Saturday, April 19, 2014

Whose Productivity? Whose Wealth?

Liverpool economic productivity has shot up since 2004, but who's benefited?
This week, the Liverpool Echo gushed that the Liverpool city region was being "hailed for a remarkable rise in its productivity". It was referencing research published by Capital Economics, who claim that Liverpool's productivity growth of 34% since 2004 is the highest in the country. But is the average Liverpool area resident one third better off as a result, or are we simply being exploited more?

According to the figures, Inner West London scores highest with £43 output per person per hour in 2012. Canary Wharf is second with £37 per hour, Liverpool is far behind, on £27 per hour, four pounds ahead of North Manchester. But Liverpool's growth is the highest in the UK.

If the average Liverpool worker received the £27 pounds per hour of wealth they produce, this would amount to around £972 per week, or fifty thousand per year! Enough for a very comfortable lifestyle for all in employment, and their families. But in the last year for which figures were available, the average Liverpool wage was £23,000.

In other words, the average Liverpool worker receives around 45% of the wealth they produce. The rest - more than half - goes to their employer. In a way this should surprise no-one - it is the basic foundation of capitalism. But under conditions where the inflation-adjusted value of the average Liverpool wage has fallen by a few pounds per week in the time period covered by Capital Economics study, it would make more sense to report that the average Liverpool worker is about 35% more exploited than they were in 2004. Increasingly too, this newly-created wealth quickly leaves the city for richer areas, with multinationals dominating the Liverpool economy.

Averages conceal a lot of things. For instance, a fall of a few quid in the value of the average wage can not really be used to explain a recent fivefold increase in food bank usage for those at the very bottom. But maybe it can help us see why increasing productivity is not necessarily a good thing in of itself, especially when it has a cost in sweat and tears. And also, perhaps we can imagine how comfortable all our lives could be if working class people owned the fruits of their own labour.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Solidarity Network Set Up in Liverpool

SolNets are new to this country, but have had some success in the US
The following article is due to be published in the new issue of Nerve magazine:

A group of activists in Liverpool are starting to set up a solidarity network. Unless you're already involved, you're probably thinking one of two things now. Either 1) 'that sounds boring, what is the next article?' or 2) 'what the hell is a solidarity network?'

Well, as the name implies, it is an interconnected collection of people intent on offering support to each other when they need it. While the word 'solidarity' is often used in terms of workplace-based struggles, a solidarity network's focus is generally different. In most cases, the case will involve a complainant who has received bad treatment from some kind of authority - be it a big business, the council, the government or even a landlord/housing association.

But the focus is still on the exploitation of working class people by 'the system'. Solidarity networks are not consumer watchdogs. They take on cases because they understand that 'an injury to one is an injury to all', and if a landlord is able to take advantage of one working class person (for instance by charging illegal 'admin fees' as happened in Glasgow), then all landlords feel more confident to take advantage of all working class people. Of course, the reverse is true. If working class people - acting through a solidarity network - are able to defeat the exploitative landlord (as eventually happened in Glasgow), then they feel more confident to take on bigger and bigger exploiters, in all areas of their lives.

This is why SolNets organise collectively. For example, in that Glasgow case, their blog reports:
"The first action took place mid December 2013 with thirty people walking into the letting agency’s premises on a very rainy and stormy morning to support the pair in the handing-over a demand letter asking for the fees back and giving them until the new year to pass them back before further action was taken. The delivery went very well, in good spirit, and attracted people who never had participated in anything like this. It was also fantastic to experience the coming-together of people who had never met the couple – an injury to one is an injury to all. Everyone was pleased with the action – everyone apart from the letting agency staff! The manager was so unhappy about the visitors that he decided to hide in a little room off the main office and let his colleague deal with the situation by herself.

"However, the agency did not return the money within the deadline set in the letter. The Network, together with the two affected people, then planned the next step in the ‘escalation process’. It was decided that the bad news from the agency should be met with bad reviews online, and so a week of action was organised via this blog, Facebook, and personal contacts.

