Sunday, 24 October 2010

ConDem Cuts

At a recent meeting of the Manchester Branch of the National Shop Stewards Network, I was criticised for having the temerity to suggest that endorsing a progressive penal policy, including supporting the release of many thousands of prisoners who have been locked up for minor and trivial offences,  is the right approach. Apparently the Prison Officers Association sponsor the NSSN, and my comments were deemed as "out of order" since they implied a cut in Prison staff and the closure of prisons.

As an anarchist I have a somewhat nuanced perspective of the campaign against the cuts. Any significant cuts in the state bureaucracy and moves towards a small state should surely be welcomed. Statist socialists, either of the Marxist or Fabian hue, seem ready to oppose any diminution in the State sector including the Army, Navy, Airforce, Defence and Armaments, Police etc.

I would like to posit a rather iconoclastic perspective which hopefully will lead to an informed discussion about the cuts: why not put forward our own deficit reduction plan, i.e. Anarchist Cuts. Lets cut Defence spending by 80% and focus on civil defence rather than wasting tens of billions on useless armaments and war fighting. Lets cut the spending on the Courts, Police, Prisons and the whole apparatus of "Law and Order".   Furthermore lets cut the massive State Bureaucracy, especially the managerial and elite strata.

Anarchists need to be creative and proactive in response to the current economic situation. Knee jerk reactions by the traditional authoritarian left in opposing any cuts at all solves nothing. It's important to put forward a vision for the future which entails models of workers and community control from the bottom up based on social co-operation and mutual aid. The antiquated paradigm of state control no longer has any resonance given the experience of the Soviet Union and its satellites. Laissez-faire capitalism or the free market has also manifestly failed at the present time.

The historical experiences of the CNT in Spain during the Spanish Civil War provide an example of the way forward Workers Control, not state control,  offers an answer to the current economic and social quagmire. Anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists need to be bold and be prepared to argue for their ideas and translate them into practice.

Groucho Marx

Manchester and Salford Film Coop is showing the film Duck Soup in January 2011. This film stars the Marx Brothers and it so threatened the Fascist Dictator Benito Mussolini that he barred it from Italy. According to the writer J B Priestley "Karl Marx showed us how the dispossessed would finally take possession . But I think the brothers Marx do it better". Antonin Artaud described their films as " a hymn to anarchy and whole hearted revolt". Groucho can loosely be described as a libertarian socialist, and he supported Heywood Broun when he stood for Congress in the Manhattan district of New York on the socialist ticket. Other supporters include George Gershwin, Fred Astaire, Harpo Marx and Helen Hayes.

Groucho was dismissive of the Hollywood Communists. He described them as "the kind of Hypocrites who would sing in between laps around their swimming pool". Nevertheless Groucho opposed the witch hunts of McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee. He supported the Committee for the lst Amendment in defence of freedom of speech.

An underground newspaper in the San Francisco Bay Area asked Groucho for his views on Nixon, the US President. "Do you think theres any hope for Nixon?" The reply- "No I think the only hope this country has is Nixons assassination". He was investigated by the FBI and listed in their files as a political threat to the President.

Groucho once referred to the United States as the "United Snakes" on a quiz show and contributed to an anti-fascist rally in the 1930s.

Finally Groucho Marx influenced the French students in May 68 in Paris. Grafitti read "je suis marxiste, tendance Groucho". He also quipped "Military Intelligence is a contradiction in terms"

The Film Coop shows monthly films at the Kings Arms, Bloom Street, Salford.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010


GREEDY LAWYERS and bolshy bosses are ganging up with exotic politicians like the bleach blond Boris Johnson, to call for what the Financial Times (FT) today describes as 'tougher anti-strike laws'. A survey carried out by the Law Firm DLA Piper found that three-quarters of employers polled backed stronger anti-strike legislation. It also found that 90% of executives in both the public and private sector anticipate 'a lot more industrial action in the months ahead'.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) – the bosses' union – is calling for a change in the law to only let strikes go ahead if 40% of balloted members support them, as well as a majority of those voting. David Bradley, DLA's Piper's Head of Employment Law, said: 'the study's findings provide strong encouragement for the government from business leaders to tighten the laws around strike action.'

