The Leveller Issue 4 April-June 2010

FRONT PAGE: NO DEAL FOR THE WORKING CLASS – Scandal, Cuts, Crisis and Class Conflict.

So the deal on policing and justice has gone through after months of high drama, the dragging and digging in of heels, the missing of deadlines, locked negotiations and political high-jinks. Both the Shin Feiners and the DUP have acted hard-line in order to help sell the deal to their hardliners – SF with, apparently, greater ease than the DUP. The UUP, still hurting that they are no longer the big boys at Stormont, tried to throw a spanner in the works at the last minute and punch above their size but it was all just so much hot air.

The deal that has been reached will mean that our wee statelet is a statelet with teeth for the first time since the imposition of direct rule in 1972. Not since we had effective one party rule under the Unionist Party has control of policing and judiciary been held at Stormont.

Our local politicians certainly milked the publicity generated with deadlines, delays, ’compromise’, visits from the British PM and Irish Taoiseach, threats from America and eventual agreement on devolved responsibility for policing and justice. Seriously though, no-one up at Stormont wanted to or ever intended to topple the devolved institutions. They did their best to ensure they talked tough without endangering the cash cow that has been so good to the lot of them.

While all this was going on something else was becoming increasingly apparent. The nature of the ‘real’ politics our leaders have worked so hard to secure has never been so blatantly exposed. First it was local politicians lining up like pigs at a trough to claim exorbitant expenses, along with the rest of them, as Westminster MPs. Not as if these double and treble jobbing MPs, MLAs, MEPs and councillors had enough coming in they got jobs for their nearest and dearest and rented premises to and from themselves on what must be one of the most lucrative gravy trains in the north.

It is not our place to comment or pass judgement on the sexual proclivities or relations of consenting adults. However the Iris Robinson affair is of concern because it has uncovered a political underbelly of backhanders, shady dealings and profiteering.

As more severe cuts are set to fall, at Westminster’s behest, the Assembly are demanding the power to rob the working class directly. The political consensus, echoed by even our more liberal ‘betters’, is to raise rates and ‘reintroduce’ water charges’. The choice is presented as one between cuts to the services used, and desperately needed, by working class people – necessary because of the financial crisis – and making us pay for their financial crisis. Capitalism fucks up and we get screwed over either way!

The politicians, like international corporations, are using the recession to punish working class people for their fuck ups. Companies have used the cover of the recession to relocate and cast workers onto the dole – and the republic gives a hint of what is yet to come following the Westminster elections.

It is not up to anarchists to come up with schemes for more successfully managing capitalism. What we must help ensure is that successful opposition to all proposed cut backs and increased taxation is built. Only the working class can achieve that, just as we have been successfully fighting off water charges for years, just as the Fujistu and countless other workers have stood up against their bosses.
Solidarity is strength!

Nortel – Avaya: Workers Still Screwed

Back in the August—October 2009 issue of the Leveller we reported on the ongoing struggle of 87 Nortel workers sacked without redundancy pay at the Nortel plant in Newtownabbey.

Just before Christmas Arlene Foster, still Finance Minister at the time, welcomed the announcement that US company Avaya had acquired Nortel’s Enterprise Division. Arlene said this was extremely positive news for the workers at the Monkstown plant. Arlene went on to claim credit for securing the ‘deal’ saying “Working with Invest Northern Ireland, Nortel has worked to position the three core elements of its NI operations attractively to potential investors.”

About 40% of the workforce transferred to Avaya and secured immediate job security! No, of course they didn’t.

Avaya has now announced that is “considering” closing the Monkstown plant – that is, “considering” throwing up to 140 more workers on the dole.

Fujitsu Workers Suspend Action

Fujitsu workers have suspended their struggle with employers over compulsory redundancies and attacks on pay and pensions. After ten days of strike action, supported in Belfast by the Trades Council, Organise!, Socialist Party and others, 72% of Unite members at Fujitsu have voted in favour of accepting ACAS proposals. The proposals include commitments to allow union representatives to participate in redundancy reviews, review pension arrangements and sign a definition of promotion. The workers have however only succeeded in stalling the companies plans to impose compulsory redundancies – until after 26 March.

The outcome of this dispute is far from over and far from an outright victory. However we must remember that these workers, a minority of whom are unionised and went on strike against these attacks, have shown the potential strength of an organised workforce. They have made an important start in the building of a culture of resistance in an industry that is anti-union and which has, until now, had not significant organisation amongst workers.

Arntz Workers Redundancy Redundant

Arntz belting factory, which makes (made) vehicle and industrial timing belts was set up in Derry in 1968 just as the city was erupting with social discontent over jobs and housing. It only employed about a hundred or so individuals, but considering Derry’s very high levels of male unemployment particularly and the historic lack of manufacturing of this type, it was seen as a very important event.

Production will cease at the plant on 11 April and workers will receive, some of them after forty-two years of graft, a lump sum of £2,750 and two weeks pay for every year of ‘service’. This was the ‘deal’ trumpeted by Unite officials, who with local nationalist councillors and MLAs organised a trip to Hanover to the parent company’s head office in a blaze of publicity to get a so-called better deal for the workers.

In the end, the deal was accepted by 79 out of 111 of the employees with the Unite official, Martin Deery, saying he’d tried to use all diplomacy possible and didn’t want to risk “losing anything more by rejecting the offer”. Artnz had tried to keep the plant’s closure a secret for some time and some workers made noises about this to the media and local politicians as
far back as 2007 though nothing was done.

It was only when Arntz actually sent a team into the factory to begin dismantling machinery that the workers’ claims about closure were taken seriously. Even then, the best solution that could be offered by Unite, the SDLP and Sinn Féin was a high level trip to Germany to put the workers’ case for them and return, like Chamberlain, with an agreement that wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.

No-one, and certainly no-one on the left in Derry, suggested that the workers take matters into their own hands and follow where Visteon and, locally, Calcast workers had shown the way with strikes and sit-ins. Instead, we had a long drawn-out process of ‘representation’ by union full-timers and politicians none of whom will lose their jobs, in fact a few may even have the neck to use this ‘deal in electioneering bullshit to keep themselves in a job over the next month or so.

Cuts or Water Charges? Axe Stormont!

Back in January 2008 the Executive and the Assembly approved spending plans for 2008-11, which, according to Finance Minister Sammy Wilson, included record levels of investment in public services, housing and schools etc. Since then however the recession has led to the imposition of cuts by Westminster.

Cutting £367million

So during the June 2009 Monitoring Round, the Finance Minister decided that a review of the budget of the following year was needed. The outcome of this review resulted in a proposed budget cut of £367 million. Naturally there has been a lot of political disagreement regarding this issue.

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey feels that health cannot bear the brunt of any more cuts. While he is obviously correct he warns that while he will resist these “daft” cuts very strongly he cannot guarantee that front-line services will be protected. While health spending is the smallest percentage cut, 2.1% (average is 2.6%), it is the largest cash cut – £113.5 million. This is what Sammy Wilson calls “a targeted approach.”

Health and Social Care Services already have a £700 million target of efficiency savings and health workers and health service users are struggling as it is. Meanwhile Catriona Ruane has warned that education cuts will involve “pain”. We can be damn sure that the pain will not be experienced by Ruane but by working class kids, parents and staff as she prepares to cut classroom funding and jobs. It has been predicted that these cuts will result in 4,000 job losses.

Blaming the poor

According to the Review of 2010-11 Spending Plans Consultation Document one of the main reasons for the strained budget is the non-payment of water charges. The Executive have “kindly” deferred water rates for another year. The option presented by the Finance Department and in the media is water charges or budget cuts.

The Assembly’s commitment to sorting out the Northern Ireland Civil Service Equal Pay Claim, brought on behalf of 13,000 underpaid civil servants, was also put forward as a reason for the cuts. Until a wee deal tied into the Sinn Féin/DUP policing and justice agreement saw Westminster foot the bill for that. Implementation is still a long way off and likely to throw up a lot of problems.

Costs of Stormont—they all add up

Over the years the Executive have, like politicians the world over, squandered and mismanaged money. Even while the assembly was suspended most members still claimed the £48,000 allowance for office costs. Former UUP John Taylor paid £33,600 in 2005/06 out of his allowance into a company he was a director of. This was approved by the Assembly. Stormont MLA’s have claimed £8 million in expenses in one year. This includes everything from bin bags and weed killer to expensive furniture. Some examples of how Assembly members spend your money are as follows: UUP Basil McCrea claimed £861.35 for a desk. Nigel Dodds claimed £525 for a sofa. Peter Robinson claimed £375 to have the leather on his desk replaced! I don’t even know why a person would need a leather-bound desk. Figures recently emerged that for one year the Stormont canteen cost £320,203!

DUP MLA provides a (partial) solution

Writing in December/January‟s edition of Fortnight the DUP MLA Peter Weir looked at meeting these cuts through cutting our political institutions. He asked “Does a population of 1.7 million people require 108 MLAs and 11 Government Departments?” and answered himself: “A simple reduction in the number of Assembly Members would save nearly £4million per year in salaries and office cost allowances alone. Cutting back the number of government departments from 11 to 6 could deliver savings of tens of millions of pounds each year.”

Now, while it might be argued that Peter’s scheme would have the added benefit of making the political position of the DUP (and Sinn Féin) stronger at the expense of smaller political parties, we think he might be onto something.

Axe Stormont

Imagine the savings to be made if we took Peter’s suggestions that wee bit further and axed Stormont. Think of the money that could be put into education, the health service, public transport, social housing instead of into the pockets of politicians and bureaucrats. Further still the money that would be available if we axed the jobs of bosses and fat cats. For an example of how working people might begin to bring meaningful change to our own lives see the short but inspirational article on factory socialisation in Argentina on page 11. In the meantime we need to organise to resist these cuts. This is not our crisis—we should not pay for it!
J-J-J

Don’t Pay Water Charges

The politicians in the Assembly are now openly speaking about imposing water charges on householders. This additional bill will be in the region of £400 a year – but once they are introduced, like electricity prices, they will increase.

