Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Articulating Riots: 'MUG THE RICH - BASH THE RICH ...'

LAST WEEK, on the door of a public toilet in Cockermouth in Cumbria just across the road from the birthplace of one of our Northern poets William Wordsworth, I spotted the following piece of graffiti: 'MUG THE RICH ... If the State stops your money become happy shop lifter ... MUG THE RICH'. The same day in a cafe in Church Stile, near Elterwater, I overheard two middle-aged, middle-class men talking about sociologists and then one said: 'These riots over here are just me-too vandalism!'.

There has been a determined attempt in some quarters to shrug off this month's riots and to dismiss them as opportunistic crime - even some on the lower middle-class left have made superficial judgements about them based on outdated ideological positions. Others want to relate the riots to economic causes and the Government cut backs, and some define them in terms of 'Stop and Search' and police behaviour based on the original shooting of Mark Duggan. It was following this shooting that the BBC began by describing the riot outbreaks as 'protests' but later withdrew this categorisation when it seemed that what was taking place was random acts of vandalism and looting. There was an attempt to interview some heavily masked Afro-Caribbean lads on TV in which they gave sociological grounds for their actions, but afterwards Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Local Government, said they 'seemed to be making post-riot self-justifications after talking to their social workers'.

Harry Eyres, in his column 'The Slow Lane' in the Financial Times wrote a piece entitled 'When words fail us all' on August 20th: 'So these were not protests in any articulate sense - in the sense, that is, of having a defined target or grievance at their core.' Public disorder on a major scale rarely happened in Britain in the 20th Century in contrast to mostly disciplined and mostly peaceful protests. Harry Eyres writes that what happened this time was 'different from the only other riots in London that I can remember, the Brixton riots of 1981 and 1985 and the poll tax riot of 1990; the former arising out of long-standing tensions between the black community and the police, as the subsequent Scarman Report confirmed, and the latter arising out of a demonstration against a levy very widely seen as unfair.' Mr. Eyres doesn't mention them, perhaps because they were in the North rather than London, but the recent riots also differ from the ethnic riots that occurred in Burnley, Oldham, Leeds and Bradford early in the last decade but he does say that they bear little resemblance to what he calls the 'essentially non-violent protests of the Spanish Indignados, people with defined grievances, especially concerning unemployment, able at least to articulate their own mood' and '... they were certainly different from the protests in Tahrir Square, marked by bravery and eloquence.'

The inarticulate responses of these riots were profoundly English just as the organised vengeance called 'justice' perpetuated by the Courts, egged on by the politicians, lacks a coherent grasp of what is actually going on, shelving sociological analysis for later consideration and placing us all in what Harry Eyres calls 'a peculiarly English tragedy of inarticulateness'. This English inarticulacy clearly extends beyond the realm of the young rioters and what's called the under-class, into the political classes in all their self-righteousness as anyone who has listened to their bumbling bombast will have recognised in the last few weeks: even a regular writer for Northern Voices - an anarchist and one of our own - has urged us to take a moral stand against the riots. In this country, as Harry Eyres maintains: '... The ruling classes seem as inarticulate as the so-called rioting under-class.' Sociologists, such as the ethnomethodologists, have drawn our attention to the 'seen but unnoticed features of everyday life' and Mr. Eyres writes: '... in England (not in Scotland, Ireland or Wales) there is an inarticulateness of the upper classes, the mumbling, stumbling inability to perceive what is staring you in the face.'

Northern Voices 13 - OUT IN NOVEMBER 2011: will be covering the riots; hacking; the Luddites; John Ruskin & the Arts & Crafts movement in the North; as well as the usual features such as 'Six O' the Best Northern Theatres'.

Northern Voices, a bi-annual regional journal available from 52, Todmorden Road, Burnley BB10 4AH.

Send cheque for £4.60 (post & packing included) for the two forthcoming issues.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Suicide verdict returned on father who killed himself because of cut in his Housing Benefit!

The following article which concerns the tragic death of Richard Sanderson aged 44, from Southfields, South West London, in May 2011, has been taken from the Wandsworth Guardian. We thought this article (published in full) would be of interest to many of our readers and particulary those who gleefully clamour for more public spending cuts, and severe and rigorous welfare reform. How many more deaths will it take, before there is a re-think on welfare reform and public spending cuts?

'A desperate man who lined up three kitchen knives before stabbing himself twice in the heart, blamed cuts in housing benefit.

Unemployed Richard Sanderson took his own life after writing three suicide notes which were laid out neatly on a bed in a meticulously planned act.

In one to his wife he wrote: “Don’t come into the bathroom, this time I will most certainly be deceased”.

Mr Sanderson, who said he could not face the thought of his family being homeless, stabbed himself twice in the heart with a kitchen knife on May 29 at home in Augustus Road, Southfields, after years of being unable to find work finally took its toll, an inquest heard.

The 44-year-old former helicopter pilot wrote three suicide notes – two for his wife, Petra, and one for the police – after carefully planning the suicide over several days.

This followed a failed attempt less than a year earlier.

Coroner: Man ordered by Job Centre to give up training course

After returning a verdict of suicide at Westminster Coroner’s Court on Tuesday, August 23, Dr Fiona Wilcox said: “What I find particularly tragic in this case is this act appears to be pursued by a man who was not suffering from an illness and appears to have made a considered act in response to his inability to find employment.

“The fact his housing benefit was about to be cut and the family would be at risk of having nowhere to live, and being ordered to give up his training course because of the Job Centre's rules, would appear to be especially poignant and tragic.”

In February, Merton Council estimated up to 3,000 residents would be made poorer by the coalition Government’s policy of cutting housing benefits, which will decrease by between £5 and £400 a week from November, depending on the size of the property.

"80,000 Londoners at risk of eviction"

Annys Darkwa, who runs St Helier-based Vision Housing and helps find homes in Merton for ex-offenders, said tragic cases like this would become more frequent in the coming months because housing benefit cuts would hit the most vulnerable the hardest.

