parents Fight Back”. At this panel, one of the speakers, Meg Kilgannon, offered the following advice:

“Focus on gender identity to divide and conquer… for all of its recent success, the LGBT alliance is actually fragile, and the trans activists need the gay rights movement to help legitimize them. Gender identity on its own is just a bridge too far. If you separate the T from the alphabet soup, we’ll have more success.”

She stressed to the audience that, rather than relying on religious arguments, they would have more success tailoring their positions to appeal to a more diverse audience, offering the example of the Hands Across the Aisle Coalition – a group of “radical feminists, lesbians, Christians and conservatives that are tabling our ideological differences to stand in solidarity against gender identity legislation“. Discussing how homophobic, anti-feminist Christian fundamentalists were able to work with radical feminists around issues of pornography, sex work and opposition to trans rights, she said “I had no idea we agreed on so much.”

Peter Sprigg, another fundamentalist Christian activist who has openly stated that homosexuality should be criminalised, offered another example of what this kind of ideological camoflage can look like with his contribution to the panel; as part of the discussion about resisting “transgender ideology”, he stated that “it’s really kind of ridiculous and almost retrograde to assume that we have to identify somebody’s gender identity on the basis of their activities or preferences” – stirringly progressive words from someone who, just to repeat, thinks that the laws against sodomy should never have been repealed. Going back a bit, last year Political Research Associates published a short report looking at how groups like the Family Research Council had started drawing on the work of lesbian feminist figures like Janice Raymond and Sheila Jeffreys.

It’s impossible to say how far people like David Davies – who shares the homophobic outlook of his Christian Right counterparts elsewhere – are deliberately drawing on the coalition-building strategies used by Christian fundamentalists in the US. But when we see supposedly feminist groups like Fair Play for Women come out with things like “[w]e are grateful to David Davies, MP for Monmouth, who shows impressive courage in pursuing these very important questions”, it’s hard not to be struck by the similarities. If we start to see Hands Across the Aisle Coalition-type rhetoric and ideology turning up more widely, it’d be worth keeping an eye on what alliances are being made, and who is pulling whose strings.

Posted in Gender, The right, Tories | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Update on imprisoned/extradited Polish anti-fascist Patryk Cichoń

From Brighton ABC:

“After first month in Polish jails that was heavy and depressing, Patryk feels much better. He had been moved to a 3-man cell and his cell mates are ok, plus he is soon going to start work which will help him kill time and can positively impact his parole hearing. He is allowed 2 visits a month and one 5 minute phone call a week. There is however no limit on the amount of letters Patryk can receive and they are obviously very important for him. He is in the process of sorting out small DVD player with a screen, so he is asking people to send him films and music on DVDs.

Comrades in Poland are going to pay some money into his prison fund so he can buy stuff from the prison shop and they are sorting out books and magazines for him.

Patryk welcomes all letters of support. You can write to him at: Patryk Cichoń, “Syn Józefa”, Zakład Karny, ul. Załęska 76, 35-322 RZESZÓW, Poland.

We are still collecting money for Patryk’s son who is in UK in care of his brother.
You can pay by PayPal to: thebottledwasp@riseup.net [please choose “payment to a friend” option and add a note saying “for Patryk”] or into the Bottled Wasp bank account:
The Bottled Wasp
Co-operative Bank
Sort code: 08-92-99
Acc. No.: 65601648
BIC: CPBKGB22
IBAN: GB 35 CPBK 08929965601648

[More background on Patryk’s case]:

At the beginning of May 2016 our comrade Patryk Cichoń from Poland was arrested by British police under an European Arrest Warrant. Patryk is a well known anti-fascist militant notorious among neo-Nazi-boneheads in his city for his uncompromising stance against them in the past. The boneheads managed to convince a few of their friends to testify against Patryk and his friend for an alleged assault and robbery. As later transpired, his friend had a very good alibi and had the charges against him dropped (despite being allegedly recognised by the “victim” and his friends), so Patryk ended up being sentenced on his own. The whole trial was an absolute travesty and Patryk, as a poor, young working class person, was not able to afford a proper defence. He spent two months on remand in 2004 and was sentenced to three years in prison.

It is clear that this whole case was politically motivated and had only one purpose, which was to get rid of the core of the anti-fascist resistance in Patryk’s home town.

Rather than doing prison time, he decided to escape abroad and came to UK in 2005. He started his new life here, continuing to be involved in anti-fascist activity: organising gigs in London, including United and Strong Fest, which has seen lots of great Antifa bands from all over Europe performing, and raising money for anti-fascist initiatives. He was also the editor of the ‘Skinhead Revolt’ fanzine, which was the first left wing skinhead publication in Polish.

