Red babies, brown bathwater: a response on the “zombie plague”

A red-brown zombie… or just a radical critic of neoliberalism?

In recent months, the subject of “red-brown” alliances bringing together parts of the left and the far-right, especially around shared support for Assad in Syria, has received increased attention, particularly since the publication of Radical Vagabond’s massive investigation on the subject. This trend was allowed to go effectively unopposed for quite a while, so the increasing awareness of and opposition to it is a welcome development.

One of the most recent pieces to be written on the subject is “The Red-Brown “zombie plague”: how fascist ideas are becoming popular on the Left”, by the New Zealand/Aotearoa-based writer Daphne Lawless, which forms part of a loose series on “conservative leftism”. As part of a critical response to the spread of red-brown ideas, I’m generally glad to see Lawless’ writings getting circulated; but there are some troubling aspects to her ideas, which are worth examining precisely because we’re broadly “on the same side” here.

Lawless uses the analogy of a “zombie plague”, so to pick her image up and run with it, I think she’s in danger of doing that thing where the protagonist sees zombies everywhere and ends up blasting away at a human (the classic version of this scene’s at the end of Night of the Living Dead, but off the top of my head it definitely happens in Evil Dead II as well): that is to say that, throughout the “conservative leftism” series, there’s an increasing tendency to lump genuinely radical and important critiques in with reactionary approaches. At some points, Lawless even seems at risk of falling into precisely the “campist/lesser evil/enemy of my enemy is my friend” trap she criticises, coming down on the side of a “neoliberal leftism” that supports Clinton and the EU against Trump, Brexit and Putin.

The best, most clear-headed piece in the series is the earliest article, “Against Campism: What makes some leftists support Putin?” While I wouldn’t invoke the same trot reference points that Lawless does, her overall argument here is one I can pretty much entirely endorse. If anything, it’s notable for its opposition to “the demands that the socialist Left fall in behind the Democratic candidate – even if that’s the thoroughly imperialist and pro-capitalist Hilary Clinton” and her conclusion:

“that’s the real secret of campism – someone who aggressively demands that you take a side between two evils has an interest in concealing that the two camps are really not that different. Campism is born of weakness and lack of faith in the ability of real popular forces to build their own alternative to Washington, Moscow, Beijing, Damascus, Wellington and all the others. But that is precisely what socialism is supposed to be about.”

This is worth bearing in mind, as some of her later writings come close to suggesting that such an attitude should be denounced as “conservative leftism”.

The next article, “Against “conservative leftism”: Why reactionary responses to neoliberalism fail”, is broadly sound, but shows some signs of a worrying willingness to dismiss all critiques of the specific social arrangements created by neoliberal capitalism as being inherently “reactionary”.

I’m nowhere near well-informed enough about the context of arguments about urbanism in contemporary Aotearoa/New Zealand to pick a side in the debates she references, but I’m not convinced that, for instance, a speaker who encouraged “Māori to abandon the cities and build eco-villages”, or those who oppose the merging of various local authorities into a single “super city” should automatically be lumped in with the likes of pro-Assad “anti-imperialists”.

Certainly, in the wake of the Grenfell disaster, it’s very hard to see “high-density housing” as something that should automatically be cheered for and defended in its current form.

Lawless attacks the spread of ideas like anti-vaccination or 9/11-style conspiracy theories, but again shows a willingness to paint any kind of anti-elitism and suspicion of “experts” as being on a par with, or a slippery slope towards, flat-earther lizard people stuff. As an example, she cites an occasion when “I made some arguments based on Transportblog‘s analysis of Auckland’s need for the City Rail Link, another Marxist dismissively replied that he trusted what “ordinary people” were telling him rather than any putative experts”.

Again, I’ve not researched Transportblog enough to have an opinion on them specifically, but on matters to do with urban planning in general, some level of suspicion towards “experts” is surely justified. Urban planning and development is hardly a neutral, value-free field; what’s beneficial from the perspective of investors, landlords and businesses, and helps increase the market value of an area, may be experienced as decidedly less positive from people renting in the area who experience it as skyrocketing rents and prices. Generally speaking, and without presuming to judge Transportblog specifically, most experts in the field of urban planning and development will usually tend to adopt the former perspective. I don’t think having this as a starting point necessarily leads on to freeman-on-the-land, “I’m x of the family y” stuff.

Lawless suggests that “anti-urbanism is a dead-end because it neglects the new constituency of precarious urban white-collar workers thrown up by neoliberalism”, but this is far from self-evident: having a critique of the specific urban forms developed under capitalism doesn’t automatically mean neglecting the populations living in those places, it just means refusing to treat everything about the way they – we – currently live as being an unproblematic neutral good.

The classic Hamilton Institution text “Now That It’s Undeniable” is relevant here:

“we usually end up in conflict with progressive urbanists long before we confront capitalists. These are the people who talk about urban revitalization, smart planning, liveable cities, poverty alleviation, social entrepreneurship, the creative class, and other clever-sounding rebrandings of a very old story. In general, urbanism is the study and design of urban space, usually with a goal towards improving in some way the lives of people who live in cities. Salto offers a different definition of urbanism: “Urbanism seeks to reproduce social hierarchies in the physical urban space, without conflict.”

When urbanists talk about improving lives, they are usually talking about projects designed to mask the contradictions of capitalism and of urban space: if we are to be an uprooted and flexible workforce, at least let there be affordable public transit so the commutes we are forced to make aren’t too much of a burden; if we are going to work minimum wage jobs, let there at least be housing we can afford; if we are going to live in crowded, oppressive conditions, at least let there be public art, good services, and native tree species slowly dying in roadside planters. However, as we get bedbugs from our library books and are hit by cars in the bike lane, we remember that these gestures are actually shit. They are meant to ease the discomfort caused by the purpose of urban space – to provide a density of physical and human resources to maximize value for capitalists. And once an area becomes a comfortable one in which to be exploited, you can bet someone is going to pay more for it than you can.”

