Monday, 5 January 2015

2014 and what will the new year have in store for us?

Allot more of the same I should imagine. With a general election being many political thinking peoples main source of interest for me it is completely not. A period of sustained bullshit being pumped out from all sides and angles. Where party leaders are analysis in all different ways does their hair look good? Are their prime ministerial whatever that means and so on? I can’t wait as you can clearly tell. For me I am asked who do I want to win the election and would either side winning make any difference. Whilst I think it might change the land we fight on if it’s a Tory or labour headed up government it would be different we can’t ignore that. But the programmes both are signed up to are not different at all. "In the UK, I don’t think there have been many big, definitive moments that sum up the year as a whole: just like in 2013, life for most people has mostly continued gradually getting worse, and my real pay, just like yours, is probably worth less now than it was 12 months ago. Still, there have been moments of really inspiring resistance: in particular, the emerging movement against police brutality and white supremacy in the US has been amazing to see, and the amount of organising that seems to be happening around housing in London at the moment is also very encouraging. 2014 in feminism, gender and misogyny (content warning for discussion related to sexual violence):" "Just like in previous years, when thinking about themes that run through a lot of the year’s big stories, sexism and patriarchy have come up again and again. On the left, there’s not been anything to rival the SWP’s rape coverup and subsequent messy split, although Russell Brand’s continued interest in radical politics has, once again, raised the question of prominent lefty men with dodgy attitudes, most recently with the discovery that he endorsed pick-up artist Neil Strauss’s book. To his credit, Brand himself seems able to accept that his behaviour has been sexist and he needs to work on changing it; as I don’t know the man personally, I can’t judge his sincerity very well, but I do think that, when Brand is discussed, his sexist record needs to be part of the conversation. While I can’t say how much I do or don’t trust Brand as a person, what I do know is that, after all we’ve learnt about Great Men and their defenders, after Healy and Galloway and Assange and Sheridan and Smith and Hedley, anyone who’s still so desperate for an idol to look up to that they try to shut Brand’s problematic gender politics out of the conversation is definitely not to be trusted." "More generally, I feel like, compared to a lot of other movements for progressive change, feminism seems to be doing quite well; it’s hard to measure, but feminist voices certainly seem quite prominent in pop culture, and it feels like an encouraging number of people are growing up with feminist ideas as part of their “common sense” worldview. It’s always tricky trying to draw direct comparisons between one struggle and another, but I do think it is at least worth asking what other movements could learn from the progress that feminists have made in the culture wars. But while some progress has been made, there’s a long way still to go. This year hasn’t seen much in the way of big, high-profile national disputes. For my money, probably the most significant workplace action of the year was the 90 days of strike action taken by care workers in Doncaster, but the Care UK strike never really managed to break out of its isolation – Unison, let alone other unions representing care workers like the GMB, never wanted to treat the dispute as worth national attention, the left groups who got involved just pushed a strategy of calling on Unison to deliver solidarity, and other, more rank-and-file tendencies who might have been able to suggest a more practical strategy for relating directly to other care workers never really got involved. Now that it’s ended with the strikers accepting a deal that’s a tiny bit less bad than Care UK’s original offer, but far less than the wage they’d been on previously – roughly speaking, a cut of 30% rather than 35% – a worrying precedent has been set for care workers across the country: if the Doncaster strikers could display such exceptional determination, but still end up being ground down and picked off in isolation, what hope is there for any less militant groups of care workers?" "On the fringes of the workers’ movement, some progress has been made with organising in non-unionised workplaces: the cinema workers who’ve been organising at places like the Ritzy, Curzon Cinema and Everyman Cinemas, the hospitality workers who’ve been organising in Brighton and Norwich and Sheffield, and the ongoing organising effort among warehouse workers in West London. These efforts are mainly very small-scale, but they’re still a welcome step in the right direction." It is hard to not feel depressed at all is going on in the world and the lack of any meaningful fightback but there is always stuff going on which doesn’t get the attention they deserve. The highpoint of class struggle in the UK this year has probably been the steady growth of a self-organised movement over housing. Two particular highlights from the start and end of the year were the effective scrapping of the Bedroom Tax in Scotland in February and the victory won by New Era tenants who forced Westbrook Partners to pull out of their estate – a temporary victory, but a victory nonetheless - but there’s been a lot of other important action around housing throughout the year: the Carpenters’ Estate occupation, tenants in Bristol pushing landlords into making repairs and reducing rents, Glasgow tenants winning refunds from rip-off letting agents, the Poor Doors campaign pushing Redrow into pulling out of 1 Commercial Street, and, perhaps most impressively, direct action preventing evictions in a lot of different places – Nottingham, Newcastle, Liverpool, Southwark & Lambeth, Newham, Salford, Queens Park and beyond. Eviction resistance has to be one of the most powerful forms of (relatively) small-scale direct action. In a better society, of course, it wouldn’t be needed at all, but while evictions continue to happen, it’s good to see so many people willing to turn out to block them. In particular, it’s worth comparing the results of ground-level eviction resistance to the attempt to ban revenge