Patryk lost his extradition case and is being deported to Poland to serve his sentence. He is leaving behind his 10 year old son in the care of his younger brother D, who became his legal carer. As D has two small children of his own and is the only money earner in the household, we are planning to support him financially. We want Patryk to know that his son has enough money for school meals, clothes etc. and that his younger brother is not being pushed into poverty as a result of looking after him. Our aim it to raise £4,000, which means we can send monthly payments to his son during Patryk’s incarceration.

Patryk has always been there when others needed help and assistance, please make sure he is not left on his own now.”

The Brighton ABC have also mentioned that the cancellation of the London Bookfair will have a serious impact on their fundraising capabilities and their ability to support prisoners like Patryk or the recently-released Kara Wild; if you can, please consider sending them some money, or buying something from their snazzy new webstore, such as the Bottled Wasp 2018 Diary.

Also, there’s still not a great deal of information available in English, but it looks like G20 prisoner Fabio Vettorel is still not being released after all. More auto-translated info here.

Posted in Anarchists, Repression | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Leaflets, letters, and the anti-anti-semitism of fools

I had initially intended to avoid writing anything directly about the dramas that have erupted around the London Anarchist Bookfair – partly because I think there are more important issues, but also because I wasn’t there on the day, I haven’t been in a while, and I don’t really consider myself to be connected to the London activisty scene in any meaningful sense at this point. But as the controversy has rolled on and deepened, I think it’s gone beyond just being an issue for those who were directly involved, and seems to have become an important event for UK anarchism in general, and at the risk of being grandiose, it might even illustrate something broader about the possibilities that exist for the non-Labour-affiliated class-struggle left at this point in time – as I say, I may be being grandiose there, but apart from us, who else is there at the moment?

And, on a personal level, it’s nagged away at me, which is usually as good a reason as anyone has for writing anything, I think. More precisely, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else articulate some of the things I find uncomfortable about the situation, and I certainly haven’t seen them all put together in one place, so here goes. Since I wasn’t there, I’ll try as far as possible to avoid commenting on the events of the day itself, which I’m not really qualified to judge, and try to stick to discussing the more general political forces in play.

On the campaign against the gender recognition act:

To lay my cards on the table: I think transphobia is a form of bigotry, whether it calls itself “feminist” or not, and so to me excluding terfs is a no-brainer, the same way that someone like Troy Southgate wouldn’t and shouldn’t be welcomed with open arms. I understand that not everyone feels this way, and that there are people who, for instance, don’t have a firm opinion one way or the other on whether trans people should be treated as being the gender that they identify as; this is a subject that rests on some quite deep philosophical questions, like “what is a man?” or “what is a woman?”, and it seems futile to expect everyone to come to agreement on these points before any discussion can be had.

So, for the sake of argument, I want to leave aside the question of whether trans-exclusionary feminisms are bigoted or not, and look at the other features of the current campaign against the GRA. A few things stand out: that prominent members of this campaign are actively working with hardline tory MPs like David Davies – not just “being on the same side” in the way that, for instance, everyone who voted Leave is “on the same side as Boris Johnson and UKIP” and everyone who voted Remain is “on the same side as David Cameron and the CBI”, but actively collaborating with him and speaking at meetings he organises. Similarly, these people are happy to sell pictures to the Mail on Sunday, do interviews with Ian Miles “Hitler is my fucking idol” Cheong and write articles for the Sun, are quite open about their contempt for anarchism, and are so lacking in any connections to anarchism that they had to send an actual standing-for-Parliament-and-not-even-for-Class-War-or-the-SPGB politician to leaflet the bookfair.

Also, people who bring the police into political disputes are extremely dangerous, both to themselves and to those around them. This isn’t to say that I’d automatically condemn anyone who rings the cops in any situation, but I think that it’s only an understandable response in very extreme situations, and a bit of flailing around in a park doesn’t come close to crossing that line. In case anyone thinks I’m downplaying this, it’s worth being aware that after the Hyde Park fracas, Maria MacLachan took to social media to brag about “thrashing [someone] around like a ragdoll”, which makes the whole thing sound more like a form of mutually-agreeable letting off of steam, along the lines of roller derby, a moshpit or low-level football hooliganism, than a serious attack. I’m not saying this because I think violence is a good way of settling disputes, but because I recognise that bringing the police in means escalating the violence of a situation, not defusing it. This kind of stuff should be basic for anyone who has any kind of a critique of the state – which, just to reiterate, Maria MacLachan clearly doesn’t.

