Tuesday, 10 November 2015

London rental prices sky high, Could rent strikes be the answer ??

With the housing crisis in teh UK no more accute than in the Xcapital city of London seeing rent prices soar in recent years. Could we start to see the idea of rent strikes between occupants making a much needed return ?? House rental prices in London have risen by 7.7pc in the past year to £1,560 a month, making rental costs in the capital more than double the UK average. Excluding the capital, rents across the UK average £749 a month, having risen 3.5pc year-on-year, according to the latest quarterly rental index from Homelet. The gap between London and the rest of the UK is now the highest on record, the insurer said. However, rents have risen fastest in Scotland, where new tenancies over the three months to October were priced 9pc higher than the same time a year ago. Prices surged to £665 last month, compared to £610 a year ago. Renting is cheapest in the North East, where average prices are £536 a month. The most expensive area outside London is the South East, where new rental properties coming to the market last month averaged £944 in monthly rent. Average price for new rental properties across the UK, October 2015 Region Average price Annual change Greater London £1,560 7.5% South East £944 4.3% South West £872 4% East Anglia £809 -1.2% West Midlands £669 2% Scotland £665 9% North West £635 -4.9% East Midlands £628 5.9% Yorkshire & Humberside £621 2.0% Wales £614 1.8% Northern Ireland £588 -2.1% North East £536 3.9% Across the UK, rent increases are far outpacing wage growth, with average tenant incomes up just 1.7pc over the year. A separate survey last month suggested many renters are paying more than they can actually afford. Affordable rents are defined as making up less than 35pc of net household income. Homelet, which also questioned almost 15,000 tenants about their views on the rental market, said that while 71pc of tenants are keen to buy their homes, 64pc have no expectations of being able to do so any time soon. An overwhelming number cited high deposits as the biggest barrier preventing them from buying. Yet the report suggested more than half weren't taking any steps to save for a deposit. In total, 20-somethings in the UK can expect to pay £66,800 in rent to landlords by the time they are 30. The authors also found price is the most important factor for tenants choosing a home, ranking higher than other factors such as location, a low crime rate and distance to work. Some 71pc of respondents said they rent through a letting agent, with just 29pc renting directly through a landlord. Those who dealt directly with landlords were more likely to be happier than those renting through letting agents. From the daily Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/property/11984097/London-rents-now-a-record-108pc-higher-than-rest-of-UK.html

Monday, 9 November 2015

An update on this blog

So sorry for the lack of posts of late. I've not been that active as I’d have liked. Been quite busy thinking and considering the world we now live in. Since the general election things have as predicted got harder for people including myself. Tory government intent on ripping away our rights and our freedoms in lots of ways. While the labour party my former home has a new left wing leader catching many including myself by surprise. Not least my former party the socialist party of England and Wales who still can’t understand how labour can have elected a left wing leader a proper one this time. We were told for years the Labour party is just another capitalist party just like the democrats in the US. But the election of Jeremy Corbyn by a stonking majority has forced many on the left including myself to look again. I have not been shocked at the levels of crap thrown at Jeremy Corbyn. Any glimpse of a turn to the left or anything vaguely mentioning the working class or even socialism has to be squashed and ridiculed before it gains any foot hold. I have had lots of thoughts over the last few months just not got around to putting them down on a blogpost. I've come across many people from different walks of life and continue to be astonished how much people are prepared to put up with. But we can all only take so much and people will not lie down without a fight. I'm proud to say my disabled comrades at Disabled people against Cuts continue to do fantastic work and will always have my full support. The anti cuts movement is in a bit of a mess with no real direction but small local campaigns has found victories here and there. I am still thinking along a libertarian anarchist lines with a form focus on non hierarchical organisations. I still look back at my political past of labourism and Trotskyism with levels of cringe. But I thank them for showing me what not to go for in a movement it’s a process I’m and many of us are on we learn and develop our ideas day by day. The fight against the brutal austerity continues all over the globe but in Britain we have not given up. Anarchists, including AFed and Solidarity federation, threw themselves into the struggle against cuts after the election of the Tory/LibDem coalition in 2010. We joined literally millions of others on strikes, protests, occupations, and direct actions, but after 2012 it all got a bit... quieter, and the cuts continued. That's changing this year though, but how can we make sure this new wave of anti-cuts action is more successful? What can we learn from the past five years? What contributions can Anarchists make to the struggle (and what contributions SHOULD we make)? I was close to closing this blog down but something inside me nagged at me telling me. Don’t be ashamed of your past cringe worthy ideas heck we all have to start somewhere don’t we....

Monday, 11 May 2015

This is not our defeat

reblogged with thanks to red and black leeds The results are in, and once again, the British electorate have voted in the party the rich and their friends in the media told them to. Despite pre-election predictions of hung parliaments, "progressive" coalitions, or minority governments, the Conservatives walk away from this election with a slender majority, having increased their share of seats in parliament to 330. Another five years of Tory government now seems assured. There are those on the left who are greeting this news with despair. Despite it’s history of betrayal and failure, every election season the British left lines up behind the Labour Party time and time again. This campaign was no exception. The trade unions, of course, backed Labour to the hilt. Even the left-wing nationalist SNP and the anti-austerity Green Party were touting themselves as eligible partners to a Labour government. Many on the radical left were trying to talk themselves into believing a Labour victory would bring meaningful social change just a fraction closer. Even for those of us who put no stock in parliamentary politics it’s easy to slip into the habit of rooting for the parliamentary opposition. Just the mere fact of them nominally opposing the repulsive Tory crooks who’ve been in power for the last five years made Miliband and his outfit instantly seem sympathetic. But the truth is these people have nothing to offer us and we know it. We’ve been down this road before, for 13 long years of Labour administered misery. This is the party that brought you tuition fees and the Iraq War. They are not friends to the working class. They never have been. As anarchists, we’re critical of voting and elections in general as a strategy for change. For a summary of the anarchist arguments against electoralism, it’s worth reading the recent series by Phil Dickens for libcom.org - amongst other things, the idea that we can get what we need by just voting for a different set of politicians to run everything fosters illusions in the very system we’re trying to oppose. As Phil puts it: parties can’t pull the state leftward, but mass social movements can force concessions from it. The former is a massive drain of time, energy and effort from the latter. Worse, it creates the illusion that the latter isn’t necessary since we can just vote ‘radically’ instead of all that inconvenient hard work of organising and fighting. No government, Labour or Tory, will offer us anything unless we fight for it. Left-wing electoralism, when it succeeds in capturing state power, encourages us to trust the state and in state officials, bureaucrats and politicians – instead of trusting each other, and our own collective ability to take action and change things. But the other side of this problem is that when left-wing parties fail, as the Labour party did catastrophically this time round, those who’ve invested so much, both emotionally and physically, in electoral success are faced with despair. We see friends and comrades who believed a Labour government would bring at least some relief from the horrors of Tory austerity now downhearted, defeated, at the point of giving up hope altogether. This is just another pitfall of the tried and tested and failed strategy of trying to vote things better. So to all of you out there who were disappointed with the result of Thursday’s ballot: you have our sympathies, but remember, Miliband’s loss is not ours. The Labour Party has failed you, but they would have failed you anyway. Your best chance to make things better isn’t some Oxford-educated millionaire with a red rosette – it’s ordinary people getting together to fight back. It’s your workmates, your neighbours. We’re still here. We’re not going away. Our struggle will go on, under this government, and the next one, and the one after that, until they have no governments left to throw at us. Until we win. jolasmo | 05/09/2015 at 12:49 | Categories: Blog | URL: http://wp.me/p59VzD-4b

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Why I’m scared for our future

You may say what future and you may have a point… Today we saw another government take office this time a fully Tory Tory one and lets be honest not many expected them to gain a outright majority how they managed it is open for debate but they have done and we must face facts. The labour party shouldn’t go without comment in their disgraceful backing of tory austerity they have been a hammered in the polls and rightly rejected yet we are left with the proper tories at least we know what this lot stand for and that is outright destruction of the working class if they get their way. As a disabled person I have been worrying all day what will happen to us come the next 5 years. Chills of dread have flooded me and the horrors of the last 5 years tell me with Tories on their own they can get away with so much more not that the Lib Dems stopped them with any of their brutal cuts but this time it feels we are facing the abyss in terms of our welfare state, our NHS and our public sector services. A total of 12 billion pounds is to be slashed from the welfare bill and this will I tell you now directly will hit the poorest the most vunrable in our society I fear for many of us I really do. A leak last week suggested the following cuts have already been drawn up by the Tories The proposed cuts included: • Limiting support to 2 children in child benefit and child tax credit, so cutting up to £3,500 from a family with three children. • Removing the higher rate child benefit from the first child, an average cut of over £360 for every family with children. • Means testing child benefit – cutting £1,750 for a two child middle income family • Removing child benefit from 16 to 19 year olds – a cut of over £1,000 for parents of a single child. The Conservatives have been under sustained pressure to detail how they will cut £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-2018, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank confirmed this week the Tories have so far disclosed only 10% of these cut in the form of a two-year freeze in working age benefits. With further cuts to benefits surely on its way the DWP have wasted no time in outlining plans to slash the access to work scheme a benefit which is close to my heart and helps me every time I go to work. The attacks on this particular benefit already destroy the lie that the Tories are there to help the disabled in to work and in work they just do not care and are taking the axe to this next benefit. How it will affect me long term we will have to see but be sure I will not let any attacks on me working go unheard. In a piece in the independent tonight it is said. http://fw.to/EMNy4cK The DWP has moved further to examine cutting a scheme that helps disabled people into work – just hours after the Conservatives won the election. The fund helps people and employers cover costs of disabilities that might be a barrier to work. The biggest single users of the fund are people who have difficulty seeing and people who have difficulty hearing. A policy document originally quietly announced in March suggests capping the £108m Access to Work fund. An impact assessment of the policy was released on the day the general election results. “[Spending] has risen significantly over the past five years … One of the significant strategic questions we face is how to establish the right balance between the need to support as many disabled people as possible and what it is reasonable to offer individual users,” the assessment says. The first option outlined by civil servants in the document is “to set a cap on the maximum value of support per user”. The party's manifesto boats that "last year alone, 140,000 disabled people found work" but says that "the jobless rate for this group remains too high. "As part of our objective to achieve full employment, we will aim to halve the disability employment gap: we will transform policy, practice and public attitudes, so that hundreds of thousands more disabled people who can and want to be in work find employment," it pledges. The overall spend on Access to Work in 2013/14 was £108m, covering 35,540 people. • An earlier version of this story indicated that the policy had been announced in the hours after the general election result. In fact the impact assessment for the policy was issued in the hours after the general election result, while the policy itself was issued in the run up to the general election in March This is just a glimpse of the tories aims in this next 5 years. Be under no illusion they are coming for you and they will not give a stuff about who you voted for or anything. Its time to organise ourselvesin our communities find common allies and fightback in whichever way we can using any means at our desposable. We may never see the welfare state ever a gain if we do not fightback now. The last 5 years was justa warm up for what is coming next …..