"Success was almost immediate. The “Bad News Gets Bad Reviews” action started on Monday. On Wednesday morning the letting agency manager contacted their ex-tenants and offered the immediate return of their money. The manager stated that the agency had lost business contracts worth over £2000 because of the reviews. GSN called for an end of the campaign as the manager’s assurance was deemed trustworthy. Indeed, the cheques arrived in the post two days later. Victory!"
Liverpool Solidarity Network meets on the second Monday of every month, at the Next To Nowhere social centre, in the basement of 96 Bold Street. It can be found online via Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Asylum For Aderonke March Takes Place in Liverpool

*Content note - outline of violent homophobic oppression*

Around twenty-five supporters of Aderonke Apata rallied in Liverpool, before handing over a petition bearing 24,000 signatures demanding that Home Secretary Theresa May allows the Nigerian-born LGBTQI activist and human rights campaigner to remain in the UK. The Liverpool event was held in conjunction with another which was taking place in London.

Aderonke could face deportation back to Nigeria, where - as an out lesbian and an activist - she fears for her life. Before coming to Britain ten years ago, she was sentenced to death by stoning in her home country, and family members were murdered for her sexual orientation. She believes that forty years' imprisonment is her fate there if she is not killed outright. Her partner Happiness Agboro - who has leave to remain here - bears the scars from a beating inflicted on her by a mob who found out that she was a lesbian. The UK Border Agency claim that she has not done enough to 'prove' that she is gay despite having many friends and family testify for her, including lovers.

Theresa May has recently ordered a review of how the immigration authorities deal with LGBTQI people, after evidence came to light that people were resorting to shooting intimate videos of themselves with partners in an attempt to prove their sexual orientation. However, Aderonke still faces a High Court review of her own case next Tuesday, 15th April.

The Liverpool march assembled at Lime Street train station, and made its way through busy shopping areas to the United Kingdom Border Agency building on Union Street. There we were met by a patronising and frequently deceitful reception from UKBA staff, who refused to take possession of the petition, and refused us entry to the building.

After over an hour of messing about from the staff,  the allegedly impossible happened, and a senior official came downstairs to accept the petition. Happiness was pleased with the result, and we headed off.

More information on Aderonke's case can be found on the Manchester MiSol page, and on Twitter via #AsylumforAderonke. A new interview with Aderonke is available from Novara Media.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Cambridge Mental Health Centre Occupiers Win Closure Delay

Occupiers are still refusing to leave (photo:Save Cambridge CCS)
Earlier this month I reported how service users had been occupying a mental health drop-in centre which was earmarked for closure, as part of Cambridge and Peterborough NHS Trust's austerity drive. I described how:

"The centre has been open two days a week for the last twelve years, catering for adults with mainly borderline personality disorders. It offers a crisis clinic, a support group for service users, friends and family, and advice. The Trust has stated that a new 'care pathway' will provide some care for affected people."

However, the service users believed that "90% of patients in the Lifeworks service are not being referred to the new pathway", so "we are not moving until a representative from the Cambridgeshire Clinical Commissioning Group comes to us and we have some kind of agreement that we are going to be kept together as a community".

On Tuesday, authorities were embarrassed into making this statement:
"In light of concerns that have been raised about the closure of Lifeworks, we have considered the process that we undertook and we acknowledge that we could have done more to engage with service users. We are now planning to have further discussions with all those affected. All options over the future of Lifeworks remain open. These discussions cannot take place however until the people who are occupying Tenison Road have vacated the building. For the time being, Lifeworks will therefore remain open. However, continuing the group as it is currently provided will have an impact on our ability to provide more specific and evidence based services for people with personality disorders across the county."
Of course, this is false, and rests on the lie which underpins the whole of the austerity agenda across Europe, i.e. that 'there is no money'. There is plenty, and it must be taken from the rich.

The service users refused to throw away their bargaining chip by leaving the centre, and as of today, the occupation is still in full swing. A further protest rally for supporters has been scheduled for Saturday, 5th April, and the Save Cambridge's Complex Cases Service Facebook page is regularly updated.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Striking Teachers Rally in Liverpool

Teachers and supporters at St George's Hall. Photo: @atjackson
As a march of five hundred or so striking teachers snaked its way through Liverpool city centre this morning, the woman with the megaphone tried to get four different chants going. First was "2, 4, 6, 8, Mister Gove negotiate" (he argues he already is). Second was "1, 2, 3 and a half, Mister Gove you're having a laugh" (this rhyme only worked in her southern accent). Then "2, 4, 6, 8, we won't work til 68" (this attack on pensions is already being implemented). All these failed. Then finally, in desperation, "Gove out!". This, at least, got some of the teachers shouting. But attending the march in solidarity, I got the impression that the strike itself was the manifestation of the teachers' power, and the march - which attracted a small fraction of the striking workforce - was a stroll in the sunshine.

