FRONT PAGE: CAPITALISM IS CRISIS
Capitalism’s current crisis is one of many. In the 1930s the Wall Street Crash and the subsequent global recession, the great depression, saw millions of working class people across the globe plunged into poverty and destitution.
The oil crisis of the early seventies put paid to much of the inward investment that had been attracted to Northern Ireland to offset de- industrialisation leaving many on the dole. The Thatcher years saw unemployment rocket across the UK. Unemployment for the whole of the UK has risen to over two million for the first time in 12 years. In March Radio 4 reported that the three areas with the highest percentage rises in people claiming Job Seekers Allowance are in Northern Ireland – Magherafelt, Dungannon and Cookstown.
Over the past year unemployment here has increased by a staggering 75%. 14,500 people joined the dole queue in the 6 months before April. In the first four days of that month 2% of Northern Ireland’s manufacturing jobs were lost – that’s over 1,400 jobs lost!
The current crisis looks like it may be the final nail in the coffin for Northern Ireland’s shrinking industrial base. For decades our manufacturing and textiles industries have been stripped bare and relocated to other parts of the globe by employers seeking greater profits from those with poorer working conditions and poverty wages. This is a path that Visteon/Ford thought they could follow when they put Visteon into administration in Belfast, Enfield and Basildon.
As more and more redundancies are announced thousands of working class people, our families and our communities, will lose their livelihoods and be thrown into poverty. It is already enough of a struggle for those of us with work to make ends meet. While bankers and bosses are bailed out by overpaid politicians the world over, our own MLAs continue to lift their wages while claiming the Assembly is powerless. Without a hint of irony we can expect this to be used as an argument for greater powers to raise local taxes and to heighten the burden on the working class.
We are being made to pay for the problems created by capitalism with worsening conditions, disappearing pensions, increased job insecurity, pay cuts and the scrap heap of the dole. The Stormont Assembly may well be powerless in the face of this recession but Visteon/Ford workers have demonstrated that working class people standing together in solidarity with one another are not!
The current ‘credit crunch’ is simply the latest of capitalism’s all too regular recessions. To combat the impact of these recessions we need to get rid of the system that creates them. We need to organise to scrap capitalism – which is nothing more than a system that bleeds us dry for years and then discards us without a thought.
Capitalism cannot be reformed, it cannot be made better, it is based on exploitation and making a profit for the few at the expense of the many. We need to replace it with a society run by and for workers on the basis of the needs of all – not the profits of a few.
Vote or Lose Your Voice?
The Electoral Commission have outdone themselves in their most recent campaign to convince us all that if we do not register to vote that we will lose our voices – or be gagged by the looks of things.
Apparently deciding not to vote for any of the candidates put forward in the forthcoming European election by our local sectarian parties leaves us powerless to effect change. Of course we at the Leveller, being Anarchists, take exception to this suggestion just as we take exception to the idea that any politician will or can ever represent the interests of working class people.
We note, with no surprise, that all of the candidates in the 4th June election pledged themselves, at a Federation of Small Businesses event to, well, represent the interests of the bosses. Bairbre de Brun’s denial of an obviously false allegation made by Jim Allister that she was a “communist” comes as no surprise to the Leveller.
We know that the bosses and the working class have no common interests so it stands to reason that politicians like this lot cannot give working class people a voice anywhere – whether in Europe, Westminster, Ireland or Europe.
NIC-ICTU Rally for Jobs and Workers Rights.
On Friday 17th April 1,000 people attended the NIC ICTU rally in Belfast in support of workers rights and in protest at ongoing job losses across the north. Speakers from NIC ICTU joined workers from Visteon/Ford, Bombardier Shorts, and Nortel, in addressing the lunchtime rally. Many had marched with flags and banners from Transport House to the City Hall were they were joined by others.
John Corey introduced the speakers and made opening remarks concerning the impact of the recession on local jobs. Corey pointed out that the complaints from the First and Deputy First Minister about negative reporting in the Belfast Telegraph was the least of the two ministers problems. He went on to appeal to politicians and the Assembly to sort things for us despite the fact that they have admitted they are “powerless” in the face of the recession.
Peter Bunting attacked the international elite who are profiteering from the current recession and demanded protection for workers from these profiteers. He condemned cash and grab employers who took advantage of concessions and financial packages to set up shop in Northern Ireland and were using the cover of a recession to relocate to take advantage of lower wages and worse terms and conditions in other parts of the globe. Attacking the management of Visteon/Ford, whose Belfast plant has been occupied since Tuesday 31st March, Bunting said of the workforce:
“They developed technology which made cars safer and contributed to the wealth of that corporation. What thanks did they get? Their technological innovations are now being made in South Africa, their pensions are in cold storage and their futures shattered by corporate greed.
“Their bosses have fled with their pensions intact, their reputations protected, their share options guaranteed. This is an act of corporate mugging.”
Turning his attention to Bombardier Shorts who made nearly 1,000 workers redundant he said:
“Bombardier failed to mention one small detail – for the fourth quarter ended last January, global earnings rose 42% to $309m. Share value in Bombardier Inc. increased, revenue rose 3% to $5.43bn.”
Once again, like the previous speaker, he also demanded that our politicians do more in support of the workers.
Andrea Hamilton speaking from Nortel giving details of the cutting of 87 jobs there and the firms breach of the agreed selection procedure. Acknowledging the limited power of local politicians Andrea instead appealed to the Irish and British governments to act to protect workers jobs.
David Thompson, a Union rep from Bombardier took no comfort from the fact that the majority of those recently made redundant were agency staff:
“They too have to feed their families and have bills to pay”.
The local Unite conveynor for Visteon John Maguire then addressed the rally and exposed the fact that Ford had falsely portrayed the company as unviable. Workers have been betrayed by a company that promised them mirrored terms and conditions for life with other Ford workers and which is in reality in the process of renaming and relocating to South Africa, the Philippines and China to take advantage of worse terms and conditions and “slave wages”.
Jimmy Kelly warned that legal action is being taken against the workers occupying the plant:
“…there may come a day when someone may try to force them out. They could even face jail, but we must join them and support them to the hilt”.
Patricia McKeown, president of ICTU, like many of the other speakers, demanded our politicians are put under pressure to support workers. She also pointed out that our power was not just in the ballot box, but lies with actions such as the impromptu stoppage in support of the rally by city bus drivers. She went on to demand support for immigrant workers who face both physical attacks prejudice in the workplace.
In closing John Corey committed the Trades Union movement to physical defence of the occupation at Visteon in the event of any attempt at eviction. He said the place of trade unionists was alongside the occupiers.
Derry Rec Campaign
Plans by Derry City Council to close the re-cycling centres at the Brandywell and Eglinton have been met with stiff opposition from locals, community activists and trade unionists.
A protest outside the Guildhall recently won no support from councillors, the SDLP saying that the closures were tied to rates hikes that were legally binding and Sinn Féin’s motion for a stay of execution being unsuccessful, both united in support of the sites being shut down. The Derry City Council area has one of the better recycling levels in the north and the sites are also used by many Donegal people trying to avoid the bin tax over the border.
The Council’s new strong-arm chief executive, Valerie Watts has been brought over from East Dunbartonshire Council where last year she was involved in securing pay reductions of 25 per cent from 30 of the lowest paid council workers as well as removing allowances such as overtime and weekend pay. Her management style was noted then as bullying and domineering, exactly the type Derry City Councillors wanted to steer the new super-council into existence and tackle (or rather sack) Council workers on the sick.
Post Fordism in Belfast: The Running Down of Viseton
The Ford motor company has had a parts factory on the Finaghy Road in West Belfast for years. In 1980 there were 1400 employees working there. By the year 2000 that had been reduced to about 550 or 600. At least some of that decline in the labour force is attributable to machinery improvements creating greater efficiency but also a planned run down had began. In 2000 Ford created a sub-company which was initially called ‘Neuco’ then renamed ‘Visteon’ and treated it in some ways as if it was an independent company. Visteon never existed outside of Ford.
