Sunday, August 10, 2014

Noisy Pro-Palestine 'Day of Rage' Shakes Liverpool's Busiest Streets

Photo: Palatino Linotype
With Liverpool Friends of Palestine taking part in the Stop the War Coalition's London demonstration, Liverpool Rise For Palestine continued to build on their excellent local momentum yesterday. Around one hundred and fifty people toured Israel-supporting shops, and loudly held them accountable for their supporting role in the ongoing Gaza slaughter, as part of the global Day of Rage for Gaza.

As the Rise For Palestine Facebook page reported:

"We had the energy and life that we need to have to fight for justice and to play our part to ensure the BDS movement continues to grow in this city (and country). We marched and chanted outside 2 different Tescos, Marks and Spencer, H&M, occupied Schuh for a short while, Starbucks, Sainsbury's and Barclays who already had police outside because we had occupied it the previous week. We had people join our demonstration after seeing or hearing us in the street."

With plans already being drawn up for next weekend's activities, this upstart group looks set to continue putting down roots in the Toxteth area in particular, and the city generally.

Click here for many more photos of the protest.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Liverpool Pro-Palestine Demonstration Occupies Barclays Bank

Trade at M&S was severely disrupted twice
Today Liverpool saw its sixth major demonstration in support of Palestinians since Israel's genocidal 'Operation Protective Edge' began three and a half weeks ago. Hundreds rallied outside BBC Radio Merseyside, before a sizeable splinter group went off around town, targeting Israel-supporting corporations, including Barclays, which they briefly occupied.

The new Liverpool Rise For Palestine group - which is primarily growing out of the multi-ethnic Toxteth area of the city - met up at the bombed-out St Luke's church, where children had their faces painted with fake blood, and placards were exchanged. They marched down Bold Street and onto Hanover Street, where the local BBC studios spread pro-Israel distortions. There, the Rise For Palestine group met up with the demo called by Liverpool Friends of Palestine. Over the course of an hour and a half, the crowd of around two hundred listened to speeches in the pouring rain.

Eventually, Liverpool Rise For Palestine decided to spread their anti-Israel, pro-BDS message around the main shopping areas. The first stop was Schuh, which stocks Caterpillar footwear, and then it was on to Marks & Spencer. Since the store occupation of 24th July, M&S have been quick to lock all but one entrance at the first sight of a Palestinian flag, and this was no exception. The Securitas guard who assaulted an eleven year old girl ten days ago was at the door, and she courageously confronted him over the megaphone, calling on him to come out and apologise. Needless to say, he wasn't brave enough to do this, and retreated into the store.

The group then moved on to Barclays on Lord Street. This space was occupied for around five minutes, in protest against the bank's profitable links with the murderous Zionist regime. Shouts of 'shame' rang out against the company, as a speaker detailed how they make a killing from the deaths of Palestinians.

From this point on, the roaming protest had police company (presumably summoned by Barclays security staff). This "facilitation" continued throughout a large part of the Liverpool One shopping complex, and back out onto Lord Street. The final stop was another go at M&S.

Until there's a lasting ceasefire, large protests will no doubt continue in Liverpool. But Rise For Palestine seems like it is putting down roots in a community, which could survive until Palestine is free "from the river to the sea".

Friday, July 25, 2014

Liverpool Demonstration Calls for Solidarity with Palestinians

Demonstrators making their way to Marks & Spencer (photo: Palatino Linotype)
A noisy and spirited group of around one hundred and fifty demonstrators gathered in Liverpool city centre last night, to express solidarity with Gazans facing Israel's military onslaught (more photos here). This was the fourth anti-Israel/pro-Palestine demo in the city in two weeks, with another planned for this Saturday.

The protest began at 6pm outside BBC Radio Merseyside's studios. This location was chosen due to the Corporation's blatant pro-Israel stance, which echoes that of British imperialism. A few speakers made speeches over a megaphone, and many chants were taken up, often led by the children in attendance. The presence of so many young people was all the poignant given the huge amount of children slaughtered by the Israel regime, particularly during the current offensive. One woman tried to read out the names and ages of those taken over the last couple of weeks, but could only get so far as she trembled with rage and fought back tears.

