Thursday, February 28, 2013

Explosion of Class Anger at Bootle Bedroom Tax Demonstration

Before the off at Caspian Place
Many hundreds of people raged through the streets of Bootle, Merseyside this morning, in protest against the Bedroom Tax, which is just one month away from implementation. The mass demonstration had been organised by grassroots resistance group Stand Up In Bootle, which only sprang up a few weeks ago. The display of anger should send fear into the hearts of bailiffs and politicians alike, but a series of speeches from the traditional left at the end rally saw much of that feeling temporarily dissipate.

Stand Up In Bootle came about primarily in response to the Bedroom Tax, following a Liverpool city centre meeting in January. It has grown over that short period of time through neighbourhood meetings and social networks, tapping into the vast reserves of class-based resentment towards the rich which was very much in evidence today. Activists and supporters from other areas of Merseyside also showed their solidarity, but it was very much a Bootle-based event.

The march assembled at the offices of local social housing association One Vision at Caspian Place, which were not very coincidentally closed for a 'training day'. One Vision have admitted they will be looking to evict anyone who falls behind with their rent after their housing benefit has been cut by 15 or 25%, but seemed reluctant to discuss that with the residents of Bootle today.

Marching past people's houses like a proper thing
The vibrant, jubilant mass passed The New Strand shopping centre following a 'battle bus' which was someone's white van, and down the road to Sefton council offices. Along the way it received raucous support from passers-by, who in the main seemed stunned but happy to see what must have been the first mass demonstration in Bootle for many years. Participants spontaneously shouted anti-government, anti-rich slogans, and many brought extremely colourful homemade placards and banners. The mood was electric, and it felt like a marker was being put down - one of the nation's poorest towns was saying 'this far, and no further' to the "government of toff wankers". As a man on the megaphone put it: "They can stuff their cuts up their arses. I'm sick of us being treated like dickheads." At least two hundred cheers went up, and loads of car horns blew.

The people of Bootle had put on a show better than anything the Liverpool left had done in a decade, and they had done it on a weekday morning.

There then followed a succession of speakers - many of whom have spoken at some of those lesser Liverpool demos. Compared to the fury of the crowd, many of them seemed dry, theoretical and tending towards irrelevane. Generally, they listed ways in which working class people are getting hammered - no news to many in attendance - without a single proposal for action. A group of perhaps one hundred at the front were keen to soak up every word, but further back some were shouting for "action, not words", while others shook their heads at the constant mention of motions passed by trade union branches and the actions of the Troika. As time passed, more and more gave one last shake of the head before getting on their way. By the end, perhaps only a few dozen remained.

The old, trade union-based left will not be able to hold back the crowd for much longer - in Bootle or elsewhere on Merseyside. It is far too agitated for that, and the mixture will become even more volatile from April, when the money doesn't stretch far enough to keep bailiffs away. Like similar groups throughout Liverpool, Stand Up In Bootle are committed to direct action, on the basis that they can't pay, and they won't pay. Aside from organising that - and supporting it - little more needs to be said.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Birmingham Anti-Cuts Group Blockades Town Hall

Barricades rose early in Birmingham this morning
Early this morning, anti-cuts activists in Birmingham blockaded the council house main offices, in an attempt to prevent councillors from passing devastating cuts. As the action was underway, the Save Birmingham statement stated that:

"Early this morning before the Council House opened and hours before the publicly announced blockade at 11am, protesters barricaded the Council House main entrances. We are taking this action because austerity is economically backward and is not helping the economy. Furthermore, these cuts to Birmingham are highly undemocratic and against the will of most people living in the city – who didn’t vote for this.

"The cuts to Birmingham are wrong and that they will devastate thousands of people’s lives. We feel compelled to take action to protect the most vulnerable.

"The £101m of cuts to be voted on today in Birmingham include a cut of £32.7 million to the Adults and Communities budget, £23.8 million to Children Young People and Families, and £28.3 million to Leisure Services. High on the hit list are: Voluntary Sector Funding (£4.4m), Children Centres (£3m), Children Residential Care Homes (£1.6m), Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service (£1.4m), Home to School Transport (£1m), Youth Service (£0.47m) and reduced subsidy for the Meals Service (£0.4m).