If this happens it will bring legal challenges from trade unions under the European Convention of Human Rights, as David Bradley notes. Brian Groom, Business & Employment Editor of the FT writes: 'the coalition government has no plans to change the laws on industrial action ballots', despite incitement from colourful conservatives like Boris Johnson. Mr Johnson very likely finds RMT strikes by Bob Crow's underground workers boring, with the dreary Londoners forming queues along the Thames for launches to take them up and down the river hoping to reach their places of work and business. Far better, from Boris's point of view, to close off this orderly form of protest – the strike and the peaceful picket – that forms a social safety valve for disgruntled workers, and to open the door to the more dramatic alternative of the street riot. The street riot, in the form of the Poll Tax Riot - was the unintended consequence and ultimate culmination of the original anti-trade union laws enacted by the Thatcher administration. Besides the riot, which Thatcher brought back to our English streets perhaps for the first time since the 19th Century, another unintended consequence of the Thatcher laws and of the shift to the streets from the workplace of social conflict was the increasing adjournment of militant shop stewards and the union representatives to the Courtroom and the Tribunal to seek legal redress instead of negotiated settlements. Thus the bosses, by getting rid of the workplace strike and factory occupation, has given us something more bloody and socially disruptive on the one hand in the street riot, and on the other a peaceful utopia for the legal profession to exploit in the Courts and Tribunals.

DLA Piper lawyer, Mr Bradley, claimed: '... private sector employers feared they could suffer “contagion” from strikes in the public sector'; if they supply the public sector they might be hit as a knock-on effect or if militant public sector workers transfer to the private sector they might bring their militant behaviour with them. He told the FT: 'employers would not necessarily find it easy to challenge co-ordinated strikes on the grounds that they were political.' Mr Bradley argued: 'As long as there was a legitimate trade dispute over terms and conditions, unions had considerable discretion about the timing of strikes.'

No wonder Mr Bradley's law firm has gone from strength to strength in recent decades since Mrs Thatcher's anti-trade union laws: a random perusal by Northern Voices shows it to be one of the largest law firms in the world with over 3,500 lawyers and revenues of $2.25 billion in 2008/09 and 69 offices across 30 countries. One of their members, Paul Burnley, head of the Corporate Defence group in Leeds, defends companies and their boards of directors in 'high-profile health and safety investigations: he is an expert in crisis management and acted for companies like Hickson & Welch in the Castleford Disaster; Associated Octel in the gas explosion at Ellesmere Port; the Leeds/Bradford air disaster at Dunkeswick and more recently for Jarvis in the Potters Bar disaster.' Sir Nigel Knowles from Sheffield is chief executive officer (CEO) of DLA Piper and he says that he will 'Face up to the people lobbing grenades into the arena — and remove them'. Saying 'Stay true to your roots', he told an interviewer in 2008: 'Among all the international expansion, I’ve made sure that our relationship with those Yorkshire clients that have been loyal to our Leeds office has stayed strong. Bradford & Bingley were an early client of ours, who have gone on to become a FTSE 100 company. We’ve grown together.' Bradford & Bingley, let's recall, was nationalised later in 2008, a victim of the credit crunch and has now been taken over by Banco Santander. Another DLA Piper partner, Michael McKee, was asked in an interview on Sky TV on July this year about criminal behaviour connected with the collapse of the banks and interviewer, Jeff Randall, asked: 'Just because the CEO gets a big bonus when a bank goes down, that doesn't mean he was a bank robber, not literally?' To which McKee replied: 'Absolutely'.

It's not bad for some!

Thursday, 14 October 2010


Steve Fisher's quest to become a tenant director of New Charter Homes is rapidly degenerating into a ludicrous farce, a kind of Brechtian theatre of the absurd.

In June we reported that Mr. Fisher (53), pictured above, who has lived at his present address for the last 26 years and has been a New Charter tenant for ten years, had been told by New Charter boss John Ardern that his nomination to stand for election as a tenant director would not be accepted because the company considered him too 'adversarial'. To be precise, four years ago, New Charter took civil legal action against Fisher and sought an injunction to compel him to tidy-up his natural wildlife garden. When he successfully fought the action as 'litigant in person' and went to the press complaining of the injustice of his landlord's actions, New Charter became so incensed by the press criticism that they went kicking and screaming to their legal department, who in turn, threatened the local Tameside Advertiser with legal action.

