Saturday, March 31, 2012

Ireland: Game Shops Occupied While A Million Defy Household Tax

An occupier beds down for the night at what was the Tallaght branch of Game
Like their counterparts in Greece, Portugal and Spain, Irish workers have been hammered by the international bankers over the last few years. But until recently, ruling class commentators boasted that this had been achieved without much resistance - mainly thanks to the no-strike deal unions signed at Croke Park. However, there are initial signs that some are starting to say 'enough is enough', and take independent action.

On Monday, the predominantly young employees of Game - the high street computer games retailer - arrived at work to discover that they were redundant. Game is currently in administration, and mass redundancies are happening across the 277 UK and Ireland outlets, but what particularly incensed the Irish workers was the lack of any redundancy package. They also claim that they abruptness of the dismissal is a breach of Irish labour laws.

Libcom reports that:

"According to James Daly, a spokesman for the workers in Cork, administrators brought in from PricewaterhouseCoopers have flouted Irish employment law by not giving the required 30 days notice for collective redundancies. Quoted by the Belfast Telegraph, he said, "They just assume the law is the same as the UK. We were told 'Go to the Government and claim your statutory redundancy'. That could take up to a year or 18 months to go through while Game is still trading in the UK."

Occupations are currently ongoing at a dozen different stores. A Facebook update from a Monaghan occupier claims that PriceWaterhouseCooper administrators are showing up at the former Game shop, demanding the keys and access to the stock. Not surprisingly, occupiers are refusing to give up their only bargaining chip.

The Game occupations follow in the footsteps of the Lagan Bricks, La Senza and Vita Cortex occupations, which all began in Ireland at the turn of the year, when workers at each were dismissed without compensation. A picket is still in operation at Lagan Bricks, even though the company has decided that "all reasonable negotiation had ended". La Senza workers were more fortunate, earning a relatively quick victory, but the Vita Cortex sit-in has now passed its one hundredth day.

Meanwhile, tonight sees the deadline for approximately 1.6 million Irish householders to register for a €100 charge on their property, which the Fine Gael-Labour coalition is imposing at the behest of the financial elite. It is believed that only around 650,000 have put their names forward to pay so far - around a fifth of the total liable according to the government. In an echo of the 'can't pay, won't pay' UK poll tax campaign, mass non-payment could well end up costing the government more money than it brings in, and a government u-turn might be on the cards. RTÉ reports that five thousand attended a Dublin demonstration this afternoon.

The Game Ireland Facebook group is here and they can be Tweeted @GameIREfight. Email solidarity messages to gameireland13@gmail.com

The Lagan Bricks Facebook group is here.

The Vita Cortex Facebook group is here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cosmo - Picket Line Party: Adventures In Austerity Britain

If the world needs any new album right now, it is this one. The same goes for your collection. What more could you want than a warm, funny call to arms for the wretched earth brough to you by a Scottish-Hungarian-Welsh anarchist Eric Idle?

The tone is set by the kazoo-infused joyful jauntiness of opener Strike! Occupy! Resist!, which calls for struggles everywhere to overthrow those who "take the piss". The bit at the end about Martians coming to our planet and being confused we can't take them to our leader is brilliant! And it's an extremely difficult chorus not to sing along to!

Oh! To Be In England (Now The EDL's In Town) follows at a hundred miles an hour, with a hilarious take-down of the so-called English Defence League. Then I Could Play You A Million Love Songs (But You're Only Gonna Get This One) is more laid back, but still manages to get a anti-patriarchal point across, while No Gods, No Masters is a four minute discursive essay on violence at demos.

The Notorious Clench Of Professional Brits then whimsically rips it out of the upper crust, before all cheekiness exits stage left for Deep Cover, an attack on those such as 'Mark Jacobs', the cop who pretended to be a Welsh activist for many years. The filth are also the target on Who's Gonna Take The Rap?, which cries for justice in the name of "Jean Charles de Menezes, Ian Tomlinson, Blair Peach" (you could also add Smiley Culture, Mark Duggan and hundreds of others). But perhaps my favourite cut from this release is Music Hall War!!!, which narrates a 1907 struggle between musicians and bosses, before explaining that even today, "when we stand together, we make the bastards pay".

Get hold of this now. Cosmo has a great talent for combining serious messages with fun, often celebratory rhymes and skilled musicianship. If you are often angry at The Man and have both ears and a sense of humour, Picket Line Party is guaranteed to put a grin on our face, a spring in your step, and determination in your quest for self-determination.


