Thursday, April 24, 2014

Incarcerated Worker Movement Strikes in Alabama; Spokesman Held in Solitary

Prison bosses have retaliated against organiser Melvin Ray
Prisoners in Alabama have started to organise as workers, in conjunction with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The group of hundreds of inmates, called the Free Alabama Movement, approached the IWW some months ago in order to held them organise and get the word out about their struggle.

The IWW website reports that:
"This is the second peaceful and nonviolent protest initiated by the brave men and women of the Free Alabama Movement (F.A.M.) this year building on the recent Hunger Strikes in Pelican Bay and the Georgia Prison Strike in 2010. They aim to build a mass movement inside and outside of prisons to earn their freedom, and end the racist, capitalist system of mass incarceration called The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and others. The Free Alabama Movement is waging a non-violent and peaceful protest for their civil, economic, and human rights.

"The conditions in Alabama prisons are horrendous, packing twice as many people as the 16,000 that can be housed "humanely", with everything from black mold, brown water, cancer causing foods, insect infestations, and general disrepair. They are also run by free, slave labor, with 10,000 incarcerated people working to maintain the prisons daily, adding up to $600,000 dollars a day, or $219,000,000 a year of slave labor if inmates were paid federal minimum wage, with tens of thousands more receiving pennies a day making products for the state or private corporations.
"In response, the Free Alabama Movement is pushing a comprehensive "Freedom Bill" (Alabama's Education, Rehabilitation, and Re-entry Preparedness Bill) designed to end these horrors and create a much reduced correctional system actually intended to achieve rehabilitation and a secure, just, anti-racist society.

"While unique in some ways, the struggle of these brave human beings is the same as the millions of black, brown, and working class men, women, and youth struggling to survive a system they are not meant to succeed within. We advance their struggle by building our own, and working together for an end to this "system that crushes people and penalizes them for not being able to stand the weight".
Together with FAM, the IWW is asking supporters to:
On Sunday, Erik Forman of the IWW claimed that: "There is some participation in the strike, but the Alabama Department of Corrections is doing everything it can to prevent communication between the prisoners and the outside world."

Meanwhile, FAM have announced that: "[spokesman and organiser] Melvin Ray was taken out of his cell today and placed in solitary, without clothing or a bed, in retaliation for Free Alabama Movement #prisonstrike. Call St. Clair prison warden Carter Davenport at 205-467-6111 to demand end to retaliations. Let's flood the phone lines. Show 'em that we're watching!"

People can also copy and paste or adapt this email for the Alabama Department of Corrections.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Whose Productivity? Whose Wealth?

Liverpool economic productivity has shot up since 2004, but who's benefited?
This week, the Liverpool Echo gushed that the Liverpool city region was being "hailed for a remarkable rise in its productivity". It was referencing research published by Capital Economics, who claim that Liverpool's productivity growth of 34% since 2004 is the highest in the country. But is the average Liverpool area resident one third better off as a result, or are we simply being exploited more?

According to the figures, Inner West London scores highest with £43 output per person per hour in 2012. Canary Wharf is second with £37 per hour, Liverpool is far behind, on £27 per hour, four pounds ahead of North Manchester. But Liverpool's growth is the highest in the UK.

If the average Liverpool worker received the £27 pounds per hour of wealth they produce, this would amount to around £972 per week, or fifty thousand per year! Enough for a very comfortable lifestyle for all in employment, and their families. But in the last year for which figures were available, the average Liverpool wage was £23,000.

In other words, the average Liverpool worker receives around 45% of the wealth they produce. The rest - more than half - goes to their employer. In a way this should surprise no-one - it is the basic foundation of capitalism. But under conditions where the inflation-adjusted value of the average Liverpool wage has fallen by a few pounds per week in the time period covered by Capital Economics study, it would make more sense to report that the average Liverpool worker is about 35% more exploited than they were in 2004. Increasingly too, this newly-created wealth quickly leaves the city for richer areas, with multinationals dominating the Liverpool economy.

Averages conceal a lot of things. For instance, a fall of a few quid in the value of the average wage can not really be used to explain a recent fivefold increase in food bank usage for those at the very bottom. But maybe it can help us see why increasing productivity is not necessarily a good thing in of itself, especially when it has a cost in sweat and tears. And also, perhaps we can imagine how comfortable all our lives could be if working class people owned the fruits of their own labour.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Solidarity Network Set Up in Liverpool

SolNets are new to this country, but have had some success in the US
The following article is due to be published in the new issue of Nerve magazine:

A group of activists in Liverpool are starting to set up a solidarity network. Unless you're already involved, you're probably thinking one of two things now. Either 1) 'that sounds boring, what is the next article?' or 2) 'what the hell is a solidarity network?'