So, what do we draw from this? As far as I can see, a group like Momentum – or, for that matter, the Socialist Party, the Revolutionary Communist Group, Counterfire, RS21, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, the Communist Party, etc – is far less at odds with anarchist principles than the TERF crowd are. Not only is there the small matter of Momentum et al not basing their entire activity around demonising a marginalised and oppressed group, but also, to the best of my knowledge, they’re not currently collaborating with any hardline Tory MPs, working with the Daily Mail and the Sun, giving interviews to anti-feminist alt-right trolls, and so on. But, despite all this, if they asked for space to give out literature at an anarchist event, I would hope that they would be politely yet firmly instructed to jog on, a position that I would hope might be uncontroversial among anarchists.

It’s hard to see how this can be squared with some of the mug defences that have been offered of the TERF presence at the bookfair – after all, if “we will only remove literature or people from the Bookfair in extreme circumstances and not just because we disagree with it or them, even if they do cause offence”, then on what grounds could we possibly object to people filling a bookfair with comparatively innocuous stuff like Labour Party leaflets, the Socialist, Fight Racism Fight Imperialism, Counterfire, the Morning Star and so on? It does seem remarkable that some people can be so understanding of the idea that cis people need special cis people spaces because of some weird biological essentialism, and yet have so much difficulty with the principle that anarchist spaces should be used to promote ideas and campaigns that have some basic level of compatibility with anarchism.

I’ve seen people worrying that incidents like the Hyde Park and bookfair kerfuffles mean that it’s becoming impossible to have conversations about gender or what it means to be a woman. I don’t think that these people are bigots, but I do think they’re letting themselves be manipulated by some quite unpleasant forces. To offer an analogy: I personally am opposed to immigration controls, and I think that any support for border controls is a reactionary, anti-working-class position, but I recognise that other people’s opinions differ, and I think it’s legitimate to offer space for these discussions without just closing it down by branding everyone as a racist. However, if a meeting to discuss immigration was organised with Tommy Robinson, Nick Griffin and Paul Golding as featured speakers, I would hope that, at the very least, there would be some opposition to it, and if someone attending that meeting went up to the counter-protesters, stuck a cameraphone in their faces and refused to stop filming when asked, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if that person ended up getting a slap.

If all that hypothetically happened, I wouldn’t lose any sleep over “conversations about immigration being closed down”, because I can grasp that there’s a subtle distinction between “you can’t have a conversation about these issues without being attacked” and “you can’t organise a discussion about these issues featuring extremely controversial speakers, then walk over to some people with a different opinion, start filming them and then refuse to stop filming when asked, without being attacked”. But whatever, I’m not the boss of anyone, so if people want to spend their time worrying about how the voices of “gender-critical feminists” are being suppressed so effectively that we can’t begin to hear about their perspectives, other than by reading their articles in the Sun or paying attention to the meetings that they’re invited to address in parliament, then they’re free to do that, I suppose.

Similarly, to run with the immigration comparison, there are some in the trade union movement, especially around the RMT, who argue for increased immigration controls from what they see as a left-wing, pro-working class perspective. I think these people are wrong, but I don’t think they’re fascists or anything similar, and it should be possible to discuss things with them, but at the same time, if they insisted on turning up to a meeting about coordinating practical resistance to immigration raids and the border regime, and trying to turn the conversation into a discussion of how they would imagine socialist immigration controls working under a hypothetical future Labour government, it would be perfectly reasonable to show them the door, because again there’s nothing wrong with wanting a basic minimum of political clarity.

On the burning of that banner:

That was really shit, counterproductive and embarrassing, and the nicest, most charitable thing I can find to say about it is that it was clearly the work of people whose conception of anarchism has been reduced to just the empty, unthinking repetition of a set of “radical” gestures. Just as I find myself suspicious of pro-bookfair takes and statements that gloss over the fact that politicians allied with grasses and tabloid/alt-right collaborators have no place at an anarchist bookfair, I’m equally suspicious of people from the anti-TERF side who fail to mention how shit and cringeworthy the banner-burning stunt was.

On the open letter:

Again, this was politics at the level of a pose, clearly not intended to be taken remotely seriously. The most obviously ludicrous thing about the letter is that a document demanding “A commitment to continue the “no cameras” and “no filming” rule without exception given” is signed by someone who has proudly and openly breached that rule and made the results public (I can’t provide a link, as they now seem to have taken it down, or at least made the post slightly more private, but if you’re reading this there’s a good chance you know who I mean) – god only knows what was going through that person’s head when they decided to attach their name to this letter, but for whoever’s coordinating it to accept that person’s signature, when they must be aware of that situation, would seem to indicate that they actually mean “no exceptions, unless it’s one of our mates”.