Picket Line Party - Adventures In Austerity Britain is available here.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Leaked NHS Risk Register Embarrasses Government

Andrew Lansley successsfully kept the Risk Register private...until now
In the past hour, a document which appears to be the infamous NHS Risk Register has been leaked online (you can read it here). Though the seriousness of its claims is couched in difficult, bureaucratic language, it reveals exactly why the government - and particularly Health Secretary Andrew Lansley - were so keen to keep it hushed up before Parliament passed the NHS bill last week.

The Risk Register - which was prepared by civil servants in the Department of Health - grades potential risks according to "likelihood" and "impact", giving an overall score based on the two, which is then colour coded. The document is almost a sea of red for danger. Amongst the Department's top fears are:
  • "the Bill proceeds on basis of incomplete /flawed design"
  • "the Bill proceeds without assurance that the whole system is affordable" - particularly when private sector costs are factored in
  • Lack of planning for the transition to new system
  • "Financial control is lost due to the restructuring of budgets"
  • "By dismantling the current management structures and controls, more failures, including financial, eg GP consortia go bust or have to cut services, and credibility of the system declines as a result."
  • Staff morale will be severely impacted by the changes
  • "There is a risk that the transition will be presented in a negative light via the media. Two of the biggest risks which have already surfaced in the media are i) that the reforms will continue to be characterised through the prism of privatisation and ii) financial cuts."
If rationality and the public good had anything to do with the workings of the state, the Risk Register would have provided a powerful case for dumping the NHS bill, especially when the NHS already enjoyed such huge levels of public satisfaction. Unfortunately for all but those who will profit from the great healthcare carve-up, the reform is only rational from a money-making perspective. The Risk Register is proof that the government recklessly and wilfully ignored the very real risks to public health, for the sake of their own careers and wallets.

Occupy Oakland Still Leading The Way

Occupy Oakland activists reclaiming a house from a bank over the winter
One promise of spring and summer 2012 in the northern hemisphere is that it will bring fresh developments in the Occupy movement, as it emerges from its winter hibernation. Some Occupies - like Occupy London Stock Exchange - battled bravely on into late February, but struggled to maintain their astonishing early momentum. In fact, perhaps only Occupy Oakland (OO) has made any real progression over the last few months. But why has OO succeeded where others have failed?

The answer to that question is far from straightforward. Certainly, the City of Oakland has not been soft on the Occupiers, Mayor Jean Quan bears the political responsibility for some of the heaviest anti-Occupy police violence anywhere. But while many Occupys shrank under the state's brutality, OO grew under the cosh, to the extent that a general strike was called and successfully held in response to one particularly ferocious assault.

The local weather has doubtless been an advantage. Where other northern hemisphere Occupies have been tested by everything a winter could throw at them, Oakland has a Mediterranean climate, with an average of three hundred days sunshine per year. Though OO lost their main camp at Oscar Grant Plaza to a police riot back in November, they have been able to organise a large amount of outside activities since, and the relatively fine weather surely must have helped.

But as always in political questions, social factors are the most decisive. Oakland is not a place where the idea of political struggle fell from the sky with Occupy Wall Street. Its status as a major port has historically made it a centre of Californian class struggle. The socialist author Jack London was a product of the city, and the Black Panthers movement grew out of Oakland streets, when Huey Newton and Bobby Seale organised black self-defence against police brutality. While today's Occupiers might be the grandchildren of that sixties generation, they have nonetheless grown up hearing stories of those days, often passed on by the city's many hip-hop artists. Another key factor is Oakland's poverty rate, which stands 5% higher than the US national average.

With the long months of spring and summer stretching ahead, Occupy Oakland seems to be a vibrant organism, with working committees organising around anti-repression, neighbourhood cleanup, environmental justice, foreclosure (repossession) defence, food kitchens, labour solidarity, media, and outreach. And just a fortnight ago, rapper Boots Riley announced the creation of a grassroots-run fast food workers' union in Oakland. The rest of 2012 will surely be an exciting times for Occupy Oakland, and its influence will no doubt spread around the globe.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

My Chat With A Casuals United 'Angel'

A small Combined Ex-Forces demo in Bolton today (pic: Matthew Makhno)
While anti-fascists from around the country were confronting the assorted far right street gangs in Bolton this afternoon, I found myself many miles away, in front of a computer. I'd rather have been there physically, but that wasn't possible, so I offered my solidarity via Twitter. That was when a self-described "keyboard warrior" and "Angel" member of Casuals United engaged me in conversation.

I wouldn't say it was a meeting of minds exactly, but nonetheless it was an interesting experience, and I think some of the things I said clashed with her preconceived ideas of how a "commie" should behave. At the start I was quite defensive and said somethings I probably wish I hadn't, but by the end I was trying to find some common ground. After all, we are both - I presume - working class, and that should be enough in my book, if not in hers. As a new working class movement grows, we will have to engage with such groups in one way or another - whether by presenting a superior force or a superior argument. Though I have no great illusions in my own or anybody's persuasive powers in conversation with people have been systematically misled their whole lives, I would still prefer it to be more of the latter.

