Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Activists Demanding Answers NOW Over Martin Smith's PhD

At this very moment, activists are contacting Liverpool Hope University en masse, in a bid to get answers to questions over accused rapist Martin Smith's apparent paid PhD.

The story of Smith's rehabilitation by former SWP chumrade Michael Lavalette's Social Work department was first broken on the Angry Women of Liverpool blog last Monday. The University responded by threatening legal action over a statement on how much Lavalette was involved in the process, and totally ignored questions of student and staff safety.

The Delta Removals campaign group called for this mass questioning on Monday. The following is a repost from their blog:

"Understandably, students and staff will be concerned. So we still need answers to the following serious questions:
 
·         Is Martin Smith on campus in any capacity?
·         Is Martin Smith studying for a PhD at Hope University?
·         Is this PhD funded? If so, who by?
·         Is Martin Smith going to be teaching during his time at Hope?
·         What role did Professor Lavalette play in Martin Smith coming to Hope?
·         What measures have been put in place to make sure students and staff are safe around Martin Smith?

Delta Removals are calling on anyone concerned by these issues to contact the university this Wednesday, 30th October, between 9 am and 5 pm. Please forward any responses to Delta.Removals2013@gmail.com. Also email this address if you would like to be involved in the campaign."

Find a contact list at the Delta Removals page.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Demand Martin Smith Answers from Hope University!

The following is a repost from the Delta Removals blog:

On Monday, 21st September, Angry Women Of Liverpool reported that Martin Smith – who resigned from the Socialist Workers Party following rape and sexual harassment allegations –  is now based in the Social Work department at Liverpool Hope University, and is studying for a funded PhD. They linked Smith's rehabilitation to the fact that SWP loyalist Professor Michael Lavalette is head of the Social Work department.

Since then, neither Lavalette nor Hope University have made any satisfactory public response. Understandably, students and staff will be concerned. So we still need answers to the following serious questions:

·         Is Martin Smith on campus in any capacity?
·         Is Martin Smith studying for a PhD at Hope University?
·         Is this PhD funded? If so, who by?
·         Is Martin Smith going to be teaching during his time at Hope?
·         What role did Professor Lavalette play in Martin Smith coming to Hope?
·         What measures have been put in place to make sure students and staff are safe around Martin Smith?

Delta Removals are calling on anyone concerned by these issues to contact the university this Wednesday, 30th October, between 9 am and 5 pm. Please forward any responses to Delta.Removals2013@gmail.com. Also email this address if you would like to be involved in the campaign.


General university contacts:

Phone: 0151 291 3000
Fax: 0151 291 3000 (Free faxes can be sent from http://www.freepopfax.com/, input number as +44, leaving out first zero)
Twitter: @LiverpoolHopeUK

The following appear to have some level of responsibility for the decision:
Michael Lavalette - Head of Social Work department - 0151 291 3145 - LAVALEM@hope.ac.uk - @mlavalette
Pauline Bray - Faculty Administrator (Social Sciences) - 0151 291 3418 - brayp@hope.ac.uk
John Brinkman - Dean of Sciences and Social Sciences - 0151 291 3611- BRINKMJ@hope.ac.uk
Rachel Foster - Faculty Administrator (Social Work) - 0151 291 3652 - fosterr1@hope.ac.uk

The following may need to be informed of what has happened:
Helen Ashworth - Lecturer in Childhood and Youth Studies - 0151 291 3742 - walkerh@hope.ac.uk
Ruth Atkinson-McGovern - Student support and well-being administrator - 0151 291 3919 - ATKINSR2@hope.ac.uk
Wendy Bignold - Vice Dean (Student Development and Well-being) - 0151 291 3017  - BIGNOLW@hope.ac.uk
Nicki Blundell - Practice Learning Coordinator (Social Work) - 0151 291 3695 - blunden@hope.ac.uk
Karen Brownrigg - PA to Dean of Students (Student Support and Well-being) - 0151 291 3282 - BROWNRK@hope.ac.uk
Liz Fern - Senior Lecturer in Social Work - 0151 291 3831 - fernl@hope.ac.uk
Barry Goldson - Professorial Fellow in Social Justice (Social Work, Care and Justice) - goldsob@hope.ac.uk
Joe Greener - Lecturer in Social Work - 0151 291 3587 - greenej@hope.ac.uk
Philomena Harrison - Senior Lecturer in Social Work - 0151 291 2045 - harrisp1@hope.ac.uk
David Merryweather - Lecturer in Childhood and Youth Studies - 0151 291 3886 - MERRYWD@hope.ac.uk
Rich Moth - Lecturer in Social Work - 0151 291 3853 - mothr@hope.ac.uk
Laura Penketh - Senior Lecturer in Social Work/Social Policy - 0151 291 3241 - penketl@hope.ac.uk
Maria Pentaraki - Senior Lecturer in Social Work - 0151 291 3423 - pentam@hope.ac.uk