Householders already pay for water through our rates. The introduction of water charges will be a double-tax. People are already crippled with high bills. Rising unemployment and wage cuts have seen ordinary peoples incomes savaged, and now the MLA‟s in Stormont want to take more out of our pockets.

The introduction of water charges has nothing to do with investment in the water service – it is part of the process of privatisation of the service. Once charges are established, it opens the door to private companies to take over to make profits.

100,000 say ‘WE WON’T PAY!’

The We Won‟t Pay Campaign has successfully built mass support for non-payment of water charges since 2003. So far, over 100,000 people have signed our non-payment pledge. This campaign has been responsible for forcing the British Government and the Assembly to defer water charges for the past 4 years. This has saved every household hundreds of pounds.
Water charges can be defeated through a mass boycott. The poll tax in Britain was defeated through mass non-payment and water charges were defeated in Southern Ireland in the 1990’s as a result of a mass non-payment campaign. It is not a criminal offence to refuse to pay water charges. An organised mass non-payment campaign will force the politicians to scrap water charges.

Join the campaign

There are lots of things individuals can do to help build support for the We Won‟t Pay Campaign. Can you leaflet your street /estate /college/workplace? Can you ask your local shops to display a poster advertising the campaign? Can you get others in your community to help you promote our campaign?
Contact us on 02890311778 or e-mail: wewontpay@bntconnect.com
http://ww.wewontpaycampaign.com/

Protest At Derry Shooting

A crowd of about 100 people gathered on 29 January outside the ‘Red Star’ shop of Ray Coyle in Derry’s Waterloo Street to protest at his recent shooting by the paramilitary right-wing militia known as ‘Republican Action Against Drugs’ (RAAD).

The protest was called by the Derry Anti-War Coalition after Ray Coyle was shot allegedly for selling so-called ‘legal highs’, and was attended in a completely irony-free manner not only by former Provos but also one or two members of the Real IRA. The rally came after 12 incidents in Derry where teenagers, one as young as 16 years of age, have been shot and maimed for allegedly selling cannabis and amphetamines.

The RAAD, like all their predecessors are only interested in social control, and their frequent statements about ‘morality’ and ‘decency’ mask a barely concealed extreme right-wing agenda to enforce their narrow-minded, creeping Catholic, super-Tory, masochistic politics on working class communities. These ex-Provos operating mainly out of Creggan have declared themselves to have no political ambitions ‘at present’ other than policing recreational drug users and their suppliers, often of the lowest tier.

Meanwhile, the 32 County Sovereignty Movement have just mounted a campaign, which they say will include protest pickets of shops and schools that admit the PSNI. They claim this is not a threat, but city centre workers, school teachers and others will very definitely be put under threat by this bullying tactic from Real IRA groupies. As yet, there has been nothing but silence from the trade unions who will probably get their act together after the paramilitaries have done something.

Votes Before Profit Alliance

On Valentine’s Day in Derry, the ‘People Before Profit Alliance’ (the people who brought you the Socialist Environmental Alliance and the SWP/SWM, which haven’t gone away you know), met to discuss whether to stand in the forthcoming Westminster election on a ‘radical alternative’ agenda. Now, even given that a ‘radical alternative’ here is pretty much anything other than what is offered by the established parties, this stretches credibility. At a time when the majority of the working class in western Europe are increasingly waking up to the reality of bourgeois representative ‘democracy’ and the fallacy that politicians are basically idealistic philanthropists, the mood amongst leftists should be very much with that majority and not against it.

Be that as it may, People Before Profit duly decided to run Eamonn McCann in the May Westminster elections. Once again the ‘McCann’s Your Man’ electoral foray will issue forth from the bar taps of Sandino’s and utilise the election merely, as is tediously repeated by their supporters, to raise the issues on the ground, oh, and asking people for their vote as well.

Old habits die hard

No Vote Here!

It’s described as representative democracy – but who is actually represented? The farcical merry-go-round of manifesto pledges, sloganeering, spin and lies is set to culminate in a UK-wide general election on Thursday 6th May. Once again we are being handed down an opportunity to hold (a minute) influence on who runs ‘the nation’. However! The systemic problem of representative democracy is that no-one is really represented.

For a start, we are uniformly given a terrible choice of candidates from which to choose – particularly in the case of Norn Irn! There is so little variety in the empty content of manifesto promises, it really is a case of vote for tweedle-dum or tweedle-dee. In our parochial context the choice generally comes down to what religious background the candidate comes from, (which is subsequently reinforced in the institutionally sectarian Stormont assembly). There is no possibility that any candidate can effectively represent the interests of their constituents, especially where playing politics and the party-line are concerned. Even those few politicians who enter the arena with the best intentions and interests of their constituents in mind cannot fail to be corrupted, drawn into power struggles, bogged down with bureaucracy, bribed by ‘financial backers’. These people are given a mandate and undeserved power through the mechanism of ‘free and democratic elections.’ But is this democracy? Are we free? NO! The system doesn’t work.

To ensure freedom for everyone in the community we require direct democracy. This means people representing themselves rather than electing a political boss. It also opens up the opportunity for decisions to be made by consensus, rather than ‘tyranny of the majority’. Many philosophers and political theorists have surmised methods and structures that would accommodate a bottom-up democratic approach, (rotating roles as ‘speaker’, ‘secretary’ etc.) but this is a decision that should be made by the individuals, groups, and communities themselves.

How do we get from representative democracy to direct democracy? We can begin by applying the principles of direct democracy in a practical sense – in the groups and communities that we form. This is described as a ‘prefigurative’ politics and obviously entails a refusal to participate in representative or parliamentary democracy. Don’t vote. Don’t register to vote. A huge proportion of people already stay away from the ballot box. Turn-outs of 59% and 61% in 2001 and 2005 respectively across the UK illustrate this starkly. (Note that Labour only won 35% of the vote in ‘05 – most people do not vote for the government). Take this into consideration with the vote being withheld from convicts and under-18s, and the scale of non-participation is huge. Politicians write this off as voter apathy, but more accurately this is a symptom of deep dissatisfaction with ‘political betters’ across the populace as a whole.

If you put an ‘x’ into a ballot box this May, you will be adding weight to the politicians’ false claims of legitimacy and a popular mandate. Don’t be fooled by sham democracy – organise to resist soapbox oppression. Let’s sack the politicians!!

Sue Dónaime

What Use A Bill Of Rights? Educate, Agitate, Organise!

The Human Rights Consortium have splashed out a lot of money to tell us that a Bill of Rights is a necessity for our new Northern Ireland. Its what we all want after-all.

In the meantime HM Government don’t want all the stuff that concerned groups have demanded, nay suggested (albeit quite strongly), should be in a new Bill of Rights for our wee Pravince.

We are encouraged to Read it, Sign it, Send it. It being a wee note FOA the great and the good letting them know that, by golly,  we want a Bill of Rights!

It must be conceded that many who are campaigning for a Bill of Rights come from the extremely understandable position of wanting to ensure we cannot return to the civil rights abuses that NICRA and others, including anarchists, campaigned to end before the start of and during the troubles. Others are simply pursuing political self-interest dressed up as equality and parity of esteem. Anarchists have no time at all  for enshrining and protecting the rights of ‘cultural’ groups who seek to promote narrow nationalistic visions and preserve and build dangerous ‘ethnic’ myths.

But even the well-intentioned human rights campaigners have got it wrong. Demands for a Bill of Rights fosters the illusion that the state can take care of us all. This is a dangerous illusion to be fostering—it is one that panders to the ‘ability’ of the politicians to sort things out on our behalf while ignoring the fact that they always look after the rich and powerful. Worse it encourages the sort of apathy and inaction that would leave us defenceless as our standards of living, our livelihoods, our ability to adequately feed our selves and our families, are all under attack.

This is exactly what the current recession is about. No Bill of Rights, can protect BA, Aer Lingus, local council, health, education, Visteon, Nortel, Fujitsu, Arntz, civil service or any other workers facing pay freezes, cuts, attacks on conditions and redundancies. It will not protect us against increased rates, taxes, water charges. It will not protect us against the environmental havoc being wreaked across the planet by capitalism.

What we need is determination, organisation and the will  to organise and co-ordinate our own struggles. We do not need to read it, sign it, send it. We need to educate, agitate, organise!

Save Our Libraries

In a bid to cut £55-£60k from their budget the Northern Ireland Board of Libraries is threatening to close half the library provision in the greater Belfast area. The cuts resulting from the closures in Belfast represents only a small proportion of the £600k of “efficiencies” that were to be found in 2010/11. And this figure has doubled since the recent budget proposals.

A total of 15 libraries are set to close and all are located in working class areas already suffering the effects of the recession on top of the ‘normal’ levels of neglect and under investment they have come to expect over the years.

Andersonstown, Ballyhackamore, Ballymacarrett, Belvoir Park, Braniel, Cloughfern, Colin Glen, Dunmurry, Gilnahirk, Ligoniel, Oldpark, Sandy Row, Suffolk, Tullycarnet, Whitewell and Woodstock libraries all face closure. Leaving only 16 libraries across Greater Belfast.

Libraries NI have carried out a range of public consultation meetings. The resounding message from library users and the general public at those meetings is that they want their local community libraries to remain open – providing a local service to local communities.

The civil service union NIPSA have been involved, along with people from the communities effected, in a campaign to save the libraries. As they said in the March issue of NIPSA Reports:

Libraries provide a vital service for those who need it most in society – the young, the elderly, the unemployed, the migrant population and the socially deprived.

IMPACT Re-ballot Aer Lingus Cabin Crews

After rejecting an Aer Lingus ‘survival plan’ IMPACT’s 1,000 cabin crew members are being re-balloted under threat of 230 compulsory redundancies.