This Securitas employee assaulted a child, amongst others
The demonstration then went on the move into the main shopping streets, stopping outside Schuh and TK Maxx, both of which were called out for stocking items manufactured by Caterpillar - a corporation strongly linked to the Israeli occupation. Pro-BDS chants filled the air, before the crowd moved on to Marks and Spencer, another business with deep and historic ties to Zionism.

Here, the protest surged en masse into the store itself, with shouts of 'While you're shopping, bombs are dropping' amongst many others. The security guard ludicrously attempted to hold back the human tide entering the premises, and when he failed to do so, began lashing out wildly at first large men, and then anyone, including one eleven year old child, whose shoulder was injured.

After a few minutes, the crowd flowed out as quickly as it had come in, and after a moment of gathering ourselves, we moved on, going almost full circle back to the Friends' Meeting House, where another pro-Palestine meeting was due to take place. As the noise bounced off the surrounding buildings, some passers-by briefly joined the march with fists raised, clearly delighted to see that such a demo was happening.

With talk of a Third Intifada beginning in Palestine overnight, and no let-up in Israel's genocidal campaign, many protesters are set to return to town tomorrow afternoon.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

A Needle Walks Into A Hay Stack

Judith Hopf's underwhelming Flock of Sheep
Curated by Mai Abu ElDahab and Anthony Huberman
Old Trade Union, Community and Resource Centre, Hardman Street (5th July - 26th October 2014)

A Needle Walks Into a Hay Stack is the flagship show of this year's Liverpool Biennial. The publicity promises it is "about effecting larger questions facing contemporary life and art, from an intimate and tangible scale that’s within everyday reach", yet for the most part it falls far, far short of such a worthy claim. With a few notable exceptions, what's on display is the worst kind of ivory tower nonsense.

The sheer amount of art in this exhibition - situated as it is in a vast, sprawling building - makes the task of finding something worth viewing very much like the task of finding an elusive needle in the proverbial pile of animal fodder. Expect this to take at least two hours. There is far too much for anyone to reasonably describe, and to be honest, a very small proportion is worth the effort.

If I knew this stuff was produced by budding artists in their early teens, it would be one thing. It would show decent technical potential in many cases, though let down by a distinct lack of imagination. Even then, many of the pieces would look half-arsed, like a rushed piece of homework. But it wasn't produced by early teens. It was produced by adults who somehow manage to get taken seriously when they call themselves artists. To put it mildly, this exhibition seems unlikely to be a major word-of-mouth success.

It is no coincidence that the most impressive works on display were the most socially engaged. They were the pieces which genuinely did attempt to pose "larger questions facing contemporary life and art, from an intimate and tangible scale that’s within everyday reach". I particularly enjoyed Peter Wächtler's animated rat. We only saw the creature crawling out of bed each morning, and back into its bed at night. At the end of every day, it trips on a rug, causing a bowling ball to fall off a table and clunk it on the head. As this happens, Wächtler's narration intones many melancholy episodes from his life, punctuated by outbursts of anger at the crimes of the rich and powerful. Of course, Wächtler is the rat, and this is an insight into his own, very solitary, day-to-day struggles.

In very different way, Rana Hamadeh takes on a subject close to her heart - the ongoing Syrian civil war, and its links to Shia Muslim cultural heritage. This cacophonous work is deeply unsettling, but this is surely deliberate, as Hamadeh's play - Can You Pull in an Actor With a Fishhook or Tie Down His Tongue With a Rope? - is enacted over extremely loud speakers. The stage directions are also narrated, giving the whole thing an extremely artificial and mechanical feel. This reinforces her claim that religion is a "dramaturgical framework that underlies the entire politics of oppression" in the region.

A detail from Mick Jones' mural celebrating the 1981 People's March For Jobs
And for those who know the building - and even those who don't - Mick Jones' mural dedicated to the 1981 People's March For Jobs still dominates, from its lofty position in the inner dome. I can do no better than quote Angie Sammons of Liverpool Confidential, who wrote:
"Devon-born Jones's work still has all the resonance of 10,000 marching feet. The word resistance is painted nowhere, yet the mural fiercely punches it out. How fitting, then, that it has resolutely defied 28 years of neglect, its colours still far more vivid than New Labour's could ever be."
The same goes for the whole space. In its current dilapidated state, it is a living representation of the devastation Thatcher wrought on the working class of the city, and how trade unionism itself has decayed in the decades since then. Yet if new approaches were taken, there is so much potential here.