Out of respect for her wish not to be included in a screenshot, I'll preserve her anonymity here:

Me: #Solidarity with everyone confronting EDL and North West Infidels in Bolton today! 
Her: solidarity while I click my keyboard angrily
Me: Not too angry at the moment, but I can't be there. I've done my share in the past. 
Her: like fuck lol 
Me: Clever response! Glad to see you belying the stereotype of EDL 'angels'.
Her: Typical lefty twat haha
Me: Genius.
Her: and we arent EDL my pillow biting friend
Her: help im being groomed
Me: You wish, I'm sure you'd relish the attention. But am I a passive homosexual or an aggressive paedophile?
Her: a keyboard biting taker id say
Me: And what's the Casuals United position on that? 
Her: shut up you fool
Me: Oh, so you believe that homosexuals should be silenced? 
Her: with an orange in their mouth maybe darling
Me: It must be very difficult to be you, to be surrounded by people you perceive to be a threat. Must be scary for you.
Her: Who you commies? Are you mad? and if you mean Muslims I live in Cornwall mate so Im hardly surrounded. #musttryharder
Me: So why are you bothered about them, if you don't think they are a threat? I'm just trying to understand you. 
My "friend"'s image of herself
Her: Bothered about who?
Me: About Muslims. If there aren't that many around you, why join an anti-Muslim group? 
Her: Because I can
Me: Well that doesn't seem to be a very clear answer. I mean I could, just as much as you. But I don't see them as a threat to me.
Her: I am involved because I see Islam and Multiculturalism as a threat to our way of life simple
Me: Ok, so in what way has Islam threatened you? Or if it hasn't yet, in what way could it threaten you? 
Her: You think i can explain that in a tweet? Read the blog you god damn communist
Me: Ok, so there are these Muslims who are allegedly paedophiles. Well I'd agree with you on that, paedophilia is a very bad thing.
Me: Then there's this bit about Blackburn council. Well they are scumbags anyway because they are cutting services.
Me: Then that bit about 'failing white youth'. Well that's not on either, there are huge differences between different white people
Me: And then it's terrible that anyone is homeless, soldier or not. So see, we're not really that different.
Her: Why are you being "nice" to me? Are you grooming me?
Me: No, I can't even see what you look like, so that would be a bit strange. I'm just interested in hearing what you have to say.
Me: Because normally I've come across people like you in demos and whatever, and there's been a line of cops separating us.
Me: And we shout insults backwards and forwards. But we don't learn anything from that. And I hate some of the things you hate.

At this point, my "friend" told her timeline that her boyfriend was taking her out for a meal. So that was the end of our exchange. A shame really. I quite enjoyed it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Budget 2012: Osborne Piles On The Agony

George Osborne's red box contained yet more good news for the very wealthy
Just one day after the coalition dealt a potentially mortal blow to the National Health Service, Chancellor George Osborne's budget providing no respite for the working class and poor. On the contrary, it again fulfilled cartoonist Steve Bell's ironic reversal of Karl Marx's dictum - 'From each according to their vulnerability, to each according to their greed'.

The one piece of supposed 'good news' had been trailed for a number of weeks - the rise in the income tax threshold from 2013. Under this change, people will have to earn at least than £9,205 per year before they start paying any income tax, and indeed this will save some working people a couple of hundred pounds per year. But there are three major problems with this. Firstly, approximately one third of adults do not earn enough to meet this threshold, so they will not benefit at all. Secondly, the saving amount is nearly insignificant when compared to the real terms pay cuts and loss of hours which huge numbers are facing. Finally, a big percentage of the discount will be swallowed up by a measure which was in the budget report but not announced by Osborne yesterday - cuts in working tax credits.

So much for the 'positive' side of things, which was no doubt trumpeted with an eye on bringing in a few more votes for the Lib Dems in the forthcoming local elections, and keeping the angry mobs away from the palaces a little while longer. It was important window dressing, since the evening news was largely filled with the gloating rich flaunting their own tax cuts.

Osborne claimed that it was necessary to cut the rate of tax for those making £150,000 plus per year, because the rich had changed their tax "behaviour" to exploit loopholes in the current rate. Before Christmas it was revealed that Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs had been complicit in tax avoidance - even going to lunch with corporate bosses for a chat over their tax arrangements. But rather than tighten the system up, Osborne simply slashed the wealthy's rate of taxation to 45p in the pound.

