Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Why I'm Standing for Class War

I hate general election campaigns. And yet, I've decided to stand in one, as the Class War candidate for Liverpool Riverside. There are several reasons for this:
  1. Otherwise 2015 will be the worst election ever: You think 2010 was bad? Unless you're filthy rich, all the parties now in Parliament will be saying that your life needs to be made much, much worse. And why? Because the filthy rich aren't filthy rich enough! The only thing they will argue about is which of them will be best at making you suffer.
  2. UKIP: The rich know how much you hate the blues, yellows and 'reds' making your life worse, so they'll be using their media to boost UKIP as an 'alternative'. UKIP are run by a bunch of rich scum who'll try to convince you that some of the most shat-on people are to blame for the problems in your life. They're not. Our enemy is the rich. The rich. We've got to get rid of the rich. I'm gonna say that loud and proud.
  3. Louise Ellman: I once accidentally bumped into current Riverside MP Louise Ellman at Central station. She sort of fell, and I caught her like I would anyone. But then I saw it was her and felt gross. She's a big supporter of the Liverpool Labour lot closing down libraries, community centres and homeless shelters, with the added nasty extra of being really into the Israeli government killing Palestinians.
  4. Representing working class of Liverpool Riverside: Like most of the city, there's a lot of disgusting poverty in Riverside, and all the parties who stood here in 2010 would all make that worse. But working class people fight back here and there, and will need to do that more and more in the times to come. So for the five weeks of the campaign I'll be a 'representative' of those fights, and do my bit to make sure their struggles become national news.
  5. Promoting communism: Yes, I believe that communism is the way forward for the working class of Liverpool, this country, and the world. It's the only alternative to the rich getting richer, us getting poorer, and the planet getting wrecked. You can't get it through parliament because the working class have to make it for themselves. But I'll promote it on the campaign trail.
  6. Fun: I think it will be fun.
  7. Faces: I can't wait to see their faces.
  8. Hands: I won't dirty mine by shaking theirs at the count.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Dublin Bakery Workers Occupy Factory Over Unpaid Wages

"Every time I asked for my wage, he gave an excuse, 3 days ago they started to take the equipment away."

Mainly migrant workers at a Dublin bakery went into occupation yesterday, after their boss closed the factory and started removing equipment. Here is their statement, written before the occupation began:
We the workers have been picketing the Paris Bakery & Pastry Ltd on Moore St, Dublin since Tuesday 20th, 2014. This is in response to our employers Mr Yannick Forel and Ms Ruth Saville failure to pay us wages owed of over €55,000.

We the workers were locked out, an old tactic used by unscrupulous employers. We feel disappointed, angry, cheated, frustrated, and betrayed. We have had no response from these employers and we will now stage a sit in until we get back our stolen wages.

Beatrice Douat said “we are devastated by the action of our employers who have deceived, exploited and abused us. These employers are breaking the law by stealing our wages and the Government should step in and not allow this injustice to happen to workers”.

We the staff of Paris Bakery are waiters, managers, bakers, chefs and kitchen porters. We have worked hard to keep our jobs in what has been a very difficult working environment. As everybody knows jobs are hard to come by in Ireland and to keep. Our boss was hard to please; we were required to work in poor conditions, with no health and safety training, no safety shoes in the bakery and kitchen and no contracts of employment. Some workers were paid as little as €5.00 per hour. The Chefs were paid a flat rate but worked up to 70 hours per week. No staff were paid overtime, there was no holiday pay and no breaks. Due to these conditions there was a high turn high turnover in the bakery and restaurant.

Anissa Hosany, a mother of two said, “we are all worried about our money, our futures; some of us can’t pay the rent and are worried about supporting our children at this time. One of our colleagues has become homeless as a result of this. We are also worried about finding employment without references”.

We the workers want to refute the employer’s claim that the government and the workers are at fault for the failure of his business. The employers have known that this building was to close for a long time. We assert that it is poor business management and planning that has created this situation.
We are all worried about our money, our futures; some of us can’t pay the rent and are worried about supporting our children at this time. One of our colleagues has become homeless as a result of this.

The Paris Bakery workers are calling on Mr Yannick Forel and Ms Ruth Saville of Paris Bakery & Pastry Ltd to pay us our outstanding wages immediately. 