Thursday, October 24, 2013

"Witch Hunts", "Pitchforks" and Privilege's Fear of the Mob

*Trigger warning – mentions of rape*

It's been three days since posters went up around Liverpool Hope University's Childwall campus warning that accused rapist Martin Smith was taking a PhD there, and Angry Women Of Liverpool published a blog post on the story.

The campaign to get Smith off campus has received a lot of support online from feminists - many of whom have identified themselves as survivors - as well as from quite a few men. However, there is a sizeable minority of men - and it has only been men - who have sought to shift the blame from the men involved - Martin Smith and Michael Lavalette - to women, and some have spoken in terms of "witch hunts", "pitchforks" and "torch-wielding mobs". In doing so, they may have revealed something about how their deepest fears are a mirror image of their privileged position in this society.

Many of the responses from such men have read like a feminist bingo card, with the added bonus of the 'dividing the class' trope which feminist women on the radical left are all too familiar with. Some of the male pronouncements have been mealy-mouthed - perhaps too scared to say 'I support rapists', though effectively supporting them all the same with their constant questioning. But it's the warnings against 'vigilantism' which have been most prevalent.

So far, the 'Delta Removals' campaign does not resemble the Simpsons picture above. A few people sticking some posters up and posting stuff online does not a "torch-wielding mob" make. However, there is one respect in which it does resemble such behaviour; it is everyday people taking matters into their own hands.

The men on the left who criticise such action are often quick enough to reject bourgeois liberal 'proper procedures' when it comes to struggles they identify with - predominantly worker versus employer, and individual versus capitalist state. They are of course right to do so. Many of these people frequently advocate or sympathise with outbreaks of direct action in such circumstances. Again, this is correct.

This is why 'fear of the mob' is common in ruling class thought, as they know they are a tiny minority, and they fear that if and when the rest of us got our act together, we could tear their lives apart. Their lives of privilege would be over.

Men on the left are rarely rich in capitalist terms, but they do have male privilege in patriarchy terms. As part of this - largely by force of intimidation - many men rape women, but few of them get convicted, or face any negative consequences for it. The idea of women collectively organising to make Martin Smith's life less comfortable therefore challenges much of male privilege, and this is why some males are unhappy about it. Likely they are unconscious of this, and maybe wouldn't be lying if they denied it, but this unknowing is the essence of privilege.

In the 'Delta' case - like in so many others - the 'proper procedures' have manifestly failed those seeking some kind of justice, and so direct action is the only avenue still open. Let the privileged tremble at the fear of the mob!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Martin Smith Given PhD Place at Liverpool Hope University

*trigger warning - rape, sexual harassment*

The following is a repost from the Angry Women Of Liverpool blog:

It has come to our attention that Martin Smithwho resigned from the Socialist Workers Party following rape and sexual harassment allegationsis now based in the Social Work department at Liverpool Hope University
 
The accusations against Smith were covered up by an internal investigation from the party’s disputes committee

This was set up by the central committee - a body largely consisting of Smith’s friendswho at this point were referring to him as Comrade Delta. The specifics of the case and the handling of the case can be read here, here and here

However, to summarise, not only were the survivors disbelieved and their cases not heard, but party leader and academic Alex Callinicos claimed that the partyand the wider movements of the working class generally - were being damaged by what he termed creeping feminism.

A faction was formed in opposition to the central committee, which led to the expulsion and resignation of dissenting members.