Friday, July 04, 2014

The Shameful Truth About Liverpool's FACT

FACT's carefully-cultivated 'lefty' image masks a brutal internal hierarchy
This article was written for Liverpool's 'Nerve' magazine.

When the Liverpool Echo revealed that the FACT - the heart of the city's 'Ropewalks' cultural quarter - had axed paid staff and replaced them with volunteers, it provoked a wave of revulsion at the charity's decidedly corporate-style practices. Social networking accounts associated with FACT were bombarded with critical comments, and three protests have even been held outside. But the story of FACT's mistreatment of workers goes far deeper than that. Since opening eleven years ago, it has gone from being an organisation which paid all workers, to one which is now entirely dependent on exploiting the desperation of a revolving door army of volunteers, whose free labour helps maintain the living standards of the paid staff almost entirely based on the top floor.

The eleven redundancies were made at a series of meetings with executive director Iona Horsburgh. Called in one by one, the front of house staff were presented with a two page document headed "Proposed model" - clearly intended for internal discussion amongst the higher ups. But at this stage it was not a proposal; it had been decided. It was non-negotiable. In the euphemistic words of the document: "The job title of Gallery Assistants would be discontinued".

The "proposed model" went on to specify that the volunteers will be recruited "on a show-by-show basis", meaning they will stay for only three months for what is described as "training and mentorship". On top of this, newly redundant workers were invited to apply for the 'events team'. According to an insider, FACT 'events' typically mean a few hours' pay at £7 an hour for a few individuals, maybe once a month. There is far from a guarantee that former paid staff will get preferential treatment, but likely there was an intention that this would soften the parting blow. It should also be noted that at least two of the volunteers quit as soon as they discovered they were replacing paid staff. Imitating the best traditions of strike-breaking employers, FACT had failed to inform them that they were being used to attack working conditions.

Following the Echo article, Nerve published a statement, announcing that "unless FACT reconsider their position with regards to these changes in working conditions, we can no longer work with them". FACT's press officer Jen Chapman then emailed Nerve to tell us that our statement was "fundamentally coming from the wrong place", but when pressed, only 'corrected' it by saying that "Our gallery assistants have always been on zero hours contracts and this is not new" (Nerve had not claimed otherwise).

After two weeks of being pressed by Nerve and other concerned parties, FACT finally released a promised "FACT Employment Factsheet" (pun presumably intended). But far from the unvarnished truth, the release merely contains waffle, and attempts to obscure the truth. Below much talk about being "committed to providing life-enhancing and enriching cultural experiences to a broad spectrum of people", it gets down to some figures. Yet there is distortion even here.

First, these numbers details the "previous FoH [front of house] structure", which FACT claim included 9 casual staff, 3 part time staff, 1 full time staff, and 1 volunteer". According to our source, the 9 casual staff were indeed made redundant, with those who had served less than two years receiving no payment. The 3 "part time staff" were under the impression that they were full time, and the listed full time staff member took voluntary redundancy.

Following this section, the "factsheet" goes on to describe the "current FoH structure". The first thing to be noticed is the drastically increased number of "volunteers" - an extra 70! There are 3 listed as "full time", but this includes "2 previously part-time members of staff". Considering those staff believed they were full time anyway, this does not account for many 'extra' full time hours. Two of these paid full time staff are now 'mediators' - essentially the immediate bosses of the volunteers.

The biggest deception comes when it refers to "5 casual staff who are continuing to work casual hours at FACT". Our insider reveals that these five are those signed up to the special events list, getting a few quid here and there. Whereas previously they were directly employed by FACT, they are now officially 'self-employed', and even less able to take care of their living costs than they were before. It goes on to list that "2 casual staff have been redeployed into other paid roles", glossing over the reality that one of these was only employed in this post til the end of April. Finally, it admits that "2 previous members of casual staff have chosen not to take any more hours", but even this puts the blame on the redundant staff, rather than the people upstairs who have "chosen" to offer far fewer paid hours, so that they can save money. At the time of this article, one more formerly employed worker had decided to stop working the events due to travel and lunch expenses making it not worth their time and effort. Furthermore, it was interfering with their Jobseeker's Allowance claim.