"We must now fight these cuts on the ground service by service. Victories can be won! Campaigners across Birmingham have overturned cuts with well-organised campaigns. Parents campaigned and stopped the West-Heath school from becoming an academy; the parents of the children of Charles House respite centre for disabled children beat back cuts by storming constituency meetings and shaming their officials into backing down. The Cotteridge community united to keep the Merrishaw Nursery open and stopped the planned closure.

Cops doing the bosses' and bankers' dirty work as usual
"Make sure you stay in touch and get involved anti cuts campaigns in Birmingham. Get involved in groups like communities against the cuts. Join on Facebook here and get on the e-mail list here. And groups like east Birmingham against the cuts on facebook here. Come along to the Birmingham wide anti-cuts conference Saturday the 16th of March""

The Facebook group has just posted an update:

"We've been blockading all entrances to the Council House since this morning, trying to physically prevent Councillors from entering for the budget meeting, where the cuts will be undemocratically voted through. Not surprisingly, most Councillors were not willing to engage with us in debate. The police have helped push the cuts through by forcibly attempting to break up the blockade and get Councillors inside."

As could have been expected, police have shown themselves to be the enemy of working class people once more, by literally helping to force through cuts to services which people rely on. But today's action in Birmingham is only a small taste of what is coming nationwide. The emphasis on fighting the cuts on the ground - rather than relying on set-piece confrontations at town halls - is particularly encouraging.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Keith Hodgson (1962-2013)

This afternoon I was very sad to learn about the death of Liverpool anarchist Keith Hodgson. Radicalised during the Thatcher years, he was prominent in local activism from the 1980s onwards, until he suffered a debilitating stroke a few years ago. People who knew him far longer than me will no doubt offer a much more complete tribute than I could. But I can describe two memories I will always have of him - the first and last times I met him.

A few people I knew had been kicking around the idea that a new antifascist group should be set up in Liverpool, as an alternative to the liberalism of Unite Against Fascism. I heard there was going to be a meeting, so I made my way to the venue, to my annoyance arriving a couple of minutes late, only to discover that only one person had turned up so far. Needless to say it was Keith. I had that sinking feeling in my stomach that will be familiar to many in the 'scene' - it's accompanied by thoughts like 'Why are people always late? Is anyone else going to bother? Am I just banging my head against a brick wall?' Keith felt the same, but still he wore what I discovered was his trademark smile, and he made a few jokes about the situation. As we waited and the sun dipped behind the surrounding buildings, we somehow got to talking about the Spanish revolution - one of his favourite subjects. Eventually, the meeting began in a packed room, and I felt like I had a new comrade.

The last time I met Keith was at the first Liverpool mass meeting on the bedroom tax, in mid-January. Since his stroke, he'd taken a long break from local activism, and I know he found this period extremely frustrating. But he'd started to pop up here and there, and I was delighted to see him. He commented how encouraged he was by the huge turnout and mutinous atmosphere, and he seemed as excited as I was about the prospects for a direct action campaign on the issue. I'm glad to say the anti-bedroom tax movement has mushroomed since, and it would be a great tribute to him if we made it the success it needs to be, and finally started to turn the tide against the ruling class onslaught he'd struggled against almost his entire adult life. Whatever happens, his contribution to the cause of working class emancipation will live on in everyone who worked alongside him.

The following is a repost of an article on the Spanish revolution, which Keith wrote for Nerve magazine in 2006: 

'Madrid Today - Merseyside Tomorrow'
Liverpool & the Spanish Civil War, 1936 - 1939

By Keith Hodgson

This year sees the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. In July 1936 the traditional ruling class of Spain - backed by most of the army under General Francisco Franco - tried to overthrow a democratically elected centre-left government that had taken office only five months earlier. However, the initial attempt to seize power failed, due in most part to the resistance of the Spanish working class, which defeated the rebellious troops in many of the large cities. What had begun as a coup attempt turned into a civil war.

While the Spanish war had its own complex causes, and though resistance to Franco took on a revolutionary character in large parts of the country, it was seen by many people outside Spain as a straight fight between democracy and fascism. But the British government refused to act, supporting a bogus 'non-intervention' agreement signed by the major European powers that saw the Madrid government prevented from buying arms for its defence, while Hitler and Mussolini sent troops and equipment to aid Franco's forces.

