Dec 09 2016

BEFORE AND AFTER THE ‘RETURN OF THE BRUTE’

 

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As the official celebrations and the unofficial commemorations of the centenary of the First World War continue, many personal accounts, poems and novels written about this period have been published or republished. One novel, not yet republished, is Return of the Brute, written by Liam O’Flaherty. David Trotter, in The Cambridge Companion to The Literature of the First World War, argues that, unlike most British war novels, it was written by an author of proletarian origin. Whilst O’Flaherty was Irish, Trotter is right in considering  Return of the Brute to be a British war novel. It is based upon the author’s experiences fighting in the British army on the western front.  The novel “intended to do justice to the brute’s point of view” [1], where the “brute” stands for working-class soldiers. If so, the “brute” refers to atomised, alienated and demoralised workers, brutalised by life on the western front.
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May 29 2015

SPIRIT OF REVOLT

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Document Film Festival

Spirit of Revolt – Archives of Dissent

Scottish Peace Network

and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)

 

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Dec 11 2012

ANTI-WORKFARE PROTESTS IN LEITH AND GLASGOW

Susan Dorazio (RCN and IWW) has submitted these two pieces – Anti-Workfare protestors in Leith blockade and occupy Superdrug and British Heart Foundation

 

Protestors blockaded and occupied both British Heart Foundation and Superdrug in Edinburgh today Saturday 8 December, in opposition to their participation in the government’s workfare schemes.

A huge banner declaring IF YOU EXPLOIT US WE WILL SHUT YOU DOWN blocked the entrance to the BHF furniture store in Leith’s Kirkgate centre as demonstrators occupied the shop.  Impromptu speeches were given inside and out, explaining that although BHF had claimed to be “moving away” from workfare, they were still taking on new compulsory placements.

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Nov 26 2012

THE COOPERATIVE – NOT SO GOOD FOR EVERYONE

On 22 November, a dozen people, including members of benefit claimants’ groups Black Triangle and the Crutch Collective, Clydeside Industrial Workers Of The World, Glasgow Anarchist Federation, Glasgow Solidarity Federation as well as other individuals took part in the hour long picket of the Co-Op Bank and supermarket on the same street in central Glasgow.

We gave out leaflets to Co-Op customers and the hundreds of people going pass on their way home from work. The leaflet highlighted the Co-Op’s four year occupational health contract with Atos. Atos continue to make huge profits by continuing to assess most sick and disabled benefit claimants as fit for work, ignoring contrary medical evidence, to comply with Government targets for benefit cuts. The cuts are being imposed to make the poor pay again for the latest crisis in capitalism caused by the rich. We asked people to contact the Co-Op to tell the company, that sells itself as ethical, that they will be losing their custom until they cancel their contract with Atos.

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Jul 29 2012

A SUMMER OF RADICAL CULTURE

EDINBURGH PEOPLES  FESTIVAL

August 6th-12th

1. People’s History of Edinburgh

August 6th, 6.30 pm,

Outside The Last Drop Public House, Grassmarket

 

Local historian Allan Armstrong leads us on this walk through the Edinburgh that never makes it into the official guide books.  This is the people’s history of ‘Auld Reekie’ shaped by those who lived here and built it.

 

 2. Hamish Henderson Memorial Lecture

Wednesday, August 8th,

Word Power Book Shop, West Nicholson Street

 

Hamish Henderson the famous Scots polymath-poet, author, folk singer, song writer, musician, political activist, linguist, intellectual and founder of the Edinburgh People’s Festival – died in 2002.  He was an inspirational and outspoken advocate of Independence favouring a modern, democratic, socialist republic for Scotland.  Delivering this year’s memorial lecture will be Colin Fox.

For all other events see:-

http://www.edinburghpeoplesfestival.org/whats-on/

(also see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/category/publications/emancipation-liberation/issue-17/ )

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EDINBURGH BOOK FRINGE

 10th to 24th August

Word Power Books, 43-5, West Nicholson Street

Friday, 10th August, 7. 00 pm

 James Kelman launches his latest novel, Mo Said She Was Quirky

Saturday 18th August, 1. 00 pm

 Neil Davidson, winner of Deutscher Memorial Prize, discusses his latest book, How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions?

 

For all other events see:-

 http://www.word-power.co.uk/viewEventList.php?category_id=12

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DOUNE THE RABBIT HOLE FESTIVAL

Duncarron Fort, Carron Valley Forest, Kilsyth

August 24th – 26th

August 25th, 1. 45 pm

The Longhouse Spoken Word Stage

Dave Douglass, leading NUM militant, member of IWW, author of autobiographical trilogy, Geordies Wa Mental, The Wheels Still In Spin and Ghost Dancers

For all other events see:-

http://dounetherabbithole.co.uk/

 

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May 01 2012

Socialism Militant, Socialism Triumphant: thoughts on communism and the workplace inspired by William Morris and the IWW

 

An important topic for discussion by the Left today is labor  organization as we know it under capitalism, and as it could be under socialism and communism. Below are statements from our radical history, and one that is an outgrowth of that history. Taken together, they offer guidance.

In the conclusion to his commentary on Socialism Triumphant (Commonweal, 1888), William Morris provides the context for such a discussion: namely, the goals, values, visionary perspective, and determination that motivate our actions as revolutionaries living and working within a reactionary and powerful capitalist system. In ’60’s  lingo, we keep our eyes on the prize.

Within a decade after Morris’s death in 1896, the IWW was founded on the same dictums, presented succinctly in the preamble to its constitution: stay true to the principles and lessons of class struggle, and carry on the fight until our class overthrows capitalism and takes control of production and the wealth we create, however long that may take. For both Morris and the IWW, this requires vision, education, organization, agitation, and perseverance.

Today, increasing numbers of people have arrived at the gateway of communist consciousness. Through the vast range of horrendous and joyous experiences of the 20th Century, up to the present day, most of us realize that global injustice and inequality run rampant. An example of this is the successful effort of a health care worker in the U.S. to make links between health care workers, health care center management, the state, mainstream media, the business unions, and global capitalism.

The writer’s analysis is put forward in an article written in response to an IWW discussion paper on the theory and practice of direct unionism, a statement from which is quoted below. In it, the writer calls for a definition of workplace organizing that includes the interpersonal, social, and cultural facets involved. This would not only reaffirm the beauty and certainty of the views of Morris and the IWW founders, but also deepen them. As now and in the past, workers in the future will no doubt have differences of opinion and find themselves in conflict, at times, over personal, political, and management issues. Workplaces, like families, are microcosms of society, and even when communism is achieved, certain personal and political matters will continue to get played-out there.

As we try to live our lives as socialist militants helping pave the way for the triumph of communism, we should give attention, as the IWW writer suggests, to replacing destructive and exploitative structures and systems simultaneously at our workplaces and within our families and communities– and by extension to, and between, our countries and regions. With an eye to a future communist society, and through collective effort, we should experiment with forms of social organization that assume people’s desire and capacity to support, show compassion toward, and get along with each other, while creating mechanisms designed to enable us to do so.

As in the past and the present, this process relies on education, solidarity networks, street actions, and the creation of alternative means of political and cultural expression and new forms of organization in our workplaces and homes– all springing from resistance to existing power structures and directives.

Capitalism has perfected and continually reinforces the compartmentalizing of our lives. By doing all we can to reintegrate ourselves as workers, family members, and carers of the community, we can come to appreciate how an injury to one part of ourselves and our lives is an injury to the entire organism- personal and social. In this way, we’ll be taking a big step from individual and social militancy toward collective triumph for our species and the earth.

 

From William Morris’s commentary Socialism Triumphant (Part 2), in the 19 May 1888 issue of Commonweal, the publication of the Socialist League

“We may be asked, since we have been putting forward the doctrine of evolution throughout these chapters, what Socialism in its turn will evolve. We can only answer that Socialism denies the finality of human progress, and that any system of which we can now conceive of as Socialism must necessarily give way to a new development of society.But that development is necessarily hidden from us by the unfinished struggle in which we live, in which for us the supreme goal is the Socialism we have been putting forward. Nor do we repine at this limitation of our insight; that goal is sublime and beautiful enough which promises to us the elevation of the whole of the people to a level of intelligent happiness and pleasurable energy, which at present is reached, if at all, only by a chosen few at the expense of the misery and degradation of the greater part of mankind; and even by those few, is held on such a precarious tenure that it is to them little better than a pleasant dream disturbed by fantastic fears which have their birth from the terribly real sufferings of the ordinary life of the masses on whom they live.”