Lawless cautions against the temptation “to trust “the wisdom of the people” over expert opinion as a default” because there “is no guarantee that “common sense” or “what the people are saying” under capitalism will be right about anything.” But, of course, there’s also no guarantee that expert opinion under capitalism will be right about anything – even neglecting the existence of antagonistic social conflicts where the “best” outcome for some people may be the worst for others, and concentrating on relatively neutral factual questions, the history of stock market crashes, not to mention the Corbyn-Brexit-Trump-UK GE 2017 sequence of “shocks” must demonstrate that a lot of the time the “experts” whose job it is to predict these events are just really really bad at it.

It’s interesting to see this kind of appeal to deference towards expert scientific authority in a text attacking “conservative leftism”, in light of the long history of radical critiques of such claims to authority, going back to Bakunin at the very least, and on the other hand all the examples of deeply conservative views that appeal to scientific expertise. There’s the opposition of orthodox Marxism, with its claims to have found the historical science of dialectical materialism, to newer theories influenced by postmodernism or poststructuralism – most recently dramatized by that weird US Maoist cult – as well as the “rationalist”/skeptic/New Atheist axis of Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson and the like, and then “you can’t argue with biology” terfery, all of which could be fairly described as conservative, or at least lying towards the conservative end of leftism.

In her summary, Lawless identifies “Opposition to the social changes induced by neoliberalism… shading into anti-urbanism, suburbanism, ruralism and otherwise clinging to traditional ways of living and working” as one of her targets, seeing such a tendency as inherently conservative. Here we’ll have to part ways, because I’d see attacks on the specific forms taken by capitalist “development” and “progress” as being a vital theme of struggles that have posed some kind of challenge to capitalism, running from the Luddites through to the ZAD and Standing Rock.

Setting out her vision of a less conservative, more progressive left better equipped to respond to contemporary conditions, she writes that rather than offering “a 9-5 state sector office job” to “a precarious freelancer, working from home, who enjoys their control over their conditions of work but not the uncertainty of their livelihood… A radical response, on the other hand, would be to explore ways in which flexible or freelance work (which might involve cross-border clientele) could be made less precarious and stressful – perhaps through a Universal Basic Income, or by expanding the “commons” of goods and services which are available outside the market economy.”

But one of these things is not like the other – they’re really, really different, and there’s serious consequences that follow on from those differences. To talk about a Universal Basic Income is to offer a state-based solution, and so one that pins its hopes on getting the left to capture the nation-state and manage the economy, so for all its proclaimed radicalism, the logic of such a position points back towards electoralism and all the baggage such an approach carries. On the other hand, “expanding the “commons” of goods and services which are available outside the market economy” is a much more genuinely radical, autonomist/anarchist/communist approach, one that doesn’t require us to place our faith in anything except each other.

Also, at the risk of sounding like the workerist dinosaur I am, I can’t help thinking that the most obvious method to made flexible/freelance work less precarious and stressful is one that’s already being practiced in some places – the classic solution of workers in these industries organising collectively to assert more control over their working conditions.

Concluding this article, Lawless writes that conservative leftism is “a way to explain the world which in fact makes it impossible to change it, because it does not look at the seeds that neoliberalism itself has planted which will undermine it one day.” There’s some truth to this, but I would suggest that the widespread crisis of faith in traditional authority and elite “experts” is precisely one of those seeds which is undermining the current social order.

In the next piece, “Trump, Brexit, Syria… and conservative leftism”, Lawless re-examines the idea of conservative leftism in the light of 2016’s “massive catastrophes”. I’m not convinced by how well the sequence “Trump, Brexit, Syria” holds together: certainly, it can be hard to resist lumping the first two into “unexpected electoral events where populist nationalism beat the neoliberal centre”, but there are also real differences between a vaguely-worded and unclear referendum and an electoral campaign based around parties and specific figureheads, not to mention between both of those things and a war.

One of those major differences is in the fact that the No2EU/Lexit and Another Europe is Possible campaigns were able to stay relatively independent from the official Leave and Remain campaigns, in a way that wouldn’t really be possible with a normal electoral race, especially not a two-party one. You can read this in a charitable way, and treat those campaigns as really being independent and advancing the values they claimed to uphold, or you can be cynical and say that both were just left window-dressing for one ruling-class camp or the other; but I can’t see any grounds for being harsh about one without being equally harsh about the other.

Lawless also refers to the Brexit campaign as being led by “the Trump-like UKIP”, a popular claim which doesn’t really stand up to examination; looking at the roles played by the likes of Johnson and Gove, it would be much more accurate to say that it was led by a faction within the Conservatives. Of course, that distinction doesn’t make it any less reactionary, but if we set things out clearly and say that it was fundamentally a confrontation between the more hardline nationalist and the more fanatically pro-business/free market wings of the Conservatives, the demand that we have to choose a camp and side with the lesser evil seems much less convincing.

Lawless accuses Lexiters of “one-sidedly attack[ing] the EU’s neoliberal institutions… and ignoring the fact that freedom of movement for workers between EU countries is a vital progressive gain for migrant workers”, but this presentation is itself one-sided. In particular, it’s worth looking at the propaganda term “freedom of movement”; while it’s true that EU citizens are indeed free to move from one country to another, I always feel uncomfortable with accounts that celebrate the freedom of movement within Fortress Europe without also mentioning the utter brutality of its border regime.

To just cheer for the freedom of movement of EU migrants, without ever looking at the way this system enshrines a two-tier approach where (mainly white) European citizens are given rights that African and Asian migrants are denied, may be convenient when trying to portray Brexit as being solely about racist xenophobia, but this approach struggles to explain why over a third of Asian voters, and the majority of Sikhs, voted to reject a system that discriminated against their families.

