Thursday, December 27, 2007

2007 in Music ('If you disagree, you're wrong)

My top ten albums of the year:

10. Hard-FiOnce Upon A Time In The West
‘A global terror they say/We are at war/But I ain't got time for that cos/These bills keep dropping through my door’

Standout tracks: Suburban Knights, Help Me Please, We Need Love

They’re not exactly cool in any circles. They’ve been condemned as being ‘boring’ and ‘chavs with guitars’. But hell, I like them, so haters can fuck off! Anyway, they’ve had two number one albums in the UK, so I’m not alone here. Their debut, Stars Of CCTV, was excellent in parts, but this is a definite progression, and there isn’t a track on here that is anything less than gripping. They are so far superior to any of the other current NME bands, and the word ‘indie’ doesn’t even begin to describe their music, which owes so much to so many different genres, like soul, ska and post-punk. Richard Archer’s lyrics have more than a touch of Joe Strummer about them, not so much in an angry way, but more in a poet for the common person kind of way. There’s nothing particularly clever, but he says what he sees and what he feels. It will be fascinating to see where they go from here.

9. Porcupine TreeFear Of A Blank Planet
‘How can I be sure I'm here?/The pills that I've been taking confuse me/I need to know that someone sees that/There's nothing left, I simply am not here’

Standout tracks: Fear Of A Blank Planet, My Ashes, Anesthetize

In the world of this album, sullen teenagers trudge through the urban wastelands, senses numbed by pills, stripped of the thrill that growing up should obviously be, wishing away their days. In this dismal existence, illuminated only by TVs, Xboxes and iPods, the only friends are Myspace friends, and the only freedom is the freedom to consume. It’s a world that’s easy to recognise for Generation Y-ers everywhere. Generation Whateva. Generation Blank Planet.

Porcupine Tree have created a beautifully plaintive and despairing album that is somehow sentimental and nostalgic for feelings that only seem to exist in adverts.

8. Grinderman - Grinderman
‘We've done our thing/We’re hip to the sound/Of six billion people/Going down’

Standout tracks: No Pussy Blues, Electric Alice, Man In The Moon

‘Foulmouthed, noisy, hairy, and damned well old enough to know better’, four members of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds step forward to deliver a swaggering, riotous and confused collection of garage rock, mixed with other eerie bits and women with old-fashioned names. If it isn’t quite in the Bad Seeds class, it sounds like a great night’s trawl through a seedy netherworld. And No Pussy Blues is still hilarious, ten months on. DAMN!

7. Saul WilliamsThe Inevitable Rise And Liberation Of Niggy Tardust!
‘Would Jesus Christ come back American?/What if he's Iraqi and here again?/You'd have to finally face your fears, my friend/Who's gonna hold your hand when that happens?’

Standout tracks: Tr(n)igger, Scared Money, Raw

He’s fiercely different, at war with the zeitgeist, yet shot through with vulnerability. Every Saul Williams album is like an explosion of ideas, each clashing and competing for supremacy in your consciousness. There are so many levels of meaning here, it will take infinity to process, so its ranking is maybe a bit low. Williams’ musical partnership with Trent Reznor (who’s been championing him for a few years), means Niggy Tardust sounds like a rap Nine Inch Nails in places. That’s nowhere near as messy as I thought it might be, so it’s to the great credit of the experimental duo.

6. Machine Head - The Blackening
‘This is a call to arms/Will you stand beside me?/This is our time to fight/No more compromising/And this blackened heart will sing/For sad solidarity'

Standout tracks: Clenching The Fists Of Dissent, Halo, Wolves

This album was hyped like no other metal album in 2007, with critics calling it the best since Master Of Puppets before it had even been released. A lot of that was on the back of Aesthetics Of Hate, the band’s furious response to William Grim’s ‘obituary’ for Dimebag Darrell. This made Machine Head the perfect peg for the big corporate beasts of the metal world to hang ‘metalness’ on for a while. Since they’re in the business of selling T-shirts and the like, ‘metalness’ must always stretch to cover the lowest common denominator. So this includes the Beavis and Butthead type of fans, who are in a small minority. But from his position of class fear in an ever more polarised society, Grim tarred all metal fans with that brush.

I’m rambling here, but the point is that The Blackening perfectly illustrates one aspect of ‘metalness’ as I see it, whereas the Beavis and Buttheads (and the bands they go on to form) are actually nothing for Grim and the layer he speaks for to worry about. As Robb Flynn replied to Grim on Blabbermouth.net:

"What would YOU know about love or values? What would YOU know about giving to the world? All that you know is teaching prejudice, and your heart is as black as the 'ignorant, filthy, and hideously ugly, heavy metal fans' you try and paint in your twisted, fictitious ramblings. It's because of people like YOU, that there are Nathan Gales in this world, NOT the Dimebags and metal musicians who work to unite people through music".

And that sums-up this album better than I could. It is fists in the air, teeth gnashing, ultimate potential thrashing through my veins, foreshadowing the strength that might tear the Grims and grimness apart.

5. Tristania - Illumination
‘For years our world has been falling apart/But we're tied up by words /The surface is smooth and cold /But underneath the blood always boils’

Standout tracks: Mercyside, The Ravens, Deadlands

This album, their last with ridiculously beautiful and talented female vocalist Vibeke Stene, isn’t that massive a departure from Tristania’s previous couple of albums, but it’s still a huge improvement. Perhaps Stene is more to the forefront, and the male vocals are complimenting her, rather than the other way round. Shame then that this is to be her swansong, and she is to be replaced by relative unknown Mariangela Demurtas. All aspects of Tristania came together in perfect balance for a brief moment in the sun (moon?), only to be separated once more.

4. Nine Inch NailsYear Zero
‘Say your name/Try to speak as clearly as you can/You know everything gets written down/Nod your head/Just in case they could be watching/With their shiny satellite’

Standout tracks: Survivalism, Capital G, The Great Destroyer

This may be my favourite NIN album since The Downward Spiral. Composed on laptops in hotel rooms around the planet, this is a chilling exploration of the dystopian future unfolding in the here and now. The forces of darkness have won, the current popular disgust with the politicians and leaders has been misdirected and dissipated, and so Orwell’s hell has truly come to pass. Alone, one figure still fights, but his comeuppance cannot be far away. Bleak is not the word. Apparently it may spawn a film or even a TV series. That would be awesome, because I can see it in my mind whenever I hear this. With this release and his production of Saul Williams’ album, Trent Reznor has had a great year. And he even speaks out in favour of taking the music industry down, one download at a time. Wow, he’s so great.

3. The Smashing Pumpkins - Zeitgeist
‘Is everyone afraid?/You should be ashamed/Apocalyptic screams mean nothing to the dead/Kissing that ol' sun to know all there is/Come on, last call!/You should want it all!’

Standout tracks: Doomsday Clock, Tarantula, United States

I saw Smashing Pumpkins at Leeds festival this year, on one of the greatest days of my life. This may not be right up there with the band’s best (in fact the band might just as easily be called Zwan, except there’s no pseudo-Christian shit). But when I listen to the instrumental break on United States, with Jimmy Chamberlin’s rolling drums and Billy Corgan’s wailing guitar, I’ll always be able to see the drowning liberté éclairant le monde silhouetted against the moon, enshrouded in sweet-smelling smoke, and five thousand people holding their breath as my weary body floats higher and higher. Billy is scared. Billy is determined. Billy is happy to be scared and determined. Listen to those lovely harmonies!

