Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Statement from London Black Revolutionaries on Ferguson Row with SWP

The following is a repost of a statement by London Black Revolutionaries, originally posted on the Facebook event page of their 'Flood the Embassy' Ferguson solidarity protest:

Reply to Weyman Bennett/ Sabby Dhalu / Stand Up To Racism & Socialist Workers Party from London Black Revolutionaries

We would like to clarify a recently alarming statement on behalf of Stand Up To Racism posted to us by Dennis Fernado and Sabby Dhalu.

From the hours of 25/11/14 3:00pm - 26/11/13 1:00am. LBR Organisers received a bombardment of calls from SUTR organisers.

We would like to refute some accusations being made.

At 1am of the 26th of November. SUTR approached us with the possibility of some of their Non-Socialist Workers Party members to speak as speakers of both events. We made the democratic decision to of course allow the families of those killed in police custody to speak at the event, as some have been arranged too already. We would like to convey respect and solidarity to all speakers of both events.

Our organisation received a plethora of threats from Weyman Bennett over the phone, ranging from the threat to dismantle and “go to war” our organisation if we continued to “ignore the leaders of the movement” and secondly, if we ever organise events within Anti-Racism, that we must be obliged to speak to SUTR/SWP.

Secondly, veiled threats were received to make individuals known to the police if we continued to host the first statement made on the situation at 26/11/14 1:00am & additionally, that the police had stated to SUTR that LBR's demonstration would need heavy policing as it appears to be friction between the two demonstrations. We would like to state that there is to be no friction between the two organisation on the day of the demonstration which is for the sole purpose of Unity. We are disappointed that individuals are using the police as a way to threaten and bend the democratic decisions made on behalf of our organisation as a method to get what they want.

Today, public letters stating individuals names were published and we take this as an extremely threatening move against our Organisation.

At London Black Revolutionaries we take these threats extremely seriously, a number of threats was made against the safety of our organisation and individual members which were redacted later in the conversation. These threats have set the tone and approach of our organisation from the outset towards SUTR and as such, we have chosen to remain separate from SUTR & the Socialist Workers Party.

Furthermore, there are a number of issues as highlighted above, as well as wider political issues which remain unresolved over allegations made against members of the Socialist Workers Party regarding Rape, and as such, organisations and speakers within our demonstration take issue with, including ourselves.

In the same conversation, Weyman Bennett asked for the terms of which both demonstrations would happen tomorrow [Now Today]. The only agreement made was that SUTR’s demonstration would end at roughly 6:30pm and had only been setup in the first place because of his political responsibilities to the families and to contacts in Ferguson. As such they needed a demonstration to take place so that they would appear on the 6pm News. We were assured that after this they would no longer be holding a demonstration, that there would be no presence from themselves and that there would be absolutely no interference of our planned grassroots vigil/protest.

Further accusations have been lodged that a joint event was agreed. We are safe to say that the solidarity vigil organised by London Black Revolutionaries & The National Union of Black Students never agreed to this proposition nor do we know anything of it. The extent of cooperation proposals came at 1am of 26/11/14 whereby it was asked whether we could accommodate some of their speakers. To which we replied on an individual basis it was a possibility, but that we would not be liaising with them [SUTR Organisers] but with the speakers directly i.e Diane Abbot.

Response to new terms:

As stated, we will continue ahead with the arrangements made for our demonstration to start at 7pm.
Our organisation will not be forced by threats overt or subtle or lies to bow into another organisations demands, nor will we b co opted or forced into making decisions by way of applying pressure to individual organisers. We are a politically principled, militant and grassroots organisation that puts the working people first. We are disappointed to have to spend time which could have gone into organising a bigger and more vibrant demonstration on political in-fighting from left organisations. We ask that all harassment cease on behalf of SUTR organisers and that on the day both demonstrations will take place as planned.

The decision to make a second demonstration at 5:30pm is a highly sectarian move and political motivated but we have no political say and frankly there are more important issues at the moment.

This event is black-led and organised by young grassroots black activists in the local community and is set to be large for this reason. For the sake of showing unity – if we want to move beyond political point scoring and egoistical posturing in who is "leading" any [or no] movement – then please attend the 7pm demonstration and show unity.

We wish to spend no more time on this matter.

We are BLACK - we are YOUNG - We are READY TO FIGHT

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Liverpool IWW Agrees Safer Spaces Policy

The following is a repost from the Liverpool IWW blog:

At our branch meeting last week, Liverpool IWW agreed a safer spaces policy. In doing so, we’re declaring that we aim to make our online and real life spaces safer for all, and especially oppressed and marginalised sections of the working class. We are doing this because it is the decent thing to do, and also because we are conscious that discriminatory and oppressive behaviour works to exclude working class people we should be in solidarity with. In other words, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”.
 
We have taken this decision in the light of the motion put forward by FWs in the US, to get a safer spaces policy in the IWW constitution. Whether or not this policy passes in the global member referendum, we in Liverpool will aim to put into practice our own version, which only differs in terms of details specific to us.

The policy:
Liverpool IWW is committed to the emancipation of the working class. The working class is diverse and, as a branch, we realize that oppression is many-layered. As such, we strive to keep our common places* free from oppressive action, behavior and language.

These oppressive actions and words include but are not limited to: racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and any expression of disrespect and/or intolerance of size, gender identity, sexual identity/expression, (dis)ability, age, educational level, and cultural background. Because we want to learn from and educate each other, we will each be responsible for addressing these issues in ourselves and others. This policy is not about censorship, but rather opening a dialogue in a respectful way that can result in all members feeling safe and free to fully participate in their union’s activities.
If a member feels this policy is being / has been violated, the following steps should be taken:

1. Reference the policy to the whole group: for example, “In Liverpool IWW, we have a ‘Safer Spaces Policy’ which all members are mutually responsible to uphold. I feel this policy has been violated by talk of ‘[comments made].’ Please keep the Safer Space Policy in mind.”

2. If the policy is still being violated, the issue should be brought up to the person in violation directly and/or the chair, an officer, a delegate, or a member whom you would like to act as an advocate on your behalf so that an effective plan of action can be instituted [this ties in with survivor-led processes already incorporated into the IWW constitution].

3. If you have no allies locally and invoking the ‘Safer Space Policy’ fails, reach out to the Gender Equity Committee for assistance via GEC@IWW.org.

If a member feels like this policy is being violated and is uncomfortable bringing this up personally, they are encouraged to seek an ally of their choosing to advocate for them. In a meeting, a person can ask for a point of personal privilege to take a break and discuss this with the necessary parties. Meeting chairs, officers, delegates, and members should be conscious of this policy and address issues as they arise.

*this shall be defined as any meeting, event (including trainings, celebrations, social gatherings, etc.), and includes Liverpool IWW-linked online spaces

Monday, October 13, 2014

Huge Kurdish Anti-ISIS Demo Floods Liverpool Streets

The huge march marking its way down Lord Street
Around three hundred Kurdish people plus a handful of supporters took over entire streets in Liverpool city centre this afternoon, as they demonstrated their opposition to ISIS and their enablers in the Turkish government.

Despite avowedly being part of a US-led anti-ISIS military coalition in the region, the Turkish military has aided the reactionary group, and are grateful for their assistance in suppressing Kurdish people in Kobanê, part of the autonomous Rojava region of what is officially Syria.