None of this is to excuse or minimise the wave of racist violence that followed the referendum; but a genuinely internationalist, non-campist position has to be equally critical of the mass suffering created by the Fortress Europe border regime, not brush it under the rug.

In passing, while writing this article I noticed another related piece, “Winning with Conservative Leftism: Jeremy Corbyn and Brexit” – I’ve not read this one fully enough to have a proper response, but did notice it contained one outright untruth: a claim that “the best predictor of wanting to quit the EU was being white”, which is backed up with a link to research showing that… education level, income level, housing status, people saying that they were economically struggling, thinking that Britain had got worse in the last 10 years, and thinking that life had got worse personally in the last 10 years were all far more accurate predictors of wanting to quit the EU than being white, with a strong majority of people who described themselves as white but not British backing remain.

The most recent article, the “zombie plague” piece looking at the spread of red-brown ideas, is again broadly on target, but with some worrying and overly broad strokes. At one point, Lawless cites Idrees Ahmed’s characterisation of the “alt-left” as being “a strain of leftism that sees liberalism rather than fascism as the main enemy”; it’s hard to know where those of us who reject campism and lesser evilism, who oppose fascism while recognising that we live in liberal democratic states, and that the state is no ally against fascism, fit into this picture.

Ahmed also complains about people who are “more concerned with imagined “deep state” conspiracies than with actual Russian subversion of US democracy”, which is a frankly laughable objection to raise. It’s hard to know what to say about this respect for “US democracy” – a system that, were it working properly and not being interfered with, would presumably have cemented the House of Clinton as being the other great dynasty rotating power with the House of Bush. Of all the atrocities that the Russian state can be blamed for, from the torture of anarchist and anti-fascist comrades to its contribution to the slaughter in Syria, getting outraged that it made some internet posts that sullied the integrity of the sacred process that gave us Bush, Nixon and Andrew Jackson seems a particularly odd thing to choose.

And as for “imagined deep state conspiracies” – the fact that some people have very confused ideas about what it is that the CIA and FBI get up to does not in any way mean that the CIA and FBI don’t exist. If being concerned about modern-day COINTELPRO operations like the Cleveland 4 frameup, the NATO 3 case, or the collusion between the state and the far-right to target J20 defendants makes me an alt-leftist, then I guess I must be an alt-leftist.

Ahmed also sneers at us for being “eager to prevent a global war no one is contemplating”, which I’m not sure is how things work; I don’t think many people in 1914 were consciously planning for the outbreak of a four-year conflagration that would devastate Europe and claim millions of lives, but the fact that no-one was planning for such an event didn’t make the anti-war movements of the day any less right.

Taking Ahmed’s somewhat problematic description of the alt-left as a starting point, Lawless says that the outcome of the US election could have been determined by the influence of alt-left ideas on “a small but significant minority of the US voting population… The 10% of people who voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary who went on to vote for Trump in the general election may well have tipped the balance.”

But with any event, large or small, there are a thousand and one factors that were at play in causing things to turn out exactly as they did.

There are many explanations that can be given, and the one that we choose will tend to say as much about our political framework as anything else; for instance, opponents of mass incarceration and the drug war might point to the laws stripping felons of their voting rights, and the way that the “justice” system operates to disenfranchise millions and millions of voters from the low-income and ethnic minority communities that tend to favour the Democrats, while critics of the Democrat establishment might point to the Clinton campaign just being really bad at campaigning in a lot of ways, and doing things like ignoring volunteers on the ground saying that things weren’t going well in Michigan and that they could use some help. Like any other explanation, the “Bernie Bros for Trump one” is most likely to be taken up by those with a certain political agenda and perspective; I’d say that it’s been pushed hard by supporters of the Democrat leadership and those who want to paint any criticism of that leadership as playing into the hands of the Republicans and white supremacy, so it’s odd to see a socialist – and self-proclaimed enemy of campism and lesser evilism! – picking it up.

A more serious point of difference is Lawless’ criticism of writers who argue “the rise of Trumpist neofascism, or protofascism, was in part fuelled by the neoliberals’ “hawkish” foreign policy” such as “supporting the insurgency which brought down Muammar Qadhafi’s dictatorial, murderous “modern state” in Syria”. Leaving aside the obvious slip-up here, it’s still the case that “supporting the insurgency” is quite a passive way to describe a major series of air raids. The list of objections Lawless presents to Clinton/Obama foreign policy is misleadingly short, brushing over both Clinton’s role in supporting things like the Iraq invasion in 2003 and the Honduras coup in 2009 and the sheer scale of Obama-era military intervention, as Obama presided over air strikes in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. The friendlier, softer rhetoric of the Obama regime shouldn’t be allowed to cloud over how warlike his record actually was.

As if it needs stating, none of this justifies support for Trump, but it should be possible to argue against Trump honestly, without blurring the facts when it comes to his opponents.

Lawless states that “Trump is sometimes even seen as a lesser evil – not because he is any less militaristic than Obama or the Clintons, but because he is on the same side as Russia”. Again, this isn’t the whole story: I certainly wouldn’t argue that his actual record has been any less militaristic, but his campaign rhetoric was all things to all people, and did at times include an anti-war pitch, especially in his outspoken criticism of the Iraq War, a stance that made a sharp contrast to Clinton’s warmongering record.

To repeat, I don’t think Trump’s anti-war posturing at some points during the campaign justifies supporting him at all, or even being gullible enough to believe him, but to talk as if Trump being comparatively pro-Russian was the only difference, and skip over his stance on Iraq, feels like a bit of a distortion, and one that shouldn’t really be needed. Those leftists who can only see Iraq in 2003, and interpret every situation as if it were a re-run of that, are certainly frustrating, but it’s equally unhelpful to write the Iraq war out of the campaign entirely.

