Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Kiev Students Call For Solidarity

The following urgent message comes from comrades in Ukraine:

from an occupied uni in Kyiv [Kiev]:

We, the libertarian leftists (around independent students' trade union Direct Action https://www.facebook.com/prjama.dija, Journal of Social Criticism "Commons" - http://commons.com.ua, Liva - Ukrainian leftists http://liva.com.ua etc.) from Ukraine are convinced that the withdrawal of special forces was not final. Also, we know that the new government is going to crack down on the beginnings of self-organisation. We already have some examples, i.e. many of us are located in the occupied Ministry of Education and participate in the "student self-defense". Yesterday, some extreme right-wingers attempted to gain control over the building, yet we haven't let them. We are sure it will repeat.

Therefore we need your help, at this stage - it means mostly financial help. The financial resources will be spent on legal means of self-defense and communication: bullet-proof vests, shields, helmets, walkie-talkies, mobile phones, gas sprays, legal non-lethal weapons etc. 

You may send some resources via Moneygram to name [Olga Papash]
Moneygram may not work in some countries. Therefore, it is desirable to send bigger sums through Western Union to name [Olga Papash] (the best way is to send bigger sums, as then the commission seems more reasonable)

Many comrade thanks,
Ilija Vlasiuk 
Prjama Dija/Direct Action

Monday, February 24, 2014

IWGB Workers Make More Gains at University of London

IWGB cleaners struck for their gains, so caterers didn't even have to!
After the successful and disruptive strikes by cleaners at the University of London, it seems that sometimes all workers have to do in order to make bosses take notice is join a fighting union. This morning, the Industrial Workers of Great Britain published the following statement on their blog:

Over the last month many Aramark [catering] workers at the University of London have joined the IWGB in order to resolve issues such as zero-hour contracts, sick pay and holidays and bullying and harassment in the workplace.

Following an initial meeting with Aramark’s UK HR Operations Director Adrian Goldacre, the company has already agreed the following
  1. Zero-hours contracts
All those working full-time on zero-hour contracts will be moved to permanent contracts – please get in touch if you have any questions regarding this.
  1. Sick Pay and Holidays
Letters should be going out to all Aramark staff by 1 April offering them improved sick pay and holiday arrangements, including up to 33 days holiday a year, and up to 6 months full sick pay.
  1. Bullying and harassment
A guarantee of an investigation into all instances of bullying and harassment within the company, and an assurance that any complaints will be taken seriously without risk of reprisals from management.
  1. Union membership
Aramark have stated that all employees are free to associate with a trade union, and that managers need to understand this clearly.

We’re already making great progress, but we need your help to do more. The more members the union has, the stronger we are. If you work for Aramark and want to join the IWGB, please contact Jason Moyer-Lee (JasonMoyer-Lee@iwgb.org.uk or call 07771783094). If you are already a member, please tell your colleagues!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Protest Blockade Wins Temporary Reprieve For Irish Psychiatric Beds

A crowd of 150 stopped police from taking beds away. Photo: Gerry Stronge
A blockade outside the psychiatric unit of St Brigid's Hospital, Ballinasloe in County Galway, seems to have won a temporary reprieve for five beds which the Irish government wanted removed as part of 'care in the community'-branded cuts. This encouraging display of direct action by hundreds of community members and service users mirrors ideas I expressed in my recent piece on 'How We Can Beat The Cuts', part of my series on building a new working class movement.