Mrs Darkwa said: “We are going to see this happen more and more as we expect 80,000 people across London to be evicted due to housing benefit cuts.

“It is especially concerning in Merton where mental health provision has disappeared. What’s going to happen to people who think they’re all alone and commit suicide because they think there’s no one to help them?”

Mr Sanderson, who was also a window cleaner, met his wife while travelling in South Africa in 1995 before the pair eventually settled in Wimbledon in 2007 to find better work prospects in London.

Widow: Council cut our housing benefit by £30 a week

Mrs Sanderson got a job but was made redundant in 2009, while Mr Sanderson constantly struggled to find work and was unable to complete training as an electrician because the job centre would not continue to pay his benefit because his training stopped him from being available for job interviews.

He tried to commit suicide the first time in June 2010 by crushing up 150 tranquiliser pills which he swallowed with a glass of whisky.

He was found at home unconscious but still alive by his wife.

Mrs Sanderson, who did not attend the inquest because she thought it would be too upsetting, gave a statement to police in which she explained the first suicide bid was done so she and their nine-year-old son could benefit from a life insurance policy payout worth 2.5m South African Rand (about £210,000), which she soon cancelled after the suicide attempt.

A psychological report by Dr Joanne Turner, who examined Mr Sanderson at St George’s Hospital, said he did not exhibit any signs of mental illness or depression and claimed to be “embarrassed” by his suicide bid.

But in her statement, Mrs Sanderson revealed: “In March or April [2011] we received a letter from [Wandsworth] Council which said our housing benefit would decrease by £30 a week, forcing us to move but leaving us with nowhere to go.”

"Despite this, I hadn't noticed any major change in Richard’s mood. I don't know why he killed himself. We had planned to go to Wimbledon Common the next day."'

Thursday, 18 August 2011

England's Riots! Are Britain's marginalised youth, 'Mustering for War'?

English radicals have always looked upon the common people with distrust and suspicion. Writing in the 1790s, William Godwin, who some regard as the first modern anarchist, believed that there was: "nothing more barbarous, cruel and blood thirsty, than the triumph of the mob."

Godwin, believed that the task of social change should be left to a "few favoured minds." His wife, the feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft, also eyed the 'poor' with a certain contempt:
"I have turned impatiently to the poor...but alas! What did I see! a being scarcely above the brutes."
There is of course nothing new about riots in this country. Many of us can remember the poll-tax riots and the riots in the early 1980s. But 18th century middle-class radicals like William Godwin, were wise to be wary of the mob. In Godwin's time, England, was said to be one of the most riot-torn countries in Europe and the mob was often used by the authorities, to intimidate and harass radicals and political malcontents.

In his 'Radical History of Britain', Edward Vallance, points out that during the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, the mob while in London, engaged in "a carnivalesque orgy of violence and destruction targeted at foreigners and immigrants." In one street alone, it is claimed that the mob beheaded thirty-five Flemish weavers. They also beheaded many members of the nobility who were associated with introducing the dreaded Poll-Tax.

While riots and protests against government austerity measures have been taking place throughout Europe in countries such as Spain, France and Greece, the CONDOM coalition Prime Minister, David Cameron, along with other other British politicians, have been quick to deny any connection between events in England and other countries:
"We're different in Britain from our Mediterranean friends", said former Labour culture minister, Tessa Jowell, "Walthamstow in north east London, is not Athens or any other Greek city."
Cameron is also emphatic that the riots have nothing to do with race, poverty, social deprivation, or his government's policies. According to Cameron, the riots are down to pure and simple criminality, symptoms of a 'broken Britain', a 'sick Britain' where there has been 'moral collapse' and where people don't take responsibility but engage in lawlessness and opportunistic crime. He feels that it is necessary to take tough measures against the thugs and hooligans who have engaged in looting and the destruction of property.

In a series of headline grabbing initiatives, Cameron, has announced that the government are considering withdrawing benefits from offenders, barring people who are suspected of causing unrest from Twitter and Facebook and apart from tougher sentences, making offenders homeless and destitute, which will no doubt lead to further crime.

'Troubled families' (120,000), are also going to be put on the 'Family Intervention Programme' which is run by the government`s 'Family Champion', the multi-millionaire, Emma Harrison, the founder of A4E. Families who do not participate are threatened with losing their homes and kids.

This is all a far cry from the 'compassionate conservatism' that Cameron once preached and his 'hug a hoodie' speech five years ago, when he was ridiculed by the New Labour government for pleading: "Let`s try and understand what has gone wrong in these children`s lives."

While some people no doubt saw the riots as an opportunity to steal (or to expropriate goods), to deny that the riots had anything to do with government policies, spending cuts, race, or poverty, is ludicrous, as many politicians know only too well. Only weeks ago, middle-class students were trashing stores in the West End of London in opposition to government policies. As Ed (Milibore) Miliband, grudgingly conceded, there is always a 'connection between circumstances and behaviour.'

As one might expect, both politicians and many in the media have been eager to dismiss any suggestion that there may be underlying reasons behind the riots. What they cannot accept is that successive governments for the last thirty years, have pursued policies which have incubated poverty in this country and which has led, to a giant leap in poverty and inequality in Britain. What they have created is a nation of ghettos, an economic apartheid, and a 'pandemic disease of working-class poverty'.

Though the Tory Daily Mail has been trawling through the English courts to find middle-class looters in order to demonstrate Britain`s so-called 'moral collapse', many of those arrested are youths from the inner cities who are often unemployed and have little or no prospects of improving their situation. Of the 2.5 million unemployed in this country, nearly one million 18-24 years old, are now unemployed. In Tottenham, (one of London`s poorest boroughs) where the riots started, there are 10,000 people claiming JSA and 54 applicants chasing every registered job vacancy.