To summarise then, FACT's "test model" - as they described it in the Echo article - is now vastly more reliant on unpaid labour. There are currently 125 people working in the building, and 76 of them are not being paid for it - 60% of the total. For those who are being paid, 19 are working less than full time hours, and so will be unlikely to make ends meet on their FACT money alone. Those being paid are now overwhelmingly based on the top floor. Those on the bottom floor have little contact with these individuals, and even less idea what they actually get up to. One worker who had been at FACT declared it a "mystery". Clearly, at least some of these paid workers must be making decisions about firing paid workers and replacing them with 'volunteers' whose desperation for work experience can be exploited for 100% of the value of their labour.

I asked FACT's listed funders for a comment on the restructuring. All except two were unavailable for comment. This includes Nick Small, the Labour council's cabinet member for employment, who had spoken out against zero hour contracts in the Echo. Julian Pye of the British Council Film Team simply responded with a terse "Sorry, no we don't" [want to comment].

However, Allison Millar of Arts Council England struck a more concerned tone in her measured reply:  
"One of the goals within our mission of great art and culture for everyone is to ensure the leadership and workforce in the arts, museums and libraries are diverse and appropriately skilled. This is through a range of opportunities including the Creative Employment Programme which supports new apprenticeships, pre-apprenticeships and paid internships across the sector with over 1,500 created so far. We recognise that volunteering - and the opportunities that come with it - is an important part [emphasis added] of the arts and cultural ecology and we are in discussions with FACT about their particular situation and new volunteering scheme."
Clearly, when FACT relies on 60% of its workforce turning up unpaid every day in order to open, volunteering is far more than "an important part" of the FACT's "ecology". Volunteering is now as important to FACT as oxygen is to a human body - it simply could not function without it. 

But that statement was at the end of May. This week, the Arts Council announced that they would give FACT £3 million over three years, which is roughly equivalent to what they received in the previous spending round. This coincided with the building's facade getting a makeover. The "discussions" about the new volunteering scheme now appear to be over, and this intense exploitation has the Arts Council's seal of approval.

It is hard to see this charity as being anything more than just another business. It is not 'for profit', in the sense that it doesn't buy and sell commodities. Its only income is drawn from bodies such as the Arts Council, the local council, and other funders. But the power lies with those on the top floor, who run the institution in their own interests, and line their own pockets.

In this society, there is a problem with a certain lack of resources. But it isn't that there's not enough to go around, it's that it's in the wrong hands - those of the richest, who are parasitical on the rest of us. Their resources should be confiscated, and used for the benefit of all. Such a huge change would have to be organised on a large scale. But until that glorious day, what can be done in the here and now? 

Since publishing our first statement on this, Nerve have been asked 'What is the alternative?' Well, as a co-operative which started at about the same time that FACT opened, we are in a good position to answer. We've never had enough funding to run things as we'd like, but we've got by. None of us are paid these days, but that was a collective decision, and not one imposed by some remote, well-off boss. We are true volunteers - we give our time because we believe in what we are achieving together. Decisions about what happens in any given workplace should be democratically decided by all those who work there.

Public shame has not forced a rethink, so those making pretty big money at FACT clearly intend to preserve their place in the sun on the top deck. As ever and everywhere, the potential for real change comes from those toiling below.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Why I'm Standing for Class War

