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.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Liverpool Council Hits Vulnerable With Enormous Cuts Budget

Last night, Liverpool's Labour council approved Mayor Joe Anderson's budget for the next three years. Faced with a shortfall in funding from the Conservative/Lib Dem national coalition, Labour are dumping the bill on the city's working class residents, with one million pound per week to be gouged from a population of 465,000. While there would inevitably be many job losses resulting from Anderson's plans, as ever, the most vulnerable are faced with the most pain.

In 2013, Anderson's previous round of cuts brought maybe three hundred protesters to the town hall, and a ferocious demonstration led to an arrest and confrontations with the police. This time, there were less people, but the mood seemed more focused and determined, rather than being an expression of pure rage. The familiar faces of the left made up a smaller percentage of the crowd, with many people being brought their by their own jobs or services being under threat.

While the council tax will rise by 1.99% next year - just below the 2% threshold which would trigger a referendum - the people of Liverpool will receive far less in terms of vital services. 'Mandatory' services - which all councils are legally obliged to provide - will still be cut by 25%. 'Discretionary' services - hardly luxurious extras - will be slashed by half.

So far, the list of 'savings' released by the council adds up to 'only' £62.5 million - meaning nearly £100 million is still to be accounted for. There was no mention of this missing £100 million in council minutes for last night's vote. Even so, what has been published would cause utter devastation. Anderson's schemes provide for:
  • £42m cut from Adult Social Care budget over the next three years; to significantly cut the number of day centres.
  • £16m cut from Children’s Services; significantly cutting the number of council Children's Centres.
  • Scrapping of 'lollipop' school crossing patrol officers on busy main roads near schools.
  • £500,000 cut from library services each year (on top of £1m agreed cut last year) – significantly cutting libraries by 25%.
  • £4m cut from Lifestyle Centres, which would see Park Road and Everton Park centres close, beginning with swimming pools closing. 
If these are the media-friendly headline-grabbers, we can only imagine what else lies ahead.

A campaigner against the closure of Park Road leisure centre in Toxteth spoke at the rally, and she was warmly received by the crowd. The Park Road protest group has gained media coverage in the Liverpool Echo, and a petition has got nearly three thousand signatures. However, staff and service users will have to adopt other tactics if they hope to keep it open. Recently, leisure centre users in Belfast established committees "free of politicians" to organise resistance to closures, and achieved a six week stay of execution as a starting point.

Users of children's centres were also in attendance at the demo, and were talking about how the council's decision is "just the beginning" for their fight too. It will have to be, if closures are to be avoided.

A speaker from Old Swan Against The Cuts described how their group was founded by a disabled women who sat outside the library, and it now holds regular meetings, advice surgeries, and intends to stand a candidate in the local elections on a "class struggle basis".

If Joe Anderson gets his way, by the time he leaves office, public services in Liverpool will be a shadow of what they were when he became council leader. In fact, he has declared that the city faces "bankruptcy" within a few years, but refuses to lead a fight against this, because this would risk his privileged position in society, with a £66,000 salary and an OBE. The task of beating the cuts therefore falls with far less to lose.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Boston IWW: Workers at Insomnia Cookies Promised Back Pay & an End to Retaliation

Last October I reported how four heavily exploited night shift workers at a Boston, Massachusetts cookie store had been fired for a wildcat strike, and for their activity as members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The Boston IWW have kept up significant pressure since then (with one picket violently attacked by police) and have won backpay for the sacked workers plus back pay plus some recognition of the right to collectively organise. The following is a repost from the Boston IWW Facebook page:

Four workers at Insomnia Cookies' Cambridge store went on strike on August 19, protesting poverty pay and wretched working conditions, and demanding $15/hr, health benefits and a union at their workplace. The company illegally fired all four. For the next six months strikers, IWW members, allies, and student organizations at both Harvard and Boston University held pickets, marches, rallies, forums, phone blitzes, and organized boycotts, while workers continued organizing at both the Cambridge and Boston locations. The union also pursued legal charges through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

On March 3, a company representative signed an agreement promising almost $4,000 in back pay to the four strikers (two of whom had given notice before going on strike; and all of whom had moved on to more rewarding jobs or pursuits). The company also agreed to post a notice in the Cambridge store, promising not to fire or otherwise retaliate against workers for taking collective action, including joining the union and going on strike. The company was also made to revise a confidentiality agreement that improperly restricted workers' rights to discuss their conditions of employment with one another and third parties (including union organizers and the media). All references to the terminations have been removed from strikers' personnel files.

“Since the first utterance of the word 'strike' that late August night, it has been an uphill battle for all of us,” says striker Chris Helali. “The Industrial Workers of the World answered the call when no other mainstream union was interested in organizing a small cookie store in Harvard Square. We picketed, we chanted, we sang. I thank my fellow workers, the IWW and all of our supporters for their continued work and solidarity through this campaign. I am proud to be a Wobbly (IWW member)!”

Jonathan Peña says, “I remember just feeling real conservative that August night, but something told me to stand up for what I believe in. I had nothing to lose but I had much to gain. Being apart of the IWW means something to me. I will never forget the four amigos, Niko, Chris, Luke, and [me]. We actually made a difference. Being a Wobbly can change your life! I just want to really thank everyone for their solidarity and commitment to crumbling down on this burnt Cookie.”

The IWW vows to continue organizing efforts at Insomnia Cookies. Helali says, “I am extremely pleased with the settlement, however, it does not end here. This is only the beginning. The IWW along with our supporters will continue to struggle until every Insomnia Cookies worker is treated with respect and given their full due for their labor. There is true power in a union; when workers come together and make their demands unified voices and actions.”

More details of the strike and quotes from the union can be obtained at: http://iwwboston.org/tag/insomnia-cookies/

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