Tuesday, January 29, 2008

1996: 'Hawk Women' Disarm Fighter Jet

In the small hours of 29th January 1996, three women from the Seeds of Hope East Timor Ploughshares group cut their way through the fence of the British Aerospace factory test site in Warton, Lancashire. Once inside, they located a £13 million Hawk fighter jet, and proceeded to cause two million pounds worth of improvements with some hammers. The cockpit weapons system was disarmed, along with radar controls, the nose cone and wing parts from which bombs are hung. They then painted the plane with peace symbols, and danced around the hangar before ringing the Press Association.

John Major’s Conservative regime had been planning to sell the aircraft to the Indonesian government of General Suharto, which had occupied East Timor since 1975, killing a third of the population. However, the actions of Joanna Wilson and Andrea Needham from Kirkby and Lotta Kronlid from Sweden stopped at least one plane from joining the slaughter.

Four women (the three who broke into the factory plus one supporter) were tried on charges of criminal damage in July 1997 at Liverpool Crown Court. The defence included evidence from journalist John Pilger and the East Timorese leader in exile. The jury eventually found the women not guilty, agreeing with their claims they’d been using reasonable force to prevent a greater crime.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

How Nonviolence Protects The State

'All the power's in the hands/Of people rich enough to buy it/While we walk the street/Too chicken to even try it' - The Clash, White Riot

American anarchist Peter Gelderloos visited Liverpool's Next To Nowhere social centre last night, to discuss the limitations of nonviolence as a strategy for achieving social change, and sell a few copies of his book, How Nonviolence Protects The State.

Gelderloos - who is facing what looks like a politically-motivated prosecution on terrorism charges in Spain - spoke with a largeish crowd for a Friday evening, delivering a forty minute presentation, which was followed by a wide-ranging, thought-provoking and often heated discussion.

Peter explained how for him - and for other anarchists - the state itself is violence, both physical and mental, against everyone it governs. If anarchy would mean peace and fluffiness, the most important question is how do we get there? He then took on the 'false histories' and premises of nonviolence one by one.

Advocates of nonviolence often point to Gandhi and Martin Luther King as success stories who achieved their goals through entirely peaceful methods. However, Gandhi claimed that violent methods are better than using nonviolence to hide your passivity, whilst King was often protected by the Black Panthers. Neither had nonviolence brought an end to the war in Vietnam. Instead, a combination of Vietnamese resistance and US soldier mutinies had convinced the authorities that it was time for a tactical retreat. By extension, there was no way that exclusively passive tactics could end the Iraqi bloodbath.

He also examined the elitistist nature of nonviolence, a strategy which has little credence in the majority world (where direct physical repression is an everyday reality), but has many followers in the relatively comfortable imperialist nations. He painted a picture of mainly white protesters looking down on the non-whites for sinking to the level of the authorities. It's a moralising attitide which is powerless in the face of direct confrontation with the police and/or military, because it preserves the state's monopoly on force. The state and white liberals lay down the rules of the game, then reap the rewards. For Gelderloos, exclusive non-violence is controlling and therefore inherently hierarchical, especially when supposed 'activists' report their fellow activists to the authorities. My thoughts turned to Stop The War marches when I have seen orange bibbed Socialist Workers Party stewards point-out people taking direct action to the police.

After a short break, we began our discussion. Tempers quickly became frayed, as is inevitable when long-held beliefs are challenged. It was uncomfortable but fascinating to see people struggling to fight their ways through layers of indoctrination by the state and the media, to find out what they actually thought was the best strategy for change. That's not to say that everyone was convinced by the arguments, because they certainly weren't, but I think everyone gained a deeper understanding of the other's point of view. And the perspectives aren't really opposing, as long as we grasp that whatever our tactics, the real enemy is the capitalist state, and that revolution - an act of taking back what has been stolen from us - cannot be entirely passive.

Peter Gelderloos is at the Edinburgh Quaker Meeting House on Sunday, the Star and Shadow cinema in Newcastle on Tuesday, the Common Place in Leeds on Thursday, and the Cowley Club in Brighton on Friday.

Liverpool Blood Service 'At Threat' From Own Workers!

'City Blood Service Is At Threat', screams today's grammatically suspect Liverpool Echo headline. But just who is threatening the service? Apparently it's people who work there!

The National Blood Service delivers 'blood, blood components, blood products and tissues from our 15 blood centres to anywhere in England and North Wales', according to its website. In its wisdom, the government plans to close ten of the twelve blood centres nationwide, meaning blood will have to travel further. Quite apart from the increased carbon emissions, this will inevitably cost lives, as patients wait have to wait longer for transfusions. But hey, it will save money, so that's okay!

In Liverpool, the twenty-five staff at the Dale Street branch are considering strike action against proposed 'flexible' opening hours, which management claim will 'boost donation', but workers believe is just about cutting budgets.

