Thursday, November 28, 2013

Student Guide To Supporting Strikes

There was a dress-up aspect to the picket lines at Halloween
A comrade has produced the following text for next week's higher education strikes, explaining to students the importance of supporting the action by university staff, and suggesting ways this can be achieved. A leaflet can be downloaded from this location, and references to Liverpool could be changed to something more appropriate to comrades in other areas:

On Tuesday 3rd December, university staff will be striking over pay and conditions. This leaflet aims to persuade students to support the strike and give advice on how to support it.

Why you should support the strike

• University staff came out in support of students’fight against tuition fee hikes in 2010. While we lost this fight, we should show the staff the same support that they gave us.

• Many students hope to work in academia after we graduate. The pay and conditions of university staff today could be our pay and conditions in the future.

• Academic and support staff make our education possible through their work. Giving up one day of work in order to support them is hardly a big ask. 

Picket lines

Staff will be picketing university buildings that are still open. They do this in order to persuade both other staff and students to support the strike by not going into those buildings. If you wish to support university staff, do not cross picket lines – by entering a building being picketed you undermine the strike’s effectiveness. This will include libraries and administrative buildings.

In order to support staff on pickets:

• Take the time to get any books or resources you need to check out the day before.

• If you need to work on the day of a strike, prepare to work from home or a public library (Liverpool Central Library on William Brown Street has plenty of computers and printers that you can use).

• If you have deadlines on or near the day of the strike, talk to your lecturers and course reps about an extension.

Join the pickets! Approach staff and ask them if they would like your help, spend some time on the picket line and try to persuade other students not to cross.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

New York Bakers Use Online Tactics To Embarrass Employers

Jesse Eisenberg and Megan Fox love the food, but staff can't make ends meet
Workers at the Amy's Bread bakery in New York have gone public about their organising, following a march on Monday. They have demanded a living wage, affordable healthcare and respect at work, but they are fighting for these demands outside of traditional union structures. Rather than seek union recognition, they are aiming to embarrass their employers into accepting their demands using the power of the internet.

Amy's Bread sell high quality organic "artisanal" baked goods for high prices, and the outlet is known to be a favourite of celebrities such as Megan Fox, Jesse Eisenberg, Meg Ryan and Whoopi Goldberg. But the people who make and prepare those goods don't take home enough pay to make ends meet, and nurse injuries caused by the company's lack of investment in their protection.

Ana Rico, an overnight cleaning worker at Amy's, has described how she's "in pain all the time", thanks to the company’s months-long failure to replace a machine for washing trays. Since the old machine broke down, she has scrubbed two hundred trays per night, in "really hot water", alongside  vacuuming and general cleaning duties. Unpaid overtime is common. Then "Every time that I get home, I have to take pills and use creams". On top of this, she can't afford proper medical treatment for the working injuries, because the company's insurance policy would cost "about half of my [pay] check". 'Obamacare' has clearly done nothing to help the likes of Ana.

A baker who spoke to on the condition of anonymity, stated that:
"[...] the need to work quickly and move repeatedly between very hot ovens and very cold freezers (“without jackets”) has caused him to throw out his back and get frequent colds. He said the smoke from cleaning burned dough out of ovens “causes my eyes to burn. And they frequently get very red, and my nose bleeds as well. And I have a lot of pain in my throat as well, and I have muscle pains as well, and especially pain in my hands and wrist.” Because the company wouldn’t buy proof boxes for the bread to rise in, charged the baker, “In order to produce the high-quality bread, we need to often turn off the ventilation in our area."
The campaign is being organised by the affected workers themselves, in conjunction with an advocacy group called Brandworkers. Founded in 2007 by Industrial Workers of the World member Daniel Gross, the New York-based movement aims to train food production workers in the use of social media and other tools to embarrass employers into compliance with the law and improvement of working conditions.

To that end, the website is asking people to read personal quotes of publicly named Amy's Bread workers, sign up to support their campaign, and their story on Facebook/Twitter using #WhoMakesAmysBread.