So if anyone was wondering when post-Fordism started in Belfast, the Ford motor company would claim it began in 2000. However, the Ford flag still flew over the ‘Visteon’ factory until the workers seized control of their factory after being told that Visteon had been put into administration for bankruptcy. They were given 6 minutes notice that they were losing their jobs. So they simply stayed in the cafeteria to which they’d been summoned, wouldn’t leave the building. When the accountants and management eventually left the premises they didn’t let them back in.
Now there is a union flag flying over the plant. But for the workers at the Ford/Visteon plant the real issue is still with Ford. In the last 7 or 8 years Ford has deliberately rundown its Visteon plant, encouraging workers to take full pensions, early retirement or a severance deal. From almost 600 workers in 2000 there were 210 people employed in Belfast at the time of the attempted plant closure on Financial Fools day (April 1st 2009). Now that Visteon has been put into administration, neither Ford nor Visteon will have to pay those pensions.
According to legislation the government (with tax-payers money) is expected to fill the pensions gap. Even so some of the pensioners (4000 total in the UK) would have a pension reduction of 10%. Many of the workers are asking each other, was this a deliberate Ford strategy from 2000, to offer full pensions because they knew they would never pay, they knew pension costs would be offloaded to the taxpayer!
During the Ford/Visteon name change the Union had negotiated a separation agreement including promises that the amount of work Ford gave to its new Visteon plants would be equal or better but always the parts contracts seemed to be less and less. The most important negotiation during the name change was that by European Works Council they got guarantees of the same pension, pay raises, holidays, and a mirror contract (The Ford book was orange and said “Ford”, the Visteon book was yellow but otherwise merely a reprint).
However anyone with a company dumped into administration can escape all these commitments. Even though many workers that I met had been working in the Belfast plant for 30 or more years, statutory redundancy pay is capped. Because all the parts contracts that Visteon receives come from Ford, the Visteon company is really no more than an internal accounting unit that has been allowed to go bust. For Ford the “credit crunch” may simply be a useful cover for an accounting and legal hatchet job that was planned years before the bust.
Since 2000 negotiation has been an ongoing process. The 520 agreement said that workers at one of Ford’s “Visteon” plants had the right work in another Ford plant as Ford employees. At one point when a “Visteon” plant in England was shedding jobs many of the employees flowed to a nearby Ford plant and replaced outsourced workers with temporary contracts. The workers at Visteon plants in England have nearby Ford plants in which they are potentially eligible for work, for example the Ford plant in Bridgend was 11 miles from the Swansea Visteon plant.
However in Belfast, there is no such nearby plant. The 520 agreement only applies if the workers go to a Ford plant, so obviously the Belfast workers in Finaghy feel this plant closure is ripping the heart out of their community (the majority of whom are from greater the Belfast area and a significant minority of which are directly from the immediate Finaghy/West Belfast area).
This is perhaps why the focus of the campaign is not on redundancy pay (as was initially reported in the news) but rather the focus is on keeping the factory open. “I don‟t want a redundancy package,” one worker told me. It was the Belfast workers refusal to leave that inspired similar direct action at the two other closing Visteon plants in Basildon and Enfield. On Wednesday 8th April a supporters‟ march with a couple of hundred people, including members of Organise!, started at a local shopping centre and walked out to the occupied plant.
The Northern Ireland Parades Commission normally requires 28 days notice before any kind of march can happen (because sectarian marches have resulted in violence). However the police were down to the plant the day before to fast track the permission process so that the March could go forward legally. Support for the Belfast workers occupation has so far been very strong from all quarters.
Although the account books for Visteon in England put the company in administration, the Visteon plant in Port Elizabeth, South Africa (a separate company within the accounting world) has been financially stable making the same car parts for Ford motor company. One of the reasons for this is that Ford was purchasing the same car parts from the South African plant for $12-14 more per part than they were from the Belfast plant. For example, plastic fuel rails are made in Belfast (or Port Elizabeth) and shipped to the Ford plant in Bridgend (Wales) where engines are assembled and shipped to Germany where the Ford Fiesta is then put together.
Apparently there is now a 12 week waiting list for new Fiestas in Germany because of a government scheme by which anyone with a car more than 9 years old who wants to trade up for a new car will be subsidised with a couple of thousand Euro by the German government. The workers at the Belfast plant were quick to point out that there had recently been 7 critical failures on parts from the Port Elizabeth plant, possibly because helium leak tests (one of the stages of production) were not done there. Such a spate of failures would normally cause a plant to lose its Q1 standard rating (this rating is awarded internally by the Ford Company).
Since I talked to the Belfast workers, a support agreement has been signed with other workers at some UK Ford plants. As far as I am aware UK Ford plants include Dagenham, Southampton, and Bridgend. The Hillrich plant was sold to Jaguar and is now making the new Tata. The Visteon plant in Swansea was given to Linamor, a Canadian firm with only 2 unionised plants (Swansea is one). The other three Visteon plants are of course the subject of this dispute. I believe they were meeting with the Bridgend Convenor (Wales). At that time they were hoping the agreement to include not handling parts from South Africa but I haven’t heard what was actually signed. Libcom is trying to confirm that workers from Southampton are blacking other Visteon parts (see:http://libcom.org/news/belfasthundreds-rally-support-visteonworkers-occupation-10042009).
While in Enfield and Basildon the occupations have ended (see: http://libcom.org/news/enfield-ford-visteonoccupation-ends-no-conclusion-10042009) in Belfast the plant is still occupied and the stated aim is to reopen the factory. People want their jobs back, and they want to close the hole in the heart of the community.
One Belfast trade unionist, commenting on the ordinariness of where things begin, said, “Who’d have thought the revolution would begin in Finaghy… ?”
Dublin Anarchist Bookfair
Organise! members travelled to Dublin on Saturday March 7th 2009 to have a stall at the Dublin Anarchist Bookfair, hosted by the Workers Solidarity Movement and held in Liberty Hall. About 1000 people are reckoned to have passed through the event on the day. Unfortunately, with only two members attending, time was taken up looking after our own stall, and it proved impossible to really get around the other stalls or attend talks.
However most people seemed to come away from them with positive reports, particularly concerning the talks given by former Black Panther Ashanti Alston and US academic Martha Acklesburg, author of ‘Free Women Of Spain’. Credit is due to the organisers for the day being a success and an enjoyable experience – it is encouraging to see anarchist bookfairs becoming regular events in towns and cities outside London.
We look forward to attending again next year, and in the meantime Organise! and Just Books will be hosting the 3rd annual Belfast Anarchist Bookfair, on Friday 28th and Saturday 29th of August, hoping to build on the previous two years events. Venue(s) are to be confirmed, but please contact us if you would be interested in having a stall, or a talk/workshop etc.
Defending Natalia. Defending the Right to Protest.
Natalia Szymanska, a 19 year old polish woman, was sacked from a Subway franchise on Great Victoria Street, Belfast during her fifth month of pregnancy on a dubious charge of being in breach of the company’s health and safety policy. ‘Coincidentally’ this happened just a month after Natalia had informed her boss that she was pregnant.
Despite repeated attempts by the Belfast Trades Council to engage with this employer to resolve the issue the employer remained intransigent, hostile and has attempted to gag the movement that is supporting Natalia.
The claimed grounds for firing her was that she allowed her boyfriend, also a Subway employee, into the store while she locked up so that he could walk her home. This is despite the fact that senior management previously accepted that Natalia’s partner regularly came to the shop as she was pregnant. CCTV recordings and other evidence which would prove that Natalia was correct were denied to her representatives.