 

From the Preamble to the Constitution of the Industrial Workers of the World (founded 1905)

“The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.

“Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the earth… Moreover, the trade unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the working class have interests in common with their employers.

“… It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized, not only for everyday struggle with capitalism, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing  industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.”

 

From Direct Unionism and Beyond, by healthcare worker Jomo, in April 2012 issue of Industrial Worker, the monthly publication of the IWW

“We need to have a discussion [within the IWW] about how our organizing, over the long run, can prepare for a qualitative shift from a capitalist mode of production to a new form of society – one that is not a transitional state controlled by bureaucrats. This qualitative shift is a process that involves changing capitalist social relations. Even though this process can only take place during revolution, we need to agitate and educate around it now as we fight.

Our demands should be directed not only at the necessity of better working conditions and wages, but also at breaking down the division between mental and manual labor, between gendered and racial divisions at the workplace and the like… Direct unionism as an activity is only the beginning. We have much more, in theory and in practice, that we need to discuss and work on.”

 

Susan Dorazio, May Day, 2012

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Aug 19 2011

The First Shoots of a New Industrial Fightback?

The following encouraging developments on the industrial front highlight two of the strategies discussed and debated at the Third Global Commune event, the report of which can be found at:-


Report of the Third Global Commune Event

1. Major gains for Lower Paid at Heron Tower Dispute

2. Brian Higgins and the Anti-Blacklist Campaign Success at Brussels

3. Report of Rank & File meeting for UNITE

1. IWW – Major Gains at Heron Tower Dispute

Following negotiations with the cleaning contractor LCC, who covers contracts at the prestigious Heron Tower – the IWW Cleaners and Allied Grades Branch has secured significant gains to the benefit of our low-paid.

The IWW had launched a campaign to secure full payment of the living wage £8.30 per-hour for, a resolution of staff shortages, issues of  unfair dismissal and anti-union conduct by management.

The IWW has reached an agreement which has secured full-payment of the London Living Wage with back pay until May 2011, the staff shortage to be filled and confirmation of the trade union rights of workers. Further discussions are underway on a recognition agreement with the IWW.

As result the IWW Cleaners Branch and London Delegates Committee has cancelled the demonstration called for tonight {19.8.11} at the Heron Tower. We thank all trade unionists and fellow workers for their solidarity and support.

Once again the independent workers union the IWW has shown that direct action and solidarity of all union members in support of each other achieves results in the interests of our members.

The message to cleaners across London is clear – don’t live in fear – get organised!

Alberto Durango, Latin American Workers Association, IWW

2.Brian Higgins and the Anti-Blacklist Campaign Success at Brussels

Northampton grandfather Brian Higgins this week achieved a major breakthrough in his campaign against the illegal blacklisting of trade unionists. On Thurs 30th June 2011, Brian Higgins secretary of Northampton branch of UCATT (the building workers union), led a delegation of trade unionists from the Blacklist Support Group to Brussels to hold private talks with László Andor, European Union Commissioner with responsibility for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion to discuss potential EU wide legislation to outlaw blacklisting. (Photo attached – see Editors Notes)

During the 45 minute meeting, Commissioner Andor was presented with documentary evidence in the form secret blacklist files kept about trade unionists in the UK construction industry. The files were compiled by the Consulting Association and provide damning evidence that major multi-national building firms systematically dismissed and victimised workers who raised concerns about health & safety issues or unpaid wages (see Editors Notes). The largest blacklist file in the country relates to Brian Higgins (49 pages)

The secret files contain appalling levels of personal intrusion with sensitive information including; names, addresses, national insurance number, work history, medical history, press-cuttings, union meetings attended, speeches made, political affiliations. Many entries on the blacklist files are supplied by senior Industrial Relations managers from major construction firms relating to when an individual had spoken to their site managers about safety breaches such as asbestos or poor toilet facilities. The information in the blacklist files was circulated amongst multi-national building firms and used to deny workers employment on major construction projects. For many blacklisted workers this resulted in repeated sackings and long-term unemployment merely because they had raised concerns about  safety on building sites.

Ex-bricklayer, Brian Higgins said after the meeting:

The Blacklist is an economic , social and political prison in which I have served a life sentence and others continue to be imprsoned. My wife and family also suffered because of the terrible pressure which resulted from us only having my wife’s wages to hold things together. But my message for those who caused this is, it was difficult , extremely so at times, however we did hold it together and stayed together in spite of you and your Blacklist. We refused to let you grind us down and I’m still fighting.

Brian Higgins added

When Northampton Ucatt Branch initiated a campaign for an EU Law against industrial blacklisting to try to counter dreadful performances of Ucatt and Unite General Secretaries and lawyers after the discovery of the Consulting Association Blacklist and contacted Glenis Willmott MEP. They could never imagine their secretary would end up with other blacklisted trade unionists and the Blacklist Support Group, a law professor and Stephen Hughes MEP at a meeting with Lazlo Andor the EU Commissioner in Brussels and get his sympthy in return. The genuinely positive response from Commissioner Andor exceeded all our expectations – It is truly amazing.

The construction companies identified as participating in the blacklisting operation include household names based and operating across Europe including: Skanska (Sweden), Bam (Netherlands), Vinci (France), Laing O’Rourke (Ireland), Sir Robert McAlpine, Balfour Beatty, Kier, Costain, Carillion (UK) to name but a few. (See Editors Notes)

Also attending the meeting was Professor Keith Ewing from Kings College London (a leading academic in international law and human rights issues) who presented possible legislative options open to the European Union highlighting the fact that many of the companies involved in the blacklist were European based.  He also drew attention to the fact that blacklisting violates many provisions of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and that the EU had the authority and responsibility to respond to this major violation of health and safety standards.

The meeting was arranged by Stephen Hughes MEP and Glenis Willmott MEP (Labour’s Leader in Europe Parliament) who are taking up the issue in the European Parliament.

Stephen Hughes MEP said:

Blacklisting is a genuine issue which affects all member states and I will work with colleagues to address this serious concern and apply parliamentary pressure to trigger action.

This meeting is the beginning, not the end, of a process. Once we have planted the seed with Commissioner Andors, we will follow up with action in the European Parliament’s Employment Committee and the full Parliament. It will take time but we don’t give up easily!

The right to join a trade union and not be be victimised because of it is enshrined in Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights but lack of any specific EU wide legislation against blacklisting of individuals for safety reasons means that thousands of workers have suffered appalling financial and family hardship because of the covert actions of multi-national building firms.

Brian Higgins added:

We have been victimised by these firms just because we have stood up for safety issues; a cabin to dry wet clothes, asbestos, holiday pay. For many of us this conspiracy has meant years on the dole and family strains. But we are not just fighting for ourselves. This evil practice is almost certainly taking place in other industries and across Europe. I refuse to stop campaigning for the trade union rights on safety, working conditions and wages the blacklist is meant to prevent us doing. Now we’re taking the fight to Europe on behalf of workers here and the likes of Poland, Spain, Ireland and Greece. In fact anywhere blacklisting is going on.

Notes to Editors:

1. For individual interviews with the delegation about the talks with EU Commissioner Andor & their personal experience of blacklisting contact blacklistsg@gmail.com

2. Attached photo shows (Left to Right): Professor Keith Ewing, Brian Higgins, Stephen Hughes MEP, EU Commissioner László Andor, Steve Acheson

3. The blacklisting of trade unionists in the construction industry was only exposed after an investigation by the Information Commissioners Office (UK data-protection watchdog) in 2009. The companies identified by the Information Commissioners Office as using The Consulting Association secret blacklisting are all household names including:

Amec, Amey, B Sunley & Sons, Balfour Beatty, Balfour Kilpatrick, Ballast Wiltshire, Bam Construction (HBC Construction), Bam Nuttall (Edmund Nutall Ltd), C B & I, Cleveland Bridge UK Ltd, Costain UK Ltd, Crown House Technologies, Carillion, Tarmac Construction, Diamond M & E Services, Dudley Bower & Co Ltd, Emcor (Drake & Scull), Emcor Rail, G Wimpey Ltd, Haden Young, Kier Ltd, John Mowlem Ltd, Laing O’Rourke, Lovell Construction (UK) Ltd, Miller Construction Limited, Morgan Ashurst, Morgan Est, Morrison Construction Group, N G Bailey, Shepherd Engineering Services, Sias Building Services, Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, Skanska (Kaverna / Trafalgar House Plc), SPIE (Matthew Hall), Taylor Woodrow Construction Ltd, Turriff Construction Ltd, Tysons Contractors, Walter Llewellyn & Sons Ltd, Whessoe Oil & Gas, Willmott Dixon, Vinci PLC (Norwest Holst Group)

4. Blacklist Support Group was set-up to act as a support network on behalf of the 3216 individuals on the Consulting Associationdatabase following a meeting held at the House of Commons in June 2009 organised by John McDonnell MP. The Blacklist Support Group has led the campiagn against blacklisting by organsing fringe meetings at union conferences, entered submissions to proposed legislation, organising direct action, produced campaign video’s and is currently involved with a variety of legal challenges.

also see:- Brian Higgins Anti Blacklist Campaign

and:- Campaign To Fight The Blacklist And To Support Brian Higgins;

3. London: Report of the fantastic ‘Rank & File’ construction workers meeting.

Gerry Hicks stood as the Rank and File candidate For UNITE.  Len McCluskey won as the ‘left’ bureaucrat. Gerry came second and has continued with the work of building a rank and file movement.  Below is a report of a recent rank and file meeting in London.