Across England and Wales, teachers numbering in the hundreds of thousands struck, closing many schools, and affecting lessons in others. On Merseyside, thirty-six schools in Liverpool, fourteen schools in Sefton and twenty in Wirral were expected to shut for the day.

Last year, the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers called three jointly-organised, regional strikes last year. They had proposed a joint national strike for November 2013, but this was then called off. Last month, the NASUWT pulled out of today's strike, claiming a "key development" when Education Secretary Michael Gove agreed to hold meetings with the union.

In truth the changes today's strike was officially over are coming into force, with the assistance of union bureaucracies which are stacked with Socialist Workers Party, Workers' Liberty and Socialist Party members. That's not to say they couldn't be overturned by a big, rank-and-file controlled, teacher-led, student and parent-supported movement - but that's not what the tops in NUT or NASUWT are planning. Teachers will now have to pay more for a pension that they cannot access until they are 68, and pay rises will be directly linked to the annual test/exam results of pupils. It is an open secret that this was more of a 'political strike' - even though these are forbidden under the anti-trade union laws. On the Liverpool march, teachers expressed discontent about changes to the curriculum, the increase in academy schools, and a proposed lengthening of the school day. However, performance related pay is also a particular concern in a city with high levels of social deprivation - which obviously impacts on children's learning.

Liverpool's turnout was around a quarter down from last June, when "confidence was boosted by the sheer numbers of people venting their anger together". Few NUT whistles were blown, few NUT clackers were rattled, and the previously mentioned chants went down like lead balloons. But for the most part, the atmosphere was upbeat and relaxed. People seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The public reaction was mixed. Many passers-by smiled, some stopped and clapped the whole march, while a few coming out of one pub booed. One man started shouting something about UKIP as we approached the end at St George's Plateau, while emphasizing that he didn't support them personally.

By all accounts, there is broad public support for the teachers. One tweet doing the rounds shows a large majority of ITV Daybreak viewers - many of whom will have been inconvenienced by today's strike - backing it. But if a movement of teachers is to be successful, this support would have to be transformed into active solidarity.

Like many public sector workers, teachers' morale is at rock bottom. Today's strike gave a small hint of what an education workers' movement could be like. Can we imagine teachers setting up committees in each school, getting support like this from students, involving parents in actions to protect their children's future? We must start dreaming - and planning - bigger and better.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Introducing Liverpool IWW!

The following is a repost from the Liverpool IWW blog:

We are Liverpool members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union. We promote the idea of ‘one big union‘ – that all working class people should be united as a social class, so that capitalism and wage labour can be abolished. We believe in workers controlling their own struggles against their bosses, until they are finally in a position to ‘sack the boss’ and run things in their own interests.
 
For a while, there have been IWW members (or ‘wobblies’ as we are known for reasons that no-one understands) in Liverpool, walking around thinking that they were the only ones. Then one day at a demo, someone noticed that somebody else was wearing an IWW badge. So the idea of starting a local group was born.

We are aware that not everyone in the local left will welcome the new arrival. Some will be threatened by our emphasis on democratically-determined struggle and combative tactics. So be it. The working class is taking a hammering, and it is way past time to fight back. We can’t allow ourselves to be divided by those who insist on the tried, tested, and failing ways of doing things any longer.

Call yourself an anarchist, communist, socialist or just a trade unionist – it doesn’t matter to us. We will welcome you if you’re looking to organise on a horizontal basis – i.e. no bosses – to defend ourselves against the attacks of the boss class, and even start pushing them back. With our vastly superior numbers, this is very achievable, though the established left never seems to get it right.

But we can. Liverpool and the wider region is crying out for an organisation prepared to give words like ‘solidarity’ and ‘comradeship’ their full meaning, instead of the ritualised, hollow jumbles of letters they have become. We send greetings to our fellow wobblies around the world, but far more than that, to local people working private sector or outsourced public sector, performing ‘unskilled’ labour, doing internships or ‘apprenticeships’ at a ridiculous wage, moving job to job, working two or more zero hour jobs, on workfare, and/or suffering long periods of unemployment. 