Partial Victory For Campaign Against Martin Smith's Paid PhD Place

*Trigger warning – mentions of rape, rape denial*

The following is a repost from the Delta Removals blog

A month ago, feminist activists in Liverpool discovered that Martin Smith – the ex-Socialist Workers Party and Unite Against Fascism leader at the centre of rape allegations which the Party covered up – had been given a funded PhD at Liverpool Hope University. This happened in the Social Work department, which is headed by Smith’s former SWP colleague Michael Lavalette.

The University publicly – through Lavalette’s Facebook page – denied that the Professor had acted improperly in regards to PhD candidate selection. Many took this as a tacit admission that Smith had indeed been given a PhD place. Activists called a mass questioning of the university – by phone, email and fax – asking for further clarification. None was forthcoming.

It has now come to the attention of the Delta Removals campaign that Smith has been put on a distance learning course, meaning that he will only be attending campus infrequently, and may well not be staying in the Liverpool area. This information comes from an anonymous but trusted source.

It is worth emphasising that Hope University – unlike the other two universities in Liverpool – does not currently have a distance learning programme. As Smith was on campus at the start of our campaign, this distance learning placement has therefore been created specifically for him following our activities.

Getting him off campus is great news, and should be chalked up as a victory. It shows what can be done with personal determination and political courage. However, questions remain about the future of Smith’s career, and it could be disastrous if he ends up in social work – either in the field or in a teaching role.

We would like to thank all those who have supported us, and we would ask you to spread the word if you hear any more of Smith’s career developments.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Statement on 2nd November at The Casa

This statement by Angry Women Of Liverpool is a response to allegations made by Seamus O'Colgan and others online:

This statement is to clarify events surrounding the “Pack a Scrum of Solidarity” event at The Casa, Liverpool, held on 3rd November to raise funds for the family of Chelsea Manning.

AWOL is amongst the many and varied organisations that have been falsely credited with organising this action.  We were not involved as an organisation, though some of our regular attendees were aware of the planned fundraiser and the controversy surrounding its organisers.  We are making this statement because we were in a position to speak to some of the individuals who decided to take action, and we felt that somebody unconnected to the event organisers needed to clarify what took place and the reasons for it.

We have compiled this information because accounts of these events on Indymedia have been edited with a clear bias towards the organisers, members of whom are on the Indymedia editorial collective.  Consequently, comments from their detractors have been deleted, while biased and misleading accounts, including individuals’ names, pictures and personal details, have been maintained and circulated.

The background
The “Pack a Scrum of Solidarity” event was organised by Ciaron O’Reilly as a fundraiser for Chelsea Manning’s family in Wales, to fund their travel to visit her.  This came to the attention of a small, independent group of feminist activists through flyers posted around Liverpool.

While nobody in this group objected to the existence of the event, and all supported Chelsea Manning, there were objections to Ciaron O’Reilly organising such an event due largely to his reported history of transphobia, misogyny and uncritical support for Julian Assange that many felt amounted to rape apologism (he is quoted as saying “there is no rape without a charge, it did not happen.”)

The actions the group planned were entirely non-violent.  They aimed to picket the event with a flier explaining their support for Chelsea Manning and objections to Ciaron O’Reilly, and to suggest donating directly to the Pvt. Manning Family Fund without attending the event.  A few also planned to attend the event and challenge O’Reilly verbally to acknowledge Chelsea Manning’s status as a woman and to apologise for past misgendering of her and mocking of trans women at the London Anarchist Bookfair.  They also planned to challenge any defence of Julian Assange’s behaviour that took place.  They did not challenge The Casa directly on their hosting of the event prior to the event itself, but some of the Casa staff were at a Liverpool Against the Cuts meeting at which the issues surrounding the event were raised, and so were aware that there was opposition and that O’Reilly was a controversial figure.