Since his scrape with New Charter in 2006, Fisher, has been effectively placed under a cordon sanitaire by the housing company. In 2007 he was designated by them as a 'prolific complainant' and the following year, he was banned from entering and speaking to New Charter staff apart from reporting repairs. His only contact with the company is now through his go-between John Ardern, who took the original decision not to accept his nomination as a tenant director.

Mr. Fisher is not taking this lying down and yet again, he`s invoked the company's complaints procedure. He is after all a 'prolific complainant' and must live up to his well earned reputation. Last month he was told by Tony Powell, Executive Director of Neigbourhoods that he upheld the original decision which was in the 'best interests of the company'. He also told him: "Your attempts to involve the media and engage other people through the internet against New Charter also have influenced my decision". And he also adds: "The subsequent e-mails sent by yourself to Mr. Ardern ... contained a number of profanities and allegations of impropriety by the company". Referring to other communications he says: "In other e-mails which I have seen you have made a comment about 'Pope Danny McLoughlin' and referred to other tenants (not specified) as 'nodding donkeys'".

In his dealings with New Charter Mr. Fisher has obviously trodden on some big corns. But Steve Fisher unlike many people nowadays, is not a 'Yes Man'. He does not doff his cap even to his landlord. He`s not the kind of person that housing companies like to pack their Boards with. While it might not 'be in the best interests of the company' to accept his nomination, so what! Mr. Fisher's concern is with what is in the 'best interests' of the tenants, not the company. As a New Charter tenant he therefore sought to stand in an election and to be judged by his peers and not by some middle-class over paid lackies of a housing company who have taken exception to his frankness and his use of the internet and the media. There`s obviously no room for democracy within New Charter despite what they say, and this issue looks like it's going all the way to the Housing Ombudsman.

100 years ago: French Railway Workers' Derail Trains

AS Northerners we tend continually to look South for inspiration and backwards for inspiration. 75 years ago 150 Welsh miners occupied a pit at Nine Mile Point in Monmouthshire: see below. But 100 years ago, during the syndicalist phase in their history, French railway workers derailed trains on the 12th, October 1910. On that day, bands on strikers on the Western Railway began to render the operation of the line impossible by cutting the signal and telephone wires, throwing the points out of order, and stopping all possible traffic by placing obstructions on the line or derailing engines and trucks. Just after 8 O'Clock in the morning strikers armed with clubs and iron bars invaded the line between Asnières and Bois-Colombes. By about half past ten 300 strikers broke into Colombes station and chucked benches on the line so as to prevent the Argenteuil trains from running. Minutes later they stopped the Cherbourg mail train and a train from Mantes. They quickly uncoupled both locomotives and derailed them on the points, completely blocking both lines.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

75 years ago: when the Welsh Miners stayed down the pit

WHEN the Chilean miners emerge from the San Jose mine - it is 10.30pm and the twenty-fifth miner has just got out - it is also the 75th anniversary, almost to the day, of a pit occupation by 150 Welsh miners employed at Nine Mile Point in 1935, one of the biggest collieries in Monmouthshire. On October 12th, 1935; this protest against the employment of 88 non-union miners began. The unionised miners responded with an occupation of the pit and hunger strike. When at the end of their morning shift the elevator came for them to return to the surface the men refused to leave the mine, declaring that they did not intend to leave until the non-union men had been discharged. They said that they would stay underground without food, will sleep in their ordinary clothes at their usual work places and would not communicate with the outside world until their demands were met.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Myth of General Strike