Natalia’s supporters are campaigning for her immediate reinstatement, reimbursement of lost earnings, compensation for injury to her feelings and demanding that all workers are treated fairly. Organise! has been supporting the Belfast Trades Council pickets of the Subway franchise Natalia was fired from since the start of this dispute. We were also central to the organisation of the Day of Action of 4th April. On the day pickets occurred in Belfast, Brighton, Cheltenham, Cork, Derry, Dublin, Glasgow, Galway, Greenwich (U.S.), Liverpool and 3 pickets took place in London. Dublin’s contribution to the day of action saw the longest established and best known branch in the city, in Nassau Street, suffer an almost total shutdown of its lunchtime trade. At any time there were at least a dozen people outside with posters and leaflets.
In the run up to the Day of Action however a number of individuals from the Belfast Trades Council were the subject of court actions which resulted in them signing undertakings that severely limited action in the city. Only the franchise that Natalia was fired from was picketed, despite the fact that two other franchises in Belfast are held by the same employers. The picket that did take place was restricted to an hours duration and limited to 6 people to be named by the Trades Council. Members of Organise! turned out in support only to be turned away by nominated Trades Council pickets as a result of the court undertakings. All material to do with the case had to be removed from their website and basically no ‘libelous’ information about the sacking could be included in leaflets supporting Natalia.
The Trades Council may have been legally prevented from conducting an effective campaign in Natalia’s defence – turning this campaign into a ‘right to protest’ issue. We need to show that working class activists fighting for the rights of women and immigrant workers cannot and will not be silenced. This issue and this campaign are bigger than simply the Trades Council and now have a bearing on any solidarity actions carried out in defence of workers who have been unfairly treated or who are in dispute with their bosses. We will not be gagged.
A threat at Christmas of 10 or 12 workers losing their jobs at Derry’s Foyle Street Ulsterbus depot has been increased to between 21 and 24 workers, mainly on the Derry to Limavady route. Ulsterbus chief executive, Catherine Mason indicated that this may be just the start of a wider ‘rationalisation’ campaign across the north and voluntary redundancies have been mooted as a result of workers’ determination to fight back. Derry ‘wans’ have a reputation for whinging but the axe almost always seems to fall first in the west before reaching other parts, and if Translink aren’t halted in Foyle Street this will quickly spread out to other areas.
Bad as this is for Derry and local workers, it is a further kick in the teeth for Limavady people. This route has died down since Seagate closed their factory in the town with the loss of 900 jobs last year, but many people still rely on the service which is already piss poor throughout many rural parts of the north.
Further ‘Rationalisation’ Planned at Translink
Translink has requested 75 voluntary redundancies across the company, to meet the ‘efficiencies’ required by the recession. 50 jobs are to go among bus staff and 25 from railway staff. In NIR redundancies are being sought mainly among customer services staff (conductors, station staff, clerical staff etc.). Operational staff (drivers, signallers, driver assessors, for example) are not included at this stage, but a ‘freeze’ on recruitment is in effect. Recruitment in customer service staff, especially conductors, mushroomed over the last 2-3 years. Now cut-backs are being sought, but what the company will do if it doesn’t get the required number of volunteers is unknown.
An 18th March meeting between local ministers, management and Union officials, saw a joint statement issued in which Peter Bunting, the Assistant General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), other union officials and Minister Murphy welcomed the assurances that job losses would be kept to a minimum with no compulsory redundancies.
Rumoured cuts to lesser-used late night and weekend railway services have yet to materialise, although conductors working these services are being asked to provide counts of passenger numbers.
Despite the cuts, NIR have recently signed a contract for 20 new trains, due to enter service in 2011. These will replace 13 older t rains, giving a net gain of 7 units, which will in turn increase service provision and passenger carrying capacity. Of course, this will create work, but who will this work fall to? It is only a few years since NIR was forced to scrap a timetable when it became clear that the level of train crew overtime required to operate it was simply unfeasible – one of the factors that led to the biggest recruitment drive for drivers and conductors for decades. Now it seems the good times are over and the workers are paying the price.
Education Worker News.
Pages 5-8 were a ‘Four page education workers supplement produced by Organise! Education Workers Branch.
Students Union Propose Graduate Tax
Despite protests from students against fees and rising economic pressures, the National Union of Students (NUS) is proposing a tax on graduates. Having already abandoned the call for abolition of tuition fees for higher education as ‘unfeasible’, the NUS has now suggested a ‘tax’ on graduates to ‘generate income’. The proposed tax marks a shift from decades of opposition to charging for higher education.
NUS president Wes Streeting paid lip-service to the anti- fees lobby, while asserting that income would be generated further down the line by taxing graduates. With regards the NUS’s proposed ‘graduate tax’, Streeting, said:
“Students from across the country will be telling MPs why we need to abolish the disastrous top-up fees system. We are putting forward a radical proposal for an alternative system that is fairer for students, but still generates the kind of income the sector so badly needs”.
In March, a BBC survey of UK university vice-chancellors revealed that many favour pushing for higher fees, with some suggesting an annual fee on up to £20,000, and more than half looking to impose a minimum annual fee of £5000.
In February, students marched in London in defiance at NUS’s abandonment of the ‘no fees’ demand. While the introduction of fees hasn’t caused a drop in student numbers, it has changed the landscape of higher education.
More and more students are pursuing flexible or part-time degrees, and because many students can’t afford to go through university subsisting solely on loans, record numbers now supplement this with part-time work. Part-time work has been shown to affect the classification of degree that undergraduate students leave university with – those who work 15hrs per week or more are one-third less- likely to get a 2:1 degree or better.
The February marches, despite the NUS position that ‘no fees’ demands are ‘unfeasible’, were supported by the student unions of over 20 universities, including Goldsmiths, Bradford, and Cambridge. Many students feel the introduction of fees, and attempts to increase them by universities result in an increase in exclusivity in higher education, growing economic stress on students, and a greater marketisation of education generally.
Jack, a recent graduate, remembering his own time as a student, said of NUS’s abandonment of the campaign for free university education, ‘They used to at least pretend to care!’
To anarchists, the NUS’s floundering on this most basic demand is no surprise at all – the union is viewed by many students as being nothing but a platform for careerists and wannabe politicians. University isn’t the ‘privilege’ that it once was – it’s a basic requirement for a growing number of jobs, and with a push toward 50% university education it’ll be no more a privilege than being able to drive. The more we’re expected to have a degree that equips us with ‘skills’ the bosses can exploit, the more we’re expected to pay. Many anarchists will admit in the past to not feeling particularly sympathetic to ‘student politics’, often ridiculing the stereotypical ‘middle-class student’, but it should be clear – the issue of fees IS a class issue, access to higher education IS a class issue, and the basic demand for a free education, is something worth fighting for.
We had free education, it was taken from us. We want it back.
Organise! Education Workers Branch
This Education Workers News supplement of the Leveller is produced by the Organise! Education Workers Branch. Set up in August last year the Education Workers Branch is made up of Organise! members who work in education – from admin and support to research, teaching, lecturing and community education.
While the branch is specifically for education workers who are members of Organise! we want to promote militancy and solidarity across the education industry. We are seeking to build a network of militant education workers that can begin to take effective action in defence of workers and students across the industry and in defence of education itself. If you are interested in getting involved in such a network, one that aims at active involvement in the day to day struggles of education workers while promoting solidarity with others in struggle then get in touch.
We believe that in order to successfully counter the attacks being carried out against workers that we need to organise industrially – such an industrial strategy is not simply for education workers though, such a strategy can and must be applied to every industry.
Teacher challenges unfair dismissal – Threatened strike action in March from teachers in an east London school resulted in a teacher winning a significant pay-off after challenging unfair dismissal. Adrian Swain, sacked for wearing trainers and tracksuit bottoms to school, worked at St Paul’s Way Community School in Tower Hamlets. Fired for persistently failing to follow the head’s instructions to dress more professionally Swain, a teacher of 35 years, was believed to have been victimised for his union activity.