Monday, 27 April 2015

Angry not apathetic: what anarchists do instead of voting

As the 2015 general election approaches, the Anarchist Federation explains the anarchist alternative to voting for social change. The general election is here, and once again the parties are all over us like a rash, promising that they will fix things. But you don’t have to be an anarchist to know that nothing changes, whoever gets in. This is why politicians are keen on new methods such as postal voting. Labour, Tory, Liberal Democrat, nationalist (Plaid Cymru, SNP, Sinn Fein), ‘principled’ or ‘radical’ (Green Party, or leftists in some alliance), or nationalist-racist (UKIP etc), the fundamentals of the system are the same. Whether we have the present electoral system or proportional representation, or however many people vote or don’t vote in an election or referendum, as we have just seen in Scotland, capitalism is at the driving wheel globally. As working class people, we are exploited whether we can take part in ‘free’ elections or live under an authoritarian regime. Capitalists and property owners continue to control the wealth that we create, and they protect it through the police, legal system, and military. You can’t complain Non-voters are told that, “If you don’t vote you can’t complain”. But voting under these circumstances is just pretending that the system we have is basically alright. It lets the winning party off the hook. The fact is, we have next to no say in the decisions that get taken by the people we elect. This is called ‘representative democracy’. Anarchists organise by ‘direct democracy’, where we can have a say in every decision, if we want to. We don’t put our power in someone else’s hands, so no one can betray us and abuse it. This really could work globally! Ask us how… Campaigning against voting A “don’t vote” campaign on its own is just as much a waste of time. The same goes for a protest vote for a leftist or novelty candidate. The time and money spent campaigning could be better used fixing some of the problems we face in our lives. Protesting, whether it is spoiling a ballot paper or marching in the street, fails to offer any real challenge. So, anarchists say, vote, or don’t vote. It won’t make any difference. What is more important, is to realise that elections prop up a corrupt system and divert us from winning real change. Don’t vote, organise! We should organise with our neighbours, workmates, other people we have shared interests with, and others who don’t have the privileges that some people have. We are the experts on what we need, and on the best way to run things for the common good. We need to use direct action to achieve this. Direct action is where we solve a problem without someone else representing us. By this we mean, not just protesting and asking for change, but things like occupying, sabotaging, working to rule, refusing to pay their prices or their rent, and striking (but not waiting for union leaders to tell us when we can and can’t!). For example, when workers aren’t paid the wages owed them, rather than asking the government to give us better legal protection, we take action to force employers to pay. The Department for Work & Pensions has even named the Anarchist Federation and the Solidarity Federation among groups that are a serious threat to workfare, because we have shut down programmes. This was achieved with only a few hundred people. Imagine what could be done with thousands! Taking it back In reality, people are understandably afraid of taking the state on. But direct action doesn’t have to mean an all-out fight to defeat capitalism in one go. Anarchists do think that ultimately, there has to be a full revolution. But by confronting the system directly at any point we can start to take control. In fact, all the good things we think of as having been created by the state – free health care, free education, health & safety laws to protect us at work, housing regulations, sick pay, unemployment benefits, pensions – came about historically to put an end to organised campaigns of collective direct action that threatened their power. And where we would fail as individuals, together we can win.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Hertford and Stortford Ware hustings General Election 2015-

As you may or may not know I’m not the biggest fan of elections. But this coming April the debating society I am a member of are hosting the local hustings for the coming general election. I am on the organising committee and am happy to help. As you may or may not know I’m in no political party at all and am increasingly turned off by all party’s whether they be soft left or hard left. I am struggling to mount any enthusiasm for any party to vote for. As an anarchist now I should not vote at all which I stand by I don’t think I will. But the local situation has obvious interests to me and I am happy to help out and organise a hustings if that is what people want. I feel it is fair and right that there is such an n event given the heightened awareness of politics in this current year. Whilst I can’t lend my support to any of the candidates standing I do wish them well as there is a financial cost and also a physical cost in terms of the work involved. In this hugely Tory Tory seat held by former housing minister MarkPrisk there is lots of hope from candidates hoping to make a dent in his 15 thousand odd majorities and I can’t see why not at present. I as people well know am no Tory supporter and detest all that they stand for but as it stands mark Prisk has not agreed to join in with the Ware general election hustings to be held in the Ware Drill Hall on the 24th of April starting at 7.30 pm all welcome and no entrance fee required. Standing for this seat will be the Labour party, Lib Dem's, UKIP, Greens and the sitting MP who is a tory as far as i know there is no one else at this stage . I have my views on the Tories and Mark Prisk as a person given the replies I have had from him and his office down the years in disagreement with many of his ideas and party policies but I would for democratic fairness like to see him turn up on the 24th of April. I would like to see him challenged and held to account as any MP or elected representative should be. We currently have no reason as to why Mark can’t attend but I do hope before the 24th he will reconsider and join the hustings with the other candidates who have been more than happy to get involved. As I said earlier I am part of a debating society called Cogers debating society which have continued the tradition of discussion and debate from a very very early time. We are proud to host such an event in Ware but we are aware how big this election could be on the whole. What happens in East Herts on the face of it may not matter too much but everyone in this area has a say and deserves to be heard. If they wish to turn up on the night they will be more than welcome and encouraged to join in and ask the candidates questions from the floor. As a libertarian socialist with roots in economic Marxism and the ideas of anarchism as a practise I am not against all elections as a rule just I am not sure we as a class, the working class can gain much from any bourgeois election. Even whilst I hold this view I still maintain a curiosity on how big elections go and who wins or forms the next government despite what we say will be a big thing and dictate how we react and take things forward as a militant class. Please attend the Ware General Election hustings if you can Venue: The drill Hall Ware, Hertfordshire, Amwell end Time: 7:30 pm start advice to get in early to gain seat Duration: roughly finishing at 10:00 pm with a scheduled interval at 9pm for an all to stretch legs or refresh yourself Hosted by: Ware society of Cogers http://cogers.org/ Entrance: free to members of the public Time: 7.30 pm to 10 pm --- roughly Open to: all members of the public who wish to question the candidates for the Hertford and Stortford seat in the coming general election

Monday, 30 March 2015

Benefit scrounger rhetoric has gone too far now

Reading in the Telegraph today about a blind man who arranged a charity darts event to raise money for Guide Dogs for the blind has now been investigated by the DWP for frauding the system. This idea of scroungers has gone too far now and is causing unnecessary stress and unease on many innocent disabled people. This has got to end. The fact someone would report someone to the DWP for attempting to do normal things as a blind person so thinking they can’t be blind is a disgrace and brings real shame on us as a society. I know people who have been refused disabled benefits as they can walk to their local pub all be it in great pain but they do it because they wish to get out and socialize. If we are going to start going down this route of if you are not at home all the time practically bed ridden you are not disabled in the DWP's eyes. This incident roubles me greatly on many levels. It will send out the message that trying to live independent and be active in your community is not to be encouraged as you may be suspected as being on the take in terms of your benefits. What a ridiculous situation we are in. "A blind man who held a charity marathon darts event was investigated over benefit fraud because he was too good. Visually-impaired Robert Boon, 50, organised a ten-hour "arrow" throw to raise £500 to buy two guide dogs. Mr Boon is registered blind as he is completely blind in one eye and only able to see shadows in the other. He scored an impressive 61,000 points on the night by standing and playing darts on his own for ten hours. Mr Boon said due to the repetitive action of dart throwing he was able to maintain some degree of accuracy. But shortly after the event he was called to a meeting by the Department for Work and Pensions to assess his eligibility to claim benefits. He was stunned to discover a member of the public had reported him - claiming someone that good at darts could not possibly be blind. Robert Boon, of Paignton, Devon, said: "I got a letter saying I had to attend a meeting. "I felt humiliated because I don't think it is right to report me when I have tried to do something good. "I rang the hospital to get my medical records on my eye condition. I don't see why people should put me down. "I feel really intimidated now. I am registered blind and can't see virtually anything out of one eye and shadows in the other. "To be fair when I spoke to the DWP they said they would not be taking the benefits away. "I have other things lined up now including a comedy night and don't intend to stop." "It's only right that we investigate a person's benefit claim when we receive information that suggests they may not be entitled." Mr Boon held the charity event at Pond Coffee Shop in Paignton as part of a larger fundraising drive to raise £10,000 so he can buy two guide dogs. " For me this is deeply worrying and something which we should all be aware of. The deep suspicion in this country now that all disabled people if they show near normal signs of living are to be suspected as fraud is a troubling development. This links into disability hate crime where many more disabled people are being targeted due to the scroungers rhetoric coming from our dear media and politicians With extracts from the Daily Telegraph piece http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/11503598/Blind-darts-player-targeted-in-benefit-fraud-probe-for-being-too-good.html. Peoples uncaring and untrusting attitudes worry me in this day and age, Where is this all leading, I dread to think.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Why our mental health is just as important as our physical health