Those planning these actions had no idea that Seamus O’Colgan/Colligan would be involved in the event.  He appears to have travelled from London specifically for it after hearing that there would be opposition.  O’Colgan (also known as “Peacefulwarrior”, “Skywarrior” and “hesmackeditbro” but mostly using the twitter account @blacbloc) has a widely-publicised reputation from many sources for violence against women, sexual harassment, threatening violence, informing on activists to the media and police and tweeting names and addresses of activists to their workplaces and to fascist groups[1].  It’s worth noting at this point that to those who had planned this action, this reputation was not hearsay or rumour, as some amongst them were personally acquainted with some of those who have been harmed by O’Colgan’s actions in the past.  While they saw O’Reilly’s presence as inappropriate and problematic, O’Colgan’s was intolerable, and it was this unexpected encounter that changed the nature of the action from a simple challenge of the event organisers into outright opposition.

The event
Once at the venue, the activists decided not to picket due to the fact that they seemed to be the only ones attending the event besides the organisers and the Casa staff.  They sat down in the venue to hear what was being said, and began to have a quiet discussion of the issues with a woman involved in organising the event.  While there was disagreement, at this point there was no aggression.  One of the activists even made a donation in the bucket at the entrance to the room, as the objection was to Ciaron O’Reilly, not to the event or to Chelsea Manning.

One of the activists approached Ciaron O’Reilly, asking to speak to him, and at this point recognised one of the men near the front of the room as Seamus O’Colgan.  O’Reilly asked her to come outside with him for “a chat”, and the other activists currently in the venue followed in order to join more who were smoking outside.  As they walked towards the exit, O’Colgan followed and began hitting one of the women activists on the back of her legs with his walking stick.  She loudly asked him to be careful, in order to draw attention to his behaviour (which she had no doubt was intentional).  O’Colgan then tried to hit another activist with his stick, so a third grabbed the stick from him and hit him back with it.  After this, all the activists were asked to leave and barred from The Casa.  Angry that they were being barred when O’Colgan had attacked them, one threw a glass, which did not hit anybody but smashed on the floor.

At this point, given the poor attendance, the activists considered there to be little point in continuing their demonstration and left the vicinity of The Casa.  They went to another pub for over an hour, and left in separate directions to go home.  A few were left waiting for a bus at a stop around the corner from The Casa.

After they had been waiting for a few minutes, somebody who had been at The Casa – the activists are not sure whether this person was Casa staff or involved in organising the event – approached them at the bus stop with a camera and voice recorder and attempted to intimidate and provoke them.  Having failed to do so, he returned to the venue.  Shortly after this, O’Colgan approached them and began to shout abuse at them.

One of them returned verbal abuse and walked towards O’Colgan, who quickly headed back towards The Casa.  The others followed.  One grabbed O’Colgan’s coat in order to prevent him from going into the venue before finishing the verbal confrontation that he had begun.

At this point, 7 or 8 Casa staff and/or event organisers and/or customers, outnumbering the 3 or 4 activists, dragged O’Colgan inside and physically confronted the activists.  A scuffle followed.  One woman activist narrowly avoided a punch from a man who she believes to be a member of Casa staff.

The activists asked why Casa staff were protecting “a rapist tout”.  One person replied “I don’t care” and others called for them to leave the property, though they had remained outside the gate, on the pavement.

They witnessed O’Colgan watching them from the window.  They checked Twitter to discover that, posting as @blacbloc, O’Colgan had identified an uninvolved male activist (who was not present) as being associated with them, had decided that he was their leader, and was accusing him of “sending” women to attack him.  They called for O’Colgan to come out, but he refused.  The man who had approached them at the bus stop returned and took photos and voice recordings of them, which were later used on Indymedia and on the @blacbloc Twitter.  A woman organiser also began trying to take pictures of the activists’ faces.

Casa staff called the police, and the activists left.

This sequence of events, from the protestors being approached at the bus stop to the police being called, lasted only a few minutes.  While there was a great deal of aggression, both verbal and physical, no blows connected with their targets and nobody was hurt.

The Aftermath
Immediately after the event and throughout the days that followed, O’Colgan tweeted names, photographs and personal details of those who confronted him, as well as those of a number of people who were not involved.  He has called variously for those people to be fired from their jobs, ousted from organisations that he believes they may be members of, arrested by the police and “doxed” by Anonymous.