Aer Lingus have insisted throughout the dispute that ‘Project Greenfield’, the name they have given to their €97m cuts package, is not up for renegotiation. While the dispute at BA goes ahead it appears that the IMPACT leadership has caved in. If the cabin crew vote in favour of the cuts they had previously rejected the 230 redundancies in their grade will become 230 voluntary redundancies.

Across the company the package means 600 job losses, pay cuts of up to 10pc, and a three-year pay freeze. Instead of organising and fighting back against these cuts IMPACT are recommending that cabin crew vote in favour of the package the second time around.

Air Lingus had threatened to impose 230 compulsory redundancies and planned to terminate the employment of all 1,000 cabin crew and rehire them on lower pay and conditions.

BA Strikes: management bluster and bullying as strike action spreads through Europe

British Airways cabin crews have struck for three days in a dispute which is quickly taking on the status of a set-piece battle between workers and management. With a general election weeks away, the political parties have attempted to outdo each other by laying into the strikers, with much of the media in tow.

Effects of the strike

Much media coverage has been given to the disputed amount of disruption caused by the strike. BA has claimed that 60% of its passengers have flown as normal, while Unite has said that only a few thousand passengers have been shifted. BA’s spin machine has gone into overdrive, with BA chief Willie Walsh plastering himself all over YouTube (Walsh, who has described the union’s offer as “morally wrong” took home an annual salary of three-quarters of a million pounds in 2009 despite BA making record losses, an increase of 6% on top of a boost to his pension fund). Management is trumpeting the supposed success of its ‘contingency plans’, relying for the large part on scab labour, and chartered flights run on behalf of BA by other airlines.

At this stage there is nothing in the way of critical analysis of BA’s figures available, but a contributor to the ‘Comment is Free’ section of the website of UK newspaper The Guardian has done some work of his own analysing BA’s claims of the number of flights affected by the strike on Sunday:

Okay guys, i’ve just sifted thru BA.com to get a rough idea of how many flights took off today, as the BA Walsh Spin machine is in overdrive, saying that 65% of the schedule departed.
Garbage!
276 Scheduled BA Flight Departures From Heathrow for sat 21st
135 of those flights were cancelled.
that leaves 141 BA departures from Heathrow today right? Erm, no.
3 flights to Finland included in those figures operated by Finnair. Also…
20 flights to the Republic of Ireland operated by Aer Lingus (BA don’t even fly to Eire from LHR!)
9 flights to Spain were Iberia aircraft.
4 flights included in those figures were BMI to Damascus, Tehran, Beirut and Almaty!
3 flights to BKK, HKG, SIN were Qantas.
That leaves us with 102 departures today. These figures include those wet leased aircraft, and flights that left as cargo only with no passengers. I believe the number of chartered aircraft was 23. Assuming they just operated one flight each (it’s more likely they flew a couple each ), that leaves us with 79 BA aircraft departing, some without and some with very few passengers. That’s 28% of the schedule.

28% !!! That’s a far cry from Walsh’s 65%. It’s there for all to see. Walsh’s figures are pure fantasy. Keep strong and keep the faith. Don’t believe a single word of the BA Hype.

On the other hand, ‘independent rebuttals’ of the union’s figures well reported by the media, such as those on Steven Frischling’s blog, have relied heavily on BA’s own figures.

At the same time, there has been little information to what extent the BA staff “reporting to work” are supervisors and staff from other parts of the company taking on scabbing duties. Reports of stand-in cabin crew taking up their responsibilities on only a few hours’ worth of training suggest this is the case, and is not surprising given the massive mandate that the strike received from Unite membership – an 80.7% yes vote to strike action on a 78.7% turnout. On the other hand, the paltry ‘offer’ Unite are fighting for which includes a 2% pay cut and the levels of management bullying will inevitably have led to scabbing by demoralised crew (more below).

Bullying

Meanwhile, management’s bullying has reached new heights as BA carries through its threats to discipline anyone taking sick leave over the strike days. A seriously ill crew member on bed rest who is at risk of losing her baby has been suspended, as has a worker recovering from surgery. A worker off caring for a seriously ill child was instructed to bring the child to her disciplinary hearing. A number of crew members have been signed off with stress and depression, with one being sent to an urgent treatment centre. In every instance, BA’s health services have overridden the decisions of GPs.

According to Unite, bullying against BA staff has also taken the form of suspensions for activities such as:

• Receiving and forwarding e-mails from their private accounts
• Discussions on union member only forums
• Holding private conversations
• Making a joke
• Expressing dismay regarding a graffiti board set up by BA management where staff were encouraged to scribble words of support for the company, on which was written “cabin crew scum.”

BA management has also undertaken a campaign of bullying against union reps. A union rep responsible for running an online discussion forum for union members has been issued with a 45-page legal document demanding the identities of 32 crew members posting under pseudonyms.

BA bosses are also threatening to take away travel privileges from workers involved in the strike action. This has led to terror on the part of staff who rely on them to get to work – one statistic claims that a quarter of BA staff live abroad, relying on travel perks to do their jobs. The threat to withdraw these privileges is an attempt to scare workers out of taking strike action.

Industry-wide action

An ongoing dispute with BA baggage handlers, also Unite members, could lead to further strike action. Negotiations have been ongoing for some time – planned 48 hour strikes at the Christmas/New Year period were postponed by Unite to allow talks to continue.

Meanwhile, Europe faces a wave of strike action in the air industry. Air France crews walk out for four days beginning Sunday, in defence of pay and conditions. Baggage handlers, cabin crews and pilots at Italian firm Alitalia struck for four hours at the weekend. TAP Portuguese Airlines pilots will strike on the 31st of March, while pilots at Lufthansa, Lufthansa Cargo and Germanwings will begin a four-day strike on April 31st.

The union’s offer

With the press laying into the striking cabin crews, the Tory party invoking the spirit of Thatcher and the need to challenge the “entrenched interests” of the Trade Unions, and the Prime Minister, Chancellor and Transport Secretary describing the actions of the Labour party’s biggest donor as “reprehensible” and “deplorable”, it could be easy to buy into the guff about a “Spring of discontent”, mirroring the industrial unrest which brought down the last Labour government.

Unlike many of the strikes of the “winter of discontent” of 1978-79, which were an attempt to secure better remuneration for workers in the wake of a nationwide pay freeze under Callaghan’s government, this strike is entirely defensive. When picketers hold placards saying “we offered a pay cut!”, there are clearly problems. Unite’s offer to BA accepted the company’s terms of reference entirely, and the need for frontline staff to pay for the company’s woes. The dispute is over the imposition of these attacks, and the precise form they take, not the necessity of the attacks themselves. Unite has acted like a junior management partner, angry at being sidelined. A pay cut is unlikely to be what BA crews imagined they’d be fighting for when they delivered an overwhelming mandate for strike action.

Nonetheless, with all the political parties united on the need to impose austerity on the working class in coming years, the struggle of the BA cabin crews deserves support and solidarity.

This article was originally posted by Django on libcom.org

New Social Centre For Belfast

Warzone Collective originally sprang to life back in 1984 loosely inspired by the anarcho-punk movement but largely by their own self-determination to create a social space they could call their own. Punks were generally not welcome in many of the city’s venues and gigs kept moving from Belfast’s Harp Bar, to the Manhattan and the Labour Club in Waring Street among others but nothing seemed to last.

Many of the city’s punks had also been attracted to Just Books, the community bookshop in Winetavern Street where many became exposed to anarchist ideas and libertarian philosophies; as well as venturing to the Anarchy Centre in Long Lane where the legendary anarchist band Crass played in 1982 pushing the DIY agenda and inspiring people to get out there and do it. Both the Anarchy Centre and Just Books were set up by Belfast Anarchist Collective.

The opening of ‘Giro’s’ by Warzone in 1986 created an autonomous hub not just for punks and anarchists but anybody with an interest in an alternative to the mainstream. As well as being a venue and drop-in centre, vegetarian cafe and anarchist library, gallery and screen-print workshop among many other things it was also a focal point for numerous campaigns and organisations from squatter’s support groups to Anarchist Black Cross. In 1991 the group moved to a larger building and established a recording studio and practice space, on top of everything else, offering bands a cheap alternative to rip-off venues across the city, and a non-sectarian space where you didn’t leave your politics at the door but brought them in and argued your corner. Throughout this period it was the only openly non-sectarian venue in the city.

During the 17 years the centre ran, thousands of people passed through the doors and many were introduced to creative and radical ideas often for the first time. In a city that taught you to keep your head down such self-empowerment and grass roots community organisation was a social and cultural achievement.

In 2009 Northern Visions TV, a local Belfast station, filmed a documentary on the group to be released later this year.

When Giro’s closed at the end of its then current lease in late 2003, the volunteer pool had dwindled and many people had moved on but it left a gap in radical Belfast culture. Some talked about getting it going again while others felt that times had changed. In 2007a few people began to get beyond the talking and organised meetings. At the same time it transpired that Just Books were also looking to reopen new premises so it was agreed to pool efforts.

In 2010 new premises were secured at Clarence Street in Belfast and the new social centre is beginning to come together.

Hopefully it will once again provide a focal point for grass roots organisation in the city. That depends on people getting involved and taking on the responsibility to make it happen rather than relying on others. Warzone Collective is open to anyone – a committee is elected at the annual AGM to run administrative aspects but anyone can get involved – the collective is run on anarchist lines though not everyone involved would identify themselves as anarchist.

The centre does represent an opportunity to bring together disparate groups and like-minded individuals to build an alternative in the city. With unemployment soaring and small business collapsing while City Fathers dig up the city to bring fine new paving to our commercial heartland, and with self-appointed paramilitaries still trying to dig a grave for imagination the time could not be more right. Hope to see you there.

www.warzonecollective.com

Just Books re-opens!

The Just Books Collective are really very chuffed to announce the re-opening of Just Books from the 1st April.

