Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Knowsley Fight The Bedroom Tax Embrace Fascists, Exclude Antifascists

Dumont (centre) posing with the flag of Greek fascist party Golden Dawn
The growing Merseyside movement against the bedroom tax has astonished and delighted long-standing activists with the speed of its growth, both in terms of numbers and geographical spread. From the initial meeting in Liverpool city centre just four months ago, it has grown to involve thousands of people from across the region. Each local group is very different from the next, and this is to be welcomed, so long as it doesn't stop us uniting when it matters.

But one difference which absolutely cannot be tolerated - as the new all-Merseyside federation unanimously agreed at its meeting last Saturday - is the inclusion of fascists. The anti-oppression motion stated
"Far right organisations pose a real threat to the groups that they discriminate against. They 
seek to control the streets through violence and their involvement in demonstrations and 
meetings risks creating a hostile environment for PoC, LGBTQ people and women. Far right organisations also have a history of attacking trade unionists and left wingers, 
including some who have been involved in organising against the bedroom tax since the end 
of last year when the local campaign began." 
It was therefore decided that:
"As a federation, we will not associate with racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise 
oppressive organisations and/or their members. Racist, sexist, homophobic organisations and/or their members are not welcome at 
meetings, demonstrations or other events that the federation or its member groups 
have organised. The federation will not support or promote events or local groups that involve 
racist, sexist and homophobic organisations."
This motion was put forward by a group of bedroom tax activists who had become concerned that far right groups were starting to get a foot in the door, with the danger that what should be a broad, class-based campaign could be divided against itself. The federation had to choose: exclude the fascists, or by our inaction effectively exclude the groups fascists would happily send to the gas chambers.

Local fascists calling themselves the "Scouse Nationalists" have been hovering on the edges of the bedroom tax movement since the end of February, when they announced they would attend the first Stand Up In Bootle demonstration, before making do with popping up on the opposite side of the road. The same pair - Stephen Dumont and Kurtis Cawley - then made an appearance at the Labour Party-organised event in Liverpool city centre two weeks later. On both occasions they received a frosty welcome from antifascists before returning home to post a bizarre collection of lies on their blog.

But they seem to have carved out a niche with Knowsley Fight The Bedroom Tax, whose internet admins have reacted angrily to suggestions that they should be kept away. On Sunday, the Federation's motion was posted on the Knowsley page, and again antifascists were met with hostility. Instead of defending people that fascists would love to oppress within the working class, the admins decided to defend the fascists, declaring that:
"We do not judge people we do not know, and we can only take people as we find them, by what they do and by what they say. We will not prejudge people, we will not make assumptions and we will not put out any statements banning people who we have never met or have never spoken to. We would be discriminatory if we did."
Like all 'neutral' poses, the statement works to defend the oppressors. But more than this, people pointing out that Dumont posed with a Greek fascist flag over the weekend (see above), or that Cawley has made the Liverpool Echo for his anti-Muslim actions, had their posts removed, were dismissed as "clucking hen wives", told they "need to get laid" and eventually banned. It is clear that Knowsley Fight The Bedroom Tax have chosen their path, and unfortunately it leads away from hopes of uniting the working class against the government.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Merseyside Anti-Bedroom Tax Anti-Oppression Statement

This motion was unanimously passed by Merseyside Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation on Saturday 18th of May:
The bedroom tax is an attack on the working class and affects people of all races, 
nationalities, genders and sexualities. In order to prevent people of colour (PoC), migrants, 
women, LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) and people with disabilities 
(sensory, mental & physical) from being excluded, we cannot allow far right organisations 
like the EDL, BNP and the National Front, who act to threaten and discriminate against 
people on the basis of race, nationality, gender and sexuality, to gain a foothold in the 
Reasoning and evidence 
Far right organisations pose a real threat to the groups that they discriminate against. They 
seek to control the streets through violence and their involvement in demonstrations and 
meetings risks creating a hostile environment for PoC, LGBTQ people and women. 
Far right organisations also have a history of attacking trade unionists and left wingers, 
including some who have been involved in organising against the bedroom tax since the end 
of last year when the local campaign began 
As a federation, we will not associate with racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise 
oppressive organisations and/or their members 
Racist, sexist, homophobic organisations and/or their members are not welcome at 
meetings, demonstrations or other events that the federation or its member groups 
have organised. 
The federation will not support or promote events or local groups that involve 
racist, sexist and homophobic organisations.

Merseyside Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation Gets Organised

Merseyside anti-bedroom tax groups on the march
The following is a repost from the Combat the Bedroom Tax blog:

It’s been a tense slog but after months of meetings and discussion: today, anti-bedroom tax groups across Merseyside met to conclusively set in place the Merseyside Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation.