Anti-fascists around the world were horrified - though not surprised - by the passivity of the democratic governments. By 1936 appeasement was the preferred policy of Britain and France. But for many ordinary people, the prospect of fascism taking power in yet another European country was too much to bear. Huge solidarity movements sprang up in many countries, raising money and sending food and supplies to help the people of Spain. In addition, around 40,000 foreigners went to fight fascism in Spain in defiance of their own governments. Over two and a half thousand Britons fought there, with over five hundred killed. £50,000 was raised by public subscription to help the families of these fallen volunteers.

In Britain, organisations like the Aid Spain movement and the Spanish Medical Aid Committee reflected widespread popular support for the anti-fascist cause. Around £2 million was donated in Britain during the civil war, with the Medical Aid Committee alone raising £60,000 to send ambulances and crews to Spain. Thirty ships were chartered by British campaigners between 1936 and 1939, which were then loaded with food and sailed through the naval blockade to Spain. Almost four thousand Spanish and Basque children - many of them orphans - were evacuated to Britain, where political parties, trade unions and church groups combined to provide accommodation and education.

On Merseyside there was widespread sympathy for those resisting Franco. The Merseyside Spanish Aid Committee took collections in factories and on the docks, and in many workplaces people put in extra shifts and donated the pay. Opposition to fascism had a cultural aspect in Liverpool too. Merseyside Left Theatre (forerunner of today's Unity Theatre) performed plays about Spain to packed houses. The Left Theatre cast - together with other local activists - clearly linked the war in Spain with the struggle against fascism in Britain. Liverpool was the scene of several large and successful demonstrations against Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists. Adverts for Left Theatre productions opened with the words 'Madrid Today - Merseyside Tomorrow'.

In 1938, local activists chartered a ship, loaded it with food and sent it to Spain. Campaigners even persuaded large firms to become involved. Local companies such as Lever Brothers, Crawford's and Bibby's donated money and food, and Harold Bibby chaired the local Spanish Aid Committee. Bibby's two sons fought in Spain in the International Brigades, and one was killed at the battle of Jarama in February 1937. Merseysiders were also part of the network that helped look after Spanish and Basque children, with many being cared for at the Nazareth House and Roman Catholic Girls' orphanages in Liverpool, as well as at sites on the Wirral.

Another means of helping the Republican cause appeared when the crew of a Spanish ship - the SS Linaria - refused to set sail from Liverpool for Spain. The Linaria was carrying nitrate, which the crew believed was bound for Franco's forces and would be used to make explosives. When the ship's owners charged the crew with mutiny, they sought the help of a local lawyer, Sydney Silverman. In court, Silverman argued that to deliver the cargo would breach the government's commitment to the Non-Intervention Pact. The judge agreed, and the Linaria didn't sail.

But the most dramatic contribution was that of the local volunteers who travelled to Spain to fight against Franco. Around 130 Merseysiders - including two Liverpool City Councillors - fought in the International Brigades and other anti-fascist militias. Twenty eight local men were killed during the desperate and ultimately unsuccessful war against Franco. Many of those who returned home not only fought fascism again during the Second World War, but made major contributions to the labour movement at local and national level. One of them - Jack Jones - went on to lead the Transport & General Workers' Union.

Jones summed up the feelings of all the Merseyside volunteers in a letter, written from Barcelona in July 1938. Attacking the appeasement policy of the British government, he wrote: “We believe that there can be no compromise between fascism and the democratic ideas for which we ourselves have come here to fight”. History proved them right, and the government wrong.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Wirral Cuts: "Transformational Change"... For The Worse

A section of the crowd outside the town hall on Monday
Last night I reported on the angry and tearful scenes in Wallasey town hall last Monday, as the Labour cabinet announced the cuts they intend to make in Wirral. As I described, the council's 'Executive Summary' aimed to put an optimistic gloss on the slashing of one third from the budget:
"...the emphasis was deliberately placed on listing what will be ‘saved’ from the slashing of the budget by one third, rather than what will be taken away by the Wirral Labour administration. For example, “We will retain pensioner discounts for Council Tax” can be translated as ‘We will cut all Council Tax discounts except for those going to pensioners’ (not just coincidentally the age group with highest voter turnout come election time)."
Council Tax bills will also rise 2% across all bands, which is indeed, as the administration boasted, below the rate of inflation. It is also far above the average wage increase which people in paid work received last year.