David Owen of Unison told the Echo that:
“We believe these changes would affect our members dramatically and we intend to pursue this...Our staff are committed and dedicated and feel saddened at the thought of striking. However the reality is that they have been treated deploringly. They have been intimidated."
But the opening paragraph of the Echo's article turns reality on its head, and makes out it's the workers who are to blame:
'The supply of blood to Liverpool’s transfusion service will be seriously reduced if staff, who are furious at changes in working practice, ballot to strike.'
Of course, if there is a strike, people will suffer. But they will suffer far more if the cuts are implemented!

However, Unison can in no way be trusted to deal with this issue, since they are a New Labourite corporate union with a long record of isolating and strangling campaigns, as witnessed in the recent Karen Reissman case in Manchester. The Industrial Workers of The World are running what looks like quite an effective fightback against the cuts, and ultimately look to 'sack the boss' rather than make deals with him.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

2006: Deported Chinese Seamen Remembered

During World War Two, Liverpool became the home of became home to the Chinese Merchant Seamen's Pool, which saw thousands of Chinese sailors arriving in the city to ‘do their duty’ for Britain. At one stage there were around 20,000 registered for work. Only about two thousand stayed at the end of the war, but this was two thousand too many for the incoming Labour government. Despite the fact that more than a few had married and had children, the Home Office was determined to reduce Liverpool’s Chinese population back to its pre-war level.

Hundreds of Chinese sailors were rounded up in Liverpool between October 1945 and July 1946, and sent back to China. Relatives and friends were often left with no explanation, and this caused great suffering. That was the thanks the Chinese were given for supporting the Allied war effort.

In 2006, following a campaign by the wives, children and grandchildren of those who had been cruelly snatched, a plaque was unveiled at the Pier Head. It reads:

‘To the Chinese merchant seamen who served this country well during both world wars. For those who gave their lives for this country. Thank you. To the many Chinese merchant seamen who after both world wars were required to leave. For their wives and partners who were left in ignorance of what had happened to their men. For the children who never knew their fathers. This is a small reminder of what took place. We hope nothing like it will ever happen again. For your memory.’

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Oi Imperialists! Hands Off Iraqi Oil!

"I'm saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: The Iraq war is largely about oil." – Alan Greenspan

On Friday night, Greg Muttitt of the Hands Off Iraqi Oil group spoke at Next To Nowhere in Liverpool about the ongoing privatisation of Iraqi oil, and resistance to it.

No-one who attended seemed to be in any doubt Iraq's oil was the main reason for the invasion nearly five years ago, and Greg gave us some detail on the subject, something he has been extensively researching for a long time. He described himself as being "optimistic" about the country's future, precisely because of the oil unions' attempts to derail the "imperialistic" plans of the United States and UK.

The proposed oil law was drafted by the Bush administration and consultants BearingPoint in 2006, and was passed by the occupiers' puppet cabinet, led by Nouri al-Maliki, in February last year. Since then, Maliki has struggled to get it through parliament, something which has exasperated Republicans and Democrats alike, leading to talk of the need for a 'strongman' in some quarters.

Under the law, two thirds of Iraq's oil fields would be exploited by western oil companies, who would reap profits from the estimated 115 billion barrels of oil, over a period of a few decades. Small wonder the US is currently building permanent military bases in the country.

Despite oil unions being made illegal by Paul Bremer (Bush's first civilian dictator in Iraq), and facing military threats and arrests, the oil workers have taken successful strike action, winning wage increases from the US authorities. Now they are campaigning for Iraqi oil wealth to remain in Iraqi hands, and for an end to the occupation. A great strength of this working class action is that it has brought Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurd together, whereas the occupation's strategy has been one of 'divide and conquer' from the very beginning. This class unity is the only way that sectarianism is going to be defeated, in Iraq or anywhere else.

Hands Off Iraqi Oil have called a day of action against oil companies for Saturday, 23rd February. Since A to B marches have clearly failed to stop the bloody conquest in Iraq (and the threatened one against its oil-rich neighbour Iran), direct action should be part of a new strategy against war and the profit system which creates it.

Express your solidarity with Iraqi workers, and strike a blow against the war machine at the same time!

1997: International Solidarity With Sacked Dockers

On 20th January 1997, a massive show of international solidarity with Liverpool’s five hundred sacked dockers took place in twenty-seven countries across the globe. Dockers from Australia to Denmark and Japan to America took part in different actions, including demonstrations, work-to-rules, and full scale stoppages. It was the first designated worldwide day of action in support of the Liverpool dockers, and a hugely significant day in terms of the international labour movement.

Workers from different continents had organised the day as a global response to the globalised capitalist economy’s drive for casualisation of labour. The newly emerging internet played a big part in coordinating workers worldwide, for perhaps the first time on such a large scale. The importance of this cannot be overstated, as it demonstrated how technology that was developed for instant communication between branches of the US military could be used to unite working people and threaten the rule of the rich and powerful.

In Liverpool itself, fourteen people chained themselves onto the top of 150-foot cranes at Seaforth docks for twenty-seven hours, and stopped the unloading of genetically engineered soya beans.

Friday, January 18, 2008

2003: 2,500 March Against Iraq Invasion

An estimated two and a half thousand people marched through Liverpool, showing their opposition to the George Bush and Tony Blair’s drive to war against Iraq.