2. The Nightwatchman - One Man Revolution
‘I know who I'm for/And who I'm against/I pulled the shades tight/I built me a fence/I dug a tunnel/Deep and wide/I sit at the bottom/And wait for the night’

Standout tracks: Battle Hymns, Maximum Firepower, Flesh Shapes The Day

When I found out that Rage Against The Machine’s (yeah, yeah, and Audioslave’s) guitarist Tom Morello was going to do an acoustic folk album, I didn’t know if I was going to like it. After all, I can’t stand that kind of shit. Ok, so appreciate the lyrics of Willy Nelson, (some) Bob Dylan and (more so, because he was most fucked-up) Johnny Cash, but it really isn’t my thing. So I was more than a little surprised to find out that this album is amazingly greatly fantastic! Morello has a deep, rich voice, halfway between Cash and Nick Cave, and he uses it to fan the flames of discontent with his seditious, endlessly quotable lyrics. On half the songs he’s some kind of solitary Old Testament figure, hell-bent on vengeance against (yes, of course) George Bush, but also any figure making a killing out of the profit system. On the other half he sings the wretched of the earth into battle. Either way, he’s unmissable.

1. Serj Tankian - Elect The Dead
‘Do you know that life is ending?/As we go, the dots connecting/We had our chance to save the garden/As it dies, our souls will harden/With these words chastising your conscience/We're breaking through and praying for transcendence’

Standout tracks: Empty Walls, Money, Saving Us

Beating his fellow Axis Of Justice founder to number one, and showing that he was the real talent behind System Of A Down, Serj Tankian releases a perfectly crafted, multi-dimensional, emotional wringer of a metal album, which seems to have a song for every mood and thought I’ve had this year. Yeah, the news is horrible, our lives are fast, furious and frustrating, but we could turn it all around and make a decent world. Or maybe it’s all too much, mankind has lived beyond its means and we’re all doomed to chaos and an early grave. Also, there are such things as personal relationships. All in all, it’s like a SOAD album, without the messing about. Damned near flawless.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Demonstration Defends Freedom Of Protest

On Monday this week, Merseyside Police arrested and assaulted an animal rights activist outside Cricket on Mathew Street, a shop that sells fur products. This followed an incident where a Bolton activist was found guilty on a 'section five' for photographing cops on a demo. So this afternoon, around twenty of us showed solidarity and supported the regular Saturday picket of the Cricket store, and scored a bizarre victory over an aggressive and incompetant police presence.

The police van arrived half an hour into the protest, and the main bossy officer immediately demanded to know who was in charge. On hearing that we all were, he ordered everyone against the wall. Apparently there were "people trying to get past", although the massive police van would have been a trickier obstacle. Reading from notes, he then told us he was "limiting the numbers to four people only", and that "any more than four people, you'll be in breach of the conditions". But the conditions of what? "Conditions imposed under Section 12 of the Public Order Act". Unfortunately for him, this section only applies to 'public processions', which someone pointed out. "Oh right sorry...", he blustered, "this assembly is controlled by Section 14 of the Public Order Act", and threatened arrest for anyone over the four. His tone then became even more condescending, repeatedly asking people if they understood, even though he'd already shown he didn't really know what he was doing. "We'll argue in court, as we have done before", he sneered, before heading into the shop to consult with the Cricket security.

Over the next few minutes, we debated what to do. Eventually, we decided it wasn't worth getting arrested, four people volunteered to stay, and the rest of us began to move off. But so did the police, without even saying goodbye! So we went back, and twenty protesters stood outside Cricket for the next hour and half, holding banners and placards, chanting, and handing out leaflets, while their van hid round the corner.

So didn't they fancy the paperwork? Or maybe they'd taken a look at the letter of the law, and realised they couldn't prove we were likely to cause 'serious public disorder', 'serious criminal damage', 'serious disruption to the life of the community', or even 'intimidation'. No-one was intimidated, and even though it looks like the police have been told to clear the streets of protesters for Xmas and the Capital of Culture, a small blow was struck for freedom this afternoon.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

New Anarchist Newssheet Hits Merseyside Streets!

A group of Merseyside anarchists have produced the first edition of our new newssheet, 'Shout!'. There are articles on Capital of Culture (or capitalist vultures), academy schools, the postal strike, the plans for the new Royal hospital, where our recycling REALLY goes, and asylum seeker support. Click for the PDF if you want to read and distribute, or simply scroll down for the text version.

Liverpool: Capital of Vultures
When Liverpool was made the European Capital of Culture 2008 there were parties in the streets. Liverpudlians were told to have new hope and the publicity machine pumped out images of smiling and excited scousers. An estimated 2 million more visitors are expected to come to the city, bringing money and investment that is expected to improve Liverpool's economic state. And yet, as the years have passed and with 2008 on our doorstep, the city still looks like a bomb has hit it. Derelict homes in the suburbs and massive building sites in the city centre, new shops for wealthy visitors and smaller hospitals for the people that live here. There is an increasing feeling of unrest in the city and residents are starting to feel cheated. So what is really going on?

Whose Culture?
The capital of culture is not for the people of Liverpool, whatever councillors might say about 'regeneration'. Instead it's an invitation for big business to come into the city like a flock of vultures and pick up all the tastiest scraps, leaving the rest of us nothing. Huge grants of European and government money, sweetheart deals and a captive audience. All in return for a handful of temporary, dead-end jobs with no skills or long term prospects and a 'regeneration' scheme more concerned with getting visitors, and their money, in and out than creating a decent city for people to live in. The ones who benefit will be the owners of multinational corporations who don't even live in the city. It is just another move towards making every city in the world have exactly the same shops where everyone can buy exactly the same clothes with their ever smaller wage packets.

Where’s the Money?
Liverpool council were given a HUGE cash injection by the government. The promise then was that the people of Liverpool would not have to pay any more tax to fund the event. So what the hell happened this year? Suddenly the council are £29 million short of funding and it needs £7 million of this just to maintain council services. Well the council can't borrow money off the government because they are now forwarding their money to the Olympic games (another bonanza for the already rich). So they have decided to go against what they said a few years ago and tax the people of Liverpool, re-mortgage buildings like Millennium House and take out a huge £20m loan that people like us will have to pay for later. The council tax increase is expected to be 3.7%.

Shops not Homes
And what about housing? Well according to a BBC report, house prices are going up since the award came to the city. Many people in working class areas are struggling to keep up with their rents, and some in Toxteth and Edge Lane are even fighting compulsory purchase orders, which threaten to steal their homes for a fraction of their worth, so yet more developers can come in!

All the investment appears to be going to the centre of Liverpool. The further into the suburbs you go the worse it gets. There are areas of Liverpool that are becoming no-go areas with gang culture on the rise and derelict buildings everywhere. Will the effects of capital of culture really benefit these people? Will it reach out into the lives the need the help the most? That’s for you to decide.

Not surprisingly, with all the extra money sloshing around, Liverpool’s politicians and bureaucrats have their noses firmly in the trough. Read up on all the dirt at http://liverpoolsubculture.blogspot.com

Education, Education, Privatisation!
So the capital of culture award has turned the city of Liverpool into the centre of a feeding frenzy for multinational companies. Gentrification is pushing the working class out into the run-down suburbs. Opportunities for getting a decent job or trade under your belt are getting fewer and fewer. Is there any other way that capitalism is destroying our lives? Well rest assured that now you can send your children to a brand new academy school.