The headlines went to the ending of the sponsorship deal with Tranmere Rovers, and the closing of one day centre out of three currently in operation for adults with learning and physical disabilities, plus a care home in Bromborough. Overall, 350 jobs are slated to be lost, but this is far from all. Having now had a few days to look at the detail in the handout, I can state that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Much of the restructuring is described as "transformational change". This might seem pointless, as all change is 'transformational' by definition. Perhaps a better label would be 'big changes for the worse'. I quote: "...we will put in place over the next three years a radical programme of transformational change to replace the traditional model where Councils deliver most services directly". That is to say, the long-undermined 'traditional model' where the council pays workers to do work for the benefit of the community is to be abolished. It will "require us to build on the excellent work we have done in recent years with key partners such as the NHS, the police service, the fire authority and the voluntary, community and faith sectors." [emphasis added] In other words, people will as far as possible be made to work without payment.

This is confirmed in the next paragraph. Although all the libraries are to remain open and in the "traditional model" for now: "We have developed an exciting plan to involve local Friends Groups, The Reader Organisation and other similar organisations in a number of libraries and we are looking at opportunities for developing social enterprises from the work done by people with learning disabilities." The 'Big Society' is coming to Wirral in a big way.

"Labour's pledge to our staff" makes fascinating - if sickening - reading. It is the only part of the document where the name of the party running the council is mentioned - and for good reason: "Last year, one of the opposition aims was to reduce the amount of money the Council spend on Trade Unions." For Labour however, this is a false economy, because: "We believe that a business case can be made for good industrial relations", as "the Trade Unions play an important role in representing staff and helping the Council to achieve efficiencies [emphasis added]. Labour will "continue to support this work, however, in conjunction with the Trade Unions, during the course of the next financial year we intend to review the funding for full time Trade Union Officials to ensure we are achieving the best value for money."

For trade union officials, the message could hardly be clearer - help us police the increased exploitation of your membership and we'll save you a seat at the trough. No wonder "since November 2012 [the month of the first Wirral anti-cuts protests] over 20 meetings have taken place with the Trade Unions." According to another paragraph, they have discussed all employees taking five days unpaid leave per year (equivalent to a pay cut of around 2%), all overtime to be paid at "plain time" rates, a pay freeze for one year, and the removal of various allowances. So far, the unions have presented the issue as being entirely one of job cuts, therefore effectively offering these givebacks for nothing, and with barely a mention of industrial action being even possible.

Meanwhile, in order to "reduce the cost of democracy", "We therefore propose to save £275,000 by holding elections every four years, and reviewing the number of meetings and committees held to both reduce administration costs and to enable Members to focus on what really matters to local people." Of course, local people will also have far less opportunities to get across "what really matters to them". Even less democracy than already exists, essentially.

This - plus cuts in every other type of local council service - is what awaits Wirralians on the other side of the up or down budget vote on Tuesday 5th March. Similar attacks on the working class are taking place nationwide.

I will publish an article on the need for new locally-based anti-cuts strategies in the coming days.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Fear and Loathing in Wallasey as Wirral Council Prepares the Axe

A section of the march walking from Seacombe Ferry
On Monday evening, a couple of hundred demonstrators marched from Seacombe Ferry to Wallasey Town Hall, before four hundred packed into the council chamber to witness the Wirral cabinet recommend massive cuts to local government services. As they did so, one carer mother pledged to “chuck myself in the docks” if – as seems a strong possibility – her day centre is closed. Throughout, the atmosphere was tensely balanced between the council’s need to give the appearance of listening, and the pure rage and despair that they therefore needed to grant an audience. This was liberal democracy being stretched to its absolute limit.

The march was called by the Unison union, with the blue Unison banners and flags taking their place at the head of the procession. It went at quite a slow pace, and took maybe fifteen minutes to walk the relatively small distance. However, along the way almost every single driver seemed to signal their support by beeping their car horn or raising their fist in solidarity gestures.