The protest began with a relative handful of people at the Victoria monument on Derby Square. After maybe an hour of rousing speeches and chanting, the by now enormous crowd decided to begin a long, slow march through key parts of Liverpool city centre. Along the way, many passers-by applauded, and some joined in when they heard what the cause was.

Despite a large and intimidating police presence at Derby Square for a non-violent demonstration, authorities eventually seemed to agree a hands-off approach, even apparently arresting someone who threw a missile at the demonstration on Bold Street. By that stage, however, the gathering was so large that it completely covered the road down that long road, and it was clear that any attempt at repression would need a massive - and considering current UK foreign policy, politically embarrassing - operation. Two sit-downs in the middle of Lord and Lime Streets met with no visible police action.

Support for the autonomous Rojava cantons' revolution continues to grow worldwide, with many particularly inspired by images and reports of women leading the fight against ISIS. This was one of the biggest demonstrations in Liverpool for a few years, and certainly the most spontaneous, energetic, and friendly. It was also brilliantly organised for such short notice, with stewards the length of the march distributing English language leaflets to bemused onlookers.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Siege of the Kobanê Commune

Freedom fighters who battled IS in Kobanê
The state siege in and around the majority Kurdish city of Kobanê is a horrific event, which strengthens the position of the brutal Islamic State, and constitutes a humanitarian catastrophe. But more than this, Kobanê is one of three 'cantons' which declared their autonomy last year, as part of the Kurdish 'Rojava revolution' (Rojava being the part of Kurdistan which lies within the borders of the Syrian state). In each of these communes, the population are engaged in a long term socialist project to build equality and freedom. But before this week, few in the UK and wider western left had heard of this process. We owe it to the martyrs of Kobanê - and ourselves - to educate each other, and offer solidarity where we can.

Even by its own standards, the US policy towards Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey - the four states which contain Kurdistan - is extremely complicated at the moment. Obama claims his motivations are humanitarian, and this current military campaign was initially justified by concerns that IS would wipe out another group of Kurds - the Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar.

But since August, the mission has creeped - as it was surely always intended to do, considering Obama sought war in Syria just over year ago. The US and its allies are effectively now at war with IS - a state whose very existence all coalition partners bear at least some degree of responsibility for. The coalition says it is targeting IS across Iraq and Syria, where a conflict between US-led forces and the Assad regime will inevitably be manufactured. The driving impulse behind all this is not disgust at atrocities carried out by Assad, but the need to establish control over the whole oil-rich region, and knock down business partners of the Chinese and the Russians - the US's main rivals on the 'grand chessboard'.

Considering all this, you might think the US would compel neighbouring Turkey compel to destroy IS around Kobanê, or do the job itself. But no. The US and Turkey are terrified of the example which the majority-Kurdish cantons set. Turkey is particularly afraid because Kurdish nationalism has been a thorn in its side ever since the modern state's borders were artificially drawn up in the aftermath of World War One. But more than this, all powers fear the example of something approaching socialism. And far better - from their perspective - to let current bogeyman IS do the dirty work of nipping this flower in the bud. This explains the Turkish military sitting on its hands while a force it is ostensibly at war with takes over a city on its border. In return for opening up the border for Kurds crossing to Rojava, Turkey is demanding the dismantling of the autonomous cantons, loyalty to the 'Free Syrian Army' and the establishing of a "buffer zone".

So what is so terrifying about this example? Well, for various reasons, details are hard to find. But in August, RoarMag reported the following bottom-up, federal structure as spreading through Turkish and Syrian Kurdistan:
'Jongerden and Akkaya note that “the free municipalism model aims to realize a bottom-up, participative administrative body, from local to provincial levels.” The “concept of the free citizen (ozgur yarttas) [is] its starting point,” which “includes basic civil liberties, such as the freedom of speech and organization.” The core unit of the model is the neighborhood assembly or the “councils,” as they are referred to interchangeably. There is popular participation in the councils, including from non-Kurdish people, and whilst neighbourhood assemblies are strong in various provinces, “in Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkish Kurdistan, there are assemblies almost everywhere.” Elsewhere, “in the provinces of Hakkari and Sirnak … there are two parallel authorities [the KCK and the state], of which the democratic confederal structure is more powerful in practice.” The KCK in Turkey “is organized at the levels of the village (köy), urban neighbourhood (mahalle), district (ilçe), city (kent), and the region (bölge), which is referred to as “northern Kurdistan.”'
Speaking specifically of the Rojava side of things, Anarkismo this week told how:
"Aiming at decentralizing decision-making and realizing self-rule, village- or street communes consisting of 30-150 households have been organised. These communes decide on questions regarding administration, electricity, provision of nutrition, as well as discussing and solving other social problems. They have commissions for the organisation of defence, justice, infrastructure, ecology, youth, as well as economy. Some have erected communal cooperatives, e.g. bakeries, sewing workshops or agricultural initiatives. They also organise the support of the poorest of the community with basic nutrition and fuel. Delegates of the communes form together a council for 7-10 villages or a city-district, and every city has yet another city council. The city council is made up of representatives of the communes, all political parties, the organisation of the fallen fighters, the women’s organisation, and the youth organisation. All councils as well as the communes have a 40% quota for women. The decisions are to be made on basis of consensus and equal speaking-time is enforced. Besides this, a co-chairperson system has been implemented for all organisations, which means that all councils have both a female and male chairperson. All members are suggested and elected by the population."
Tearing down borders: Kurds from Turkey and Syria have united against IS
This vast political change has been ascribed to imprisoned PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) leader Abdullah Öcalan, who is said to have abandoned his version of Leninism after reading the works of the late US libertarian socialist Murray Bookchin. Certainly, Öcalan's popularity remains strong amongst sections of poor Kurds, and this is mirrored by the photos of Kurdish solidarity protesters carrying pictures of him over the last few days.

But this can't be all there is to it. After all, if the majority of Kurds were well-served by the development of capitalism, and the provision of the states within whose borders they live, Öcalan's proposed experiment' would not have got off the ground. And if it were not practically possible - either due to the much fabled 'human nature' beloved of capitalist philosophers, or lack of sufficient material resources - it would not have taken hold in the way that it has.

Though some have made comparisons to the Zapatistas, my readings this week have brought to mind other great movements of the oppressed. Firstly, I thought of the Paris Commune - how poor people made even poorer by a war in which they had no stake rose up and took control of their city. Next, I considered parallels and differences with the Spanish Revolution. For one thing, major powers allowed Franco, Hitler, and yes, even Stalin to play their parts in strangling that uprising, rather than do the bloodletting themselves. But unlike Kobanê, revolutionary Spain was not left isolated. Working class fighters from around the world rallied to defend the gains that had been made, recognising that their struggles were one and the same.

Today a message sent by someone in Kurdistan could reach us in the blink of an eye. So why didn't we in the British and Irish left even really know about this until recently, never mind do a thing in solidarity? The complexity of the geopolitics involved may play a role (it took me more than 300 words to sketch it as simply as I could). The limited global reach of the Kurdish language might also factor.

But far more important, I think, is the fact that unlike in the 1930s for example, there isn't a working class movement to speak of in our part of the world. Struggles break out here and there, but they are quickly isolated and repressed by trade union leaders and cops. Massive social pressures seem close to widespread eruption, but this isn't enough in of itself to create the kind of class consciousness necessary for many in Britain and Ireland to peer into the murk that is Middle Eastern politics, and identify with the struggles of Kurdish toilers. Of course, so many of us in these countries are 'anti-war', as in we don't want to pay for 'our' soldiers to fight and die overseas. The experiences of Bush Jnr and Blair's Iraq invasion proved to us that no good and much harm must follow this. But they also taught us that even getting millions onto the streets can't stop the politicians spilling 'blood for oil'. And without that class consciousness, we can't collectively envisage anything better.