Liverpool Friends of Palestine had originally called the demo on the steps of St Luke’s (bombed-out) church, Berry Street, where they held monthly vigils. Liverpool TUC gave their backing, and followed by Merseyside Stop the War Coalition. Publicity went out on 7th January.

Marchers arrived at the Victoria monument at the top of Lord Street, and heard the Jimi Hendrix version of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’, James Larkin Republican Flute Band playing ‘Fields of Athan Rye’, before speakers from the on-strike Fire Brigades Union and the Liverpool Muslim Society amongst others urged the crowd to stop the war before it started. A statement of support from San Francisco dockers was read out, which ended with the words: “Defeat the bloody imperial warmongers! Victory to the international anti-war movement!”

Monday, January 14, 2008

1984: BBC Bans 'Relax'

The BBC banned Frankie Goes to Hollywood's ‘Relax’ on this date, while it was at number six in the singles chart. The publicity this generated then helped it get to number one, and stay there for five weeks. Eventually it sold 1.91 million copies, making it the seventh highest selling single in UK chart history.

The Liverpool-based band emerged from the local punk scene in the late 1970s. They went through many different line-ups, and by the time that John Peel started championing the band in 1983, they were making a dancified version of new wave. But it was a performance on Channel 4’s ‘The Tube’ that got them the attention of a label, and ZTT Records signed them.

‘Relax’ was released in October of 1983, with its B-side ‘Ferry Cross The Mersey’, and gradually climbed into the top ten. It was then that Radio One DJ and prominent Conservative Party supporter Mike Read took offence to the sexually suggestive cover and lyrics. He announced he would not play the song any more, and the BBC as a whole decided to support him.

However, it was the open and unabashed homosexuality of lead singer Holly Johnson and keyboardist Paul Rutherford that caused the most controversy, and makes this event worth a place in this resistance calendar. The original video for ‘Relax’ was set in a gay club, and this was at a time when to be ‘out’ in the music business was still very much a taboo. The public’s overwhelming reaction to establishment bigotry reflected changes going on in society at the time, and gave confidence to many people looking to come out as gay.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

1996: Women Of The Waterfront Petition PM

Here's the first of 2008's 'on this day' features documenting the history of Merseyside resistance, taken from the calendar in Nerve magazine.

Women Of The Waterfront handed in a petition at 10 Downing Street, calling on Prime Minister John Major to order "the immediate reinstatement of the 500 sacked Liverpool dockers'', and describing the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company as "a callous, uncaring and bad employer''. The strike (or more precisely ‘lockout’) began when the five hundred refused to cross a picket line.

The Women Of The Waterfront played an important role in the dispute, which lasted two and a half years. Since the vast majority of the striking dockers were male, their female relatives formed the group so they could coordinate their activities. As well as organising petitions, they attended pickets, went on an international tour, and helped generate funds and publicity for the striking workers and their families. Their struggle was portrayed in Jimmy McGovern and Irvine Welsh’s television film ‘Dockers’.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Liverpool's Culture Of Capitalism

As the sun rises on Liverpool's European Capital of Culture reign, it's time to look at the positives and negatives that have come the way of people in the city since the award was made in June 2003.

On the plus side, some extra set piece events are coming during the year, which some will be fortunate enough to see. And...that's it! The culture side isn't going to be anywhere near the standards of the more democratically-organised Cork 2005.

As for the rest of us, the last few years has seen attack after attack on our living standards justified in the name of 'capital of culture' (which is actually more to do with capital). For example, a large part of the city centre has been privatised, and handed over to the Duke Of Westminster. This means top brands are coming, which few Liverpudlians will be able to afford, and the city centre will look even more like a 'clone town', because many smaller businesses have been turfed out, or are struggling to keep up the rent. As are many people living outside L1, as landlords have seized the chance to make more money. That's not to say residents are getting any better housing, in fact vast swathes of working class housing is marked for compulsory purchase and demolition, so less maintenance work is being done in those areas.

The city's green spaces haven't been spared from capital's ruthless expansion. The former garden festival site could be buried under luxury flats if developers get their way. A determined local campaign has held them up, and they haven't even got planning permission yet, but that didn't stop them illegally felling trees last March. Parks are also being eaten into, a situation which will only get worse if Liverpool FC's planned new stadium tears through large parts of Stanley Park.

In 2003, central government gave Liverpool City Council a large cash injection to cover capital of culture, but now it is claimed they are £29 million short, and need £7 million just to fund normal services. Unless Gordon Brown coughs up, the extra funds will come from council tax payers, but council leaders have their snouts firmly in the trough, as documented in the blog of a council insider.

As an article on the Liverpool Times website observed:
'The capital of culture is not about Huyton, Norris Green or Croxteth or Halewood. It is not about Canny Farm, now named Stockbridge village in the hope that the word ‘village’ would stop crime. The capital of culture is a blank cheque for the pen-pushers and the damned consultants who are popping up all over Liverpool'
With all this in mind, Liverpool people are not likely to remember 2008 for the impact that culture made on their lives. Debt counsellors in the city are reportedly snowed under with clients, as people struggle to keep up with repayments. Capital of reposessions anyone?

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