I hate general election campaigns. And yet, I've decided to stand in one, as the Class War candidate for Liverpool Riverside. There are several reasons for this:
  1. Otherwise 2015 will be the worst election ever: You think 2010 was bad? Unless you're filthy rich, all the parties now in Parliament will be saying that your life needs to be made much, much worse. And why? Because the filthy rich aren't filthy rich enough! The only thing they will argue about is which of them will be best at making you suffer.
  2. UKIP: The rich know how much you hate the blues, yellows and 'reds' making your life worse, so they'll be using their media to boost UKIP as an 'alternative'. UKIP are run by a bunch of rich scum who'll try to convince you that some of the most shat-on people are to blame for the problems in your life. They're not. Our enemy is the rich. The rich. We've got to get rid of the rich. I'm gonna say that loud and proud.
  3. Louise Ellman: I once accidentally bumped into current Riverside MP Louise Ellman at Central station. She sort of fell, and I caught her like I would anyone. But then I saw it was her and felt gross. She's a big supporter of the Liverpool Labour lot closing down libraries, community centres and homeless shelters, with the added nasty extra of being really into the Israeli government killing Palestinians.
  4. Representing working class of Liverpool Riverside: Like most of the city, there's a lot of disgusting poverty in Riverside, and all the parties who stood here in 2010 would all make that worse. But working class people fight back here and there, and will need to do that more and more in the times to come. So for the five weeks of the campaign I'll be a 'representative' of those fights, and do my bit to make sure their struggles become national news.
  5. Promoting communism: Yes, I believe that communism is the way forward for the working class of Liverpool, this country, and the world. It's the only alternative to the rich getting richer, us getting poorer, and the planet getting wrecked. You can't get it through parliament because the working class have to make it for themselves. But I'll promote it on the campaign trail.
  6. Fun: I think it will be fun.
  7. Faces: I can't wait to see their faces.
  8. Hands: I won't dirty mine by shaking theirs at the count.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Dublin Bakery Workers Occupy Factory Over Unpaid Wages

"Every time I asked for my wage, he gave an excuse, 3 days ago they started to take the equipment away."

Mainly migrant workers at a Dublin bakery went into occupation yesterday, after their boss closed the factory and started removing equipment. Here is their statement, written before the occupation began:
We the workers have been picketing the Paris Bakery & Pastry Ltd on Moore St, Dublin since Tuesday 20th, 2014. This is in response to our employers Mr Yannick Forel and Ms Ruth Saville failure to pay us wages owed of over €55,000.

We the workers were locked out, an old tactic used by unscrupulous employers. We feel disappointed, angry, cheated, frustrated, and betrayed. We have had no response from these employers and we will now stage a sit in until we get back our stolen wages.

Beatrice Douat said “we are devastated by the action of our employers who have deceived, exploited and abused us. These employers are breaking the law by stealing our wages and the Government should step in and not allow this injustice to happen to workers”.

We the staff of Paris Bakery are waiters, managers, bakers, chefs and kitchen porters. We have worked hard to keep our jobs in what has been a very difficult working environment. As everybody knows jobs are hard to come by in Ireland and to keep. Our boss was hard to please; we were required to work in poor conditions, with no health and safety training, no safety shoes in the bakery and kitchen and no contracts of employment. Some workers were paid as little as €5.00 per hour. The Chefs were paid a flat rate but worked up to 70 hours per week. No staff were paid overtime, there was no holiday pay and no breaks. Due to these conditions there was a high turn high turnover in the bakery and restaurant.

Anissa Hosany, a mother of two said, “we are all worried about our money, our futures; some of us can’t pay the rent and are worried about supporting our children at this time. One of our colleagues has become homeless as a result of this. We are also worried about finding employment without references”.

We the workers want to refute the employer’s claim that the government and the workers are at fault for the failure of his business. The employers have known that this building was to close for a long time. We assert that it is poor business management and planning that has created this situation.
We are all worried about our money, our futures; some of us can’t pay the rent and are worried about supporting our children at this time. One of our colleagues has become homeless as a result of this.

The Paris Bakery workers are calling on Mr Yannick Forel and Ms Ruth Saville of Paris Bakery & Pastry Ltd to pay us our outstanding wages immediately. 

We also call on the following consumers of the Paris Bakery – Demonware, Terra Madra, the Science Galley, Cinnamon, The Westerbury Hotel, La Masion, Hot Stove, Lilliput, FX Buckey, Food Game, Honest to God, Rygby’s, Artiseins, Bakery, Fontana Café, Organge Tree Bakery - not to accept goods until We are paid our wages.

The general secretary of the Mandate trade union is John Douglas is also occupying the building along with the employees. Douglas says that the situation is similar to that which occurred before in the case of workers at Vita Cortex, La Senza, HMV and others where workers were forced to take “extraordinary actions to receive unpaid entitlements”.
You can follow the occupation on the Paris Bakery’ s employees fighting for their wages Facebook page, and on Twitter via #parisbakery. Workers Solidarity Movement are also providing lots of updates on their Facebook. Finally, the Paris Bakery occupiers are calling on their supporters to sign a petition demanding that they are paid their owed wages.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Vanity of Small Differences

Grayson Perry
Walker Art Gallery (17th May - 10th August 2014)

This summer, Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery is hosting Grayson Perry's 'The Vanity of Small Differences' - a series of tapestries based on a Channel 4 documentary series, where the artist studied the 'taste tribes' of Britain. But it goes far beyond a look at who has iPads and who has country estates. Consciously or not, every scene is a snapshot of a 'United Kingdom' riven by division and barely concealed conflict.