Lawless claims that that are leftists whose “argument is precisely the same as that offered by those Rightists who admit Trump’s failings but see him as an “anti-politician” going into Washington to “combat the elites” and “drain the swamp””. But nothing she quotes shows anyone actually making this argument – she cites John Bellamy Foster and Ben Debney criticising Clinton’s policies, and Sanders, who definitely endorsed Clinton in the actual election, offering qualified approval of some specific Trump economic policies, but citing two people criticising Clinton, and one Clinton supporter saying some positive things about Trump, is not the same thing as showing anyone actually endorsing Trump as a counterweight to the military-industrial complex/deep state. If you can’t show anyone actually supporting Trump, then it looks a lot like you’re smearing.

Lawless complains that leftist writers who “make arguments that, in one way or another, “neoliberals did it to themselves”… mirror… an argument made by pro-Trump and other far-right forces.” The difficulty is that this argument is also true, unless we’re just going to rule pretty much everything about social conditions in the US in 2016 as being inadmissible evidence.

And again, this is very confusing from someone who’s talked about the need to study and nurture “the seeds that neoliberalism itself has planted which will undermine it one day”. So understanding how neoliberalism creates the social conditions that pave the way for its own downfall was vitally important for socialists in February 2016, but in 2018, anyone suggesting that the failure of the neoliberal centre’s preferred candidate might have had something do with the conditions created by neoliberalism sounds like a fascist.

Lawless accuses commentators on both the right and left of wanting “to provide an alibi for Trump voters”. At which point I have to ask what the point of this sort of analysis is. If the aim is moral judgement, to separate out the sinners from the elect, then certainly I’m happy to agree that people who voted for Trump did a bad thing. But if it’s meant to serve as a guide to strategy, then studying the fault lines in the Trump coalition and the ways in which it could potentially be broken apart seems worthwhile, and that in turn means not just writing everyone off as an undifferentiated reactionary mass, but looking sharply at potential divisions around things like economics.

It’s also important to be aware of, and resistant to, the tendency to slide between “Trump voters” and, for instance, “Appalachians” or just “anyone living in a red state” as a category. I don’t have much time for “Trump voters” as an abstraction, but given the ease with which “Trump voters are driven by bigotry and it’s right to mock people who talk about economic anxiety” can turn into “anyone who talks about economic problems and poverty in places like West Virginia is distracting from the real issue and making excuses for bigotry”, I tend to be very wary of anything that seems to point in that direction.

Lawless sums up with a quote from some confused US Marxist-Leninist organisation saying that “with Trump as President, promoters of harmful illusions about Obama, Clinton and the Democrats… will be in a weaker position… It should not take too long before the white working masses who voted for Trump have had enough experience to begin a serious struggle against this reactionary billionaire”. The first point there is obviously very stupid – being in opposition means that promoters of harmful illusions about the Democrats are in a stronger position, because they don’t have to answer to a record in government and are free to engage in all the #Resistance posturing they want.*

But while the first point is clearly false, the second point, the claim that “It should not take too long before the white working masses who voted for Trump have had enough experience to begin a serious struggle against this reactionary billionaire”, actually turns out to be… kind of true, or at least truer than would have seemed likely at the time it was written? If the recent wave of workers’ struggles across places like West Virginia, Kentucky, Georgia, Oklahoma, Arizona and so on haven’t quite fully borne out the Ray O’ Light perspective yet, they have at least firmly discredited any idea that workers in those places are always characterised by bigoted reactionary attitudes first and foremost, and that there’s no point looking for points where they might potentially come into conflict with the ruling class.

And besides, even accepting that the Ray O’ Light folks have an unhelpful and overexcitable analysis, that doesn’t in itself prove anything beyond that particular grouping having an unhelpful and overexcitable analysis. Just saying that RO’L agree with Debney and Bellamy Foster is not in itself enough evidence to show that the latter two actually share the former’s ideas, unless you can quote them saying similar things.

Lawless concludes that there are “parts of the Left reading the victories of the far Right as an obstacle to or “payback” for neoliberal globalist overreach – or performatively shrugging, on the grounds that nothing real has changed”. The first thing to examine here is what’s being smuggled into “the victories of the far right”, since the Brexit vote is not the same thing as the Trump campaign, and the vague wording leaves space for even more disparate phenomena to be bundled in there; and the second is the apparent equivalence being drawn between the very “campist” stance that would actively celebrate things like Trump’s election, and the much more “third campist” position of refusing to endorse lesser evils and stating that nothing real has changed.

The implication here seems to be that those of us who would stress the underlying continuity of the US state – those who believe that, while Trump certainly represents a new phase in the ongoing authoritarian nationalist development of that state, today’s ICE raids are not a fundamentally different thing to those that deported 2.5 million under Obama, just as the cops today are not fundamentally different to those who killed countless people, repressed uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore, and conspired with Nazis against antifascists under the nice cuddly Obama years – are not really, seriously interested in confronting Trump and the far right.

While Lawless is right to take aim at those who would back Putin, Assad, North Korea or anyone else as a counterweight to US power, her framing seems to go beyond this and target anyone who has a serious and uncompromising critique of the neoliberal center as being not really committed to the fight against Trump and the far right; and, by implication, to lay claim on those who are actively confronting the far right as endorsing the analysis that a fundamental change took place in November 2016, and that the social and economic conditions created by neoliberalism had nothing to do with that result.

Of course, as a limey and a kiwi respectively, neither of us is really that directly plugged in to contemporary US antifascist organising, and even if we were involved as individuals, that still wouldn’t give either of us the right to speak for the entire movement; but from what I’ve observed, among many of those people involved in confronting both street-based far-right movements and the Trump administration itself, there’s a heartening refusal to endorse the neoliberal 2016 status quo as being some kind of lesser evil, and a recognition that white supremacy is written into the foundations of the US state, that ICE was an inhumane enemy that needed to be resisted long before Trump came along, that the laws used to target the J20 defendants form part of a long and continuous history of repression even as their specific use represents an escalation, and so on.

