Feminist Fightback 2006

August 17, 2006

The Feminist Fightback conference is gaining steam, and I’ve been asked to organise a men’s meeting at the conference.

The conference is looking to be a good one, with the main organisers having a whole list of people they’re inviting, as well as lots of support from women students, lecturers, and feminist activists. Since there is no Fem06 conference this year, then this will be the main feminist/women’s liberation conference this year.

It’s on the 21st October, in Central London. The venue is TBA, though will probably be somewhere studenty, given that it’s organised by ENS Women. No doubt, being a student group, there will be a bar nearby. But don’t let that put you off, it’s open to all – including us blokes.

So, I’m now on the hunt for feminist blokes who can speak at this men’s meeting. Any ideas, let me know.

Declan Curry’s declanbizblog: The Basic Question”

I’m Chris L of South London, by the way. (What, you thought my parents named me Kit?)

I’m tuned in, let’s see what he says.

EDIT: Of course, he pays people a ‘livable wage’. Of course, he’s raking it in, so he doesn’t give a rats ass.

‘Ethical’ capitalism is still capitalism nonetheless.

A sporting class?

July 31, 2006

EMC World of Sport: The Sporting Class by Glenn Aylett

Glenn Aylett’s latest column on Sport, Television and class division in society misses the point.

The assumption Glenn works on is that class divisions are eroding away in society. This premise is an absolute false one. Unless the socialist revolution has passed me by, we are still living in a class based society. It is from that basis that, if Glenn is going to make a class based analysis of sporting media, or the media in general, that we need to start from.

Glenn claims that the class barriers have been broken down in football, and that you see company CEOs alongside their workers in the terraces up and down the land. It’s as if to say that the bourgeoisie were never involved in football! What has happened is that the rich hands have always been involved in football. To set up any kind of football team, especially a major league one, requires a huge amount of start up capital. The rich have always been in football, but with the rise of people like Roman Abramovich and Malcolm Glazier have we seen them come to the fore. But the businessmen with the deep pockets have always been there.

To move onto the class divide between BBC’s Grandstand and ITV’s World of Sport; again, it relates to a question of agency. Both the BBC and ITV are controlled by the ruling class. Both, in that sense, are ruling class. Grandstand is there for the public interest, but the ‘public interest’ in a capitalist society means the interest of those who control the institutions. So, it’s natural that the BBC will follow the sports of toffs.

However, we don’t live in a society of toffs, no matter what they might like to think. ITV might appear to be the working man’s channel – indeed, it has spend the past 50+ years of building an image of being the ‘people’s channel’ but this is just a mirage, a front they put up. ITV only appeals to the common man because of simple capitalist economics; there are more working men than richies, so we must appeal to them. More viewers = more advertising revenue.

I’ve been having a gander at Stroppyblog, and posted some stuff about mental health, to which Louise, the co-author, has replied in a new post. As some of you may know, I take an active interest in things related to benefits, and IB, and JSA.

I posted this over there, but I’m cross posting it here, too, in the hope someone can help me out.

I remember having a heated argument with a Scots nationalist (a proper hardcore one at that) around such questions of benefits, IB in particular. Sorry for the rant below but I’ve been giving it a think.

To me, it boils down to a question of agency. Who decides? Is it your doctor? Or the person who works down the Job Centre? No offence to people who work at JobCentres – it must be one of the toughest jobs going – but they are not qualified to make medical judgements about people, especially when they’re constantly told to get JSA and IB numbers down to make sure the government looks good. Usually this involves shoving people into low paid jobs which are totally unsuitable, and to hell with that person’s mental health. There are quotas, damnit!

Again, I find myself asking: who benefits? It’s certainly not those people affected by mental health issues. Maybe we’ve finally accepted that stress is a legitimate condition, but I think we’re (when I say we, I mean wider society) are affected by the old Victorian taboos surrounding mental heath, and the image of all people with mental health issues either being locked up in a padded cell or being driven around on a Sunshine Coach. It’s this sort of prejudice which still haunts – like a spectre – over current attitudes to mental health, and a rare few positive representations in happy-go-lucky TV films won’t change that.

We are still told to think, from my experience anyway, that people with mental health issues are ‘modern day lepers’. Which is why I think we see such authoritarian, dogmatic and Victorian attitudes towards it in such legislation. Either there is nothing wrong with you, or it’s off to the asylum. There is only black or white. No middle ground.

I remember leading SWPer Colin Barker telling me an unusual story about the rise of the Solidarity movement in Poland. He told me that those working in mental health institutions reported that when Solidarity was on the retreat, the institutions were full of working class people, but when Solidarity was on the rise, they would check themselves out, and ended up being replaced by the Stalinist bureaucrats. I can’t verify the vaildity of that story, but it’s interesting to note the class context.