I’ve not posted to this blog for a while but a few things caught my attention this wek which were worthy of comment I felt. This week there has been a few big stories of people who have struggled with their mental health both with tragic outcomes. The first was a young rock singer known as Little Chris who came onto the scene through a reality talent show on Channel 4. Actor, singer and TV personality Chris Hardman, whose stage name was Lil' Chris, has died aged 24. The cause of death is believed to be suicide. Hardman rose to fame on Channel 4 series Rock School in 2006 and went on to star in the stage premiere of James Bourne and Elliot Davis's musical Loserville. Speaking to WhatsOnStage, Davis said it was "awful, awful news", and confirmed that Hardman suffered from depression. "He was a super talented guy, so naturally gifted," Davis added. "He just had something that the nation saw and it catapulted him to early fame, which perhaps caused problems." As Lil' Chris - a nickname he picked up on Rock School - he released his debut album in 2006. Davis described him as a "fantastic" songwriter. He subsequently hosted his own talkshow Everybody Loves Lil' Chris on Channel 4. In Loserville, which premiered at West Yorkshire Playhouse in summer 2012 before transferring to the West End's Garrick Theatre, he played Francis Weir. "When you work with people on shows you become a close family very quickly," said Davis. "He suffered from depression and like many people had struggled to find a way through it." We also have seen the sad and devastating crash which looks now to be a deliberate act of suicide by co pilot of the ill fated German Wings airplane which crashed landed in the Alps this week. Investigations are ongoing but it looks as though the co pilot who locked himself in the Cockpit was suffering from depression and had been off work for a time previously. Also we have seen the 5th band member of One Direction Zane Malek leave the world famous band due to stress and not being able to cope with the limelight. So what should we make of these news stories and has the stigma around mental Health gone away or is it still very much an issue. Are these individuals weak for taking the difficult decisions they have done? Do we condemn them out of hand for being lesser human beings or should we look closer and look underneath as to why they felt they had been left with no more choice. These are just a few high profile cases of late but for sure there are many out there who suffering in silence everyday. Its time to hear their thoughts and feelings Do we really understand mental health? Speaking as someone who has felt very low at times and have seen professional help about my lack of self confidence and other issues I can say that society still does not get mental health illness’s and yes I do think they are illness’s and people do need help. Sometimes people don’t know how to get help but it is always out there if you need it there are people who can help you don’t forget that.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