O’Colgan has a long history of targeting people in this way, and while his calls for Anonymous or the IRA to target his enemies may somewhat exaggerate the level of influence he holds, these tactics can nevertheless do real damage, social, economic, psychological and physical.  People have been made to fear arrest, feared friends and families to be under threat, feared that current or potential employers may see false and prejudicial information about them, even been exposed to the possibility that past abusers may discover their current whereabouts.  This includes people who left the event before any violence took place and even some who were not there and had nothing to do with it.  Some have been targeted merely for criticising those organising the event via social media.  These threats are O’Colgan’s established way of dealing with criticism of all kinds, and all activists should be aware that, regardless of whether they agree with the actions taken last Saturday, O’Colgan is not to be trusted and no information on activists should ever be given to him or to his associates.

So far this statement has been for information, to give a factual account that has been denied space elsewhere and not to justify or condemn anybody’s actions, or give an opinion.  At this point I want to change tone and ask readers to recognise that there is a world of difference between publicly criticising somebody’s actions (as was the intention of those who opposed Ciaron O’Reilly’s involvement in the event last Saturday) and exposing activists online with the aim of destroying their lives.  There is also a difference between this and publicising an abuser’s identity, to warn others of a perpetrator of abuse who is a danger to their community, and who has had opportunities to take responsibility for their actions and refused to do so (as O’Colgan criticises AWOL for doing to Paul Cunliffe).  There is a place in activism for the tactics of doxing and publicising details – for example warning comrades of abusers, police informants or fascist infiltrators – but these tactics are not something to be used lightly in response to any and all opposition, including demonstrations that turn briefly and mildly violent on both sides.

Those who opposed O’Reilly and O’Colgan at the Casa were not abusers, fascists or state agents.  They were feminist and class struggle activists with a point to make, and they have been treated appallingly not only by the event organisers and Casa staff but by other Liverpool activists, who must have identified them by name to a dangerous tout with a history of violence.  I write this not only to give the perspective missing from Indymedia but to make these people aware of their recklessness.  We do not and should never expose other activists and their families to danger for the sake of political differences or petty personal resentments.  We are better than that in Liverpool and we must not let the likes of O’Colgan break our solidarity or intimidate us into communicating with him before each other.

These events have broken trust between a number of organisations and individuals, and we need to build bridges and repair that damage.  If anybody still believes that those who disrupted this event did so with malice towards innocent parties or without good reason, comment on this blog (comments are moderated and can be kept hidden if you wish) or e-mail AWOL (again, in confidence if you ask for it), and if your concerns are genuine and you express them respectfully, we will do our best to address them.

[1] Not linking to these as, obviously, they contain those personal details, and I would also rather not link directly to O’Colgan’s twitter or blog.  These are easy enough to find with Google.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Starbucks Union ends Chilean strike with Official Declaration

Staff at Starbucks Hotel Best Western Marina Las Condes
The following is a translation of a statement made by the Industrial Workers of the World-linked Starbucks Coffee Union, following a recent eleven day strike in Chile. The union has organised about half the company's Chilean workforce, on a rank and file basis:

9th November 2013 3:14am

To our workers, our friends and citizens.

Today 8th November we voluntarily end our legal strike after accomplishing, during the 11 days of mobilisation, every political objective we had set ourselves as a collective at the outset. It was not merely a matter of gaining benefits -we knew Starbucks was going to stick to its anti-union philosophy- it was not about resources either: it was about a fight for our collective rights and a political message charged with solidarity we wanted to send to Chile and the rest of the world.

In just 11 days our organisation grew in unity and political development. Those non-unionised workers who throughout history have been - for obvious reasons - afraid of taking part in the organisation have started to see the justice of our cause and came closer to us each day. It has become evident that Starbucks is a contradictory and stubborn business. There is no social responsibility here, but instead social irresponsibility. “There is no budget for negotiations”, “we cannot grant privileges to collectives”, “unions are unnecessary in Starbucks” were some of the reasons Starbucks gave for not fulfilling its unionised workers’ demands – at the moment when Starbucks had reported more than a 34% increase in profits, reaching US$1,245.7m.