Martin Smith resigned from the party in July, after spending several weeks in Greece ‘researching’ for the party’s front campaign Unite Against Fascism. 

Over the summer, there were rumours online that the children of party founder Tony Cliff were asking SWP members to donate to a fund for Martin Smith to study an MA.

It now transpires that rather than fund an educational ‘break’ directly, the preferred tactic was to get a party member with a position in a university to abuse their academic authority, and sort him with a funded PhD.

Whilst Callinicos might have been too obvious, the lesser known SWP academic and Preston councillor Michael Lavalette does not have the same profile. Lavalette is head of the Social Work, Youth and Justice Department at Hope University, and clearly thought he could help this ‘poor victim of creeping feminism’ out with little to no consequence.

Though the levels of student activism at Hope are depressingly low, the same is not true for feminist activism in the wider city. We have also been made aware of a poster campaign which took place at Hope last night, with the aim of informing female students of the danger on campus.

This is a danger which Professor Lavalette took the decision to bring to Hope, in a department which is supposed to have welfare as its primary concern.

The University have chosen to take on Martin Smith, despite the coverage of the case in the national press. This is arguably a significant breach of their duty of care, and will massively harm the University’s image. We call up on feminist activists nationwide to ensure that this man is unable to remain either at Hope or in in activist circles.

If anyone would like to get involved in building a campaign, please contact Delta.Removals2013@gmail.com

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Bedroom Tax and 'Mobilising Resistance Movements'

 
The following is the text of a speech I gave at a John Moores University seminar on 14th October 2013:

Nearly a year ago now, when the cold weather was really starting to bite, a fellow political activist told me he was leafleting in preparation for a "mass meeting" on the bedroom tax. I was a bit taken aback by his ambition. I knew the bedroom tax would be a huge issue for a lot of people, but it was the "mass" part which struck me. Of course we would have a meeting, but if it was anything like all the other open meetings on issues affecting the working class that people like us had tried to organise, it would be a handful of longstanding left activists huddled in a room too big for their numbers, making plans that might never come to pass.

But the bedroom tax was different. That much was obvious when the "mass meeting" at the Black-E really was huge. And sure, some of the usual suspects were there, but they were outnumbered by scared, and angrily eloquent people I'd never met before. They were talking about a problem affecting their own lives, but more importantly, what they themselves could do about it.

In the nine months since, the bedroom tax struggle on Merseyside has gone through many stages, and I'll go through some of them here, before saying what I think this means in terms of mobilising resistance movements against austerity attacks.

During the first few weeks after the January mass meeting, about a dozen local groups started across Merseyside, and these would be joined by many others. Posters went up in communities particularly hit by the bedroom tax, and after initial local meetings, some groups arranged to meet on a weekly basis.

Each group was different, but in the early days, the focus of many was identifying people affected by the bedroom tax, collectively visiting the surgeries of political representatives, and descending on the offices of housing associations.

These local groups soon found they wanted to organise some things together, such as demonstrations. So over the course of several weeks, a federation of anti-bedroom tax groups was formed. It was decided that each local group could send two delegates to each federation meeting.

It was at this stage that I first observed something - there was a division starting between those longstanding left activists, and the newcomers whose energy had first electrified the movement. When my local group were discussing who should be put forward as a delegate to the Federation, one woman who normally had a lot to say told me "You know those people" and "you're good at that sort of thing". I was happy to get involved with the Federation, but disturbed by the implication that inexperience should be a barrier to others taking part at that level.

As the weeks went on, I noticed that this tendency strengthened. Whereas the bedroom tax had brought over a thousand onto the streets of Bootle alone, and hundreds in Liverpool city centre, there was now the feeling that bedroom tax activism was divided between a handful of generally longstanding activists in each community - who were becoming 'experts' in the bedroom tax - and everyone else - whose support was quickly becoming passive. Of these 'experts', a show of hands at the founding Federation meeting showed that only one third were directly affected by the bedroom tax themselves.

I believed this unfortunate turnaround was to a certain extent shaped by the particular tactics which the struggle had forced on us. Local MPs and councillors professed sympathy, but promised nothing. Housing associations did the same. Marching set pieces had made everyone feel good for a while, but evictions would still be going ahead eventually, if people could not pay their bedroom tax, so affected tenants took to filling in appeals against their bedroom tax decisions, and applying for Discretionary Housing Payments.