Members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in the school overwhelmingly voted in favour of a solidarity walkout that would have closed the school. Prior to the walkout, Swain was awarded about a year’s salary, tax free, in compensation which he accepted as he was about two years from retirement.
Possible Sats Boycott – NUT and National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) are expected to get overwhelming ‘yes’ votes when they push for a boycott of the primary level version of the Sats tests. Sats are used for 11 year olds at the end of primary school, and until 2008, were used for 4 year olds at the end of the secondary Key Stage 3 phase. Scrapped at Key Stage 3 in 2008 after the shoddy handling of marking by ETS Europe, a private firm, resulted in prolonged stress for pupils through delaying of marks. Many teachers feel that ‘teaching to the test’ places unreasonable amounts of pressure on children and teachers, and that prescriptive testing leaves even less room in an already crowded curriculum to do practical, interactive or hands-on work across a variety of subjects. The National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) however, have threatened to strike if primary Sats are abolished as they fear it will result in an increased workload through in-house assessment.
Pupils protest over Non-Uniform Day ban – School pupils in Hounslow, London, staged a protest in March over the removal of one of their annual ‘Non-Uniform Day’ events. On March 13th hundreds of school students at Hounslow Manor School protested and police were called to break up disturbances. Two students were reported to have been arrested, and a teacher was injured in a scuffle.
Parents occupy threatened schools – Parents at several primary schools in Glasgow have been staging occupations as part of the Save Our Schools Campaign. Wyndford Primary and St. Gregory’s Primary Wyndford, in the Maryhill area of Glasgow, are threatened with closure by Glasgow City Council. As we go to press two more schools have been occupied.
Swedish pupils strike over staff cuts – 400 pupils at a school in a suburb of Gothenburg, Sweden went on strike in March after angry parents got the message that half the school staff were to be sacked due to the economic crisis and estimates of falling pupil numbers.
The Recession: What It Means For Education
The recession is everywhere we look, in this very paper there are many articles reporting on, and discussing, the widespread and varied effects of the ‘economic downturn’ across all sectors. Education is feeling this sharply – whether you’re a school pupil, a university student, a teacher, a lecturer, a researcher, a library worker, an admin clerk, a canteen worker, or whatever, you have probably been confronted with the real effects of the current economic situation. This brief analysis of the effects of recession on education also includes the views of some students and former students about the recession, and what it means for education.
STUDENT FEES – PAYING FOR THE ‘PRIVILEGE’
If you’re a university boss in a recession what’s the first thing you do when you’re short of money? As well as attacks on workers’ pay and conditions, and department closures, you can always bleed more money from students. A survey of university vice chancellors this year found that more than half want a minimum annual tuition fee of £5,000.
Managing the recession ideologically is proving difficult for the government and bosses; it’s hard for them to hide just how bad this crisis is. With some universities on the brink of financial ruin prior to the recession, and many more under even more economic stress now, they’re telling us the money has to come from somewhere. On one hand, they’re blaming the economic crisis on silly people borrowing ‘beyond their means’ and crazy bankers lending recklessly, on the other they’re telling students, who make up almost half of 17-30 year olds, to embrace even higher debts!
But hey, it’s a recession; we all have to make sacrifices, right? Well, this is the position of the useless National Union of Students. They recently abandoned a long-standing basic demand for free higher education. With growing economic pressure on university students, the significance of the fees issue is that in the current economic climate and with the precarity facing all of us, the most basic demands that a student’s union, however useless, should make, should be one of free education.
Free education isn’t even a radical demand – we had free university education until a decade ago when it was taken from us, and we shouldn’t forget that many of the people who brought in fees, and who make decisions about our lives without our say, every day, benefited from a free university education. It’s not clear what the NUS actually envisages a graduate tax looking like, or whether it would amount to the same as current fees, or proposed fees increases – their position currently is just
an objection to paying at ‘point of entry’.
The notion that student fees are an issue only for the ‘middle class’ is nonsense. At a time when the government is close to its 50% university attendance goal, university is no longer the pursuit of an elite. With regards the perceived exclusivity of higher education in the UK, former student John makes the point that increasing fees can only serve to further widen the gap between rich and poor in access to university – ‘if you’re upset about a small number of people having access to uni, making people pay
to go isn’t going to increase access to it is it? Especially as it’s just the thin end of the wedge. First no grants, then low fees, means tested, then higher fees, means tested, and eventually astronomical fees, with no means testing, like the US.’
Alex, a student teacher in Oxford says ‘education for its own sake is something that is seriously under attack here’, although a cynic would say education for education’s sake was already a thing of the past!
Year on year there is a steady rise in the number of hours students are working part-time to support themselves financially while studying. The situation for working class students is getting worse. A degree was never a guarantee of a stable job anyway, but given the proposed extortionate rises in fees, rises in costs of living, and general attacks on living conditions all round it seems the prospects for anyone in HE are as grim as ever. Between 1996 and 2006, the number of students undertaking paid work to support their studies increased by 54% and the number of students studying fulltime and working full-time rose by 86%.
It has been shown that students working 15 hrs a week are about a third less-likely to get a 2.1 or better degree than those who work less or not at all. So, as you would expect, those who can afford not to work, often end up with a better degree. In the late 90s, when tuition fees were first introduced, about 41% of 17-30 year-olds (that’s ‘higher education age’) went into higher education. Student enrolments shot up between 1998 and 2001 and have stagnated since, at around 46%. Numbers of part time students have also increased over that period – of the 1.15 million people undertaking first degrees in the UK in 2006-7, close to one-fifth were studying part-time.
While it is true that in real numbers university admissions are UP (this of course means nothing really as many graduates find their degrees worthless and are either unemployed after graduating, or find themselves in employment in sectors that do not require a degree), students entering higher education from poorest backgrounds have stagnated, thus in percentage terms, they now represent a smaller proportion of the actual student body despite a very slight percentage increase ‘low socio-economic group’ teenagers accepting university places.
With the average annual bursary students receive at around £1700, it’s no wonder so many work to support themselves, and why they often leave university with debt in excess of £10,000. Those dismissing the fees issue shouldn’t do so too readily. University has opened up, largely because loans were introduced. Not because loans in themselves are a good thing, but simply because they allowed people who could not live off the grant to have the money to go. Of course, the government deliberately reduced the value of the grant over a number of years, especially in the 90s. In our own back yard, Queens University has the highest term-time part-time work on average per student for any UK higher education institution, and it’s in the ‘UK Ivy League’! Belfast students are more likely to have part-time work, for less money, and are more likely to live at home than the UK average. The average student working in Belfast part-time earns £91 per week compared to the £98 UK average. Almost two-thirds of university students in Belfast have part-time jobs compared to the UK average of 41%, whilst 29% of students studying in Belfast live at home compared to the UK average of 18% . That figure is also rising across the UK, with a growing number of students opting to stay at home with the recession putting an ever greater pressure on student finance. This is an important aspect of the impact of tuition fees on the poorest students – their choice of university has become even more limited, with more electing to stay at home for university because their families can’t afford to support them studying elsewhere, and most expressing concern about the prospect of earning a living when they graduate.
Higher Education (HE) is facing increasing attacks on a variety of fronts, with up to 100 HE institutions planning job cuts in the next year, as well as moves towards ‘efficiency’ (that’s ‘cuts’ again to me and you) and recruitment freezes. No doubt the proposed cutbacks will be justified in the light of the recession, with workers again paying for a crisis of capitalism’s making. Locally, at Queens University for example, a few issues are particularly pressing:
- Discussion is afoot to increase student fees to £10,000 per year!
- Many departments have been closed in the last few years, because it’s not immediately obvious to the bosses how money can be made from their respective disciplines – the departments of Geology, Classics, and the History of Science have all faced the axe of a ‘rational’ business model.
- Other departments, such as Politics, and Philosophy, disciplines broad enough to warrant their own departments at many universities, have been amalgamated, in the name of ‘efficiency’.
