reflections on june 30th strike day: a movement taking its first steps

For Izzy Parrott, the J30 day of action was about more than pensions: but it didn’t have the feel of a wide, grassroots movement. 

I went to the strike with Hackney Welfare Action, a benefit claimant and unemployed workers’ group in Hackney, where members support each other with problems at the Job Centre, take action collectively and campaign against ‘work for your benefits’. This is sister group to the Hackney Housing Group, which I’m personally involved in.

Hackney Welfare Action members first went to the picket line at Hackney Benefits Centre, which was a useful show of support for the three workers on the picket line, including one trade union representative. Only fifteen out of three hundred workers crossed the picket that was made up of three workers and roughly thirty supporters. The workers were pleased to have the support and the dialogue we had reminded me that the picket line is still a great place to have conversations! Continue reading “reflections on june 30th strike day: a movement taking its first steps”

new issue of the commune – now free!

The August 2011 issue of The Commune marks a substantial step forward for our paper. We will now be distributing the paper for free, and in much-increased volume.

This issue features  reports from the 30th June strike day, debate on the reasons behind the European crisis, and an extended essay on the war in Libya… and much more. See below for a list of articles.

You can download a PDF of issue 24 by clicking on the image above. If you enjoy the paper and would like to share these ideas with others, write to us at uncaptiveminds@gmail.com and we can post you some hard copies to distribute.

Articles this month:

news

their media and ours – this month’s editorial looks at the meaning of the ‘Hackgate’ scandal

the criminalisation of dissent – on the imprisonment of anti-fees activist Charlie Gilmour

cleaners’ strike in city pays dividends – cleaner activist Alberto Durango reports on a strike at Guildhall which shows that direct action works.

J30

30th June (‘J30’) saw some 750,000 public sector workers take strike action over Tory attacks on pensions. This was the next step forward for the anti-cuts movement following the mass demonstration on 26th March. We discuss the significance of the day and its lessons.

less work for all! – Steve Ryan was on strike with PCS civil servants’ union colleagues

a movement taking its first steps – for Izzy Parrott, the J30 day of action was about more than pensions: but it didn’t have the feel of a wide, grassroots movement.

tense debates over camping plan – Activist solidarity initiatives for the day had rather mixed results. Daniel Harvey stresses the need to centre our activity around the workplace.

anti-cuts

‘something out of the ordinary’ – College worker Siobhan Evans reflects on a hard-fought struggle against redundancies in her workplace.

NHS: reform, or privatisation? – East London GP Jonathon Tomlinson continues our series on alternative ideas as to how public services should be run.

international

the crisis in europe: debating the role of finance – John Keeley argues that it’s more than just Europe’s periphery that’s in crisis; it’s the entire capitalist system. In reply Oisín Mac Giollamóir argues that financial crisis is every bit the ‘normal’ functioning of capitalism

management by abandonment – Nic Beuret writes on the economic and political pressures behind border controls and the EU’s ‘Fortress Europe’ anti-migrant measures.

what is NATO fighting for in libya? – Joe Thorne asks if the western powers have really taken a humanitarian turn

the left 

a weekend at ‘marxism’ – David Broder reflects on the Socialist Workers’ Party’s ‘Marxism’ event, arguing libertarians should do more to relate to the SWP

what is the commune?

their media and ours

The editorial of the August 2011 issue of The Commune looks at the meaning of the News International scandal.

July’s News International phone-hacking scandal focused attention on the links between big business, the media and government.

Millions were rightly angry at not only the hacking of mobile phones, but the clear signs of corruption cutting to the heart of the state. Police officers and journalists traded information for cash, all in the name of building the billionaire Murdoch family’s vast business empire. At the same time the media tycoons were wined and dined by the Prime Minister.

However, most left-wing analysis of the scandal stopped here: business and the Tories are in each others’ pockets. But this is not enough. Firstly, because the links between the corporate media and the state go far beyond ‘Hackgate’. The Murdochs are not just friends of Eton boys like David Cameron: they had a long incestuous relationship with the previous Labour government. Continue reading “their media and ours”

italy: saving the first class passengers on the titanic

David Broder writes on the economic and political crises in Italy, and the lack of a viable left alternative to Silvio Berlusconi

In recent days punning headline writers have turned their focus from the Greek tragedy to the Italian Job as news came from Rome of economic woes and a cuts budget which couldn’t be built in a day. The Milan stock exchange is in steep descent, amidst growing fears that potential default by Greece, Ireland and Portugal may have a ‘domino effect’ on Italy and Spain.

the European Union has pushed hard for austerity measures in Italy

Mounting economic crisis is twinned with simmering political and personal headaches for Silvio Berlusconi. However, the parliamentary opposition is remarkably tame, while the Prime Minister has also managed to distance himself somewhat from blame for austerity.