So what can we do? Well, we can honour those autonomous solidiers who fight and fought IS in Kobanê, and those who continue to fight for equality throughout Kurdistan, as well as everyone rising in solidarity with them throughout the world. We can research and tell others in the 'left' and in our general lives about the commune-based example set in the autonomous Kurdish areas. And of course, we continue to fight our own battles, as a necessary stage in developing class consciousness. Most practically in the immediate term, we can donate to the fund set up in solidarity with Turkish anarchist group DAF. In addition, the Middle Eastern Feminist Facebook page has compiled a list of suggested ways to help.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

*CN – Violence against Women* Solidarity with FW Rory MacKinnon and Survivors of Domestic Violence

The following is a repost from the Liverpool IWW blog:

Liverpool IWW wholeheartedly welcomes the statement made this week by Clydeside wobblies, and supports their call for a boycott of the Morning Star. We stand in full solidarity with FW Rory MacKinnon, who was suspended (and effectively forced to resign) by the paper, for investigating the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union bureaucracy’s suppression of domestic violence allegations against their assistant general secretary, Steve Hedley.

Click here for the rest of the statement.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Liverpool Rise for Palestine Respond to Mayor Joe Anderson

Liverpool Rise for Palestine have released a statement in response to the Liverpool Echo's sensationalist coverage of their protest outside Mayor Joe Anderson's Old Swan home. The Echo published much of it, but here is the original:

Mayor Anderson is indignant at the protest outside his house on Friday 12 September, and accuses us of ‘intimidation and thuggery’ (your report 13 September). Liverpool City Council has prevaricated over the use of G4S as a security contractor, and Liverpool Rise for Palestine organised the protest to demand real action. We see it as a simple matter: just sever those G4S contracts as a gesture of support for the people of Palestine. G4S provides services and equipment to Israeli prisons, checkpoints, the Apartheid Wall and the Israeli police. Liverpool Rise for Palestine pays no heed to G4S declarations that a review has cleared it of breaching human rights in Palestine: the whole of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, its detention of over 7,000 Palestinian prisoners at any one time, is a breach of the human rights of the Palestinian people. G4S is part of an apparatus of ruthless repression of the Palestinian people – but as a bloated parasite it does not care where or how it makes its money.

Liverpool Rise for Palestine was presented with a hard choice: should we escalate the protest over the City Council’s use of G4S, or let matters lie? Mayor Anderson will shortly be full of ‘hard choices’: it will be his cop-out when he demands massive cuts in services and jobs across the city for the fifth year running. These are the real acts of ‘intimidation and thuggery’: they destroy people’s lives and break up families. He will cry and wring his hands and say how terrible his position is, but he will do whatever the government requires. ‘Hard choices’ has become his, and the political class’s, euphemism for savaging the conditions of the working class on the one hand, while keeping hold of its own privileged position on the other.

Liverpool Rise for Palestine will continue to make ‘hard choices’, but they will be ‘hard choices’ on behalf of the people of Palestine rather than on behalf of a discredited privileged elite. We demand: end the contracts with G4S!

My Personal Manifesto for the 2015 General Election (Work in Progress)


Back in May I announced that I'd be standing in next year's general election, as Class War candidate for Liverpool Riverside. Last week I shared my answers to questions asked by the Candidate Hub website. Today I'm sharing my current list of policies (Class War in general have their own here).

The policies are the result of brainstorming with my 'closest advisers'. They range from the fundamental and serious to the fun, and my plan is to collect new ones on the doorstep, but feel free to suggest new ones!

So, in no particular order, here they are:
  • Hunger Games, just with politicians
  • A pet owl for everyone who wants one
  • Bring back lollypop people
  • Royalty to clean public toilets
  • No student fees/re-instate grants
  • Abolition of parliamentary elections
  • All cuts immediately reversed
  • More, free of charge, trains and buses
  • Confiscate wealth of banks and bankers
  • More trees and flowers and shit in concrete-dominated areas
  • More cats, less rats
  • Legalise shooting fascists like in the war
  • Ban private landlords
  • All working class personal debts written off
  • Install anti-rich spikes in mansions and palaces
  • Close Yarl's Wood and all 13 migrant detention centres
  • Free fruit and veg for all
  • Wages for housework
  • Collectivised childcare
  • Swimming pool on every street
  • Paulo Freire schools
  • Wages for carers
  • Free solar panels for every roof
  • Tony Blair tried for war crimes
  • UK troops out of every nation, put to useful work at home

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Pro-Palestine Campaigners Visit Home of Liverpool Mayor

The view from inside (pic: @JoeforLiverpool)
Campaigners from the Liverpool Rise for Palestine group protested outside the home of Mayor Joe Anderson yesterday evening, angered by his Labour council's links with G4S. The notorious security company stand accused of atrocities within the Israeli prison system.

From information provided by Anderson himself on his Twitter account, it seems that around twenty protesters gathered outside his home for around an hour last night.

At around 7:47 pm, the mayor tweeted:

"Friends of Palestine [sic] demonstrating at my house for last 30 mins shouting abuse bullying and scaring my 84 year old Mother in law. " 

Not surprisingly, Rise for Palestine themselves had a very different take on the event. Their Facebook page posted:
"Joe Anderson took this photograph from his window tonight of our protest at his house for being the chair of the cabinet that gave G4S the contracts with Liverpool City Council. He and the council has known about G4S for years. He calls us abusive and intimidatory but doesn't have a problem with giving contracts to companies that literally provide equipment that locks thousands of Palestinian prisoners in jails. As if the Israeli soldiers don't kidnap Palestinians from their homes, at check points, in the street. As if the soldiers don't break and smash Palestinian homes in raids. As if Palestinians every day aren't going through the brutal processes of interrogation and torture in detention centres and prisons. As if Palestinians are being detained without charge or trial. As if sham military courts don't postpone and postpone court dates. This is what Anderson and Liverpool City Council supports. The brutal and racist policies of Israel's colonial prisons. What we are demanding is that the contract is broken today. Not weeks, months or years from now. TODAY."
As Israel rained death and destruction on Gaza this summer, Anderson struck a neutral pose, despite the massively lopsided balance of forces  At the end of July, he called a "peace vigil" at St George's Plateau. In announcing the event he stated:

"Whatever the issues, whoever started it and whichever side people see themselves on, surely we can agree that children should not, and must not, be victims of war? It cannot be right that children are at risk of their lives, frightened or being made homeless. Our diverse communities coming together in recognition of this will be a simple act of humanity. We are seeing daily images broadcast on the news, social media and the newspapers of children crying, frightened, injured and dead. They are too difficult to watch without doing something or saying something." [emphasis added]

Of course, when 2, 143 Palestinians were killed, as opposed to a mere 6 civilians in Israel, this neutrality is a cover for siding with the oppressor. Liverpool's Labour group has a particularly strong link with Israel's Zionist agenda. MPs Louise Ellman (Riverside), Luciana Berger (Wavertree) and Stephen Twigg (West Derby) have all held high positions within Labour Friends of Israel. Labour's Police Commissioner Jane Kennedy formerly chaired the group.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

My General Election Profile for Candidate Hub


Support The Class War Party from Lil Onorth on Vimeo.