The Leveller wish the Just Books Collective well for their opening event which includes the launch of Ghost Dancers the new book on the Great Miner’s Strike of 83-85 and the last generation of miners by strike participant, former NUM member and anarchist Dave Douglass.

The collective been working for some time to open up as a bookshop and labour resource centre and now, thanks to working in conjunction with the Warzone Collective, we have moved into new premises in Clarence Street in Belfast city centre. We aim to be open Monday to Saturday from 12.00pm to 5.30pm.

For those who don’t know very much about Just Books it was originally opened by the Belfast Anarchist Collective in June 1978. It was much more than a bookshop however, the premises included a cafe and print workshop and provided a focal point for the collectives many activities until it closed shop sixteen years later in June 1994.

Set up without any form of state subsidy or grant, money was raised through running benefits and from interest free loans and donations from supporters. The bookshop, which became a feminist collective from the mid-eighties until it became a mixed gender collective again in the early nineties, was always run on a self managed basis with collective decision making at its core. Located in Winetavern Street in the Smithfield area:

The location of the bookshop in the old Smithfield Market area of Belfast, at the bottom of the Shankill Road and the Falls Road, was important to the anarchists who set up Just Books in that they wished the building to be accessible to people from all communities”1.

Just Books at various stages of its development included a library, the Print Workshop, a meeting and exhibition space, the Hideout Café, Belfast Independent Video, Belfast Unemployed Group and Women’s News office.

A victim of the general decline of the Smithfield area following the 1986 development of Castlecourt, a more general squeeze on radical and independent booksellers brought about by recession, increased book prices and growing competition from bigger outlets Just Books closed its doors in June 1994 proclaiming that “16 years of providing an invaluable service to the community and being a focus for social change and revolutionary ideas is something to celebrate.”2

The Just Books collective disappeared for a while after that but we hadn’t really gone away you know. In recent years we have provided bookstalls at the Belfast May Day celebrations at St. George’s Market, at numerous Grassroots Gatherings, and at various bookfairs in Ireland and England.

For a time we were based in an office in Lombard Street we have expanded our range of titles and currently carry stock dealing with Irish history, labour history, sex and sexuality, global development and exploitation, progressive politics, current affairs and environmental issues. We have also built up a small multi-lingual library designed to be of use to labour and community activists that includes a broad selection of historical, progressive political, feminist and environmental publications.

We are asking people who can to support Just Books by setting up a regular £10 a month standing order that will be used to cover running costs (pesky things like rent, bills, kitting the space out etc). If you wish to support Just Books please set up a monthly standing order payable to:

Account name: Just Books Collective

Ulster Bank University Road Branch

Sort Code: 98-01-55

Account number: 24049070

Let us know when you have set the SO up and whether you would like to be added to the Just Books mailing list.

Once on the list we will send you information about events and anything else that is going on in the space.

There are other ways to help out, we are also building up a multi-lingual library – contact:

 justbooks@r********ail.com

if you have any books you think we may be interested in adding to the library.

Or simply call by, browse and maybe pick up an interesting book, pamphlet, t-shirt, or grab a coffee. Who knows, this could be start of another revolutionary 16 (plus) years for us all…

References
1) Elaine, Just Books 10th Birthday. Women’s News, 1988.

2) Just Books Spokesperson, Market to close if shoppers don’t return. Bookshop goes under as Smithfield crisis deepens. Anderstonstown News, 04/06/94.

Assessment as Control: A teacher’s experience of the pecking order in schools

Assessment is a normal and sometimes valuable part of education. There’s nothing wrong with checking whether some sort of training or education has achieved its goal of helping someone learn new knowledge or a skill. This is a necessary and vital part of many aspects of education. This article however, centres on the reactionary uses of assessment in schools. It effectively has a dual-purpose – a) establish a pecking order from the early years onwards, and for pupils to ‘know their place’ throughout their educational life, and b) to monitor worker performance. The examples refer specifically to experiences in England are of relevance to education workers elsewhere.

Monitoring students

The language is encouraging; ‘getting the most out of our learners’, ‘levels in the air’ and ‘adding value’. The rhetoric within many schools now is that in order to achieve such goals, we need to be quantifying the learning every step of the way, checking that those incremental gains in ‘knowledge’ are being maintained. In effect what this means is pupils, learners, students, whatever term is in-vogue now, being overtly conscious of their place in the school pecking order at all times. Not only being aware of their own place, but that of every other pupil they share a class with, and the pecking order of each class.

Labelling pupils from the earliest years of school is now common practice. By the end of primary school, pupils are expected to have a firm grasp of what ‘level’ they are in core subjects (maths, science, English), and those levels are increasingly used to ‘stream’ or, as has been common practice in core subjects for a long time, at least ‘set’ pupils depending on ability. Streaming is a more divisive version of setting where pupils are not just set within an individual subject, but effectively separated for the whole of the school lesson time into different ability classes. This effectively creates schools within schools, enabling the establishment of hierarchies within supposedly comprehensive schools.

What does ‘levelling’ mean? In England, the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA), sets out the levels within subjects, from level 1-8 in most subjects. These levels map onto what’s known as Bloom’s Taxonomy – a classification of learning objectives, which is supposed to progress through basic skills and sounds a bit like this – recall, describe, explain, analyse, evaluate, synthesise. They roughly translate to levels 3-8 of the QCDA’s descriptors.

If this all sounds boring, it’s because it is. It relates little to the content of the subjects kids are learning, and is more a process of quantification that suits micromanagers who want to easily monitor performance of staff and students. The effect on pupils in the classroom is tangible. In the days when tests were measured in As, Bs, Cs etc in early secondary education, pupils of course had awareness of who was a the ‘smart kid’ and who wasn’t. But they didn’t wear that label for every minute of every lesson, of every day of every term. The hierarchy is a constant, throughout all lessons.

Depressingly this is internalised by many students, who will refer to themselves and their own abilities negatively. Many underestimate the degree to which pupils internalise the labels we assign them, and unfortunately some don’t care, because they’re genuinely only interested in generating graphs to show their departments are ‘performing’.

The impact on students is very real, and should be of deep concern to anyone genuinely interested in education.

Monitoring staff monitoring students.

Beyond labelling individual students, the assessment that now exist in most schools are used directly, and openly, to monitor staff performance. Most schools have a computerised record system that monitors everything from attendance, to test scores, to behaviour management. But the scope of these systems, and the uses to which they are put, may vary from school to school.

In its most pervasive guise, these systems are a tightly quantified form of pupil and staff monitoring. The data from these systems can be used explicitly in ‘performance management’. Performance management amounts to bosses monitoring staff to check they are doing the job. In some instances, provided your line manager isn’t a jobs-worth and simply is in their position for a bit of extra money, it can be supportive – it can identify areas for improvement, and suggest ways to move forward and make teaching and learning better.

However, increasingly, the data is used to identify ‘under-performing’ staff. Performance management does not apply to trainee teachers or NQTs (Newly Qualified Teachers i.e. those in their probation period) – it applies only to teachers in their second year in the profession and onwards. I have seen instances where data from pupil monitoring has been used to build cases against so-called under-performing staff. In those that I have witnessed, it has been where a line-manager is an ‘aspiring leader’ – someone who wants to get out of the classroom and into school management. They will use the data to openly criticise colleagues and show quantitatively how they ‘aren’t dong their jobs well’.

Quantifying performance

What does this data involve? Ok, say you give a class an assessment. You mark it, record you marks, and enter it into the computer system. So far, it’s no more than a glorified version of the old fashioned mark-book, those folders you see teachers carrying around (most still carry the old ones too, so effectively work is duplicated, but most of us like to have a paper copy of marks).

But further to that, the mark is then mapped against a pre-determined ‘target’ for each pupil. At key stage 3 (11-14yrs) this target is usually based on the scores they come from primary school with, and mapped across the three years of the curriculum. These projections are often wrong – perhaps the pupil has a ‘good day’ on the assessment day, perhaps they had a ‘bad one’, but for the next three years, every test they take will be matched against that yardstick, and both the pupils performance, and their teachers’ will be judged in that light.

At this stage, each mark can then be flagged as ‘on’, ‘below’ or ‘above’ target. And here is where the managers come in – they have access to this data for every member of staff and can use it in their ‘performance management’. In some schools, such data has been used to ‘get rid of dead wood’.

“Driving Licence for Teachers”

So this overt form of easily-quantifiable assessment can be used as a stick to poke both students and staff with. Teachers have some the highest stress levels in any sector. The already excessive demands of many performance management procedures and Ofsted inspections are potentially to be made worse with the government’s proposed ‘licence to teach’. This means teachers would have to ‘renew’ their ‘teaching licence’ every five years or face the sack. Speaking to experienced classroom teachers, it’s clear that most view the proposal as nothing short of cretinous and an insult to their integrity. Teachers are already subject to an ever-mounting degree of invasion into the professional life and with the prospect of more of this it’s no wonder than retention of workers in the sector has been so difficult.

The prospects

Education is a mess at the minute. Higher education is facing a total collapse, with £900m to be cut from the university budgets and 14,000 jobs to be cut, despite 20,000 more university places being announced – less staff, less money…. but more students – I’m no mathematician but something doesn’t add up. The examples of a fightback in the form university occupations at Sussex, London Met, Westminster, and the London College of Communications, and proposed strikes at Leeds are encouraging, but workers in the secondary and primary sectors need to wake up.

Quantification and the growing meddling in our working lives, both from micro-managers and bureaucrats is just one problem we face. The march of Ofsted, as well as the growth of

academies and the increasing involvement of private investors in schools should be of grave concern to us all. Workers in schools need to stand in solidarity with the counterparts in universities, and to learn from their experiences. The attacks facing higher education at the minute are unlikely to stop there, and workers in schools need to be ready to fight back.