What I’d like to know is how working class women are treated in the mental health system, an overall picture of the experience. I’d put money on it being a substantially worse experience, but I was wondering if there is any hard evidence for it. And for people of ethnic minorities, too. But especially women.

Far be it for me to teach proclaimed socialists and progressives the essentials of worker solidarity, but when people I know and respect start posting anti-union bile on an anti-socialist blog (in this instance, Students Waiving Placards, an anti-SWP Livejournal community), I feel the need to intervene. These people are my friends (you know who you are), and a friend, when seeing another friend making a massive mistake, you step in and tell them so. It is in this light I hope my friends see this entry.

The entry in question is ‘The AUT Strike’ and you can read it – with comments – here.

I’m going to approach this in a Q&A style, and answer the many glib comments that come up.

The unions were just busting to go on action! They couldn’t keep it in their pants! So to speak…
Despite what most people think, unions don’t like going on strike. They’re an absolute pain in the arse, you lose a day’s pay, and the union bureaucracy would rather sit in nice meeting rooms, eat nice biscuits, drink nice cups of tea (or coffee) and generally get chummy with management. That, after all, is the role of the union bureaucracy; the labour lieutenant of capital, as Marx (or was it Lenin? I forget) oft said.

In any case, current strike levels are still well below their 1970’s levels. Even days lost to industrial action short of a strike were down.

The AUT dispute had been dragging on for several years. There have been a series of one day strikes which achieved little in the face of a determined management. This is not something that happened at the drop of a hat or came out of the ether. Pay rises in acedemia – controlled by a sub-committee of Universities UK – had either been below, or at the rate of, inflation for many years. A pay rise which is below the rate of inflation IS NOT a pay rise – it is a pay cut.

But they’re using the students as pawns!
Really? How so? Because they boycotted marking instead of research? Well, considering this is a lecturer’s strike, over lecturer’s pay, then it would make sense to target areas of work related to lecturing. Remember, the AUT had a series of one day strikes which did nothing. It didn’t even bring UUK to the negoiating table.

The AUT aren’t just using the students to get what they want. The AUT were fully behind the NUS’s opposition to tuition fees (when the NUS were opposed to it), they actively lobbied and fought against top-up fees (wheres the NUS did very little) and, where they are lead locally by a leadership of militants, do fight for students. The AUT have been there for students, because, without students, they would be out of a job! They have put their necks on the line for speaking out against their employers – the university VCs who lobbied for tuition fees, top up fees and for the abolishment of the fees cap. That takes guts.

Whereas those students who oppose the AUT now seem to welcome the AUT’s help when it suits them, but when the AUT need solidarity (note that the AUT never actively sought student solidarity, and only made a hoo-hah about it when socialist NEC members of the NUS managed to win a motion of solidarity with the AUT – a huge mistake on their part) you turn your backs on them. Some friends you turn out to be.

The AUT are being selfish!
As I have shown above, the AUT have always supported students when they have struggled. Apart from their opposition to fees, they also supported the NUS’s Keep Wednesday Afternoons Free campaign, as well as numerous other campaigns.

In the face of an unrepentant, savage management, the AUT have shown remarkable restraint (they shouldn’t have, as it goes). UUK promised pay rises when tuition fees were introduced – they did not appear. UUK promised pay rises when top up fees were introduced – they did not appear. Yet the AUT only took action in May – and won.

The AUT didn’t want to negoiate! They wanted a 40% rise!
This is a lie. All the AUT wanted was to bring management to the negoiating table. The AUT wanted to negotiate. They wanted to bargain. And they did – they settled for less than that, for 20% (or there abouts) over a number of years.

Lecturers are loaded! They’re being greedy.
Some are, sure. But not the majority of them. Lecturers on lower pay scales, who do the actual nitty-gritty of helping students, earn on average £18-20k per year. When the average graduate these days will start out on around £20-22k, this is a joke.

The ancillarly staff associated with the striking unions accepted the 12.6% but were knocked back by the lecturers. (Verbatim quote)
This is also a lie. The ancillary staff form a seperate bargaining unit to the lecturers. The anc staff (who are in UNISON I believe) decided to accept 12.6%. They should have held out for more, but to say that the lecturers scabbed on the anc staff for holding out is absurd. Indeed, the anc staff blackened any lecturer-related work, an action of solidarity.