A few weeks back, Candidate Hub asked me a bunch of questions about my election campaign next year. The answers will go up on their website when they've got more answers, but this is what I told them.

1. Obviously our goal is to strengthen the relationship between voters and candidates, but what do you plan to do in order to make sure you remain ‘in touch’ with the electorate?
I'm not going to win the election. My Labour opponent will. If by some miracle I did win, I'd take a wage equal to the average income in the constituency (donating the rest to working class solidarity causes), and refuse to take any expenses, and continue to live in the constituency. Perhaps more importantly, I'd continue to take part in local working class activism.

2. What makes you the best candidate for this constituency?  
I'm probably not the best candidate for this constituency. There are possibly hundreds or thousands of people living here who might do better. But I'm certainly the best candidate who will be on the ballot paper. Why? Because I've not ever had an easy life, and it's getting harder and harder during this unrelenting class war of the rich. Because I therefore believe that working class people need to fight back, in their workplaces and in their streets. Because I would never vote for a single cut to working class living standards, and I would use the Westminster soapbox to promote the one solution - revolution.

3a. What has the current Member achieved that you believe has been successful? (The incumbent will be asked: "What would you have liked to have done differently during your time in Parliament?")
I see from Louise Ellman's profile on theyworkforyou.com that she has voted strongly for equal marriage and a hunting ban. I certainly don't oppose those things. That's about it though.

4. In your opinion, is austerity working? What should we take from the state of the economy during this Government’s tenure?
What the media and politicians call 'austerity' is the legalised, government-organised robbery of working class people on behalf of the rich scum who triggered the big recession of several years ago in the first place. The richest 1,000 people had their wealth increased by 15% in 2013, as our living standards continue to plunge, and our futures are sold off. So yes, what people call 'austerity' is certainly working for the richest people - who all the parties represent in one way or another. It is utter ruin for the rest of us.

5. Does (legal) immigration need more limitations or is it vital for the UK?
There should be no limitations on migration from anywhere to anywhere. Many migrants come to the UK as a direct result of wars waged by our government, or because of economic policies which benefit the UK rich. But even if that weren't the case, it makes no more sense restricting migration from say Afghanistan to the UK than it does from England to Wales. Borders are completely artificial, and people should be able to move wherever they think they will be the most happy. Basically, the problem is the rich and their system, not the even-poorer-than-you.

6. Many people are concerned with the cost of living in the UK, with wages having failed to rise in line with the price of food, energy and rent in recent years. How can this be corrected?
Nothing that the other parties propose could correct this, even if they wanted to...and they don't. Wages failing to rise in line with prices means bigger profits for the rich, and much more desparation and deprivation for the rest of us. This is capitalism working well for those at the top. The solution to this is working class people uniting in workplaces, and struggling together to win a better living standard for us all. Eventually, we should reorganise things so that we cut out the capitalists entirely, and live our lives in our own interests.

7. How would you like to see the NHS change in the future in order to become more successful?
The best way of improving the NHS would be removing the profit motive from it entirely, giving it massively more funding, hugely increasing the pay of those who work in it, and let them make their own decisions about how it is run.

8. What measures do you think need to be taken to decrease unemployment, particularly youth unemployment and those who have never been employed?
Unemployment should be abolished. It exists entirely because the rich want to squeeze as much profit as they can out of everyone. And the JSA sanctions regime worsened by successive governments exists to frighten and discipline those in paid work. If the wealth of the super-rich scum was confiscated, everyone who is able to work could be given well-paying, fulfilling work. Eventually, 'work' as we know it today could easily be abolished, with all the nasty jobs done by robots and computers!

9. Does the lack of diversity in Parliament equate to a lack of representation?
The short answer is yes! Women don't even account for a quarter of MPs, and people of colour are less than one in twenty in the Commons, compared to more than one in ten of the population. There are extremely few out lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer MPs. This represents how these demographics are underrepresented in this country's ruling class.

I can't find what the average worth of an MP is, but once the high wage and the expenses are added to an almost always wealthy background, we can see that the average MP is white, male, straight and filthy rich. Can the 'average person' ever be represented by these people, or will they run things in their own interests? Everyone knows the answer to that question.

10. If an EU Referendum were to take place, how would you encourage your constituents to vote and why?
The EU is a club run by and for the richest Europeans. In recent years especially, the bankers have used it to devastate working class lives across the continent. Having said that, the UKIP/Tory eurosceptic rich want to leave because it does - at least in theory - give working class people some protections, and places some tiny restrictions on the City of London. I don't think it's possible to have a decent society under this capitalist European Union, but things won't change for the better unless we replace it with a European Soviet Union!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Noisy Pro-Palestine 'Day of Rage' Shakes Liverpool's Busiest Streets

Photo: Palatino Linotype
With Liverpool Friends of Palestine taking part in the Stop the War Coalition's London demonstration, Liverpool Rise For Palestine continued to build on their excellent local momentum yesterday. Around one hundred and fifty people toured Israel-supporting shops, and loudly held them accountable for their supporting role in the ongoing Gaza slaughter, as part of the global Day of Rage for Gaza.

As the Rise For Palestine Facebook page reported:

"We had the energy and life that we need to have to fight for justice and to play our part to ensure the BDS movement continues to grow in this city (and country). We marched and chanted outside 2 different Tescos, Marks and Spencer, H&M, occupied Schuh for a short while, Starbucks, Sainsbury's and Barclays who already had police outside because we had occupied it the previous week. We had people join our demonstration after seeing or hearing us in the street."

With plans already being drawn up for next weekend's activities, this upstart group looks set to continue putting down roots in the Toxteth area in particular, and the city generally.

Click here for many more photos of the protest.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Liverpool Pro-Palestine Demonstration Occupies Barclays Bank

Trade at M&S was severely disrupted twice
Today Liverpool saw its sixth major demonstration in support of Palestinians since Israel's genocidal 'Operation Protective Edge' began three and a half weeks ago. Hundreds rallied outside BBC Radio Merseyside, before a sizeable splinter group went off around town, targeting Israel-supporting corporations, including Barclays, which they briefly occupied.

The new Liverpool Rise For Palestine group - which is primarily growing out of the multi-ethnic Toxteth area of the city - met up at the bombed-out St Luke's church, where children had their faces painted with fake blood, and placards were exchanged. They marched down Bold Street and onto Hanover Street, where the local BBC studios spread pro-Israel distortions. There, the Rise For Palestine group met up with the demo called by Liverpool Friends of Palestine. Over the course of an hour and a half, the crowd of around two hundred listened to speeches in the pouring rain.

Eventually, Liverpool Rise For Palestine decided to spread their anti-Israel, pro-BDS message around the main shopping areas. The first stop was Schuh, which stocks Caterpillar footwear, and then it was on to Marks & Spencer. Since the store occupation of 24th July, M&S have been quick to lock all but one entrance at the first sight of a Palestinian flag, and this was no exception. The Securitas guard who assaulted an eleven year old girl ten days ago was at the door, and she courageously confronted him over the megaphone, calling on him to come out and apologise. Needless to say, he wasn't brave enough to do this, and retreated into the store.

The group then moved on to Barclays on Lord Street. This space was occupied for around five minutes, in protest against the bank's profitable links with the murderous Zionist regime. Shouts of 'shame' rang out against the company, as a speaker detailed how they make a killing from the deaths of Palestinians.

From this point on, the roaming protest had police company (presumably summoned by Barclays security staff). This "facilitation" continued throughout a large part of the Liverpool One shopping complex, and back out onto Lord Street. The final stop was another go at M&S.