The North Liverpool Academy is the amalgamation of students from Anfield and Breckfield schools. In 2006 the government decided to blend together the most 'failing' schools in Liverpool, throw in a dash of money from a sponsor in the private sector (Stanley Fink from stockbrokers Man Group Plc) and season it with a specialisation in Business and Enterprise. What a great idea! It is too early to tell what the outcome will be. However, merging failing schools in the past has not brought great improvements. Ofsted inspectors branded the Bexley Business Academy in Kent as 'inadequate', highlighting poor teaching and lower than expected exam results.

So much of this country has been privatised. Has capitalism finally infiltrated our schools as well?

Mersey Posties Show the Way
This summer and autumn, Merseyside postal workers were on the front line of action against Royal Mail's proposed new contracts, which threaten jobs, pensions and working conditions, whilst opening the door to a sell-off of the postal service.

Posties in Liverpool and Birkenhead were among the most militant in the country, taking illegal 'wildcat' action for over a week, after they got back from an official strike to find Royal Mail had changed their working hours without consultation. Eventually the strike was defeated and Royal Mail got what they wanted, but only because workers were stabbed in the back by their 'leaders', and were unable to create strong enough links with other workers facing cuts.

Unions Cave In
When Royal Mail and the Communication Workers Union (CWU) finally reached an agreement, it quickly became clear that union bureaucrats had gladly caved in to pressure from post bosses on one side, and the government on the other. The new deal contained almost exactly the same terms that CWU general secretary Billy Hayes had denounced as a 'carve up' between Royal Mail bosses and their 'rich mates' just three months earlier, so posties have been expressing dismay and anger.

The union tops started undermining the efforts of rank-and-file posties from the beginning, staggering strikes so as not to cause Royal Mail too much pain, then calling the legal strikes off entirely for two months of talks! Their greatest fear is working class people organising themselves and finding they have no use for their so-called 'representatives'. Many of them have strong links to New Labour, so while they may occasionally talk 'left', they are in reality lined up behind Brown's campaign for the slashing and burning of wages and working conditions.

Winning for Ourselves
But it isn't about the individual politics of the individual reps, it's about a structure that has been used time and time again to keep working people down. By refusing to bow before the law, and organising in an anarchic way (without bosses), the Merseyside posties have set a great example to workers in other areas and other industries. We don't need to go cap in hand to big business or to government. We can and must organise our own workplaces, our own neighbourhoods, and our own lives.

Renewing the Royal? Ripping Off Patients!
The Liverpool Primary Care Trust's (PCT's) plan to rebuild the Royal Liverpool hospital using a costly PFI scheme rumbles on, and as more details emerge the deal gets worse and worse. At a cost of £225 million (sure to increase if PFI schemes elsewhere in the country are anything to go by) the hospital will be completely rebuilt on a smaller new site with the loss of 200 beds and all kinds of knock on effects on the quality of care. Worse than this, the Trust will not own the new building but will instead rent it back from the private company that builds it, despite having paid for everything in the first place! Only in the upside down world of business and government could this ever be called 'improving care for patients' and 'value for money'.

The real reason for all this, as always, is profits for the usual suspects. Refurbishment of the existing buildings, which are just over thirty years old, was not even seriously considered, despite a sham 'consultation'. As the 'Renewing the Royal' website tells us,

'refurbishment would be an unviable risk for the health treasury and private sector'. In other words, the money's only there if it can go into private pockets. The needs of business to make a killing come first; the needs of patients to go on living are a very poor second.

PFI schemes all over the country have left trusts with unsustainable debts, leading to cuts in services and job losses. A 2007 report from the independent Centre for International Public Health Policy in Edinburgh concluded that PFI schemes are responsible for a wave of cuts over the last few years, cuts that will only increase over the life of the contracts. Any new scheme adds to this pressure. Keep Our NHS Public are campaigning hard on Merseyside and are one of the few forces taking on the trust over this. They meet on the third Wednesday of every month in the Peoples Centre, Hardman Street, and have an email list at http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/KeepOurNHSPublicMerseyside.

Councillor Turner – You're a Joke!
Liverpool was recently voted the least sustainable city in a survey with nineteen others. While other places are tapping landfill for methane, cutting car use, building low-carbon houses and creating zero-carbon neighbourhoods, we're stuck in the ha'penny place. What was the Council environment spokesperson's response? Cllr Bernie Turner could only bleat about salmon in the Mersey and parks built 150 years ago. She'll brag about how much recycling we’re doing. But she won’t tell you huge amounts of what the Council collects is still going to landfill. Liverpool's bosses want reckless economic expansion, building more roads to carry more cars, choking the city. Yes, we can spend an hour or so in a polluted park and the rest of our lives in an urban hellhole where hundreds die each year from cold, from lung and heart disease or a dozen other diseases caused by pollution or stress. And they call this 'success', 'progress'. Councillor Turner, you're a dangerous idiot. And that's no joke.

Stand Up for Asylum Seekers
Liverpool based group Asylum Voice is organising a demonstration in solidarity with all asylum seekers in this country and especially with those in Liverpool. We demand the right to work, the right to healthcare, the end of Section 4 and forced deportations and the end of all border controls. If there are no borders for the flows of capital in the world, then there should not be any borders for human beings either. The demonstration takes place on Wednesday 19th December 2007 at Reliance House, Water Street in Liverpool, from 12.30 till 1.30 pm.

This protest is also a reaction to the inhuman treatment of Alphonsus from Nigeria. The National Asylum Support Service wants to remove him from Liverpool to Salford, despite the fact that he has secure accommodation here. In Salford he would find himself isolated, without the support network necessary to campaign for his right to stay.

Asylum Voice desperately needs to raise funds to launch campaigns against deportations of people. Therefore any support is very welcome and needed! Asylum Voice can be contacted at the email address: asylumvoice@yahoo.co.uk. Meet members of Asylum Voice at their regular meetings every second Thursday in Next To Nowhere on Bold Street.

Anarchist meetings
Find out what anarchists on Merseyside are up to, or come and help out. All in Next to Nowhere social centre in the basement, 96 Bold Street (www.liverpoolsocialcentre.org):
● Anarchist educationals third Thursday of the month (Dec 20th, Jan 17th)
● Liverpool Social Forum second Tuesday of the month (Jan 8th)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Nerve 11 Now Available

Nerve 11...OUT NOW!!...including Merseyside Resistance Calendar for 2008...full index here

Locally it will be available FREE from News From Nowhere, Next To Nowhere, and various cafes, libraries and cultural venues.

We've worked extremely hard on this, so pick up your goddamn calendars! I'll be posting Merseyside radical 'on this day's throughout 2008.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Belarusian Anarchists Visit Liverpool

Two Belarusian comrades visited Next To Nowhere last night, to show an Indymedia video of the mass protests in Minsk last year, and to discuss how west European activism compares to that of the former eastern bloc.

The video contained footage from the abortive 'denim revolution' of March 2006, which followed the re-election of Russia-leaning president Alexander Lukashenko, over his US and EU-backed rival Alexander Milinkievič. As the Bush administration alleged voting irregularities (pot, kettle, black), a large group of protesters set up a tent city in the October Square, in an echo of what had happened during Ukraine's 'Orange revolution'. However, there was to be no victory for Washington here, because massive police repression was able to overcome the protests, which seemed to lack the large working class base of their Kiev equivalents.

The comrades explained that though they did not support Milinkievič, they were active in the protests against Lukashenko's government, seeing them as an opportunity to spread their ideas. Indeed, the videos showed quite a few red and black flags amongst the blue of Milinkievič. The male comrade was imprisoned for taking part.