When we arrived at the council building, we were met by performers from one of the threatened youth community groups. They performed skilful break dances and other manoeuvres to the sound of several hit pop songs. The waiting protesters clapped along to the rhythm and one generous man offered people cups of hot vegetable soup for free. Spirits were high.

Once we got inside for the cabinet meeting though, the mood changed dramatically, and high tension was palpable. The large rectangular room was arranged with the executive’s table at the front, ahead of twenty rows of twenty chairs, where Unison supporters but overwhelmingly service users and relatives were seated. At the back in a raised gallery, a few dozen people who would soon reveal themselves to be Labour supporters (and likely councillors) were perched.

When the officials walked in, led by council leader Phil Davies, the air was suddenly filled with boos, jeering whistles, and cries of “bastards” and “murderers”. Hundreds of members of the public stamped their feet, creating an atmosphere which must have been intimidating for the suited and booted politicians, who – even with security guards and police present – were vastly outnumbered by those who despised them.

Once the tide of open hostility had receded, Davies declared the meeting open, and ordered that a freshly printed “Executive Summary” of the budget proposals be handed out to each member of what he termed “the audience”. It quickly became apparent that the wording – if not the actual detail – of the summary had been crafted precisely because the politicians had been made slightly timid by the reception they’d got at previous meetings.

I will leave a breakdown of the proposal’s specifics to another article, but for now suffice to say that the emphasis was deliberately placed on listing what will be ‘saved’ from the slashing of the budget by one third, rather than what will be taken away by the Wirral Labour administration. For example, “We will retain pensioner discounts for Council Tax” can be translated as ‘We will cut all Council Tax discounts except for those going to pensioners’ (not just coincidentally the age group with highest voter turnout come election time).

The light-hearted mood outside the town hall was soon replaced
The chairman emphasised how much the executive had “listened” to people, through the consultation exercise (loudly described as a “farce” by one “audience” member), and through the trade unions (indeed, the Executive Summary claims a dozen meetings have taken place with union officials in the last three months).

Local Unison branch secretary Joe Taylor was then invited to stand before the budget cabinet and give a speech. This he falteringly did over ten minutes. At first he acknowledged the huge strength of feeling from the many service users who made up the vast bulk of the assembled crowd, and the immense harmful impact the cuts would have on their lives. However, he pointedly refused to call for the scrapping of all cuts.

Instead, he spared Labour blushes by laying responsibility for the cuts package at the door of the “ConDem” coalition government, and not the local Labour Party for drawing them up and enforcing them in Wirral. “We won’t forget who’s responsible come the general election” he added, in an attempt to spread the illusion that a national Labour Party equally committed to austerity would serve working class people any better than the current inhabitants of Downing Street. He then made a plaintive plea for the council to "give me something" which he could sell as a victory to his membership, or else strike action could not be ruled out. Implicit in this statement was the idea that the union had brought hundreds of people to the council chamber, and the union could make sure they didn’t come back if the council made one almost empty gesture. 

In the hall, his speech was received with applause if not much enthusiasm. Uninvited speakers from the general public won much more support, as they walked nervously but furiously forward to air their grievances. One woman in particular earned the empathy of everyone on the floor with her tearful description of how hard her life as a carer for her child already is, and how unbearable it will become if and when her day centre is closed. She bluntly declared that she would feel compelled to kill herself, but the men on the platform remained literally unmoved at this.

When yet another woman moved forward to speak, Davies clearly began to panic that he was losing control of proceedings. He announced that he would not allow any further speakers, and that the cabinet were “not going to listen any more”. This was an ironic twisting of his earlier comments about how much the council were listening, and it provoked uproar. Clearly, ‘listening’ was ok in manageable bite size chunks – from just a tiny percentage of the Wirral’s population during a “consultation”, or from one trade unionist. However, once it threatened business as usual, it was to be stamped on. But he’d not banked on the depth of anger, so after around half a minute of shouting, the woman was eventually allowed to speak.