Until there's a lasting ceasefire, large protests will no doubt continue in Liverpool. But Rise For Palestine seems like it is putting down roots in a community, which could survive until Palestine is free "from the river to the sea".

Friday, July 25, 2014

Liverpool Demonstration Calls for Solidarity with Palestinians

Demonstrators making their way to Marks & Spencer (photo: Palatino Linotype)
A noisy and spirited group of around one hundred and fifty demonstrators gathered in Liverpool city centre last night, to express solidarity with Gazans facing Israel's military onslaught (more photos here). This was the fourth anti-Israel/pro-Palestine demo in the city in two weeks, with another planned for this Saturday.

The protest began at 6pm outside BBC Radio Merseyside's studios. This location was chosen due to the Corporation's blatant pro-Israel stance, which echoes that of British imperialism. A few speakers made speeches over a megaphone, and many chants were taken up, often led by the children in attendance. The presence of so many young people was all the poignant given the huge amount of children slaughtered by the Israel regime, particularly during the current offensive. One woman tried to read out the names and ages of those taken over the last couple of weeks, but could only get so far as she trembled with rage and fought back tears.

This Securitas employee assaulted a child, amongst others
The demonstration then went on the move into the main shopping streets, stopping outside Schuh and TK Maxx, both of which were called out for stocking items manufactured by Caterpillar - a corporation strongly linked to the Israeli occupation. Pro-BDS chants filled the air, before the crowd moved on to Marks and Spencer, another business with deep and historic ties to Zionism.

Here, the protest surged en masse into the store itself, with shouts of 'While you're shopping, bombs are dropping' amongst many others. The security guard ludicrously attempted to hold back the human tide entering the premises, and when he failed to do so, began lashing out wildly at first large men, and then anyone, including one eleven year old child, whose shoulder was injured.

After a few minutes, the crowd flowed out as quickly as it had come in, and after a moment of gathering ourselves, we moved on, going almost full circle back to the Friends' Meeting House, where another pro-Palestine meeting was due to take place. As the noise bounced off the surrounding buildings, some passers-by briefly joined the march with fists raised, clearly delighted to see that such a demo was happening.

With talk of a Third Intifada beginning in Palestine overnight, and no let-up in Israel's genocidal campaign, many protesters are set to return to town tomorrow afternoon.


Wednesday, July 09, 2014

A Needle Walks Into A Hay Stack

Judith Hopf's underwhelming Flock of Sheep
Curated by Mai Abu ElDahab and Anthony Huberman
Old Trade Union, Community and Resource Centre, Hardman Street (5th July - 26th October 2014)

A Needle Walks Into a Hay Stack is the flagship show of this year's Liverpool Biennial. The publicity promises it is "about effecting larger questions facing contemporary life and art, from an intimate and tangible scale that’s within everyday reach", yet for the most part it falls far, far short of such a worthy claim. With a few notable exceptions, what's on display is the worst kind of ivory tower nonsense.

The sheer amount of art in this exhibition - situated as it is in a vast, sprawling building - makes the task of finding something worth viewing very much like the task of finding an elusive needle in the proverbial pile of animal fodder. Expect this to take at least two hours. There is far too much for anyone to reasonably describe, and to be honest, a very small proportion is worth the effort.

If I knew this stuff was produced by budding artists in their early teens, it would be one thing. It would show decent technical potential in many cases, though let down by a distinct lack of imagination. Even then, many of the pieces would look half-arsed, like a rushed piece of homework. But it wasn't produced by early teens. It was produced by adults who somehow manage to get taken seriously when they call themselves artists. To put it mildly, this exhibition seems unlikely to be a major word-of-mouth success.

It is no coincidence that the most impressive works on display were the most socially engaged. They were the pieces which genuinely did attempt to pose "larger questions facing contemporary life and art, from an intimate and tangible scale that’s within everyday reach". I particularly enjoyed Peter Wächtler's animated rat. We only saw the creature crawling out of bed each morning, and back into its bed at night. At the end of every day, it trips on a rug, causing a bowling ball to fall off a table and clunk it on the head. As this happens, Wächtler's narration intones many melancholy episodes from his life, punctuated by outbursts of anger at the crimes of the rich and powerful. Of course, Wächtler is the rat, and this is an insight into his own, very solitary, day-to-day struggles.

In very different way, Rana Hamadeh takes on a subject close to her heart - the ongoing Syrian civil war, and its links to Shia Muslim cultural heritage. This cacophonous work is deeply unsettling, but this is surely deliberate, as Hamadeh's play - Can You Pull in an Actor With a Fishhook or Tie Down His Tongue With a Rope? - is enacted over extremely loud speakers. The stage directions are also narrated, giving the whole thing an extremely artificial and mechanical feel. This reinforces her claim that religion is a "dramaturgical framework that underlies the entire politics of oppression" in the region.

A detail from Mick Jones' mural celebrating the 1981 People's March For Jobs
And for those who know the building - and even those who don't - Mick Jones' mural dedicated to the 1981 People's March For Jobs still dominates, from its lofty position in the inner dome. I can do no better than quote Angie Sammons of Liverpool Confidential, who wrote:
"Devon-born Jones's work still has all the resonance of 10,000 marching feet. The word resistance is painted nowhere, yet the mural fiercely punches it out. How fitting, then, that it has resolutely defied 28 years of neglect, its colours still far more vivid than New Labour's could ever be."
The same goes for the whole space. In its current dilapidated state, it is a living representation of the devastation Thatcher wrought on the working class of the city, and how trade unionism itself has decayed in the decades since then. Yet if new approaches were taken, there is so much potential here.

Friday, July 04, 2014

The Shameful Truth About Liverpool's FACT

FACT's carefully-cultivated 'lefty' image masks a brutal internal hierarchy
This article was written for Liverpool's 'Nerve' magazine.

When the Liverpool Echo revealed that the FACT - the heart of the city's 'Ropewalks' cultural quarter - had axed paid staff and replaced them with volunteers, it provoked a wave of revulsion at the charity's decidedly corporate-style practices. Social networking accounts associated with FACT were bombarded with critical comments, and three protests have even been held outside. But the story of FACT's mistreatment of workers goes far deeper than that. Since opening eleven years ago, it has gone from being an organisation which paid all workers, to one which is now entirely dependent on exploiting the desperation of a revolving door army of volunteers, whose free labour helps maintain the living standards of the paid staff almost entirely based on the top floor.

The eleven redundancies were made at a series of meetings with executive director Iona Horsburgh. Called in one by one, the front of house staff were presented with a two page document headed "Proposed model" - clearly intended for internal discussion amongst the higher ups. But at this stage it was not a proposal; it had been decided. It was non-negotiable. In the euphemistic words of the document: "The job title of Gallery Assistants would be discontinued".

The "proposed model" went on to specify that the volunteers will be recruited "on a show-by-show basis", meaning they will stay for only three months for what is described as "training and mentorship". On top of this, newly redundant workers were invited to apply for the 'events team'. According to an insider, FACT 'events' typically mean a few hours' pay at £7 an hour for a few individuals, maybe once a month. There is far from a guarantee that former paid staff will get preferential treatment, but likely there was an intention that this would soften the parting blow. It should also be noted that at least two of the volunteers quit as soon as they discovered they were replacing paid staff. Imitating the best traditions of strike-breaking employers, FACT had failed to inform them that they were being used to attack working conditions.