500 Electricians and pipefitters sent out a clear message to JIB/HVCA employers and Unite the union that they will not accept the de-skilling of their trade or the pay cuts to their national agreements. The meeting, on Saturday 13 August, was organised by Unite rank and file activists from London and the south coast. Conway Hall was packed, standing room only.

The main issues were the pay cuts 8 firms had said they would be implementing in March 2012. There would be 3 new grades for electricians – metalworker £10.50 per hour, £12 for wiring, £14 for terminating. At the moment electrician’s JIB rate is £16.25p per hour across the board.

The meeting opened and elected a Chairperson, who gave an excellent speech saying, it was time for everyone present to stand up and fight these attacks all the way, to spread the word on sites and in their workplaces. It was not about blaming overseas workers, it was our fight and we must be united, disciplined and determined. The battle begins right here right now. We must win this fight. Future generations are depending on us. He also stated the idea that forming a new union should not be considered. It had been tried and had failed miserably in the past with EPIU. Now we are back in the same union we are far stronger.

A blacklisted electrician was the first speaker and was given a standing ovation for his incredible work fighting the blacklist.

Jerry Hicks was up next and gave a thunderous speech, which was wildly applauded. “JERRY JERRY JERRY JERRY!” the crowd chanted. The mood was electric, the biggest meeting since 2000 – the days of the Jubilee Line.

There were then discussions from the floor and questions and answers to 2 London officials who were really put on the spot about Amicus/EETPU failings in the past. Even with the new union many of the old guard are still in control, the bad old days of Tom Hardacre are still hanging around with mistrust in new officers. Time will tell whether Bernard Mcauley and his new team are any different.

The rank and file made it very clear that Unite need to perform in this current dispute or the anger shown by many at the meeting will be vented at them. A motion was passed unanimously that ‘Unite must immediately ballot members who are working for JIB firms who have been told that the terms and conditions will be changing in March 2012, and a campaign must be set up by Unite, distributing leaflets to all sites around the country opposing these attacks on our industry and to have regular feedback to the members.’ It was agreed to call for unofficial action ASAP on large sites and that other sites should come out in solidarity, rather than wait for a ballot, as this would put the whole issue out in the open.

A national rank and file committee was elected by those in attendance: 2 electricians, 2 pipefitters, 1 for the civil and also Jerry Hicks.

Moving forward, there is a stewards meeting in Leeds 17th August. 2 from the elected committee will be going, armed with the motion and a mandate from 500 people. Further rank and file meetings will be held around the country in the coming months, one before Xmas maybe in Manchester or Liverpool and also other areas next year. This new movement is on a high and we can spread the mood around the country and throughout construction. There will be attacks on other trades too. We should try and build things involving UCATT and GMB members as well.

Finally from the Chair of the meeting, “I personally felt proud and extremely happy as I supped a cold pint of Fosters after the meeting. Thanks to everyone involved – booking of the hall, contact lists, leafleting, and a magnificent collection too, many thanks to one and all. Our time has come comrades, let’s not miss this opportunity. In solidarity”.

(Some names have been left out deliberately to guard against any employer retribution.)

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the commune free issue 2 can be downloaded at:-

http://thecommune.co.uk/page/3/

editorial

riot in the city – the editorial discusses the crisis in capitalism and our communities

no state bans – on self-defeating calls for a ban on EDL protests

struggles news in brief – an overview of different stuggles happening at present

news and local perspectives on the riots

liverpool: police on the offensive – James Roberts writes on the attacks on young people in Merseyside, and the community response to the riots.

peckham: the fury must not be forgotten – Sharon Borthwick reports on the riots in south-east London

ruling class justice system shows its true face – Taimour Lay explains the meaning of the post-riot show trials

riots analysis

Our website featured an extensive debate on the riots, and many more views than could be fit into the paper can be found there.

…or does it explode? – Joe Thorne introduces the debate

nothing to lose, nothing to win – David Broder explains what he sees as the political vacuum underlying the riots

when ‘normal’ behaviour is meaningless – Clifford Biddulph argues for an engagement with the chaotic and elemental nature of class struggle

economy

unhappy economies: greek debt, PIIGS and eurozone crisis – Oisin Mac Giollamoir explains the current european crisis and the relationship between debt and class struggle

giz a fightback – Terry Liddle reflects on his experience of the 1980s unemployed movement

education

200 day occupation delivers – Liam Turbett reports on Glasgow students’ victorious uni occupation

why is there class in the classroom? – Dave Spencer explores the reasons for working class under-achievement in the classroom

libya

any hope for libya? – Joe Thorne writes on NATO’s role in post-Gaddafi Libya

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DEBATE ON THE RIOTS

in the commune

Clifford Biddulph suggests that we need to find a way to engage with the contradictory and elemental nature of class conflict in events like the recent riots:-

When Normal Behaviour Is Meaningless

Javaad Alipoor continues our debate on the meaning of the UK’s riots:-

no justice no peace: the riot is the rhyme of the unheard, let us begin to listen.

Joe Thorne looks for the meaning of the recent wave of inner city riots

or does it explode?

David broder explains what he sees as the political vacuum underlying the riots

 

nothing to lose, nothing to win 

 

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OTHER CONTRIBUTIONS ON THE RIOTS 

REFLECTIONS ON THE ENGLISH RIOTS
 
27 August 2011

A personal note by John McAnulty (Socialist Democracy, Ireland) 


The French radical Voltaire, writing from England in the 18th century, spelt out in the “Philosophical Letters” his admiration for the civilization and tolerance of the English in contrast to French absolutism. However, in a throwaway comment, he remarked that, while London represented the civilized profile of English society, Ireland represented its ragged backside.

Today in London we see the ragged backside of British capitalism. The need for vengeance, for revenge, the need to inspire fear in the lower orders, has subsumed every other consideration, including the legal system’s own rules concerning the rights of children. Conveyor belt justice rushes thousands into jail. A facebook comment nets a four year sentence. Politicians vie with each other to suggest new punishments, new restrictions on civil rights, new weapons to apply the iron heel to the neck of the lower orders.

And then there is what the British capitalists do best – hypocrisy on a level so monumental as to beggar belief. 

For what we are told is that the issue is an issue of morality and that savage measures are needed to install moral responsibility into the nation’s youth.

We are told this by politicians mired in scandal, by governments that ruled in tandem with the Murdoch press, by a press accused of sickening corruption, and finally by a police force guilty of killing and brutality at the lower levels and corruption at nearly every level. 

In common with all other forms of social corruption goes almost total impunity.

“News of the World” editor Rebekah Brooks admits to a group of MPs, on camera, that the News International group bribes police and nothing happens. Murdoch gives evidence which is clearly untrue, crime after crime is listed against his group, but only the protestor who attacks him with a foam pie goes to jail. 

Many MPs fix their expenses but only the most blatant suffer. Meanwhile Blair cashing in to the tune of tens of millions goes unnoticed.

All the top cops, forced to resign because of their links to the Murdoch press, are cleared within days. Lower down the chain of command savage beatings and killings go unpunished, even many assaults caught on camera.

This impunity reaches its height when chief constables, who have presided over a total collapse of the force, exchange insults with equally incompetent politicians about an imaginary police independence – the debate led by Hugh Orde, whose ability to meet the political needs of his masters led him from investigating the RUC in the North of Ireland to being appointed their leader, and whose subsequent rise was fuelled by his political ability to represent the demands of unionism and the programme of the British government in relation to Ireland.