Throughout proceedings, a particularly bizarre but important role was played by the Labour supporters in the gallery above. As I stated earlier, they can only have been Labour politicians, because literally no-one else on the planet could be that passionately partisan about Labour! At times when the air was filled with particularly class conscious yells about how “You’re all the same!” and “Labour is just as much to blame”, those above loudly joined in with bellows along the lines of “Blame Eric Pickles”, “Ask Nick Clegg”, or most blatantly on a divide and conquer strategy: “North-South divide!”

In various ways, the public’s anger had been released and managed, and the budget recommendations had been passed by the cabinet, for full council to vote up or down on Tuesday 5th March.

It seems likely that the council will give Unison their crumb of comfort, in an attempt to buy off a section of the crowd and divide the rest. It would also be astonishing if the Labour majority cheering on their colleagues this week did not wield their axe a fortnight later. In Wirral – as everywhere else – cuts could then only be successfully fought by a strong rank-and-file alliance of affected workers and services users. This alliance must be formed, and quickly.

Further articles on the Wirral situation will be published in the coming days.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Goverment Defies Court To Reinstate Workfare

Despite the court's decision, the struggle against workfare continues...
It has been a dramatic day for the government schemes collectively known as 'workfare'. After a Royal Courts of Justice ruling this morning, it appeared that the coalition's policy was in tatters, and that the state would be liable for payments to claimants sanctioned for not taking part in the ultra-exploitative programmes. This evening, the Department for Work and Pensions claims it has re-written the rules, so workfare will be continue to be legal, and will presumably this will apply retroactively.

When Cait Reilly first took her case against being forced to work in Poundland for free to court, she lost, and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith branded her and other Workfare opponents "job snobs". Of course, it was never about feeling that certain types of work are below us, but rather that certain levels of pay - i.e. zero - are unacceptable.

This morning, judges ruled that Duncan Smith had acted unlawfully by giving the unemployed insufficient information about the penalties they faced and their rights to appeal against being made to work unpaid for often hundreds of hours. According to The Guardian, "The court ruling means tens of thousands of unemployed people who have been sanctioned under schemes such as Work Experience and the Work Programme are entitled to a rebate."

However, the government immediately hit back, declaring that: "We have no intention of giving back money to anyone who has had their benefits removed because they refused to take getting into work seriously." Of course, if the government was taking the social problem of unemployment seriously, it would: a) immediately stop all cuts, b) reverse those that have already taken place, and c) confiscate the ill-gotten riches of the super-rich and use the revenue to start a massive public works programme. But as representatives of those same financial aristocrats, they are happy with a situation where workfare chips away at the wages and job security of those in employment, building up an ever-larger reserve army of labour, willing to take any wage to do any work.

To that end, the Department for Work and Pensions announced that it has re-written its own guidelines to comply with the ruling, arrogantly tweeting that: "For those of a parliamentary mind the Jobseekers Allowance (Schemes for Assisting Persons to Obtain Employment) Regs 2013 have been laid." A Google search took me to a link for the legislation, which is not due to come into force til 29th April this year - some ten weeks away. But despite this, the government asserts that all those on or about to start workfare schemes have to keep attending or face a loss of benefits, whilst denying that this amounts to anything approaching forced labour.

Confusion reigns, but to say the least the government's actions seem legally dubious, leaving aside the outrageous class warfare of their behaviour. For all the liberal democratic ideas about the courts being a check on the powers of the executive and the legislative branch, in the end the government holds the final supremacy whilst it controls police, army, and purse strings.

Further direct action will be necessary to knock out more workfare exploiters.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Occupied Greek Factory Begins Production Under Workers' Control

The following is a statement from supporters of the Vio.Me workers’ union, which was translated on the excellent From The Greek Streets blog:

Occupy, Resist, Produce!

“We see this as the only future for workers' struggles.”
Makis Anagnostou, Vio.Me workers’ union spokesman

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 is the official first day of production under workers control in the factory of Viomichaniki Metalleutiki (Vio.Me) in Thessaloniki, Greece. This means production organized without bosses and hierarchy, and instead planned with directly democratic assemblies of the workers. The workers assemblies have declared an end to unequal division of resources, and will have equal and fair remuneration, decided collectively. The factory produces building materials, and they have declared that they plan to move towards a production of these goods that is not harmful for the environment, and in a way that is not toxic or damaging.