Last week Economy and Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti announced a  €48bn budget of public service cuts and tax rises. There will be less tax rebates for the poor, medicine will be more expensive and pensions will be worth less. Tremonti styles himself as a neo-liberal hawk, and assumed an unashamed class-warrior stance as he outlined his budget “We can’t be like the Titanic, where they didn’t even manage to save the first class passengers”. A bold statement from a man attacking millions of people already suffering after years of capitalist crisis: today over 8.2 million Italians live under the poverty line, calculated at two people having to live on €992 a month. Continue reading “italy: saving the first class passengers on the titanic”

cleaners strike 15th july at guildhall, city of london

Support the cleaners’ strike at the Guildhall, in the City of London! Picket outside from 5:30am ’til 10am on Friday 15th July: see here for map. Read below for details of the dispute.

The Guildhall, London according to its own website was designed to show the power of London’s ruling elite. This tradition is continued today by annual speeches by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Governor of the Bank of England. The most recent event was a dinner in tribute to the new Ronald Reagan statue attended by the Foreign Secretary, Condoleezza Rice and other dignitaries. Continue reading “cleaners strike 15th july at guildhall, city of london”

the beautiful game in ireland: a story of neglect

Donal O’Falluin writes on Irish working-class football culture

On the northside of Dublin, there is a football stadium. Only a short walk from the 82,000 seater capacity Croke Park, home of the Gaelic Athletic Association, a small stadium with a capacity of about 8,000 sits. Pele, Zidane and many other greats have run out onto the pitch of Dalymount Park. It is considered by many ‘the home of Irish football’. It is symbolic of where the game is today that this historically important stadium, once home to the Irish international side, today crumbles. Like Dalymount Park herself, football in Ireland has endured a fall from grace.

On paper, the football experience in Ireland is something which greatly excites the English football faithful, from an outsiders perspective. With standing in stadiums commonplace, and terraces still the order of the day for many, not to mention a ticket cost averaging €15, it’s an almost romantic throwback to a time before the topflight game in the United Kingdom passed into the hands of speculators, becoming a sort of ’22 men on a pitch’ version of Monopoly among the world’s wealthy. On the ground though it’s evident the game in Ireland is in a seriously troubled state. Continue reading “the beautiful game in ireland: a story of neglect”

a weekend at marxism: how do we relate to the SWP?

David Broder reflects on this weekend’s Marxism festival, a thousands-strong conference organised by the Socialist Workers’ Party. He argues that the libertarian left should be doing more to engage with SWP comrades in order to provide a positive alternative for those put off by how it organises.

Marxism is the biggest event on the British left. Across five days several thousand people converge on London for the Socialist Workers’ Party summer school, including representatives of most other significant left groups. The conference itself is SWP self-promotion, so they do not invite groups they disagree with for debate: they prefer to give a platform to ‘big name’ trade union leaders, politicians like Tony Benn or Marxist academics, who may sermonise for socialism but won’t really question the SWP’s own modus operandi.

This is a great shame, since ‘Marxism’ has great unfulfilled potential. It could be a weekend for the left to debate strategy and ideas in a collective way. Instead, the meetings are heavy on top-table speakers, while SWP audience members tend simply to reaffirm what the speaker has already said. Often in an anti-cuts meeting or similar, The Commune members will question whether we should really be collaborating with Labour politicians, what kind of direct action is appropriate, or if we should be making more radical, positive proposals rather than purely defensive demands. The SWP stock reply is: this isn’t the time to debate among ourselves, we need to be ‘out there’ campaigning. OK, so when can we have these debates? Continue reading “a weekend at marxism: how do we relate to the SWP?”

on the march… at work

A London public sector worker striking on 30th June wrote to The Commune about an action which gave confidence to her and her workmates.

I work in a big public sector workplace, where redundancies have just been announced. Not only are people going to lose their jobs, but some of the services will just be scrapped and very poor and vulnerable people will lose the services that we provide.

People knew the redundancies were coming and there was a lot of anxiety, over who, how many… When we recieved the results there was outrage as it was felt to be decided very unfairly. My department sent a message to management that we were not going to accept these staff being treated so badly and we rejected this list. In the end the process was delayed and then the list was drawn up again to include basically pretty much everybody.

The day to day atmosphere was complicated. On the one hand people were tired and upset. The department has had a few redundancies year on year so people have watched again and again as their colleagues lose their jobs, the department gets smaller, people lose their right to the service, fees go up. Everybody knows if they don’t lose their job this year they might lose it next year. We are a relatively active and traditionally left wing workplace and people had been on a lot of demos this year, there have been some good campaigns around defending the service but there was a tiredness and a bleakness in people’s faces.

On the other hand people were going from angry to furious. The name of a place where recently people had taken very strong strike action suddenly began to be heard again and again in the corridors. The year on year attacks seemed to be making people feel simultaneously ground down and wound up. In a meeting with management a co-worker stormed out. More and more often little meetings broke out, voices were raised. Continue reading “on the march… at work”

egypt: “democracy, social justice and human dignity” – but when, and how?