Despite the whiter than white image of democracy, peace, and freedom that the Kurdistan Regional Government likes to portray of Iraqi Kurdistan – even going as far as calling itself The Other Iraq and using images of innocent schoolgirls playing happily in the streets (no, really), a quick scan of the left wing blogs, speficially David Broder’s blog, brings me to this;

On July 27th, the police and security forces of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan opened fire on 700 workers of the Tasloja Cement Factory near the city of Suleiumanyia in Iraqi Kurdistan. Three workers were killed and sixteen more were injured in this cruel attack. The workers came under attack because they launched a strike asking for a wage rise and that 300 workers previous fired by the administration be reinstated in their jobs.

The Iraqi labour movement is under real pressure from state terror and the terror of reactionary militias – the solidarity of trade unionists in the West is vital.

Please come and support the protest in front of the PUK’s London office on Tuesday 1st August – from 12:00 to 14:00
At 5 Glass House Walk
London SE5

Nearest tube station: Vauxhall (Victoria line)

Or, write a letter of condemnation:

We the undersigned call on Trade Union Branches and human rights organisations to send messages to Jala Talabani who was selected as president of Iraq in April. condemning this action.

Appeals to:
Mr. Jalal Talabani
President
Republic of Iraq
Convention Centre (Qasr al-Ma’aridh)
Baghdad, Iraq

If you have a fax, please send appeals via the PUK offices abroad and ask them to be forwarded to President Talabani:

– PUK office in United Kingdom: fax: +44 20 7 840 0630
– PUK office in United States: fax:+1 202 637 2723
– PUK office in Germany: fax: +49 30 863 987 94
– PUK office in France: fax:+33 1 409 00282
– PUK office in Italy: fax:+39 06 50 37120 (if someone answers ask for the fax line)
– PUK office in the EU: fax:+31 703 895832 (if someone answers ask for the fax line)
– PUK office in Sweden: fax: +46 8 917693 (if someone answers ask for the fax line)

COPIES TO: International Federation of Iraqi Refugees-d.jamal@ntlworld.com, TEL: 07856 032991

Dashty Jamal, International Federation of Iraqi Refugees
David Broder, Convenor of Iraq Union Solidarity
Karen Johnson, No Sweat

It’s a shame it’s being organised during the day, because it means it will be a bit of a crap protest. Because ordinary people will be at work, or school, natch. So, if you can (and, let’s face it, if you’re sat there rivited by this blog, you CAN), you should send an email to the above email addresses.

Indeed, you might also want to send an email to the Kurdistan Regional Government and give them a right earful about this too. They, thankfully, make this rather easy to do.

They have a web form here – make sure you set it to “Administration” and that you don’t give the poor sod who just runs the website an earful.

The KRG also have a London office. Here are the details:

KRG Representation in the United Kingdom
Winchester House, 8th Floor
259-269 Old Marylebone Road
London NW1 5RA
Phone: +44 (0)20 7170 4300
Fax: +44 (0)20 7170 4301
Email: uk(at)krg.org

Hopefully, they might be able to put some pressure on the PUK to leave workers and their organisations alone. The bastards.

EDIT: Isn’t technology wonderful? I’ve just rememberd this, if it’s of any help: if you have an email account, you should be able to fax the PUK office in London rather easily, without the need for a fax machine, for free.

Click on this email link:

remote-printer.London_Office/Patriotic_Union_of_Kurdistan@442078400630.iddd.tpc.int

… and send it like an email. Thanks to the folks at tpc.int, and their UK partner Demon, it should be sent straight away. Easy.

Don’t forget to CC it to d.jamal@ntlworld.com!

Benn for Deputy

You know it makes sense.

The Scum: Putting the GREAT in Great BRITAIN

Rebekah Wade wants to put the BIG into BIG BROTHER… but she needs YOUR help.

The linked story above gives The Sun’s helpful hints to obey and serve Furher Blair’s new totalitarianism. Unfortunatly, some sly Sun hack edited down the original article. Here is the (un)original version:

1. Teachers, cops and doctors are battling to do tough jobs against a growing tide of cynicism and abuse.

RESPECT these vital authority figures so they can work effectively. Do not ask questions. WHERE ARE YOUR PAPERS, CITIZEN?

2. Britain is a great country with a history that is the envy of the world.

Have the guts to display PATRIOTISM about living here and speak up in public about our nation’s remarkable qualities. Celebrate our history. Our Empire. Our mandate of Palestine and Messopotania…

3. Yobs routinely spread fear among vulnerable pensioners and young kids.

Yet millions of us turn a blind eye to their thuggery.

Together, we must CONFRONT teenage hoodies if we see them taunting, abusing or spitting at passers-by.

Every troublemaking lout is somebody’s child.

So KEEP TABS on your own kids and make sure you know what they are up to.

