Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Get involved with Liverpool Indymedia

The Liverpool Indymedia group will be meeting in the social centre next to News From Nowhere, 96a Bold Street at 6pm on Tuesday next (6th March).

We will discuss how we can take Liverpool Indymedia forward, and get more people contributing to the site, as well as reading it.

If would like to get involved, the meeting will be open to anyone who agrees with our mission statement, which begins:

'Indymedia Liverpool aims to be your source of biased, one-sided reporting from Merseyside. We report from the perspective of those struggling for liberty, equality and solidarity. We want a world where people work together to achieve peace, environmental sustainability
and social justice for all. We exist because we believe that the mainstream and corporate-controlled media - by its very nature - stands against our aims, in favour of the rich and powerful. We want to take the power back!'

Absolutely no experience of journalism needed, just bring your enthusiasm for passionate truth-telling!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Save the NHS! Organise for Resistance!

About 200 people marched from the Royal Liverpool Hospital in Prescot Street to the William Brown Street fountain on Thursday 22nd February, showing their anger at government plans for the National Health Service.

Private Finance Intiatives (PFIs) and the farming-out of NHS contracts to private companies are causing big debts within local trusts. Last year, the NHS was half a billion pounds in debt to the government, who want to spend tens of billions on a replacement for the Trident nuclear missile system. Meanwhile, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt insists that that Trusts stay on budget by making vicious cuts!

This would be bad enough, but the government also wants to slash NHS funding by more than £2 billion per year! A leaked report recently showed that the Department of Health wants to sack 2.7% of NHS staff! They know workers won’t like this, so the memo even proposes strategies for getting the unions on board, and helping union bureaucrats to sell redundancies and pay cuts to their members!

All this and more was on the minds of us glowstick-carrying marchers, and our chants of "you say warfare, we say healthcare"and "save the NHS" drew support from drivers and passers-by. The march proved we don’t need police protection to run things, because they had apparently refused to provide any, because it “wasn’t safe for them to work at nights”!

Once we got to the fountain, it was time for a few speeches. Derek Jones, a Transport and General Workers Union rep from Arrowe Park in Upton, argued the government wants “the privatisation of our health service”, which is used by “our mums, dads, grannies, granddads and children”. He told us that Arrowe Park lost 140 beds in the last year, mainly those set-aside for the elderly. Questioning the logic of the government’s policy, he claimed that Blair and Brown’s free market agenda was a recipe for “instability” in a “national institution like the NHS”.

The speaker from UNISON, the union for state employees, told protesters that managers were considering outsourcing some admin work at the Royal to India! “Right across the country”, she declared, “there’s changes happening in hospitals, that’s being done slowly and quietly towards the private sector”. Her strategy for stopping this process was that union members “…have to say to the Labour government ‘Enough is enough, start talking to the NHS workers’”.

Danny McGowan of the Amicus union claimed that “There is a cold wind blowing through the NHS”, and that workers are worried about losing their jobs. This is because extra money is going on “consultants fees, PFI…all these wasteful things”. He proposed that people “write letters”, use “whatever influence we can” and “push things forward”. Like Derek Jones, he asked “Is the government going mad?”

The answer to that question is a most definite NO! They are very coldly and logically acting in their own best interests. The problem is that the interests of the rich are completely opposed to those of working class people.

The capitalist system relies on governments competing with each other to open up new markets for the rich to plunder. That is happening in Iraq, Iran, and your local hospital. Telling a government it’s hurting you is like shouting the same thing at a rapist. In both cases, the attackers know what exactly what they are doing.

So what can we do about the dismantling of the NHS? Like any problem – from poverty pay to war to environmental destruction – working class people need to organise in their communities and workplaces to attack the profit system and promote money-free alternatives.

Anarchists at the protest handed-out a bulletin on the crisis, which proposed various ways of fighting back against the government’s greedy plans. Strikes are great, but when they take place in healthcare, they actually harm working class people and harm solidarity. An interesting alternative is the occupation of hospitals by workers, who ‘take control over whether equipment and patients are moved’. After all, ‘a hospital can only be closed if it has no patients in it’. This has happened before, as far back as 1922, when Radcliffe hospital in Nottingham was run by its workers. It also happened a lot from the late seventies to the early nineties, when the last government was attacking healthcare. The general public supported these actions, because they knew they would be the ones to lose out if the workers were defeated.

A good old demo is fine, but it must demonstrate support for working class action, not be a comforting substitute for something that could actually change the world for the better.

Read more about hospital occupations here.