A week ago, The Daily Telegraph columnist Mary Riddell, wrote in her column that though mob violence must always be condemned and that poverty does not ordain lawlessness, "those terrorising and trashing London are also a symptom of a wider malaise." According to Riddell, the economic situation in Britain today, is similar to what occurred prior to the 'Wall Street Crash' of 1929. She points out that in his explanation of the great crash, the economist J.K. Galbraith, set out four major factors which are all in evidence in Britain today: (a) bad income distribution, (b) corporate larceny, (c) a weak banking structure, (d) an import/export imbalance. Riddell argues that it is no coincidence that the riots in London took place at a time when the global economy is poised for freefall. Referring to the 'bubble of the 1920s', she adds:
"Today, Britain is less equal in wages, wealth and life chances, than at any time since then. Last year alone, the richest combined fortunes of the richest people in Britain rose by 30% to £333.5 billion. As London burned, Europe`s leaders, our own Prime Minister and Chancellor included, were parked on sun-loungers. Successive British governments have colluded in incubating the poverty, the inequality and the inhumanity, now exacerbated by financial turmoil. Watch the juvenile wrecking crews on the city streets and weep for all our futures, the 'lost generation' is mustering for war!"

The social unrest which has been taking place on Britain's streets, shows that there is an enormous amount of discontent among young people in this country. Like those disaffected young people in the Arab world, many feel that they have no prospects, no education, and nothing to lose but are paying the price for a financial crisis brought about by incompetent and crooked bankers. Politically, all parties now pander to the whims of the Daily Mail reading uneducated middle-classes, and are socially and politically indistinguishable.

Mary Riddell, the well-paid Daily Telegraph columnist, may indeed believe that 'poverty does not ordain lawlessness' but as that famous 19th century English novelist Charlotte Bronte once said in her novel 'Shirley', "Misery generates hate", a quote which can also be found on the front cover of Beveridges' pioneering 1942 report 'Full Employment in a Free Society', which laid the foundations of the modern welfare state.

Friday, 12 August 2011


IN the 1970s, students of industrial sociology were told that the union boss and the shop steward were 'organisers of discontent' in the workplace. At that time with full employment and active trade unions who seemed to have some kind of political mission this title 'organiser of discontent' appeared to be fair comment on the situation in the workplace and to a lesser extent British society: trade unions and their leaders then, in the 1960s and 70s, being central to the political life and culture, and with the FT doing a full page on labour disputes. Then, the union leaders were more charismatic, more substantial public figures such as Frank Cousins, Jack Jones, Hugh Scanlon and later Arthur Scargill. Today, the trade unions are seen more like insurance companies and the union leaders are indistinguishable from the managerial and political class that they confront. Even Arthur Scargill himself, at 73, is a much diminished figure looking like some latter day Fagan, who is today taking his own union, the NUM, to Court in order to recover his NUM union perks and grace and favour fancy flat in the Barbican.

During the disruption of the last few days neither the trade union bosses nor the leadership of what passes for the political left have had anything perceptive to say about the situation on the streets beyond mouthing the typical moral platitudes and proposing the usual half-baked law and order solutions. On Tuesday night, a Northern Voices reporter noted the absence of the extreme left parties on the streets of Manchester. Ken Livingstone, almost alone among politicians, raised the possibility of more sociological causes for the riots.

The left of centre National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) in a statement has said: 'TUC general secretary Brendan Barber predicted that the government's cuts would lead to riots.' As, of course, did the Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, during the election campaign last year. The NSSN then rightly points out: 'Whilst Brendan Barber had predicted these riots, he and the TUC have not offered an alternative by demonstrating they are capable of leading a movement to defend living conditions.' But the the NSSN go off into their own little wonderland proposing yet more inconclusive demonstrations be held and arguing for a token 'general strike', claiming that a one-day public sector strike 'was a big step forward in the battle against the cuts'.

There is a need for an alternative strategy, an alternative agenda, but there is no sign of it from the TUC or any part of the British left: 'Fight the cuts' or 'Resist the Coalition' but nothing of serious substance. That is because the British left, from the NSSN to Miliband and Brendan Barber, is deeply conservative and reactionary. Forever merely reacting to the agenda set by the Government of the day. This is rooted in the culture, politics and history of this country and is played out like some kind of ritual as events play themselves out. What is different today is that because there is no real 'organiser of discontent' to channel disquiet among the young, like Scargill, or the militant trade unions as there was in the 1970s and early 80s, there is no way to divert or, as the NSSN has said, 'counter frustration and social breakdown'. Hence, we have no mass strikes controlled by the unions ending with some negotiated settlement, but riots controlled by no one in particular. Thus, the powers that be can chorus to a man and woman about structural controls: water cannons, plastic bullets, exemplary sentences in the Magistrates' Courts, and ultimately, the call to bring in the army.

Perhaps we should consider the traditional way of channeling all these misspent energies and reintroduce the Carnival to England and the old Lord of Misrule from Medieval times? It might be cheaper than bringing in the army.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Brutal thugs run amok in Manchester

Everyday life of the excluded ones on riot

Nineteen-year-old Louis James with a pale complexion told Landon Thomas Junior of the International Herald Tribune (IHT) that 'I came here to get my penny's worth'. He was speaking of the London riots in the UK. Mr. James has never had a proper job and only learned to read three years ago after he left school. He had taken a £120 Fred Perry shirt that he says he stole from a looted shop on the high street of Camden Town, which the IHT describes as 'a gentrified area of North London'. Today's IHT reports: ''On Monday night, Camden Town - along with other areas in east, west and northern parts of this vast city - became an urban battlefield that pitted the riot police and their dogs against angry mobs of bottle-throwing teenagers.'