Similarly, corporation tax was reduced to 24% for next year and 22% by 2014. Osborne described this move as making UK corporation tax "dramatically lower" than in "competition countries", and showing that the UK was "open for business". Of course, the unwritten rules of economic globalisation dictate that these "competition countries" will now cut their own rates, meaning deeper cuts on global working class living standards will be necessary to balance the books.

Not entirely co-incidentally, Osborne declared he will soon be "publishing analysis" which he says will demonstrate his "need to make savings on welfare" of an extra £10 billion by 2016, on top of the huge cuts already being implemented. Why this money had to come from welfare, rather than, say, those who could afford it, the multi-millionaire did not explain. Neither did he attempt to justify a planned raid on Royal Mail pension funds, or what has quickly become known as the 'granny tax', whereby future pensioners are having their allowances worsened. Other indirect taxes on the poor were increased dramatically, with the prices of alcohol and tobacco being hiked. The cost of petrol is also set to rocket, even ahead of further Middle East turmoil, hammering those who rely on cars for work and basic needs, as well as feeding into further price rises for everyone.

Compared to his previous budgets and the Comprehensive Spending Review of 2010, the speech was arguably low key and low impact. However, it showed that far from the CSR revealing the entire scope of planned attacks, it merely served as a brutal beginning. As the economic crisis intensifies over the next twelve months, the sickeningly wealthy will doubtless demand that still further sacrifices are made. And Labour leader Ed Miliband's joke about it being the end of "we're all in it together" rang extremely hollow - they are.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Don't Mourn The NHS - Organise To Save It!

Kids at an vigil in Newcastle, but vigils achieve nothing in practical terms
Well, it's practically a done deal. The parliamentary parlour games are nearly over, and the government has almost had its wicked way with us all, dealing a horrible blow to the NHS. The Tories will be jubilant, because they've gone a long way to realising their no doubt childhood dreams of breaking up what Americans call 'socialised medicine'. Labour will secretly be pleased that by delaying the inevitable for one day they've been able to strike an absurd pose as 'the party of the NHS' six weeks before council elections, even though Andy Burnham himself accelerated its privatisation when he was in the ministerial position he is now shadowing. And the Lib Dems have earned their coalition corn by continuing their filthy role as apologists for the largest assault on the UK working class in living memory.

So many of us will be feeling something like despair tonight, and that's certainly the mood encouraged by the morbid and ghoulish Labour-linked NHS vigils up and down the country. After all, the way things are, it's difficult to look for light amongst all the darkness, and I don't mean fucking candle light. Right now, every single one of us are on the back foot in our daily lives. Waged workers are getting squeezed much harder for little to no pay rise reward. Price hikes are hitting us where it hurts most - the wallet or purse. The cuts are leaving society ever more impoverished. And the ruling class privatisation agenda is steamrolling forward at a dizzying pace, with all the holies becoming profaned - post office, NHS, and now even the roads. It can feel overwhelming, and it is probably meant to.

But much though the various union and Labour-linked organisers of the deathwatch vigils might want us to believe it, we are not powerless against a handful of parliamentarians. They only have the power we give them. And by that, I don't mean we should simply vote in another set of politicians - they are all hopelessly compromised, or become so as soon as they enter the corridors of power. No, I mean we have the power to stop the NHS bill coming into force, because we are the ones who ultimately put all laws into force. As Malcolm X put it, "Power never takes a back step - only in the face of more power." Sooner rather than later, we can and must realise our true common strength, and become that second, far greater power.

The UK government's own actions - and indeed the actions of every government in Europe and beyond - are preparing the ground for immense class battles. Paradoxically, with each attack they launch, our potential united power grows stronger, because they open up another front in the war. Fewer and ever fewer working class people are able to continue living their lives as if nothing had happened, so more and ever more are drawn into resistance and battle. I've cited the grassroots Sparks electricians as an example for our class more than once - but their independence and militancy does indeed illuminate a path for the rest of us to follow.

And in Thessaloniki, Greece, there is a hospital where the doctors, nurses and other staff took over the running their workplace. I blogged about it last month, and they kept it up for several weeks before being forced to suspend the occupation. The same could well happen in this country before too long. If and when it does, we must support those everyday miracle workers in any way we can, and they must help us in our own workplace and neighbourhood struggles. That is the true meaning of solidarity, and it is only by solidarity that can we rescue our lives from this cycle of defeat and despondency.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

My Appearance on Dissident Island Radio

This Friday gone, I appeared on Dissident Island radio's one hundredth edition, talking about the socio-economic situation in Greece. I spoke on the economic crisis, elite responses to it, and the impact this has had on ideas of democracy and national sovereignty. I also offered my suggestions about how all the turmoil could play out.