By a member of the London Education Workers Group

Further reading:

NUT’s campaign against ‘Licence to Teach’ – http://www.nut.org.uk/notolicencetopractise

Haiti: A history of intervention, occupation and resistance

As predictions for the death toll from the Haitian earthquakes rise over 200,000, ABC News have reported that planes carrying medical equipment and relief supplies are having to compete with soldiers for the valuable slots at Port-au-Prince airport which was taken over by the US military after the quake. Since the start of the great anti-slavery republican insurrection nearly 220 years ago, Haiti has been presented as a dangerous place incapable of running its own affairs and requiring foreign intervention. Yet the reality is its people were the first enslaved population to deliver themselves from slavery and also carried out what was only the third successful republican insurrection on the planet.  The threat of this good example was rewarded with centuries of invasion, blackmail, the robbery of Haiti’s natural resources and the impoverishment of its people.  This articles summarizes that history of intervention and the resistance to it in order to put into context what is happening in Haiti after the quake.

This is not an academic exercise.  The propaganda methods that were used during the Haitian revolution to frighten off support for the rebels from radical organisations elsewhere – like the London Corresponding Society – continue to be used to the present day. Right after the earthquake, Time Magazine was writing, “As Haitian and international officials try to coordinate an effective relief response to what is probably the worst disaster to ever hit the western hemisphere’s poorest country, they’ll need to be mindful of the human rats that come out of the capital’s woodwork at times like these”, under the scary headline ‘Will Criminal Gangs Take Control in Haiti’s Chaos?‘  Yet aid workers on the ground, in contrast, were reporting the stoicism and solidarity of the people in desperate conditions and even the UN Commander said the streets were safer than before the quake. An Irish doctor from Médecins Sans Frontières confirmed on radio that they were working in Cité Soleil were operating unguarded and unhampered inspite of the areas reputation. This idea of Haiti as riddled with (poor, black) terror gangs waiting to pounce on naive (white) visitors goes back to the rebellion and, in the context of the earthquake, is resulting in additional deaths, as has been made clear by a London Times’ article titled ‘Fear of the poor is hampering Haiti rescue.

Conquest, slavery and resistance

Foreign intervention goes back to the time before the Haitian revolution.  Haiti is the western 1/3 of an island which Columbus came across on his first voyage to the Americas and claimed for Spain, ignoring the fact it was already populated by an estimated 4-500,000 Taino people. He called the island Hispaniola, the people who lived there called it Haiti – the name that was restored when the republic was declared.   Columbus had heard there was a lot of gold on the island so he left 39 of his crew there who built a fort with Taino help called La Navidad, the crew were ordered to explore the island and gather gold.  He recorded that “I have ordered a tower and fortress to be constructed and, a large cellar, not because I believe there is any necessity on account of [the natives] .. I am certain the people I have with me could subjugate all this island … as the population are naked and without arms and very cowardly.” However, when he returned the following year on his second voyage he discovered the fortress destroyed with the corpses of his men on the beach as the Taino population had risen up against them in response to mistreatment, which included the kidnapping of Taino women.

His second voyage included 17 ships and 1200 settlers and with this force Columbus demanded that every Taino over the age of 14 deliver a hawks bell full of gold every three months.  If they failed to do so they had their hands cut off and were left to bleed to death.  On or before 1511 a Taino Cacique (chief) called Hatuey left Hispaniola for Cuba with 400 others in canoes to warn the people that a Spanish expedition was under way to conquer them.  Bartolomé de Las Casas the radical Spanish priest who had previously been a plantation owner in Hispaniola wrote that Hatuey showed them a basket of gold and jewels and told them “Here is the God the Spaniards worship. For these they fight and kill; for these they persecute us and that is why we have to throw them into the sea… They tell us, these tyrants, that they adore a God of peace and equality, and yet they usurp our land and make us their slaves. They speak to us of an immortal soul and of their eternal rewards and punishments, and yet they rob our belongings, seduce our women, violate our daughters.” Hatuey conducted a guerrilla war against the Spaniards before being captured and burned alive on February 2 1512.  In 1522 another Taino Cacique led a revolt of as many as 3000 in the Bahoruco mountains on Hispaniola itself which forced a treaty from the Spaniards.

Within 30 years so many (up to 90%) of the Taino had been worked to death in the gold mines or died of starvation or disease that the Spanish started transporting enslaved Africans to replace them. This was the pattern across the Spanish-occupied Caribbean; according to Bartolomé de Las Casas “it was a general rule among Spaniards to be cruel, not just cruel, but extraordinarily cruel so that harsh and bitter treatment would prevent Indians from daring to think of themselves as human beings. As they saw themselves each day perishing by the cruel and inhuman treatment of the Spaniards, crushed to the earth by the horses, cut in pieces by swords, eaten and torn by dogs, many buried alive and suffering all kinds of exquisite tortures.” The Tainos however were never completely wiped out, a couple of hundred survivors set up free settlements with escaped Africans in the mountains. The first significant insurrection of enslaved African also occurred in 1522 when Wolof people on the sugar plantation of Columbus’s son rose with many escaping to the mountains after the rebellion. These ‘Maroon’ communities continued to resist the Spanish, by the 1530s Plantation owners had to travel in large armed groups.  They referred to the communities as Cimarrones or ‘wild animals’, a striking similarity to Time Magazine‘s use of the term “human rats” for Haitians today.  

The Spanish colony declined in particular after the conquest of the American mainland began, with many settlers leaving for the silver mines.  Conditions of increased poverty resulted in a breakdown of the racial divisions and the population came to be mostly composed of people of mixed Taino, Spaniard and African descent.  In 1605, Spain launched an attack on the settlements outside of Santo Domingo (now capital of the Dominican Republic), this is now known as the devastaciones because half the people died after been forced to move closer to the city where they could be controlled.  

The division of the island took place in 1697 after France and Spain had fought an imperialist war over it.  The French part was then called Saint-Domingue and had attracted 30,000 French settlers in a few decades due to the vast fortunes to be made from sugar, coffee, rum, cotton and indigo.  It led the world in the production of these items and by three-fourths of the world’s sugar was produced there.  The enslaved Africans who worked the plantations lived and died under the brutal Code Noir; it’s estimated that 1/3 died within the first couple of years of their transportation, in this period 29,000 Africans were being transported to Haiti every year.  One man who spent half his life in slavery later wrote of what he witnessed: “Have they not hung up men with heads downward, drowned them in sacks, crucified them on planks, buried them alive, crushed them in mortars? Have they not forced them to eat excrement? And, having flayed them with the lash, have they not cast them alive to be devoured by worms, or onto ant hills, or lashed them to stakes in the swamp to be devoured by mosquitoes? Have they not thrown them into boiling cauldrons of cane syrup? Have they not put men and women inside barrels studded with spikes and rolled them down mountainsides into the abyss? Have they not consigned these miserable blacks to man-eating dogs until the latter, sated by human flesh, left the mangled victims to be finished off with bayonet and poniard?”

Organised rebellion and the world’s 3rd republic

The first sustained organised rebellion was in the 1750s, led by François Mackandal until he was captured and burned alive by the settlers in 1758. By 1789, there were around 40,000 white settlers and 500,000 enslaved Africans as well as a growing population of people of colour (‘mulattoes’ as they were then known) many of whose origins were in the rape of African women by white slave owners. Unlike the plantation system of the US such offspring were ‘free’ and, although discriminated against in many ways, could own land and even enslave black people themselves. There were some 26,000 free people of colour and a few were wealthy but even these few did not share the political rights of the white population.  In the aftermath of the publication of the Declaration of the Rights of Man during the French Revolution on 26 August 1789, one of them, Vincent Oge who had recently returned from revolutionary France, demanded the right to vote and, when this was refused, led a small rebellion.  When captured, he was executed by being broken on the wheel; a method of execution where the victim is tied to a cart wheel, has their limbs smashed with hammers and is left to die. The roots of the violence that the people of Haiti suffer surely lie in the extreme brutality used to maintain slavery.  Shortly after the execution of Oge, the French Revolutionary government granted citizenship to wealthy, free people of colour.

The large landowners who ran the island refused to implement this law. Rumours were also circulating that slavery was to abolished by France, these were untrue but probably based on the activity of an abolitionist society in Paris and preparation began for a rising. The largest plantations were in the northern part of the island and it was there that the enslaved people rose on 22 August, taking the northern province over the next 10 days. By 1792 1/3 of the island was in the hands of these black republicans. France, for economic and then military reasons (the republic was at war with Britain and Spain), was forced to make concessions. By 1793, these concessions had built up to the French commander,  Sonthonax, freeing all the enslaved people after negotiations with the black leaders of the rebellion which included Toussaint L’Ouverture. Sonthonax who was sent to Haiti with 7,000 troops in 1792 had been a member of the abolitionist French ‘Society of the Friends of the Blacks’ which demanded that the ideas of the French revolution be extended to the colonies, Oge had also been a member of this society. In return they then helped the French defeat the British and Spanish. In reality, the French were just giving legal recognition to the fact the people had already liberated themselves however Sonthonax also gave citizenship to all.    This meant that Haitian delegates, some of whom had been enslaved, travelled to France for the 1794 National Assembly.  The Assembly not only confirmed the abolition of slavery on Haiti, it extended the abolition to the entire French empire.

An invading British army was defeated and, in 1801, an army under Toussaint invaded Santo Domingo to aid with the abolition of slavery there. In 1802, Napoleon sent a huge army to the island to attempt to re-impose slavery but, after a brutal war, it too was defeated despite receiving US backing in the form of 750,000 dollars in military aid. The US, with its large slave economy, was not keen on the idea of a free republic created by enslaved people that could serve as an example to its own enslaved population.  During that war the second French commander, Rochambeau, wrote to Napoleon saying France must “declare the negroes slaves, and destroy at least 30,000 negroes and negresses” in order to win.  Under Rochambeau, the “French burned alive, hanged, drowned, and tortured black prisoners, reviving such practices as burying blacks in piles of insects and boiling them in cauldrons of molasses.”  After one battle, 500 prisoners were buried alive.