The IHT notes: 'Politicians, police officials and many residents of the areas affected have been quick to describe the riots as criminal and anarchic, lacking even a hint of the anti-government, anti-austerity message that has driven many of the protests in other European countries that have sometimes descended into violence.' The IHT reporter, Landon Thomas, writes that 'to a large extent that is a fair assessment.' But, Mr Thomas claims: '... the riots shine a light on a deeper vein of alienation and hopelessness that is afflicting many young people in Britain, where on million people aged 16 to 24 are officially unemployed, the most since the deep recession of the mid-1980s'

The IHT reporter, Mr Thomas, claims: 'In many ways, Mr James is typical. He lives in a government-subsidized flat in North London and receives jobless benefits of £76, or $123, every two weeks even though he says that he has largely given up looking for work. His mother can barely support herself, his step-brothers and step-sisters. His father who was a heroin addict, is dead.' And 'he says he has been in and out of too many schools to count and left the education system when he was 15.' Mr. James says: 'No one has ever given me a chance; I am just angry at how the whole system works.' It seems that he would like to get a job in a retail store but admits that he now spends most days watching television and just trying to get by then he asserts: 'That is the way they want it', without specifying who 'they' are and he concludes that 'they just give us enough money so that I can eat and watch TV all day' and 'I don't even pay my bills anymore'.

The Landon Thomas writes that 'Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic & Social Research in London, says that Mr. James's plight reflects a broader trend here ... proper, more difficult students', and he says these 'have not been receiving the attention they should, because teachers, who are under pressure to meet educational targets, focus on children from more stable homes and those with greater abilities and social skills.' And, with more bosses demanding higher skills most of these kids have never had a proper job and have been excluded from the labour market.

The number of young jobless has nearly doubled since 2008, pushing youth unemployment up to 20% and with an economy that's stagnant and further budget cuts coming this isn't going to get better in the near future.

Cameron Saves London & Sacrifices Manchester!

Did London Met. Go Easy on rioters in Bid to Resist Police Cuts?

'Thanks be to God for corruption
For men are Human & Judges are bribe-able,
And with corruption even the Innocent may get off.'

Bertold Brecht.

POLICE from Greater Manchester were last night sent to support the 16,000 police on the streets of London and save the Capital city. But while the cat's away the mice will play, and much more damage was inflicted on Manchester city centre as a consequence. One police spokesman told Radio 4 listeners this morning, that in Manchester we have a lot of cunning 'opportunist' criminals who naturally took advantage of the absentee policemen.

Meanwhile, this morning on Radio 4, London Mayor, Boris Johnson, called on the Government to withdraw its threat of cuts in the police budget. He said the justification for the cuts to the police was always 'frail' but he said that with the riots the case had been 'seriously weakened'. This must raise worries as to why the London police held back and were slow to react in their dealings with the riots last Sunday and Monday: did they deliberately drag their feet in order to gain public support for their case against Government cuts in the police budget?

This morning, John Humphries on Radio 4 asked a spokesman for the London Met as to 'who gave the order', during the Sunday and Monday night riots in the Capital city, for the police to go easy on the rioters? Moreover, is Boris Johnson colluding with the police in a bid to stop the planned Government cuts in the police budget? Given his comments today, is he and the London Metropolitan Police promoting their own vested interests against the stated polices of the lawfully elected coalition Government? I've always suspected that Boris is a thinly disguised anarchist, but it seems that London Met also has its share of anarcho-syndicalists willing to put the nation at risk in order to get their own way.

Frank Zappa`s ' Trouble Every Day' !

As I watched this weeks riots on TV, I couldn`t help but recall the words of Frank Zappa`s song 'Trouble Every Day':

"Well I`m about to get sick from watching my TV, I`ve been checking out the news until my eyeballs fail to see, I mean to say that every day, is just another mess, and when it`s gona change my friends, is anybodies guess - So I`m watching and I`m waiting hoping for the best, even think I go to praying, everytime I here them say -

There`s no way to delay that trouble coming every day, there`s no way to delay that trouble coming every day -

Wednesday I watched the riots, I seen the cops out on the streets, I watched them throwing rocks and stuff and choking in the heat, I listen to the reports of the whisky passing round, I seen the smoking fire and the market burning down, watched while everybody on the street would take a turn to stomp, and smash, and bash, and crash, and slash, and bust and burn..."

Have a listen to this, the words of this songs seem particularly apt at this moment.

Manchester and Salford "Summer

What follows is an eyewitness account of the tumultuous events in Manchester last night Tuesday August 9th, 2011. It is in the best traditions of citizen journalism following in the footsteps of George Orwell.

As I was travelling into Manchester for a CND-organised event for Nagasaki Day I had my first inkling of trouble when I noticed from the 36 bus a massive police presence in Salford Precinct. Clearly something major had kicked off there in terms of social conflict. The bus continued as far as the Salford Crescent Pub and then stopped. Passengers were given the choice of returning from whence they came or making alternative arrangements to get into Manchester. We were told by the driver that there was "rioting" in the City Centre. I attended the 7 p.m. meeting at the Friends Meeting House, Mount Street which was ended prematurely on police advice.

I then headed down Cross Street towards Victoria train station. There were groups of young people throughout the area and clear evidence of shop fronts having been smashed in.

Surprisingly, there was little evidence of a massive police presence except on Market Street. Every so often, one witnessed large groups of young people racing around the City Centre, witnessed by many spectators taking pictures on their mobiles. Occasionally, one heard the sound of police or fire-engine sirens, although no ambulances.

I stayed in the City Centre for about an hour and felt no threat to my person at all. The atmosphere was electric and one can fully understand why many youngsters felt a sense of excitement and even exhilaration as the "liberation" of goods from the shops proceeded. One commentator subsequently used the phrase "acquisitive entitlement" to explain this phenomenon.

It was impossible to get a bus back to Swinton so I waited at the train station for the 9.10 p.m. but this was cancelled due to the driver refusing to take it out apparently worried about his car parked nearby. I eventually got home and watched the news coverage on TV. The knee jerk reaction of leading Councillors and the Police completely failed to comprehend what the motivation and causes of this unprecedented social unrest were.