Radical activism and anarchism seems to be in its infancy in Belarus. The female comrade remarked how there are no social centres in her land, because activists are frequently targeted by the state. Radicalism in Belarus was strangled in the Soviet Union, and Lukashenko has kept much of the Stalinist apparatus, not even bothering to rename the KGB! However, the neoliberal 'shock therapy' which is increasingly attacking the living standards of working people will inevitably provoke resistance in years to come. For example, on 1st January 2008, Lukashenko will bring in benefit cuts the like of which Gordon Brown probably only dreams of.

Students, pensioners and 'veterans of labour' are currently entitled to half-price fares on public transport. Children under three years old get free medical care. Former inmates of German WW2 concentration camps are given free medical and dental treatment and free public transport. Victims of the 1980s Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster, which affected Belarus more than any other of the then republics in the USSR, have free medical care, 50% lower rents and cheap housing credit. Military and police personnel got free medical attention and annual holidays. In four weeks' time, the only section of Belarusian society to keep their benefits will be parliamentary deputies!

The enormity of our global task struck me during this meeting. The generations of working class people in Britain, the US and western Europe who won social gains from their ruling classes are becoming less active and dying off. Those who survive are mostly tied to the trade union bureaucracy that Thatcher's children know little of and (rightly) trust even less. Like our young comrades from Belarus, anarchists in the UK have some theory, but have experienced nothing except defeat at the hands of the state and its hangers-on.

Of course reinventing the world is not an easy task to set yourself, and it is by necessity a step into the dark. But in this age of instant global communication we will learn together, and that is something we went part of the way towards doing last night.

Many thanks to our guests for coming to Liverpool, and providing us with a fascinating evening!

Indymedia videos of the 'denim revolution' can be viewed here, here, here, here and here. An introduction to the situation in Belarus has been posted on Liverpool Indymedia.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Calendar Of Resistance Launched

Nerve magazine introduces Liverpool’s Capital of Culture year with a Merseyside Resistance Calendar 2008.

The calendar records and celebrates the region’s rich tradition of radicalism and dissent. History is for the most part written by and for the rich and powerful and ‘official’ histories of Liverpool are no exception. But an essential part of our history are those people and groups who put themselves on the line for their communities and what they believed in and who ‘had a go’ without waiting for society’s approval.

On each of the twelve monthly pages, individual dates are recorded as the anniversaries of protests, occupations, boycotts, publications, marches, uprisings and festivals between 1775 and 2006. These include:

· 31st March 2006 - Over 2,000 demonstrate against Condoleezza Rice visit
· July 1796 - Edward Rushton’s ‘Letter to Washington’ challenges the President’s owning of slaves while upholding liberty
· November 25th 1969 - John Lennon returns his MBE to Buckingham Palace

Each month’s display is accompanied by a photograph or original artwork including:

· February - Right to Work marchers of 1972
· June - Liverpool-born Jim Larkin (who inspired workers on both sides of the Irish Sea) with National Union of Dock Labourers.
· October - Liverpool’s ‘Tatlin Tower’ – the speaker’s podium erected in 1973 at the Pier Head to commemorate workers’ international struggles and ‘disappeared’ by Liverpool City Council in the early 1990s.

The calendar forms the centrepiece of the magazine’s 11th issue. In the surrounding pages are articles and reviews including an account of Paul Robeson’s 1949 visit to Liverpool and a tribute to seaman activist John Nettleton who along with Alan O’Toole discovered the pauper’s grave of Robert Noonan (author of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists). On the cover is a mural by local artist Stok entitled ‘Liverpool Radicals, Peoples Champions’.

The magazine is independent and is distributed free of charge. Outlets include News from Nowhere bookshop on Bold Street, cafes, libraries and cultural venues.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

41% of Posties Accept Stitch-Up Deal/Motion Carried

64% of those postal workers who voted have accepted the stitch-up 'settlement' offer from Royal Mail bosses. However, there was only a 64% turnout. So after weeks of strike action, lost pay and backstabbing from Communication Workers Union bureaucrats, the original contract proposed by Royal Mail will go through practically unaltered, despite the fact that 59% of posties still refuse to back it.

Many workers have reacted angrily to the news, with one employee on Royal Mail Chat stating:
This is a s**t deal!.. We better all head to Tescos and HOPE that we get jobs there! Cause this job is f****d! If I get my hands on those crooked union reps or royal mail management bastards, they're all dead I tell you!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Posties Await Ballot Result

This summer and autumn, Merseyside postal workers have been on the front line of action against Royal Mail's proposed new contracts, which threaten jobs, pensions and working conditions, whilst opening the door to a sell-off of the postal service. Now they're waiting for the ballot on the Communication Workers Union's sell-out agreement, and pondering their next move.

Posties in Liverpool and Birkenhead were among the most militant in the country, taking illegal 'wildcat' strike action for over a week, after they got back from an official strike to find Royal Mail had unilaterally changed their working hours.

When representatives of Royal Mail and the CWU finally reached a deal, it quickly became clear that union bureaucrats had caved-in to pressure from post bosses on one side, and the government on the other. The new deal contained almost exactly the same terms that CWU general secretary Billy Hayes had denounced as a "carve up" by Royal Mail bosses and their "rich mates" just three months earlier, so rank-and-file posties have been expressing dismay and anger.

CWU members are now voting on whether to accept the deal, and the results will be announced after 27th November. If there is resistance to the stitch-up, we can expect it to be particularly strong on Merseyside, and postal workers will need public support if they are to save a service we all rely on.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Steal Something Day? But That's Illegal!


Obviously I can't condone wanton acts of lawbreaking, because that would be illegal. But today on a well-known social networking site I received an invitation to attend 'Steal Something Day', which claimed that the better-established Buy Nothing Day is a 'middle-class consumerist crock'.

I trust elected politicians to decide what is right and wrong on my behalf, and they believe that getting a four finger discount from members of the ruling class is against the law, but that same class taking something by force is okay. However, there must be no class aspect to this, because as someone once said: 'The Law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich, as well as the poor, to sleep under the bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."

The lawmakers know best, so I won't be stealing anything on that (or any other) day.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Climate change? What’s the worst that could happen?

If you haven’t seen An Inconvenient Truth yet, don’t bother. This guy is infinitely better than Al Gore, because he isn’t a servant of the profit system! And Al Gore doesn’t wear blue jumpers.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Oaxaca Solidarity Gig in Liverpool

Outside Next To Nowhere last night, England fans trudged through the streets after their hopes for the desperate glory of international conquest were dashed. Inside, we celebrated internationalism by raising money for some of our current favourite anti-imperialists, those from Oaxaca, Mexico.

The gig, which followed an all-day Zapatista Network gathering, attracted a decent crowd, who witnessed musical performances from Al Baker (self-deprecating but radical 'troubacore'), Alun Parry (folk, in the best sense of the word), and Jo Bywater (cooky acoustic blues). There were also performances from The Mittens, Rick Ash and some DJs, although I was otherwise engaged when they were on and they don't seem to be troubling Google with their presence. Apologies to them and anyone else I missed.

In the weeks to come we have alternative parties for Hallowe'en, Guy Fawkes night and Christmas planned(ish), which will be almost certainly be great, with wonderful music, food and conversation. But we host a wide variety of events at our brand new social centre, so check out the calendar and find something worth going underground for. Or even better, organise your own!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Sclavi/The Song Of An Emigrant

Farm In The Cave
Liverpool Everyman (14th-15th October 2007)

On paper, this production seemed to promise so much. It would be a study of migration - a subject that's always topical - which would entertain and educate with its traditional Czech songs and brand new dance routines. Unfortunately, when it came to the night itself there was something missing.