We also call on the following consumers of the Paris Bakery – Demonware, Terra Madra, the Science Galley, Cinnamon, The Westerbury Hotel, La Masion, Hot Stove, Lilliput, FX Buckey, Food Game, Honest to God, Rygby’s, Artiseins, Bakery, Fontana Café, Organge Tree Bakery - not to accept goods until We are paid our wages.

The general secretary of the Mandate trade union is John Douglas is also occupying the building along with the employees. Douglas says that the situation is similar to that which occurred before in the case of workers at Vita Cortex, La Senza, HMV and others where workers were forced to take “extraordinary actions to receive unpaid entitlements”.
You can follow the occupation on the Paris Bakery’ s employees fighting for their wages Facebook page, and on Twitter via #parisbakery. Workers Solidarity Movement are also providing lots of updates on their Facebook. Finally, the Paris Bakery occupiers are calling on their supporters to sign a petition demanding that they are paid their owed wages.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Vanity of Small Differences

Grayson Perry
Walker Art Gallery (17th May - 10th August 2014)

This summer, Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery is hosting Grayson Perry's 'The Vanity of Small Differences' - a series of tapestries based on a Channel 4 documentary series, where the artist studied the 'taste tribes' of Britain. But it goes far beyond a look at who has iPads and who has country estates. Consciously or not, every scene is a snapshot of a 'United Kingdom' riven by division and barely concealed conflict.

In the television programme 'All in the Best Possible Taste', Perry examined the relationship between the social class that people find themselves a part of, and what they consume. While this had some sociological interest, it nevertheless played into the post-Cold War idea that class conflict is dead, even at a time when the coalition government was setting to work at devastating the poor and further gilding the wealth of the rich.

Though Perry drew on those sessions for his inspiration for this computer-designed and weaved collection, it took him far beyond the TV version's limited scope. Rather than see these 'tribes' as unrelated, each tapestry shows exactly how they are formed, and how they are forcibly separated. Perry achieves this by telling the story of Tim Rakewell as he journeys from life in post-industrial Sunderland to a multi-millionaire's retreat in the countryside, via a successful career in digital technology. But the dream dies in a spectacular car crash, as onlookers tweet about the demise of a their hero (online reaction to the death of Steve Jobs comes to mind).

All the tapestries are fantastic, but it is perhaps 'The Upper Class At Bay' (above) which makes the most profound impact. Using a hunting metaphor, Perry shows that 21st century entrepreneurs have become the new aristocracy, replacing the big landowners and even the old industrial capitalists in their estates. But at the edges, so far unnoticed by the rich, a protest is gathering, as the Occupy movement makes an appearance. One placard urges Tim to pay his taxes, while another proclaims 'No war but class war'. It is significant that the only social mobility Perry can envision in today's Britain must come so blatantly at the expense of others.

There is something very enjoyable about seeing such modern scenes in tapestry form, when tapestry is normally seen as something so dusty and old. There's an urgency in the tale of Tim (and all the people he leaves behind), which almost seems to burst out from the stitching. The immediacy of the social crisis depicted is combined with the instantaneous nature of the technology on show within the images, and indeed the technology used to make them (the weaving of each piece only took a few hours). This all seems so out of place amidst the Victorian architecture of the Walker, but that only serves to make it all the more compelling. As I was leaving, it struck me how rare it is to see people of different social classes in the same artwork, and the contrasts of modernity and antiquity only add to this effect.

Grayson himself has his own internal class conflicts. He came from a poor background, has slammed the coalition's cuts, and talks of the influence that socialist artists had on him, but in January he curtseyed before Prince Charles when collecting a CBE. It's difficult to reconcile social criticism with apparent acceptance of royalty, but somehow he does it. As the protesting figures move closer to the centre of the picture, the time is coming when Perry will have to make a choice.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Yorkshire Direct Action Shows There IS Such A Thing As A Free Ride!

There is no alternative say bankers and politicians; these activists disagree!
"So after being told there was no alternative to the travel cuts..... Great news on the climbdown by local councils! We've won so much, we can fight for the complete reinstatement of concessionary travel! Congratulations to everyone who's taken part and helped bring this victory!" - Statement on the 'Fight travel cuts in south Yorkshire' Facebook group

A group of pensioner and disabled bus and train users have overturned a cut to fare concessions by the South Yorkshire Integrated Transport Authority. By using direct action tactics on their self-proclaimed 'freedom rides', they have embarrassed the powers that be into backtracking, and struck a small but significant blow against the 'there is no alternative' austerity mantra.