Well, as the name implies, it is an interconnected collection of people intent on offering support to each other when they need it. While the word 'solidarity' is often used in terms of workplace-based struggles, a solidarity network's focus is generally different. In most cases, the case will involve a complainant who has received bad treatment from some kind of authority - be it a big business, the council, the government or even a landlord/housing association.

But the focus is still on the exploitation of working class people by 'the system'. Solidarity networks are not consumer watchdogs. They take on cases because they understand that 'an injury to one is an injury to all', and if a landlord is able to take advantage of one working class person (for instance by charging illegal 'admin fees' as happened in Glasgow), then all landlords feel more confident to take advantage of all working class people. Of course, the reverse is true. If working class people - acting through a solidarity network - are able to defeat the exploitative landlord (as eventually happened in Glasgow), then they feel more confident to take on bigger and bigger exploiters, in all areas of their lives.

This is why SolNets organise collectively. For example, in that Glasgow case, their blog reports:
"The first action took place mid December 2013 with thirty people walking into the letting agency’s premises on a very rainy and stormy morning to support the pair in the handing-over a demand letter asking for the fees back and giving them until the new year to pass them back before further action was taken. The delivery went very well, in good spirit, and attracted people who never had participated in anything like this. It was also fantastic to experience the coming-together of people who had never met the couple – an injury to one is an injury to all. Everyone was pleased with the action – everyone apart from the letting agency staff! The manager was so unhappy about the visitors that he decided to hide in a little room off the main office and let his colleague deal with the situation by herself.

"However, the agency did not return the money within the deadline set in the letter. The Network, together with the two affected people, then planned the next step in the ‘escalation process’. It was decided that the bad news from the agency should be met with bad reviews online, and so a week of action was organised via this blog, Facebook, and personal contacts.

"Success was almost immediate. The “Bad News Gets Bad Reviews” action started on Monday. On Wednesday morning the letting agency manager contacted their ex-tenants and offered the immediate return of their money. The manager stated that the agency had lost business contracts worth over £2000 because of the reviews. GSN called for an end of the campaign as the manager’s assurance was deemed trustworthy. Indeed, the cheques arrived in the post two days later. Victory!"
Liverpool Solidarity Network meets on the second Monday of every month, at the Next To Nowhere social centre, in the basement of 96 Bold Street. It can be found online via Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Asylum For Aderonke March Takes Place in Liverpool

*Content note - outline of violent homophobic oppression*

Around twenty-five supporters of Aderonke Apata rallied in Liverpool, before handing over a petition bearing 24,000 signatures demanding that Home Secretary Theresa May allows the Nigerian-born LGBTQI activist and human rights campaigner to remain in the UK. The Liverpool event was held in conjunction with another which was taking place in London.

Aderonke could face deportation back to Nigeria, where - as an out lesbian and an activist - she fears for her life. Before coming to Britain ten years ago, she was sentenced to death by stoning in her home country, and family members were murdered for her sexual orientation. She believes that forty years' imprisonment is her fate there if she is not killed outright. Her partner Happiness Agboro - who has leave to remain here - bears the scars from a beating inflicted on her by a mob who found out that she was a lesbian. The UK Border Agency claim that she has not done enough to 'prove' that she is gay despite having many friends and family testify for her, including lovers.

Theresa May has recently ordered a review of how the immigration authorities deal with LGBTQI people, after evidence came to light that people were resorting to shooting intimate videos of themselves with partners in an attempt to prove their sexual orientation. However, Aderonke still faces a High Court review of her own case next Tuesday, 15th April.

The Liverpool march assembled at Lime Street train station, and made its way through busy shopping areas to the United Kingdom Border Agency building on Union Street. There we were met by a patronising and frequently deceitful reception from UKBA staff, who refused to take possession of the petition, and refused us entry to the building.

After over an hour of messing about from the staff,  the allegedly impossible happened, and a senior official came downstairs to accept the petition. Happiness was pleased with the result, and we headed off.

More information on Aderonke's case can be found on the Manchester MiSol page, and on Twitter via #AsylumforAderonke. A new interview with Aderonke is available from Novara Media.

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