Your vigilance will safeguard their welfare as well as strengthening your community.

And, if they misbehave, slap an ASBO on them. And electronic tagging never hurt anyone.

4. Britain is a nation at war — we can no longer worry about being labelled a “grass”.

Don’t hesitate to REPORT suspicious activity or anti-social behaviour.

Call your local police or phone the anti-terror hotline on 0800 789 321 if you have important information or suspicions.

Remember, a tip-off from a member of the public led Spanish police to the Madrid bombers.

We are watching you, citizen. We have cameras everywhere.

5. Ranting clerics are free to spit hatred thanks to the Human Rights Act, which prevents their deportation.

WRITE to your MP demanding that this crazy law is repealed.

Do not resist arrest when you critizise Furher Blair and Furher Murdoch.

6. Many of us no longer know the names of our neighbours, even though we have sometimes lived side by side for years.

Take the trouble to CHAT to those who live close by to revive close-knit communities of the past.

It may also save you from being burgled next week.

Even though your neighbour won’t be as stupid to burgle their neighbour.

7. New York police commissioner Bill Bratton helped to reform the city by highlighting basic crime prevention measures including the “broken window” theory.

This showed that a chain of crimes could be prevented just by repairing a smashed window, foiling an obvious opportunity for a crook who could then be tempted into escalating villainy.

By the same token, we must TACKLE anti-social behaviour such as littering or vandalising.

More ASBOs!

8. Security and police services face a huge challenge in overcoming the alarming new terrorist threat.

Help cops by ensuring you CO-OPERATE fully if you are ever stopped and searched.

Avoid triggering needless security alerts by leaving bags unattended.

Don’t worry about the racist nature of stop & search. If you’re black, tough shit, you’re fair game.

9. Communication while travelling on public transport has almost broken down, fuelled recently by an atmosphere of mutual suspicion.

Don’t be afraid to challenge the climate of fear by making CONVERSATION.

But, if they look either Arabic, Pakistani, or Brazilian, then report them to the police STRAIGHT AWAY. Or, pump them full of lead if you’re on the tube.

Open doors and give up your seat for mums-to-be or the elderly.

Yer tight bastards.

10. Soaring levels of apathy have made voting and neighbourhood initiatives unfashionable.

Don’t be afraid to PARTICIPATE in them — or even launch them.

And report on anyone who’s even shifty looking.

I was coming home from the Permanent Revolution meeting (more about that later) and I realised: SWT is a weird and wonderful world.

On the way up, I noticed that someone had left an unopened copy of Sugar magazine. A brief look around amongst the suits later, it still remained unclaimed, even with the free Boxfresh bikini that came with it. It somewhat made up for the train being 15 mins late.

But on the way back, I saw the most perculiar thing. I saw a silver bug. No, really. It was SILVER. Like, shiny silver.

I took some photos with my camera phone, and I’ll upload them here.

Anyway, the PR meeting was interesting. I’ve had some of my fear elayed, but I’m still hedging my bets and I’m not joining. Their founding conference is this weekend but I won’t be able to go. But I’ll certainly keep a tab on things.

So, it’s finally happened. The two-year factional dispute which had overwhelmed Workers Power, and the League for the Fifth International, came to a somewhat dramatic finale last weekend. The expelled – 30% of the L5I membership – have formed a new grouping with a provisional name of Permanent Revolution.

I won’t go into the inside workings of split, because many other bloggers – including Dave Osler and TWP – have gone into into it fairly well. The main axis of the split was around the “fifth internationalist” turn of the then League for a Revolutionary Communist International (LRCI) in the wake of Seattle, Prague and the World Social Forum.

Instead, I will make a few observations. I was a member of Workers Power (the British section of the L5I) for just under a year (Feb 2005-Jan 2006) and was heavily involved in youth work, being a member of the London Youth Branch (and, for a while, it’s organiser/secretary). I left due to personal circumstances, but I was neither a member of the majority or the minority as they currently stand.

The first thing that strikes me is the highly acrimonious nature. Of course, faction fights inside Trotskyist organisations are not exactly garden parties, but this one appears to be outright vicious. The majority accuse the minority of waging a dishonest struggle, and the majority are presenting internal emails from the minority as proof.

But the minority’s vitriol, as exemplified through the emails of Mark H, a former leading light in WP/B, the League, and in united front work, have a more material basis than the “political degeneration” the majority accuse him of. The majority cannot hold the moral high ground, especially when they denied the minority – which, in reality, made up half of the British section – fair representation on the National Committee (they had roughly five members on the NC) and the Political Committee (zero representation), or on the leadership bodies of the League.