There was a large demonstration in the town last September, where union leaders joined locals in condemning the closure of the twenty-two acute psychiatric admission beds at the hospital. At the time, Noel Giblin of the Psychiatric Nurses Association told the crowd that:
"The huge turn-out at today’s protest reflects the deep anger in the community at the loss of these beds  and people across Roscommon and Galway are clearly not going to stand by and see the mental health services in the region being dismantled in this way."
Far from the usual hyperbolic rhetoric, his words could not have been more prophetic. As the Galway Advertiser reports:
"On January 17 this year the HSE [Health Service Executive] succeeded in taking away five psychiatric beds, however a further attempt to take five more was thwarted on Tuesday night. The determination of campaigners in Ballinasloe was clearly proven when up to 200 people took just 15 minutes to mobilise and gather at the gates of St Brigid’s at 6pm to stop a private removal company from taking the beds.
"According to [campaigner] Mr Carr 600 people signed up to a text alert system following a public meeting at Gullane’s Hotel on Sunday. When word got out about the attempt by the HSE to take a further five beds mass texts were sent out and campaigners arrived to hold a peaceful protest. “The vans could leave but the beds could not,” said Mr Carr, who explained there are concerns over the falling standard of care in the community."
On Wednesday, a group of the activists took their cause to the Irish Parliament, where they called for a "full independent review" of psychiatric unit closures in Ballinasloe, plus three others in the country. But mental health minister Kathleen Lynch cynically described the cuts as something which "would liberate the service user". The Fine Gael/Labour Party government defeated an anti-closure motion, which had been put forward by the Fianna Fáil-led opposition. But according to the East Galway Mental Health Action Group, who are co-ordinating the resistance, "The fight goes on...We WILL get our independent review.."

At the time of writing, the five beds seem to remain in place, as do those committed to defending them. Despite massive cuts, first under Fianna Fáil/Greens and now under Fine Gael/Labour, there has been little active resistance to austerity in Ireland so far. This is one to follow.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

More Than One Hundred Demonstrations Staged Against Atos Killers

A homemade wreath for the victims of Atos at the Derby demo
Protests against blood-soaked 'medical assessors' Atos were held in one hundred and forty four locations across Britain and the north of Ireland yesterday, as demonstrators made their feelings about the company clear to members of the public. Largely organised on Facebook, the events were a successful outpouring of grassroots anger.

Many of the protests saw small groups of people holding banners, handing out leaflets, and discussing Atos with passers-by. The description of the Newtown, Powys demo on the Vox Political blog seems to be typical of many:
"The assessment centre is next to a major traffic junction, meaning there were plenty of opportunities to talk to motorists while they waited for the lights to change. The overwhelming majority of them were enthusiastically supportive."
Police did not intervene with intimidation tactics at this quiet demo. However, this was not the case at the London event outside Atos' national HQ, where "where 150 Police including riot Police were this morning waiting for 80 disabled demonstrators" according to one Facebook posting.

Furthermore, Atos staff at Weston-Super-Mare left a disgusting placard to greet protesters as they arrived. Reading "Fit enough to protest - fit enough to work", it betrayed the total incomprehension of the reality of disability common to many within Atos, and the contempt with which they view those facing tests at their centres.

The official response from Atos was more diplomatic than that of the Weston-Super-Mare workforce, but no less complacent. A spokesperson told the press that:
"We absolutely respect people’s right to peaceful protest and we are well aware that being assessed for benefit entitlement can be a difficult experience. However, lobbying against Atos Healthcare will have no impact on welfare policy. It is not, nor has it ever been, the role of Atos Healthcare to make decisions on who can or cannot receive benefits. We carry out assessments following strict guidelines and criteria written by Government. For the parts of the process we are responsible for, we work hard to treat people with care and respect and constantly improve our service."
Since Atos assessments are so often a matter of life and death, this line has been compared to the Nuremberg defence of superior orders:
"Not for the first time, the excuse I was only following orders has been replaced with but I was only trying to make money. It is truly a sign of the times that a company like Atos would even dare attempt this as a justification for their vile activities. There was a time when war profiteers and others who made money exploiting human misery, were the lowest of the low. Now simply having lots of money in itself is seen as a moral virtue, no matter what you did to get it."
But Atos are right in one thing - it is the government who sets the policy, and the government will therefore enforce it, so long as they are allowed to. Atos themselves may be dispensed with if their brand becomes too toxic. Iain Duncan Smith may one day face a similar fate. The Tories might be replaced with Labour next year. But it was actually Labour under Gordon Brown who first farmed out medical assessments to Atos, as part of their part-privatisation of the Department for Work and Pensions. Moreover, each of the three national parties are committed to restricting access to all benefits, as a way of disciplining the working class as a whole.