The party is haunting us again

A brilliant post just put up on www.libcom.org captures a lot of my feelings right now on the question of a new workers party and why it isnt what we desperately need right now. The article i republish below with thanks to LibCom explains it in greater detail than i ever could. http://libcom.org/library/party-haunting-us-again The National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) recently split from the African National Congress (ANC). As part of this it is exploring establishing a mass workers' party in South Africa. This article examines why this path is deeply flawed. Karl Marx once said that history repeats itself, first as a tragedy then as a farce. A case in point is that in South Africa sections of the left are once again calling for a mass workers’ party (MWP) to be formed to contest elections – this they believe will bring us closer to revolution. History says otherwise. Of course the new calls for a MWP stem from the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) breaking from the African National Congress (ANC). As an outcome NUMSA is exploring the possibility of setting up a MWP to contest elections. Many Marxist and leftist influenced organisations, but also cadres within NUMSA, are therefore providing reasons why activists should be interested in such a party. Some of the reasons they have been giving in support of forming such a party have included: a good showing by such a party will strengthen struggles; a MWP party can unite the working class; a MWP can provide the working class with the correct ideological line of march; a MWP in the legislature – whether at a local, provincial or national level – will be able to make mass propaganda for the cause of socialism; gains and pro-working class policies could be secured by contesting state power; a MWP heading the state could provide greater welfare; and if a MWP gains control over the state it could nationalise key industries, bringing socialism closer. Others, while advocating for a MWP, have taken a slightly different view influenced by the notion of ‘revolutionary parliamentarianism’ and they argue such a party could enter into parliament to expose the sham of parliamentary democracy and the current state; and that through this it could supposedly open the eyes of the working class, bringing revolution nearer and setting the stage for a so-called workers’ state. Looking back over the history of MWPs, which first appeared as social democratic parties in the nineteenth century, none have fully lived up to the promises cited above. Throughout history no MWP has united the working class. This is because within working class politics different traditions have existed and an anti-party and anti-electoral strand has always existed. For a period between 1870 and 1920 it was the dominant form of revolutionary politics amongst the working class. In fact, the First International, which existed from 1864 to 1871 and aimed to bring working class organisations internationally together, split around the issue of MWPs and electoralism; with some including Marx going the MWP path and a majority rejecting parties and electioneering in favour of anti-state revolutionary politics through anarchism/syndicalism. Today in South Africa there are also many activists, certainly within community organisations and struggles, that are anti-party and anti-electoralism. The vast majority of these activists are not anarchists (given the very limited influence of anarchism in South Africa), but have a deep mistrust of political parties, and politicians – even left-wing ones – entering into the state. This comes from experience. A new MWP, therefore, will in all likelihood not receive this section of the working class’s support. Thus, a MWP, given history and given the anti-party sentiment of a section of the working class in South Africa, will not bring unity to the working class. Gains for the working class have also very seldom been brought about simply by MWPs winning elections or even gaining hold of state power. Rather struggle, including strikes, protests, revolts and revolutionary upheavals, have led to the working class winning gains from the ruling class. How the working class first won an 8 hour working day is a prime example of this. Two of the first states to concede to an 8 hour work day were Germany and Spain. In these countries it was not due to the clever parliamentarian work of MWPs, nor them having state power, that led to workers winning an 8 hour work day; but rather massive struggles outside of the electoral realm and against the state by the working class. In Germany the 8 hour working day was implemented in 1918. It, sadly, was implemented not because of the sterling work of a MWP, but rather was legalised as part of a betrayal by a MWP – the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) – of a working class revolution. At the time the SPD still claimed to be Marxist and said it wanted to overthrown capitalism while promoting and practicing electoral politics. In November 1918 workers, sailors and soldiers in Germany were establishing councils and were pushing for a genuine form of socialism based on direct democracy. It looked as if there was a possibility of them overthrowing both capitalism and the state. In this context a MWP, the SPD, made a deal with the ruling class in Germany. It defended capitalism in return for gaining state power. As part of this it set up army corps that were loyal to it and even supported and deployed the right-wing paramilitary Freikorps to put down and break the revolution. The SPD-controlled unions also agreed to prevent workers seizing the means of production in exchange for capitalists recognising these unions and agreeing to an 8 hour working day. It was thus the spectre of revolution, eventually crushed by the SPD in alliance with right-wing paramilitaries, which led to the 8 hour working day being conceded to and legislated for in Germany. Likewise, in Spain the 8 hour working day was not implemented due to a MWP pushing for it in parliament. It resulted from the concessions the ruling class were forced to make as a result of massive pressure from a 44-day general strike in 1919 by workers in anarchist/syndicalist unions. Indeed, the working class has never won any benefits without struggle and to think simply electing people from MWPs into legislatures will bring gains is dangerous. More importantly, no MWP in history has come near to establishing socialism, even when they have headed up a state. This holds true even for the Bolsheviks in the Soviet Union under a so-called workers’ state. In other words, no MWP has ever brought about a society where exploitation and alienation has been ended; where direct democracy in the workplace and in society in general has flourished; where all forms of oppression, including racism and sexism, have been ended; where there are no rulers and ruled; where the divisions between mental and manual labour are broken; where the economy and wealth are socialised; and where society is based not on profit, but on meeting all people’s needs through democratic planning. In the cases of the SPD and the Bolsheviks in power, they even actively fought against this. Thinking that a MWP could begin to deliver on socialism, therefore, ignores the facts of history. Those advocating for a MWP in South Africa should perhaps bear this in mind. Centred towards state power One of the central reasons why MWPs have not brought about a genuine form of socialism – as opposed to reforming capitalism or embarking on state capitalism – is their orientation to contesting and capturing state power. Indeed, many of those advocating for NUMSA to form a MWP have taken words such as those of Leon Trotsky to heart when he said: “Every political party worthy of the name strives to capture political power and thus place the State at the service of the class whose interests it expresses”1. The problem with such thinking, and a fatal flaw within the logic of MWPs, is that the state cannot simply be taken over by the working class and wielded as a revolutionary tool, even if it is a so-called workers’ state. States can’t be used for liberation The reason for this is that states emerged to ensure that elite minorities could and can wield power over a majority. States, therefore, came into being when societies based on class first arose. The purpose states were built to fulfil was to ensure that an elite could rule and accumulate wealth through using the state they controlled to keep a majority subservient, oppressed and exploited. As such states have always been tools and instruments of elite rulers and their class. This defining feature of all states means they can’t be used for liberation; it is not the purpose for which they arose. In fact, if there was no inequality or class rule, states would not exist. How states work to ensure that the ruling class maintains power and wealth can easily be seen under capitalism. Today we have huge states that ensure the interests of the ruling class (capitalists, politicians and top officials in the state) are protected and furthered. Through the state’s legislative, judiciary, economic, military and policing arms, the state always protects and enforces the property interests of this class by protecting and enforcing minority property ownership, whether it be private and/or state-owned property. Along with this, states today legalise exploitation along with attempting to create an environment in which capitalism can generally function. These massive institutions cannot be simply wielded in the interest of the working class. Indeed, their function is to keep the working class oppressed. Of course states use ideology and propaganda to ensure the working class accepts its own oppression. One source which states often perversely use in an attempt to ideologically neuter the working class is the fact that they provide some welfare and socially-useful services. Of course states, as discussed above in relation to the 8 hour working day, were forced to provide such services due to massive working class struggles and, often, the real threat of revolution. As such, welfare represents a gain of past mass struggles. Nonetheless, states and the ruling classes controlling them were also willing to make concessions based on the calculation that to do so would limit the possibility of future revolts. States then, for propaganda purposes, falsely claimed that it was their ‘benevolence’ that led to welfare. This is then used by states even today in order to claim they exist for the benefit of all classes. In other words they use the provision of welfare to try and mask the fact they exist to enforce class rule by an elite minority. What is, of course, not mentioned is that the need for welfare only exists because of class rule and capitalism; and that the resources states spend on welfare ironically also originally derive from the exploitation of the working class. A MWP in state power providing greater welfare does not overturn this reality. The greatest weapon states – and the elite that control and influence them – have for ensuring class rule is the legal monopoly they have on violence. When strikes or protests escalate states deploy the police and even military to put them down. Even peaceful protests and strikes often face police repression. If open revolt against capitalism or class rule breaks out, states have always reacted violently, even to the point of waging civil war. Under the Soviet Union, even under Lenin and a so-called workers’ state, this too took place. There the state was used to violently defend Bolshevik rule and the privileges of those who headed the state. For example, the Soviet state ruthlessly put down strikes in Petrograd in 1921. Many of the workers involved were questioning the lavish lifestyles that Communist Party officials and managers were living. Later in the year, the Soviet state also used the military to crush a revolt in Kronstadt – those involved in the revolt questioned Bolshevik rule because the Bolshevik leaders had become an elite. These workers wanted the state to be replaced by a genuine form of working class democracy based on worker councils (Soviets). Far from being used as a weapon of liberation, MWPs therefore have a history of using the state to violently ensure their own rule once in state power – as such they have not brought about socialism. The question for South African activists is: would a MWP in state power in South Africa really act differently? States too are also capitalist entities in their own right. Many states still own factories, farms, mines and banks and in these workers are oppressed and exploited. A prime example is how the South African state exploits workers in Eskom. But such exploitation is not limited to South Africa. Workers in factories owned by the Venezuelan state also face exploitation and oppression. Indeed, major struggles have been fought in the steel factories owned by the Venezuelan state. No state throughout history, even when MWPs have headed it, has allowed socialism to blossom or the working class to genuinely control the means of production. Even under the Soviet Union, it was a state bureaucracy that controlled the means of production. The working class remained oppressed and exploited and under the heels of the Bolshevik-controlled state. As a matter of fact, it was the Bolshevik Party in the aftermath of the October Revolution of 1917 that created this situation: it nationalised factories that were taken over by workers, it destroyed workers’ self-management and replaced it with one-man management and it destroyed working class democracy in the Soviets. The Soviet Union, therefore, was not a socialist state, but rather a form of state capitalism – it never allowed the working class to have genuine workers’ self-management/control. If a MWP nationalised the means of production in South Africa this would not be socialism. Consequently, to call on people to form and vote for a MWP in South Africa on the basis it will nationalise the means of production runs the risk of fostering a false belief amongst the working class that nationalisation equals socialism. The reality is under nationalistion, the state would own and control factories, banks, farms and mines; not the working class. Indeed, if the working class genuinely had power and control over the means of production there would be no need for a state and nationlisation – states only exist because a few need to enforce their rule and control over the economy. The centralisation of states has consequences In order to carry out the rule of an elite, all states have been centralised and hierarchical. As such, orders in all states flow down a chain of command. Only a few can and do rule. To carry out instructions from above, large bureaucracies always develop. This too attracts opportunists and careerists, as through states individual wealth and power can be accumulated via large salaries, patronage networks and corruption. The reality is so even under a parliamentary system. Most high-ranking state officials, including generals, director-generals, police commissioners, state legal advisors, state attorneys, judges, managers and CEOs of parastatals, officials in the various departments and magistrates are never elected by the people. They are not answerable to the working class, but to their line of managers. Most of their decisions, policies and actions will never be known by the vast majority of people – the top-down centralised structure of states ensures this. Even if a MWP was formed in South Africa and came to head some form of state, it could not change the centralised nature of the state. Centralisation and the state go hand-in-hand. Likewise it is parliamentarians and the executive (presidents, premiers, mayors and all their ministers) that make and pass laws; not the mass of people. In fact, parliamentarians are not truly accountable to voters (except for 5 minutes every 5 years) and this is so even where MWPs have entered into parliament. While a MWP may occasionally make noise in parliament, there is actually a very long history around the world of parliamentarians of MWPs acting in their own interests, including voting for high salaries and betraying the working class. This is because parliamentarians, even from MWPs, don’t receive mandates and are not recallable by the working class. The way parliamentary democracy functions means parliamentarians vote and decide on policy and legislation within the confines of legislature – they don’t go back to the working class to gain approval for their actions. Those advocating for a MWP in South Africa, therefore, consciously or unconsciously avoid revealing this truth to the activists they are trying to convince. States and rulers States, too, generate an elite and a section of the ruling class. This is central to the reason why MWPs going into the state and electioneering will not and cannot deliver socialism and an end to class rule. When people enter into top positions in states – including, historically, in so-called workers’ states - they gain access to the means of administration and coercion and to new privileges. Being part of a few who have the power to make decisions for and over others and the ability to enforce those decisions, creates a position of a ruler. As such, the centralisation of power, which defines states, generates an elite. This can be seen in Venezuela today where a so-called MWP heads up the state. There top state officials rule, they receive large salaries and they have joined the ruling class. Power there does not lie in the hands of the working class. It would be no different if a MWP were to come to head the state in South Africa. Consequently, even where MWPs have come to gain state power and even when they have headed what many Marxists have called a workers’ state in the early days of the Soviet Union, the leadership of these parties have become a new elite. They have, therefore, either become a new ruling class outright or they have joined the existing ruling class. Indeed, even if a MWP elected to only pay its parliamentarians, top state officials, ministers and President/Prime Minister/Chairperson an average workers’ wage, they would still be rulers, they would still have power and they could still decide on policies and law and enforce those. The working class would still not have power. The state cannot, therefore, be used to bring about socialism nor end class rule. It is preposterous to think that by entering into top positions in the state that a MWP can bring about socialism or even constantly make gains for the working class. The centralised and hierarchical nature of all states throughout history, even so-called workers’ states, means this is not possible. States and elite rule are synonymous with one another. This means that a new MWP in South Africa, because of its tactics of centering towards the state, is not going to lead the working class to socialism and end class rule. It may change the faces of the ruling elite, but it will not get rid of the rule by an elite few. The dangers of a MWP MWPs and electioneering, consequently, hold many dangers. The orientation towards the state and electioneering carries the danger of creating illusions amongst the working class that the state can be used for liberation. This is a danger even in cases where advocates arguing for the MWP say that it should only stand in elections to expose the class nature of the current state. In such cases it is unlikely such tactics will bring the revolution closer. Indeed, why call on people to vote representatives into a state when you know it is a sham? Far from leading to people seeing the state as part of the problem, it is likely to create illusions. Consequently, it also leads to the possibility that the working class will view elections, rather than mass struggle, as a focus of their energy. Indeed, many MWPs have diverted people’s energies away from struggles, strikes and protests towards electioneering with disastrous consequences. The idea of the MWP also carries the risk that the working class will shift the focus from building their own organs of struggle towards building a new party. In fact, if NUMSA is to play a revolutionary role, the task of NUMSA comrades is to transform their union into a revolutionary union. That means fighting in the union, too, to make it radically democratic. If a MWP is formed in all likelihood this won’t happen – precisely because energies will be diverted into creating something new, the MWP. Likewise, it is also likely that mass struggles and organising in the townships will wane as energies too will be diverted away from building on what already exists into building a MWP. The greatest threat that MWPs and their orientation to electioneering and the state (even a so-called workers state) pose is promoting the idea amongst the working class that freedom and salvation will come from above and not through its own existing organisations and struggles. Indeed, it promotes the idea that a MWP can substitute for the working class; and that if a MWP had power it would bring freedom. The reality though is liberation won’t and can’t, by definition, come from above or through substitutionalism. If socialism is to be created it will be created by the working class through its own actions, organisations and struggle and not through the state and a MWP. Indeed, only the working class can liberate itself; and given the nature of states it, by definition, can’t come though such structures. Rather build a revolutionary working class counter-power Another path, instead of a MWP, which the working class could go down is to rather build its own revolutionary counter-power against not only capitalism, but also the state and all forms of oppression including racism and sexism. Throughout history there have been instances where a counter-power has been built by the working class itself, including Russia during 1917, Germany in 1918, Spain in 1936 and South Africa in the early 1980s. It is, therefore, possible for the class itself – without the so-called guidance of a MWP and without a MWP taking state power – to build its own counter-power. This is perhaps a more long term project and perhaps even a harder task than building a MWP, but it is a task that the working class will have to embark upon if it is to have power in its own hands one day. The advantage of building a counter-power, though, is that history shows that it could be built through the organisations and movements the working class itself has already begun to create, be it community organisations, unions and worker committees. To build a counter-power the working class would, though, have to strengthen these movements and organisations and transform them into organs of working class direct democracy. They would also have to be infused with a revolutionary politics that aims not just to transform the state and capitalism, but to replace these with a new society. To build a counter-power though does not mean ignoring the struggle for immediate gains. The working class needs better housing and a decent lifestyle today and can’t simply wait for the revolution to have the basics of life. As such the struggles for the things that are needed today to improve the lives of the working class, which includes placing demands on bosses and politicians because they have stolen from the working class, is vital. Indeed, things like corruption, repression and poor delivery can only be resolved in favour of the working class by the working class organising itself outside and against the state and placing demands on and even imposing its will on the bosses and state through mass direct action. Importantly though, it cannot also relax if the ruling class do provide such concessions. Rather, winning immediate gains has to be used as a school of struggle and immediate gains have to be used to build on towards revolution. As part of this, the working class also needs to build towards the goal of seizing the means of production directly through its own organisations and structures; and from there socialise the means of production to meet the needs of all. It can’t rely on a MWP or state to do so; because then another power other than the working class would in fact control the means of production. History shows that the means of production can be seized directly by the class in revolutionary situations; for example in Russia in 1917 many factories were seized by the working class and were briefly run by workers’ themselves using democratic committees in order to plan production – unfortunately these were destroyed once Lenin and the Bolsheviks consolidated their so-called workers’ state. Instead of MWPs and hoping elections or even a workers’ state might bring gains or even revolution, the working class needs to build democratic revolutionary organs and fight so that one day it can take power in society itself and run society through direct democracy without a party instructing it or a state. This can be done using federated organs of direct democracy like worker councils, community assemblies and committees to allow everyone to have an equal say in how society is run. MWPs and voting in parliamentary or municipal elections brings us no closer to building such structures of counter-power. Rather all it does is run the risk of generating further illusions in the state and it risks keeping the working class in chains far into the future. The working class has been in chains for far too long; it is time for the class itself to begin breaking those chains. Only it itself has the power to do so. Link esterno: http://zabalaza.net with thanks to Malatesta Black from libcom http://libcom.org/library/party-haunting-us-again