As well as causing immense human suffering, Napoleon’s bloody attempt to re-conquer the island for French imperialism did enormous economic damage. 50,000 French soldiers died in the war, including 18 generals.  Around 100 Polish troops fighting with the French changed sides to fight with the Haitians and, because of this, while the rest of the white population were slaughtered or driven out at the end of the war, Polish settlers were told they could stay and around 400 did so.  Toussaint L’Ouverture never saw the declaration of independence in 1804, however. He was captured a few months into the war and sent to France where he died in prison. The resistance was led by Jean-Jacques Dessalines and François Capois. Toussaint’s last words before dying in prison were “In overthrowing me, you have cut down in Saint-Domingue only the tree of liberty. It will spring up again by the roots for they are numerous and deep.”

The Haitian revolution began some seven years before the first great republican revolution in Ireland in 1798 and lasted through the Emmett rebellion of 1803 as well.  CLR James writes that Napoleon recalled General Humbert from his Irish liberation expedition for his war against Haiti. Yet outside of Haiti, its existence is almost unknown.  The self-liberation of hundreds of thousands of enslaved people is very much less known then the later and staggered abolition of slavery in Britain and France, an abolition that was driven in part by the rebellions of enslaved people elsewhere sparked off by the Haitian example.  It is clear why, in the aftermath of the revolution, it was not in the interests of the slave holders elsewhere at the time to spread the news of the liberation of the people of Haiti by their own hands.  In 1816 for instance, Bussa’s rebellion engulfed Barbados. Inspired in part by news of Haiti, hundreds of enslaved people rose, a quarter of the sugar cane was burnt and almost 1000 enslaved people were either killed in the battles or executed after the rebellion was defeated.  Instead they continued to economically punish Haiti. The people of Haiti escaped slavery but they could not defeat the colonial system which has continued to punish them to this day.

Aftermath of the rebellion

As with many successful revolutions, victory was followed by reaction and civil war.  Toussaint L’Ouverture had restored the plantation system, invited back the planters and forced the freed people to work on the plantations, this time for a wage.  After independence General Dessalines continued this policy and declared himself Emperor but was assassinated by two of his advisors in 1806.   They then partitioned Haiti with one of them, Petion, establishing the ‘Republic of Haiti’ in the southern part, in which the estates were broken up and the land distributed.  The northern part was under Christophe who continued something every like the old plantation system.  Both parts were reunited in 1820 under Petion’s successor. The young Haitian republic of Petion provided financial and military aid as well as soldiers to Simon Bolivar between 1815 and 1817 as he fought to liberate South America from Spanish rule on the condition he would free enslaved people there.  And for twenty years from 1822 the entire island was briefly unified under Haitian rule that saw the abolition of slavery in the eastern two thirds.  However in 1825 France sent an invasion fleet to the island. In order to prevent the invasion, the president had to agree to ‘repay’ France 150 million Francs for lost profits from the slave trade.   The French abolitionist Victor Schoelcher wrote that “Imposing an indemnity on the victorious slaves was equivalent to making them pay with money that which they had already paid with their blood.” In return, France recognised Haitian independence while the US did not; even though Haiti was forced to borrow money from the US to pay the French, money that was still being repaid by Haiti as late as 1947.

Recognition by Britain and France did not end Haiti’s woes or foreign interference.  There have been 32 coups, most arising from conflicts within the ruling class and the various foreign business groups.  Apart from these, Haiti was not to be recognised by the US until 1862.  This recognition, which only came about as the US was abolishing slavery in a bloody civil war where the Union needed Haitian ports, had little real meaning, as military interference continued. In 1888, the US Marines sponsored a coup in the island and by 1913, US Warships had entered Haitian waters on 24 occasions.  Then in 1914, in response to a peasant insurrection,  the US Marines invaded the island and remained in occupation for over 20 years, during which time they killed, officially, over 3000 Haitians who resisted, including over 400 who were executed. Some Haitian historians have put the real death toll at 15,000. The US occupation imposed a new constitution which allowed foreign companies to own land.  In a warning for what lies in wait for the survivors of the Haitian earthquake, the US State Department  justified this as being in the interests of the Haitian people, reporting that “It was obvious that if our occupation was to be beneficial to Haiti and further her progress it was necessary that foreign capital should come to Haiti…and Americans could hardly be expected to put their money into plantations and big agricultural enterprises in Haiti if they could not themselves own the land on which their money was to be spent.” In reality, these changes saw peasant freeholders forced off the land to become labourers in the vast plantations that US corporations created as they bought up that land.  

It was this invasion that Marine General Smedley Butler was referring to when he said “I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in.”  It was Butler who had dissolved the National Assembly when it refused to ratify the US drafted constitution. Butler had also resurrected an old French law to force peasants to work as unpaid labourers building roads to enable the US military to rapidly move around on the island. During World War II peasants were expelled from more than 100,000 hectares to make room for rubber plantations producing for the US military and, although the US had withdrawn its military forces by 1934, it retained control of Haiti’s foreign finances until 1947.

In his book Year 501: The Conquest Continues, Noam Chomsky quoted a New York business daily from 1926, which described conditions in Haiti as “a marvellous opportunity for American investment”: “The run-of-the-mill Haitian is handy, easily directed, and gives a hard day’s labor for 20 cents, while in Panama the same day’s work cost $3.”  As plantation agriculture displaced peasants into urban slums, these advantages for US corporations grew so that the 13 companies active in 1966 had become 154 by 1981, accounting for 40% of Haiti’s exports.

The Docs and the IMF 

Haiti was also a victim of the Cold War anti-‘communist’ backlash, having to endure the bloodthirsty Duvalier dictatorship which ran from 1957 to 1986 first under Francois Duvalier (known as Papa Doc) and then under his son Jean-Claude or Baby Doc.  Francois had come to power as a populist on the basis of a combination of black nationalism and voodoo, but his initial reforms were soon replaced by a personal dictatorship. Their rule was in part maintained through death squads, known as the Tonton Macoutes, who were kept loyal by being given land confiscated from peasants. It’s estimated that over 30,000 Haitians were killed under this regime. Throughout this period the US continued military and economic aid as thousands of Haitians fled the country.

This foreign investment, counter to neoliberal orthodoxy, did not bring prosperity.  In fact alongside IMF-ordered Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs), poverty soared; by 1986, 60% of Haitians were earning less than 60 dollars a year.  This was not helped by the USAID-World Bank development strategy begun in 1981 which had the goal of forcing the economy “toward deeper market interdependence with the United States.”  This was achieved by shifting 30% of the arable land from food for local consumption to export cash crops. Twenty years ago Haiti produced enough rice to feed its own population, today 75% of the rice eaten is imported from the US making it the third largest importer of US rice in the world.  Haitian rice production was wrecked not only by the shift to cash crops, but also by the dumping of surplus, subsidized US rice, driving Haitian producers out of production. Chicken production was similarly destroyed by the dumping of dark chicken meat, which US consumers find unacceptable, in Haiti.  Finally pig production was wrecked by US insistence on the mass slaughter of domestic Haitian pigs and their replacement with other varieties that proved much more vulnerable to disease.

The World Bank recommended that private enterprise be expanded through privatisation of social services and minimizing the cost (to the state) of education.  Over 80% of education for Haitian children is now private. Tens of thousands tried to flee this poverty by building rafts and setting out for the US, but unlike Cubans who were generally fleeing less extreme conditions almost none were given refugee status and thousands were deported back to lives of misery and cheap labour for US corporations.  On the positive side, 1986 saw the overthrow of the ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier dictatorship. When, in 1985, the people of Haiti had risen up again against the Duvalier dictatorship, one of their first acts was to pull down the Port-au-Prince statue of Christopher Columbus and throw it into the sea, demonstrating that ordinary Haitian people understand the role foreign intervention has played in their past even if few outside do.

Aristide and Lavalas

As Duvalier was taken into exile by the US Air Force, General Henri Namphy was backed by the US as a replacement.  He was opposed by the  populist priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide, but the 1987 elections saw the use of death squads and Aristide’s church was attacked shortly afterwards, forcing him to flee after 13 had been killed and 77 injured.  Aristide stood at the last minute in the 1990 elections and won 67% of the vote.  The second place candidate, a World Bank official, received only 14% despite being backed by the US.  No worries, Aristide was only allowed seven months between his inauguration in February 1991 and a coup backed by the old economic elite that September.  In the two weeks after the coup, the army killed over 1000 people and up to 5000 were killed by death squads under the junta.  They targeted radical unions and community groups in particular.   The Organisation of American States voted to impose sanctions on Haiti but the US ensured these were ineffective and it later emerged that both Bush and Clinton had secretly given the OK for Texaco Oil Corporation to pass the ‘blockade’. What the blockade did do was intercept some 42,000 Haitians trying to flee the murderous regime by boat and force them to return to Haiti.   

After the military had a few years to repress the popular movements, the US forced the junta to step down by sending thousands of Marines and Special Forces to Haiti, occupying it for just over six months. Under occupation the US imposed a compromise  ‘national unity government’ when brought together Aristide (who had got 67% of the vote), the old elite who had got 1.7% of the vote and the army who had the guns.  Out of this the US-preferred candidate from the elections was made Prime Minister despite the fact he’d only received 14% in the elections and his program of neoliberal restructuring was imposed.  “Aristide agreed to pay the debts accumulated under the kleptocratic Duvalier dictatorships, slash the civil service, open up Haiti to “free trade’ and cut import tariffs on rice and corn in half.” In 1996 Aristide’s original Prime Minister was elected President with 88% of the vote.  