Consciousness-raising is an important first step, but much more will be needed to end the ruling class persecution of the disabled.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Demonstrators Bring Down Bosnian Government As Revolt Spreads

Authorities have lost control through most of Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Serbia
The government of Bosnia has resigned, calling early elections in a bid to shield the capitalist class itself. "We are ready to cede the power to anyone legitimate", Prime Minister Nermin Niksic told reporters on Monday. "But it needs to be clear who will take over." Within the space of just a week, a movement has sprung up which seems to have the potential to challenge capitalism in the region. Without doubt, it is the most explicitly anti-capitalist uprising since the global economic crisis began six years ago.

The struggle has predictably gained little attention from the corporate media, and much of the left in the UK seems slow on the uptake too. So you might have missed that the following has happened:
  • Protests in Tuzla, Bosnia became violent when former employees of privatised companies demanded compensation from local government, and police were set on the crowds.
  • Solidarity protests expanded into neighbouring Herzegovina and Serbia.
  • In Tuzla, rebel workers issued a list of demands which include the prosecution of economic crimes, the restoration of workers' rights, and the equalizing of the pay of government representatives with the pay of workers in the public and private sector.
  • Tuzla workers have demanded the collectivisation of the formerly state-owned, closed factories.
  • In Sarajevo, rebel workers and residents evacuated the presidency building, shouting: “Thieves! Thieves!” They then released a proclamation, called “Against the economic model that favours the rich.
  • Government buildings throughout the region have been burned down, and the heads of regional governments (cantons) have resigned.
  • In Tuzla and Sarajevo, some of the protesters captured by the police were released following mass demonstrations.
  • In spite of the ethnic rivalries throughout the region, which were cultivated by world powers during the 1990s, those in struggle have decisively rejected nationalism in favour of class solidarity. Slogans such as "Stop nationalism!" have taken hold. In the words of one participant, “This rebellion has nothing to do with ethnicity or nationalityit is about class.”
  • At a session of the Tuzla plenum (directly democratic assembly) yesterday, the meeting gave government officials just three days to concede yet more demands.
For now, the ruling class is clearly stunned and on the back foot. It has made concessions at the level of political offices, while it makes attempts to regroup. As yet, I have not heard of any concrete gains being made in terms of raising working class living standards. But the masses appear to be seizing a moment of apparent elite weakness to press home their temporary advantage. If they are able to sink roots into day to day struggles in neighbourhoods and workplaces throughout the former Yugoslavia, a revolutionary movement may have been born.

European Union bosses are beginning to draw up plans, in case the Bosnia & Herzegovina and Serbian governments - which are in turn overseen by an unelected United Nations appointee - are insufficient to save Bosnian capital. Fearing a situation where the flames of rebellion fan into nearby austerity-hit Greece and Italy, Austrian-born UN man Valentin Inzko declared that: "If it comes to escalation we would have to consider the intervention of EU forces. Currently, we do not have such intention." A police chief also warned European bureaucrats that this may be necessary to maintain capitalist rule, proposing that: "The international community and the EU should consider [deploying] international military forces in BiH if [widespread rioting] occurs again.”

Such a 'peacekeeping' force would necessarily be totalitarian - dedicated to brutally stamping out all insurgency. If it continues to grow, the Bosnian revolution will need our active solidarity, and its story needs to be spread.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Press Statement: The Bedroom Tax Is Dead…

The following is a repost of a press statement by Merseyside Federation of Anti-Bedroom Tax Groups:

The bedroom tax is dead in the water following a judgment by an Upper Benefit Tribunal in Bolton on 10th January 2014.
Upper Tribunals set precedents which must be followed by First Tier Benefit Tribunals and, in this case, by local authorities making housing benefit decisions, including all local councils in Merseyside.

The Bolton Upper Tribunal has decided that a bedroom is ‘a room furnished with a bed or used for sleeping in’. This means that a room – which is neither furnished with a bed nor used for sleeping in – is not a bedroom. Across Merseyside thousands of tenants are paying the bedroom tax on rooms which are not bedrooms, but which local authorities have decided are bedrooms based on submissions from housing associations. Such rooms – many of them box rooms – are used for other purposes – as studies, computer rooms, storage rooms, or just lie empty.