Certainly, “conservative leftism” should be rejected, but “neoliberal leftism” wouldn’t be any kind of an improvement, or even a lesser evil. In the end, I think the conclusion to Lawless’ original article on campism sums up everything that needs to be said: (again, I might word things slightly differently, but that’s a side issue): “someone who aggressively demands that you take a side between two evils has an interest in concealing that the two camps are really not that different. Campism is born of weakness and lack of faith in the ability of real popular forces to build their own alternative to Washington, Moscow, Beijing, Damascus, Wellington and all the others. But that is precisely what socialism is supposed to be about.”**


*In fact, I’d argue that this is precisely one of the few saving graces of the Trump administration – having the alt-right’s preferred “goy” in power, saddled with the responsibility of presiding over four years of imperial decline, while the more liberal wing of the business class get to pose as saviours, is far from ideal, but it could yet to turn out to be less bad than what would’ve happened if the situation was reversed, so it was the Democrats who were stuck with the blame for everything that goes wrong for the next four years, while the far-right would be free to spread their ideas without being burdened by association with a failing administration.


** I’m aware that, while I was writing this, part II of the “zombie plague” series was published; but since that part seems to be very much just focused on critiquing actual red-brown currents and doesn’t really contain anything that I would read as being a “campist” defence of the Democrats, the EU or other neoliberal institutions, I don’t really have much to say in reply to it, it’s a piece of writing that I welcome without any serious reservations. Similarly, part III just came out while I was finishing this off, but I’m happy to leave things here.

Posted in Bit more thinky, Debate, The left | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Mid-May round-up for workplace organising and upcoming events

A quick round-up of workplace organising, upcoming events and other news:

Picturehouse workers have voted to take further strike action in their long-running living wage dispute, although no specific dates have been announced yet. Similarly, the United Voices of the World union are reporting that cleaners at Kensington & Chelsea town halls are set to strike for the London Living Wage, but haven’t confirmed any dates yet, and FCC Environment workers in Hull are talking of striking for a month but it’s not clear when exactly they’ll start. The IWGB are currently asking for money to help fund a legal battle against Deliveroo over contract terms. Meanwhile, cleaners organising through the grassroots union CAIWU have won a healthy pay rise at Rolls Royce, and Thomas Cook cleaners are also getting organised and gearing up to try and win the London Living Wage.

The Angry Workers of the World collective have just published a lengthy summary and analysis of an IWW organising campaign in West London’s factories and warehouses over winter 2017/18, which looks like vital reading for anyone interested in rank-and-file workplace organising, Notes From Below have a reportback from the Dagenham Tesco strike, and the newly-formed Cymru Courier’s Network also have a report on how they’ve been able to improve conditions at McDonald’s and UberEats.

Coming up, on Monday 21st at 5pm Disabled People Against Cuts will be holding a protest at the Shard entrance to London Bridge station against the proposed removal of train guards, which will make life harder for disabled commuters.

On Tuesday 22nd, there’ll be a pub quiz in London to raise funds for the Picturehouse dispute, Huddersfield TUC are holding a rally in support of Kirklees bin workers, who are fighting against bullying management and impossible working conditions, and Leeds Anti-Fascist Network are hosting an introduction to anti-fascism in Leeds. The 22nd-25th May will also see strike action over pay by staff at some FE colleges, mostly in London, with other strike dates running from June 5th-12th.

On Wednesday 23rd, families of prisoners held under indefinite IPP sentences will be marching in London to draw attention to the cruelty of these endless punishments, with transport having been organised from Bristol. That day will also see cleaners, caterers and porters employed at hospitals in Wrightington, Wigan & Leigh starting a 48-hour strike against threats to outsource their jobs.

RMT members on Northern Rail will be striking on Thursday 24th and Saturday 26th as part of the long-running “keep the guard on the train” dispute against driver-only operation. The evening of the 24th will also see one of the sacked Picturehouse workers speaking in York about their dispute.

The wave of TGI Fridays’ strikes over pay and tips that started last Friday is set to continue on Friday 25th, with the Trafford Centre, Manchester and Haymarket Piccadilly, London locations set to join in with the London and Milton Keynes restaurants that have already taken action.

On Monday 28th, striking Picturehouse workers will be hosting a discussion in London on “the future of work”, with speakers including one of the McDonald’s strikers.

Looking ahead into June, the 2nd will see a London Radical Bookfair. The 4th will see Kirklees bin workers starting a week of strike action against their terrible working conditions and bullying management, while the 5th will see the start of a second wave of FE college strikes over pay in London, and outsourced workers organising through the IWGB at the University of London will strike again in support of their demand to be brought back in-house  on the 6th.

Further ahead, June 9th will be the start of the “Antiuniversity” in London, while Teesside Solidarity Movement will be hosting a discussion about “going beyond capitalism” in Saltburn.

June 11th is the international day of solidarity with long-term anarchist prisoners, and mid-June will see the 0161 anti-fascist festival in Manchester, the annual Orgreave commemoration, a radical bookfair in Cambridge, and an “abolitionist futures” anti-prison conference in London. Connected to this last one, a call is being circulated for contributions by prisoners and ex-prisoners writing on prison abolition, with a deadline of June 1st for an early edition to be ready in time for the conference.

Further ahead still, Bristol Disabled People Against Cuts will be holding an event about disability and migration on June 29th, Amazon workers are talking about a Europe-wide strike in July, and Plan C’s annual Fast Forward Festival will run from August 17th-19th.

A few quick pieces of international repression news: Indonesian comrades are calling for donations to help cover the costs of an anarchist who’s been detained, beaten and denied legal aid since May Day, as well as demos outside Indonesian embassies to raise awareness of the case. The next group of J20 defendants facing charges from Trump’s inauguration are on trial now. Missouri saw a small prisoner uprising recently and the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee are asking for phone calls and emails to the Missouri Department of Corrections in solidarity with the rebels. Long-term Black Panther/Black Liberation Army prisoner Jalil Muntaqim, who’s eligible for parole later this year, managed to finally overturn the ridiculous disciplinary charges that got him sent to solitary for teaching a history class last year. Meanwhile, June 19th and August 21nd look set to be two important days for the ongoing prison movement in the US.