“With unemployment climbing to 30% – sick and tired of big words, promises and more taxes – not having been paid since May 2011, the workers of Vio.Me, by decision of the general assembly of the union declare their determination not to fall prey to a condition of perpetual unemployment, but instead to take the factory in their own hands to operate themselves. It is now time for worker’s control of Vio.Me.!” (Statement of the Open Solidarity Initiative, written together with the workers of Vio.Me – full statement:

Workers in Vio.Me stopped being paid in May of 2011, and subsequently the owners and managers abandoned the factory. After a series of assemblies the workers decided that together they would run the factory. Since then, they have occupied and defended the factory and the machinery needed for production. They have continued to reach out to other workers and communities throughout Greece, receiving tremendous support. The solidarity and support of all of these groups, communities and individuals, has made an important contribution towards the survival of the workers and their families thus far.

This experience of worker’s occupation to workers recovery and control is not new – either historically or currently. Since 2001 there are close to 300 workplaces that are run democratically by workers in Argentina, ranging from health clinics and newspapers and schools, to metal factories, print shops and a hotel. The experience there has shown that workers together cannot only run their own workplace, but can do it better. The example of Argentina has spread throughout the Americas, and now to Europe and the US. In Chicago, workers of New World Windows have begun production under workers control after years of struggles with former owners and bosses. And now in Greece, workers are again showing that the way forward – out of unemployment – refusing the crisis – is workers control and directly democratic self-management.

“We urge all workers, the unemployed and all those who are affected by the crisis to stand by the workers of Vio.Me and support them in their effort to put in practice the belief that workers can make it without bosses! To participate in the struggle and organize their own fights within their work places, with directly democratic procedures and without bureaucrats.” (Union’s website:

As with all factory recuperations, the question of initial financing is central. While solidarity has been able to maintain the lives of the workers of Vio.Me and their families, the capital needed to continue production is huge. The workers’ union has a business plan that is sustainable, but will take time to get off the ground. These first months are crucial. Financial help can make all the difference. Any contribution is helpful.
Direct financial support can be sent to the Vio.Me workers’ union in Thessaloniki through the International Solidarity Website:

Solidarity Statements as well as questions can be sent to:

Thessaloniki Solidarity Initiative, Brendan Martin (Working World), Dario Azzellini and Marina Sitrin

Saturday, February 09, 2013

How Can We Save Libraries and Other Public Servies?

Joy in Friern Barnet, but is this 'Big Society' by the back door?
It's National Libraries Day. I know this because #lovelibraries is trending on Twitter, and because campaigners are debating how to save these treasure houses of knowledge from the blood soaked axe of the coalition government.

There's something just great about libraries. Many people reading this article will have their own special memories. For me, when I was a toddler learning to read and hungry for all the knowledge in the world, they were my first window on life. I would read every minute of the day that I could, and I soon got bored of the relatively few books my parents could afford. But just down the road - within walking distance when I was a couple of years older - there was our local library, which had thousands and thousands of books for free! There seemed to be no limit to what I could learn!

Of course, this is a reason why the ruling class are so keen to get rid of libraries. In the words of 'Bulls On Parade' by Rage Against The Machine, "They don't gotta burn the books they just remove 'em". For those who profit from exploitation and social misery, the ideal scenario is a population who can read just enough to fulfil their work tasks, and not enough to question the social basis of the economic system that is tearing their lives apart. For that reason, the very existence of a library shows the potential for a better way of life.

This week has seen two big stories in resistance to this part of the government's austerity agenda. On Tuesday, campaigners fighting to save Friern Barnet library in London declared victory, when the council apparently gave permission for it to be run by members of the local community. Council leader Richard Cornelius declared that money suddenly had been found, meaning that the activists who had been squatting and operating the library since last September could stay, as the council no longer needed to sell the building.

All this is clearly rubbish. The council intended to sell the library building, but a widely-supported direct action campaign showed them up, and the alternative was an embarrassing police-led eviction. The grant of £25,000 has not just been discovered down the back of the council sofa either. The people of the Friern Barnet area will still have a library resource to use. Yay!