- While in 2008, other departments had been seeking compulsory staff redundancies for the first time in the university’s history. This plan was shelved after union members threatened action, but could still remain a possibility, and were a precedent to be set, could see the imposition of such measures across the university by bosses.
- Staff are facing increasingly excessive probationary targets.
In the face of proposed job cuts at 100 HE institutions, workers in the sector, including lecturers, cleaners, security staff and library workers, are also campaigning for a 6% pay rise, and a minimum of £2,000 per year pay rise for the lowest paid in the sector. The bosses are threatening workers that it’s either pay rises or jobs, and that these two issues will be ‘traded off’ against each other.
The issues facing schools now are by no means new, as with those facing other sectors, they are simply more acute and pressing in times of recession. Teaching unions are currently considering industrial action over numerous issues:
- Class sizes
- Compulsory testing for primary school pupils
- 10% wage increase
- Job cuts in 6th form and FE
- School closures
Last year, a quarter of a million teachers walked out on strike against below inflation pay-rises, disrupting nearly 10,000 schools and inspiring other workers in their fight against the government’s 2% pay cap. This, at a time when inflation was running at around 5%, constituted a real terms pay cut. In April this year, parents in Glasgow, as part of the Save Our Schools Campaign, were occupying local primary schools scheduled to be closed.
In London, pupils at a Hounslow school organised a protest over the removal of one of their annual ‘non-uniform days’ – this might not seem significant, but such days, and indeed anything fun in schools is often first to go when teachers are under pressure to cram in more and more content into an already overloaded teaching term. This was an example of pupils taking a stand, to have a say in what happens in their school.
In terms of recruitment, for the first time in a decade, the UK government met its targets for new science and maths teachers. Why? Because aspirational financiers and bankers, ironically people from the sector largely responsible for creating the recession are abandoning money-making for the less precarious, though we should hesitate to say ‘secure’ about any job these days, world of teaching.
What will this mean? With the government no longer as ‘desperate’ for teachers, it’s likely that they will cut funding of trainee teachers in England and Wales, and in the long term, it would not be surprising if the ‘golden hellos’ for shortage-subjects at least, were retracted or at least slashed.
This would mean that student-teachers would find it much harder to live during the intense PGCE year, as is the case in Northern Ireland, where students get NO bursary at all. This results in trainee teachers, many of whom have families to support, either breaking the bank with loans or coming from only a small proportion of graduates who can afford to be a student again for another year (possibly with rich parents or some independent source of income). Either way the landscape for the next generation of teachers is changing as much as it has for undergraduates.
WHAT IS EDUCATION FOR?
Amongst all this of course, is the oft ignored question of what is education for at all? With teachers complaining about the restrictive curriculum and seemingly never-ending battery of tests, and pupils resenting them even more, it’s clear that education as it exists doesn’t serve the interests of the working class. School is a chore, resented by both the staff and the students in many cases. Education for education’s sake is something most of us will never have experienced.
The bosses need to keep producing generations of workers they can exploit, and education is twisted within this system – so we’ve schools adopting prescriptive courses, or universities producing graduates with extremely generic skills that leave malleable enough to be good paper pushers but often wondering why they had bothered at all, having simply followed what amounted to nothing more than a glorified box-ticking exercise.
All this needs measured of course – so we have Sats and league tables in schools, and Ofsted inspections – schools competing to be deemed ‘satisfactory’ and avoid ‘specia l measures’. While at university we have the Research and Assessment Exercise (RAE), almost universally despised by university teaching and research staff.
For those who don’t know, university departments have to justify their existence, and individuals their jobs, by raising the ir ‘research profiles’ – this usually means individuals being highly pressured to produce as many articles as they can between RAE periods, in order to keep their jobs. Of course, this means they have less time to do that other important part of their jobs: Teaching.
Many complain they’ve less time to develop their courses and incorporate developments in their subjects into their classes. The constant pressure to publish, publish, publish, means they’ve less time to mark, prepare lectures, read essays. What does this mean? In effect, many work long hours, often taking work home, just to stay on top of their reading, writing, marking, etc. Since many in academia, especially those new to it, are on fixed-term contracts, often of 1-3 years, there is the constant fear that ‘if I don’t do this work, they’ll find someone else who will’.
Education workers under capitalism will always face this competition, and pupils and students will always feel strangled by a system that pigeon-holes them and measures them, labels them and categorises them. Education should be a liberating and fulfilling activity that equips us not only with the skills and knowledge that we need to live, but also allow us to pursue goals and interests that we want to pursue. This won’t happen under capitalism, where education is co-opted to meet the needs of bosses.
The seeds of a fight-back are there. In the last month alone, teachers are on the verge of a number of strikes and boycotts, while we’ve also seen pupil protests, and school occupations, and we could see higher education workers across the sector take industrial action against job cuts this year, so while it’s early days, this could be the tip of the iceberg.
It is clear that the effects of the recession are widespread, affecting all aspects of education; primary, secondary, and tertiary; students, teachers, and lecturers. However, we shouldn’t lose site of the fact that the recession is being used to mask attacks on the working class that bosses and the government have always wanted to implement. Whether we’re being told we’re ‘lucky’ to have a job, or ‘fortunate’ to able to go to school at all, it is expected of us that we’ll make sacrifices in order to get us out of a crisis that was not of our making. When the systemic and structural apparatus of capitalism results in the abject failure to meet most people’s basic needs, which has manifested itself beyond doubt in the current economic climate, we’re told to tighten our belts. When we’re experiencing increasing attacks on our living and working conditions, we’re told that our sacrifices are necessary to bandage up the festering wounds of capitalism.
Never are we told that there’s another way of running society, or that it’s the fundamental nature of capitalism that has resulted in this collapse. To anarchists, it’s clear that not only should the working class not be footing the bill to revive capitalism from a catastrophe of its own doing, but that it isn’t worth reviving.
University and College Bosses Plan Job Cuts in Higher Education
The University and Colleges Union has revealed that higher education (HE) bosses will not be making them any new pay offer and that many are seeking job cuts. Following a recent meeting with Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) recently, the University and Colleges Union (UCU) and other trade unions were told that they would not be getting an initial pay offer and that jobs cuts could be expected across the higher education (HE) sector. Up to 100 HE institutions were making plans for collective redundancies In a communication to members, UCU summarised the situation:
- no pay offer
- 100 institutions planning job cuts
- salary increases would need to be
‘traded off’ against job protection
UCU General Secretary said university bosses “were keen to state that they wanted trade union negotiators to keep job security in mind”, and also reported that the job cuts across the sector could be substantial:
“every worker whatever type of institution they work in, is potentially vulnerable as current proposals for cuts at institutions as varied as the universities of Liverpool, Reading, Hertfordshire, and London Metropolitan show.
In this situation of great uncertainty for staff across the UK, national negotiations are required to protect jobs. UCU has therefore asked UCEA to sit down with the unions now to reach a national agreement on the avoidance of redundancies by its member institutions.”
UCU is seeking an agreement from employers to sit down with trade unions and discuss the situation, and has said that if this does not happen, they will
“consider balloting members for industrial action to secure an effective job protection agreement from the national employers.”
Creationism in Education
In Belfast, chair of the Education Committee, Mervyn Storey of the Democratic Unionist Party, threatened to sue the Ulster Museum when it re-opens with a Darwin exhibition later this year. Storey suggested he will consider legal action if the museum does not also include an exhibit on creationism, the religious belief that the world and life on it were created by the direct act of a supernatural being.
This year marks 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin‟s ‘On the Origin of Species’, and scientists have been asserting that the evidence for evolution, and against any form of creationism, has never been stronger.