The majority are accusing the minority of political degeneration. Of course they would, this is a split in a Trotskyist group, after all. You’ve got to have some amateur dramatics, otherwise… well, it wouldn’t be fun, now would it?

But I’m told to believe, by the majority, that those expelled – people who I knew quite well – were engaged in bullying and oppressing youth members. They bring up the case of the Manchester branch, which was (unconstitutionally) split, with an “adult” branch and a “youth” branch, with no co-ordination between the two. This is despite a PC enquiry finding no evidence of any bullying or oppression, and suggesting that the matter be dropped, pronto, because it was holding back any chance of building the group in Manchester (which it was). However, those who had made the accusations found themselves suspended by the Manchester branch, and that’s when the branch split took place.

See, none of this makes sense. When I left, the faction fight was in full swing, but it was still done on a democratic and comradely basis. This was only seven months ago, and what you have to realise is that the organisation I left was a highly democratic one. A political degeneration is a process that takes a long time. Not in the space of seven months.

Not that the minority are smelling of roses. Some of the accusations made against them are true – or at least, not being denied. Certainly, the Mark H email isn’t inviting the majority around for tea and crumpets – it calls for a wholescale wrecking of the organisation some of them had been in from the start (in the case of Stuart K) and had built for many, many years.

What’s worth noting about the split is it’s social base. The minority – which called for a return to Labour Pary and trade union work – were mostly workers who had been involved in WP for decades. The majority – which called for participation in the Socialist Party-lead Campaign for a New Workers Party,  the E/WSF and, most importantly, really pushing for the fifth international slogan inside these movements, including calling for the E/WSF to simply become a Fifth International.

Certainly, the majority’s implementation of it’s current ‘perspectives’ and ‘tasks’ is, quite frankly, delusional. This is from a discussion between me and Simon H, a leading member of the post-split WP (my replies are in red):

Quote
Do you think that globalisation is creating new social movements and bringing new forces into the fight against capitalism?

In so far as challening the extreme aspects of globalisation, yes. But the arguments against reformism and critical liberalism are far from won, and we are not on the verge of the WSF/ESF becoming the basis of a fifth international.

Quote
Is the period causing instability for the bosses which has led to an increasing level of attacks on the social gains of workers?

Yes – but in small, isolated cases. Recovery is not rude heath, we are still not on a par with the 1970’s.

Quote
Does the ESF and WSF represent important new formations in the struggle against capitalism and imperialism, even though they have reformist leaderships?

Not to the extent that the majority claim – potential is not reality.

Quote
Is it possible to call for a new workers party in Britain, to propose a united front with the workers and youth outside of Labour to build a new workers party?

Yes, but not through a far-left lead abstract campaign like the CNWP. Workers parties are formed through struggles – not through defeats, like the CNWP.

Quote
Is it possible to build a mass revolutionary, independent youth group?

Yes – but it’s a shame the L5I do not do this in practice.

I suspect, though I hope I’m not proved correct, is that both sides will simply become rumps. PR runs the real risk of becoming “Classic Workers Power” and hanker over the old days of Labour Party fraction work,  and agitation in the trade unions, and simply pretend that Seattle et al. never took place, while the majority will simply dive into youth work, and their TU work – which used to be very effective for a group of WP’s size – will disappear.

As I said on the majority-controlled REVO boards:


Both sides are currently showing lots and lots of venom, an hysterics, and somewhere notions of comradely debate have been lost. That’s not the WP I was a member of, and the majority and the minority are equally as bad as each other.

Like I have said, I will have to put my plans on re-applying for membership on ice. I think that this split has wrecked “fifth internationalism” and the basic body of politics that the pre-split L5I stood for. On one hand, there is the pessimism of the PR tendency, but on the other hand, the over-optimism and inflatory propaganda of the ‘new’ WP. Both are as dangerous as each other.

Certainly, the ‘new’ WP has no trade union and very little labour movement experience. The focus on youth work has left the majority of the majority unarmed with any kind of real trade union experience, which makes an orientation to the working class next to impossible. The loss of theoreticians is repairable, but will take time. The loss of trade unionists is, I think, much more damaging to the ‘new’ WP – more damaging than they want to admit, and especially in the short to mid term.

The expelled, while having plenty of trade unionists, suffer from having only one or two comrades involved in youth work, which, in a period of stunted growth in class struggle, means that they are unarmed in the one area where WP has grown. They will, I fear, end up retreating into the trade unions, and will pick a battle they, with their current forces, have no chance in winning.

“You don’t need a weatherman to tell you which way the wind blows.” Bob Dylan
Yes, I know the Weathermen used this quote too, but I find it apt in this situation