Monday, 9 March 2015

Why the marxist definition of the state is inadequate

Marxists and anarchists have always disagreed on the definition of the state and have debated each other on how to go about tackling the state for years. So where do they differ and why the marxist definition is insufficient for what is necessary. For the Anarchist, the state is the concentration of power into a few hands. This, we argue, is because it is designed for, and required to, ensure minority class rule. In contrast, the Marxist definition of the state is that it is an "instrument of class rule." We argue that this is, unlike the anarchist one, a metaphysical definition and utter ignores the key issue, namely who has power. Moreover, it opens the door for the nonsense used to justify Bolshevik dictatorship during the Russian revolution. A workers state is still a state and was also used to maintain power. So our opposition to the "workers' state" is really about who has power: is it the working class or the party? For Marxists, it is the latter. As Trotsky argued in 1939 (18 years after he made similar arguments when he was in power) "The very same masses are at different times inspired by different moods and objectives. It is just for this reason that a centralised organisation of the vanguard is indispensable. Only a party, wielding the authority it has won, is capable of overcoming the vacillation of the masses themselves . . . if the dictatorship of the proletariat means anything at all, then it means that the vanguard of the proletariat is armed with the resources of the state in order to repel dangers, including those emanating from the backward layers of the proletariat itself." So much for "workers' power"! And, as everyone is, by definition, is "backward" compared to the vanguard, we have the theoretical justification for the party dictatorship. A conclusion Trotsky was not shy in embracing. [ What is the difference between Marxism and anarchism? Both are socialist ideologies, with many aims in common, and both are generally on the same side in the class war. Both anarchists and Marxists believe that ultimately there should be no government by the state, that there should be free socialism. Anarchists believe that should be implemented at once, while Marxists believe it should be done in stages. In the first stage after the revolution, Anarchists are not simply against the state they are against capitalism too and wish to do away with both at the same time. Marxists believe there should continue to be government by the state. Only after a transitional period, possibly a long transitional period, should the second stage be reached, when the state would gradually wither away and free communism be achieved. Because the transitional state government would not rule over a capitalist system, it would not be a capitalist state but instead a 'workers state' or a 'dictatorship of the proletariat'. The idea is that that would gradually wither away over time, leading to the eventual anarchist style future society. The withering away mechanism is not clearly explained, and there seems a great risk that it will not happen, and that the transitional workers state will become permanent. That was certainly the case in the historical record, and it was also warned of by anarchists such as Bakunin during Marx's own lifetime - warnings which unfortunately were not accepted. Millions of lives, along with the reputation and chances of success of the socialist movement, could have been saved had the anarchist fears and warnings been taken seriously. It seems curiously naive for otherwise serious and knowledgeable revolutionaries to believe that a structure of centralised state power would voluntarily wither itself away over time. The experience of history is that the powerful never relinquish control except when forced to through revolution or the threat of revolution from the people they control. The various state socialist countries proved no exception. Recognising this, would leave no pragmatic option for socialism than libertarian socialism. Marx's 'dictatorship of the proletariat' had a sinister ring to it even in his day, more so now given the terrible history since then. But in fact many Marxists, including Marx himself, did not intend it to mean an actual 'dictatorship'. They were only using exaggerated language to describe a minimal system of defence of the revolution - which anarchists do not disagree with. In that case, there is only a difference in terminology. But some Marxists really do want full blown dictatorship, replete with secret police and state terror. And unfortunately those have tended to be the types of Marxists who seized power in different places and times. Also, although I stated above that "Both anarchists and Marxists believe that ultimately there should be no government by the state, that there should be free socialism", for some Marxists that ultimate end state is downplayed to such an extent as to mean that it is effectively removed from their programme. In that case, state socialism, as opposed to libertarian socialism, is genuinely their ultimate aim. But it is important to note that there is continuity stretching from anarchism to left Marxism - the two ideologies in fact merge into each other. Autonomous Marxism and Council Communism have negligible differences with class struggle anarchism. And at least some modern Trotskyists are genuinely sympathetic to the need for democracy and freedom within socialism. In cases like those, it would be sectarian to fail to ally with fellow socialists over minor differences. Organisational structures now are based on the desired structure of society after the revolution. Marxist-Leninists organise in centralised top-down parties, which are meant to be the vanguard of the working class, because after the revolution they want to see a centralised workers state. Some Marxist-Leninist parties (but by no means all) even resemble miniature versions of the worst Marxist-Leninist state dictatorships: with secretive leadership cliques, intrigues, denunciations, and cult-like uniformity of though. Anarchists organise themselves in decentralised autonomous local groups, federated from the bottom up through conferences with mandated delegates, because they want to see that sort of structure of government after the revolution.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Voter apathy isn't the problem

This is The fifth in a series looking at and debunking specific 'tactical voting' strategies and election narratives from an anti-electoral perspective. With thanks to Phil Dickens over at LibCom.org http://libcom.org/blog/voter-apathy-isnt-problem-28022015 Part one on holding your nose to vote labour Part two on voting for radical third parties Part three on voting as anti-racism Part four on alternative voting systems are all available on libcom. Despite the vast amount of column inches dedicated to who you should vote for, tactically or on principle, and the huge amounts of time, money and energy spent to 'get out the vote,' a great many people won't. They won't vote Labour to stop the Tories, or vote a third party to either pull Labour left or present an alternative to them. In fact, they won’t be voting at all because (whiny liberal voice) “they just don’t care.” This graphic sums up the argument of why this is supposedly such a problem: It should be immediately obvious what’s wrong with this graphic. ‘These people’ are highly unlikely to all vote in a similar direction, let alone for the same party, so they’re not a decisive victory for a single party waiting in the wings. Not to mention that a 100% turnout wouldn’t change the fundamental role of the state as the manager of capital and upholder of social order with a monopoly on violence. Nor would it guarantee that people do anything other than vote, like join unions or get involved in struggles for social change. You know, the stufff that actually could change everything. If you’re dismayed with the dismal lack of change that comes from elections, maybe look at why electoralism isn’t a vehicle for social change, before you start the rallying cry to ‘wake up sheeple!’ That isn’t to say there isn’t a serious issue to be addressed. A considerable majority of those who don’t vote will be of that position because they see no point. Even without necessarily having an anarchist analysis of the state, they can see that largely the same shit results whoever gets in. They’re alienated, atomised and disenchanted. In other words, they’re suffering not from apathy but from the proletarian condition. And though they might not consider themselves ‘political,’ a lot of them will see what the problem is better than those who simply insist that we need to vote Labour. If they’re white, working class and alienated, then there’s a huge risk that someone like UKIP or the BNP will have some appeal. Not because they’re racist, necessarily, but because the main parties have abandoned them, the left is non-existent on council estates, and these guys are actually talking about jobs, housing and social conditions - even if they are picking the wrong target and using the issues to stir up racism and xenophobia. So yes, ‘apathy’ needs to be tackled. There needs to be a serious effort to talk politics with our class, counter the racist myths, and build real working class unity instead of partitioning it and allowing class to be co-opted for race and nation (white working class, British working class, etc). But does this mean that we need to get people voting, specifically, or write them off as uncaring if they don’t? Of course not. Whether someone votes or not is incidental. Apathy isn't defined by whether you put an X in a box every five years but by whether you care about the real issues assaulting our class. Most people do, but feel powerless to do anything about them. That powerlessness is what breeds real apathy, not the unwillingness to vote but the feeling that they can't change anything. That makes the real challenge not getting out the vote but giving workers confidence in their own collective power to force change in the workplace and the community. For that, you have to think outside the ballot box.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Angry Not Apathetic, What anarchists do instead of voting