CC Theatre Company
Unity Theatre (22nd February 2007)

I’d had offers to be in two other places at seven pm on 22nd February, but no, the theatre was going to be great. After all, the blurb professed I’d have the chance to ‘Be more than a spectator’ as the CC company ‘use multi-media technologies to address the question, what is truth?’ It would be a ‘politically charged, emotionally-provoking journey into the realm of artistic activism’. Who needs the pub when you’ve got all that? Only problem is, the spiel was a blatant lie.

Ok, so the sketches were works-in-progress, and there was the germ of a good idea in a couple of them (notably the ridiculously over-the-top yet under-rehearsed drama group, plus the drugged-up rocker who claimed to have been intimately acquainted with Johnny Cash). But there was no new thought even there, and much of the easy laughs came from facile double entendres that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Dale Winton vehicle.

Of course CC are cleverer than that. They use long words sometimes, and they know who David Cameron is. They also mention iPods, covering up for the lack of ideas with cultural references that are so 2007 and a joke borrowed from Russell Brand.

Some of the characters made reference to the fact the audience numbered fourteen, which was a ‘record’. If they don’t think of something more relevant sharpish, they won’t deserve double figures.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Science of Sleep (15)

Written and Directed by Michel Gondry
Screening at FACT from 16th February - 8th March 2007

In many ways, The Science of Sleep is a lot like Gondry's other major film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It's amazing to look at, it feels like a bit of a trip, and it's close to being a great film. But it isn't one. And that's annoying.

After his Mexican dad dies, shy and sensitive Stéphane (Gael García Bernal) is persuaded by his mum to work on an 'artistic' job in Paris. Unfortunately for him, it turns out his role is to glue pieces of paper together for a calendar company, so his creative juices are pent up during the day, and only released in dreamtime. Most of his dreams about his next door neighbour Stéphanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who he falls for in a big way when her piano lands on his hand (as you would). But soon enough he gets caught up in his obsession, and the line between fantasy and reality doesn't so much blur as disappear completely.

This is a very enjoyable film in a way, because the leading duo are great together, and the dream sequences are rendered beautifully, using many of the skills Gondry sharpened making music videos for the Foo Fighters, Chemical Brothers and White Stripes. But I can see that people who aren't into that kind of thing are going to hate this film, because there isn't really much there if you scratch beneath the surface.

Just like in Eternal Sunshine, the whole film is (deliberately or not) based on Descartes' famous truism 'I think therefore I am'. The only thing I can be 100% sure of is that I exist. I might be dreaming about writing this review (what a sad case I'd be), I might be a brainwashed battery being drained by a giant machine like in The Matrix, or the universe might have been created last Thursday by Queen Maeve the Housecat, and all my twenty-five years of 'memories' came pre-installed. Those are interesting ideas, definitely, but it isn't worth more than maybe an hour's thought, never mind two films.

Why is Gondry scared of confronting the reality that surrounds him? If he manages to do that, his third movie may be a modern masterpiece. If not, all the animated effects in the world won't make it watchable.

The Ghosts of Songs

Black Audio Film Collective FACT Centre, Wood Street (2nd February - 1st April 2007, Tues-Sun 11am-6pm)

During their active years in the 1980s and 90s, the Black Audio Film Collective never navel gazed about the 'black experience', unlike many of their modern day, lottery-funded counterparts. Which is a very good thing, for two reasons. First off, there's no such thing as the black experience or identity, any more than there is a white one. Condoleezza Rice feels her ethnicity in a very different way to people scraping a living in Liverpool. Secondly, the group's work is therefore open to those of us with much less melanin in our skin.

The Ghosts of Songs is a retrospective exhibition, taking in a fascinating selection of the collective's films and posters, even taking in their record and book collections. The films are split between four partitioned galleries on the first floor, and the ground floor Media Lounge. Upstairs you can see Handsworth Songs - which documents the poverty and alienation that sparked the Handsworth riots of 1981 and 1985, and Signs of Empire - which weaves together haunting music, political speeches, and images from the British so-called Commonwealth. This film is particularly powerful, because it's eerily reminiscent of the current attempt by the US and UK to bring the entire Middle East under the sway of Western business interests.

Downstairs, there are several films on a loop. During my visit I watched The Last Angel of History - which combines black working class history with sci-fi narratives and a blues/funk/jungle soundtrack, and A Touch of the Tar Brush. This was filmed in Liverpool fifteen years ago, and presenter John Akomfrah re-traced writer JB Priestley's 1933 journey through areas such as Toxteth, where he had been delighted to see a large black population co-existing (and reproducing) with the local whites. At one moment, a woman at my screening sat bolt upright, pointed at the screen and started shouting. Apparently, her sister had been interviewed for the film, and she'd never known about it!