So if you're particularly interested in those topics, or even just want to discover what I sound like on t' airwaves (not too bad actually), you can download the show here. The rest of the programme was very interesting, including other perspectives on austerity, and a feature on the history of anti-fascism in the UK.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Week of Action Against Ryanair's Great Plane Robbery

John Foley is dedicated to spreading the word about Ryanair's exploitation
You might remember an incident from back in January, when a man named John Foley brought the Everton V Manchester City game to a standstill by handcuffing himself to a goalpost. The reasons for his protest were lost amidst the sensationalist media coverage of this event, but he did it to highlight the way low budget airline Ryanair treat would-be employees, like his own daughter Sarah.

Under Ryanair's recruitment policy - which has been labelled 'recruitment for termination' - potential cabin crew pay the multi-billion pound company a fee of three thousand euros to register on a training course. All those sacked before the course finishes lose all their money, and of course do not get a job with the company. This scam is a great earner for Ryanair, because they get to pick those they consider the cream of the crop, whilst trousering money of those they deem unsuitable for the position. So long as enough people are willing to pay the huge registration fee, there is an obvious incentive for the company to recruit many more for the training course than they plan to take on at a later date.

In the case of Sarah Foley, a supervisor tried to persuade her to resign the day before she was sacked. If she had done this, she would have been charged an additional two hundred euros. In the event, she was refused a flight home because - as a non-employee - she was ineligible.

As if this weren't bad enough, those who survive the initial training course are put on a twelve month probation, and are paid at a much lower rate than others performing the same work, with the company making an extra £20 million per year from their labour. Again, this acts as an incentive for the airline to operate an employment revolving door.

Tomorrow is the last day of the Week of Action Against Ryanair, initiated by Liverpool Solidarity Federation. Pickets have been taking place around the country, including at the Cheltenham Festival, around the Ryanair Chase. However, if you are not attending these pickets, you can make your point to Ryanair by phoning +353 1 812 1212, faxing +353 1 812 1676, or using their web-based complaints form. But perhaps the most valuable thing you can do is spread the word about Ryanair's hyper-exploitative labour practices.

More information about the campaign can be found at the Ryanair Don't Care blog

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Mersey Lockouts Mark Heightened Class Struggle

A picketer keeps the fire burning through the night in Bootle this week
Industrial lockouts have been completely unknown in the UK for over fifty years. So it must be far from coincidence that two have taken place on Merseyside during the past month. Though there are slight differences between the cases, both are the result of bosses using the current crisis to lower production costs, and increase the rate of exploitation.

The term 'lock-out' was explained by Phil Dickens in his initial report on the Bootle packaging standoff:
"A lock-out is, essentially, the reverse of a strike. It is where an employer denies staff work and pay unless they submit to certain conditions. It is used quite frequently in industrial disputes across the world, though hasn't been in Britain for over half a century. If it starts being used by British bosses now, it will reflect the idea that the anti-strike laws are no longer enough to contain worker militancy."
Workers at the Mayr-Melnhof Packaging (MMP) have now been locked out of their Bootle factory for nearly four weeks. The bosses took the action after staff had struck twice in a week over proposed redundancies. MMP is a multinational business, and the threat to sack forty-nine workers is believed to have followed the loss of a major contract. Of the 139 employees at the Bootle factory, 98% had voted for the strike action, angry that talks between Unite and MMP had only reduced the number of redundancies by twelve, with a loss of £1000-£2000 for each remaining employee.

Though they supported the strike action, the Unite union made it clear they "had accepted the fact that there would be job losses", and were only interested in negotiating "the right conditions".

According to the World Socialist Website, the second 'offer', which was rejected by 158 to 1:
"[...] is based on the company operating a “social fund” to bridge the new payoff and what was agreed in 2008 and 2010 [when previous 'voluntary redundancies' were made]. This would be tied to the company using its discretion to pay out from the fund. It also involves the reinstatement of the original 49 redundancies".
Locked out workers in Birkenhead, Wirral
MMP also announced - with the tacit agreement of Unite - that they would pursue disciplinary action against fifteen workers they charge were connected to a brief occupation of the factory at the start of the lockout.

The dispute is still unresolved, and round the clock pickets are continuing. Messages of solidarity can be sent to mayrsmerseypeople@gmail.com

Across the Mersey, the struggle at the Tranfoods meat packaging plant in Birkenhead is still in its early stages. On Tuesday, the Working Class Self Organisation blog reported that:
"Around 200 workers at Tranfoods in Wirral, Merseyside today held a demonstration outside the factory after being ‘locked out’ last week by the management. The owners of the factory, ‘Tulip’, had started a period of consultation with a view to closing the factory due to a decline in orders. The unions had been in negotiation with Tulip regarding redundancy pay, but have accused Tulip of reneging on an agreement. Tulip deny that any agreement was ever reached, and are now saying they will only pay the basic legal minimum redundancy. When workers arrived for work last week, they found the gates locked."
Today, the Tulip workers travelled to London to meet protest their employers' actions in the capital. But this is something of a union-led diversion. It is primarily on Merseyside that a real challenge to these bosses can be built, if these struggles and others are linked up at the grassroots.