The federation is run by the members of local groups through a meeting of local group-mandated, recallable delegates. Delegate meetings are open, but only group-mandated delegates can vote. A one group one vote system is in place. Organisations (trade unions, etc) are encouraged to affiliate and participate with/within their local anti-bedroom tax group.

Federation delegates elected recallable officers to the following roles:

Chair – Celia Ralph (Dingle Combat the Bedroom Tax)
Secretary – Juliet Edgar (ReClaim Anti-Bedroom Tax Group)
Treasurer – Andrea Wall (Halton Against the Bedroom Tax)
Press Officer – (Paul Jones, Dingle Combat the Bedroom Tax; Paul Cooke: ReClaim Anti-Bedroom Tax Group)

On attempts to divide working class people:
"The Federation stands in solidarity with all those fighting the cuts to the welfare state, and against those who wish to divide us. We will brook no such attempts, on the grounds of race, religion, gender, status, or any other spurious grounds [to divide the working class]"
On this basis, the Merseyside Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation have adopted the following anti-oppression statement:
"The bedroom tax is an attack on the working class and affects people of all races, nationalities, genders and sexualities. In order to prevent people of colour (PoC), migrants, women, LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) and people with disabilities (sensory, mental & physical) from being excluded, we cannot allow far right organisations like the EDL, BNP and the National Front, who act to threaten and discriminate against people on the basis of race, nationality, gender and sexuality, to gain a foothold in the movement.
  • As a federation, we will not associate with racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise oppressive organisations and/or their members 
  • Racist, sexist, homophobic organisations and/or their members are not welcome at meetings, demonstrations or other events that the federation or its member groups have organised. 
  • The federation will not support or promote events or local groups that involve racist, sexist and homophobic organisations."
On fighting the bedroom tax:
"The federation will fight these iniquitous cuts, starting with the bedroom tax, by any means necessary. This may include a non-payment campaign and direct actions: it is better to break the law than to break the poor."
(The above is a composite of the Merseyside Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation founding motion & anti-oppression statement. Fully amended copies of the motion will be made available during the week.)
The fight against the bedroom tax reaches a crucial stage over the next few months, as a bedroom tax eviction battle looms on Merseyside. With a federation in place and with continuing efforts to strengthen the movement, we've just taken a level-up in a rapidly escalating class war.

Next federation delegate meeting is Sat 1st of June.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Bedroom Tax Eviction Battles Loom Ahead

No apologies to Inside Housing for the use of their disgusting image
As I've reported numerous times now, the Bedroom Tax is the big battleground in Merseyside activism so far this year, with neighbourhood groups being formed all over the region, and a federation of those groups was founded last weekend. So far the appeals process has been a large part of most groups' work, but there is evidence that battles against evictions may have to become the primary focus in the months ahead.

The appeals tactic has been used for a couple of reasons. Firstly, a number of bedroom tax activists - whether directly affected or not - have found it a good 'in' with people on the doorstep. You go round someone's house, you ask if they are affected by the bedroom tax, and if they say yes, you hand them an appeal form. You've given them something, so they are willing to go on your database if you have one. Secondly, some - most prominently housing law expert Joe Halewood - have promoted the idea that a vast number of appeal claims could potentially 'crash the system' by forcing councils to pay hundreds of pounds per case.

There's certainly a lot to be said for this strategy, and I continue to promote it. A mass filling in of forms is a type of mass action - albeit one where the capitalist state firmly in charge of things. And for the most part, people directly affected by the bedroom tax aren't yet that interested in how their personal struggle fits into ideas of class struggle - they just want to be rid of a vicious attack on their living standards. So 'what works' is most important. But what if the system doesn't crash?

Two big articles in this week's Inside Housing give us a clue. According to the first, "Tenants fail to pay the bedroom tax":
"Liverpool-based Riverside Group said around half of its 6,193 affected households receiving full housing benefit have not paid anything at all to cover the shortfall, while a quarter contributed something but did not pay their rent in full. Just one in four affected tenants paid the full amount."
If this figure holds more or less true for Liverpool alone, then there are around eight thousand households no longer paying full rent in the area. We must reach all of these, so that we can build for what seems to be around the corner. So far we can only be in contact with a fraction.