The savagery and hypocrisy of the capitalist counter-offensive has produced much analysis and comment from socialists. The problem is that much of this analysis accepts the narrative of social breakdown and riot. Real events were considerably more complex than this.

The initial event of the uprising was the killing of Mark Duggan, accompanied by a transparent cover-up – a cover-up that involved both the police and the supposed investigators of the IPCC – a cover-up that is ongoing and involves a press blackout on the issue. 

A political protest by the family of the dead man was treated with contempt by the police. This incident, following years of racial harassment, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Local youth came on to the streets determined to extract revenge.

The rapid spread of the riots saw white youth join their black compatriots. Again the focus of the uprising was revenge – three police stations and an undisclosed number of vehicles were burnt out. A widespread view among the youth was that they had nothing to lose. Mass unemployment (standing at 20%) was the rule and access to further education was being cut off.

The police understood very well that they were the target. They waited over a week before admitting that firearms had been used against them. Their withdrawal from riot zones was not due to mistaken tactics, but an attempt to avoid the casualties that the youth were so anxious to inflict. 

It was against this background that wholesale looting took place. It was the looting that was used by capitalism to avoid any examination of the widespread hatred of the police or any concern about the programme of savage austerity that they intend to deepen. 

However the looting can be seen as a consequence of the failure to build an opposition. The majority of the looters did not themselves have a determination to confront the police and their actions were opportunistic and random, involving attacks on other workers and small shopkeepers. Political movements, when they confront the state forces, have the ability to apply a discipline on bystanders and sweep them up in a common cause that militates against looting.

Media commentators have compared the youth to the mob of the past. The mob, the urban underclass, displayed a spontaneous undirected violence and a low level of politics. They were supplanted by the organised working class.

The English youth are not the mob. They do not come before the working class nor are they separate from them. What they face is exclusion from the working class or admission to dead-end jobs and a life of penury.

The working class haven’t gone away. They were present on the streets of London not so long ago in a march of 250,000. Unfortunately they marched in a cage constructed by the trade union leadership, designed to make violence impossible and restricted to calls to apply the cuts less harshly and over a longer time frame. New Labour not only endorses the austerity, but also is at the forefront in demanding the harsh punishment of those accused by the police.

The socialist movement can transform the anger and rage of youth into support for socialism. However it can only do so as part of a project for the self-organization of the working class around its own program. 

We should not become trapped in moralism  – that will leave us in a corner with the capitalists discussing the problem of the rioters. The reality is that the crisis of capitalism is mirrored by a collapse of the traditional organizations of the working class. The labour and trade union leaderships support an economic programme that will inevitably lead to mass poverty. They are unable even to stand against the wave of mass repression that is being unleashed following the riots. The small socialist movement tends to close its eyes to this reality and to seek unity with union bureaucrats on terms dictated by the bureaucrats – terms that make the construction of an independent working class movement impossible.

Class conflict happens of its own accord. It will take whatever form is available to it. The alternative to chaotic and apolitical upsurges is an effective opposition, able to confront capitalism and put manners on the police. Socialists can strain every sinew to build this movement or it can emerge on its own, with all the blood, false starts and blind alleys that this could entail.

 

 

‘NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE’ AND BLOOD AND FLAMES ON ENGLAND’S STREETS:
1981, 1985 and 2011

 12 Aug 2011

 By David Black – Hobgoblin

The “Tottenham Riots” of 1985 began with a protest outside Tottenham police station over the fatal collapse of Cynthia Jarret during an illegal police raid on her home on the Broadwater Farm housing estate, after the wrongful arrest of her son. The police station protest developed into a pitched all-night battle between police and the Caribbean youth of Broadwater Farm, ending with the killing of a police officer.

 Twenty-six years later, on Saturday 6 August 2011, another protest took place outside Tottenham police station, this time over the killing two days earlier of former Broadwater Farm resident, Mark Duggan, in a stake-out by armed police. The initial police statement claimed that an officer had been shot and wounded before other officers returned fire. But the family and numerous friends of Mr. Duggan challenged this version of events and organized a 200-strong vigil outside Tottenham police station. Stafford Scott, a community activist in the area, told Sky News,

 “We came to the station to have a peaceful demonstration, and it was largely peaceful. And what we explained to the police is that we wanted someone senior from the police service to come and explain to us what was happening. They kept on prevaricating. The most senior person they gave us was a chief inspector. We said that person wasn’t senior enough… Eventually they sent for a superintendent, but by then it was too late.”

It was too late because as night fell local gangs of youth – beyond the control of protestors – began to converge on the police station. Two empty police cars and a double-decker bus were set on fire and a full-scale riot ensued. Shops were looted and buildings torched – seriously endangering the lives of residents living above shops, whose homes were destroyed. By dawn looting had spread to nearby Wood Green, where the high street was freely looted by youth pushing trolleys full of phones, shoes and clothes before the police finally arrived at dawn.

The next day, Sunday, saw looting at shopping centres in more affluent areas such as Oxford Street in the West End, and the northern suburb of Enfield, where the youth involved were predominately white. The Metropolitan Police managed to quell these few “copy-cat” outbreaks, but the events of the following day, Monday 8 August, totally overwhelmed the 6000-strong force assigned to “keep the peace.” All across London, pulling in youth of all colours and ages, starting at 10 or 11 years-old, looting broke out on a mass scale at major chain stores, as did extensive fighting between youth and riot police in the thoroughfares. A spate of a dozen serious fires across the city engulfed large department stores, whole sections of high streets including small shops and residences, and a huge Sony warehouse. In Hackney, an East End  borough with a long history of radical and Black activism, barricades and burning cars blocked the movements of police as youth bounced missiles off riot shields and police vehicles, and looters invaded the shopping malls. Outside of London, there were over a hundred arrests in disturbances in Birmingham.

The next day, Tuesday, raging Right-wingers demanded that the police use water cannon and rubber bullets, and that the army –already severely stretched by overseas wars and facing cuts — be sent into the “trouble spots.” More reasonably, many shopkeepers and residents in the “disturbed” areas protested at the police’s poor response to their emergency calls. The Metropolitan Police, promising to get tough and take-the gloves-off, called in the reserves to boost the anti-riot force to 16,000 officers. This time, however, those who had defied or fought them the previous nights declined the return match and stayed at home. Perhaps, for the angry, the point had been made — and how painful it is for Londoners to see what were fine old buildings now conjuring up images of the Blitz and the doodlebug [V-1 rocket] raids. For the self-interested looters the overhanging fruit had already been picked – the best shopping targets had been emptied. And for the protestors there are – or should be — other ways to fight, that address the roots of the problem.

Further North however, the rage took hold in several cities. On Wednesday in Manchester and Salford large  numbers of youth  looted shops, started fires and fought the police.  In Nottingham a police station was firebombed. In Ealing, London Sikhs took the streets to protect their businesses from looters. There was a similar mobilization in Enfield, but the people there were angered when the police stupidly tried to kettle them as the “enemy.” Most tragically, when Muslim men in Birmingham began patrolling the streets to protect the local shops, three of them were killed by a murdering coward who deliberately ran into them at speed and then fled the scene.

Liberals and social democrats concede that the protest over the shooting of Mark Duggan was legitimate; especially as it is now emerging that Mark Duggan didn’t draw a gun or fire it at the police. At the same time liberals, rather than mourn their dead, failed neoliberal ideology, have moaned  constantly, with their dead, clichéd phrases, about “tiny minorities” of  “mindless thugs” tearing up the “community”. As the student  protests of last winter have already shown,  a huge proportion of youth feel that for them either there is no such “community”, or if there is, they have no stake in it and no say in how it is run.