It was absolutely the right thing to. This has been underlined by the Fife judgements and others which Joe has referred to. We can be immensely proud that no-one who has come to a bedroom tax group in time has lost their home so far. However, the sheer length of the appeals process has had an impact on the composition of those groups, and particularly the Federation, with many directly affected tenants waiting for their appeals to be processed, and leaving day-to-day organising to longstanding activists.

Over the summer, the Federation hit a decidedly rocky patch when it emerged that local fascists (one of whom is now in prison for a violent attack on antifascists and musicians) were trying to get involved with one local bedroom tax group. When that group tried to affiliate to the Federation, some antifascists tried to warn the meeting, but the Chair refused them permission to speak, and the vote was passed. As a result of this manoeuvre, fascists could potentially have attended Federation meetings and events. These fascists regularly threaten perceived enemies online, and their presence could well have had horrific repercussions. At a bare minimum, it would have effectively excluded many marginalised groups, including those who are already and unfortunately very underrepresented within 'the left'.

After a long and painful battle within the Federation, the fascist-linked group was disaffiliated, and measures have been put in place to make sure that nothing similar ever happens again. But the struggle put us off our stride for a couple of months, and directed a huge amount of energy away from uniting working class communities against the bedroom tax.

The reasons for the Chair's decision that fateful day remain unclear, but they seemed to coincide with a dislike of other longstanding left activists within the Federation. Of course, an organisational body largely made up of directly affected people would have encountered their own problems in this situation, but no-one would have had any axe to grind besides the one used to axe the bedroom tax.

Another major event in the local struggle came when a Knowsley woman was evicted from her home, and bedroom tax activists joined with neighbours to face down bailiffs intent on stealing her possessions. This has been the only instance of this type of resistance in the movement so far, and it remains in our armoury should housing associations try to evict people who are involved with any of the local groups. If this happens, that passive support within neighbourhoods will have to turn into active support, and I believe it will.

Marx wrote that working class people of all nations must unite, as they "have nothing to lose but your chains". Many working class people in this relatively wealthy country still feel like they have something to lose, and this is likely one reason why we have not yet seen much militant industrial struggle originating within the trade unions, despite huge attacks from the Coalition. But people in poor communities - often unemployed or underemployed - seem close to fulfilling Marx's description.

In a recent post on community-based organising on my Infantile Disorder blog, I described the two most particularly inspiring demos I'd been to this year:

"The first was back in February, when over a thousand people charged onto the streets of Bootle - the town with the UK's shortest life expectancy. At the time I labelled it as an "explosion of class anger", and it really seemed like the mob were keen to tear the Cabinet limb from limb. When the group's instigator failed to put forward any actions beyond - albeit furious and brilliant - A to B marches, Stand Up In Bootle disintegrated. However, a massive amount of potential was clearly there, and welfare advocates ReClaim are now doing some great community work there."

"The other was the July demo called by the anti-bedroom tax group of just one estate in Birkenhead. They marched from their street to the nearest one stop shop, where appeal forms were handed in en masse, including by a family being threatened with imminent eviction by Magenta Housing (formerly Wirral Partnership Homes). On the one hand this was an exercise in by-the-book legality, but on the other the bullishly defiant atmosphere very much indicated that any bailiffs would be in for a very hard time.

"In Bootle and the Birkenhead estate, the campaign began with someone going door to door and asking if anyone was in trouble with benefits. The fear and the anger were already there, all that was missing was a catalyst - someone to bring people together and raise the prospect of rebellion. If you dream of a new working class movement but militant workplace organising doesn't seem like an imminent prospect, doing something similar in your area is perhaps the most radical thing you could do right now."

There are many hundreds of thousands of people out there, who are ripe for becoming part of resistance movements. Often they feel completely abandoned and ignored by 'the left'. Especially amongst the young, they wouldn't have a clue what 'the left' is or was. And yet they are seeing what little they have being taken away from them. They are furious, they don't know what to do, but they know that something must be done. By bringing such people together in communities, we create the space where such movements can grow. It is these layers - in conjunction with workers facing redundancy - who could stop local authorities making even deeper cuts. Our task is urgent. As the bedroom tax and welfare cut suicides show, the building of a new working class movement is a matter of life and death for many.