Following the Echo article, Nerve published a statement, announcing that "unless FACT reconsider their position with regards to these changes in working conditions, we can no longer work with them". FACT's press officer Jen Chapman then emailed Nerve to tell us that our statement was "fundamentally coming from the wrong place", but when pressed, only 'corrected' it by saying that "Our gallery assistants have always been on zero hours contracts and this is not new" (Nerve had not claimed otherwise).

After two weeks of being pressed by Nerve and other concerned parties, FACT finally released a promised "FACT Employment Factsheet" (pun presumably intended). But far from the unvarnished truth, the release merely contains waffle, and attempts to obscure the truth. Below much talk about being "committed to providing life-enhancing and enriching cultural experiences to a broad spectrum of people", it gets down to some figures. Yet there is distortion even here.

First, these numbers details the "previous FoH [front of house] structure", which FACT claim included 9 casual staff, 3 part time staff, 1 full time staff, and 1 volunteer". According to our source, the 9 casual staff were indeed made redundant, with those who had served less than two years receiving no payment. The 3 "part time staff" were under the impression that they were full time, and the listed full time staff member took voluntary redundancy.

Following this section, the "factsheet" goes on to describe the "current FoH structure". The first thing to be noticed is the drastically increased number of "volunteers" - an extra 70! There are 3 listed as "full time", but this includes "2 previously part-time members of staff". Considering those staff believed they were full time anyway, this does not account for many 'extra' full time hours. Two of these paid full time staff are now 'mediators' - essentially the immediate bosses of the volunteers.

The biggest deception comes when it refers to "5 casual staff who are continuing to work casual hours at FACT". Our insider reveals that these five are those signed up to the special events list, getting a few quid here and there. Whereas previously they were directly employed by FACT, they are now officially 'self-employed', and even less able to take care of their living costs than they were before. It goes on to list that "2 casual staff have been redeployed into other paid roles", glossing over the reality that one of these was only employed in this post til the end of April. Finally, it admits that "2 previous members of casual staff have chosen not to take any more hours", but even this puts the blame on the redundant staff, rather than the people upstairs who have "chosen" to offer far fewer paid hours, so that they can save money. At the time of this article, one more formerly employed worker had decided to stop working the events due to travel and lunch expenses making it not worth their time and effort. Furthermore, it was interfering with their Jobseeker's Allowance claim.

To summarise then, FACT's "test model" - as they described it in the Echo article - is now vastly more reliant on unpaid labour. There are currently 125 people working in the building, and 76 of them are not being paid for it - 60% of the total. For those who are being paid, 19 are working less than full time hours, and so will be unlikely to make ends meet on their FACT money alone. Those being paid are now overwhelmingly based on the top floor. Those on the bottom floor have little contact with these individuals, and even less idea what they actually get up to. One worker who had been at FACT declared it a "mystery". Clearly, at least some of these paid workers must be making decisions about firing paid workers and replacing them with 'volunteers' whose desperation for work experience can be exploited for 100% of the value of their labour.

I asked FACT's listed funders for a comment on the restructuring. All except two were unavailable for comment. This includes Nick Small, the Labour council's cabinet member for employment, who had spoken out against zero hour contracts in the Echo. Julian Pye of the British Council Film Team simply responded with a terse "Sorry, no we don't" [want to comment].

However, Allison Millar of Arts Council England struck a more concerned tone in her measured reply:  
"One of the goals within our mission of great art and culture for everyone is to ensure the leadership and workforce in the arts, museums and libraries are diverse and appropriately skilled. This is through a range of opportunities including the Creative Employment Programme which supports new apprenticeships, pre-apprenticeships and paid internships across the sector with over 1,500 created so far. We recognise that volunteering - and the opportunities that come with it - is an important part [emphasis added] of the arts and cultural ecology and we are in discussions with FACT about their particular situation and new volunteering scheme."
Clearly, when FACT relies on 60% of its workforce turning up unpaid every day in order to open, volunteering is far more than "an important part" of the FACT's "ecology". Volunteering is now as important to FACT as oxygen is to a human body - it simply could not function without it. 

But that statement was at the end of May. This week, the Arts Council announced that they would give FACT £3 million over three years, which is roughly equivalent to what they received in the previous spending round. This coincided with the building's facade getting a makeover. The "discussions" about the new volunteering scheme now appear to be over, and this intense exploitation has the Arts Council's seal of approval.

It is hard to see this charity as being anything more than just another business. It is not 'for profit', in the sense that it doesn't buy and sell commodities. Its only income is drawn from bodies such as the Arts Council, the local council, and other funders. But the power lies with those on the top floor, who run the institution in their own interests, and line their own pockets.

In this society, there is a problem with a certain lack of resources. But it isn't that there's not enough to go around, it's that it's in the wrong hands - those of the richest, who are parasitical on the rest of us. Their resources should be confiscated, and used for the benefit of all. Such a huge change would have to be organised on a large scale. But until that glorious day, what can be done in the here and now? 

Since publishing our first statement on this, Nerve have been asked 'What is the alternative?' Well, as a co-operative which started at about the same time that FACT opened, we are in a good position to answer. We've never had enough funding to run things as we'd like, but we've got by. None of us are paid these days, but that was a collective decision, and not one imposed by some remote, well-off boss. We are true volunteers - we give our time because we believe in what we are achieving together. Decisions about what happens in any given workplace should be democratically decided by all those who work there.

Public shame has not forced a rethink, so those making pretty big money at FACT clearly intend to preserve their place in the sun on the top deck. As ever and everywhere, the potential for real change comes from those toiling below.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Why I'm Standing for Class War

I hate general election campaigns. And yet, I've decided to stand in one, as the Class War candidate for Liverpool Riverside. There are several reasons for this:
  1. Otherwise 2015 will be the worst election ever: You think 2010 was bad? Unless you're filthy rich, all the parties now in Parliament will be saying that your life needs to be made much, much worse. And why? Because the filthy rich aren't filthy rich enough! The only thing they will argue about is which of them will be best at making you suffer.
  2. UKIP: The rich know how much you hate the blues, yellows and 'reds' making your life worse, so they'll be using their media to boost UKIP as an 'alternative'. UKIP are run by a bunch of rich scum who'll try to convince you that some of the most shat-on people are to blame for the problems in your life. They're not. Our enemy is the rich. The rich. We've got to get rid of the rich. I'm gonna say that loud and proud.
  3. Louise Ellman: I once accidentally bumped into current Riverside MP Louise Ellman at Central station. She sort of fell, and I caught her like I would anyone. But then I saw it was her and felt gross. She's a big supporter of the Liverpool Labour lot closing down libraries, community centres and homeless shelters, with the added nasty extra of being really into the Israeli government killing Palestinians.
  4. Representing working class of Liverpool Riverside: Like most of the city, there's a lot of disgusting poverty in Riverside, and all the parties who stood here in 2010 would all make that worse. But working class people fight back here and there, and will need to do that more and more in the times to come. So for the five weeks of the campaign I'll be a 'representative' of those fights, and do my bit to make sure their struggles become national news.
  5. Promoting communism: Yes, I believe that communism is the way forward for the working class of Liverpool, this country, and the world. It's the only alternative to the rich getting richer, us getting poorer, and the planet getting wrecked. You can't get it through parliament because the working class have to make it for themselves. But I'll promote it on the campaign trail.
  6. Fun: I think it will be fun.
  7. Faces: I can't wait to see their faces.
  8. Hands: I won't dirty mine by shaking theirs at the count.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Dublin Bakery Workers Occupy Factory Over Unpaid Wages

"Every time I asked for my wage, he gave an excuse, 3 days ago they started to take the equipment away."