Disabled and pension age Barnsley people have had rail and bus concessions throughout South and West Yorkshire since 1985. This costs the four South Yorkshire local authorities £234,000 per year, but previously all had chipped in, no doubt largely because it was believed that for every £1 spent on concessionary travel £1.50 was generated in the local economy in consumer and leisure spending.

However, the local authority decided at the beginning of March that even this stimulus was not affordable in this age of austerity. That meeting was lobbied by 150 demonstrators, after a campaign group had been established by a meeting of three hundred at Barnsley Central Library. Legal protest methods had failed.

Then came the weekly 'freedom rides'. Starting in April, they saw Barnsley activists simply catching the train to the Meadowhall shopping centre to rally with their Sheffield comrades. Of course, they did not pay to do so.

On 28th April, the direct action was disrupted by the police. In the words of Open Democracy's reporter:
"The Barnsley Freedom Riders had planned to board a train to the Meadowhall shopping centre for the now regular Monday rally with Sheffield Freedom Riders. The police hold their ground and the train comes and goes. Dave Gibson, retired college lecturer and chair of the Barnsley Trades Council, calls for a vote and a decision is taken to stay and demand to get on the next train. News comes through that the Sheffield Freedom Riders had gathered at Meadowhall and twenty five protestors are coming to join Barnsley. A second train comes and the police stand firm.
"We all begin to realise that the Sheffield supporters will arrive on the opposite platform. The [British Transport] police had not been told to block the other platform entrance so we all headed over the station bridge and simply walked on and waited for the train, the police and rail officials looking on from the other side of the tracks. The Sheffield train arrives and the Barnsley Freedom Riders board, with their placards and chants, to join the Sheffield group on the train. We cheer and applaud them. The freedom ride is a bit shorter than usual – just up the line to Penistone, but we are all on the train and refusing to pay."

The following week's scene was described by the Sheffield Star:
"Elderly and disabled campaigners fighting travel cuts in South Yorkshire had their latest ‘freedom ride’ protest blocked today. Defiant residents were stopped from getting on trains and riding without paying to Meadowhall by British Transport Police and rail staff at Barnsley station. But they rallied outside the entrance, which was blocked by staff, to chant, wave placards and sing in the lively protest demonstration." 
But just days later, the Star reported that:
"Coun Sir Steve Houghton, leader of Barnsley Council, confirmed that plans to reinstate all free travel for disabled people and offer half price train travel to pensioners from 9.30am would be put to a transport chiefs’ meeting on May 19." 
He went on to farcically state that: "I do want to stress this is not a result of people who have been breaking the law."

The activists are planning a demonstration in Barnsley tomorrow, and a lobby of the Monday meeting.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

George Garrett Archive

Liverpool Central Library (3rd - 31st May 2014)

Going to the newly refurbished Liverpool Central Library is a weird experience. With its shiny up-to-the-minute feel, it serves as a hint of what public services could be like, if only a decent amount of resources were dedicated to them. On the other hand, it also doubles as an excuse for Liverpool council to point to as they devastate public services - including public libraries - and the lives of the people who rely on them.

As the Labour councillors do the Tories' dirty work for them, it is even stranger to see the council's logo attached to a display celebrating the work of one George Garrett, a man who stood for everything that these intensely mediocre butchers, bloodsuckers and bootlickers despise. Doubtless Mayor Anderson has nightmares about working class people standing up for themselves at work and in politics, and producing their own culture, reflecting their own lives.

It is of course an extremely difficult task to represent a life as large and full as Garrett's in a few smallish glass show cases (I won't even try in this article). Born in Seacombe in 1896, his family moved to Dingle at the turn of the century, and he went on to become a docker, a sailor, a union organiser, a poet, a songwriter, a playwright, and an actor, plus a father to five sons. As well as Merseyside, he lived in New York and Argentina at various times.