At this very moment, people from Wirral bedroom tax groups and their supporters are lobbying at Wallasey Town Hall - publicly giving the council one last chance to accept their responsibilities under the Fife judgements Joe Halewood mentioned. Assuming they don't do this, Merseyside Federation of Anti-Bedroom Tax Groups is launching a new stage of our campaign, helping individuals with no pre-existing arrears to make a public statement of non-payment, based on Fife and other helpful rulings.

As a Federation, we will take whatever actions draw most positive media and public attention to those committed non-payers, with the aim of embarrassing the region's Labour councils into implementing Fife. We calculate that in the current climate, this could deliver a knockout blow to the government over this issue, and give hope to all those fighting austerity in the UK and beyond. There have been many difficulties to overcome, and victory is far from certain, but working class people are organising themselves to combat the government. I hope others can learn a lot from our movement.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Sacked Cookie Workers Need Your Help!

It's now coming up on two months since all four night shift workers at a Massachusetts cookie store decided that enough was enough, and they were going on strike.

Striker Jonathan Peña explained to Waging Nonviolence how: "Fed up with inadequate wages, long shifts without a break and no benefits, they timed the strike to begin with Insomnia’s midnight rush, causing maximum financial damage to the firm."

Insomnia Cookies markets itself as providing for the late night cookie-based needs of partying students, and has more than thirty branches spread throughout the United States. Its busiest times are between midnight and 2:45 a.m. Niko Stapczynski, a striking driver at Insomnia, told the Industrial Worker: "I was being paid below minimum wage. We had no breaks because we were understaffed. Sometimes we’d work without breaks until 3:15 am. We were supposed to keep delivery time as fast as possible, which encouraged unsafe riding."

All four workers were immediately fired for their industrial action, but the next day, they decided to join the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Boston IWW have since organised several pickets of the Cambridge store, and have helped the strikers file charges with the National Labor Relations Board and have charges pending with the Attorney General’s office. They are claiming they were paid "compensation below minimum wage", were forced to work shifts longer than eight hours with no federally-mandated hour-long break, and with frequent expectations of working after clocking out. All of this would see Insomnia Cookies bosses in a lot of trouble if the laws were applied.

Their strikers are demanding reinstatement, the right to form a union without intimidation from management, a raise to $12 per hour and access to benefits, including health care. Due to the terrible exploitation levels within the company, Insomnia workers generally only last a month. But one of the Cambridge strikers is asking would-be resigners to not quit, but to strike when they decide that enough is enough!

Meanwhile, the Insomnia Workers Union and the Boston IWW General Membership Branch are currently asking supporters to sign an online petition pledging to boycott the company, or donate to the sacked workers' campaign fund.

For further information, please follow the Boston IWW blog, and like Boston IWW and Insomnia Workers on Facebook.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Merseyside Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation Looking For Non-Payers To Go Public!

ImageThe following is a repost from the Merseyside Federation of Anti-Bedroom Tax Groups blog:

Merseyside Federation of Anti-Bedroom Tax Groups is looking for a group of tenants to publicly declare their non-payment. This is part of a new strategy of pressuring local councils to put their money where their mouth is, and take action on tribunal rulings which should end the coalition’s hated and destructive policy.

The Conservative/Lib Dem government is very much on the back foot over the bedroom tax. The report by Raquel Rolnik of the United Nations was a devastating condemnation of the suffering the measure has imposed on already vulnerable people. Also, tribunal after tribunal has found in favour of tenants, and against councils, over the implementation of the bedroom tax.

The government has declared it will appeal against the judgement in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, which found that Fife Council – and therefore all councils – had acted contrary to the law when they simply took the social landlord’s word over the number of bedrooms in each property. The tribunal found that each council must take into account room size, available floor space, purpose, and usage of each room. It definitively ruled that rooms of under seventy square feet cannot be classed as a bedroom.

When Ed Miliband announced Labour’s pledge to axe the bedroom tax if they come to power in 2015 (years too late for tenants struggling right now), Merseyside’s council leaders chimed in, all saying that they oppose the bedroom tax on a personal level, but can do nothing to challenge national government policy. This is a lie.