The general election is here, and once again the parties are all over us like a rash, promising that they will fix things. But you don’t have to be an anarchist to know that nothing changes, whoever gets in. This is why politicians are keen on new methods such as postal voting. Labour, Tory, Liberal Democrat, nationalist (Plaid Cymru, SNP, Sinn Fein), ‘principled’ or ‘radical’ (Green Party, or leftists in some alliance), or nationalist-racist (UKIP etc), the fundamentals of the system are the same. Whether we have the present electoral system or proportional representation, or however many people vote or don’t vote in an election or referendum, as we have just seen in Scotland, capitalism is at the driving wheel globally. As working class people, we are exploited whether we can take part in ‘free’ elections or live under an authoritarian regime. Capitalists and property owners continue to control the wealth that we create, and they protect it through the police, legal system, and military. You can’t complain Non-voters are told that, “If you don't vote you can't complain”. But voting under these circumstances is just pretending that the system we have is basically alright. It lets the winning party off the hook. The fact is, we have next to no say in the decisions that get taken by the people we elect. This is called ‘representative democracy’. Anarchists organise by ‘direct democracy’, where we can have a say in every decision, if we want to. We don’t put our power in someone else’s hands, so no one can betray us and abuse it. This really could work globally! Ask us how... Campaigning against voting A “don't vote” campaign on its own is just as much a waste of time. The same goes for a protest vote for a leftist or novelty candidate. The time and money spent campaigning could be better used fixing some of the problems we face in our lives. Protesting, whether it is spoiling a ballot paper or marching in the street, fails to offer any real challenge. So, anarchists say, vote, or don’t vote. It won’t make any difference. What is more important, is to realise that elections prop up a corrupt system and divert us from winning real change. Don’t vote, organise! We should organise with our neighbours, workmates, other people we have shared interests with, and others who don’t have the privileges that some people have. We are the experts on what we need, and on the best way to run things for the common good. We need to use direct action to achieve this. Direct action is where we solve a problem without someone else representing us. By this we mean, not just protesting and asking for change, but things like occupying, sabotaging, working to rule, refusing to pay their prices or their rent, and striking (but not waiting for union leaders to tell us when we can and can’t!). For example, when workers aren’t paid the wages owed them, rather than asking the government to give us better legal protection, we take action to force employers to pay. The Department for Work & Pensions has even named the Anarchist Federation and the Solidarity Federation among groups that are a serious threat to workfare, because we have shut down programmes. This was achieved with only a few hundred people. Imagine what could be done with thousands! Taking it back In reality, people are understandably afraid of taking the state on. But direct action doesn’t have to mean an all-out fight to defeat capitalism in one go. Anarchists do think that ultimately, there has to be a full revolution. But by confronting the system directly at any point we can start to take control. In fact, all the good things we think of as having been created by the state – free health care, free education, health & safety laws to protect us at work, housing regulations, sick pay, unemployment benefits, pensions – came about historically to put an end to organised campaigns of collective direct action that threatened their power. And where we would fail as individuals, together we can win. --- Labour and the Unions The infatuation of the trade unions with the Labour party should be nothing other than mystifying for ordinary workers. Whether it is ‘Unions Together’ or TUC voter registration drives, trade union members amongst us should feel deeply insulted at being asked to prop-up the Labour party as the best available solution. The Labour Party was set up in the early twentieth century as a political wing of the trade union movement. Despite the rose-tinted view of history, it has continually regulated workers under capitalism. It is not a case of Labour having ‘lost its way’ and needing recapturing. To echo the anarchist Rudolf Rocker, political parties and elections haven’t brought workers “a hair’s breadth closer to socialism.” The ‘Special Relationship’ The TUC and parts of the left continually present us with a picture of Labour which has nothing in common with its actual actions. They tell us that we still have a ‘special relationship’, and that despite its failings, the Labour Party stands-up best for ordinary working people. So we should support it ‘without illusions’, because it is better than the Tories. Not that you would notice! All the major parties support austerity against the working class. This is irrefutable, and Labour even says as much. What remains of the dwindling trade union movement is essentially shackled by harsh restrictive anti-union laws and a totally compliant TUC leadership. These laws tell us how to manage our affairs, seriously restrict our ability to withdraw labour, and tell us who we can and can’t expel, which means that we have to accept scabbing in our own unions. They restrict free association in a way that no other organisation can under British law and are regularly condemned by the International Labour Organisation, which is hardly a hotbed of radicalism. The only time Labour repealed anti-union laws was when its hand was forced by a mass grassroots workers movement in the 1970s. Overturning these present laws and rebuilding a militant culture around the workplace is going to require not the politics of the ballot box, but sheer will and the determination to oppose so-called ‘representatives’ in both the Labour Party and the TUC. Their class interests under capitalism are intimately linked; our interests begin and end with us. --- Free Education and the Liberal Democrats: A Student’s Perspective Living in Sheffield at the time of the last election, I saw that there was massive voter turn-out and support for the Lib Dems amongst students. A tangible optimism and excitement existed in Nick Clegg’s constituency. Personally, I spoiled my ballot paper with, ‘If voting changed anything they’d make it illegal’. However, I did wonder whether a Lib-Dem rise could contest the New Labour/Conservative stalemate of neoliberal similarity. Clegg now sports a satisfaction rating of minus-40 (Mori survey). This is well deserved. Instead of capping tuition fees he has overseen them triple to £9,000. Young people among many others who voted Lib-Dem have been left disillusioned by this, becoming disengaged from politics. What has been proven is not that young people are not interested in politics, but that politicians are not interested in young people. Debt I was lucky and only had to pay £3,000/year in fees. But I now owe the Students Loan Company £23,000. This increases by at least £30 a month due to interest, which started whilst I was still at university! I am persistently being hassled by them checking if I’m earning enough yet to start paying it back. Neo-liberalisation When I finished university I wanted to continue studying. However, funding for a social science Master’s degree is rare and most students are self-funded. I couldn’t stand the thought of incurring more debt by taking out a loan, so I gave up on the idea. I moved home and worked in a café trying to get out of my overdraft. I found out that there are no tuition fees in Sweden for EU citizens. I applied to Stockholm University and got in, paying living costs with money I’d earned in the café. I then found out I could return to the UK on an Erasmus exchange, avoiding tuition fees and even getting an EU grant! This illustrates the lengths that you have to go to if you come from a background where higher education is unaffordable. Furthermore, it has taught me that a free education is feasible, but cannot be accomplished by relying on political parties and the establishment. The neo-liberalisation of higher education has proliferated under the Coalition. Education is becoming the preserve of the upper-middle-class. Research too must now be ‘competitive’, not expressing critical, independent thought. To contest this, to strive for free education, the only way is to self-organise! The demise of the Lib-Dems has shown we cannot rely on any political party to deliver this. This is why we argue ‘Don’t Vote – Organise!’ --- “Tories on bikes”: the Green Party in power “F***ing Tories on bikes” – that’s how one Brighton bin worker describes the Green Party. As the largest party on the local council, with 23 seats at the 2011 election, Brighton is the only place in the UK where the Greens have had so much as a sniff of power. And look what they’ve done with it. Despite trumpeting a commitment to the living wage (£7.85 an hour outside London, compared to a National Minimum Wage of £6.50), they tried to impose a “pay modernisation” scheme on low-paid council workers with the support of the Conservative group on the council. It meant that refuse and recycling staff at Hollingdean depot faced a paycut of up to £4,000 a year. Acting like the worst kind of union-busting boss, the council threatened the workers that if they refused to accept the new terms, they would sack them and re-employ them ‘on a worse contract, without compensation’. Binworkers responded with a wildcat occupation of their depot, and there have been numerous strikes and wildcat stoppages since. And the attacks on the binworkers’ terms and conditions of employment continue. Litter picking Green MP, Caroline Lucas claims to have made her opposition to the proposals clear, and even said that she would “join the picket line if the Council forces a pay cut on low paid staff.” Well, we haven’t seen her on any picket lines. We did see her picking up litter during the strike of June 2013, despite a statement from the bin-workers asking people not to, because as they say, “any attempts to lessen the impact of a strike [by picking up litter] completely undermines our action.” No doubt the Greens in Brighton have made “tough choices,” with their “hands tied” by central government. So is that all there is to politics – “tough choices” and a world of perpetual disappointment when your elected representatives betray you? As anarchists, we say that the problem is not with who is in power, and how they exercise that power. The problem is political power itself. As anarchist Noam Chomsky points out, “the smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.” The Greens might be on the fringes of that spectrum, but they’re still part of the party political system, established to keep us quiet. --- with thanks to Anarchist federation and their pamphlett resistance which you can read more at http://www.afed.org.uk/publications/resistance-bulletin/437-resistance-bulletin-issue-158-angry-not-apathetic-general-election-special-issue-spring-2015.html

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Syriza's first month

with thanks to libcom http://libcom.org/blog/syrizas-first-month-28022015A month since its election Syriza has moved far from its anti-austerity, anti-bailout rhetoric. It's been just over a month since Syriza won the Greek elections and formed a government. A month can be a long time in the Greek crisis and already the enthusiasm and hope that greeted the Leftist victory seems like something from the distant past. The new government's first few weeks saw a mix of action, inaction, retreat and surrender as it looked to find its feet both within the Greek state and in Europe. The news of Syriza's victory was greeted with joy from the Left across Europe. A Leftist anti-austerity party had actually won an election and was making grand promises of changing Europe. This enthusiasm was tempered somewhat by Syriza's formation of a coalition with right-wing Independent Greeks(AN.EL). This move was not surprising as the two parties have had an informal alliance for sometime as both are firmly anti-austerity. Whilst AN.EL took the valuable Defence Ministry they have so far kept themselves in the background. The formation of a coalition with AN.EL indicated that the main goal of the new government was to create an anti-austerity front to carry on negotiations with the Troika(IMF,EU,ECB). Syriza was elected on a promise to end the memorandums, the notorious bailout agreements through which the Greek state has been ruled for the last five years. Syriza's rhetoric started off by claiming an end to the bailouts and declaring the death of the Troika. From this rhetorical high ground Syriza gradually climbed down over the next few weeks. The claim that Greek debt would be written off was swiftly dropped. Charismatic Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis stated that 70% of the bailout agreements was actually good and he only wanted to change the other 30%. Though Syriza demonstrated its willingness to quickly back down the talks with EU leaders dragged on. In part this was likely a deliberate move by the EU in order to push Syriza to further concessions and to punish the Leftist government in the manner of a teacher disciplining a back-talking pupil. In the end a slow bank run in Greece helped bring about a new agreement. The Troika was not dead after all but was just renamed. Syriza agreed to an extension of the previous bailout for four months, at which point a new arrangement will be made. Syriza won a few minor concessions such as a reduction in primary surplus targets and the ability to write some of their own reforms. The wording of the agreements has been changed, for instance no naming of the Troika, but other than that the extension is exactly the same as the previous government was prepared to implement. In just a few weeks Syriza has gone from ending the bailouts to extending them. The main substantial difference between Syriza and the previous governments in terms of the bailout agreements is that Syriza will be able to implement the deal from a position of popularity. The war of words the between the government and EU leaders during the negotiations stoked national pride in a country used to its politicians meekly submitting to Troika demands. Though there are doubts about the extension, Syriza is, for the moment, a popular government and was even able to call pro-government demonstrations-an almost unheard of event in Greece. Unrest is never far away though, there are already signs that the surrender to the Troika is causing disputes within Syriza and at the moment it is not clear if the deal will be put before parliament for a vote. One reason behind Syriza's popularity is their adept use of symbolism. The first days of the new government saw a number of symbolic gestures aimed at creating the impression of a new start. For the first time a Prime Minister was sworn in with a civil oath rather than a religious one. The fences which have surrounded the parliament building for the last years were removed. The police were restrained also. When an anti-fascist demonstration took place the riot police were told to sit back and watch while demonstrators were even allowed to paint and graffiti police buses (apparently the police were left 'confused and uncertain'), at the same event last year the police beat and chased people even onto the metro lines. The early symbolism was meant to demonstrate a break with the past but later moves pointed to a continuation of previous practices. Syriza proposed and elected Prokopis Pavlopoulos as president of the Republic. Pavlopoulos represents the old order of Greek politics, he was a high ranking member of conservative New Democracy and served as a government minister. Unforgivably he was Interior Minister during December 2008. His election represents a reconciliation rather than a break with the old order. Away from symbolism and the Troika negotiations another of Syriza's actions has had a more positive impact. After another suicide in the migrant detention camp of Amygdaleza, a Syriza minister visited the infamously poor camp and ordered the release of those held there. A number of people have already been released from the network of migrant detention camps across the Greek territories and it is hoped more will be freed. Other measures may also remove the worst abuses migrants are often subjected to by the Greek state. Other pre-election promises have so far been shelved or not acted upon. The fate of the controversial gold mine at Skouries is uncertain with Syriza seeming reluctant to act decisively against one of the only substantial recent foreign investments in the Greek state. As part of the bailout extension deal a number of privatisations are likely to go ahead rather than be frozen. The promised restoration of the minimum wage has to wait to 2016 at the earliest. Syriza now faces the same challenge as that has faced by previous Greek governments, how to implement the unpopular bailouts and the attached austerity. Their current popularity, bolstered by various symbolic gestures, will aid them in the process. But after having spent so long waiting for Syriza to end austerity, the Leftist's swift climb down will disappoint many. On Thursday night a few hundred protesters marched through Athens and clashed with police in the first small scale riot under Syriza. While insignificant in themselves, the clashes show that not everyone is following Syriza's path.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Greece, Syriza’s predicted climbdown