Inside Housing's second article, "Weapon of mass eviction", reports that: "It’s not something they shout about much but social landlords filed 96,742 possession claims in the county courts last year (that’s 265 every day stat fans)." With the government's welfare cuts hitting the poorest and most vulnerable:
"A snap survey of housing associations by Inside Housing at the end of March certainly indicates they are preparing to change their approach. It found that 23 out of 37 respondents now plan to use ground 8 [of the 1988 Housing Act] to evict tenants who rack up arrears, with just 11 ruling it out. First Choice Homes and Helena Partnerships were among associations which said they were in the process of amending tenancy agreements to include use of ground 8."
Inside Housing explains:
"Ground 8 is the big Kahuna of eviction threats simply because it is a mandatory ground, which removes the ability of a court to exercise any discretion based on the circumstances of the case. The main requirement is that an assured tenant has arrears of at least eight weeks at the time the notice is served and at the time of proceedings."
In other words, for all that housing association executives are sometimes prepared to say they consider the bedroom tax "unfair", or 'campaign against it' when they are Labour councillors, they are worried that the court system may be too compassionate, and refuse to throw thousands of people on the streets, or on the ever more stretched mercy of local councils.

The bedroom tax can be defeated, but the resistance must prepare for every eventuality. It seems our class enemies are doing just that.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Merseyside Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation Formed

Merseyside has already seen a few large demos over the bedroom tax
At the end of the first week in April, the first Merseyside anti-bedroom tax conference was held at the Unite building on Islington in Liverpool city centre. The mood at that event was buoyant and confident, with people discussing various strategies and listening to talks given by invited speakers. At the end of that meeting a proposal for a Merseyside-wide federation was put forward, with the aim of better coordinating certain collective activities and most importantly direct actions.

At the end of my article on the events of that day, I reported that "a federal motion was put forward, which will debated in local groups over the next couple of weeks." Those two weeks turned into three and then five, as a total communication breakdown between the ever-growing number of local groups meant that not only did many not see the federal motion until this week, but some neighbourhood collectives do not seem to be in contact with any others at all.

While work on anti-bedroom tax campaigns continued on a neighbourhood basis, some felt a frustration that we appeared no closer to the long-discussed phone tree, and other practical measures which will become important as time goes on. In groups with only a handful of regular activists, a creeping sense of isolation grew, and some doubted stories told by those who had been in contact with activists from other communities.

We are building a new movement. This will inevitably be an uneven process, and it's still stunning that we've got as far as we have in four short months. But we can do better with greater organisation, and we will need to if we are to overcome the challenges coming our way. The problems confirmed - rather than weakened - the need for a highly organised federation. In that spirit, yesterday's much-delayed second Merseyside-wide meeting unanimously agreed that:
"[...] we will set up a Merseyside Federation of anti-Bedroom Tax groups. This Federation stands in solidarity with all those fighting the cuts in the welfare state, and against those who wish to divide us. We will brook no such attempts, on the grounds of race, religion, gender, status, or any other spurious grounds. The Federation will stand against all such cuts - not just the Bedroom Tax."
A few amendments to the original motion were debated, and it was agreed that each local group would send two delegates to each federal meeting, with one vote per group. Everyone agreed that it would be preferable if people currently directly affected by the bedroom tax could be delegated, but a proposal for this to be made mandatory fell on practical and pro-local autonomy grounds. The idea of trade unions being asked to send delegates was also rejected, with the overwhelming majority feeling that the bedroom tax was primarily a community issue rather than a workplace one, and that any trade unionists offering their skills would be more than welcome at their neighbourhood meetings.

Arrangements are being made for the first full federation meeting, at which the formation of an organising committee will be considered and an anti-oppression motion will be proposed.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Brighton Bin Workers Wildcat Against Pay Cuts

Striking workers occupied their canteen for two days
Bin workers in Brighton and Hove have taken two days of unofficial, 'wildcat' strike action after the city's Green-led council announced it would be imposing a £4,000 per year pay cut on them. This afternoon, the workers voted to return on a 'work to rule' basis tomorrow, pending further developments.

On Tuesday, Brighton & Hove council revealed sweeping cuts to the pay and allowances of some staff. While it is being claimed that the majority will not lose out, two hundred and sixty refuse and recycling staff at the Hollingdean depot are set to lose multiple thousands.

The wildcat began at 7am on Wednesday, with staff launching an occupation of the depot canteen. No vehicles left the depot, leaving bank holiday bins unemptied. The workers demanded a discussion with council executive Penny Thompson and council Jason Kitcat before "even considering working".

On Thursday, workers voted to continue their strike and occupation, and decided to hold a protest rally outside the town hall in the afternoon. With Kitcat coming under pressure from internal party rivals, an agreement was reached whereby the council will 'review' their own proposals, and the demands of the workers for "not one penny" off the pay. In the meantime, the GMB union will ballot for an official strike.