Secondly, there’s the whole issue of the conclusion – if the letter’s signatories really do believe that having big, public anarchist events is a desirable thing, and that it’s possible to organise a big, public anarchist event that totally avoids all the problems they discuss, then the only reasonable conclusion would be “if our demands are not met, then we will take it upon ourselves to organise an alternative event that will be loads better and dead inclusive and accessible, and will be really welcoming to everyone and no-one with any dodgy attitudes will turn up. As a sign of how serious we are about this, here is the affordable, accessible, appropriately-sized venue we’ve found which is free on a weekend that doesn’t clash with the UFFC march or anything similarly important.” Instead of this, there’s just a threat to picket the next bookfair, which seems like an implicit admission that the signatories don’t really think it’s possible to have a big public event that avoids the problems they discuss – or at least they don’t think it’s possible for them to organise it, which raises the question of how they expect the far smaller bookfair collective to do so.

Anyway, those are two glaringly obvious reasons why that open letter was a bad joke, but the problems don’t stop there. Instead of just complaining about the recent incident, it makes a much wider spread of allegations about: “a pattern of response from Bookfair organisers where incidents of transphobia, anti-semitism, islamophobia, racism and misogyny are ignored” and “racist imperialism, anti-semitism, Islamophobia, misogyny and ableism [becoming] part of the culture of the Bookfair”. Some of this I can at least see the reasoning for, with the stuff about misogyny presumably referring to things like the Assange fanboys who turned up a while back, but the claims about ableism and anti-semitism, for instance, are considerably more mysterious.

Since the letter’s organisers have refused to respond to repeated attempts to engage them in conversation, we have to do a bit of guesswork here. I’m still completely in the dark about what this supposed ableism involves, but I suspect the claim of “anti-semitism” is a reference to the drama about Active Distribution’s anti-religious banner. I can at least sort of understand why some people view this aggressively secularist/atheist position as being Islamophobic, as there has been a fair bit of crossover in recent years between militant atheism and active discrimination against Muslims, with secularism being invoked as an ideal by everyone from hijab-banning neoliberal/centrist politicians to the EDL; but, and this is important, there’s no kind of comparable overlap with anti-semitism. If we look at the strategies used by anti-semites in recent years, the most important ones would probably be spreading their influence in the general conspiracy theory milieu, and hiding their views in plain sight by exploiting internet cultures of irony and hyperbole (which, as people have noted, is a tactic that was identified back in the 1940s).

I can’t think of any contemporary examples of campaigns against Jews disguised as an atheist defence of secularism, which means that it’s pretty unworkable to try and claim that a general anti-religious banner is somehow anti-semitic. And, of course, the culture of traditional East End Yiddish anarchism had a strong and unapologetic anti-religious streak, which, among anarchist workers from Jewish backgrounds, manifested itself as a specific critique of Jewish institutions, so if a generic atheist banner can be taken as proof of anti-semitism, then the likes of Feigenbaum, Yanovsky and the Arbeiter Fraint group must have been tremendously racist against themselves.

Of course, the use of allegations of anti-semitism as a weapon is nothing new. Historically, defenders of the violence of the Israeli state have been keen to seize on the real anti-semitism displayed by some elements within the Palestine solidarity movement to try and portray all anti-zionism as being anti-semitic, and more recently the Labour right have been doing the same thing with Corbynism. As against this, I’ve always been sympathetic to the “boy who cried wolf” argument, often put forward by Jewish anti-zionists, which points out that anti-semitism is still mostly taboo and politically toxic, as can be seen by the way that even contemporary far-right populist movements like the EDL are more likely to fly Israeli flags than nazi ones. The argument goes that associating legitimate positions with anti-semitism, as if everyone who thinks that house demolitions aren’t really OK, or that it’d be nice to bring back British Rail, must be keeping a copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion under the bed, may in the short term be an effective way of discrediting those positions, but in the long term it serves to destigmatize anti-semitism – over time, the taboo becomes much less powerful if the term becomes more associated with people asking you not to buy Jaffa oranges than with gas chambers.

Probably the best practical example of this kind of progressive destigmatization is the declining fortunes of red-baiting in America – having been an effective weapon against the left for generations, the word “socialism” and even “communism” has lost its sting, and “socialism” understood as mildly redistributive social democracy is now an increasingly mainstream option.