There can be no doubting the skill of the performers, who showed great levels of agility and coordination as they threw themselves across the stage for an hour. Excellent use was made of their metal wagon, which was the basis of a percussive soundtrack that was added to be every footfall. However, when the piece finished, I was no wiser about the conditions that migrant workers suffer, because Farm In The Cave abandoned any idea of a story, preferring instead to focus on 'energy' and 'vibrations', in the words of director Viliam Dočolomanský.

This immediately presents a problem when the audience is unfamiliar with the eastern European dialects on show. If we can't relate to the language, and the body language of the actors is deliberately non-representational, then all the energy and vibrations in the world aren't going to help us get to grips with the story. In a post-performance question and answer session, Dočolomanský rejected narrative entirely, on the grounds that "everyone will have their own interpretation".

Of course there is an element of truth to this. We all have different DNA, and we have all had different life experiences, so we all perceive works of art in different ways. But if an artist throws up their hands and doesn't even try to convey a message, it is clear that the artist lifestyle is far more important to them than the subject matter. Proposing to create a piece on migration becomes just another meal ticket. The audience is left with a tale full of sound and fury, signifying next to nothing.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Che Guevara: The Man Behind The T-Shirt

About twenty people gathered in Next To Nowhere on the 40th anniversary of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara's murder/execution, to try and discover 'the man behind the t-shirt'.

The evening commenced with a showing of 2004's The Motorcycle Diaries, a film which follows the very young Ernesto on a journey through South America in the 1950s. It shows him as a doctor rather than a revolutionary, but illustrates the dawning of his consciousness that South American people were being oppressed by imperialist powers.

Then we saw an hour-long documentary about Guevara, which took in his whole life, from his birth into a relatively wealthy family to his death at the hands of the CIA-backed Bolivian army. Though the feature was far too short to go into much depth, and contained such bland pronouncements as 'Che was a mystic. Che was a visionary', it was good to see the man actually moving and talking for once, as opposed to the 2D icon that everybody knows.

After that, we finished off with some drinks, whilst informally discussing the impact that Guevara made on the world (and vice versa). Debate centred on the appropriateness of violence as a revolutionary strategy (until I had to leave and catch my train!), and though nothing was resolved, everyone went home having had their preconceptions and ideas challenged.

Merseyside Posties Wildcat

Though the latest round of official strikes sanctioned by the Communication Workers Union came to an end at 03:00 this morning, many postal workers are defying their leaders, and are staying out.

In Liverpool, the unofficial stoppages started at district offices, and spread to the main sorting office at Copperas Hill. Locally, there were similar scenes reported in West Lancashire and Wirral, as well as London and Glasgow.

Workers coming off strike were hit with the news that Royal Mail is forcing through changes to working practices, preventing posties from starting work before 0600 BST and leaving before 1415 BST, even if they have completed their rounds.

"The current Royal Mail management introduced this concept of flexibility when they were appointed," complained David Wall, a worker at the Walton office.

"Now, they are taking it away, claiming it is because they need to modernise and save money, yet there is no sign that their bonuses have been cut."

The wildcat strikes show that posties are refusing to be pushed around by either the fat cat Royal Mail bosses or the bureaucrats who run the CWU.

The union's general secretary Billy Hayes accepts privatisation, supports New Labour, and is refusing to unite postal workers from around Europe, all of whom face similar 'modernisation'. By wildcatting today, posties are taking some of their power out of this parasite's hands.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Liverpool Anarchist Educational is Class!

We've been conditioned to think that education must be
expensive, that it is too complex for ordinary people and
must be left to experts, and that it is so vital it is best
organised by large and powerful institutions, like the local
education authority or the state. Like most things we are
taught to believe, this is a lie. - The Nihilst
A not particularly dirty dozen met in Next To Nowhere this evening, for the first in our 'anarchist educational' series, which will happen once a month until February (or the revolution, whichever is earlier), apart from this month when we're having two!

We began with a presentation on 'free schools', with particular reference to the ones that were established in Liverpool in 1908 and 1970. The group then discussed libertarian education, and the prospects for starting that up in the modern day, as well as how crap capitalist schooling is.

A good time was had by all, we learned useful stuff, and it was a laugh, which is more than you can say for most class(system)rooms. Anyone interested in learning about anarchism could do worse than come to our next session.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

How To Become Dis-illusioned

Only just stumbled across this guy, but already it's clear why Ian Saville is better than any "bourgeois magician". Click his name to play the clip because embedding YouTube seems to fuck up my template.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Free Screen: Osama and Walkout

A small group of us gathered tonight to launch Next To Nowhere's Free Screen evenings, where two full length films of interest to radical types will shown for free (or donation) every fortnight.

The first film was Osama - an unflinching account of life under the Taliban, which was all the more devastating by the almost total lack of resistance to their reign of terror, and the realisation that despite all the American promises, the situation hasn't exactly improved.

Then it was onto Walkout, which told the much more uplifting tale of a Chicano student rebellion against racist school authorities in the late sixties.

It's been an amazing week at Liverpool's new social centre, which has the makings of being a great activist space. A virtual round of applause to everyone involved!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Why Culture Of Capital Sucks For Working Class Scousers

Here, plain and simple, are the reasons why working class people in Liverpool are waking up to the fact that Capital of Culture is just another con. As new anarchism site The Nihilist so succinctly puts it:
The capital of culture is not an award of culture at all rather an invitation for big businesses to come into the city like vultures and pick on the poor working class consumerist habits. Yes they will provide more jobs and increase the economic state but how much will that benefit the city itself? The ones who will benefit are the owners of these multinational companies who don’t even live in the city. It is just another move to make every city in the country have exactly the same shops where everyone can buy the same clothes.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Boy Who Dropped An Egg On The World

Written and Directed by Julian Bond
Jack's Hard Rub Theatre
Next To Nowhere, Bold Street (21st September 2007)


It was standing room only at
Next To Nowhere, as Liverpool's new social centre played host to its first play, from local theatre company Jack's Hard Rub.

The space seems quite well suited to small scale, intimate productions. Though there are some visibility problems which need to be looked into, the acoustics were excellent, and the audience couldn't help but be drawn in by the cast's magnetic performance.

The scene was set in a dusty Iraqi cafe, during the initial stages of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, and gradually the characters were introduced by Shakir the cafe owner who finds himself constantly sweeping the dust of the universe. There was Asaph (Nick Osbourne), an eight year old boy troubled by apocalyptic visions; the two cafe-bound intellectuals Iyad (David Collins) and Narzim (Mike Saunders), a posh British soldier (Zoran Blackie), and
Mariyam (Angela Millett), a bereaved mother who has been turned 'mad' by her grief.

There is so much more to this play than can be expressed in one review; it seems suited to an essay. However, I think many of these levels may be apparent only to the writer. Bond has deliberately kept many of the motifs ambiguous - especially the significance of the egg-dropping - but some people afterwards interpreted this as a lack of depth. That's a great shame for a play which screams 'microcosm', and wants to be an allegory for vast swathes of human life.

Despite this reservation, a lot of the writing is very skillfully done. The script is by turns poetically beautiful and grittily brutal, despairing and humorous, brimming with hate and overflowing with love. The audience is constantly surprised, which is a great thing for a play that doesn't move in space to achieve.