Whilst the “ Uprisings” of 1981 and 1986 were marked by a conflict between youth and police that had been simmering for years, in 2011 the disaffection has gone a step further, with youth expropriating the commodities that “consumer society” denies them, and in some cases burning the big stores that stock them. The innovations in telecommunications now available to youths for organizing purposes are obviously important, but arguably balanced out by CCTV and other surveillance and tracking technologies now deployed by the police. Politically the key difference is that in the 1980s, although the “uprisings” obviously were not “led” in any political sense, rebellious youth did look to radicals for leadership on political campaigning and ideas, notably Linton Kwesi Johnson, Bernie Grant, Diane Abbot, Paul Gilroy and Darcus Howe. In 1985 Bernie Grant, as Tottenham’s Member of Parliament, sided with his constituents against police racism, despite the brutal killing of Police Constable Blakelock in the “Battle of Broadwater Farm.” His controversial stand was later vindicated when the convictions of four youths for the murder were overturned because it was proved that the police had faked the evidence against them. Today Tottenham has a Black New Labour MP, who has condemned the rioters as “mindless yobs” and Haringey has a New Labour business-friendly council, committed to “social cohesion.” But today Tottenham is an even more dismal area than it was in 1985; and relations between police and the youth of the area – as multicultural as can be found anywhere in the world – are as bad as ever. In equally poor and strife-ridden Hackney Diane Abbot is still the MP, but she is now a New Labour loyalist and no radical.

In contrast with the New Labour crowd, veteran activist and broadcaster Darcus Howe, interviewed  by the BBC on Tuesday, highlighted the police harassment  of Black youth such as his grandchildren, and said of the previous night’s events, “I don’t call it rioting. I call it an insurrection of the masses of the people. It is happening in Syria, it is happening in Clapham, it is happening in Liverpool, it is happening in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, and that is the nature of the historical moment.” Completely ignoring what Darcus had just said, BBC’s Fiona Armstrong  jumped in with “Do you condone what happened in your community last night?” to which he responded “Of course not! What am I going to condone it for?” When she continued her hostile interrogation with “You aren’t a stranger to rioting, are you? You have taken part in them yourself” he responded, “I have never taken part in single riot. I have taken part in demonstrations that ended in conflict. Have some respect for an old West Indian Negro and stop accusing me of being a rioter… you just sound idiotic.”

Certainly, few – even BBC hacks — can be surprised that, with the Tories back in power, rioting has returned to the inner cities of Britain. As the Tories prepare to showcase London for the 2012 Olympics, the economy is faltering and the pain of public service cutbacks is now being felt. But the young dispossessed of Syria,  Clapham, Liverpool and Port-of-Spain, Trinidad have today NO political leadership — a fact as disturbing as the opportunist and thoughtless violence and destruction that has been inflicted on a lot of innocent home-owners and small  business owners. But what has been happening in Britain – call it the “rebellion,” the “uprising” or the “riots” – is a direct result of what successive Tory/New Labour/Liberal regimes have been doing for years: attacking civil liberties and free speech whilst living off a corrupt and criminal relationship with media barons like the Murdochs; waging illegal wars; and – worst of all — heightening economic inequality to the sort of level the working class Chartists of the Nineteenth Century would have been prepared to take up arms against.

 

____________________________________

 

On Living in the Real World by Aaron Kelly

see Platform piece on Word Power Bookshop Website at:- http://www.word-power.co.uk/viewPlatform.php?id=590

 

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Feb 11 2011

Report of the Third Global Commune Event

Trade Unions – Are They Fit For Purpose?

It was generally agreed by participants that the third Global Commune event, jointly hosted by the Republican Communist Network (RCN) and the commune, on Saturday, January 29th, was a very worthwhile day. Once again, the event was held in the ‘Out of the Blue’ Centre in Leith (Edinburgh) and involved, as well as the organising groups, members of the Independent Workers Union (IWU) in Ireland, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Permanent Revolution, the Autonomous Centre in Edinburgh (ACE), current and ex-members of the SSP, and the Anarchist Federation.

The theme for the day was, ‘Trade Unions – Are They Fit for Purpose?’ There was a shared agreement that the traditional Broad Left strategy for working in trade unions had been shown to be wanting. By and large, Broad Lefts accept the existing union structures and concentrate on replacing Right wing leaderships. However, we now have the situation where new Broad Lefts have to contest old Broad Lefts, which have become as conservative as the leaderships they replaced. This highlights the flawed thinking behind their ‘capture the machinery’ approach.

Mary Macgregor of the RCN chaired the initial and plenary sessions.  The opening platform of speakers consisted of Allan Armstrong of the RCN and the commune, Stuart King of Permanent Revolution, Tommy McKearney of the IWU, Alberto Durango of the Latin American Workers Association (LAWA) and the IWW, and Mike Vallance of ACE. They each put forward different approaches, including organising within or outside existing trade unions, in TUC/ITUC-recognised or independent unions, and the possibility of a strategy involving a mixture of these methods.

Apologies for being unable to attend were given by Brian Higgins of the rank and file Building Workers Group, who is currently involved in the anti-blacklist campaign; and by Jerry Hicks, who has just campaigned on a rank and file platform for the post of General Secretary in UNITE. Therefore, Allan Armstrong, the former Scottish Teachers’ Rank & File convenor provided a rank and file perspective.

Allan used his experience in the Lothian and the Scottish Rank & File Teacher groups. He drew a distinction between a rank and file movement and a rank and file caucus. In 1974/5, the Rank & File Teacher group had been to the forefront of a three month long independent (unofficial or wildcat) rank and file movement of Scottish teachers organised through Action Committees. The central demand was for a £15 a week flat rate pay increase. The Action Committees organised weekly three-day strike action, street activities, large demonstrations, and an occupation of the EIS (the main Scottish teachers’ union) HQ. Negotiations were conducted directly between delegates from the Action Committees and representatives from the Scottish Office at New St. Andrews House in Edinburgh. The teacher delegates were backed by a demonstration outside of striking teachers, whilst the Scottish Office had the backing of the Special Branch (or some other state agency) cameramen on the roof!

The Action Committees held weekly open meetings of striking teachers, and sent flying pickets to other schools to draw them into action. They also worked within the EIS. Many activists were EIS school reps. Eventually there was a palace coup at EIS HQ. This enabled a rejigged union leadership to sanction its own official action. Negotiations were confined once more to union officials and the Scottish Office, much to their mutual relief. Nevertheless, the strength of the independent strike action was enough to force the government to concede the financial equivalent of nearly the whole rank and file movement’s £15 pay demand. However, with negotiations now conducted by EIS officials, the distribution of the money gained was massively skewed in favour of school managements.

The self-confidence gained by teachers meant that further action over the next two years, mostly official, but sometimes involving independent action, was able to win substantial improvements in teachers’ conditions. A new contract clearly defined maximum working hours and class sizes. In the process of these struggles, Scottish education and teacher trade unionism was turned upside down. The employers and union officials were unable to fully reassert their control until the McCrone Deal was implemented in 2001.

After the ending of the initial rank and file movement, around the action over pay in 1975, Scottish Rank & File Teachers continued as a caucus. They campaigned around a very wide range of issues, e.g. pay (for a single salary scale, for flat rate increases), improved conditions (smaller class sizes), for women’s and gay rights, against the use of the belt (the form of corporal punishment in Scottish schools), for the right of school students to organise, for egalitarian educational provision, secular education and support for Gaelic language teaching. They also campaigned to democratise the union – demanding head teachers out and directly elected and accountable union office bearers on the average pay of the members. Most importantly though, they championed the sovereignty of the membership in their workplaces, and defended, and when possible initiated, independent action.

The Scottish Teachers Rank & File caucus was sabotaged by the SWP in 1982, leaving only the Lothian Rank & File group. Later, a Scottish Federation of Socialist Teachers (SFST) brought together the Left once more. However, the SFST became a hybrid Broad Left/Rank & File caucus. Furthermore, the employers had encouraged division amongst teachers by creating a plethora of promoted posts. They also curtailed a vibrant culture of alternative educational thinking amongst classroom teachers, through the top-down promotion of tightly policed ‘educational’ counter-reforms. The Tories’ anti-trade union laws undermined independent strike action, massively aided by trade union officials. However, there was still limited independent action until as recently as the 2003, in protest against the war in Iraq.

Allan summed up by saying that he thought the rank and file approach was still valid in various unions. However, there had been a rapid decline of union membership in many sectors of employment, as well as new areas of work without any union organisation. Union leaderships were often more interested in suppressing any attempts to resist the employers, acting in effect as a free personnel management service for the bosses. Such leaders wanted little more than sweetheart agreements with the employers to ensure a tick-off system of subs collections, primarily for their own benefit. Therefore, socialists should think tactically, and consider when an independent union, or possibly dual official/independent union approach, may be more appropriate than a rank and file caucus approach.

Stuart King of Permanent Revolution then drew on the experience of the early Minority Movement in the trade unions in the early 1920’s. The CPGB’s work in the Minority Movement formed part of the wider work of the Third International, which had organised the Red International of Labour Unions (RILU) in 1920 to conduct united front work within the international trade union movement. Although mostly associated with the official Communist Parties, RILU drew together wider forces within the unions, especially those from a Syndicalist tradition.