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Happy ending at the opera: cleaners and porters beat the Royal Opera House and Kier

At the start of this year, cleaners and porters organising through the grassroots union CAIWU managed to win a substantial pay increase, taking them up to the London Living Wage of £10.20 an hour. Shortly afterwards, five workers involved in union organising were sacked, with another being given a final written warning, sparking a lengthy dispute that continued throughout March and April. Cleaning contractors Kier have now totally caved into pressure from the workers and their supporters, and fully reinstated all five of the sacked workers, admitting that their actions were “unfair” and “disproportionately harsh.”

Below is a short comic by Spanish artist Yeyei Gomez, telling the story up to April:

Posted in Stuff that I think is pretty awesome, Unions, Work | Tagged , | 2 Comments

TGI Strikedays: class struggle and events round-up for early May

A quick update on ongoing workplace and social struggles, and a few upcoming events:

Recent notable developments have included the strikes that took place at five McDonald’s stores on May Day, the indefinite strike in Bromley libraries ending with workers winning a pay increase and other concessions, cleaners at Kuwait Investment Offices winning the London living wage after a six-month campaign, and a threatened strike by cleaners at Ernst & Young being called off after the employers confirmed that there would be no compulsory redundancies or cuts to hours. Meanwhile, the cleaners at Kensington & Chelsea town halls, who’ve organised through the grassroots union UVW, are also set to strike for the London Living Wage.

At FCC Environment in Hull, recycling workers have been fighting for decent pay and conditions, including the right to sick pay, and have been out on strike since the start of the month. If you’re in the area, they’ll be picketing every day until the 14th and would welcome your solidarity, and people anywhere can donate to their strike fund. May Day in Hull also saw a spontaneous wildcat strike by construction workers after fifteen people were sacked for raising safety concerns.

Also in Hull, staff at three sites across the Hull College Group will be walking out on May 9th against threats to cut 231 jobs. The 9th is set to be a fairly eventful day, as RMT members on Northern Rail and Greater Anglia (but not South Western Rail, that’s now been suspended) will also be striking in the latest installment of the long-running driver-only operation/Keep the Guard on the Train dispute, and Al Jazeera staff will also be striking that day as they’ve not had a pay rise for four years.

On Thursday 10th, Fujitsu workers and their supporters will be protesting at a HR Directors’ Dinner hosted by “Business in the Community” (BITC) – the idea of a big get-together of HR directors is nauseating anyway, but they’ll be particularly drawing attention to the fact that BITC’s board of directors includes the regional head of Fujitsu, a company which has sacked several workers for whistleblowing and union activity. Donations and messages of support to are always welcomed by the Fujitsu workers, as are messages of protest to the Fujitsu boss at (cc in so they can see it).

Wakefield’s annual trade union festival, With Banners Held High, will now be part of a week-long “Collective Spirit” event, starting on Sunday May 13th, although the main event will be on Sunday 20th.

Workers in a Tesco distribution centre in Dagenham will be taking strike action over pay on Thursday 17th-Friday 18th May, an interesting development due to the importance of distribution warehouses in today’s economy.

On Friday 18th, staff at TGI Friday’s in Milton Keynes and Covent Garden will be striking over tips and pay, while other workers at stores in London, Manchester, Newcastle and Gateshead are currently balloting over whether to join in. Coming hot on the heels of the high-profile McStrike, this dispute is already attracting some media interest.

The weekend of May 19th will be a busy one in Manchester, as it’ll see an anti-racist community football tournament, Our City United, as well as the Northern Festival of Resisting Borders & Prisons.

The following week will see Leeds Anti-Fascist Network host an open meeting for people interested in getting involved in anti-fascism in Leeds on Tuesday 22nd, while one of the sacked Picturehouse workers will be giving a talk in York on that dispute on Thursday 24th. The Picturehouse strikers will also be organising a big evening of discussion in the capital on Monday 28th.

Looking ahead into June, a few dates of interest include the Antiuniversity, running in London from the 9th-15th, June 11th, the international day of solidarity with long-term anarchist prisoners, Manchester’s annual anti-fascist 0161 festival, which will run from the 14th-17th, and the annual Orgreave commemoration rally on Saturday 16th.

In UK legal/repression news, a request has gone out to support Kevan Thackrar, a prisoner who’s been held in solitary confinement for over 8 years, and the undercover police inquiry continues to drag on, with recent developments including spycop-turned-whistleblower Peter Francis giving up on the whole process as a farce, Reclaim the Streets infiltrator Jim Boyling/Sutton being officially sacked for deceiving activists into relationships without getting all his paperwork in order, and the naming of several more spycops, including Dave Hagan, the man tasked with spying on the Lawrence family.

On a more general note, the South Essex Stirrer have some interesting thoughts on what might be possible during Trump’s upcoming visit if we refuse the temptation to just go for a kneejerk big event in central London.

Finally, a few international notes – the Russian anarchists and anti-fascists appealing for solidarity against state repression have a new site up at Rupression, tenants in East Hamilton, Canada, launched a rent strike on May 1st and welcome donations to their strike/hardship fund, and the Dialectical Delinquents site continues to be a valuable resource for keeping up with events worldwide, but particularly in France. They’ve recently added an English translation of “another boring leaflet” dealing with some of the limitations and contradictions of the current movement. CrimethInc also have a fair bit of content about France, especially dealing with the ZAD“One But Many Movements” is particularly recommended as some of the most indepth English-language coverage available for those wanting to understand the internal divisions within the movement.