We reached civil society, collecting over 5,000 signatures of support in Chile and 7,000 signatures from the rest of the world in order to pressure Starbucks to modify its anti-union behaviour. Candidates for the Chilean Presidency like Marcel Claude, Roxana Miranda and Marco Enríquez-Ominami expressed their support; Tucapel Jiménez, Cut, Labour Front, CTC and CNT - among many other organisations - also voiced their support. Outside our frontiers, CSA and CSI presented our case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on 25th October, also to IWW, workers in Belgium, England, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Bulgaria, New Zealand, Spain and Argentina in order to show the world Starbucks’ hidden face. Besides this, Starbucks unions in the US carried out activities in support of our cause.

We know Starbucks will continue to state cynically that, “it has always recognised and respected all partners’ rights to join the union.” Starbucks, however, has paid more than 50m in four fines for having made union freedom vulnerable in the most grotesque ways. Starbucks will say we are a minority and that 95% of its workers “recognise and value the good working environment and the facilities Starbucks offers, and that they therefore do not share the union’s demands”, despite the fact that surveys show that more than 80% of the company supports our organization’s actions but is scared of organising and raising its voice because of the historic repressive actions. Anti-union practices made the unionisation index fall from 55% to almost 6% in two years, but we strongly believe that today a scenario has been put forward which will favour the unity of the workers against Starbucks’ anti-unionism. “Starbucks is proud to be (supposedly) an enterprise whose politics are open and meritocratic.” What disgusts us is that Starbucks is also proud to be an anti-union business. This is why it is our duty to take all necessary national and international measures to guarantee that Starbucks stops making vulnerable its workers’ inalienable collective rights.

Starbucks persists in these actions and for this reason we will present our case to los Employment Tribunals of Justice, and also to the OCDE for violation of the procedures stated for multinationals. Moreover, we will complain to the Chilean State in front of OIT for having neglected its duty to the Rule of Law, thus allowing violations to our law and to the international agreements Chile subscribes to. During this process, all the organisations which have stood by us throughout this battle will give their support and solidarity. We Starbucks workers do not return defeated to our posts, because we have created the space that will allow us to democratise the company. We were always conscious that this was the beginning of a long-term battle against a corporate work model which intends to impose itself with violence. We will meet again in 18 months’ time, more united than ever.

Thank you all.

Starbucks Coffee Union

Friday, November 01, 2013

We Support Chelsea Manning! *Trigger Warning*

Chelsea Manning
*Trigger warning - transphobia, misogyny, mentions of rape*

The following is a statement from a group of activists who will be supporting Chelsea Manning but opposing Ciaron O'Reilly at an event in Liverpool tomorrow:

"As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition."

We are here tonight because we support Chelsea Manning. We support her fight for justice, against a US government which is punishing her for their crimes. We also support her right to be recognised as female, to transition, and to have that transition respected by all.

Unfortunately, we have reason to believe that Ciaron O'Reilly - a main organiser of tonight's event - does not support Chelsea Manning in the same way that we do, and we intend to protest against that.

Ciaron O'Reilly has repeatedly refused to accept a trans women's gender identity, publicly labelling one "a bloke in a dress" and shouting “you are a man” at another. When told he had misgendered Chelsea Manning by naming her "Bradley", he responded "The only Chelsea is Chelsea Clinton."

O'Reilly also has a consistently disrespectful attitude to women in general. At various events over the past year he has called women "empty headed", "unable to construct an argument", told them to go to the crèche. He also dismissed a woman with Pakistani immigrant parents as "imperialist", chanting “pure land, pure land” at her when she criticised his transphobia and misogyny.

Furthermore, Ciaron O'Reilly is Julian Assange's ex-bodyguard, and continues to dismiss anybody who criticises the rapist as pro-US government. It is possible to oppose US imperialism, support Chelsea Manning, and believe that Julian Assange should pay for what he has admitted (through his barrister Ben Emmerson) to doing.

This is our position, and we will be expressing it tonight.

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