In the television programme 'All in the Best Possible Taste', Perry examined the relationship between the social class that people find themselves a part of, and what they consume. While this had some sociological interest, it nevertheless played into the post-Cold War idea that class conflict is dead, even at a time when the coalition government was setting to work at devastating the poor and further gilding the wealth of the rich.

Though Perry drew on those sessions for his inspiration for this computer-designed and weaved collection, it took him far beyond the TV version's limited scope. Rather than see these 'tribes' as unrelated, each tapestry shows exactly how they are formed, and how they are forcibly separated. Perry achieves this by telling the story of Tim Rakewell as he journeys from life in post-industrial Sunderland to a multi-millionaire's retreat in the countryside, via a successful career in digital technology. But the dream dies in a spectacular car crash, as onlookers tweet about the demise of a their hero (online reaction to the death of Steve Jobs comes to mind).

All the tapestries are fantastic, but it is perhaps 'The Upper Class At Bay' (above) which makes the most profound impact. Using a hunting metaphor, Perry shows that 21st century entrepreneurs have become the new aristocracy, replacing the big landowners and even the old industrial capitalists in their estates. But at the edges, so far unnoticed by the rich, a protest is gathering, as the Occupy movement makes an appearance. One placard urges Tim to pay his taxes, while another proclaims 'No war but class war'. It is significant that the only social mobility Perry can envision in today's Britain must come so blatantly at the expense of others.

There is something very enjoyable about seeing such modern scenes in tapestry form, when tapestry is normally seen as something so dusty and old. There's an urgency in the tale of Tim (and all the people he leaves behind), which almost seems to burst out from the stitching. The immediacy of the social crisis depicted is combined with the instantaneous nature of the technology on show within the images, and indeed the technology used to make them (the weaving of each piece only took a few hours). This all seems so out of place amidst the Victorian architecture of the Walker, but that only serves to make it all the more compelling. As I was leaving, it struck me how rare it is to see people of different social classes in the same artwork, and the contrasts of modernity and antiquity only add to this effect.

Grayson himself has his own internal class conflicts. He came from a poor background, has slammed the coalition's cuts, and talks of the influence that socialist artists had on him, but in January he curtseyed before Prince Charles when collecting a CBE. It's difficult to reconcile social criticism with apparent acceptance of royalty, but somehow he does it. As the protesting figures move closer to the centre of the picture, the time is coming when Perry will have to make a choice.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Yorkshire Direct Action Shows There IS Such A Thing As A Free Ride!

There is no alternative say bankers and politicians; these activists disagree!
"So after being told there was no alternative to the travel cuts..... Great news on the climbdown by local councils! We've won so much, we can fight for the complete reinstatement of concessionary travel! Congratulations to everyone who's taken part and helped bring this victory!" - Statement on the 'Fight travel cuts in south Yorkshire' Facebook group

A group of pensioner and disabled bus and train users have overturned a cut to fare concessions by the South Yorkshire Integrated Transport Authority. By using direct action tactics on their self-proclaimed 'freedom rides', they have embarrassed the powers that be into backtracking, and struck a small but significant blow against the 'there is no alternative' austerity mantra.

Disabled and pension age Barnsley people have had rail and bus concessions throughout South and West Yorkshire since 1985. This costs the four South Yorkshire local authorities £234,000 per year, but previously all had chipped in, no doubt largely because it was believed that for every £1 spent on concessionary travel £1.50 was generated in the local economy in consumer and leisure spending.

However, the local authority decided at the beginning of March that even this stimulus was not affordable in this age of austerity. That meeting was lobbied by 150 demonstrators, after a campaign group had been established by a meeting of three hundred at Barnsley Central Library. Legal protest methods had failed.

Then came the weekly 'freedom rides'. Starting in April, they saw Barnsley activists simply catching the train to the Meadowhall shopping centre to rally with their Sheffield comrades. Of course, they did not pay to do so.