Read a 2009 account of working conditions at Tranfoods here.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Kenyan Health Workers Fight Strike Victimisation

Twenty five thousand Kenyan nurses and associated health workers are continuing to resist, despite being sacked by the government for rejecting a union-brokered 'offer'.

The strike began ten days ago, when workers belonging to various unions stopped work. According to the Kenyan Sunday Nation:
"Administrators of public hospitals across the country, including referral centres, sent away patients after nurses, clinical officers mortuary attendants and paramedical staff boycotted work and held peaceful protests demanding that the government meets their demands."
The government immediately reacted with slander, declaring that they were "dealing with crooks", who were after more money than they were entitled to. The dispute centres on allowance schemes, which allow the workers to claim for uniforms, being on call, and other expenses.

After just three days, the union reached a deal with the government, which was immediately dismissed as a "betrayal" by the rank and filers, who pressed on with their strike action. However, the end of the week saw the government sack all 25,000 who had withdrawn their labour. Despite this, "hundreds" of their number rallied in the capital Nairobi on Friday, demanding reinstatement.

At the start of the strike, assistant medical services minister Kazungu Kambi claimed he had thirty thousand applicants waiting in the wings to replace the strikers. The sheer convenience of this number makes it highly dubious, and of course any aspiring strikebreakers would have to be trained up first. Nevertheless, the road ahead looks like a tough one for the health workers. In the coming days and weeks, they will need to set up a united and democratic organisational structures independent of the trade unions, and make an appeal to the wider working class. This struggle looks like one to keep an eye on.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

IWW Cleaners Win London Living Wage

The following is reposted from the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) website. It is important to  chalk up and indeed celebrate every working class victory against the bosses.

IWW Cleaners and Allied Trades, London -

Dear friends, compañeros, on the 5th March 2012, after a long and high profile campaign, the IWW secured yet another victory for our cleaner members employed at Exchange Tower who will now be paid the London Living Wage of £8.30 per hour.

For ten years many members have been earning poverty wages on the minimum wage. The arrival of the IWW immediately set about changing this situation launching a campaign for the London Living Wage, this saw widespread publicity, a motion in Parliament, our members stood firm in the face of the intimidation of the management company Cashmens who also managed Heron Tower.

On March 8th IWW in Frankfurt and industrial unionists in Warsaw and Tokyo were planning solidarity demonstrations at the offices of the MGPA owners of Exchange Tower.

However, the employers have finally conceded to the overwhelming and just demands of the workers.

Some of the traditional unions at Canary Wharf have abandoned the cleaners - full-time officials declared 'you need to keep your head down in a recession'. The IWW has continued to fight, organising the unorganised, the abandoned and the betrayed.

At Reuters nearby IWW is engaged in another campaign for the London Living Wage and for the removal of a gang of a feral managers intimidating cleaners. The gains at Exchange Tower send a clear message that solidarity wins justice in the workplace!

Thank you to all our members and supporters!

An Injury to One is an Injury to ALL! Solidarity Forever!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

'No Masters, No Mistresses!' - Reflections on International Women's Day from a Hetero White Male

International Women's Day used to look like this...
I am the person mentioned in the title. I am not subject to oppression based on sexual orientation, my ethnicity or - the subject of the day - gender. So I'm aware there's a very real sense in which I'm not entitled to intrude on women's attempts to overcome their oppression, and I wouldn't want to do that. Still, I also want to see the patriarchy smashed, so I will offer my reflections on International Women's Day (IWD).

Different groups of people seem to put forward two different objections. Firstly, there is the classic right wing attack also put forward by opponents of Black History Month, for example - i.e. why do 'they' get a day and 'we' don't. Whenever that 'we' is put forward, it is always by a representative of the demographic which does the oppressing of the 'other'. You can probably imagine say Jeremy Clarkson claiming that about almost every 'special' day with a 'y' in it.

The other objection - which I believe has much more validity to it - is that by assigning twenty-four hours per year for that oppressed group to have their say, it de facto concedes every other second to those that do the oppressing. It's almost as if patriarchy allows women the 8th of every March, because those who benefit from the oppression of women believe 'they'll go out, let off some steam, and then get back to normal tomorrow'.