The judgment confirms Merseyside Federation’s long-held contention that every bedroom tax decision made in 2013 was fundamentally flawed. Local authorities did not define what a bedroom was, did not see such a definition as necessary, and did not inspect each property to ascertain the true facts of tenants’ individual situation.

The Bolton judgement changes this. Merseyside Federation urges all tenants paying the bedroom tax to immediately appeal, citing the Bolton judgment for the financial year 2013/14. We also urge housing associations to support and promote such appeals since it is in their interest to see as many successful appeals as possible.

To conform to the Bolton judgment, Juliet Edgar (Secretary of the Federation) says:

“Local authorities must inspect every single property they think may be liable for the bedroom tax for 2014/15 to determine for themselves the number of rooms in use as bedrooms. They cannot lawfully rely on housing associations sending information derived from tenancy agreements. This will be impossible: decisions have to be made by the end of March 2014. Such inspections will take hundreds of staff weeks to complete – there is no capacity. The bedroom tax has become inoperable, the bedroom tax is dead”.

Merseyside Federation urges local authorities across Merseyside to make this clear to the government. Merseyside Federation also wishes to support housing association who are encouraging their tenants to appeal the bedroom tax decision, they have access to their tenants and should support tenants to do so. The Merseyside Federation will also assist tenants to appeal.

For further information please contact – Juliet Edgar (Secretary) Merseyside Federation of Anti-Bedroom Tax Groups on 07528194137 or Robert Claridge (Wirral) on 07956458331 or email – thereclaimgroup@aol.co.uk.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Merseyside Councils Cutting Services To The Bone

Labour - hate Tory cuts, prefer their own
Labour-run councils across Merseyside are preparing yet more enormous cuts to their services, whilst pleading that it is all the fault of the Conservatives in central government. By pleading their own powerlessness in the face of austerity, they hope that voters will still turn out for them in the upcoming local elections. However, it seems far more likely that the electorate will consider the Labour-imposed Tory/LibDem cuts as an argument for abstaining altogether.

This week, Liverpool's mayor Joe Anderson outlined the catastrophic cuts he will be making over the next three years. Specifics are still to be decided at the council cabinet on 14th February, before being voted on by the full council on 5th March. But the trailed bullet points are appalling enough:
  • £42m slashed from the Adult Social Care budget over the next three years. This includes a proposal to significantly reduce the number of day centres provided by the council by 2015/16. A formal "consultation" will determine how much can be dumped onto the "voluntary sector" (a meaningless term in the age of workfare).
  • £16m slashed from Children’s Services. This includes a significant reduction in the number of council-run Children’s Centres by 2015/16. Again, some of the rest could be made "voluntary"
  • A £500,000 reduction in spending on library services year on year – in addition to a saving of £1m annual saving agreed last year – which will significantly reduce council-run services in some communities. On top of £1 million cuts agreed last year, this will likely see the number of libraries cut to a quarter of what they were before Anderson's mayoralty.
  • £4m slashed from the budget in the council’s Lifestyle Centres, including the closure of Park Road and Everton Park centres, starting with their swimming facilities.
  • The likely abolition of school road crossing patrols, to be offset by pelican crossings
In line with its backing of Anderson's two month long propaganda drive, the Labour-supporting Liverpool Echo uncritically parroted the mayor's claim that the council "will need to" closure Sure Start centres, as it "grapples with the Tory-led coalition’s cuts".

Anderson presents himself as heartbroken at the suffering he is imposing, and furious with the central government. Indeed, he is preposterously leading a 'rally' against his cuts in May, weeks before the local and European elections. But his argument against opposing the cuts he is making is that the Tories will just send auditors to do the same job. So in that case why not just let them? In reality, his central concern is keeping his own huge salary and perks, and if that means attacking the most vulnerable in society, so be it.

The same is true of Anderson's fellow Labourite counterparts across the region. Wirral council are close to revealing their own "difficult decisions", and will face protests next week. Similarly, council leaders in Labour-dominated Knowsley, Sefton and Halton councils have given no indication they will do anything other than pile on the misery when they set their budgets. This will be fresh in the memory come election time, and Labour are sure to be punished with mass apathy about which colour ties the butchers wear. Meanwhile, the "civil disobedience" which Anderson has warned of is surely drawing nearer.