Those people – including some of us Liverpool wobblies – have been the least likely to organise at work, even though we may have the least to lose. And we are the people who need to most, who can set an example to the rest of the class.
Our time is now.

Join us on Facebook, Twitter, or in real life.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Boston IWW Need Your Help!

Tasia Edmonds at a rally in Boston, Massachusetts
Only last week I reported how Insomnia Cookies had granted back pay and union recognition concessions to the staff organised via the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), in the town of Cambridge, in Boston, Massachusetts. However, perhaps fearful of the revolt spreading, the company have started to victimise Tasia Edmonds, an IWW member in the next door town of Fenway. The IWW are appealing for help from supporters worldwide, and here is the message from Boston IWW:

Insomnia Cookies has suspended IWW Organizer Tasia Edmonds w/o pay for a month, falsely claiming she was "unprofessional" and neglected to serve her any formal written notice. You're invited to take action against union-busting by the boutique cookie business. Join IWW and our allies as we picket in support of Tasia!

Please also email the company at pfs@serveubrands.com, & call CEO Seth Berkowitz at 877 632-6654. Suggested message: "It is intolerable that IWW Organizer Tasia Edmonds has been suspended without pay for her union activity. Please take immediate action to bring Tasia back to work, and compensate her for any loss in pay. Union-busting is disgusting!"

 

Background: Tasia went public with her union affiliation on December 7. She has been building the union in her store.In February, a new manager began harassing her about her union membership. On March 9, Tasia was told she has been suspended without pay for a month! The union is filing Unfair Labor Practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). An organizing drive began at Insomnia in August after 4 workers spontaneously went on strike. Their demands included $15/hr, health care, and a union, and they were immediately fired. Despite recently promising to give about $4,000 in back pay to the strikers, and post a notice in the store pledging not to retaliate against workers for union activity, Insomnia is apparently still determined to crush the union drive. The union is even more determined to get justice for Tasia and all workers at Insomnia!

The IWW has set up a solidarity fund, to cover Tasia's expenses for her month's suspension.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

ULU Sabs' Statement Regarding Marxism Festival 2014 and the Socialist Workers Party

The following is a repost of the statement issued by four sabbatical officials at the University of London Union:

Trigger Warning: Discussion on rape-apologism

Statement Regarding Marxism Festival 2014 and the Socialist Workers Party

The Marxism Festival is the annual summer school event of the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP). Our rejection of this year's request to book rooms at the University of London Union for Marxism Festival 2014 is due to the fact that the Socialist Workers' Party has, over the last year, proven itself to be a corrupt, rape apologist organisation which prides itself in creating an unsafe space for young women. As elected officers – like many others in the student movement – we see the SWP’s handling of rape allegations against a senior member as a despicable denial of sexism.

Here at ULU we have a clear policy which outlines a zero tolerance stance against sexual harassment and violence. We believe survivors of sexual harassment and aim to offer the best possible support we can. Last year we were angered that the SWP was able to hold Marxism 2013 here but we didn't not have oversight on what type of organisations hired out ULU. ULU is first and foremost a space for student organisation and we aim to put the welfare of students first. We stated that we were going to bring in measures to ensure that democratically elected officers have powers over ULU conference bookings and we did.

At Marxism 2013, many students and mostly women activists, who attended in order to protest against the SWP, were submitted to verbal and physical abuse by members of the party. This only adds to our concerns for the safety of students at ULU when the SWP is present. Furthermore, criticism of the SWP leadership has been constantly silenced and suppressed at every turn and often met with violent behaviour as well as accusations that it is we who are sexist and sectarian.

The Socialist Workers' Party has tried to silence any activist within the party who has tried to fight for justice for the women who have been victims of sexual violence at the the hands of the leadership. Instead of supporting those women, the SWP instead started a victim-blaming campaign and protected the perpetrator. To quote a member of the SWP "we aren't rape apologists unless we believe all women tell the truth, and guess what some women and children lie".