evictions, which was sabotaged by two Tory MPs, both landlords, just talking the bill out. This shows the difference between top-down and grassroots solutions: trying to change the law ultimately depends on relying on the property-owning class, and even actual landlords, to act in our interests. Tenant-led action like eviction resistance allows us to act for ourselves, without relying on anyone else. The New Era and Focus E15 campaigns have been hugely inspirational, but what’s most important is that they aren’t just isolated outliers, but just the most visible tip of a movement that includes many other, less well-publicised groups, like Housing Action Southwark & Lambeth. While a lot of the most impressive anti-austerity action this year has been about housing, worthwhile action has taken place on a lot of other fronts as well. Near the start of the year, there was the wave of claimant protest that led to Atos pulling out of the Work Capacity Assessment contract, while the direct action campaign led by pensioners and disabled people in South Yorkshire has won full reinstatement of disabled travel passes, partial reinstatement of elderly travel passes, and beaten attempts to break the campaign by using the law against key activists. They now intend to continue until the cuts to travel passes are completely reversed. Recent months have also seen a partial revival of the student movement, with a large and unruly demonstration not sanctioned by the NUS as well as a number of occupations, and more marches for free education planned at the end of January. The long-running campaign against workfare has also continued to make steady, small-scale progress, with a number of workfare users pulling out after being targeted. Meanwhile, over in Ireland this year has seen an impressive campaign of resistance to water charges, with huge demos just being the most visible point of a campaign that’s also included widespread direct action to stop water meters from being installed. Elsewhere, there have been other important struggles against repression: in just the last few months, there’s been huge protests in Mexico after the police-linked kidnapping of 43 students, along with the shooting of several others, and Greek anarchist prisoner Nikos Romanos has won the right to education after a hunger strike backed by a massive solidarity movement across the country. Meanwhile, the Operation Pandora crackdown on anarchists in Spain has triggered an angry response, and Operation Pandora is just part of a larger repressive trend that’s also seen a new “gagging law” with the introduction fines of 100-600 euros for offences such as filming police, lack of respect for the police, and unauthorised gatherings in public places, as well as heftier fines of 601-30,000 euros for preventing an eviction, resisting authority, or refusing to dissolve a protest, and incredibly high fines of 30,000-600,000 euros for “organisation of events or recreational activities despite prohibition by the authorities”. In the UK, we’ve seen survivors of a number of historical cases of repression continuing long-running fights for justice: from blacklisted construction workers like Dave Smith, and the surviving members of the Shrewsbury 24 still continuing their fight against the state that fitted them up, to the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign and the women tricked into long-term relationships with undercover cops. In all these cases, their persistence and determination has been admirable, and I wish them all the best for the New Year. Looking to the future: The next few months will be very difficult for anyone committed to independent working-class politics. As much as I dislike the various political parties, it’s still the case that a lot of good, committed activists are drawn to one party or another, and it’s often possible to work productively with individual party members on a local level. If you’re involved in an organising project alongside party-affiliated activists, then get ready to take on a disproportionate amount of responsibility or else put the whole thing on hold for the next few months, as the odds are that they’ll suddenly find their union or community commitments are completely eclipsed by the need to go out door-knocking to spread the good word about their favored candidate. Conventional political wisdom has it that elections are an important opportunity for activists to “get their issues on the agenda”, but, to take an example that’s so obvious it’s practically a cliche, students did a pretty good job of getting tuition fees on the Lib Dem electoral agenda last time around, and it didn’t do them a whole lot of good. We might be able to get politicians to talk about the issues that matter to us in the weeks leading up to the election, but once it’s over that still doesn’t leave us with the power to actually make them do anything. The challenge is not to try and influence politicians – a strategy that inevitably ends up with our schedules and priorities being set by the politicians we want to try and appeal to, rather than worked out collectively from below – but to work out our own agenda, and stick to it – not to push a particular electoral candidate, or even to push an anti-electoral message as such, but to push the same issues and problems that mattered to us six months ago, and will still matter to us in a year’s time. To take housing as an example – if we can “put housing on the agenda” for politicians this election season, we’ll get some fine-sounding rhetoric out of it, and a few more politicians posing for photo-ops with New Era tenants and Focus E15 Mums, but that in itself doesn’t mean anything in terms of policy changes. In contrast, if we organise together with our neighbours, then we can apply our energies right now to preventing evictions, or pressuring crappy landlords into making overdue repairs, or getting unfair fees back from rip-off letting agents. And the best bit is, because our power to do this is something we create together, not dependent on any outside source, we’ll still have the same collective power to do these things long after the electoral circus has packed up and gone home. Whatever your main priority is, that lesson is worth bearing in mind through the weeks and months of electoral distractions that are coming up ahead. with extracts and quotes from the excellent blog over at Cautiously pessimistic

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