The Media Lounge also plays host to a new piece by former collective member David Rokeby. Using musical keyboards, visitors can choose images, and combine them with music and sound effects to create their own one time only film. I played with this for about twenty minutes!

As soon as I saw that most of the collective's books are also either on my shelves or my Amazon wishlist, I knew I'd be intrigued by the whole exhibition. But there is something there for anyone who has ever struggled to get by in life, whether their ancestors left Africa a hundred thousand years ago or last Tuesday.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Sefton Libraries are "non-essential"? Or are they?

'The bulk' of council services in Sefton - including libraries, childrens' and social services - could soon be opened-up to profiteering, according to an article in today's Daily Post. Another alternative being presented is that "non-essential" services such as libraries (apparently) should close. You see, there just isn't enough dosh to go round.

But of course, we don't want closures, do we? 'If opening the services up to profit is the only way to save them, so be it', is the last line of the letter we're supposed to write to the Echo.

There Is An Alternative! Organise in our workplaces to challenge and defeat the system which dictates that things are only "essential" if a few quid can be made out of them.

In other news, Sefton's council tax bill is set to rise by 4.25% in April.

Liverpool In 'Power Corrupts' Shocker

In a revelation which will surely shake people's most basic assumptions about how powerful people use their power, it has been announced that PC Stephen Anderson and David Appleton - deputy head of Liverpool trading standards - are being charged with conspiracy to steal cigarettes, clothing and other property belonging to the city council.

Yes, dear reader, it is true. There isn't enough to go around under capitalism. So those in positions of power use that power to get themselves a bigger slice of the cake.

According to the Echo, Appleton 'helped lead the city’s fight against counterfeit goods and was responsible for raids on traders in city markets'. So someone must have given him a backhander!!! Shocking but true!!!

As a wise man once said '...history itself is nothing but the activity of men pursuing their purposes'. Yeah, these days we'd say 'people', not 'men', but you get the idea. What do you say we organise as a united working class and pursue our own purposes - taking the power back from all those who wield it against us?

Read the rest of the story here.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Families Against Corporate Killers in Liverpool

A group of about twenty people attended a meeting about the Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) campaign on Thursday, 8th February, at the Liverpool John Moores University building on Clarence Street.

The meeting – which was chaired by JMU's Steve Tombs – was an interesting and often moving introduction to FACK, who are a group of families that lost relatives and loved ones through work-place incidents. This is very relevant to Liverpool at the moment, with construction firms rushing to get work done in time for the Capital of Culture festivities in just ten and a half months. Three weeks ago, a 31-year-old Polish worker was fatally crushed when a crane said to have been overloaded with concrete crashed on top of him.

Dawn and Paul Adams spoke about the loss of their six-year-old son at the then newly-opened Trafford Centre, Manchester in 1998. Samuel Adams was killed when a heavy balustrade fell on him. There were no risk assessments or safety measures in place, because work had been hurried to get the centre open in time for the pre-Christmas build-up.

In fact, as the meeting was opened to the floor and more people came forward with their stories, a pattern emerged of corners being cut in the name of profits, and working class people paying the price with their lives.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, 212 people died at work in 2005. But this figure does not count 384 members of the public and about 1000 killed in work-related traffic accidents. Thousands more die from occupational illnesses, such as asbestosis. Compare this to just over a thousand murders in the UK during 2005. Shame there are so many ridiculous murder dramas on telly yet next to nothing about corporate killers!

The ‘Labour’ government are finally putting their Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill through Parliament, after spending ten years watering down their 1997 conference commitment. However, the Bill is so weak that the bosses union (the CBI) has backed it, and even Maggie Thatcher supported widening it in the House of Lords this week!

Under the new plans, the upper limit on fines will be removed, but no individuals will be fined or see the inside of a prison cell. Even to secure a fine, the prosecution will have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that senior managers ‘sought to cause the organisation to profit’. Unless there is paper evidence available, this will prove very difficult.

Speakers from various trade unions voiced their desire for a strong Corporate Manslaughter act, and pledged their support for FACK’s campaigns of lobbying and awareness raising. Some pledged that they would propose motions at future union meetings. One speaker from the Merseyside Hazards and Environmental Centre suggested that widening the campaign by taking direct action against employers, and involving members of the general public. Dawn Adams said she thought this was good idea if people were up for it, but many relatives would feel unable even to set foot in a place where they had been bereaved.

Brave as they are, this shows the limits of FACK’s campaign. By their very nature, they only draw their membership from relatives of people who are already, unfortunately, dead. They can’t extend their reach to the great mass of the working class population, beyond giving talks to rooms full of people who are already likely to know something about the issues. Workers need to organise at their workplaces, as do people who live near to dangerous workplaces. Something similar happened in London a few weeks ago, when yet another crane collapsed.