And yet the early International Women's Days were very much insurgent happenings, which rejected the entire status quo. The very first IWD took place in the US, Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland in 1911
- with tens of thousands participating. According to socialist organiser Alexandra Kollontai, it:
"...exceeded all expectations. Germany and Austria .... was one seething trembling sea of women. Meetings were organised everywhere...in the small towns and even in the villages, halls were packed so full that they had to ask [male] workers to give up their places for the women. Men stayed home with their children for a change and their wives, the captive housewives, went to meetings. During the largest street demonstrations, in which 30,000 were taking part, the police decided to remove the demonstrators' banners: the women workers made a stand. In the scuffle that followed, bloodshed was averted only with the help of the socialist deputies in Parliament."
Two years later IWD was unofficially honoured by the women of Russia, and its 1917 edition sparked the February Revolution. Following the October Revolution which brought the Bolshevik Party to power, Kollontai promoted it as an official holiday in Russia. Though she doubtless had honourable intentions, IWD was now wedded to the Russian state, and despite later flourishing in the Spanish revolution of the 1930s, it degenerated as fast as the "workers' state".

Today, there are many radical women keeping the spirit of a century ago alive. But even though the day is not an official holiday in the UK (or indeed in many other countries), liberal elements have co-opted it. For example, in Liverpool tonight a local women's business group is hosting an IWD event called 'Being An Empowered Business Woman'. It is difficult to imagine a sharper contrast to the revolutionary origins of the day than this celebration of capital as a means of 'empowerment' - i.e. individual women empowering themselves by enslaving others. No doubt such women derived great enjoyment from the recent Margaret Thatcher biopic.

...now it looks more like this.
And in a capitalist system, patriarchy is the mechanism by which women's labour is exploited far more than that of working class men. This economic brutality is kept in place by a dehumanising ideology, which from the cradle teaches young females and males from the cradle that they have very distinct roles to play in society. When all else fails, or out of their own sense of inadequacy, men physically hurt women to 'keep them in their place' - the place assigned to them capitalism. The statistics are still horrifying.

As the tide of implicitly anti-capitalist struggles rises globally, I hope that the women of the world will make future International Women's Days the catalyst for revolution once more.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Great Depression is Coming!

Many parallels can be made between now and the Great Depression of the 1930s
Well there's something quite important about my life that most of my blog readers don't know. To you I'm probably just this guy who writes things about politics on the internet. And yes, I am him. But I'm also a guy who writes lyrics and performs vocals in a musical project called Torture Garden, and we're currently in the process of putting together a new album - our third, following Rotisserie Of Pain (2009) and Dead Romantic (2011). So I'm going to tell you a bit about how it's going every once in a while, in a shameless act of self-promotion.

I started writing the lyrics for The Great Depression maybe a decade ago. The title was inspired by something Brad Pitt's character said in Fight Club: "We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives." At the time that really struck a chord with me, because I was struggling with my own personal depression, and was linking how I felt to wider conditions in society. But when I listened to even some of my favourite artists of the time, though many would go on about feeling sad, isolated and lonely, few would ever ask 'why?' So I decided to do that in a series of lyrics.

I made some progress with that. Then believe it or not, one day in the autumn of 2003 I worked out that the global economy was heading for a massive crash - which would inevitably rival the one of 1929 - and a depression similar to the one of the 1930s. So my Great Depression lyrics got a new focus. We might have been doped by consumerism in a Fight Club way right then ("working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need" as Tyler Durden had it), but a new Depression was coming, and it would be really fucking dreadful for almost everyone on the planet. But at the same time, it would provide an opportunity for the human race to break down those invisible walls of separation, and get together to tear it all apart...before rebuilding.

As I type this in March 2012, my predictions are clearly coming true. That economic crisis began in 2007, and got worse in 2008/09, before politicians started telling us that we were in a 'recovery'. Sure, it's a recovery for their rich mates, but the rest of us are still seeing our living conditions slashed, to pay for their insatiable appetites. So people like you and me have been drawn onto the streets in Egypt, Greece, and increasingly all over the world, to fight against this rich man's system. This is the background of The Great Depression - an album which I believe will convey more than a little of the past, present and future - how we got here, where we are now, and possible ways of life beyond this near hell.

We're a heavy metal band, so it's also going to fucking rock, but I just wanted to give you an introductory flavour of what it is about thematically. In this way I'm giving you enough time to get appropriately excited!