Kitcat and Thompson will no doubt be looking to impose a deal without a) conceding too much to the refuse workers and therefore encouraging others in his authority area and even nationwide, and b) giving too much ammunition to those Green politicians who are currently presenting themselves as critics of austerity. This will be a tricky political manoeuver, and the militancy of the refuse staff puts them in a potentially strong position if they reach out to other council workers and the local community.

Importantly, the dispute also exposes the Greens' 'progressive' posture as a filthy lie. Faced with a restricted budget, they - like the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems in councils across the country - have imposed cuts on the back of the working class. While the Greens are currently not in overall control of Brighton & Hove council, they had a majority in 2012 when a cuts budget won the vote of all but one Green councillor. In Bristol, the Green Party has supported a "rainbow cabinet", which has also imposed brutal cuts. One street cleaner's description of the Greens as "fucking Tories on bikes" is very appropriate.

But this is far from an isolated UK phenomenon. Wherever they have taken any power Greens have revealed themselves to be enemies of the working class. In Germany, their coalition with the Social Democrats proved hugely unpopular after drastically attacking working class living standards, and supporting war in Afghanistan and Iraq. And in Ireland, the Fianna Fail-Green coalition of 2007-2011 imposed some of the harshest austerity measures yet seen in Europe.

The Greens - like every party in power anywhere - are the enemy of the overwhelming majority of the population. They represent the interests of a dying petit bourgeois layer, and are prepared to side with anyone - no matter how reactionary - to do so. Wildcat strikes point the way to how we can all effectively fight back.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Solidarity and Comradeship at Bootle May Day

Around two hundred made their way through Bootle on one of two May Day marches and rallies taking place on Merseyside today. While the numbers were noticeably smaller than on the Stand Up in Bootle launch event at the end of February, the moving speeches from working class people outside the town's one stop shop will perhaps last longer in the memory.

The crowd gathered outside Bootle town hall on Oriel Road at noon before marching for some three quarters of an hour through the area, centring on The Strand. The atmosphere was far less celebratory than back in February - something not helped by the rather sombre choice of music coming from the 'battle bus'. However, chants of 'they say cutback - we say fightback' and 'axe the bedroom tax' were raised, winning widespread support from shoppers, people smoking outside Hugh Baird college, and those waiting at bus stops. Cars horns sounded almost continuously, and more than a few people who'd never previously heard of Stand Up in Bootle were persuaded to join the march when they spotted friends.

It say a lot about the times we are living through that two reasonably sized marches were held within four miles of each other today. But in all likelihood few were particularly torn over which to attend. The Bootle May Day was not a ritualistic repetition of lefty cliches about solidarity from class collaboratoan, like Liverpool May Days have been for at least a decade. No - the placards were hand-made, and the passion was real.

The 'rally' section of the proceedings were often breathtaking - and I've never said that before. Everyone who spoke did so 'from the heart'. Everyone was either directly in the personal struggle to survive Cameron's Britain, or the political struggle against the bedroom tax and others of the countless attacks on working class living standards underway. But of course the personal is political - and it really felt like it. Many speakers were inexperienced, but they received great encouragement from those who had come to listen. There was a sense that this is an infant movement, we're all a bit scared by some of the steps we find ourselves compelled to take, but we seriously are 'all in it together'. People openly wept in anger at the brutalisation meted out to working class people far beyond the reach of the decayed trade union bureaucracy. A kind of instant comradeship existed between everyone present. In short, it was a small but stunning taste of what could be.

As the alienation of everyday life in neoliberal capitalism melted away, a teenage girl felt the confidence to give a beautiful rendition of Emeli Sandé's 'Read All About It', adopted as a Stand Up in Bootle anthem by her and a 'backing group' of activists off to the side. A young couple who had just happened upon the demo felt the confidence to tell us that they "couldn't afford a proper meal", and had experienced severe weight loss over the last few months, yet were very aware of being labelled "scroungers" by bloated politicians and the media. Another guy who'd been sacked for vomiting at work a few months back told of his twin battles with clinical depression and the Department for Work and Pensions. All received an outpouring of warm empathy from the crowd.

Hugely important and valuable though this kind of group catharsis is, if a working class movement is going to grow in Bootle, it will have to demonstrate that solidarity can improve people's lives. And that won't happen - as even march organiser Darren Procter admitted - with "poxy A to B marches", no matter how amazing events at Point B are. Big plans seem to be in the works - a "Bootle general strike" was even mentioned at one point. If that happens, then Bootle will be setting the pace for the entire UK working class, and next May Day will be even more exciting.

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