In 2000, Aristide was again elected President with almost 92% of the vote but the turn out was low due to an opposition boycott of the elections. The US used this as an excuse to cut off much needed aid, much of which was funnelled instead to opposition groups over the next four years.  In a 2006 interview Aristide was keen to not claim credit for the popular movements but rather said his election was an “expression of the mobilisation of the people as a whole”.  This is also argued by activist journalist Patrick Elie who was a junior cabinet minister during Aristide’s first presidency. In a 2003 Znet interview, he describes the post-Duvalier “profound movement within the Haitian population that would turn into thousands of grassroots organizations. It was this movement that was the origin of the Haitian saga of the last 20 years. It was this movement rather than the political parties that stood up against the return of dictatorship. It was this movement that confronted the military government when it tried to control the election in 1987 and this movement that swept Aristide into power in 1990… Lavalas is a political philosophy, not a party. Lavalas and the popular movement are one in the same. It was the name coined for it by President Aristide. But he did not invent the reality of it, he just put a name on it. He doesn’t own it. It owns him.” Patrick is one of the critical voices about the development of Lavalas saying at the end of 2005 that “there was no strategy put forward by Fanmi Lavalas. They only had a slogan; ‘Bring President Aristide back.’  And I’d like to compare it to the situation back in the war of independence when the French came in and snatched away Toussaint Louverture.  The masses then did not say ‘Bring Louverture back,’ they developed an alternative toward independence which had become indispensable because it was the only way to secure the abolishment of slavery.“In 2003 Aristide demanded that France repay Haiti 21 billion, the equivalent of all the money Haiti had been forced to pay France from the treaty of 1825 as ‘compensation’ for the abolition of slavery.  On February 4th a rebel group called the National Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Haiti seized control of Gonaïves, the fourth biggest city.  This group had until September 2003 been the main gang in that city and had been known as the Cannibal Army, the name was changed in the aftermath of the murder of their leader, a former Aristide supporter, in that month.

It’s claimed that the group had been backed by the US and included former death squad members, in any case they rapidly ‘took’ Cap-Haïtien, the second biggest city and then advanced on the capital. In his 2006 interview Aristide said “There was no great insurrection: there was a small group of soldiers, heavily armed, who were able to overwhelm some police stations, kill some policemen and create a certain amount of havoc. The police had run out of ammunition, and were no match for the rebels’ M16s. But the city was a different story. The people were ready, and I wasn’t worried.” It was later claimed by Aristide’s lawyer that that at least some of the M-16s used by the rebels were those that the United States had given to the Dominican military a year previously.  

Naomi Klein interviewed Aristide in 2005 and reported that, back in 1994, after the first coup, “Washington’s negotiators made one demand that Aristide could not accept: the immediate selloff of Haiti’s state-owned enterprises, including phones and electricity. Aristide argued that unregulated privatization would transform state monopolies into private oligarchies, increasing the riches of Haiti’s elite and stripping the poor of their national wealth.” In her article reporting this, Klein also wrote of the 2004 coup that “Turning Haiti over to this underworld gang out of concern for Aristide’s lack of “good governance” is like escaping an annoying date by accepting a lift home from Charles Manson.”

As the rebels approached Port-au-Prince, France used its veto in the UN to block the deployment of a peace keeping force. At this point, Aristide was kidnapped from his home by US marines and bundled on a flight to the Central African Republic where the government arrested and detained him.  After this, and just three days after the original UN vote, France voted for the deployment of ‘peacekeepers’ and then, the occupation of Haiti, which has continued to the present, began.

The proxy occupation

The occupation is called the United Nations Stabilization Mission (MINUSTAH) and it is significant for involving the militaries and police from a wide range of South and Central American countries, led by the Brazilian army.  This composition has attracted less international opposition that an occupying force made for the old imperialist powers would be but in 2005, the then MINUSTAH force commander, Lieutenant-General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira testified at a congressional commission in Brazil that “we are under extreme pressure from the international community to use violence”, mentioning Canada, France, and the United States in particular as the source of that pressure.

The US peacekeepers declared war on neighbourhoods where the social movements were active and in particular on Cité Soleil, home to up to 300,000 people, which was originally designed to house workers for the local Export Processing Zone.  A July 6th 2005 raid on the Cité Soleil shanty town probably saw at least 20 killed. 75% of the wounded who turned up at one clinic were women and children.  Estimates of the number killed that day have been as high as 80.  Cité Soleil has a permanent security checkpoint with armoured vehicles at its entrance and is the target of regular mass incursions by the occupying forces.  In February 2007 some 700 UN troops and police took part in one such incursion, the previous month another raid had officially killed four and injured six.  The UN claims this is to stop criminal activity but many see it as an attempt to crush the social movements.  In any case this methodology of ‘policing’ would never be accepted in New York, Paris or London so why would Haitians have to accept it?  An April 2007 report in The Observer told how after the UN had killed three children they fired tear gas and plastic bullets at a 2,000 strong demonstration against the killings, hitting one of the reporters in the back of the head and causing multiple vehicle crashes. A 2005 report from the Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights claimed that the UN “effectively provided cover for the police to wage a campaign of terror in Port-au-Prince’s slums” which are “an unflinching bastion of support for Aristide and for Lavalas.” An earlier November 2004 investigation by the University of Miami School of Law found that “summary executions are a police tactic.”

Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas today, and even ahead of the earthquake, most of the population live in extreme poverty, 70% living on less than 2 dollars a day.  The global rise in food prices in 2008 resulted in major riots in April during which the UN occupation forces shot several people dead and injured dozens.  Crowds chanting “We are hungry! He must go!”tried to storm the presidential palace demanding the resignation of President Rene Preval. They were driven away by Brazilian UN troops with assault rifles, tear gas and rubber bullets. According to Al Jazeera the food shortages were also caused by “new customs procedures aimed at collecting revenues and stopping the flow of drugs” which had “left tons of food rotting in ports, especially in the country’s north.”  The senate subsequently voted to dismiss the Prime Minister and the President was forced to announce a 15% drop in the cost of rice, the staple food. In April, Fanmi Lavalas was banned from standing in the elections resulting in a boycott by most of the population with a turnout only in the region of 8%. In August, when Rene Preval refused to sign a minimum wages law for the clothing export sector, police used tear gas to disperse a demonstration of 2,000 textile workers. Preval said the workers should only receive 3 dollars a day; a UN report released ahead of the parliamentary vote had threatened that while clothing exports to the US could create hundreds of thousands of jobs “factories’ overhead costs must be kept low.”

Imperialism’s Humanitarian Mask

This is the actual record of foreign intervention in Haiti, an intervention that is once more escalating in the wake of the earthquake.  In the modern world, imperialism almost always wears a humanitarian mask, we are told the 10,000 US Infantry now being deployed in Haiti are there to help the people despite the M4 rifles they carry, their authorization to use lethal force and the long and bloody history of the US Military in Haiti.  Very quickly after the earthquake the US Heritage Foundation advocated taking advantage of the earthquake to impose neoliberal restructuring on the people of Haiti, putting a statement on their website  that argued that, “the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti earthquake offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti’s long-dysfunctional government and economy.”  This was only up for a couple of hours before someone realised it was perhaps a little too honest and it was removed, however it had already been copied and has been put into widespread circulation by Naomi Klein among others.

Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine, looks at how capitalism uses crises to impose restructuring on people that would otherwise resist. In recent years the mass of the people of Haiti have suffered greatly under occupation-imposed restructuring programs. Of course, as usual, there is also that narrow ruling layer that have done well out of acting as local agents for the occupation, or which have been able to use the occupation forces to suppress protest at the poor pay and conditions they offer to those who work from them and rent from them.  Historically, as we have seen, the interests of early capitalism saw the original inhabitants worked to death for the gold that fueled the expansion of European capitalism and then saw millions of Africans enslaved for the sugar plantations that enabled the young capitalist system to expand.  It will be a tragedy if the huge social needs created by this earthquake are allowed to once more create the conditions under which future generations of Haitians are enslaved by poverty and desperation.

A week after the earthquake it is becoming clear that this is what is in process.  On Thursday the IMF announced a further $100 million loan, pushing Haiti’s debt to the IMF to $265 million.  By 2003 Haiti’s debt service was already approaching 150% of the amount being spent on education, health care and other services.  The previous IMF loan was conditional on Haiti raising prices for electricity and refusing pay increases to all public employees except for those on the minimum wage, and although the strings attached to the latest loan are not yet visible, the history of IMF policies, in Haiti and around the world, in utilising loans as a tool for the implementation of neoliberal policies.

The people of Haiti made an enormous contribution to the struggle for freedom when they rose up and overthrew slavery in the 1790’s.  But as we have seen the history of imperialist powers imposing economic and social policy did not end then, it carried on to the present day when it appears the earthquake will be the ‘opportunity’ to force the survivors to accept what they would otherwise have resisted.  A popular Haitian proverb says ‘Tanbou prete pa janm fè bon dans‘ or ‘A borrowed drum never makes good dancing‘ illustrating a general awareness of what the role of outside intervention has really been and if imperialist intervention did not end in the 1790’s nor did the resistance of the people of Haiti to that intervention, that also carries on to the present day.  Solidarity with the people of Haiti does not start and end with this tragic earthquake but must extend to the struggles they will fight in its aftermath against the ‘disaster capitalism’ that is now being imposed.

Andrew Flood – Jan 2010

This article was first printed on indymediaireland.ie and is reprinted here with permission of the author.

Some sources and further reading

Noam Chomsky,Year 501: The Conquest Continues.

 Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra: The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic

CLR James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution

Argentina: Factory Occupations End With Workers’ Control

In December last year two factories in Argentina were socialised after almost two years of struggle by the workers.

The factories are Disco de Oro and Febatel- Febatex. The first makes dough for pastries and cakes and the second is a textile factory.

At the beginning of 2009 the boss of Disco de Oro used the economic crisis as an excuse to cut workers pay. Holiday pay and salaries were then withheld. Finally he decided to send the workers home claiming that there wasn’t enough raw material to produce dough in the factory and that he wanted to fix some of the machinery.

In reality he planned to strip the factory and shut it down. When the workers realised what was going on they decided to occupy the factory and spend night and day there watching until they could start using the factory by themselves. They eventually started working as a cooperative, making the same products they used to make. And last month after a year of struggle the workers are finally the legal owners of the factory.