Amidst all the scripts, magazines and rejection letters, it can't be said that the display gives much of a flavour of Garrett's political and labour organising. For instance, his Byrom Street address is listed as home of "the Wobblies" as well as the Liverpool branch of the Communist Party in the early 1920s. For all that most library visitors are likely to know, the Wobblies might be a jelly manufacturer (in fact it is a nickname of the Industrial Workers of the World union), but no explanation is provided.

This is no small point. It isn't as if Garrett's political work and his cultural output were two separate worlds to him; everything he did was searingly political. He composed songs for sailors which were clearly influenced by the work of another wobbly: Joe Hill. His writing took the lives and struggles of working class people as their starting point. In later life, he helped set up the Left Theatre (now the Unity Theatre), to help bring the conflict between the Spanish revolution and the fascism of Franco to life for the people of Liverpool. In short, Garrett's art can only be understood in the context of his politics.

Despite all that, this exhibition (and accompanying website) are a tantalising glimpse of a fascinating man, and I hope that the archive is a work in progress which can be improved upon. The project is clearly a labour of love for the volunteers, and they deserve a lot of credit for putting this material in the public domain.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Irish Communities Unite to Resist Water Charges

Two have been hospitalised defending their right to water from the Troika
For more than three weeks now, people in major Irish cities have been taking direct action to prevent Irish Water from installing so-called 'smart meters', which many believe will push the cost of water - the most vital of all substances, beyond their ability to pay. In doing so, they are providing the first active resistance to the attacks on the working class demanded by the 'Troika' since Irish austerity began six years ago.

The resistance seems to have begun in the south-west city of Cork, before spreading to Dublin. There are few reports of it taking place elsewhere, but then there are very few reports at all, considering the significance of what is happening. As ever, it seems that the corporate, political and media establishment is seeking to downplay working class struggle, due to fear of 'contagion' to other locations and other causes

Just over a million meters are scheduled to be installed, and from the autumn the homes will go on the meter for the first time. International studies have shown that meters have reduced household water consumption by between 10 and 15%. But of course, water use isn't even as 'optional' as electricity is. It is an essential part of human life, and of the human body. So in that sense, no wonder people are resisting.

At its most simple, resistance involves community members literally placing their bodies where the Irish Water contractors are trying to dig, as shown on this video. In other cases - where holes are discovered already dug - people are climbing into them, and therefore preventing the workers placing the meters there. Particularly in Cork, it seems that those resisting the meters are creating phone trees and other means of coordinating their defence of their living conditions within and between estates. As of yet, the Gardai (police) do not seem to be intervening forcefully on the side of Irish Water, even though they have warned of possible arrests from the beginning. But this surely can't be ruled out.

The blockades started around the 14th April, in Cork's Ashbrook Heights estate, and had reached Dublin by the 23rd. On 30th, an Ashbrook Heights protester named John O'Donovan was taken to hospital by ambulance, after falling to the ground in a confrontation with an Irish Water employee. An eyewitness complained that the employee had ran at a barrier, knocking O'Donovan to the ground.

Protester Theresa Kelly was assaulted in Dublin today
On May Day, activists occupied the Irish Water HQ in protest at the installations. The next day, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny was heckled by anti-water meter protesters in Cork, as he campaigned for the European elections. After a few days of relative calm, the conflict seems to have intensified once more. Yesterday, Environment Minister Phil Hogan threatened that the water supply will be reduced "to a trickle" for those who don't pay their bills. Today in Dublin, a woman had her elbow fractured when she had a plastic barrier "shoved into her", resulting in "her falling violently to the ground".

The attacks on access to water for the Irish working class were dictated by the 'Troika' of International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission back in 2012, in return for a bailout of Ireland's banking sector, which suffered heavily in the 2008 crash. In January, cabinet minister Pat Rabbitte broke ranks with his colleagues when complained that the Troika had "railroaded" the government into making the changes too quickly. In other words, the representatives of finance capital have insisted that the Irish government make its citizens pay for water on a timescale most convenient for them, despite practical reservations from those doing the implementing.

There has been little to no popular resistance to Irish austerity over the last few years, despite the weighty burden imposed on the working class. This mini uprising hopefully indicates that there could be more to come. Certainly, the fact that people are risking life and limb over a charge which Enda Kenny has claimed will be about €240 (£200) per year shows that this attack is very much the straw which broke the camel's back.

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