Stuart argued that there were some similarities in the early 1920’s to the situation we face today. In April 1921, the two leaderships of the NTWU (later the TGWU) and the NUR, failed to support the miners of the MFGB (later the NUM), in the face of employer imposed wage cuts, despite being part of the Triple Alliance. This ‘Black Friday’ climb-down led to a growing feeling of demoralisation amongst workers. Many left their unions. The Minority Movement launched a ‘Back to the Unions’ campaign, with the intention of getting workers organised to resist the growing employers’ offensive, and to bring the union leaders under the effective control of the rank and file.

Stuart said that we also face a period of retreat today, as existing union leaderships had joined social partnerships with the state and employers. There was also declining union membership. The ‘Awkward Squad’ had also turned out to be not that awkward when it came to effectively challenging the employers and the state. Nevertheless, workers still look to their official unions when it comes to taking defensive action – as recent strikes of civil servants, airline cabin staff and others have demonstrated. This means communists must be active within the existing unions and struggle to bring them under effective rank and file control.

Stuart’s contribution provided a counterpoint to others who emphasised the fundamental differences in the situation we face today, compared to the past. In particular, Tommy McKearney of the Independent Workers Union of Ireland highlighted the major challenges workers now face.

Tommy argued that thirty years of neo-liberal economics have finally done fundamental damage to the system it was meant to promote. Facilitated by globalisation, the enormous transfer of wealth from workers to capitalists has created a situation where consumers in the west no longer have the purchasing power to buy the produce of their own industry and the developing countries have not yet reached a level where they can take up the slack. The contradiction is explicable only by Marxist economists.

What has also happened, almost unnoticed by many commentators, is the collapse of social democracy in the face of the neo-liberal assault and the most recent crisis in capitalism. For a few years the social democratic movements of Europe disguised their collapse by stealing the clothes of the neo-liberals. Tony Blair, Schroder, Mitterand were in reality as far to the right as any Tory or Christian Democrat. In the face of economic collapse post 2008, they could only offer right-wing solutions.

Moreover, the trade union movement that had give birth to and thereafter sustained these parties for almost a century was as ideologically and organisationally bankrupt. There is no longer a viable middle way between socialism and capitalism.

The IWU recognises this fact and has decided to seek out new and more appropriate methods of organisation in order to meet the new challenge. Among other strategic options, the IWU is actively developing a policy of building community and/or social justice unionism. This concept is not new or devised by the IWU but it recognises the need to emphasise the struggle between classes and the need to promote the unity and solidarity of the working people.

Tommy summed up by saying that we are in a new era. There has been a fundamental change in social relationships in the west, and we must recognise this in our ideological analysis, in our policy decisions and in our organisations structures. The IWU may be small but we are confident in our analysis and in our strategy.

Then Alberto Durango gave a thorough and humorous account of his experience as a migrant worker from Colombia now living in London. Migrant workers often had more than one job to make ends meet. This sometimes meant that they could be in more than one union.

Alberto had started as a cleaner in a non-unionised office. First of all, his boss had resorted to Alberto for help, asking him to inform workers who did not speak English that they would have their hours cut and changed. Alberto brought the workers together and told them in Spanish  – “This fucking manager wants to… !” They began to organise, turning first to the T&G. The T&G (now UNITE) organised an official Justice for Cleaners campaign. There were some initial successes against large City of London and Canary Wharf companies. LAWA, which Alberto was very much involved in, was to the forefront of campaigning, and was provided with office space and money by UNITE.

However, there was a limit to how far the UNITE leadership was prepared to push. After organising some demonstrations, it contented itself with signing ‘no further action’ deals in return for minimum pay awards. The employers then started changing workers’ hours and conditions and pressured them over their immigration status. Alberto was sacked, arrested and had his home raided by the police.

UNITE’s leadership wasn’t prepared to challenge this. Therefore, workers had to organise their own independent Cleaners Defence Committee. This had led to an international campaign {including solidarity action in Edinburgh, following Alberto addressing the first Global Commune event}. The UNITE leadership, supported by the local Broad Left, then turned on the workers involved, smearing activists, refusing to back those without papers, and taking away LAWA’s facilities.

In order to organise, LAWA then turned to the IWW. A wider organisation was required to unite migrant workers from many countries. They needed an independent forum for organising, without being directly sabotaged by UNITE officials and the Broad Left. The new IWW cleaners’ branch provided this. However, some cleaners still worked within UNITE too, and had participated in the rank and file campaign to elect Jerry Hicks.

The last of the morning speakers was Mike Vallance. He explained how ACE, with its own premises, had been set up in the aftermath of the successful Anti-Poll Tax campaign. ACE became very much involved in claimants’ campaigns, providing a venue for meeting and socialising, organising support demonstrations and providing advocates to support people in their dealings with various state agencies. ACE also operated as a venue for a wider range of campaigns and various organisations, including the Anarchist Federation. It was also involved in the production and distribution of a number of bulletins and other publications, including the commune.

Currently ACE was involved in the Edinburgh refuse workers’ campaign which was challenging the City Council’s massive cut in pay and worsening of conditions. The Council’s attack was being made under the guise of bringing about ‘parity’ across their workforce. It had begun under the last administration led by the Labour Party, and was continuing under the present Lib Dem/SNP administration. The refuse cleaners’ union, UNITE, was in cahoots with the Council, and they had organised no effective backing, despite the campaign being official. Their main concern was to bring the current official work-to-rule to an end.

ACE had been involved in providing bulletins, posting support stickers, but most of all, in attempts through sit-down actions to blockade scab drivers employed by the Council to break the refuse workers’ work-to-rule. Workers fear that it is the Council’s intention to privatise the refuse collection service, and replace them with non-union workers on lower pay and worsened conditions. Yet, despite the almost total lack of official support, the workers had so far rejected any of the union-backed ‘offers’. In the light of this determination, ACE was hoping to draw others into its solidarity campaign.

This was followed by a short plenary session. Contributions ranged from one participant who said that social democracy had revealed its bankruptcy as far back as the First World War. Matthew Jones of the commune particularly welcomed Tommy’s appreciation that a new political trade unionism was needed after the now evident failure of social democracy and stalinism. In order to maximise participation, the meeting soon broke up into two workshops, with RCN and commune members acting as facilitators and recorders.

After lunch, Paul Stewart and Patricia Campbell of the IWU presented the case for a community or social justice unionism approach. Paul showed a DVD drawing on the experiences of the Kanagawa City Union in Japan. This union organised migrant workers, especially from Latin America. It addresses not only workplace issues, but the wider problems workers face in the community such as racially motivated and domestic violence, sexual harassment, health, welfare and visa problems. It also calls on members to participate regularly in protests outside offending companies. Paul was going to make this DVD more widely available.

Patricia followed this up with a power point presentation (until the technology failed!) of the current work of the IWU in attempting to broaden out union organisation into the communities. The IWU had conducted a participatory survey into the issues that local communities wanted to address. It also sought to address the problems faced by migrant workers. The IWU had already challenged the strong-arm tactics of the PSNI (the revamped RUC) in Armagh City. It had also campaigned on the streets, with red banners, against the DUP/Sinn Fein government’s proposals to limit marches. These would prevent workers from organising their own demonstrations. The IWU had helped to force the authorities to retreat.

The two follow up workshops discussed the possibilities of wider community organising. They also returned to the issue addressed in the morning of whether unions were fit for purpose.

There was a final report-back plenary session with further discussion. The initial platform speakers were provided with an opportunity to say what they thought had been learned and gained from the day. The majority of those in attendance over the day were activists. However, the need for wider forums for strategic debate and discussion, which did not necessarily lead to immediate calls for activity, was nonetheless appreciated.

There was a wide consensus that there was no single approach to organising workers in the complex and changing situation we faced. The long period of working class retreat probably disguised some of the new methods of resistance that were emerging in the face of the current capitalist offensive. It was also acknowledged that learning from wider international experience, especially that of the IWU, had been very useful. There had been differences over whether the situation we now face is altogether different from earlier experiences, and over the longstanding issue of whether ‘to party or not to party’. However, these differences were all aired in a very comradely manner.

A good day was followed by the now traditional Global Commune social session in Wetherspoon’s  ‘Foot of the Walk’, where members from all the organisations present through the day continued their discussions till much later!