Governments have always sided with business interests, so our ultimate goal should be to abolish the profit system itself, rather than trying to take the edge off it with sticking plaster legislation.

Black Book (15)

Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Written by Paul Verhoeven and Gerard Soeteman
Screening at FACT from 9th-14th February 2007

'All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players', declared Shakespeare in As You Like It. Paul Verhoeven is clearly of the same opinion, so he bashes us over the head with it in this elegantly shot, but ultimately quite silly film about the tail end of World War Two in Europe.

When her safe house is bombed, Jewish singer Rachel (Carice van Houten) is forced to go on the run. Eventually she joins the resistance (or 'terrorists', as the fascists call them), and becomes ‘Ellis’, a very blonde undercover agent, who uses a high-ranking Nazi (Sebastian Koch)’s lust against him, and gains access to secrets about fighters who languish in the regime’s jails. But it’s not as simple as that, because no one but no one is reliable, and everyone is part of some hidden agenda or other.

Verhoeven may be best known for films such as RoboCop and Basic Instinct, but before all that he had a critical reputation for making picturesque ‘foreign language’ films. This is a return to that kind of thing, albeit with the power of a large budget behind it. Every detail of every backdrop and costume is gorgeously brought to life, and the excellent cast fit their roles perfectly. Special mention goes to Waldemar Kobus, who plays a particularly greasy and repulsive (and circumcised, interestingly) Nazi with glee, like he stepped out of a 1940s version of a George Grosz painting.

But a lot of this good stuff is almost forgotten, as the movie drags on so damn long, with more twists than a box of pretzels. Because you see, no matter how people seem, they’re actually not like that at all, and they’re all just trying to stab everyone else in the back.

Ok, so we’re biologically programmed to look out for number one. But there are different strategies for doing that. After all, what goes around is meant to come around. Some people – which includes many of those who resisted the fascists in their own countries – had the idea that if you act in solidarity with others, they will act in solidarity with you. We’re not all ‘evil’ because some woman ate an apple she got from a talking snake; we have the capacity for great acts of courage. Cheer up Mijnheer Verhoeven!

911 - Back Door Job

Edited by Tim Bleasdale
The Projection Gallery, Roscoe Street

10th February 2007

On a bitterly cold evening, in a damp and draughty building, about forty people braved the conditions and the conditioning to view a film about something one man said would "
...set the course for this new century and determine the destiny of millions across the world." That heroic figure was George W Bush, on September 11th 2001.

Since then of course, wars have been launched on Afghanistan and Iraq, and threatened against other countries that happen to be important for American and British oil companies. Military budgets have been increased and social programmes slashed. At the same time, draconian new laws have been brought in across the western world, which potentially threaten anyone who dares to speak up against the rule of the rich. So what are we going to do about it?

Well, Liverpool-born Tim Bleasdale (son of dramatist Alan) has made a 78 minute film, which provoked applause, cheers and tears at its Roscoe Street screening. Combining footage taken from other 9/11 videos, news reports and speeches from experts, Bleasdale plants the seed of doubt in the viewer's mind, then nurtures it with a sprinkling of darkly paranoid music and the obligatory Hitler references. The effect would be unsettling even for the most devout of Bush's bible belt believers, and many in the audience were visibly shaken.

So is Bleasdale right? Was the whole thing an American set-up? Quite possibly. Of course, the nature of these things is that very few people actually know for sure, otherwise much more would have come out by now. Certainly, key people within the Bush government went on record in hoping for a 'new Pearl Harbor', which would allow them to do everything they have done since. Certainly, it has become clear that intelligence agencies knew about plans to crash planes into buildings, and even identified the eventual hijackers, when they were still taking flying lessons in the US. After watching Bleasdale's film, it seems there are serious differences between the official explanations and the way in which the three towers collapsed. Yes, I did say three. You didn't hear about the 'pulling' of the seventh tower? Oh yeah, the World Trade Center's new owner made a lot of money on that one.

But the crucial point is this, every minute we spend looking at grainy images of explosions and bits of concrete is another minute we have spent not stopping any wars. Even if it was possible to make a film which 100% convinced every single viewer that the Bush administration organised a massive act of violence against Americans, very few people would ever get to see it, due to the fact that it would get zero corporate media coverage. But hundreds of millions of people on both sides of the Atlantic want an end to the violence abroad and the repression at home. Surely it makes sense to focus on that.

The truth will out eventually, but in the meantime we have a world to save.

If you've got an hour or so before you organise in your workplace or neighbourhood to stop this madness, it won't do you any harm to watch the film.

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