The New Working Class Movement: How We Can Beat The Cuts

Friday, February 07, 2014

Liverpool Uni Workers Strike as Grassroots Rebellion Grows

Photo: Liverpool UCU
University staff across Liverpool went on strike yesterday, in action which coincided with the national dispute over a one per cent 'pay rise'. However, the Liverpool situation has specific differences to the state of play country-wide, and there is an element of unpredictability which from reports seems absent elsewhere. In a slow, but steady way, staff at campuses in the city are becoming more militant, and building links with each other which here and there is breaking the control of the union hierarchy.

It was the third time university staff had struck since October. On Halloween, an enthusiastic crowd of workers from all four Liverpool universities (University of Liverpool, John Moores, Hope and Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts) plus Edge Hill had gathered for a noisy demo, having shut down campuses. In early December, a large demonstration made the same points once more, before students occupied the Irish Studies building in solidarity. They raised much awareness of the dispute, before the university management erected scaffolding outside, compelling the besieged occupiers to quickly leave.

Certainly at University of Liverpool, this third strike was a big success. There were three hundred workers on picket lines fanned out across every building and car park, ensuring that it was far from business as usual for £300k+ a year vice chancellor Sir Howard Newby and co.

Compared to Halloween, the rally at U of L and subsequent march through town did not seem particularly inspired. Numbers were slightly down, with less travelling from other unis and less solidarity from the wider left. The march itself had an unusual atmosphere, with few banners or placards, no chanting, and people generally chatting in small groups as they ambled towards their refreshment destination. Scenes like this were likely repeated across the country.

So some of the immediate enthusiasm felt at the start of the dispute was clearly missing, and in some respects this is surely due to the way that the bureaucracies of University and College Union, Unite and Unison have strung out the dispute over such a long period. With UCU, there is the added factor of the two hour mini strikes which have seen lecturers to lose pay in recent weeks.

However, there have been developments in in Liverpool which make the local picture different. The roots of this go back to early last summer, when a separate dispute began at U of L. As I wrote last July:
"In June, the University of Liverpool demanded that 2,803 non-academic staff accept drastically inferior working conditions (longer hours without overtime pay, and on weekends and bank holidays without compensation) or face dismissal. The Vice Chancellor, Sir Howard Newby, did so on the basis of new, anti-working class laws brought in by the coalition government, reducing the required notice in such cases from ninety days to just forty-five. The attacks from Newby are so far unprecedented in the education sector, and will therefore be used to set a 'new normal' benchmark for the rest of the country."
Unite called a demonstration against a posh dinner for Newby and friends at the city's St George's Hall, but then pulled back from this on the sole basis that the negotiation deadline had been extended into the summer break. A farcical non-demonstration then took place. Alone amongst the university's unions, UCU threatened strike action over the attack, and shortly before the new September semester, management gave in to the union's members...but not those of Unite and Unison employed at the same uni!

Following this, Unite and Unison members at U of L held their own extra strike day following the one with UCU in December. Management instructed UCU members to cross picket lines. Parallel to this development, Unite officials had tried to call off their members' strike action at short notice, but the members refused to be swayed, and took the action they had voted for anyway. The U of L Unite branch had not actually met in many years, and on one member's suggestion, the event proved the catalyst for an agreement to meet regularly, in conjunction with UCU and Unison members on the campus.

These meetings are still taking place. According to one striker I spoke to yesterday, there is a growing militancy within them, which will resist any attempts to play members of one union off against another. If and when the national bureaucracies try to wind down the countrywide dispute, it seems like something else could develop in Liverpool, and particular at U of L. That militancy was buried deep yesterday, but given the right conditions, it could come to the surface. Even if that doesn't happen over current disputes, rank and file cross-union roots are growing which will help resistance develop in future struggles.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

The New Working Class Movement: How We Can Beat The Cuts

Friern Barnet library was saved by the community, but jobs were still lost
This is the third post in a series setting out my perspective on the development of a new working class movement in the UK and worldwide. The first part focused on community organisation, and the second was an outline of renewed workplace struggle, while future blogs will look at the importance of intersectionality to class struggle, the place of the UK working class in the world struggle, creating a new world, full socialism, and full communism.