And a quick North American repression and prison news round-up: revolutionary prisoner Xinachtli/Alvaro Luna Hernandez has an upcoming birthday on May 12th, long-term black liberation/former Black Panther prisoner Herman Bell has finally been released in the face of stiff opposition from the NYPD and their supporters, and Hamilton anarchist Cedar is currently in jail awaiting trial on conspiracy charges connected to a small riot against gentrification, and could use letters of support. The Defend J20 Resistance campaign are asking for a call-in to pressure the US attorney’s office to drop the charges against the remaining people facing charges from Trump’s inauguration on May 10th-11th, as the next round of trials is set to start on May 14th. Meanwhile, Corey Long is still facing charges for his alleged role in defending Charlottesville from the nazi march last summer, with his trial date set for June 8th. Further ahead, prison organisers are calling for a big mobilisation on “Juneteenth” (June 19th), and plans are circulating for a national strike starting on August 21st.

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More repression news and upcoming events for mid-April

A few assorted announcements:

This weekend, the Land Justice Network have arranged a walking tour of London’s land and housing crisis, dropping in on a few of the capital’s biggest landlords and property speculators. The 14th is also the date of the monthly Grenfell commemoration walk marking 10 months since the disaster, and is the first to fall on a Saturday, so it should hopefully see a big turnout. That day will also see a big mobilisation against the “Generation Identity” fascist conference.

A few workplace news items are that Deliveroo and Ubereats couriers up in Glasgow have formed a new network for couriers in Scotland, cleaners organising through the IWGB have begun balloting for action over redundancies at financial/legal firm Ernst & Young, while their colleagues at the University of London continue to get ready for their big strike on the 25th and 26th, and cleaning staff at the Royal Opera House continue to fight for the reinstatement of their sacked colleagues, with regular nightly protests set to continue throughout April.

Elsewhere, the occupation of Queen Mary university has come to an end after the university partially backtracked on planned cuts to bursaries, with an extra £260,000 per year for the next two years having been secured as a result of the occupation.

In international news, big struggles are ongoing in France, as a wave of industrial action takes place at the same time as the attempted eviction of the occupied space known as La ZAD. As ever, the Dialectical Delinquents site is an excellent resource for keeping up with the news, especially in France, and it carries some information about internal conflicts within the ZAD that I’ve not seen anywhere else in English.

A few notes on US prison struggles, trials and repression: Elderly prisoner and former Black Panther Herman Bell, having been granted parole but not actually released yet, is now facing a major backlash from the NYPD and their supporters which might derail his chances of release. A few ways to keep up the pressure in support of his release are collected here.

The J20 case against people mass-arrested at Trump’s inauguration continues, with the next trial group set to start soon, and their defence campaign are requesting continued support and pressure on the prosecution to get the charges dropped. In Charlottesville, Corey Long and Donald Blakney are still facing charges and upcoming trial dates for their roles in defending the town from last summer’s nazi march, so there’s a call to get their charges dropped too. In the confusingly-similarly-named North Carolina town of Charlotte, people involved in the 2016 Charlotte Uprising that took place in response to a police killing are also facing prosecution, there’s a long interview on the subject here and you can donate to their defence fund here.

Meanwhile, a mass hunger strike took place at Washington State Penitentiary earlier this month, political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal has a shot at getting released and also an upcoming birthday, and today marks the 25th anniversary of the start of the historic Lucasville Uprising, which is a good opportunity to draw attention to the cases of those who are still facing harsh repression for their alleged role in the events, like Greg Curry, who’s raising funds to overturn his conviction.

Posted in Anarchists, Housing, Racism, Repression, Riots, Strikes, Students, Unions, Work | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Updates on courts, borders, workplace and welfare disputes for mid-April

A few quick additions and updates to my previous round-up of ongoing events and disputes for April:

On a legal note, Trans Survival Trans Defence are asking anyone who can make it to get down to Hendon Magistrates Court on Thursday 12th and Friday 13th April in support of a young trans woman facing charges from an incident at a counterprotest against transphobia last year. I’m aware that this incident was controversial and there’s a range of opinions about it, but I think that opposition to any involvement of the police and CPS in political disputes has to be a basic starting point, and inviting the involvement of state violence in these kinds of disputes can only worsen them.

Meanwhile, the Stansted 15 trial of people facing terrorism charges for blocking a deportation charter flight has been adjourned, apparently until October. Keep up with End Deportations for more on that case as it continues.

In more border-related news, Schools Against Border Controls are celebrating a big victory, as the government has scrapped a policy of collecting data on migrant children that formed part of their overall plan to create a “hostile environment”.

In workplace news, one big story is that McDonald’s workers are now balloting for strike action at six stores, in Manchester, Central London, Cambridge, Crayford, and two locations in Watford, over pay and hours. They’ll also be having a fundraiser on Friday 20th in London for their campaign. In Manchester, the long-running dispute against management’s victimisation of workers at Fujitsu continues, and they’ve now arranged a strike fundraiser gig for Friday 13th in Castleton, Rochdale. Down south, the proposed Thurrock bin strike against surveillance cameras has now been suspended by Unite after management agreed to tighter rules on who could view the cameras, although the cameras themselves are still set to be installed, and the possibility remains that the strikes could resume over other issues. And up in the North Sea, a wildcat broke out at the weekend over poor working conditions on an offshore platform.

In welfare and disability news, a new claimants’ group is being formed in Surrey, and Disabled People Against Cuts are asking for people to contact them with accounts of trying to communicate with the DWP via email as evidence for an ongoing lawsuit. DPAC also have an important update about how to stop the DWP contacting your doctor.

Finally, the London and Leicester Anarchist Communists will be holding meetings on the 19th and 25th respectively, on “anarchism yesterday, today and tomorrow” in London and a discussion/critique of privilege theory and anti-oppression politics in Leicester.