Syndicalist Bedfellows Seduced

YESTERDAY the Global Edition of the New York Times ran a story about last month's general strike in Spain entitled 'For Spanish labor, a dance of discontent'. The general tenor of this report tended to support the sceptical position taken by the syndicalists at the National Shop Stewards' Network (NSSN) steering committee meeting last weekend in London, when they challenged the proposal put by the Socialist Workers' Party members on this committee to work for a 24-hour general strike. This report says the Spanish 'general strike' was according to the analysts 'a well-choreographed dance in which unions could show their discontent with the measures (of the Spanish Government) without significantly damaging their natural ally, the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose popularity is at its weakest point since being elected.' I think that the argument of the British syndicalists to these types of 'general strikes' is that at worst they risk bringing the weapon of the general strike into disrepute in the eyes of the working class, and, at best, are a safety valve weakening serious social unrest. They are not like the British Poll Tax Riot, sometimes referred to over here these days by militants on the left, which was unpredictable and seriously shook the regime but they are a kind of fancy shadow boxing and the leaders of the NSSN should understand this. The vain hope expressed by the SWP mover of the motion in London that he wished that Britain was like Spain and had had six 'general strikes' since 1979, shows the mindless misunderstanding of some on the British left of Spanish politics because, in a way, last month's Spanish general strike demonstrated the impotence of the Spanish trade union movement.

Indeed, most accounts claim that the Spanish strike was not a 'rousing success' and in interviews given after the strike commentators note a certain curious 'concord in which the unions declared victory but could not point to specific concessions they expected to win from the government - while the Spanish labor minister praised the union's bargaining skills'. The Spanish Government measures have cut severance pay for fired workers and made it easier for companies to put workers on less hours in response to temporary drops in demand. There has been a reduction in the collective bargaining power of the unions as well. The unions also oppose the threat in the Socialist Government's proposed budget to raise the pension age from 65 to 67.

The Spanish 'general strike' was called on the 29th, September to co-ordinate with the other European demonstrations but it seemed to turn into pockets of unrest and protest across the continent and didn't have the impact of the Greek struggles earlier in the year. Nor are the Spanish workers united in their struggles, our sources inform us that in Madrid there were three separate demonstrations during the 'general strike': one by the main unions - the UGT and Workers' Commissions; one by the anarchist CNT; and another by the anarcho-syndicalist CGT. But Spain still has 20% unemployment according to the official statistics, though these figures do not take account of the normally thriving black economy in Spain; hence, the Socialist Government is in a weak position and a poll last week in the newspaper El Pais showed the Socialists trialing the conservative Popular Party by 15%.

The problem is that the British left is so aware of its own weakness that it feels a necessity to play-up the events in Spain or Greece to create for itself an ideal type example to aim to remedy our own situation, but very often they not comparing like-with-like and are usually using foreign appearances to overlook and escape from the very real nature of our own situation. In the end on the left we are often seduced by our own slogans and apparently exotic foreign events, and things like the myth of the general strike; which requires more thought and consideration than the SWP proposal offered us at last weekend's NSSN steering committee meeting.

UPDATE: this post is now attracting responses from SWP members, whose comments can be read after the full post here. Click here to read SWP supporter Geoff Brown's post on his blog.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Northern Voices @ 2010 London Anarchist Bookfair

On Saturday 23rd October, Northern Voices will have a stall at the annual London Anarchist Bookfair. This is the biggest annual event for Anarchists (of all persuasions) from all over the country, and abroad as well, and unlike the Manchester one, we're not banned from it!

On the day, you can chat to us about the magazine, buy current and back issues and perhaps, if you feel you have something to say, talk to us about contributing to the next and subsequent issues. We will also have information about the Northern Anarchist Network.

The Bookfair is being held at Queen Mary & Westfield College, Mile End Road, London, E1 4NS (click here for a map) between 10.00 am and 7.00 pm on Saturday 23rd October. There are lots of meetings happening all day, as well as films and cabaret, and a list of stalls (who have websites) can be found here.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

National Shop Stewards Network: Syndicalists vote against general strike?

YESTERDAY, a proposal from Socialist Workers' Party (SWP) members of the steering committee of the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) to 'campaign for a 24 hour general strike' was opposed by syndicalists on the committee on grounds that it was an absurd and premature proposition in the current climate. In the end the vote went against the syndicalists, but it was significant because this was the first time an organised section from the libertarian left has made an independent intervention. The syndicalists also issued a statement which declared: 'Syndicalists are opposed to the cynical use of the NSSN as a vehicle for sectarian aims. Talk about rebuilding the Labour Party Left or building alternative parties is a diversion ... it ignores the fact that militant trade union activity is a political power in itself. We believe that these distractions will only slow us down in reaching our goals of a strong working class able to defend itself and make significant gains. (The) NSSN is a broad-based organisation the class struggle and narrow political agendas must not be allowed to sap energy or hamper progress in the struggle.' (a full copy of this statement will appear in a comment on this post shortly).