Tali Janner-Klausner reports from Cairo on the unfolding Egyptian revolution, including the recent international solidarity conference

Hosni Mubarak was a hated despot, and became a symbol of the many, varied and interlinked hardships that Egyptians face. At this month’s “First Forum of Solidarity with the Arab Revolutions” there were no doubts that though the symbol has come crashing down, the root causes of these hardships remain and must be confronted.

the establishment sacrificed Mubarak, but want to hold back further change

The intense popular anger that came into its own so spectacularly in Tahrir Square festered through decades of oppression under a corrupt and restrictive dictatorship. Economic and social issues cannot be separated from the political concerns that the ‘great and the good’, from Obama to the world’s media, choose to focus on. Egypt is a country of staggering exploitation and inequality. Half the population is struggling under the poverty line of $2 a day while Mubarak may have stolen up to $70 billion for himself and his family. Unemployment and food prices rose while lucrative industrial monopolies or powerful ministerial portfolios were given to loyal and often incompetent cronies who wrecked what they didn’t steal.   Continue reading “egypt: “democracy, social justice and human dignity” – but when, and how?”

grayling’s atrocity: what it means and what we’re going to do about it.

Daniel Harvey looks at New College of the Humanities, AC Grayling’s private ‘university’

I remember a time, not very long ago, despite seeming it, when a young student stood up to give a speech at a debate on the necessity of the New Atheism at his college. The speech ranged through all the usual canards thrown at the religious, the cruelty of nature, the unnecessary suffering in the world, the emptiness of the universe.  Of course, this student devotee of Richard Dawkins, Grayling, PZ Myers, Christopher Hitchens (shoot me now), was myself, and in that vain, naïve enthusiasm even, remained until the day I discovered that this was about as intellectually fulfilling as squashing ants.

grayling: wipe the smile off his face

But this feature of the atheist calling has always been fascinating – why so much time and effort spent on continually stomping on the face of the religious phenomenon, when it is so easy to do? Of course, you ask any followers of Richard Dawkins who attended his ‘talk’ which I happily raided with some comrades the other day, and what will come back is a stream words about the threat of ‘accomodationism’, about the fact religion is so powerful, growing, spreading its tentacles into education, and practically undermining the entire Enlightenment.  But for one of the original founders of this movement H. L. Mencken, the great liberal journalist and commentator on the Scopes Trial, religion was more than this, it was the possession of the ‘immortal scum’ of human history, a whole layer of society that always threatened to overwhelm the elite, intelligent minority. In intellectual circles he said, all that “survives under the name of Christianity, above the stratum of that mob, is no more than a sort of Humanism, with a little more supernaturalism in it than you will find in mathematics or political economy.” Continue reading “grayling’s atrocity: what it means and what we’re going to do about it.”

councils of despair

Sheila Cohen writes on the situation after last month’s elections

The May elections have left a smirk on Cameron’s face – or perhaps we should say deepened the one that was already there. But for the left the result was, once again, a mixture of predictability and despair. While the Tories got trounced in the Northern cities – and the LibDems , of course, everywhere –  any illusion of a return to sanity was flattened by the Tories’ overall performance.

ed miliband is fishing for conservative working-class support

The staunch battalions of the North, it seems, have never forgotten Thatcher and the wounds she inflicted – but in the supposedly affluent South-East, the dynasties that once fell to New Labour have once again reverted to at least the appearance of support for what our rulers love to refer to as “aspirational” policies.     Continue reading “councils of despair”

diverse, colourful, joyful, but angry!

Alice Robson writes on her experience teaching, and campaigning in defence of, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)


In December last year, I left my job as an ESOL teacher at a South London further education college. I had been at risk of redundancy for almost half of the year I had worked there. I was swapping this uncertainty for a permanent contract in an organisation where ESOL was expanding, and where the vast majority of courses had free childcare to enable women with young children to study- both very welcome differences from the situation at most Further Education (FE) colleges.

A few weeks before I started, the government published Skills for Sustainable Growth, which they described as ‘a radical reform of the skills system to support growth’. Though this document left open many questions, for example limiting ESOL provision to those from ‘settled communities’ (a category that was not then nor since defined) it was clear that the document represented a major attack on ESOL. Continue reading “diverse, colourful, joyful, but angry!”

meeting 14th april: class struggle in world war II

A meeting of the Birkbeck discussion group*, with a lead-off by David Broder.  From 7:30pm on Thursday 14th April at Room 254, Birkbeck, Malet Street (Goodge St. tube). All welcome.

The Second World War was the greatest crisis in the history of capitalism. For six years the system of states was in chaos as rival
imperialisms fought each other for control. Many communists hoped that the disaster of war and the discrediting of the ruling class would provide an opportunity for revolution. Yet the democratic bourgeoisie  emerged from 1945 stronger than ever.

Continue reading “meeting 14th april: class struggle in world war II”

a hope unfulfilled: communists in world war II

David Broder writes on the disappointed revolutionary aspirations of the WWII-era left

The recent collapse of dictatorships in Egypt and Tunisia marked inspiring victories for the mass uprisings in the Arab world. However, these revolts have again posed an age-old question of revolutionary politics: is the aim to get rid of this or that leader, or to overthrow the system as such?

This question was sharply posed in the late World War II period when mass resistance movements besieged fascist régimes across Europe. These movements were dominated by activists who believed in the desirability of communism.

But as such, the maintenance of capitalist order after the war was a major defeat. Why did resistance not mean revolution? Here I shall focus on the examples of France and Italy. Continue reading “a hope unfulfilled: communists in world war II”