Law and order solutions involving robust policing (including water cannon and plastic bullets) will only escalate the problem. The social and economic deprivation occasioned by draconian attacks on social fabric and public provision by the Tory-Lib Dem Government aided and abetted by a supine opposition offer very little hope that "normality" can be restored to the streets quickly.

One last subversive thought entered my head last night the aphorism of the French anarchist Pierre Joseph Proudhon "All Property is Theft".

Marilyn Monroe and Radical Politics

Whilst acres of print have been devoted to Marilyn Monroe as a screen Goddess and films such as "Some Like it Hot", "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes", and "The Seven Year Itch" are classics of the genre very little is known about her political views. Anthony Summers' biography "The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe " is revealing in this respect.

In 1956 the House Un-American Activities Committee summoned Arthur Miller the left-wing playwright who Marilyn had married. Miller admitted to having "signed some form or another" at a Marxist study course in 1939. He had no knowledge of applying for membership of the Communist Party. Miller refused to name names. The House of Representatives voted him in contempt of Congress. He was convicted, appealed and acquitted 2 years later.

The fight was conducted with the support of Marilyn Monroe. She never doubted the outcome. "Because I have been studying Thomas Jefferson for years and according to him this case had to turn out this way". In 1960 she told the British writer W. J. Weatherby "Some of these bastards in Hollywood wanted me to drop Arthur, they said it would ruin my career. One reason I wanted Kennedy to win is that Nixon is associated with that whole scene."

Danny Greenson the student son of Marilyn's psychiatrist Ralph Greenson commented that she would say to Miller "Youve got to stand up to those bastards" . He went on to say she was unsophisticated politically, but her instincts were always with the underdog and that there was more to Marilyn than meets the eye. Marilyn's closest associates in the 50s context were of the far left. The House Un-American Activities Committee had records on Lee and Paula Strasberg, Marilyn's acting coaches.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011


Man Shot; Riots Ensue; Parliament Recalled!

IN some ways what people believe is more important than what actually happened: this morning on BBC News, the Afro-Caribbean writer, Darcus Howe, claimed that last week the police in Tottenham 'Blew Mark Duggan's head off'. This was later refuted by someone from Scotland Yard on Sky News, who said that Mr. Duggan was killed by 'a single shot to the chest'. Mr Howe also insisted that what we are witnessing in London is not 'riots' but 'insurrection'. Meanwhile, the British political class went into a chorus of condemnation, piling painful platitudes onto the long suffering British public. Little attempt has yet been made to seriously analyse these events which are now spreading across the country. I hope that my local MP, Jim Dobbin, will not add to this mountain of half-baked muck when Parliament reconvenes this Thursday.

The nearest comparison to the London events, to my mind, was the Semana Tràgica that took place in Barcelona in 1909, after the Spanish War Office in Madrid, in a provocative move, called up the army reserves from Catalonia to fight in North Africa - then after tearful scenes at the railway station as the troops left - Gerald Brenan wrote in his book 'The Spanish Labyrith' that '... the next day the whole city rose'. Mr Brenan described the Semana Tràgica thus: '... the Jovenes Barabaros or "Young Barbarians" as they called themselves, let themselves go ... the result was five days of mob rule, in which the union leaders lost control of their men and twenty-two churches and thirty-four convents were burned. Monks were killed, tombs were desecrated and strange macabre scenes took place, as workmen danced in the street with the disinterred mummies of nuns.'

With the Semana Tràgica in Barcelona of 1909, as with the London Riots of today, it was difficult for the authorities to understand why it happened when it did. Of course, the people in Barcelona were reacting against the war in North Africa that was being promoted by the Government in Madrid and Gerald Brenan writes: 'Since the disastrous war in Cuba and the return of thousands of starving and malaria-ridden troops, the whole country had been strongly pacifist.' But there was something else; Brenan describes an important class distinction: 'The reserves consisted of married men of the working classes, for in Spain no one who could afford the small sum required to buy himself out was ever conscripted.' At the same time, because many poor Spaniards and Catalans saw the Catholic Church as part of the boss class, in times of disquiet people would attack the clergy.

The situation in London is different, in so far as while Barcelona in 1909 was a relatively modern developing industrial city that was reacting against the traditional authorities in the Government in Madrid as well as the Church hierarchy, the youth in London are like everyone else - hooked on consumerism and shopping. And yet, they are both similar in so far as just as in Barcelona 'the unions lost control of their men', in London, none of the political parties or Social Workers seem to have any influence over the people in the streets today. In 1909, the veteran anarchist Anselmo Lorenzo commenting on what he described as 'A social revolution ... in Barcelona' in a letter to a friend, confirms that it was the same: 'No one has instigated it. No one has led it. Neither Liberals, nor Catalan Nationalists, nor Republicans, nor Socialists, nor Anarchists.' In London today the Home Secretary, Theresa May, dark roots showing beneath her bleach blond locks, lipstick and make-up applied in abundance yet insufficient to hid the bags hanging beneath her hawk-like eyes and crimson beak, denounced what she called 'sheer criminality'.

In the end what is happening in London is a perverse embrace by young people of our modern places of worship as our youth prostrate themselves before today's new secular cathedrals: the shops; the Malls; the Department Stores etc. No one on the streets of London is doing what the Catalan workers did in 1909 - dancing with the 'mummies of nuns' - instead they are prancing with the electric gear of what passes for our new religion: consumerism.

Valerie Groves on John Mortimer: the Sleeping Juror & the Oz Trial

2 more vignettes from "A Voyage Around John Mortimer" by Valerie Grove:

1) The Sleeping Juror which was related by Richard Eyre in his published diary.

There was a sexual harassment case in which a woman witness was too shy to say what had been said to her. The Judge told her to write it down. She duly concurred with the words "Do you want a fuck?" The note was passed around the court and ended up with a dozing juryman who was sitting next to an attractive woman. The woman prodded the Juryman awake and gave him the note. He read it, looked at her, smiled and put the note in his pocket. The Judge asked for the note to be returned. "Merely a private matter my Lord" said the Juryman

2)The OZ trial. OZ #28 The School Kids issue 1971.