These syndicalists, who have support in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Northumbria in the far North through the centres of our civilising industrial culture in Manchester and the West Midlands, down to the smoky city that is London and the wild South West, are trying to set an agenda outside the urban street-theatre of party politics with its rent-a-crowd and ridiculous resolutions such as the general strike proposal. They are in a sense the phantoms of freshness on the political left, far different from the traditional old left like the SWP and the Socialist Party, and even at odds with their would be allies among the Anarchist Federation and the Solidarity Federation. Their aim is to bring some sense and serious purpose to the British political left.

A syndicalist lass named Becca from Birmingham was elevated to the new post in charge of 'Fund-raising and affiliations' which became a 'job-share' with another lass named Suzanne from London. In the course of the meeting Becca drew the meeting's attention to the election address of Dave Chapple, Chair of the NSSN, which outlined what he thought the new officers and steering committee members should be doing:

  1. Mapping of ... potential militant NSSN support in the 'upper' part of our movement: trade union national officers, national executive members, regional officials, branch officers and local reps;
  2. Mapping all well-organised workplaces by union and location.
  3. Recording and contacting all workplaces & Branches that take local, national or unofficial industrial action.
  4. Drawing up and carrying out an action plan to build the NSSN within different unions, different cities & regions, and different types of union rep.
  5. Establishing a sound financial branch affiliation base.

Dave Chapple then asks: 'How can we grow without this information.'

A business-like approach on the libertarian syndicalist left! How different from the left party politicians and how different from the dilettantes who one sees shifting from one talking-shop to another among the affiliates of Manchester Anarchist Federation and the Manchester Solidarity Federation. It is far too early to say if these new young syndicalists will get anywhere, much less transform British politics, but today, as the Conservatives meet for their national Conference in Birmingham, it is a time for turning over stones to see what's underneath. The NSSN syndicalists have made a start.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Not invited to the Manchester Anarchist Bookfair

For some reason as yet unknown to us, Northern Voices has not been invited to the Manchester Anarchist Bookfair. But worry not, you can still buy the latest issue of Northern Voices as well as back issues, plus our other publications on the Northern Anarchist Network stall.

The Bookfair is being held at the Dancehouse Theatre, which is located on Oxford Road (opposite the BBC building) between 11.00 am and 5.00 pm tomorrow, Saturday 2nd October. There's food and talks too (as well as lots of other stalls), so plenty to keep you occupied if you're in town.

Hope to see you there.

Puny Anti-Cuts Protests in UK: Jonnie come lately in Spain

JUDGING by the anti-cuts protest outside Salford Town Hall on Wednesday the British working class, even in the public sector, are not angry enough about the Coalition Government's threats of cuts in the public sector - yet. Even the well known local trade union leader, Alex McFadden, didn't turn up: according to the rumours he was off networking with the Council to get another grant for the Salford Unemployed Centre in Eccles.

In Europe, the Spaniards led the field with a nationwide general strike. The trade unions estimated about 70% participation in the strike. Workers in Spain's heavy industry backed the strike lowering industrial power usage to 20% of normal. Valencia and some other main ports were shut, but the transport network, including the Madrid subway, were unaffected by the strike.

In Madrid the big shops stayed open with one fishmonger saying: 'This is a pantomime staged by union leaders to show that they still can play a role' and he added, 'If they had really meant to intervene, they would have done something when the economy started to collapse, rather than keeping their mouths shut until it's too late.'

Sandalio Gómez, a labour relations pundit, said: that few Spaniards understood 'why a strike is now being held 3 months after the labour market reform was actually approved', and he claimed 'The unions still have an important role but they have become far too institutionalised, reliant on government subsidies rather than membership fees - and that has left their leaders out of touch with the reality of workers' lives' and this had reduced their credibility. The International Herald Tribune suggested that these protests, unlike the ones in Greece in May, had been less traumatic for the European governments.