Allan Armstrong. 10.2.11

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Jan 17 2011

Trade Unions – Are They Fit For Purpose? – Global Commune Event

3rd Global Commune Event

Trade Unions – Are They Fit For Purpose?

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

Registration 10. 30 for 11. 00 – 16.30

Out of the Blue Centre,
Dalmeny Street,
Leith
Edinburgh

In both the UK and Ireland today, the overwhelming majority of trade union leaders have signed up to social partnerships. These effectively reduce unions to a free personnel management service for the employers. However, the traditional Broad Left response of electing alternative leaders has shown itself unable to counter social partnerships. Indeed many current union leaders, who now accept social partnership, were themselves earlier Broad Left members. The third Global Commune event, jointly sponsored by the Republican Communist Network and the commune, asks the question – Trade unions – Are they fit for purpose? A number of different approaches to organising workers will be discussed in workshops over the day.

Cost

£5 for full-time employed
£2 for others

First session 11.00 – 12. 30

Panel followed by workshop sessions and follow up plenary

1. Working within trade unions – the rank and file perspective – Allan Armstrong

Allan is a member of the Republican Communist Network and the commune group. He was the convenor of Lothian Rank & File Teachers and involved in the three month long independent industrial action of Scottish teachers in the mid-70’s. He later became the Chair of the first regional Anti-Poll Tax Union, which was formed in Lothian.

2. Working with the IWW – Alberto Durango

Alberto is a member of the Latin American Workers Association, UNITE and the IWW. He is worker from Colombia who has been centrally involved in the campaigns of migrant workers cleaner in London. This culminated in an attempt to victimise him by the Swiss bank, UBS, which prompted a solidarity campaign. UNITE union officials tried to sabotage this, so Alberto has looked to the IWW (which comes from an industrial unionist tradition) to organise cleaners.

3. Building the Independent Workers Union – Tommy McKearney

Tommy is an organiser for the Independent Workers Union in Ireland. He is also the editor of Fourthwrite, a journal designed to promote debate amongst communists, socialists and republicans. Ireland was the first place in these islands where a government/employer/trade union social partnership was formed. The IWU was created to organise workers opposing social partnership.

4. Supporting workers from outside – an autonomist perspective – Mike Vallance

Mike comes from an autonomist tradition, writes for Counterinformation and is involved in the Autonomous Centre for Edinburgh (ACE). Mike was a dedicated activist in the anti-poll tax struggle. ACE has recently been providing support to the street cleaners employed by Edinburgh City Council. They have been involved in a longstanding dispute, hamstrung by local UNITE officials.

How do communists organise in trade unions? – Stuart King

Stuart is a member of Permanent Revolution. He will be drawing on the experience of the Minority Movement in the early Communist Party to show possible lessons for today.

Second Session 1.30 – 15.00

Community unionism – Should trade union membership be confined to employed workers? Patricia Campbell and Paul Stewart

Patricia is a member of the IWU and has been centrally involved in health workers struggles in Belfast. She has also been to Palestine to examine the health implications of the Israeli occupation. Paul is co-author of We Sell Our Time No More – Workers Struggles Against Lean Production in the British Car Industry. He has produced a short film, which will be shown. This shows examples of union organisation in the community, particularly in Japan.

Workshops

15.00 – 15.15 – break

Third Session 15.15 – 16.30

Repeat workshops followed by plenary

There will be a chance to continue the discussion informally afterwards.

Further information can be had by contacting Allan Armstrong at:-

allan.armstrong.1949@hotmail.co.uk

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Mar 20 2009

Half truths, mistruths and anything but the truth— a brief history of a century of wartime propaganda

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 4:31 pm

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

—Voltaire

The government of the United States had a major problem. It was April 1917, and on the sixth day of that month, eager to get into the First World War, they declared war on Germany.

Their big problem was this.

Although the American government was up for a fight, the American public was steadfastly pacifist. They saw the war in Europe as just that, a European war, nothing for them to get themselves involved in. Something clearly had to be done to get the population of the United States into a more warlike frame of mind.

On April 13, 1917, president Woodrow Wilson set up the Committee for Public Information, or the Creel Commission as it came to be known. The commission was headed by George Creel, a well-known muckraking journalist, the other formal members being the secretaries of war, state and the navy.

With the Creel Commission’s arrival, modern wartime propaganda in the media age was born. Its aim was to turn pacifist America into a society thirsty for war, to make patriotism and hatred of all things German the noblest aim of every American citizen.

In this the Creel Commission was spectacularly successful. Within months of its formation the American public’s mind was filled with hatred for Germany, German immigrants, anything at all German.

How did the Creel Commission manage to engineer such a remarkable turnaround in public opinion in such a short timeframe?

Quite simply, the Creel Commission understood how to use the media that was available to them (radio, telegraph, films, newspapers, &c.), and harnessed it to change public opinion, with appeals to patriotism and a huge disinformation campaign.

Blatant lies about German soldiers murdering babies and hoisting them up on their bayonets were spread, lies supplied by the British intelligence services, whose stated aim was to control the thoughts of the world (or more specifically at that time the thoughts of the influential intellectual and political classes of the United States). These lies were so powerful that they still persist to this day.

The Creel Commission distributed pamphlets, urging the public to keep an eye open for German spies and recruited the then fledgling Hollywood film industry to produce luridly titled films, such as To Hell with the Kaiser, The Claws of the Hun and The Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin.

The Four Minute Men

Telegraphs, cables, radio, all were employed to turn the American population against Germany and all things German, but Creel’s real master stroke was the creation of a group of orators who came to be known as The Four Minute Men.

June 5, 1917, was the date set when all males would have to register for the draft. Many feared a repeat of the draft riots of the Civil War (one of the causes of those riots being a provision whereby those able to afford three hundred dollars could pay a substitute to go and fight for them).

One month before draft registration George Creel unleashed the Four Minute Men on the American public. Their first subject was Universal Service by Selective Draft. In movie theatres the length and breadth of the United States a slide was shown announcing the appearance of the local Four Minute Man.

He would deliver a speech which was never longer than four minutes, a speech designed to stir patriotism and anti-German feeling in the audience.

Four Minute Men were usually local professional men possessed of good public speaking skills, and from May 12 to May 21, cinema audiences were harangued by 75,000 orators, promoting the idea hat in honour of future draftees, registration day should be treated as a festival of honour.

The Four Minute Men were spectacularly successful. On draft registration day, ten million men signed up, where only two months previously no one had wanted anything to do with a European war.

The Four Minute Men went on from this triumph to address their audiences on such topics as Why We Are Fighting and What Our Enemy Really Is. They spoke at lodge and labour union meetings, lumber camps and on Indian reservations.

They operated in 153 universities, there were even junior Four Minute Men who spoke in high schools. By the time the war was over they had given 755,190 speeches to a total of over 314 million Americans. They reached more than 11 million people a month and were the First World War’s most effective form of propaganda.

With the United States finally in the war, and with ever-growing rumblings of discontent and fears of revolution on the home front, the writing was on the wall for the German war effort.

When Germany finally surrendered in 1918, many people on both sides came to realise the huge part that propaganda and the Creel Commission had played in the German’s ultimate defeat, not least among them an Austrian corporal with a funny toothbrush moustache who was to learn the lessons of the Creel Commission well, indeed he was to learn them to devastating, truly devastating, effect.

Right up to the present day the lessons of the Creel Commission are evident whenever states have to convince their populations of the correctness of their decision to go to war, or their support for one side over another in some conflict in which they are not directly militarily involved.

Ruthless

In the very recent past we have seen the Israeli propaganda machine at its ruthless best, defending the Zionist state’s armed wing, the IDF, as it behaved in a manner which would have drawn admiring looks from any playground school bully.

Whenever Israel was challenged or in any way criticised on the enormity of its actions in Gaza, the stock answer on our television screens from a string of literate, media trained Israeli spokespersons was that Israel had the right to protect itself from rockets fired from Gaza.

The lack of questioning of the Israeli government’s party line by a supposedly free media in so-called Western democracies shames those newspapers, radio and TV stations which failed to do so. No reporters were allowed into Gaza and in the hugely compliant mainstream western media, few even bothered to ask the questions, What have you got to hide? or even, But why are Hamas firing rockets into Israel?

Barely anyone connected to the mainstream media explored or attempted to explain the history of the Palestinian conflict, and there was very little mention of the fact that since the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 they have mounted what in mediaeval times would have been called a siege of that city.