Mainly migrant workers at a Dublin bakery went into occupation yesterday, after their boss closed the factory and started removing equipment. Here is their statement, written before the occupation began:
We the workers have been picketing the Paris Bakery & Pastry Ltd on Moore St, Dublin since Tuesday 20th, 2014. This is in response to our employers Mr Yannick Forel and Ms Ruth Saville failure to pay us wages owed of over €55,000.

We the workers were locked out, an old tactic used by unscrupulous employers. We feel disappointed, angry, cheated, frustrated, and betrayed. We have had no response from these employers and we will now stage a sit in until we get back our stolen wages.

Beatrice Douat said “we are devastated by the action of our employers who have deceived, exploited and abused us. These employers are breaking the law by stealing our wages and the Government should step in and not allow this injustice to happen to workers”.

We the staff of Paris Bakery are waiters, managers, bakers, chefs and kitchen porters. We have worked hard to keep our jobs in what has been a very difficult working environment. As everybody knows jobs are hard to come by in Ireland and to keep. Our boss was hard to please; we were required to work in poor conditions, with no health and safety training, no safety shoes in the bakery and kitchen and no contracts of employment. Some workers were paid as little as €5.00 per hour. The Chefs were paid a flat rate but worked up to 70 hours per week. No staff were paid overtime, there was no holiday pay and no breaks. Due to these conditions there was a high turn high turnover in the bakery and restaurant.

Anissa Hosany, a mother of two said, “we are all worried about our money, our futures; some of us can’t pay the rent and are worried about supporting our children at this time. One of our colleagues has become homeless as a result of this. We are also worried about finding employment without references”.

We the workers want to refute the employer’s claim that the government and the workers are at fault for the failure of his business. The employers have known that this building was to close for a long time. We assert that it is poor business management and planning that has created this situation.
We are all worried about our money, our futures; some of us can’t pay the rent and are worried about supporting our children at this time. One of our colleagues has become homeless as a result of this.

The Paris Bakery workers are calling on Mr Yannick Forel and Ms Ruth Saville of Paris Bakery & Pastry Ltd to pay us our outstanding wages immediately. 

We also call on the following consumers of the Paris Bakery – Demonware, Terra Madra, the Science Galley, Cinnamon, The Westerbury Hotel, La Masion, Hot Stove, Lilliput, FX Buckey, Food Game, Honest to God, Rygby’s, Artiseins, Bakery, Fontana Café, Organge Tree Bakery - not to accept goods until We are paid our wages.

The general secretary of the Mandate trade union is John Douglas is also occupying the building along with the employees. Douglas says that the situation is similar to that which occurred before in the case of workers at Vita Cortex, La Senza, HMV and others where workers were forced to take “extraordinary actions to receive unpaid entitlements”.
You can follow the occupation on the Paris Bakery’ s employees fighting for their wages Facebook page, and on Twitter via #parisbakery. Workers Solidarity Movement are also providing lots of updates on their Facebook. Finally, the Paris Bakery occupiers are calling on their supporters to sign a petition demanding that they are paid their owed wages.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Vanity of Small Differences

Grayson Perry
Walker Art Gallery (17th May - 10th August 2014)

This summer, Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery is hosting Grayson Perry's 'The Vanity of Small Differences' - a series of tapestries based on a Channel 4 documentary series, where the artist studied the 'taste tribes' of Britain. But it goes far beyond a look at who has iPads and who has country estates. Consciously or not, every scene is a snapshot of a 'United Kingdom' riven by division and barely concealed conflict.

In the television programme 'All in the Best Possible Taste', Perry examined the relationship between the social class that people find themselves a part of, and what they consume. While this had some sociological interest, it nevertheless played into the post-Cold War idea that class conflict is dead, even at a time when the coalition government was setting to work at devastating the poor and further gilding the wealth of the rich.

Though Perry drew on those sessions for his inspiration for this computer-designed and weaved collection, it took him far beyond the TV version's limited scope. Rather than see these 'tribes' as unrelated, each tapestry shows exactly how they are formed, and how they are forcibly separated. Perry achieves this by telling the story of Tim Rakewell as he journeys from life in post-industrial Sunderland to a multi-millionaire's retreat in the countryside, via a successful career in digital technology. But the dream dies in a spectacular car crash, as onlookers tweet about the demise of a their hero (online reaction to the death of Steve Jobs comes to mind).

All the tapestries are fantastic, but it is perhaps 'The Upper Class At Bay' (above) which makes the most profound impact. Using a hunting metaphor, Perry shows that 21st century entrepreneurs have become the new aristocracy, replacing the big landowners and even the old industrial capitalists in their estates. But at the edges, so far unnoticed by the rich, a protest is gathering, as the Occupy movement makes an appearance. One placard urges Tim to pay his taxes, while another proclaims 'No war but class war'. It is significant that the only social mobility Perry can envision in today's Britain must come so blatantly at the expense of others.

There is something very enjoyable about seeing such modern scenes in tapestry form, when tapestry is normally seen as something so dusty and old. There's an urgency in the tale of Tim (and all the people he leaves behind), which almost seems to burst out from the stitching. The immediacy of the social crisis depicted is combined with the instantaneous nature of the technology on show within the images, and indeed the technology used to make them (the weaving of each piece only took a few hours). This all seems so out of place amidst the Victorian architecture of the Walker, but that only serves to make it all the more compelling. As I was leaving, it struck me how rare it is to see people of different social classes in the same artwork, and the contrasts of modernity and antiquity only add to this effect.

Grayson himself has his own internal class conflicts. He came from a poor background, has slammed the coalition's cuts, and talks of the influence that socialist artists had on him, but in January he curtseyed before Prince Charles when collecting a CBE. It's difficult to reconcile social criticism with apparent acceptance of royalty, but somehow he does it. As the protesting figures move closer to the centre of the picture, the time is coming when Perry will have to make a choice.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Yorkshire Direct Action Shows There IS Such A Thing As A Free Ride!

There is no alternative say bankers and politicians; these activists disagree!
"So after being told there was no alternative to the travel cuts..... Great news on the climbdown by local councils! We've won so much, we can fight for the complete reinstatement of concessionary travel! Congratulations to everyone who's taken part and helped bring this victory!" - Statement on the 'Fight travel cuts in south Yorkshire' Facebook group

A group of pensioner and disabled bus and train users have overturned a cut to fare concessions by the South Yorkshire Integrated Transport Authority. By using direct action tactics on their self-proclaimed 'freedom rides', they have embarrassed the powers that be into backtracking, and struck a small but significant blow against the 'there is no alternative' austerity mantra.

Disabled and pension age Barnsley people have had rail and bus concessions throughout South and West Yorkshire since 1985. This costs the four South Yorkshire local authorities £234,000 per year, but previously all had chipped in, no doubt largely because it was believed that for every £1 spent on concessionary travel £1.50 was generated in the local economy in consumer and leisure spending.

However, the local authority decided at the beginning of March that even this stimulus was not affordable in this age of austerity. That meeting was lobbied by 150 demonstrators, after a campaign group had been established by a meeting of three hundred at Barnsley Central Library. Legal protest methods had failed.

Then came the weekly 'freedom rides'. Starting in April, they saw Barnsley activists simply catching the train to the Meadowhall shopping centre to rally with their Sheffield comrades. Of course, they did not pay to do so.