All the cast displayed enough talent to fill Next To Nowhere ten times over! Saunders was excellent in his role as a heartbroken and on the edge Palestinian, Osbourne was a completely believable young boy, Blackie convinced in both the Jekyll and the Hyde parts of his character, and the spectral Millett sent shivers down spines and tears into eyes with her portrayal. In fact, 'portrayal' isn't anything like the right word; it was impossible to say where the actress ended and the character began.

Everything considered, the venue could hardly have had a better theatrical curtain-raiser, and hopefully it was a taste of things to come.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Introduction to Anarchism in Liverpool

Yet another fantastic night at Next To Nowhere on Thursday, as twenty-five people attended an 'Introduction to Anarchism' discussion.

The meeting started with a twenty minute talk from a member of the Anarchist Federation, which established some of the crucial differences between the way anarchists organise and the tactics of other 'revolutionary' groups. Anarchists fundamentally believe in self-organisation, as opposed to appealing to politicians and professional mediators. This often leads to confrontation with the state, and even violence. Though this is not an aim in itself, we acknowledge that the ruling class will not willingly give up power, so it is an unfortunate necessity. The comrade illustrated his points with reference to the anti Poll Tax movement in the UK, plus the Shell to Sea camp and the anti bin tax movement in Ireland. He insisted that class struggle must be at the heart of anarchism, so he "gets excited" when he sees "people in flat caps"!

We then all sat in a circle and began an open discussion. There were many people in the meeting who had never really encountered anarchism before, so I suggested we talked about what an anarchist society would be like. This became quite a long utopian imagining session, which can be fun to do once in a while. The mood in the room noticeably lifted, as people began to let their imagination wander, something we are taught not to do from an early age. We also touched upon why anarchists focus so much on 'the state' as being the enemy (compared to other groups), instead of capitalism. Many of the participants agreed that capitalism and the state are essentially inseparable, and that the state helps organise, defend and extend capitalism, against the interests of working class people.

At the end of the meeting, we decided to set up a series of six (non-hierarchical!) 'anarchist schools', each exploring a different aspect of anarchism as it relates to everyday life and struggle. These will start in a few weeks time (when there's space in the social centre calendar), and will be fortnightly.

Still to come this week:
Friday 21st September - 7.30pm - 10pm
The Boy Who Dropped an Egg on the World - A Play
Jack's Hard Rub theatre company present writer/director Julian Bond's powerful anti-war production.

Saturday 22nd September - 7.30pm til late
School Students Against War - Benefit Night
Live music and DJs, good company and dancing to benefit School Students Against War.

Sunday 23rd September - 7pm - 11pm
Free Screen - Film Night
The first of our regular film nights.
Showing Osama - an Afghan film about life under the Taliban and Walkout - a drama based on anti-racist school struggles in 60s LA

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Another Construction Collapse in Capital of Culture City

As the city of Liverpool is frantically prepared for the Capital of Culture celebrations, workplace safety is bound to come a poor second to profit margins. This year has already seen a three fatalities on Merseyside construction sites, and though no-one has been killed in this latest incident, it looks very likely there will be more deaths before 1st January.

The builders were working on Liverpool John Moores University’s new £23.5m art and design academy when the scaffolding collapsed and they fell 30ft.

Five ambulances and two fire vehicles attended the scene at the junction of Duckinfield Street and Brownlow Hill, near the Metropolitan Cathedral, and six men were taken to hospital. One is said to have serious back injuries.

In January a Polish man was killed when a crane crashed 120ft into a city centre building site between Seel Street and Colquitt Street. Two months later father-of-two Keith Wharton was killed by a frame which fell from a crane at the Stackright Building Systems site on the Knowsley industrial estate. On March 29 a man was killed when a crane toppled over at Wavertree Boulevard.

Click here to read my recent interview with local builder Terry Egan.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Liverpool IMC Info Night

Another night at Next To Nowhere, and another triumph! There's a great buzz about the place, and everything's really exciting! Who knew activism was meant to be like this?

The opening presentation came from...well...me, and I gave a brief outline of what Indymedia is all about, where it's come from and hopefully where it's going.

The Liverpool IMC team then threw the meeting open to the twenty or so people who'd come along, so they could ask questions, get some advice, or even try putting their own stuff up. Very well done Margaret McAdam for becoming a journalist, and exposing the horrific treatment a woman called Beatrice Ketcha Guessie is getting at the hands of the UK government.

We always need more stories for Indymedia, and you've often got news that isn't represented in the corporate media. So click here and let's get going. Don't hate the media, be the media!

Still to come this week:
Thursday 20th September - 7.30pm - 10pm
Introduction to Anarchism
Merseyside Anarchist Group presents speakers and discussion on the politics and history of anarchism. With speakers from the Anarchist Federation.

Friday 21st September - 7.30pm - 10pm
The Boy Who Dropped an Egg on the World - A Play
Jack's Hard Rub theatre company present writer/director Julian Bond's powerful anti-war production.

Saturday 22nd September - 7.30pm til late
School Students Against War - Benefit Night
Live music and DJs, good company and dancing to benefit School Students Against War.

Sunday 23rd September - 7pm - 11pm
Free Screen - Film Night
The first of our regular film nights.
Showing Osama - an Afghan film about life under the Taliban and Walkout - a drama based on anti-racist school struggles in 60s LA

In The Year 2035...

Another intriguing post over at Southpawpunch this week (though to tell the truth his every post is well worth reading). It's the somewhat melancholy musings of a retiring leftist blogger, some twenty-eight years into the future. Suffice to say it doesn't make for happy reading, but it's definitely thought-provoking.

Ok, and this is a blatant attempt to get him to put my 'review' on the side of his blog, so this is the bit to quote, yeah?
Southpawpunch is the 'revolutionary' blogger I actually expect to meet at the barricades.
There you are.

Liverpool Conspiracy Evening

The third event in this opening week of Next To Nowhere was another great success (honestly, I would say if it wasn't; telling the truth is always a revolutionary act!). About twenty people discussed conspiracy theories - or 'alternative proposals' as I think we decided to call them - in a calm and respectful way. This was the first time I've ever seen that happen! It is possible!

We began with a wonderfully meandering and often bizarre introduction from the facilitator, which set exactly the right tone for the talk we were about to have! We then each said how much we believed in conspiracy theories out of ten, with one being "you're all mad", and ten "woo...er...there's a robot in my pocket". I don't remember anyone saying less than three, although a couple refused to give any number, rejecting the entire premise of the question.

It soon became clear that people were most interested in the 'alternative proposals' surrounding the events of September 11th, 2001. This seemed to be because a) the people behind the Bush administration appear to have advanced their agendas using constant references to that day, and b) that many elements of the 'official conspiracy theory' don't stack up.

The conversation eventually turned to what use (if any) activist groups should make of alternative proposals. Opinion was divided on this. A few felt that they should be central to somehow 'awakening' people to a world that has been pulled over their eyes. But the majority expressed different shades of the opinion that such arguments can turn people off radical politics, marginalising us, and that political change only happens when people become conscious of their own interests. I made the point that I believed the Bush government was likely to bear some responsiblity for 9/11, but I had come to these conclusions long after becoming anti-war, anti-police state, and indeed anti-capitalist. It was therefore difficult to see how alternative proposal people could avoid preaching to the converted. However, the idea was floated that we should have individual nights where people describe their own pet consp...alternative thingies, and no-one seemed to disagree this would be a fun thing to do.

Still to come this week:
Wednesday 19th September - 7.30pm - 9pm
Indymedia Info Night
The Liverpool Indymedia team present films and discussion introducing Indymedia and letting you know how to get the best out of the site.