And while many may disagree with Hamas they are the democratically elected ruling party in Gaza.

Shamefully biased

While there was no chance of Israel losing militarily, there was even less chance of them losing the propaganda war in the west, thanks to the shamefully biased coverage that the savage attack on Gaza received from the compliant BBC and western news channels and newspapers. (I consciously use the word attack and not war, because war hints at some level of comparable military ability.)

No one, however, should really be surprised by the BBC’s compliance. Its attitude toward the Palestinians during the attack was augmented soon after by its shocking and disgusting refusal to broadcast the aid appeal for Gaza, which brought it condemnation from all sides. The BBC pleaded protection of its independence and impartiality, but the corporation is not now, and never has been, a neutral organisation.

Even in its early days, in 1926, during the general strike, it would not allow Ramsay MacDonald the right of reply to Conservative prime minister Stanley Baldwin. Lord Reith, the BBC’s first director, outwardly gave the impression that he was keen to defend the corporation’s independence and impartiality from the intrusion of the state, but in reality he was prepared to block any views being aired which did not chime with those of Baldwin’s Tory government.

Bearing this in mind, the shockingly biased reporting we viewed on our screens should not leave anyone open-mouthed with astonishment. If a crude rocket fired from Gaza fell on an empty school in Israel, this would receive equal or better coverage than the fact that weapons using the latest technology were falling on occupied buildings filled with real people in Gaza.

Propaganda, it would appear, is not just about stirring up patriotic feelings and creating hatred for the enemy, it can also work at a very effective level for the state by promoting one side’s view in a conflict while largely ignoring the other’s. It can also be a powerful manipulator of perception by what it chooses to omit to tell us.

Not that Gaza is the only example of state propaganda at work in recent times. In the build-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 we were assured that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction; there were sexed up dossiers designed to scare us; the Iraqi people deserved democracy and not some tyrant ruling over them; and that we were just the people to deliver that democracy to them.

Of course Saddam Hussein was an evil tyrant, but he did not officially become so in the eyes of the West until he invaded Kuwait and threatened the flow of oil to the west. Up to that point he had been a puppet of the west, had even been armed by them, basically allowed to do what he wanted in his own little fiefdom.

When he gassed the Kurds at Halabja in 1988 it didn’t cause too much of a stir in the western media, but once he stepped out of his little box and into Kuwait he became the devil incarnate. Following the first Gulf War there followed a long period leading up to the second, in which sanctions and propaganda were the weapons of choice.

Fever pitch

In the year leading up to the invasion in 2003, the propaganda reached fever pitch. The gassing of the Kurds at Halabja went from an event which had been largely ignored and became a crime against humanity, and the alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction was high on the agenda as a reason for invasion as Saddam was demonised by his former friends.

Sexed up dossiers flew in the face of the evidence of the weapons inspectors who had quietly but effectively been disarming Iraq since the end of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. The propaganda machine went into overdrive, and yet, it didn’t quite succeed, as millions took to the streets around the world to demonstrate against and oppose the planned invasion.

But they went and did it anyway (which is fair comment on the kind of democracy that we live in, and by extension also the one which was planned for Iraq). Of course, no weapons of mass destruction were found, but Saddam was overthrown and Iraq got its democratic government. Oh, yes, and western companies did rather well out of the reconstruction of Iraq.

However, the fact that so many people opposed the war in Iraq demonstrates that even the most vehement state propaganda cannot fool all of the people all of the time. And despite the age of the embedded war reporter being upon us, where reporters are given guided tours of the battlefield rather than roaming free to report what they see, still the truth of the horrors of war, and the things done in our name, occasionally seeps through.

Remember the pictures from Abu Graibh of the torture taking place there? Or the iconic picture of the little Vietnamese girl horribly burned by napalm fleeing her village? Or Seymour Hersh’s uncovering of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam?

Hersh was not actually in Vietnam, but uncovered the story by following a trail of rumour and stories around the United States. Which can only leave you wondering what the huge press corp actually in Vietnam were doing to fill in their time.

Even now, we are living through a time of war time propaganda, as our liberties are curtailed and the state places us all under increasing surveillance, all necessary, we are told, if we are to win the War on Terror.

As socialists, we understand that to win the current war on terror is actually quite easy, it’s just a matter of stopping invading other countries to plunder their resources. By making others feel more secure we thus increase our own security, it’s that simple. Resources thus saved could be used to fight the real wars on terror, such as the terror of the elderly, living on pittance pensions, having to choose between eating or heating their homes in winter.

However, I digress.

From the Creel Commission to the War on Terror, state wartime propaganda has tried, through various mechanisms and with varying degrees of success, to unite populations behind the state’s view.

Ironically, however, a side effect of the creation of the Creel Commission was to have devastating consequences for the left in the United States.

During the First World War, in the States, nearly nine million people worked in war industries and a further four million were in the armed forces. When the war ended, economic difficulties and labour unrest rose to the surface as war industries were left without contracts, leading to many being made redundant.

There were two main union/socialist groups in the United States at that time—The Industrial Workers of the World (the IWW or Wobblies), led by Bill Haywood, and the Socialist Party, led by Eugene Debs.

The Russian Revolution was still fresh in many minds and there was a widespread paranoia regarding anarchists, communists, socialists and dissidents. Following a string of bombings by anarchists, America was beset by fear, in what was to become known as the Red Scare.

Because the IWW and the Socialist Party had both been outspoken objectors to the war, this made them unpatriotic in the minds of much of the American population, and to be even loosely associated with them would arouse suspicion.

A shipyard strike followed by a general strike in Seattle in 1919 was wrongly attributed to the IWW. Charges that they were inciting revolution were levelled against them. Newspaper headlines across the country urged that the strike be put down. The mayor of Seattle guaranteed the city’s safety by announcing that 1500 police and the same number of troops were available to him to break the strike. The strikers, fearing they couldn’t succeed, and might damage the labour movement, called off the strike.

Demonised

All strikes in the next six months were demonised in the press as plots to establish communism, conspiracies against the government and crimes against society.

May Day rallies in 1919 in Boston, New York and Cleveland ended in riots and on June 2 another multi-state bomb plot was uncovered, all leading to an increase in tension, in which workers who went on strike were seen as enemies and fair game for persecution.

The Boston Police went on strike in September, as did the steel workers in a nationwide strike a few weeks later. The Boston police were sacked and replaced, and the steel strike ended without the workers getting any of their demands.

Strikers were branded red and unpatriotic as a general state of hysteria swept the nation. Colleges were seen as hotbeds of revolution and current or prior membership of a leftist organisation led to many secondary school teachers being dismissed.

The Justice Department formed the General Intelligence (or anti-radical) Division of the Bureau of Investigation. It compiled 200,000 cards in a filing system detailing radical organisations, individuals and case histories nationwide.

Thousands of alleged radicals were deported or imprisoned. Counsel was often denied, they were not allowed contact with the outside world and they were often beaten and held in inhumane conditions. (So, Guantanamo was nothing new in America’s history!)

On January 2, 1920, in 33 cities across the United States, more than 4000 supposed radicals were arrested. The New York legislature expelled five socialist assemblymen and 32 states passed laws making it illegal to fly the red flag.

Eventually, saner heads prevailed. Twelve eminent lawyers published a report detailing and condemning the Justice Department’s abuse of civil liberties. The decision to bar the socialist assemblymen was treated with disgust by newspapers and many prominent politicians of the day.

Newspapers came out against proposed anti-sedition bills, in which they saw the seeds of censorship, and business leaders realised that deporting immigrants (many of whom were wrongly branded communist) was leading to the loss of cheap labour. Finally, the Red Scare fizzled out.

Before it did so, however, the propaganda techniques created by the Creel Commission in wartime had extended its tentacles into peace time and dealt a major blow to the left in the United States.

It also gave birth to the modern day public relations business which, with its agenda of controlling the public mind, has never looked kindly on the left, neither in peace time nor in time of war. But it has never been able to quite kill the left off, either.

It should not be forgotten that around the time the Creel Commission was inciting a pacifist population to war that, on the other side of the Atlantic, John McLean stood in the dock of the High Court in Edinburgh on May 9, 1918, charged with incitement to mutiny and sedition, and uttered the unforgettable words, I stand here, then, not as the accused, but as the accuser of capitalism, dripping with blood from head to foot.

State propaganda may commit vast resources to induce their populations to approve of their military ventures, but by putting a socialist perspective on the facts we can always see through the lies and deceptions and shine a light on their darkness.

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