As many of us who have been around for a while and were not swept up in all the excitement of a so called leftparty gaining power in Greece will have thought this recent news of a Syriza sell out comes as no surprise to us. We take no joy in this and in fact will only serve to boost the right who will play on this. “We won the battle, not the war,” declared Alexis Tsipras on February 21 after the euro group decided to extend the bailout deal for another four months. This was conditional upon the Syriza-led government submitting economic and other ‘reforms’ deemed acceptable to its creditors (especially Germany). Neither part of the Greek prime minister’s statement is true, of course. Athens blinked first, as was always going to be the case, and decisively lost the battle. And you can confidently predict that the isolated Syriza government will lose the war as well: the enemy is too big. Yes, the new deal may have averted immediate bankruptcy and a potentially catastrophic ‘Grexit’, but the country remains locked into austerity. Still at the tender mercies of the despised European Commission-European Central Bank-International Monetary Fund troika (even if they are now officially called the “institutions”). Now that the deal has been signed, with the troika (sorry, institutions) due to deliver a more detailed verdict by the end of April before the last tranche of €7.2 billion can be paid out, only the most deluded can fail to see that the agreement constitutes a headlong retreat from the Thessaloniki programme first presented last September - which itself represented a significant watering down of Syriza’s original radical goals (eg, nationalisation of the banks was dumped). The manifesto or “national reconstruction plan” was based on four central pillars: “confronting” the humanitarian crisis; “restarting” the economy and promoting tax justice; a “national plan” to regain employment; and “transforming” the political system to “deepen democracy”.1 At the wider, European, level, the programme demanded a European “New Deal” of large-scale public investment by the European Investment Bank, extending quantitative easing by the ECB and a conference for the reduction of Greek and southern European debt modelled on the London Debt Agreement of 1953. Rather unfortunately, Tsipras stated at the time that the programme is “not negotiable” - when in reality it has been negotiated out of existence. Relatively minor concessions aside, such as a possible reduction in the primary budget surplus2 and some theoretical leeway to propose his own fiscal/economic policies (which can be rejected at any time), the Syriza government has agreed to conform to the bailout, not buck it - let alone reverse or overthrow it. If that is a victory, then one dreads to think what a defeat would look like. Pie in the sky Thus the six-page letter signed by finance minister Yanis Varoufakis rowed back on virtually all the campaign pledges - he may be erratic, but he is definitely not Marxist. What Syriza originally wanted (there is no reason to doubt their sincerity) was the complete overhaul-cum-cancellation of the bailout and its onerous austerity terms; no more ‘supervision’ from the hated troika; reduction in the debt owed to the rest of the euro zone and a profits transfer from the ECB’s sovereign bond purchase programme; substantial easing of the requirement for Athens to indefinitely run large budget surpluses; an increase in the statutory minimum wage from €530 a month to €751; and, of course, an end to all privatisation programmes. What Syriza actually consented to, however, was an extension of existing bailout terms and conditions; some minimal reforms to supposedly address the humanitarian crisis (like food stamps), so long as they have no “negative fiscal effects”; a commitment to work in “close agreement” with its creditors (ie, the troika/institutions); maintaining current privatisations and “improving” the terms of privatisations that are not yet launched; the reduction/rationalisation of benefits, whilst keeping the public-sector wage bill to its current level; no debt repudiation or write-off, but a conditional promise of future transfer of central bank bond purchase profits to Athens; reduction in the required 2015 budget surplus from 4.5% to 1.5% (still harsh in a depressed economy); and the reintroduction over time of some form of collective bargaining, and no “unilateral” or “one-sided” changes to economic policies and fiscal targets - meaning minimum wage and other spending pledges are up in the air. Syriza also agreed to abandon plans to use some €11 billion in leftover European bank support funds to help “restart” the Greek economy. Then, of course, we have the vague and maybe unfulfillable promise to ‘crack down’ on the oligarchs and criminals - drawing up a €7.3 billion ‘hit list’. In this manner, we are told, the Greek government hopes to gather €2.5 billion in tax receipts from the fortunes of powerful Greek tycoons - and a similar amount, apparently, would be drawn from back taxes owed to the state by various individuals and businesses. A clampdown on illegal smuggling of petrol and cigarettes would yield another €2.3 billion for government coffers, we discover. Frankly, this is wildly optimistic. Obviously, such measures - assuming they ever happen - would not generate anywhere near the revenue expected or hoped: the oligarchs’ money has long left the country, relocated to London or New York. The only option, if you were serious about getting the money, would be to confiscate their assets - but clearly that would be to violate EU law and therefore will not happen. The Tsipras leadership would not risk getting kicked out of the EU. What we now have is austerity in the colours of Syriza, which was inevitable, once Tsipras et al agreed to form a government (unless they wanted to ‘do an Albania’, of course). Germany and its close allies were never going to consent to any form of debt relief or repudiation, as that would set a dangerous precedent - sparking rebellion across Europe. Expressing this worry, one of Schäuble’s senior officials told the Financial Times: “If we go deeper into the debt discount debate, there will be no more reforms in Europe. There will be joyful celebrations in the French presidential palace and probably in Rome, too, if we go down this path.” In other words, what Germany is really worried about - quite understandably from its own point of view - is that the austerity regimes imposed on Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy could unravel. The latter country, it goes without saying, is too big to fail - if it did, that would be the end of the euro zone. Now, you might have dreamed that Tsipras and Varoufakis were playing a highly sophisticated and devious game - master chess players. Knowing full well that they could not scrap or reverse the bailout deal, they actually had another secret plan up their sleeve: Grexit. They would revert back to the drachma, erect stringent capital controls and nationalise almost everything, whilst developing trade links with Russia, China, Venezuela, the Brics and Mint economies4, etc. After all, only a few weeks ago, Panos Kammenos, defence minister and leader of the Independent Greeks - coalition partners to Syriza - openly mused about a “plan B” to get “funding from other countries”: eg, Russian and China.5 True, in order to do this the Syriza government would have to effectively seal off Greek society - dig deep trenches, plant endless anti-tank mines, build millions of bunkers, massively expand the secret police and construct an enormous East German-like wall around the country to stop people fleeing: about two million have already left, after all. So just imagine how many more would want to leave after drachmaisation, which would see a considerable plunge in living standards: a ‘middle class’ exodus of doctors, lecturers, lawyers, etc. Tough, sure, but at least it would have been an act of resistance. Pure fantasy, of course. Those grouped around Syriza’s leadership never had a plan B, or even much of a plan A - apart from getting what crumbs they could from ‘renegotiating’ the bailout and doing whatever they had to do to remain within the euro/EU. But the Socialist Worker headline correctly sums up the situation: ‘New Greek deal turns the screws on Syriza’ (February 24). Unhappily, Syriza’s problems are only just beginning. Whilst the EC was quick to support the Greek formula, both the ECB and IMF are a lot more ambiguous about the bailout extension. Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, and Mario Draghi, ECB president, have expressed strong reservations to Dijsselbloem. Lagarde thinks the Greek proposals are not sufficiently concrete, singling out “critical” undertakings such as VAT, pension and labour market reforms and privatisation - in these and other areas, the Greek letter is “not conveying clear assurances”. For his part, Draghi complained that the pledges outlined by the Tsipras government “differ from existing programme commitments”, meaning that the ECB will have to assess whether any possible new measures or policies are of “equal or better quality” - ie, are sufficiently committed to austerity and neoliberal reforms. The troika might come back later for yet more flesh. In his own way, Schäuble hit the nail on the head when he said that Syriza “certainly will have a difficult time to explain the deal to their voters”. He reminded radio listeners that the Greek government had told the people “something completely different in the campaign and afterwards” - hence the question now is “whether one can believe the Greek government’s assurances or not”. Many within Syriza are far from happy. Manolis Glezos, MEP and anti-Nazi resistance veteran - who famously in May 1941 climbed on top of the Acropolis and tore down the swastika - was one of the first to slam the deal. In a withering statement he wrote: “Renaming the ‘troika’ as the ‘institutions’, their ‘memorandum of understanding’ as an ‘agreement’ and the ‘lenders’ into ‘partners’ doesn’t change the situation.” He has called for urgent opposition inside the party on the grounds that there can be “no compromise between oppressor and oppressed”. Sofia Sakorafa, another MEP - the first MP to quit Pasok over its support for austerity - and leading Syriza economist John Milios quickly endorsed Glezos’s statement. Similarly, Costas Lapavitsas, Syriza MP, professor of economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies - and a prominent member of the Left Platform tendency - wrote a scathing open letter on his blog, outlining how “difficult” it is see how the Thessaloniki programme (which includes writing off the biggest part of the debt and scrapping the memorandum) “can be implemented through this agreement”. He went on to say that it is necessary to “give substantial answers immediately to these questions” in order to “retain the large support and the dynamism given to us by the Greek people”.6 Perhaps even more damning was the reaction from Stathis Kouvelakis, member of the Syriza central committee. He bluntly stated that “going on this way can only mean defeat”, as under the deal the Syriza government will have “no choice other than to administer the memorandum framework”.7 In turn, this will “disappoint the hopes and expectations” of those who voted for the party. He warned that Syriza could “disintegrate” and that there could be a “reconfiguration” of the current political alliances, as there is no longer any reason why pro-memorandum forces “should go on refusing to collaborate” with Alexis Tsipras. It is far from impossible, he contended, that To Potami, Pasok and even a wing of New Democracy could end up getting into bed with Tsipras - and it was “precisely” the latter that Syriza was “giving a nod and a wink to” when it chose to support Prokopis Pavlopoulos, a leading figure from ND’s centrist wing, for president (with 233 votes in favour). This is all turning very sour very quickly for Syriza and a left revival in Europe looks badly miss judged. We all know that any government who looks to manage the system better ends up beign managed themselves by the system itself. This is no more clear than Syriza itself who is bending its programme to fit the narrative being dictated to it by te EU. As for Golden Dawn and other far-right formations, their attitude is totally predictable - Tsipras is a national traitor like all Marxists and communists: look at how they have betrayed the country. Greece will continue to be polarised between the far right (maybe including sections of the Independent Greeks) and the far left: the centre cannot possibly hold. Under such crisis conditions, it is not entirely inconceivable that the EU will sponsor some sort of coup - whether militarily or constitutionally. Perhaps attempt to get a technocratic government installed, as in Italy. All this demonstrates the folly of tying yourself to the Syriza flag, as Left Unity stupidly did - making it a sister party and so on. Even worse, forces within Left Unity in the UK are now talking about an “anti-austerity alliance”, using Syriza as their model. Complete madness, when you consider that the Syriza government is now committed to implementing its version of austerity - lite or otherwise. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1047/austerity-in-the-colours-of-syriza/ with thanks to quotes from the weekly worker at http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1047/austerity-in-the-colours-of-syriza/