Thursday 20th September - 7.30pm - 10pm
Introduction to Anarchism
Merseyside Anarchist Group presents speakers and discussion on the politics and history of anarchism. With speakers from the Anarchist Federation.

Friday 21st September - 7.30pm - 10pm
The Boy Who Dropped an Egg on the World - A Play
Jack's Hard Rub theatre company present writer/director Julian Bond's powerful anti-war production.

Saturday 22nd September - 7.30pm til late
School Students Against War - Benefit Night
Live music and DJs, good company and dancing to benefit School Students Against War.

Sunday 23rd September - 7pm - 11pm
Free Screen - Film Night
The first of our regular film nights.
Showing Osama - an Afghan film about life under the Taliban and Walkout - a drama based on anti-racist school struggles in 60s LA

Monday, September 17, 2007

Oaxaca Info Night Held In Liverpool

An audience of about thirty-five people came to Next To Nowhere last night, to meet an Indymedia activist from Oaxaca, Mexico, and to hear him speak about recent struggles against the state government there.

The activist showed three videos during his presentation. The first introduced us to Puebla-Panama Plan, an attempt to carve-up central America along neoliberal lines. Though the politics was quite complicated, the video made great use of puppetry, and we all understood in the end: farmers and the poor are going to get fucked over unless they resist.

The second video showed scenes from May last year, where the Mexican state brutally attacked protesters who were blockading roads in San Salvador Atenco. Some of the scenes made me want to jump through the screen and help the demonstrators, which I suppose is a good review of a film like that. Especially revealing was how the equivalent of Sky News cast aside any claim to 'neutrality', and urged the authorities on to ever more brutal repression.

Finally, we saw some more scenes from last year, filmed in the speaker's own community in Oaxaca. Striking teachers were attacked by police, and eighteen people were killed over the next few days, including an Indymedia journalist from the US. In response, unions, non-governmental organizations, social organizations, cooperatives, and parents convened to form The Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (or APPO), which aims to take over the running of the area. You can buy the DVD from Next To Nowhere.

It was heavy stuff, and many of us were still exhausted from Saturday night, but it was wonderful to see our new centre getting put to excellent use. Of course, the issue is what can we actually do to confront neoliberal attacks in our city, the country and the world? What alternatives can we build? How can we defend them from the inevitable state attacks? These questions remain to be answered.

Read the report of Nottingham's Oaxaca infonight here, complete with audio.

Still to come this week:
Tuesday 18th September - 7.30pm - 10pm
Conspiracy Evening
From 9-11 and JFK to the Masons and the New World Order - why are there so many conspiracy theories and what should we do with them?

Wednesday 19th September - 7.30pm - 9pm
Indymedia Info Night
The Liverpool Indymedia team present films and discussion introducing Indymedia and letting you know how to get the best out of the site.

Thursday 20th September - 7.30pm - 10pm
Introduction to Anarchism
Merseyside Anarchist Group presents speakers and discussion on the politics and history of anarchism. With speakers from the Anarchist Federation.

Friday 21st September - 7.30pm - 10pm
The Boy Who Dropped an Egg on the World - A Play
Jack's Hard Rub theatre company present writer/director Julian Bond's powerful anti-war production.

Saturday 22nd September - 7.30pm til late
School Students Against War - Benefit Night
Live music and DJs, good company and dancing to benefit School Students Against War.

Sunday 23rd September - 7pm - 11pm
Free Screen - Film Night
The first of our regular film nights.
Showing Osama - an Afghan film about life under the Taliban and Walkout - a drama based on anti-racist school struggles in 60s LA

Sunday, September 16, 2007

There's Next To Nowhere You Can Get Parties Like This...

Next To Nowhere - Liverpool's new social centre - opened last night with the political party to end political parties. Over one hundred people danced and chatted long, long, long into the night, raising money for our exciting radical space while they were at it.

Still to come this week:
Sunday 16th September - 7pm - 10pm
Oaxaca Info Night
Mexican speaker from Indymedia Oaxaca. Update on the uprising, police repression & protests in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Tuesday 18th September - 7.30pm - 10pm
Conspiracy Evening
From 9-11 and JFK to the Masons and the New World Order - why are there so many conspiracy theories and what should we do with them?

Wednesday 19th September - 7.30pm - 9pm
Indymedia Info Night
The Liverpool Indymedia team present films and discussion introducing Indymedia and letting you know how to get the best out of the site.

Thursday 20th September - 7.30pm - 10pm
Introduction to Anarchism
Merseyside Anarchist Group presents speakers and discussion on the politics and history of anarchism. With speakers from the Anarchist Federation.

Friday 21st September - 7.30pm - 10pm
The Boy Who Dropped an Egg on the World - A Play
Jack's Hard Rub theatre company present writer/director Julian Bond's powerful anti-war production.

Saturday 22nd September - 7.30pm til late
School Students Against War - Benefit Night
Live music and DJs, good company and dancing to benefit School Students Against War.

Sunday 23rd September - 7pm - 11pm
Free Screen - Film Night
The first of our regular film nights.
Showing Osama - an Afghan film about life under the Taliban and Walkout - a drama based on anti-racist school struggles in 60s LA

Friday, September 14, 2007

It's A Free World (15)

Directed by Ken Loach, Written by Paul Laverty
Screening on Channel 4 at 9pm on 24th September 2007

Throughout a career that has spanned almost half a century, Ken Loach has won a small but dedicated band of enthusiasts, who relish his pull-no-punches realism and dedication to telling the stories of people who are misleadingly labelled 'ordinary'. Though his latest film has so far only got a one day release at certain Picturehouse venues, but it is well worth tuning into Channel 4 on Monday 24th September to see it. Because he and writing partner Paul Laverty have only gone and done it again.

When we meet Angie (
Kierston Wareing), she is just about to get sacked from her job in a Polish recruitment agency for throwing a glass of water in the face of a sleazy boss. Sick of being treated like shit as a temp worker, and concerned for the future of her son (Joe Siffleet), she decides to set up her own business finding work for migrant labourers from the back of a London pub. With her flatmate (Juliet Ellis) by her side, Angie sets off on a corporate learning curve far steeper than the one taken by well-heeled contestants on The Apprentice. So just how far will the pair go to make some money and gain some self-respect? As it turns out, a long, long way...

Loach and Laverty's great strength as filmmakers is undoubtedly character development. In each of their films, the protagonists end up being very different people from how they begin, and yet this is almost always done seamlessly and believably. The reason for this is that whenever someone has to make a choice in one of their films, they inevitably follow what seems to be in their material interests. Their perspective isn't a cynical one; they just call it as they see it. Where most these days strive for the literally 'sensational' and 'unbelievable', Loach and Laverty pride themselves in achieving just the opposite.

The title is of course an ironic one. Politicians tell us we are 'free' every day, even waging wars in the name of 'liberty', but the only true freedom in our society seems to be that of money to move around the world, reducing every human relationship to cold cash calculation. As Loach has pointed out in interviews for the film, the 'flexible' labour market just means workers globally must bend over backwards to satisfy the needs of profit-hungry corporations. Business has its cake and eats it, because in the absence of any alternative, the right finds it easy to divide and therefore conquer workers. This isn't one of their inspiring pictures by any means (unlike say Bread and Roses or Land and Freedom), but Loach and Laverty have no duty to put a smile on our faces. In their eyes, diagnosis of the disease is the first step towards curing it.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Hallam Foe (18)

Directed by David Mackenzie, Written by Peter Jinks (novel), Ed Whitmore and David Mackenzie (screenplay)

Should adaptations stay loyal to the book, or must the director’s first priority be making sure the film flows properly? It’s a question that’s taxed the brains of many handwringing reviewers with nothing significant to worry about. But why bring ‘morality’ into it? A film is either successful or it isn’t, and the director, writer and viewer will all have a different idea of what success means. Personally, I think this film isn’t particularly successful, because the most intriguing traits of the title role are barely hinted at, in what - at only ninety-four minutes - is quite a short movie.