On 28th April, the direct action was disrupted by the police. In the words of Open Democracy's reporter:
"The Barnsley Freedom Riders had planned to board a train to the Meadowhall shopping centre for the now regular Monday rally with Sheffield Freedom Riders. The police hold their ground and the train comes and goes. Dave Gibson, retired college lecturer and chair of the Barnsley Trades Council, calls for a vote and a decision is taken to stay and demand to get on the next train. News comes through that the Sheffield Freedom Riders had gathered at Meadowhall and twenty five protestors are coming to join Barnsley. A second train comes and the police stand firm.
"We all begin to realise that the Sheffield supporters will arrive on the opposite platform. The [British Transport] police had not been told to block the other platform entrance so we all headed over the station bridge and simply walked on and waited for the train, the police and rail officials looking on from the other side of the tracks. The Sheffield train arrives and the Barnsley Freedom Riders board, with their placards and chants, to join the Sheffield group on the train. We cheer and applaud them. The freedom ride is a bit shorter than usual – just up the line to Penistone, but we are all on the train and refusing to pay."

The following week's scene was described by the Sheffield Star:
"Elderly and disabled campaigners fighting travel cuts in South Yorkshire had their latest ‘freedom ride’ protest blocked today. Defiant residents were stopped from getting on trains and riding without paying to Meadowhall by British Transport Police and rail staff at Barnsley station. But they rallied outside the entrance, which was blocked by staff, to chant, wave placards and sing in the lively protest demonstration." 
But just days later, the Star reported that:
"Coun Sir Steve Houghton, leader of Barnsley Council, confirmed that plans to reinstate all free travel for disabled people and offer half price train travel to pensioners from 9.30am would be put to a transport chiefs’ meeting on May 19." 
He went on to farcically state that: "I do want to stress this is not a result of people who have been breaking the law."

The activists are planning a demonstration in Barnsley tomorrow, and a lobby of the Monday meeting.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

George Garrett Archive

Liverpool Central Library (3rd - 31st May 2014)

Going to the newly refurbished Liverpool Central Library is a weird experience. With its shiny up-to-the-minute feel, it serves as a hint of what public services could be like, if only a decent amount of resources were dedicated to them. On the other hand, it also doubles as an excuse for Liverpool council to point to as they devastate public services - including public libraries - and the lives of the people who rely on them.

As the Labour councillors do the Tories' dirty work for them, it is even stranger to see the council's logo attached to a display celebrating the work of one George Garrett, a man who stood for everything that these intensely mediocre butchers, bloodsuckers and bootlickers despise. Doubtless Mayor Anderson has nightmares about working class people standing up for themselves at work and in politics, and producing their own culture, reflecting their own lives.

It is of course an extremely difficult task to represent a life as large and full as Garrett's in a few smallish glass show cases (I won't even try in this article). Born in Seacombe in 1896, his family moved to Dingle at the turn of the century, and he went on to become a docker, a sailor, a union organiser, a poet, a songwriter, a playwright, and an actor, plus a father to five sons. As well as Merseyside, he lived in New York and Argentina at various times.

Amidst all the scripts, magazines and rejection letters, it can't be said that the display gives much of a flavour of Garrett's political and labour organising. For instance, his Byrom Street address is listed as home of "the Wobblies" as well as the Liverpool branch of the Communist Party in the early 1920s. For all that most library visitors are likely to know, the Wobblies might be a jelly manufacturer (in fact it is a nickname of the Industrial Workers of the World union), but no explanation is provided.

This is no small point. It isn't as if Garrett's political work and his cultural output were two separate worlds to him; everything he did was searingly political. He composed songs for sailors which were clearly influenced by the work of another wobbly: Joe Hill. His writing took the lives and struggles of working class people as their starting point. In later life, he helped set up the Left Theatre (now the Unity Theatre), to help bring the conflict between the Spanish revolution and the fascism of Franco to life for the people of Liverpool. In short, Garrett's art can only be understood in the context of his politics.

Despite all that, this exhibition (and accompanying website) are a tantalising glimpse of a fascinating man, and I hope that the archive is a work in progress which can be improved upon. The project is clearly a labour of love for the volunteers, and they deserve a lot of credit for putting this material in the public domain.

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