Wednesday, 25 February 2015


We can’t put our faith in the ballot box The recent election of SYRIZA in Greece has invested a lot of hope in the emergence of a popular anti-austerity front across Europe. However the deep resistance that SYRIZA are facing to even the modest social reforms they are proposing from their European partners gives an indication of the intrinsic limits of parliamentary action alone to wider, and particularly deeper, social change. That is not to say that there are no important lessons to be drawn from this situation. Part of SYRIZA’s success story is in the way in which it has effectively capitalised on political ground that has been largely conceded by the parties of the social democratic centre in their widespread commitment to “responsible” economic policies and continuing austerity. This is a situation repeated across many European democracies. The so-called PASOKification of the centre left (in the UK and particularly in Scotland) has left a certain degree of political space “up for the taking”. The recent explosion in Green Party membership in England and Wales fits this story nicely: some might even find themselves feeling optimistic about alternatives to the Political status quo. Nonetheless, we need to be hard-headed in how we deal with these recent trends. Poverty, hopelessness and powerlessness have drawn many throughout Europe, including a considerable section of both our own and the Greek electorate, to the populist and far-right. Understanding why it was the left that triumphed recently requires more than looking to SYRIZA’s leadership and electoral strategies – we need to look at the way broader Greek anti-capitalist culture operates. For decades a vibrant network of extra-parliamentary parties, social movements and trade union groups have sustained the continuing case for basic social solidarity through the maintenance of left spaces, solidarity networks and other forms of community engagement. This genuinely life-sustaining work has highlighted the pragmatism of socialist ideas above the individualistic solutions offered by the far-right and pro-austerity left. The future of SYRIZA’s relation to these social and extra-parliamentary movements is very unclear at this stage. Similarly, but on a smaller scale, is it possible to understand the surge in SNP popularity following the independence referendum without also appreciating the explosion in grassroots activity that preceded it? In England and Wales the outlook is even bleaker. Not only is the left generally lacking in the basic forms of outreach and engagement that has empowered our Greek and Scottish friends, but the electoral system is stacked against any chance of even a modest swing in electoral sentiment. Even if the Green Party was to mobilise an army of supporters comparable to that seen in the Scottish referendum the “breakthrough” would be underwhelming, at most a victory of a handful of parliamentary seats. The splitting of the political centre ground, combined with the massive disenfranchisement brought about by austerity policies, leaves a great deal of potential for any movement offering real and practical non-parliamentary alternatives. As solidarity unionists we believe that grassroots engagement and direct action are not merely the means of realising that latent potential, they are the basis for the worker-run society we’re trying to build. Meaningful and lasting victories can be won through these activities in a number of highly adaptable and scalable forms – from the group of workmates who march on the boss to win back their tip jar to the occupied and collectivised factory employing thousands of workers, we’ve got a working model for building the society we want. 2. Whose movement is it anyway? Trade union membership in the UK has been in steady decline since the late 1970s. In the last decade membership figures have largely plateaued with a few thousand dropping off the figures each year. The most active and visible unions, as well as those with the largest memberships, are those employed in the now shrinking public sector. Since the 2008 financial crisis the TUC has offered little to nothing in the way of meaningful resistance to public sector cuts, stagnation in pay and attacks on workers’ rights. Tribunal fees, one of the earliest and most damaging legal changes introduced by the coalition government have been subject to a number of unsuccessful legal challenges by the larger unions but there has been no effort to mobilise collective opposition. One-day strikes and repeated, progressively dwindling protests and demonstrations against attacks on their pensions, pay and conditions have delivered nothing. At the IWW strategy conference three years ago it was resolved that the mission of this union was to organise “the unorganised, the abandoned and the betrayed”. For many of us in the IWW the first category is a familiar one as (like a massive section of service, hospitality and restaurant workers in the UK) our members frequently find themselves in workplaces without a union. That shouldn’t, however, detract from the fact that we are in desperate need of rank-and-file initiatives within the existing trade union apparatus that can affectively mobilise a cynical and worn out membership. Trade unions have wholesale retreated from actual day-to-day engagement and organising in favour of top down and institutional action. Our networks of dual-carders spread across the existing trade unions need to cut through the inertia and get workers mobilised and enthusiastic again. Not for a new officer or protest or lobby but for those principles that should be the bedrock of the labour movement: common action on the job to improve the conditions of your workmates. 3. We’re making gains where it counts The rules of the political game may have changed, but how we play in response to it remains the same. Building a mass movement for social change has to start with an active engagement with the issues that exist in our workplaces and communities. Your neighbours, workmates and fellow claimants need to see that action can and must be taken to re-build the broken links of social solidarity that have been so effectively dismantled over the past thirty years. In addressing those real, immediate challenges that people feel in their everyday lives we can start to work together to build alternatives. A modest but important example of this is the campaign that Sheffield GMB recently conducted against the owner of a local deli. The campaign was in response to a fellow worker who was unfairly (and possibly illegally) dismissed from the deli following an incident where they addressed the bullying and harassing behaviour of the owner. In spite of the limited scope of the focus – a single employer operating one business in the restaurant and hospitality sector – it became an incredibly vibrant and energising campaign that involved members from a number of IWW branches, a great turnout from the local community, ex-employees of the deli, TUs and many others too numerous to name. We believe that this additional momentum behind the campaign was due to a number of key factors;  The campaign filled a vacuum of Left engagement with local issues except on an electoral or purely symbolic level.  It was very focused with a clear measure for victory by having strictly defined demands. This focus allowed us to channel the energy from more general grievances associated with precarious and zero-hour work (particularly in the restaurant and hospitality sector where these issues are widespread) that might otherwise be seen as isolated and individual cases.  It sent a clear message to other restaurant owners in the city that unfair labour practices should not be accepted as normal and provides an example to others in precarious and zero hour work on how to take action.  The strength and passion of the response on the part of the union serves as a very real counter-example to the generally weak and capitulating attitudes of the TUC (even when the issues they deal with are far more serious abuses of workers’ rights). Contrary to conventional wisdom, it seems that there is not necessarily a blanket unwillingness to engage with radical alternatives. Rather, people’s faith has been tested too often. We need to demonstrate that we have the capacity, organisational skills and determination to win small in ways that allow us to think big. This allows us to credibly push the principle and practice of a fighting union across workplaces and in areas where union engagement is unknown. However, visible campaigns like the above shouldn’t detract from long-term, steady work of those organising amongst their workmates or the less exciting organising work that underpins the campaign itself. In both cases the principles of the IWW approach are underlined by a belief that in order to challenge capitalism we should not be looking “to the skies” but to how we can shift the balance of power in our everyday lives. 4. Thinking outside the box room of a pub What would a branch of one hundred Wobblies look like? This was a question that was considered largely academic to seasoned members over a decade ago when local meetings would be composed of a handful of members in scattered industries. The IWW is still a small (but growing) union. A healthy growth in membership has, however, led us to seriously address what a genuinely inclusive and active union culture at this scale should look like. As we grow, learn and experiment it is becoming increasingly apparent that many of the presumptions we brought from the activist milieu are just as unfit for purpose as those of the traditional trade union movement. A branch meeting dictated by the local paid officials and organisers can be as alienating as the mystifying codes and practices of consensus decision making. It has become apparent that structures need to be able to accommodate a culture of debate and grassroots democracy as much as they need to be balanced by a healthy and accountable centre. These challenges have also led us to question our own assumptions when it comes to internal organisational culture. This is particularly the case in terms of our experiences of a continuing attitude in the Left that meetings should be considered an end unto themselves. That simply attracting x number of people to a public meeting or holding a successful conference or gathering is a sufficient measure for organisational success. This is a dangerous approach not only for its basic insularity but also for its flattening of organisational success to the simple measure of “bums on seats”. If workers’ organisations are to be effective they need to be not only building greater but stronger levels of participation. That means raising the bar in terms of both the quantity and quality of membership, or as we like to say – aiming to turn every member into an organiser. Our measure of success should not just be the number of people who “get” what we are trying to achieve but how we have made them better equipped to do something about it through organising, campaigning, or rep assistance. 5. We’re finding balance Social struggle is hard work, but we don’t need to burn out. Any veteran of social justice activism who has endured a three/four hour meeting on decision-making process will likely agree that there seems to be a particularly masochistic bent to some of the more unique cultural practices of the contemporary Left. On a basic level this is symptomatic of a general level of disorganisation amongst the activist milieu as well as a tendency for political principles to be prioritised over a more grounded and sensible organisational practice. The idea that these things should be taken as par for the course stems from a wider mindset that associates political activity with a form of service or obligation. We feel that these are demobilising and exclusive attitudes that need to be challenged. We are all pressed for time in busy and stressful lives. Balancing work and family life is often hard enough without the additional obligations of political activism. We think it is important then that any time that a group of Wobblies get together we should aim for it to be a mobilising and empowering experience. If this is a public action it should be an affirmation of the alternative we want to offer, we should celebrate the fact that workers have felt confident enough to make their grievances public and that we are strong enough to take to the streets. If it is a meeting or a gathering it should aim to develop the membership, through skill-shares, education, training, union culture or even just hosting a vibrant social event. Members should always feel that they have gained something extra from their union. That’s not to say that if something isn’t “fun” it shouldn’t be done. Lots of aspects of union organising are quite stressful and demand a great deal of time and patience. What we don’t need, however, are martyrs who feel obligated to sacrifice everything for the cause but people who want to invest in union culture because they feel empowered by it. By newsyndicalist https://newsyndicalist.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/five-reasons-the-iww-are-challenging-the-culture-of-the-uk-left-and-why-you-should-be-too/