Hallam Foe (Jamie Bell) is a seventeen-year-old who is struggling to come to terms with both the death of his mother three years ago and adolescence. Now his rich architect dad (Ciarán Hinds) has got re-married, Hallam plays out a fantasy life hiding in a treehouse and spying on his step mum (Claire Forlani) plus some other villagers from the rooftops of their Scottish country pile. Eventually the interesting but poorly developed lead character runs away for the bright lights of Edinburgh, and gets a job at a hotel because the head of human resources (Sophia Myles) looks like his mother. Soon he’s spying on her too, and so the film drones on towards it pseudo-Freudian conclusion.

There are some saving graces. Giles Nuttgens’ cinematography is certainly evocative, while Bell and Myles have excellent chemistry together. But in many ways Hallam Foe feels a lot like Asylum, Mackenzie’s last film, which had ambitions to be dark, disturbing, and deep, but never got further than the most shallow and superficial psychology.

Still, it might be a decent book.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Workers Vs Workers Beer Company

Servers who work at events with the Workers Beer Company have set up a union, in an attempt to protect ourselves from the creeping further influence of profit margins on our conditions.

For those who don't know, the Workers Beer Company was set up by Battersea and Wandsworth TUC in the mid-1980s, as a fundraising arm for campaigning activities. Since then, the company has grown to a large size, and provides workers for Glastonbury, Leeds and Reading (Carling Weekend), Tolpuddle, and various other festivals.

On the surface, it seems like servers have a decent deal. You get free entry, some free food and drink, and free camping space. The organisation you come with (I go with Merseyside Hazards & Environmental Centre, but unions, campaign groups and others are represented) gets £6.50 per hour for your labour, which is better than many bar workers are paid. But there are drawbacks. For a start, the average festival server is worked far harder than they would be in a pub, and we are entitled to only twenty minutes breaktime in a six hour shift. Or at least we thought that was an entitlement...

The essential contradiction behind the WBC is that it's based entirely on the exploitation of workers! The more servers are exploited, the more money is raised for campaigning against the exploitation of workers! Add a layer of paid bureaucrats to this mix and you get a structure resembling the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' in the Soviet Union! But hey, you get to see some bands, so it's just about worth it.

This year, however, it seems the screw has been tightened significantly.

On Thursday, 23rd August I arrived at Leeds festival to set up for the weekend, and already there were grumblings among servers who'd been at Glastonbury in June. I discussed the issues with a fellow server from Liverpool, who complained that there had been a serious health and safety lapse, and that following an incident where one group had openly touted for tips, we would ALL now have to hand our tips over to the WBC's Clause IV fund. I was disgusted to discover that the money was earmarked for the building of a school in Gambia. Now obviously I want children in Africa to be educated same as anyone, but then so does the entire western ruling class. There's nothing radical about that. With a postal strike on, I wondered aloud why the money wasn't being donated to the strikers. Anyway, fuck that, I wanted my money, to do with as I pleased (including paying £4 per stodgy meal in the WBC compound)!

At breakfast time on Friday, I was approached by my colleague from Liverpool, who had a bundle of leaflets explaining the situation to our fellow workers. I distributed a few dozen of them, and was quickly collared by a WBC manager. He asked me lots of questions in an aggressive manner, disputed my right to hand out leaflets containing info about an incident I'd not seen (therefore undermining the whole basis of trade unionism), and warning I was making myself "look like a tit".

I was on late shift, so I and a few others shuttled round all the beer tents, talking to individuals from each one, and asking them to provide a delegate to report on their conditions to a meeting on Saturday morning. As we passed each other in the fields, us troublemakers encouraged each other by shouting things like 'all power in the hands of the workers'. By evening, rumours were circulating that the managers had come to an agreement over tips, so I was able to enjoy Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins satisfied that I'd put in a good day's activism.

Saturday morning bright and early saw the first meeting of the servers' union, with about ten people present. We discussed problems that had arisen from Friday's shift, for instance that some managers were refusing their workers the twenty minutes break, which they claimed was not officially part of our contract. Someone noticed that our staff t-shirts (normally provided by the WBC's own 'Ethical Threads'), were now being supplied by notorious union-busters Fruit Of The Loom. What's more, we'd been promised an announcement on tips by 9.30, and that time had been and gone. We decided that we would openly keep the tips, and force the WBC's hand on the issue.

We had our final Leeds meeting on Sunday, the main point of which was to organise for next year's festivals and getting an internet group going. There were about twenty of us this time, the word having got out further over the past twenty-four hours. It had even got out to our colleagues serving at the Reading festival, but because the server activists were in a tiny minority there, they'd reportedly been threatened with the police! Even at Leeds, some managers had STILL been giving servers grief over the tips! Someone pointed out that legally the WBC didn’t have a leg to stand on, because if someone gives an individual money over and above what they are paying, it is up to that individual what they want to do with it. We resolved to spread the word to all server groups who work for the WBC at any festival, so they can all send one delegate to meetings in the future, and therefore we will be setting the agenda rather than responding to the WBC's diktats.

With many of the servers being Thatcher's children, it was a first taste of workplace activism for some of us, so that was really positive. In fact, it was one of the highlights of my festival, but then most of the music wasn't up to much.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Grand Opening Week At Liverpool's Next To Nowhere

Today I give my blog over to an advance warning from Liverpool's new social centre:

We open with a week of events from 15th September to 23rd September (flyer), and from then on will be available to book for meetings and events. If you have a meeting or event that you would like to put on why not book the centre?

Calendar of Coming Events and Meetings (click header to return to homepage)

Grand Opening Week

(flyer)
Saturday 15th September - 7pm till late

Opening night gig and party


Come celebrate in grand style with a night of live music and great DJs.
Donation on the door with all proceeds going to the running costs of the
centre.


Sunday 16th September - 7pm - 10pm

Oaxaca Info Night


Mexican speaker from Indymedia Oaxaca. Update on the uprising, police
repression & protests in Oaxaca, Mexico. (flyer)


Tuesday 18th September - 7.30pm - 10pm

Conspiracy Evening

From 9-11 and JFK to the Masons and the New World Order - why are there
so many conspiracy theories and what should we do with them?


Wednesday 19th September - 7.30pm - 9pm

Indymedia Info Night


The Liverpool Indymedia team present films and discussion introducing
Indymedia and letting you know how to get the best out of the site.


Thursday 20th September - 7.30pm - 10pm

Introduction to Anarchism


Merseyside Anarchist Group presents speakers and discussion on the politics
and history of anarchism. With speakers from the Anarchist Federation.
(flyer)


Friday 21st September - 7.30pm - 10pm

The Boy Who Dropped an Egg on the World - A Play


Jack's Hard Rub theatre company present writer/director Julian Bond's
powerful anti-war production.


Saturday 22nd September - 7.30pm till late

School Students Against War - Benefit Night


Live music and DJs, good company and dancing to benefit School Students
Against War.


Sunday 23rd September - 7pm - 11pm

Free Screen - Film Night


The first of our regular film nights. Showing Osama - an Afghan film about
life under the Taliban and Walkout - a drama based on anti racist school
struggles in 60s LA.

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