All the region’s Labour councils have to do is comply with the law, as interpreted by the Kirkcaldy tribunal! Fife council have already agreed to do this, so if Liverpool, Wirral, Knowsley, Sefton, St Helens and Halton councils all went along, the bedroom tax would be dealt a fatal blow, and the government would have to stop dragging its feet.

To make local council chiefs think again, Merseyside Federation of Anti-Bedroom Tax Groups propose a high profile campaign. Volunteer tenants:
  • must be prepared to take a public stand
  • would have to have handed in an appeal to help preserve their position (we can help with this)
  • would make two public statements – one to the housing association and one to the council, saying why they have been forced into this position
Tenants interested in being one of our non-payment volunteers should contact our secretary Juliet Edgar on 07528194137 or julietjulesj@yahoo.co.uk.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Tory Welfare Cuts - Against Hardworking People

Lies. Damned lies. Sadistics.
The banner over the entrance to the Tory Party conference in Manchester this week may have read "For hardworking people". But that was just another lie. This government - even more blatantly than the last one - governs on behalf of the richest. And the richest don't work hard at all. So much for virtue.

In fact, the centrepiece of new policy announcements this week were snide measures calculated to make hardworking people receive even less compensation for their efforts, by using the unemployed as a battering ram against wages and conditions. Prices have risen higher than wages for all but one month since the coalition came to power, but the rate of exploitation will never be high enough for the ruling class.

When the new government announced the start of the cuts in 2010, I wrote that it represented: 'the logic of the workhouse', because:
"Despite his professed concern for the UK's "broken society", Duncan Smith wants to cut the welfare bill, and - perhaps more importantly from the ruling class point of view - exert downward pressure on wages, by having many more desperate people fighting for each vacancy."
Duncan Smith has faced many difficulties imposing such attacks in the period since - both from legal challenges and grassroots activism. But while IDS himself seems to be a fading force, the latest measures are tougher still.

If the Tories get their way (and this is a big if considering the chaos surrounding past reforms), as Johnny Void reported:
"Osborne claims that 200,000 people will be forced into either full time workfare or massively increased conditionality – such as having to attend Jobcentres everyday. This will apply to people leaving the Work Programme, the two year scheme which is already costing tax payers a fortune and failing miserably."
This new workfare scheme is expected to include tasks such as litter picking, and preparing meals for the elderly. At the moment however, fifty thousand unemployed people are leaving the Work Programme each month. With the new workfare scheme lasting six months, there could soon be 300,000 extra people at any one time performing unpaid work. In the context of deepening austerity, these people will effectively be forced to scab on employed people doing the same kind of things in return for a wage. More redundancies will undoubtedly follow, as workfare partly fills the gap.

IDS was relegated to making an announcement that:
"[...] will see unemployed people sent to sit around ‘job searching’ in Mandatory Attendance Centres for 35 hours a week. This is the kind of expert help for unemployed people that was so savagely satirised in the comedy show The League of Gentlemen featuring Pauline, the jobsworth jobs counsellor who took delight in humiliating and demeaning her ‘clients’."
Today, David Cameron floated his intention to withdraw benefits entirely from under-25s judged not in education, employment or training, should the Tories win a majority at the next general election.

But it's ridiculous to suggest unemployment is caused by some sort of laziness, as the Tories have again and again this week. Officially, there are currently 2.5 million people unemployed, and the government's austerity policies have done much to exacerbate this during such economic crisis. But at any one time, there are only around 500,000 vacancies. This leaves five unemployed people chasing every job (not counting those in paid work who are looking for a change). It's a dream scenario for the employer, who can offer lower wages and conditions, while raising the bar ever higher in terms of experience and qualification required.

The coalition has so far succeeded in using the five year old economic depression to dramatically increase the rate of exploitation - the gap between the value workers produce and the compensation they take home. We can't allow this continue. Unemployed people must begin organising themselves - as they have started to do in Merseyside and other places over the bedroom tax. But those currently in employment must realise that the Tory welfare cuts are primarily aimed at making them work even harder for even less reward, and join in solidarity with those even less fortunate than themselves.

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