Posted in Anarchists, Disability, Gender, Repression, Strikes, Unemployment/claimants and welfare, Unions, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

We are all the wrong kind of Jews: solidarity with Jewdas against the fascist collaborators and hypocrites

I think humanity is finally rejecting what has always been an impossible project, the project of representation. The present proliferation of major and minor pharaohs around the world is the final and ludicrous stage of that impossible project. My life can’t be lived as a representation; my representative can’t realize my aspirations, take my steps or engage in my actions. The pharaohs are the final and definitive proof of the impossibility of representation. I think we’ve all finally learned what took me so long to learn, namely that I’m robbed of my enjoyment if my representative enjoys himself for me, that my hunger remains when he eats for me, that I don’t express myself when he speaks for me, that my mind and my imagination stagnate when he thinks for me and decides for me, that I lose my life when he lives for me. – Fredy Perlman, Letters of Insurgents

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour – Shemot/Exodus, 20:13

A few things to note about the latest controversy over some Jews observing Passover: first of all, it’s important to note that the source of this story is the despicable “Guido Fawkes” website, run by one Paul Staines. It’s worth taking a moment to review Mr Staines’ history here: he is on record as having written to the BNP organiser in Hull, back in his Federation of Conservative Student [FCS] days, to propose joint “direct action” against leftists. This wasn’t the relatively soft and fluffy BNP of the 2000s, but the much harder and more openly neo-nazi version of the mid-1980s, when it was still under the leadership of long-time nazi John Tyndall. At around the same time he was also engaged in writing jolly little songs, including one with the chorus “gas them all, gas them all… Yes we’re saying goodbye to the Left, as safe in their graveyards they rest. ‘Cos they’ll get no further, we’ll stop with murder, the bootboys of FCS”.

He’s also reminisced about this period of his life as being one where “I never wore a “Hang Mandela” badge but I hung out with people who did“, although to be fair to the man he has now recognised that this was a tactical mis-step – bad optics, as they say nowadays. Elsewhere, he’s boasted about his role in arming right-wing death squads, characterising it as “I was over in Washington, in Jo’burg, in South America. It was ‘let’s get guns for the Contras’, that sort of stuff. I was enjoying it immensely, I got to go with these guys and fire off AK-47s. I always like to go where the action is, and for that period in the Reagan/Thatcher days, it was great fun, it was all expenses paid and I got to see the world.”

Of course, it would be unfair to hold these things against him if they were just youthful indiscretions; but as recently as this decade, he’s been enthusiastically singing the praises of the murderous dictator Pinochet, and boasted “I don’t have any problem with having raised money to kill communists.

And as for the Guido Fawkes website itself, credit goes to Magpie Ranger for having the stomach to dig up these charming gems (the odd spelling is apparently because Staines’ readership is so full of vehement antisemites that he’s had to put word filters in place to try and slow them down a bit):

These are the people who’ve set the agenda that large parts of the media and the Labour Party have followed by choosing to promote the idea that it’s somehow scandalous to attend a Passover celebration organised by an anti-racist Jewish group – as opposed to, say, Chris Williamson defending the antisemite Scott Nelson/”Socialist Voice”, or that indefensible open letter about “a very powerful special interest group”, which seem to have been completely overshadowed in all the fuss.

This isn’t about defending Corbyn. It’s about defending the idea that there should be space for Jews who disagree with Jonathan Arkush, and that there’s nothing shameful about being associated with Jews who disagree with Jonathan Arkush. Similarly, it’s not just about the fact that Jewdas are Jews – Gilad Atzmon and Tony Greenstein can also claim Jewish descent, and I wouldn’t defend anyone choosing to seek out their company. What’s important here are that Jewdas are a group of Jews with a long track record of opposing antisemitism on both the left and the right, including in the Palestine solidarity movement.

Their record of campaigning against antisemitism doesn’t automatically make them right about everything – I thought their take on the current controversy, while entirely reasonable in the context of an internal debate within “the Jewish community”, didn’t get the emphasis quite right for an article that was bound to be read by people outside of that particular context – but I’ll take a group of Jews dedicated to opposing antisemitism over the kind of Pinochet fanboy who gets his kicks from being allowed to hang around with death squads or the pathetic gentile schmucks who’re in such a rush to pronounce on which Jews are and aren’t acceptable that they can’t even take the time to learn the words they’re using, any day of the week.

Top marks for nauseating hypocrisy go to the Campaign Against Antisemitism, who in 2015 helped to organise against a neo-nazi march as part of a campaign initiated by Jewdas and publicised in the Jewish News, but who now claim that attending a Jewdas event is “a very clear two fingered salute at mainstream British Jewry”. Presumably when they joined in with Jewdas’ anti-nazi organising back in 2015, they were also giving a clear two-fingered salute to mainstream British Jewry, and Jewish News was doing the same by publishing their article.

But no-one can beat Jonathan Arkush, with his characterisation of Jewdas as “a source of virulent antisemitism”, for hyperbole. In the past, I’ve warned against the danger of a kind of semantic dilution rendering the term “antisemitism” meaningless*, which would be an extremely worrying development. Antisemitism is a real problem, and antisemites do really exist, and they should be fought against vigorously – but if that’s going to happen, we need some sort of minimal clarity about what the word means. There is nothing that would please antisemites more than for the word to lose all meaning, so that the taboo against it is erased and it evokes nothing more than a cynical shrug or an eyeroll instead of revulsion; and by trying to make the term “antisemitism” so elastic that there is literally no difference between a group of Jews who campaign against antisemitism – and are given space in completely mainstream Jewish publications to do so – and “a source of virulent antisemitism”, Jonathan Arkush is taking us a significant step down that road. Of course, that doesn’t make him “a source of virulent antisemitism” himself, but it does make him a thoroughly nasty and dishonest bastard.



* in one of those nice little ironies of history, I was criticising a letter that Jewdas had cosigned.

Posted in Labour, Racism, The media, The right | Tagged , | 5 Comments