On 28th April, the direct action was disrupted by the police. In the words of Open Democracy's reporter:
"The Barnsley Freedom Riders had planned to board a train to the Meadowhall shopping centre for the now regular Monday rally with Sheffield Freedom Riders. The police hold their ground and the train comes and goes. Dave Gibson, retired college lecturer and chair of the Barnsley Trades Council, calls for a vote and a decision is taken to stay and demand to get on the next train. News comes through that the Sheffield Freedom Riders had gathered at Meadowhall and twenty five protestors are coming to join Barnsley. A second train comes and the police stand firm.
"We all begin to realise that the Sheffield supporters will arrive on the opposite platform. The [British Transport] police had not been told to block the other platform entrance so we all headed over the station bridge and simply walked on and waited for the train, the police and rail officials looking on from the other side of the tracks. The Sheffield train arrives and the Barnsley Freedom Riders board, with their placards and chants, to join the Sheffield group on the train. We cheer and applaud them. The freedom ride is a bit shorter than usual – just up the line to Penistone, but we are all on the train and refusing to pay."

The following week's scene was described by the Sheffield Star:
"Elderly and disabled campaigners fighting travel cuts in South Yorkshire had their latest ‘freedom ride’ protest blocked today. Defiant residents were stopped from getting on trains and riding without paying to Meadowhall by British Transport Police and rail staff at Barnsley station. But they rallied outside the entrance, which was blocked by staff, to chant, wave placards and sing in the lively protest demonstration." 
But just days later, the Star reported that:
"Coun Sir Steve Houghton, leader of Barnsley Council, confirmed that plans to reinstate all free travel for disabled people and offer half price train travel to pensioners from 9.30am would be put to a transport chiefs’ meeting on May 19." 
He went on to farcically state that: "I do want to stress this is not a result of people who have been breaking the law."

The activists are planning a demonstration in Barnsley tomorrow, and a lobby of the Monday meeting.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

George Garrett Archive

Liverpool Central Library (3rd - 31st May 2014)

Going to the newly refurbished Liverpool Central Library is a weird experience. With its shiny up-to-the-minute feel, it serves as a hint of what public services could be like, if only a decent amount of resources were dedicated to them. On the other hand, it also doubles as an excuse for Liverpool council to point to as they devastate public services - including public libraries - and the lives of the people who rely on them.

As the Labour councillors do the Tories' dirty work for them, it is even stranger to see the council's logo attached to a display celebrating the work of one George Garrett, a man who stood for everything that these intensely mediocre butchers, bloodsuckers and bootlickers despise. Doubtless Mayor Anderson has nightmares about working class people standing up for themselves at work and in politics, and producing their own culture, reflecting their own lives.

It is of course an extremely difficult task to represent a life as large and full as Garrett's in a few smallish glass show cases (I won't even try in this article). Born in Seacombe in 1896, his family moved to Dingle at the turn of the century, and he went on to become a docker, a sailor, a union organiser, a poet, a songwriter, a playwright, and an actor, plus a father to five sons. As well as Merseyside, he lived in New York and Argentina at various times.

Amidst all the scripts, magazines and rejection letters, it can't be said that the display gives much of a flavour of Garrett's political and labour organising. For instance, his Byrom Street address is listed as home of "the Wobblies" as well as the Liverpool branch of the Communist Party in the early 1920s. For all that most library visitors are likely to know, the Wobblies might be a jelly manufacturer (in fact it is a nickname of the Industrial Workers of the World union), but no explanation is provided.

This is no small point. It isn't as if Garrett's political work and his cultural output were two separate worlds to him; everything he did was searingly political. He composed songs for sailors which were clearly influenced by the work of another wobbly: Joe Hill. His writing took the lives and struggles of working class people as their starting point. In later life, he helped set up the Left Theatre (now the Unity Theatre), to help bring the conflict between the Spanish revolution and the fascism of Franco to life for the people of Liverpool. In short, Garrett's art can only be understood in the context of his politics.

Despite all that, this exhibition (and accompanying website) are a tantalising glimpse of a fascinating man, and I hope that the archive is a work in progress which can be improved upon. The project is clearly a labour of love for the volunteers, and they deserve a lot of credit for putting this material in the public domain.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Irish Communities Unite to Resist Water Charges

Two have been hospitalised defending their right to water from the Troika
For more than three weeks now, people in major Irish cities have been taking direct action to prevent Irish Water from installing so-called 'smart meters', which many believe will push the cost of water - the most vital of all substances, beyond their ability to pay. In doing so, they are providing the first active resistance to the attacks on the working class demanded by the 'Troika' since Irish austerity began six years ago.

The resistance seems to have begun in the south-west city of Cork, before spreading to Dublin. There are few reports of it taking place elsewhere, but then there are very few reports at all, considering the significance of what is happening. As ever, it seems that the corporate, political and media establishment is seeking to downplay working class struggle, due to fear of 'contagion' to other locations and other causes

Just over a million meters are scheduled to be installed, and from the autumn the homes will go on the meter for the first time. International studies have shown that meters have reduced household water consumption by between 10 and 15%. But of course, water use isn't even as 'optional' as electricity is. It is an essential part of human life, and of the human body. So in that sense, no wonder people are resisting.

At its most simple, resistance involves community members literally placing their bodies where the Irish Water contractors are trying to dig, as shown on this video. In other cases - where holes are discovered already dug - people are climbing into them, and therefore preventing the workers placing the meters there. Particularly in Cork, it seems that those resisting the meters are creating phone trees and other means of coordinating their defence of their living conditions within and between estates. As of yet, the Gardai (police) do not seem to be intervening forcefully on the side of Irish Water, even though they have warned of possible arrests from the beginning. But this surely can't be ruled out.

The blockades started around the 14th April, in Cork's Ashbrook Heights estate, and had reached Dublin by the 23rd. On 30th, an Ashbrook Heights protester named John O'Donovan was taken to hospital by ambulance, after falling to the ground in a confrontation with an Irish Water employee. An eyewitness complained that the employee had ran at a barrier, knocking O'Donovan to the ground.

Protester Theresa Kelly was assaulted in Dublin today
On May Day, activists occupied the Irish Water HQ in protest at the installations. The next day, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny was heckled by anti-water meter protesters in Cork, as he campaigned for the European elections. After a few days of relative calm, the conflict seems to have intensified once more. Yesterday, Environment Minister Phil Hogan threatened that the water supply will be reduced "to a trickle" for those who don't pay their bills. Today in Dublin, a woman had her elbow fractured when she had a plastic barrier "shoved into her", resulting in "her falling violently to the ground".

The attacks on access to water for the Irish working class were dictated by the 'Troika' of International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission back in 2012, in return for a bailout of Ireland's banking sector, which suffered heavily in the 2008 crash. In January, cabinet minister Pat Rabbitte broke ranks with his colleagues when complained that the Troika had "railroaded" the government into making the changes too quickly. In other words, the representatives of finance capital have insisted that the Irish government make its citizens pay for water on a timescale most convenient for them, despite practical reservations from those doing the implementing.

There has been little to no popular resistance to Irish austerity over the last few years, despite the weighty burden imposed on the working class. This mini uprising hopefully indicates that there could be more to come. Certainly, the fact that people are risking life and limb over a charge which Enda Kenny has claimed will be about €240 (£200) per year shows that this attack is very much the straw which broke the camel's back.

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