However, Friern Barnet cannot be described as a complete victory. The paid librarian jobs that went last April will not be replaced, so the library will be staffed by volunteers. Ironically, the new Friern Barnet library will fit the government's 'Big Society' rhetoric very nicely. Not only is this a blow for the people who lost their jobs, but the medium and long term viability of the library must remain in some doubt. Unison - who claim to represent 24,000 library staff across the country - have not lifted a finger in practical terms, and much of the responsibility for closure after closure lies with the Unison bureaucracy.

A meme produced by a Levenshulme protester
Just last night, around fifty users of a library in Levenshulme, Manchester refused to leave at closing time, and staged an occupation til past midnight, defying police threats of arrests for 'aggressive trespass'. The Manchester Evening News reported that:
"Council bosses have dismissed the move as a 'stunt' and urged residents to take part in their consultation instead. Under the town hall's latest £80m savings plan, both Levenshulme library and baths will shut later this year."
The council's arrogant dismissal of the occupation is typical of local authorities' uncomprehension and fear of direct action, especially when combined with pleas to take part in the dead end of rigged 'consultations'. Hopefully last night was just the beginning of what participants dubbed their 'Levelution'.

According to Public Libraries News: "341 libraries (296 buildings and 45 mobiles) are currently under threat or have been closed/left council control since 1/4/12 out of c.4265 in the UK." Just the other day, Liverpool council announced that: "Consultation will be held over having a smaller network of [library] buildings and some services may be delivered by other organisations from 2014/15."

If we are to build a national anti-cuts movement - and we must - then service users must play a big part. The example of Friern Barnet shows what can be achieved. But if jobs are to be saved, workers will need to take a central role, and Unison's is not the only bureaucracy sitting on their hands. Affected workers need to seize control of their own struggles, and call on the wider community for solidarity.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Liverpool housing association occupied

Can't Pay! Won't Pay!
The following is a repost from

40-50 people turned out today for Combat the Bedroom Tax’s warning shot to the largest Housing Association in Liverpool, Liverpool Mutual Homes (LMH), who we argue are complicit in the implementation of this latest attack on the working class.

With the police already stationed across the road from LMH’s head office, the demonstration, also consisting of Liverpool Against the Cuts activists, members of Solidarity Federation, Anarchist Federation and Stand Up in Bootle! were content to generate interest from motorists and passers-by, informing them of what the bedroom tax is and getting them to signal their solidarity with tenants who in less than 2 months will be hit by an chaotic upheaval in their lives and homes.

Once the police had ‘deftly’ assumed nowt was going on, the call went round to occupy LMH’s head office, and within minutes Combat the Bedroom Tax were chanting "can’t pay! won’t pay!" to the bewilderment of LMH staff. We took a little time to explain to those staff who’d been sent out to deal with us that’d they’d be indirectly hit by the Bedroom Tax, but this fell on deaf ears as they spent most of their time complaining about the noise.

It was horrifying, but unsurprising, to hear the two stooges sent out to ‘reason’ with occupiers regurgitate the same lies and spin the government pumps out on a daily basis about the bedroom tax; how it will make space for overcrowded families —lie; how it will reduce the housing benefit bill —lie; how nobody will be evicted —lie; how they are helping tenants with the bedroom tax —lies, lies and damned lies!

LMH’s chief executive Steve Coffey, who dredged up complaints to have staff sacked, was naturally out-of-the-office, but did find time to console LMH tenants on a local radio phone-in. This is the same housing association chief exec that’s proposing tenants do unpaid work, workfare, so they don’t get kicked out over the bedroom tax.

According to the director of housing at LMH, Angela Forshaw, who responded to the protest, “[t]here are many nuances to the bedroom tax that some tenants won’t be aware of”. Say, for example, eviction? Angela also said they oppose the bedroom tax and have “lobbied government to re-think its policy”.

If they’d seriously opposed the bedroom tax, then Combat the Bedroom Tax would not be occupying their head office. No, instead, they vainly ‘lobbied’ the government to have a ‘re-think’. Duh. Fast forward to now, and here we have tenants having to face their housing association coming round and collecting the bedroom tax. They are complicit in its implementation and have already signalled to tenants whose side they’re on. And it’s not the tenants'!

It's only tenant solidarity and direct action that will make the bedroom tax go someplace else and die.

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