It’s this that makes the unthinking, indiscriminate use of “anti-semitism” in the bookfair open letter so troubling: if a generic anti-religious banner that does not mention Jews or Judaism at all can be anti-semitic, then everything can be anti-semitic, and if everything is anti-semitic then nothing can be meaningfully identified or criticised as anti-semitic… and I can think of one group who would benefit from that being the case, and it certainly isn’t Jews.

Again, all of this is operating under the assumption that the charge of anti-semitism relates to that atheist banner; if there are other, more serious pieces of evidence for the claim, then they certainly haven’t been discussed widely. Since the publication of the letter I have also seen people raise the issue of David Rovics, who apparently has dodgy views on the subject, being booked to play at an afterparty, but that’s the first time I’d seen any mention of it – there certainly doesn’t seem to have been much in the way of objections raised beforehand, let alone any evidence of the collective dismissing it.

So, if I’m right about the charge of anti-semitism being extremely shaky, and the claims of ableism and imperialism having been similarly plucked out of thin air, then why did so many people sign a document making such strong claims with no attempt to back them up? Again, this is sheer guesswork on my part, but I suppose the most charitable/plausible explanation would be some people just not really bothering to read and adding their names in a general spirit of support for trans comrades and opposition to TERFs; more sinisterly, it might be that some people have arrived at a position where, since the bookfair collective have been found guilty of being a bit terfy, or at least soft on those who are, they are now so far beyond the pale that all methods are permissible against them.

This may sound a bit harsh, but I do feel that, unless there’s some really really convincing evidence of widespread anti-semitism, imperialism and ableism that for some reason no-one has bothered making public, it’s unlikely that everyone who signed the letter really believes those charges have been proved; if I’m right, and there are people in the milieu who are willing to put their name to an accusation that they don’t personally believe to be true, then that would suggest that they have arrived at a place where they don’t really care whether people are enabling anti-semitism or not, where the question just isn’t important enough to make a fuss about. For fairly obvious reasons, I think that thought is at least as disturbing as anything the bookfair collective are alleged to have done, or to have turned a blind eye to.

On the bigger picture:

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that the whole drama unfurled at roughly the same time as libertarian/autonomist group Plan C were publishing their series of flirtations with the Labour Party, but it sort of feels like there’s a connection to be drawn there. Certainly, it’s too early to say what effect Corbynism will end up having on the class struggle in general, but I think it’s probably safe to say it’s had a negative effect on the anarchist movement, with people who, in another time and another place, might have been good anarchists ending up in the Labour Party; and, if this is what the alternative we can offer looks like, I really can’t blame anyone who prefers to spend their time elsewhere.

Of course, if the anarchist movement was in a better and healthier state, that by itself wouldn’t stop bigoted politicians from trying to latch on to our events, or numpties and flakes from running around starting fires and writing meaningless letters in response; but, if we had a slightly bigger teacup, these storms might seem less important, and it’d be easier to focus on things like all the people out there defeating landlords or organising in warehouses.

Among the many daft things that have been said about this issue, one that stuck in my head was a throwaway comment about “if you’re a young person getting into radical left politics as it’s about to take state power, difficult to understand why anyone would get into anarchism in 2017 tbh. like i can see how 10 years ago some people may have found it via all the occupy stuff but now… nah”. Leaving aside the obvious idiocy of someone thinking that 2011/2 was 10 years ago, and the self-confident smugness, surely the point has to be that, when “the radical left” is supposedly “about to take state power”, that is precisely when you most need people with a realistic understanding of the contradictions and limitations of trying to use state institutions to bring about radical change.

As charmingly enthusiastic as the fresh-faced new social democrats may be, I’m not convinced that many of them have an understanding of history that goes back as far as July 2015. And so, while we may not be able to beat them, or even out-organise them, I don’t think joining them is really an option either.

It probably won’t be particularly easy or gratifying to be an anarchist in the weeks, months, or years to come, for all sorts of reasons, but then that’s never the point. It does feel sad that, 100 years after the anarchist sailor Anatoli Zhelezniakov stormed the Winter Palace and helped usher in a regime that would brutally destroy the anarchist movement, some of us are still so easily manipulated by people who clearly don’t have our best interests at heart. If you’re still reading this, and you live in that part of the world, it might be nice if you fancy coming to the Manchester & Salford Bookfair at the start of December, but maybe, while you’re there, try and avoid giving out any provocatively bigoted leaflets, setting anything on fire, or throwing around massively serious political claims that you don’t feel like substantiating.

Posted in Anarchists, Bit more thinky, Debate, Gender, Racism, Stuff that I don't think is very useful | Tagged , , | 2 Comments