To the SWP, we say that you are beyond help and progressive debate. You are disgrace to the left and we have no wish to help support any growth in your oppressive organisation. The bottom line is that you do not have any right to use this space, you are not welcome here or anywhere near our union and we will not be harassed by your organisation. As students and activists, we stand united against sexism.

Signed

Susuana Antubam (Women's Officer)
Natasha Gorodnitski (Ethics & Environment Officer)
Maham Hashmi (Black Students Officer)
Thomas Ankin (Disabled Students Officer)
Andy Turton (LGBT+ Officer)

We welcome other student officers of activists to sign. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Cambridge Patients Occupy Threatened Mental Health Drop-In Centre

Photo: Save Cambridge's Complex Cases Service
Patients have now been occupying a Cambridge mental health drop-in centre for one week, in a bid to prevent closure of a service they regard as a lifeline. This comes just a few weeks after a similar case in Ireland, and continues to show a possible way forward for service users and workers looking to defend public services.

The Lifeworks building is the community outreach arm of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust’s Complex Cases Service, which is due to shut down at the end of the month due to budget cuts. The Trust claims it needs to 'save' £6.5 million per year. The needs of over a hundred people clearly weigh as insignificant for those drawing up such budgets.

The centre has been open two days a week for the last twelve years, catering for adults with mainly borderline personality disorders. It offers a crisis clinic, a support group for service users, friends and family, and advice. The Trust has stated that a new 'care pathway' will provide some care for affected people.

However, campaigner Alex Jones told BBC Cambridgeshire that:
"Roughly 90% of patients in the Lifeworks service are not being referred to the new pathway so the majority of patients are going to be referred back to GPs with no help whatsoever. We are not moving until a representative from the Cambridgeshire Clinical Commissioning Group comes to us and we have some kind of agreement that we are going to be kept together as a community."
The Trust had initially demanded that the occupiers leave by 8th March, but this deadline was ignored. According to occupier Abi, as of Tuesday evening:
"We are currently still occupying the building in the hope of making some kind of compromise. We have been offered a room once a week for a year which is clearly not adequate so still waiting. People really have put their all in to keep it going and it's been amazing to see everyone pulling together and supporting each other. It would be great to inspire and see other communities doing the same [...] It's important that we stick up for ourselves."
The campaign group have called a demonstration at Cambridge Guildhall, for this coming Saturday afternoon. The group runs a 'Save CCS Lifeworks' Facebook page, and are encouraging supporters to sign their e-petition.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Activists Chain Themselves to Liverpool Town Hall Railings on International Women's Day

The following is a repost from the Angry Women of Liverpool blog:

Activists have just chained themselves to the railings of Liverpool Town Hall to protest the impact of national and local government cuts on women, this International Women's Day. They are borrowing a direct action tactic and dress style from suffragettes, to highlight their opinion that the interests of women are still not represented by those in elected office, and call for women to organise resistance against cuts which disproportionately affect them.

Even before the coalition government began imposing austerity measures, women were on average far more financially insecure than men. Since 2010, cuts have disproportionately affected women, widening the gender gap, and pushing many women into extremely precarious situations. Women are facing a triple whammy.

Nationally:
  1. women make up around two-thirds of the public sector workforce, so cuts to this sector are hitting them harder.
  2. caps and cuts to benefits and tax credits such as housing benefit and carer's allowance are hitting women disproportionately hard – around three-quarters of the money being cut is coming from women’s pockets.
  3. rolling back public services also affects women disproportionately as they tend to use things like childcare and social care services more frequently and more intensively than men. (Fawcett Society, 2013)
Locally, Mayor Joe Anderson and the Labour council have imposed enormous cuts to services primarily accessed by women, including the passing just this week of a £42 million cut in adult social care - a sector which has an 82% female work force in this country.

A 2013 study published by John Moores University, Women at the Cutting Edge, found that the council's measures are not only "negatively impacting on women in the most vulnerable social groups", but they are also "impacting on women workers in terms of worsening job security and mental wellbeing. There is a cumulative impact in terms of cuts to a range of services that women may rely on to meet their basic needs for safety, security and wellbeing."

Before he became mayor, Joe Anderson wore a pair of red stilettos to show his opposition to violence against women, yet the cuts he is making are exacerbating this problem. Furthermore, the cuts to jobs predominantly staffed by and used by women make a mockery of the council's supposed commitment to equal opportunities.

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