Recently, West Sussex teachers were advised by their County Council that creationism shouldn’t be taught alongside evolution in the science classroom: “It is acceptable to answer questions about creationism in science but not promote it”. In Hampshire however, teachers were being told – that it is worth debating creationism alongside evolution in science, to encourage “reasoned enquiry and open discussion”. This familiar tactic of “open discussion” or “teaching the controversy” does not wash. National Secular Society said: “There is a big difference between answering students’ questions about creationism and actually introducing it into the lessons in the first place as part of the curriculum…If the teacher raises the topic, then it takes on an authority that it does not deserve”.
Perhaps Hampshire teachers will also have ‘open discussion’ on “is the Earth flat?” Whether it’s the interests of religious zealots seeking to promote their brand of scripture to school kids, increasing private interference in education, or the government manipulating the school system for its own ends it’s clear that under capitalism, education can never meet the real needs of working class people. We need an education system controlled by the people it affects – not managers, politicians, and religious lobbyists.
Fighting Back: Organising for an Alternative Future
While the calling of the rally on Friday 17th April by ICTU in support of jobs and workers rights in the north must be applauded, we need much more action by working class people ourselves and less appeals to politicians to do things for us. Nor can we rely on the current Trades Unions, they are not democratic or under the control of their members in any meaningful way, but more importantly they are not opposed to capitalism – the system that has plunged us into this recession.
Organise! believes that a new, militant, revolutionary and successful labour movement can and must be created. We believe in fostering solidarity and militancy amongst the largest possible number of workers, unionised and not.
Decisions should be made collectively by mass meetings of the workers involved – like Visteon workers have done throughout their occupation. Such meetings should be open to everyone effected by the struggle whether they are a union member or not, barring scabs and management of course! Anyone elected to negotiate with management should be given a clear mandate from the workforce and should act as recallable delegates of the shop floor.
Such a movement should also rely on direct action. Direct action is about empowering ourselves and breaking the dependency on others to do things for us. Rather than pleading with the bosses, or for that matter politicians, through official intermediaries, we need to realise that we can only rely on ourselves. Ourselves and other workers acting in solidarity with each others struggles.
Direct action at work means strikes, go-slows, work-to-rule, occupations and boycotts. As the Industrial Workers of the World put it:
“direct action is any form of guerrilla warfare that cripples the bosses ability to make a profit and makes him/her cave in to workers demands. The best known form of direct action is the strike, in which workers simply walk off their jobs and refuse to produce profits for the boss until they get what they want”.
The strike is such a powerful weapon that it has been severely curtailed by a pervasive ideology of social partnership in our unions and successive anti-working class labour legislation. On 3rd April in Belfast activists from the Belfast and District Trades Union Council acting in support of Natalia Szymanska were effectively gagged by the courts. Clearly the law and the judicial system are not there to serve the interests of workers.
Solidarity with other workers in struggle is the key to victory. Workers must support each other’s struggles despite anti-trade union laws. We must approach other workers directly for their support making our watchword “Don‟t Cross Picket Lines!”
Strike funds need to be controlled by the workers themselves. Officials fear to use union funds to fund unlawful (and sometimes even lawful) industrial action. While strike pay for official action is often paltry or non-existent, unions use their funds to sponsor the Labour Party at Westminster, effectively helping them bail out bankers and bosses. The interests of the working class ultimately lies in the destruction of capitalist society. The entire wealth of this society is produced by workers and yet it is stolen from us every day of our lives.
This theft goes by the name of profit. When workers take action for higher wages or improved conditions, we are simply trying to win a bigger share of what is rightfully ours. Our ultimate aim must be for a self-managed, stateless society based on the principle of from each according to their ability, to each according to their need.
To realise this society we need to organise ourselves at the point were we have the potential to challenge the capitalist system – on the shop-floor. While Organise! do not see the reformist Trades Union movement of ICTU as a vehicle for revolutionary change we encourage the formation of a strong rank and file solidarity movement of workers in both unionised and non- unionised workplaces. We do not seek to ‘democratise’ or take control of the existing unions executives. In the longer term the aim of any such movement should be to dump the current unions and create new ones – unions controlled by the membership, unions that recognise that the only way to win once and for all comes with the overthrow of capitalism. Only a strong, politically revolutionary and economically organised working class will be fully aware of its power to do this.
Until we start to act for ourselves, as some have began to, we will continue to experience disempowerment, betrayal and broken promises which combine to hold us in the grip of an all pervading sense of powerlessness. We must begin to control our own struggles while building a culture of resistance that links with other workers in struggle. We can start small but start we must – and other workers have already began to take matters into their own hands. Solidarity and mutual aid find real expression in direct action and as our confidence and organisation grows so to will our ability to change the world.
Obituary: ‘Abel Paz’
We were saddened to hear of the death, on 13th April this year, of Spanish Anarchist and veteran of the Spanish Revolution Diego Camacho, better known as Abel Paz.
Abel Paz (born August 12, 1921. – Died April 13, 2009) was a life long member of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), a former combatant in the revolution and civil war and a historian. He was born in Almería in 1921, and moved with his family to Barcelona in 1929. In 1935 he started work in the textile industry and joined the CNT. In July 1936 with the start of the Spanish Civil War and Spanish revolution, at the age of 15, he joined the anarchist Durruti Column. As well as fighting on the Aragon Front, he fought in the Barcelona May Events of 1937.
After the fall of Catalonia in January 1939, he went into exile in France, where he was interned. During the 1940s he fought both in the French resistance to Hitler and the Spanish Anarchist resistance to Franco. He is the author of numerous works on anarchist history, the most important being his biography of Buenaventura Durruti which has appeared in several editions, and numerous languages.
He was a steadfast fighter for social justice and human emancipation from the twin yokes of capital and state. Up until the end of his life Diego remained a passionate and committed anarchist convinced of the potential of humanity to realise libertarian communism.
In celebration of Abel’s life Organise! will be displaying a collection of his photos as part of the 3rd Belfast Anarchist Bookfair on the 28th and 29th of August alongside posters from the period and other artefacts from the civil war and revolution.
ICTU Cancel One Day General Strike
The one day general strike in the Republic, forced on much of the ICTU leadership, in opposition to a levy on pay (read pay cut) to bolster pensions decimated in the current recession has been cancelled by the ICTU leadership.
This is a betrayal of the 150,000 workers who marched on the ICTU demonstration against the pension levy in February and all those who built for and voted for strike action.
This betrayal came as no surprise given the rumours that the ICTU had came up with the idea of the pension levy to the government in the first place! Nor is it a surprise given that the Trades Union leadership was forced to ballot for national strike action given the strength of opposition to the levy from union members throughout the Republic. Much of the leadership of the Trades Unions is as keen to avoid strike action as the bosses and government – preferring to ‘sort things out’ over the heads of union members in social ‘partnership’ deals. If there were any that still needed convincing that social ‘partnership’ always leads to a bad deal for the workers the attacks on working people and our communities during this recession should dispel that once and for all.
Workers, who were not included in the divvying up of the wealth created by the Celtic Tiger, are now expected to pay for the recession. The recent budget in the south was simply another way to make workers pay for the bosses crisis.
The ICTU may have cancelled this strike but industrial action must still be taken, one way or another, in the face of these attacks.
Guest Article: Holylands Protest a Cynical Prank
In the wake of St. Patrick’s Day rioting in the Holylands in Belfast our guest contributor Alan Murray, a long standing campaigner for what remains of a local community in the area, takes a critical look at the recent Socialist Worker Student Society ‘protest’ in support of the rioters.
There was considerable concern around Queen’s Student Union about this protest. They had little to worry about. No-one showed. As one commenter put it, “They wouldn’t have the brass neck”.
He was right. Despite copious posters and leaflets and texts, nobody came. The True Believers of the Socialist Workers’ Party stood around in the rain hugging their wet placards and looking ever more stupid. I would have felt sorry for them, but I thought their protest was a cynical prank at the expense of the handful of residents imprisoned in the Holylands. They seem to think that privileged, ignorant, sectarian chauvinists only behave like animals when the cops are there to “provoke” them.