There's no point explaining how bad the public sector cuts are. The evidence piles up before your eyes every day. Every social gain made by the working class over the last century is on the chopping block, and the money is being funnelled into the mouths of the sickeningly rich. The closure of your library means someone somewhere will be able to buy another piece of famous art for their private collection, another private yacht, another private island. The Tories do it laughing, Labour do it while blaming the Tories, but the effect on you, your loved ones, your community is exactly the same. You know this.

The corporate unions too, they tell you how bad it is. They bargain with national and local bosses to cut wages here, cut hours there, anything but sack workers/dues payers. When it's convenient, the bosses listen. When it's not, they sack workers anyway, because they have the measure of the union bureaucracy. They know it's all talk. Come the closure day, the union bosses will post sad messages on Twitter, and it will all be forgotten

So far as I know, there have only been a handful of UK successes in terms of stopping public sector cuts since the era of austerity began. In most of these cases, there were significant protests, and the axe was moved to another service. However, Friern Barnet library is different. Following a 2012/13 occupation by members of the local community, Barnet council leader Richard Cornelius 'found' an extra £25,000, and so the council no longer 'needed' to sell the building. There were big losses even here though. As I wrote a year ago:
"[...] Friern Barnet cannot be described as a complete victory. The paid librarian jobs that went last April will not be replaced, so the library will be staffed by volunteers. Ironically, the new Friern Barnet library will fit the government's 'Big Society' rhetoric very nicely. Not only is this a blow for the people who lost their jobs, but the medium and long term viability of the library must remain in some doubt. Unison - who claim to represent 24,000 library staff across the country - have not lifted a finger in practical terms, and much of the responsibility for closure after closure lies with the Unison bureaucracy."
The Friern Barnet occupation began five months after the library had officially closed. Unison - but more importantly the library's workers - knew about the closure for more than half a year before it happened.

It is possible to imagine a couple of different scenarios challenging this cycle of despair. In the first, workers find out that their library (to keep the example going) is set to close in a few months. Inspired by other struggles throughout the world, they use that time to reach out to the community and library users. Together they all declare their opposition to the closure, and announce that they will try to prevent it. At the end of the final day, the workers refuse to leave, and occupy the space. Shifts rotate as normal. People take books out and use the computers as normal.

In scenario two, a local anti-cuts group delegates a few people in the immediate area to go door knocking, and gauge neighbourhood opinion on the closure. If sufficient numbers are sufficiently opposed, an anti-closure group is formed, and they organise protests. Representatives from the group approach the staff directly, and discuss how they could help prevent the shutdown.

In either case, the specifics of resistance must necessarily vary dramatically between libraries, hospitals, schools and swimming pools. But in all cases, those most affected would surely have the most say about how to organise.

However, in all situations, authorities hellbent on enforcing cuts would likely go through three broad strategies:
  1. Repression - police would likely be used in an attempt to evict the occupation. Electricity and food supplies may be cut off. This is where community support might prove to be most important.
  2. Negotiation - if brute force failed, the chequebook might come out, and concessions might be offered. In all such cases, every offer would be a concrete gain, and it would be for the occupiers to decide how much win is worth their effort.
  3. Capitulation - if the face of enough resistance, the state would be compelled to give in. It's just a matter of how much is 'enough'. This has not really been tested for decades, so it's difficult to know, but remember that even the long-prepared Thatcher government was worried they might lose the miners' strike.
In short, those resisting closure will win to the extent that they make the cuts difficult (physically or politically) to implement. If they make closure impossible, it will not happen. As in Barnet, money would mysteriously be found.

Even if relatively small successes began to follow each other, it seems very likely that a certain amount of momentum would build up quite quickly. Councils up and down the nation would soon be fighting on more fronts than they could handle, and be forced into setting illegal budgets. National government might then suspend elected councils and try to impose cuts using auditors, but their task would be no easier than that facing council executives, especially when faced with an ever-growing anti-austerity movement. Workers in the private sector would be inspired to join in, and strike waves would shake an ungovernable country. Finally, a general strike would be called...

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