The 3 defendants were Richard Neville, Jim Anderson and Felix Dennis. George Melly, the renowned Anarchist and surrealist, was giving evidence. Judge Argyle a dyed-in-the-wool reactionary commented. "Well pardon me for those of us who did not have a classical education, what do you mean by the word 'cunnilinctus'?" (as if it were a cough medicine Geoffrey Robertson the libertarian QC later pointed out). Melly elucidated for him. "Sucking, blowing or going down or gobbling or, as we said in my naval days, 'Yodelling in the Canyon'." In 1997 the British entry in the  'Song for Europe' Contest was "Yodel in the Canyon of Love" (sic).

Monday, 8 August 2011

Torn from Thatcher's Womb


AMID a weekend of riots in Tottenham, North London, I ponder that within my lifetime a substantial social transformation has taken place as English urban riots led by young people on the streets replace trade union industrial action in factories and workshops as a safety valve in British society. The triumph of Thatcherism in the 1980s, that succeeded in smashing the old order with Arthur Scargill, the NUM and the miners, and later the political effectiveness of the British trade unions throwing the TUC into retreat, did also inadvertently set into motion a more subversive community-based and potentially insurrectionary force in the form of the street riot. Yesterday, a barber in riot strewn Tottenham told Ravi Somaiya of the International Herald Tribune: 'This country has changed ... we've lost something' and he was referring to the recent scandals in which the media, the politicians and the police are implicated. Another man, a bus driver who didn't want to give his name, blamed it on endemic youth unemployment and said: 'This will happen again'.

In a talk I gave on the 20th, June on the Spanish Civil War at Haringey Labour Club to the Radical History Network of North East London (RaHN), I said: 'I couldn't help but notice that the big trade union strikes have more or less disappeared from the post-modern scene and that they have been replaced by the street riot from the time of Thatcher.' I explained this radical social change according to a comment in Ignazio Silone's book 'School for Dictators', published in 1939, where he has one of his characters pose this question:
'40 or 50 years ago if you read the history of the working class movement the masses could produce men bold enough to fight violently to assassinate monarchs, and groups if men bold enough to fight violently during strikes ... how do you explain that loss of dynamism, that spirit?'
The character representing Silone's own view answer in this way:
'Perhaps it is one of the consequences of the growth of big industry ... in moving from the artisan's workshop and small plant to the great factory the worker undergoes a considerable transformation. His mental horizon is broadened and his class consciousness increased, but at the same time, he looses taste for freedom and his readiness for individual action - the factory worker is mass man par excellence and the growth of big industry forced workers German workers especially towards "Zusammenmarschieren".'
"Zusammenmarschieren" means "marching together". For Silone this characteristic in the Germans, born of their different life style to say the Spaniards, explains how it was that the Spaniards put up stronger resistance to Fascism than did the Germans with their mass Socialist, Communist Parties and trade unions. Silone concludes: 'Inter-party struggles of the Germans are essentially struggles between different party machines, individual initiative has been reduced to zero.'

Even without Margaret Thatcher's supreme efforts in the 1980s these social changes disrupting the culture of working life and taking us back mentally to an earlier age would probably have come about anyway; because the decline of the big factories and manufacturing industry would have thrown Silone's concept into reverse: shifting work patterns from modern mass man in the factories with his trade unions, strikes and industrial action back (or forward) to riots, insurrections and individually initiated act of violence to what some would call a post-modern world.


Anti-Blacklist Campaigner Steve Acheson's Picket Pledge

By Lucy Ewing BBC News

Steve Acheson has vowed to picket outside Fiddlers Ferry power station until he secures what he calls meaningful employment

"I had a choice - I could either sit in my front room growing old, wishing I had done something, or I could actually do something," electrician Steve Acheson said.

The 58-year-old has spent the past two-and-a-half years protesting outside Fiddlers Ferry power station in Cheshire. It is the continuation of a battle against "blacklisting" in the construction industry - where firms allegedly compile files on workers that include notes of their trade union activities and can lead to them being refused work.

For all that time, he has been standing outside the giant plant - one of the North West's most well-known landmarks with its huge cooling towers looming over the outskirts of Warrington - accompanied by dozens of banners. "By hook or by crook I will not move from here unless I get meaningful employment," he said quietly. "I've not been out of work because I'm a bad electrician - but because I cared about health and safety and was an active union member."

Hundreds of CVs:

In 2008, Mr Acheson was offered a job by sub-contractor BMSL, working as a supervisor at Fiddlers Ferry. Within four hours, he said, it was withdrawn. He was eventually taken on. But less than six months later, on 18 December, he lost his job. Mr Acheson took the company to an employment tribunal last October. His claim for unfair refusal of employment - where his job offer was withdrawn after four hours - was successful but BMSL is currently appealing against the decision.

Mr Acheson places banners outside Fiddlers Ferry at least twice a week. But the tribunal also found he was not unfairly dismissed when he lost his job after six months. It stated that while Mr Acheson had been monitored on the blacklist while working at the site, BMSL had not been involved in a blacklist or had in any way been influenced by it.

A spokesman for the company said it had never been part of the blacklist.

"We were the only people for many years to employ Mr Acheson on the Fiddlers Ferry project," he added. "We would employ him again if any opportunities arose."

But as Mr Acheson, from Denton in Greater Manchester, is pledging to continue his picket until he gets a job, it would appear he may face a long wait. He eventually managed to gain possession of his own blacklist file by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) after officials raided Consulting Association, in Droitwich, Worcestershire, in March 2009. It included his name, address, date of birth, National Insurance number, mobile telephone number and the fact he was "probably EPIU" - referring to his union membership.

'Behaving himself' !