No Riot Police in student areas.
I do not like the cops. They have never protected me, nor will they. They have made no effort to prevent an entire community being driven from their homes by landlords and their “student” tenants. The kind of behaviour we saw as part of a “cultural event” happens five nights a week during term time. The police violence I saw that day was trivial compared to that doled out to protesters on the Ormeau Road throughout the 1990’s.
I have no time for token gestures, like do nothing for twelve years then, for one day only, bring out the riot squad. The truth is that the cops were under political pressure to not alienate a new demographic; the catholic middle class in Mid-Ulster. Now it’s all blown up in their faces. The malice that drives people to wave pizza boxes and shout, “We Deliver”, cannot be appeased. It’s not as if this lot have ever experienced police violence, or adversity of any sort. They’ve been programmed to hate by their parents and peers. I note that despite many parades occurring in term time this lot never turned out to protest in the 1990’s. They’re Designer Republicans.
No Slum Student Housing
An admirable demand. One might ask where the untold millions in HMO grants have gone. At the recent PACT meeting it was pointed out that the landlords have demolished the area and built a slum. Declan Boyle took great offence at this.
“My properties are to the highest standard. They’re passed by Building Control. They’re passed by the Housing Executive. There’s nothing wrong with them.”
Such righteous indignation ignores the obvious question. What exactly are the authorities doing? They have doled out £240 million in HMO grants across the province, financing the rape of untold communities. This money came out of the housing budget, a fact that would explain the presence of 20,000 homeless. The Housing executive is not allowed to build. Instead it finances the private sector through grants and £140 million every year in housing benefit. In a sane and just society this money would be recycled to finance environmentally sustainable public housing. I digress. To demolish a family home and build flats to house 16 students in rooms smaller than a prison cell is slum housing, no matter what the authorities say.
No expulsions for St Patrick’s Day.
I, and apparently the Union, had expected a large turn-out in support of this. No show. Why? Perhaps because no-one will be expelled and we all know it. At the PACT meeting Gerry McCormack belittled the concerns of residents to the point of obscene absurdity. As it happens Queens do expel people; if they can’t pay fees for example, or their studies have suffered because of health concerns or adverse circumstance, and this 40 years after they expelled Bernadette Devlin just before her finals.
This brings me to the big point. Queens was once a hotbed of radical student activism. Today it’s a cultural sewer. Why will they not fight against fees? Why will they not demand full grants? Why do they not demand decent housing for all? The destruction of the Health Service; anyone care? Apparently not. Water privatisation; anyone listening? Silence. What has happened to the student body?
The answer can be found on the YouTube riot footage. Thinkers are packing their bags and going. We are in intellectual meltdown. We are also in moral meltdown. Whether it is privileged nihilists high on ethnic chauvinism, or a lost generation who drown their despair in drugs, our youth have no sense of purpose. I could argue that this shows the moral bankruptcy of Christian schooling, and I would not be wrong. I think the larger issue is structural. Thatcher and her heirs have quite literally destroyed society and in its place is that thing understood by Connolly; the morality of the pig trough.
Dissident Nationalists Offer Nothing to the Working Class
Dissident republicans in the Real IRA killed two British soldiers on 7th March and injured two pizza delivery men – two days later the Continuity IRA shot dead PSNI Constable Stephen Carroll.
We have since witnessed the dissidents plunging ‘their’ own communities into chaos with bomb scares and hijackings that have had no popular support in those areas. This years Easter Parades in Belfast and Derry saw the ever increasing array of Irish nationalist groups and grouplets lay competing claims to be the true heirs of the Rising. And then of course there was the tragic farce of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement’s claiming, or not claiming, responsibility for the killing of Denis Donaldson.
These ‘dissident’ republicans are in reality dissident nationalists. Lets be clear they have split with Sinn Fein and the Provos because these organisations are not nationalist enough for them. This has nothing to do with any abandonment of the Provisional movements dubious ‘socialism’.
The politics of Irish nationalism and Unionism/Loyalism (which represent a type of British or, sometimes, Ulster nationalism) only offer us continued sectarian division. While we do not doubt that for the Provos and Sinn Fein the war is over they can offer workers no way forward either.
The actions of dissident republicans offer us a worse still future. If they were to succeed in provoking significant state repression or a loyalist backlash we could well see a return to outright sectarian conflict. The raw materials for such a conflict remain in place in many poor interface areas, and in Northern Irish society as a whole. The Good Friday Agreement and the Stormont Assembly copper-fastened sectarianism. It was all about ‘managing’ sectarianism – not trying to undermine it. To do so would be to
undermine the power bases of the main parties, particularly the DUP and Sinn Fein. The vast majority of working class people, protestant, catholic and those who fit into neither category, do not want to see a return to a war counted in their deaths. The conflict in Northern Ireland was one that predominantly effected the working class. On both sides we suffered death, maiming, incarceration, bereavement while the middle and upper classes remained largely unaffected.
The dissidents hide behind the claim that it was the ‘British’ that started it. And as long as they remain so will the “right of the Irish people” to use what the RSF’s Richard Walsh has called “controlled and disciplined force”. The question however is who will end it? The answer, of course, is that working class people have done much to bring the conflict to an end and it is working class people who must make the peace process their own. The fact of the matter is these people are not the “Irish people” nor do they have any meaningful level of support. They are a bunch of fanatics clinging to a past that belongs, well, in the past.
Organise! are opposed to nationalism of all hues, Orange or Green, just as we are opposed to capitalism and any state that seeks to control us on behalf of capital. Whether that is the government of the Republic of Ireland, the British government or our little local government on the hill.
Wildcat Traffic Wardens Sacked
Almost 30 traffic wardens in Belfast were sacked towards the end of April after taking unofficial strike action earlier in the month.
The wardens had taken the wildcat action at the start of April over pay and conditions, including their rotas and sick-pay. The wardens were initially suspended by bosses, but were later sacked. Those involved make up one-third of Belfast’s traffic wardens.
According to the employer, NCP, until new staff are recruited, existing staff will cover the shifts. NCP are contracted to enforce parking restrictions across Northern Ireland, and have said they “have a very good relationship with Trades Unions in Northern Ireland and will continue to work with unions representing their members – but we cannot support illegal action of this kind”.
The company also said the unofficial strike action disrupted the delivery of a ‘public service’. The sacked workers join the increasing numbers of unemployed across the north.
Monson Wins With a KO For Anarchism
Anarchist and professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Jeff Monson was in Belfast in March to fight Lithuanian Sergej Maslobojev in the main event of Cage Wars’ “Decade” in Belfast‟s Kings Hall.
Never shy about speaking his mind on politics or his opinions about capitalism, Jeff literally wears his heart on his sleeve, as evidenced by the many political tattoos he displays.
Organise! was lucky enough to arrange for Jeff to give a short talk to local anarchists and MMA fans about sport and politics. Jeff arrived the morning before the fight, having flown from Florida to New York and then to Belfast. When we met him, he‟d only been off the plane three hours, and was still nursing an injury from a fight he had won the previous weekend. Jeff was also scheduled to give a grappling seminar straight after the talk, and then be whizzed to the fight press conference that evening. Long day eh?
For those who don‟t much about Jeff, he‟s a fighter from Olympia, Washington, affiliated with American Top Team. He‟s a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and a two-time ADCC Submission Wrestling Champion, one of the most prestigious grappling tournaments in the world. He is also a veteran of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Pride and various other promotions.