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Thursday, March 01, 2012

Victorious Sparks Celebrate, But Another Struggle Lies Ahead

'All Power To The Sparks' must become more than a slogan over the coming months
Electricians are still celebrating following their stunning victory over their employers' proposed pay cut contracts. The moment put the seal on a dramatic six month battle, which saw new tactics adopted by workers mistrustful of the union bureaucracy. And there can be no doubt about it, the Sparks rank-and-file group won precisely because they took a militant stance beyond the confines of the reformist trade union straitjacket. Yet they did not make a complete break with the Unite union, and another fight is on the horizon.

The grassroots-run Sparks organisation was set up in August, in opposition to the construction bosses' plans to force the signing of what they called the Building Engineering Services National Agreement (BESNA). Under BENSA, separate pay grades would have been introduced for metalworkers (£10.50 per hour), wiring (£12), and terminating (£14), replacing the £16.25 which all electricians earned under the Joint Industry Board scheme. But the Sparks movement was set up with the intention of pressurising rather than circumventing the Unite leadership, who were correctly seen as a break on militancy following a catalogue of sellouts.

The Sparks' suspicions were confirmed early on, when Unite chief negotiator Bernard McAulay labelled the Sparks "cancerous" in a leaked email to assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail. But despite this, there remained a consensus within Sparks that sufficient pressure could force the hands of the bureaucracy. So electricians took various forms of direct action - briefly occupying building sites, blocking traffic, and taking what were effectively wildcat strikes.

The tops were certainly spurred into action, because they were keen to keep Sparks within their dues base, but this action was deliberately delayed and generally ineffective, because the bureaucracy are committed to the corporate bosses' profitability. McAulay, Cartmail and general secretary Len McCluskey polished off their best radical phrasemongering, and promised to fight for the living standards of their membership. Eventually, they even called two one day strike actions against Balfour Beatty - the biggest of the construction employers. But the first was called off as soon as Balfour Beatty threatened court action, and the second was scheduled to have taken place around the time a reported 90% of electricians had put pen to paper on their 'sign or be sacked' BESNA contracts. In other words, the two infamous email correspondents made every effort to be seen as doing something, without actually doing anything useful to the rank and filers.

At the time I wrote a rather pessimistic article on Sparks just over a month ago, the union fat cats must have thought their strategy to protect their own living standards was working. After all, electricians were shuffling in to sign up for wage cuts, so they would keep their jobs, and in fact many had joined Unite specifically in response to the Sparks' campaign. But then came an extraordinary week, which would leave BESNA in ruins.

The Sparks independently made links with students and others in 2011
On Wednesday 15th, Sparks descended on a posh Park Lane dinner, where the suited and booted Balfour Beatty executives were slapping each other on the back for all their wealth. Taking the bigwigs and the cops by surprise, hundreds of Sparks descended on the Grosvenor Hotel, blocking central London traffic for hours. Electricians physically chased the fat cats for some time, and at one point several surrounded Balfour Beatty chief exec Ian Tyler, shouting "scum", and chanting for the police to "arrest Balfour Beatty".

The Thursday saw Balfour Beatty take Unite to the High Court, in an effort to get the latest strike ballot overhauled on the grounds of voting irregularities. The judge threw out the case, perhaps mindful that Sparks struck anyway back in December, after Unite's leadership had caved in to the company. Almost immediately, Balfour Beatty withdrew from BESNA. With the biggest company gone, the six others decided the game was up. Within days, BESNA was dead.

At the moment, it is unclear exactly why Balfour Beatty precipitated the demise of BESNA. It seems impossible to believe that one day of official strike action would have held much terror for a multi-billion pound corporation. More likely, the fright the executives suffered on Park Lane played at least some role. But still, if 90% of electricians had signed up to vastly increased rates of exploitation, surely it was only a matter of time before most of the rest followed suit? And even if they didn't, surely something else could have been arranged? The abandoning of BESNA is a huge deal, so why give away such ground so quickly?

It's early days, but perhaps part of the answer came in a statement from Blane Judd, chief executive of the bosses' Heating and Ventilating Contractors Association (HVCA). He told electricians that:
"Despite the best efforts of the Association and the significant progress that has been made in recent months, all seven companies who instigated the development of the BESNA have now withdrawn from the initiative. However, I can assure the membership at large that, over the next few months, the HVCA will be continuing to work towards the modernisation of the sector's terms and conditions of employment in such a way as to incorporate a number of the principles contained in the BESNA..."
In return for the cancellation of BESNA, Unite agreed to call off any further demonstrations while 'consultations' take place over BESNA II. Essentially, Unite has assented to dampening down the anger of its own membership, and potentially even policing it.

Sparks clearly won the battle of BESNA, but they must continue to resist the Unite leadership's attempts to strangle their movement. If Sparks are to finally defeat the construction companies' attacks, they must continue to strengthen their solidarity, and draw in other groups of workers. The time will come when this requires a conscious split from Unite.

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