There were scores of entries from sources and clippings from the left-wing press. It monitored where he was working and included some places he had never been employed. Among the entries were: "Is behaving himself, now a foreman… Lads don't pay as much attention since he's not on the shop floor" and "Stephen (sic) Acheson is known to be currently visiting agencies looking for employment in the Liverpool area".

Officials from the ICO discovered a database which had details of 3,213 workers. Forty firms had subscribed to the list. Ian Kerr, one of four employees, pleaded guilty to breaching the Data Protection Act and was fined £5,000 in July 2009. Mr Acheson has argued the 40 subscribers should have faced a harsher punishment - they were given a warning by the ICO. He said that although having sent out about 100 CVs over the past two years, he had not had any offers of work. This is compared to 20 years ago when he would receive regular calls, he said. As well as highlighting his own plight, Mr Acheson is also campaigning against the blacklisting of other workers.

Mr Acheson lost his job at Fiddlers Ferry in December 2008. He said he was aware there was a blacklist long before he was able to hold his own file in his hand. His union activity started in 1996, after the death of a 21-year-old colleague at a site on which he was working.

From then on, he said he was determined to ensure companies for which he worked complied with health and safety legislation.

'Blacklist exists'

In 2000, he lost his job working on a plant after raising health and safety concerns about the site.

Unbeknown to him at the time, that incident marked the opening of his file on a blacklist. He was described as "one of the ringleaders" of a dispute. He was thrown out of work on several occasions on sites across England between 2000 and 2006. He won three cases of unfair dismissal at tribunals - including one in 2007, which he said proved crucial when it judged that a blacklist did exist.

"A blacklist exists within the electrical industry and has on it names of various individuals considered for various reasons to be unsuitable for employment," the judgement said.

"Union activity is a reason why individuals are entered on to that blacklist.

"The claimant Steven Acheson has appeared on that blacklist for a considerable length of time." That gave further weight and energy to Mr Acheson's campaign, which eventually led to the ICO taking up his case.

'Ruined lives'

The government introduced new regulations against blacklisting in 2010, making it unlawful to operate a list and to compensate those who suffer loss as a result of being blacklisted.

But Mr Acheson believes this does not mean the end for the blacklist. A manager in the construction industry has told him it still exists, he said. He also cited a dispute at the Olympic site, where two workers have claimed they lost their jobs because of a blacklist.

"I don't want to be here doing this. I would rather be working every day”

Dave Smith, spokesman for the Blacklist Support Group, said blacklisting "ruined family lives".

"The only reason I or Steve Acheson have been blacklisted is because we have raised concerns about health and safety issues," he added. Mr Acheson said his campaign had had a huge effect on his family - his wife Debra, 44, works full time to support him. And his 21-year-old daughter has not seen her father in continuous employment since she was 10. "I don't want to be here doing this. I would rather be working every day," he said.

The support group is now taking its campaign to Europe.

It recently raised the issue with the European Commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion László Andor.

The UK Contractors Group said its members were "well aware of their obligations under data protection regulations".A spokesman for the ICO said: "If anyone has evidence that blacklisting is continuing then they should inform the ICO."

Thursday, 4 August 2011

BBC: Anthropology of Excuses

ON MONDAY, I arrived at the picket of the BBC offices on Oxford Road, Manchester, for the latest one day strike of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) at 7.30 a.m. - a full 3 hours after the first pickets turned up at 4am to successfully stop a senior presenter on Radio Manchester from turning in to work. I introduced myself as the Secretary of Tameside Trade Union Council, who was there in solidarity because the NUJ is affiliated to our Trades Council. At first there were only a handful of pickets at each entrance but more came later including a lass from UNISON attached to Stockport TUC. It was hard to have much impact and though the Communication Workers Union refused to deliver the post and cross the picket early on, after that it was an up-hill task trying to stop other non-NUJ and free-lance workers from crossing our picket lines around the BBC building. Every excuse was conjured up to justify crossing the picket lines: 'I've got a meeting with Andy!'; 'It's my first day at work!'; 'Jill's expecting me!'; 'I think the BBC has got a point starting with closing down the overseas service, I don't think the BBC should keep the Albanian service going!'; 'If I don't go in they will take me off air!'

Meanwhile, the BBC is insisting on its right to make staff compulsorily redundant while it still refuses to meet the National Union of Journalists at the conciliation service ACAS. Yesterday, managers took over the work of journalists while the strike was on. It is said that some of them prefer doing jobs as presenters, more than their own jobs, if only it wasn't for the money. The NUJ claims that the BBC should put its own house in order because 'money has been wasted by the BBC management'. A report published in March 2011 by the Public Accounts Committee on BBC's Digital Media initiative showed 'that failings in the project cost the licence fee payer £26 million which had to be saved in "efficiencies" (cuts) within the BBC divisions.'

Yet, top pay at the BBC is, according to the NUJ, '...21.5 times the average salary and 47 times the lowest salary'. Some journalists see themselves as rugged individualists who can best negotiate for themselves rather than using the union. Egotism seems to be part of the culture at the BBC and the NUJ says in a leaflet: 'Money should be spent on staffing core services, not wasted on vanity projects.' Tomorrow, a work-to-rule will be set in motion by the union but some worry that journalists will find it hard to enforce a work-to-rule given the ethic of professionalism at the BBC. The union urges people to write to the BBC asking them to go to ACAS and look for a solution to the dispute.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Academics & anarchists: on doing hacking & phone taps

'A Company of Bastards' & the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act

RECENT comment on the ethics of phone-hacking and the media reminded me of our practices in the 1970s, during the time of the alternative press and counter-cultural journalism in the North of England; not to mention what we got up to in the name of our academic interests. We didn't actually go in for phone-hacking as such but we did tape-record telephone conversations of various parties without their knowledge. Usually we did it with people that we did not like, such as slippery union bosses like Arnold Belfield (a Rochdale Magistrate and Secretary of the National Union of Textile & Allied Workers) or Albert Hilton (President of the Rochdale Branch of the National Union of Textile & Allied Workers) or as the publication Rochdale Alternative Paper did when it recorded the boss of the Weavers & Winders Union, others did it on the odd local employer or manager. We did this at the time mainly for practical reasons because, when it suited these people, they tended to have memory lapses and that could be troublesome for trade union activists on the shop-floor. In the early 1970s, Albert Hilton, then President of Rochdale National Union of Textile & Allied Workers, had to have his memory jogged by the production of a tape recording to prove that he had had a telephone conversation with me some weeks before the committee meeting at which he and the Secretary were trying to expel me from the union. He then made himself look guilty by responding thus: 'anyone can fake a tape recording!'