In 2006, after a 3-fight winning streak in the UFC, Jeff earned a shot at the UFC heavyweight title against freak of nature Tim Sylvia. Jeff lost an epic five-round battle on a points decision. After pushing the fight hard for the duration he was unable to overcome the foot taller Sylvia‟s reach advantage. His recent form is also convincing many that he’s still amongst the top of the heavyweight category in MMA. In addition to being one of the top grapplers in the world, Jeff is also known for his anarchist views and affiliations. Monson is a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). He has also been an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq. Prior to competing full time, Jeff worked as a mental health counsellor, having studied psychology to masters level in university. The theme of Jeff‟s talk was billed as ‘Sport & Politics’ – a theme broad enough to be of interest to people from both political and MMA/grappling backgrounds. Members of Organise!, Workers Solidarity Movement, and the French CNT were present, as well as local grappling and MMA fans. While limited publicity and last minute confirmation meant attendance could have been higher, the discussion managed to span a broad range of topics, reflecting the diverse interests of those present. Topics covered the nature of wageslavery, access to health care, and inequalities in UFC wages. After an initial introduction, Jason from Organise! gave a brief summary of what anarchism is, and what Organise!, as a group does in Belfast. Jeff then spoke for around 15 minutes on his upbringing, how he got into anarchism, and his experiences as a fighter. This was Jeff‟s first trip to Northern Ireland, having previously visited the Republic before, and he was excited to meet with local anarchists, as he had done in Manchester and Paris before.
He describes his own background as somewhat privileged and blinkered until he attended college – “I grew up sort-of middle class… suburban USA, my parents bought me a car when I was 17, I never went without. I was a „RA-RA-USA‟ type… didn’t know about the world, about world events”.
It wasn’t until he attended university, studying a psychology degree that his eyes were opened to economic inequalities and abuses of power.
During graduate school, Jeff took classes in Community Psychology, and attributes his politicisation partly to two influential lecturers who described the dynamics of power and espoused libertarian views. “We talked about how money, tax payer’s money was being spent. This was a time y’know of Ronald Reagan, ‘Reaganomics’, the ‘trickle-down effect’… I kinda got a crash course from those professors in the way the world works”.
At home, Jeff was beginning to see the effects of capitalism on his doorstep; “you’d go walk down the street or the other end of town and there’s see people that didn’t have things , and the excuse was always ‘oh well they don‟t work hard enough’ or ‘they’re not participating in the economy’, and that ‘if you work hard enough, you‟ll get whatever you want’ and you believe that.”
Travelling the world served as another wake-up call – “when I got into fighting, my eyes were opened-up. I was able to travel … Brazil and the Philippines, the Middle East, I was able to see the most extreme poverty you’ve ever seen in your life, something that they wouldn’t even show in the movies”. This consciousness-raising effect of his travels lead him to ask “why is this happening?” Afterwards, he became involved in the IWW, with the Pacific North-East being a somewhat more politicised area, in radical terms at least, than elsewhere in the States. His fighting gave him a degree of credibility – he wasn’t a rebellious teenager angry at the world, here was a guy with a graduate education, earning his keep as a professional fighter, but questioning the system that means people don’t even have their basic needs met.
Jeff described his involvement in antiwar activity, such as his participation in a blockade of a shipment of arms to Iraq from a port in his home state, Washington. In 2007, he also used the platform of a press-conference after winning at Pride 34 in Japan, to criticise the US presence in Iraq.
Additionally he‟s currently facing charges for spray-painting anarchist graffiti on his state capital building and military recruitment centres. But Monson maintains there’s nothing extraordinary about anything he does just because of his profile as a competitive fighter, and reserves his admiration for anyone involving themselves in fighting back against capitalism – “people taking off work, risking their jobs, or taking off school, for a passion that they have… what they believe in… sleeping in churches, other people’s houses, communicating with people they don’t know”.
One of his main reasons for being involved in politics, is a fundamental belief that everyone is entitled to the basics of what it takes to live in society; healthcare, education, transport to name a few. But capitalism, a system based on profit, not need, where we don‟t control the products of our combined social labour, results in us competing amongst ourselves for the most basic requirements of living; food, clothes, and shelter, Monson sees this as tragic – “we should keep the competing to the cage, or to the chess-board, or to the football field.” Monson‟s point is clear. We shouldn’t be competing with each other just to survive, but the precarity we all face under capitalism leads to us competing for everything from housing, to jobs, to school places for our children Monson went on to discuss the misplaced euphoria in the US over Obama’s recent election as the first black President. “People we re actually crying… tears of joy…like ‘We’re saved! The world is a better place’”. While conceding that it’s marginally better than McCain or Bush, he stressed that it’s ultimately meaningless, and that ‘representative democracy’ is no democracy at all. “You atrophy yourself when you give people power over you. Voting for someone [means] you’re expecting someone else, the police, Obama, a governor, or the legislator, to come in and make your life better”. This ultimately means we don’t make decisions for ourselves – “you’re giving them your freedom, you’re giving it up, in order that you don’t have to make decisions for yourself”.
But Monson’s view isn’t so bleak; he’s confident that we can and should make decisions for ourselves, and don’t need politicians or bosses to tell us how to run our lives – “If the people need a hospital, we know how to build a hospital. If we need a road, we can build a road”, indeed, we DO as workers already create and build these things, we just don‟t have control of them. “We don‟t need a governor or a president to say, ‘well ok, we’re gonna do this’ or ‘we’re gonna put up this much money for this’ or maybe decide not to do it”.
Staying with the point of making decisions about our own lives, but shifting from social living to more individual issues, Jeff spoke briefly about gay marriage, something that gets much exposure in the US and differs in treatment from state to state – “it’s unfathomable to me that people have that decision over our lives; who we can marry, who we can be with or not be with… It co mes down to one person or a group of elites that decide our future for us”. He goes on to problematise this view, “we’re giving them permission to do it, we’re giving them permission to rule over us”.
Jeff closed his talk by asserting that we need to fight back to take control of our own lives, “all we have to do is stand up for ourselves as a group – they sleep at night because we let them.”
As the discussion opened up to those in attendance Jeff talked about the nature of earning a living as a fighter, Monson made clear that the fighters don’t see much of a cut of the millions made at MMA promotions year on year. “I’m a wage slave”, says Jeff, before describing the inequalities in the wage-structure of fight promotions. Despite grossing 19.4mil US dollars, the UFC where Jeff fought for the heavyweight title, as main event, resulted in him being paid a paltry $13,000. To put this in perspective, say a fighter trains 6-10 weeks for a fight, which is usual, this is less than $7,000 per month, criminally low for an industry that generates so much income. As a result, fighters have to get involved in sponsorship deals, many teach seminars or train other fighters, others coach in gyms – all to put food on the table while also trying to train seriously for a fight.
This could be changing, Jeff described some moves by fighters towards organising a union. Key demands, aside from the obvious raising of fight wages for those at the bottom end of the ‘ladder’ in the industry, include more stable contracts, and medical coverage for fighters. Astonishingly in a profession where the bosses make so much off people taking such high risks, fighters do not get any support from medical care from MMA promotors – so if a fighter sustains a serious injury and is unable to fight for 6 months, tough luck, them’s the breaks. Even in sports like football, players are usually supported a lot better by their clubs, though many other sports have relatively strong unions.
Closing the discussion, Jeff explained that his politics have never been a indrence in terms of his fight career, and asserted that, some promotors may even see them as a bonus, because it makes him a controversial character, and thus a crowdpuller. It has affected sponsorship deals, explaining how a nutrition company, intrigued by his image, huge and tattooed, went sour when they found out he was an anarchist. Regardless, Jeff didn’t dilute his opinions, and from what he said in Belfast, it doesn’t look like he will any time soon – he’s a sincere anarchist, and a genuine, approachable guy. It was a pleasure to have had him chat to us.
At Cage Wars, the day after the talk, Jeff won his heavyweight title fight easily, with a trademark north-south choke. A week later, he also won his fight in Japan at the ‘Dream’ promotion against Sergei Kharitonov, and is now on a six-fight winning streak. Organise! congratulate Jeff on his current excellent form and would like to thank him for taking the time out to chat with us and meet local anarchists.