We didn't only limit these activities to tape recordings of telephone conversations either, sometimes we would engineer a tape recorder into a briefcase and take it to a meeting with the bosses or union officials to make covert recordings of the proceedings. These recordings would sometimes provide us with an aide-memoire so that we could fill in reports or to produce articles. But mostly they would be produced to undermine our enemies among the bosses and union leaders in the 1970s and beyond. A bloke called Brendan - close to the anarchist movement - was a bobby-dazzler at making these secret recordings and even Derek Pattison, who is now on the editorial panel of Northern Voices and is a life-long anarcho-syndicalist, in the 1980s got another anarchist called Ian Smith to ring up one of his ex-employers pretending to be a boss asking for a reference and expecting him to give a bad one so that he could later discredit that boss. Some of the material thus obtained may have been used for articles in Freedom, the anarchist weekly, when in the 1970s it was edited by Peter Turner, also a member of UCATT and Secretary of Hammersmith TUC.

Yet, this kind of surreptitiously acquired material had other uses besides wrong-footing dodgy employers and union bosses, it could be used for academic research. My own dissertation for my B.A. was based on one such confrontation between myself and a union official, Arnold Belfield, then, in the 1970s, Secretary of the National Union of Allied Workers: the thesis was entitled 'Members & Officials: Some Aspects of a Trade Union Dispute' and was based on a recording taken with Mr Belfield's knowledge on the premises of the union. One Friday evening I just tuned up at the office before it closed and slapped the tape-recorder down on his desk and started to interrogate him; there was a bit of an altercation of course, a bit of pushing and shoving, and then he rang for one of his union cronies for support. When that didn't work and I still refused to leave, Arnold Belfield, who was also a Magistrate in Rochdale, called in the police, and then when I still refused to leave until I got a proper answer to my questions from Arnold, the copper with the help of Arnold began to try to carry me out: it was all there on tape the shouting, the cries of 'get his other leg' and from the police officer: 'I sick of this, I'm finishing work at 6pm, and I don't want to be messing about with you!'

All this recorded data later proved useful for studying power relationships and how people relate to each other in argumentative situations while I was later doing my degree in 1976. A particular school of sociology in Manchester 'ethnomethodology', which was very fashionable in the mid-1970s, lent itself to this kind of material. Harold Garfinkel, who died on 21st April this year and was professor emeritus in sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, had coined the term 'ethnomethodology', meaning 'people's methodology' in the 1950s. Michael Lynch who wrote Garfinkel's obituary in The Guardian in June wrote: 'In the social sciences, methodology usually refers to systematic techniques for collecting data but, following Garfinkel, ethnomethodologists identified it with a broad range of ordinary abilities, such as taking part in conversational exchanges, navigating through traffic situations and recognising what is happening in specific social environments.' Lynch says: 'Garfinkel's major work, Studies in Ethnomethodology (1967), challenged 'top down' theories which proposed that society was structured around relatively limited sets of rules and overarching values.' Garfinkel proposed an alternative 'bottom up' picture of society built from what Lynch says are 'innumerable occasions of improvised conduct adapted to particular situations'. The tape recorder and later the video recorder proved a useful tool for collecting such data.

Was this ethical anymore than the conduct of the News International journalists? Some of this data was collected in a sneaky and covert manner to make it more authentic because the subject of the study would act more naturally if he or she didn't know they were being recorded. Garfinkel even got his students to probe the assumed existence of social order by using 'disruption or breaching experiments' and sending them out to upset commonplace routines in households and public places. My experience with the Magistrate and union boss, Arnold Belfield, and the Rochdale policeman was one such way of delving into the relationship between union officials and their members, authority figures and citizens. Only half in jest, was Garfinkel later in his life to describe the field of ethnomethodological endeavour as 'a company of bastards' - some of the things we got up to were a bit rum to be sure and Michael Lynch writes: 'Like a stand-up comic, he (Garfinkel) had a knack for exposing the strangeness of everyday routines.'

I suppose both Garfinkel, the ethnos and the anarchists at the time in the 1960s and 70s, would have argued that it was in the public interest to acquire this kind of information through tricks and wire taps. We would have said these methods were justified given what we were trying to find out, and in the case of the anarchists, dealing with employers and bosses, that it was our way of getting the edge of the employers and the union bosses. But whatever the ethics of doing this kind of thing, these past practices, both by academics and anarchists, have probably now all been made illegal under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act [RIPA 2000] in the year 2000. Today, I'm not even sure that Ervin Goffman would in England be allowed to secretly insert himself in a mental institution in order to collect information to write a book like Asylums. But RIPA 2000 did let employers and councils do some authoritarian things such as at Bury Council, where in 2006, they secretly filmed a team of their own binmen employees doing their work, and later tried to use the film footage to prove that three had been taking bribes off some shopkeepers: all these binmen ended up getting a significant sum in an out-of-Court settlement and payment which was later commented on in the Mail on Sunday and the Bury Times. In an unrelated case a security guard from Bury MBC told Northern Voices that the Council had covertly used audio recording gear in their work's car to record the conversations of their Bury MBC security staff going about their duties on the night shift. This kind of thing reminds one of the old East Germany under the Stasi or secret police. The signs are that the RIPA 2000 didn't really stop the abuses as it set out to do; I don't know if the academics or anarchists have now been intimidated by the RIPA 2000.