Febatex, now called Cooperativa Textil Quilmes, also had a boss who owed them pay and who tried to close down the factory. Before the economic crisis there were 120 workers at Febatex – the boss started firing people until there were only 10 left. The workers decided to resist and occupy the factory to prevent the owners taking away the machinery and started camping on the doors of their workplace. They stayed there for 14 months until last December when they socialised the factory with all 120 workers running it themselves without a boss. They received the support of neighbours and workers associations all over the world, which helped them to get through those difficult days.

http://trabajadoresdefebatex.blogspot.com/

http://obrerosdiscodeoro.blogspot.com/

Elisa

Belgrade 6 Free!

At the first Organise! public  meeting in the new Warzone centre in Belfast Anthony Crowther, acting secretary for the anarcho-syndicalist International Workers Association, gave detailed updates on the situation with the FAU Berlin and the Belgrade 6. In the last issue of the Leveller we reported on the state arrest and detention of the Belgrade 6.

Tony’s talk was described afterwards as “powerful” and he did justice to both topics in great depth, with humour, passion, feeling and without notes.

We are reproducing an article written by Tony immediately after the release of our comrades on 17th February:

There was a tremendous turn out of supporters for the start of the Belgrade 6 case. There was also many supporters from outside Serbia, which included may supporters from the IWA sections. All the main Serbian TV channels were also present.

Little information come from inside the courts, so it was a long day for supporters waiting outside with all sorts of conflicting rumours circulating about what was happening inside. Our concerns were only increased when several anarchist from Croatia were arrested for unfolding a banner which read ANARCHISM IS NOT TERRORISM. They now face up to a month in prison.

At 3.30pm loud clapping come from inside the court. A few minutes later supporters, who had been allowed in the court, emerged to announce that the Belgrade 6 were going to be released in effect on bail. There was plenty of confusion but it later confirmed that they were going to be released until March 23rd when they would still face terrorist charges.

But the fact that they had been released was a tremendous victory. Later in the evening the Belgrade 6 were informed that the charges of terrorism would be dropped and replaced with a lesser charge.

Needless to say the mood among the family and supporters was euphoric.
At the meeting after the release we were informed about some disturbing treatment the Belgrade 6 had received while they were in prison.

The fight is not over, the Belgrade 6 may still face serious charges when they return to court on the 23rd March. We must keep up the pressure on the Serbian state. But the fact that they have been released and the terrorist charges dropped is a massive victory, But the campaign must continue until all charges are dropped and the Serbian state is held accountable for actions.
Long live the IWA
Anthony Crowther

Acting IWA Secretary

British Gas Workers Vote In Favour Of Strike Action

British Gas workers have voted strongly in favour of strikes as a result of what they have called “macho management”.

In a huge turnout of 8,000 balloted workers 82% have supported strike action while 90% have supported taking industrial action short of a strike. The workers’ union, the GMB, has given British Gas a week to respond to the threat of industrial action.

GMB general secretary Paul Kenny said: ”The vote clearly vindicates what we have been telling the company. It is now time for them to sit up and take notice.

”We are giving British Gas a week to give us a constructive response. We want an independent inquiry into the profit at all costs culture at British Gas.

”We will met with shop stewards to determine what form of action should be taken should British Gas fail to lift the conflicting demands on its workforce.”

Workers have voted in favour of industrial action in order to tackle a management culture of bullying, customer exploitation and profits at all costs.

Different Country, Same Old Story…

On the early morning of the 11th November 2008 twenty French political activists were simultaneously arrested in various part of France in connection with 5 incidents of electric train lines being shut down. The police operation involved helicopters, 150 anti-terrorist police and prearranged vast media coverage. Immediately afterwards Michèle Alliot-Marie (minister of home affairs at the time) spoke on TV about anti-terrorist action, linking the persons arrested to supposed ‘ultra-left’ or ‘anarcho-autonomist’ insurrectionist groups. Nine, most of whom are from Tarnac in central France, were subsequently accused of “criminal association for the purposes of terrorist activity”.

They have all since been released one at a time as a result of the little evidence being presented by the state being torn apart by the defence. However the Tarmac 9 still remain under judicial controls, the are not allowed to see each other.

It has since emerged that some of the Tarmac 9 were under huge police surveillance for months and that the main reason for their incarceration was their alleged authorship of the book “L’insurrection qui vient” (The Coming Insurrection). Authored anonymously by the ‘Comité Invisible’ the book advocated revolutionary struggle based on the formation of communes, or affinity groups, in an underground network outside of mainstream politics.

The farce surrounding their arrests and the attempt by the French government to create an enemy within (the anarcho-autonomists), demonstrate again how the state, scared by recent social turmoil (such as the 2005 revolts in the marginalised suburbs, the huge protests against the CPE in 2006, and the riots after Sarkozy’s election in 2007) will do everything to show its power and scare people.

Fr@nky

More information and references:

http://www.radicalphilosophy.com/default.asp?channel_id=2187&editorial_id=27700

http://www.tarnac9.wordpress.com/

Greek Unrest Continues

Two bomb attacks in March 2010, one against the Chrisi Avgi (Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn group) and one against the Police Directorship for Immigrants in Athens mark an escalation of disruption across Greece in the face of economic collapse and ongoing police brutality. Chrisi Avgi have been implicated in murder attempts and arson attacks on immigrants, leftists and anarchists while the Police Directorship for Immigrants (Allodapon) located at Petrou Ralli Avenue in Athens is the “notorious camp-like place where all immigrants have to stand in line for endless hours waiting for papers applications while cops brutalise them indiscriminately.”

Meanwhile a wave of strikes and protest marches continue to hit Greece against severe austerity measures ushered in by the Karolos Papoulias administration to bail out the economy at the expense of workers, once again providing another clear example of the supreme failure that is capitalism. It is thought State negotiations are ongoing with the IMF which could see further cuts in social spending and further inroads for corporate interests. In the current wave of strikes to hit the country GPs have begun withdrawing their services while the DEH union (National Electricity) has declared that failure at talks will see a series of rolling 48 hour strikes which will plunge the country into darkness. Telecommunications, rail and post workers and others from both the private and public sectors are also out in protest.

Strikes grounded flights, idled cargo ships and ferries, and left commuters in Athens without most public transportation. State-run schools, tax offices and municipalities all shut down and public hospitals limped by using emergency staff. The Greek state has already imposed broad spending cuts arguing it is under pressure from the EU to cut salaries in the civil service. Unions say cutting Greeks’ so-called 14th salary – part of annual pay held back as a holiday bonus – for public workers would be taken as “an act of war.”

“If all these measures are enforced, unemployment will skyrocket. Our country will enter a massive recession and unemployment will reach a Europe-wide record,” union spokesman Stathis Anestis said.

“This will be tragic because it will provoke social (unrest) and clashes.”

Examining the latest general strike, the third in the last few weeks alone, anarchist magazine Last Hours commented:

“What could be framed as simply the acts of reformist trade unions now appears as serious social upheaval. Greek authorities have reacted with an iron fist. Another anarchist Lambros Foundas, lies dead after police fired upon a group in the suburb of Dafni, south Athens. Thousands of police fired tear gas and attacked crowds of protesters. Police snatch squads roam the streets making violent arrests.”

Tension has been mounting in Greece for years since the December 2008 murder of 15 year old anarchist Alexandros Grigoropoulos by cops in central Athens with ensuing demonstrations escalating into street confrontation and major rioting, eventually spreading across Greece with solidarity actions occurring across Europe, including Dublin. One Greek tabloid declared it was the worst rioting since the 1974 restoration of democracy. In December of 2009 on the 1st anniversary of Alexi’s death Greece was once again the scene of intense street battles.

But as recession gripped Greece unrest also continued to spread among workers. Propaganda claiming that the Grigoropoulos murder and resulting riots were the work of agents provocateurs fell largely on deaf ears, while the increasingly authoritarian nature of the Greek state along with reinforcement of suppressive “Euro Terror” legislation, anti-immigration laws (rushed through in July 2009) and crippling austerity measures are largely considered to be responsible for mounting tension, and with the Greek government now considering deploying a 7000 strong multinational EU police force to quash unrest, sparks are expected to fly.

Fear and panic also spread among economists across the Euro zone as Greek financial instability threatened other European economies also still firmly in the grip of recession. One German economist noted it could have ‘fatal effects’ on the rest of Europe. According to The Economist:

“2010 could be a year the sparks unrest in the Global Tinderbox: if the world appears to have escaped

relatively unscathed by social unrest in 2009, despite suffering the worst recession since the 1930s, it might just prove the lull before the storm. Despite a tentative global recovery, for many people around the world economic and social conditions will continue to deteriorate in 2010. An estimated 60m people worldwide will lose their jobs. Poverty rates will continue to rise, with 200m people at risk of joining the ranks of those living on less than $2 a day. But poverty alone does not spark unrest—exaggerated income inequalities, poor governance, lack of social provision and ethnic tensions are all elements of the brew that foments unrest.“

Anger is building in Athens and tensions are expected to escalate in the event that an EU multi-national force descends in the city, if not before…

The events in Greece continue to unfold, and as similar reaction to austerity measures in other countries continue to bite, we live in very interesting times…

danny (back2front zine)

il Papa to visit Britain

In a move aimed to “strengthen and confirm” the faith of Catholics in Britain Pope Benedict XVI is to visit the island between September 16th and 19th. This will be the first papal visit since Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1982.

Il papa will kick off his visit in Edinburgh with a Royal reception with the Queen in Holyroodhouse Palace. Then he’s off to Glasgow and Coventry for a couple of public masses and a prayer vigil in London. He will also be meeting up with the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace and drop in for a spot of prayer with other church leaders at Westminster Abbey. There has been no mention of him meeting with survivors of child sexual abuse at the hands of catholic priests.

Despite their draconian new anti-blasphemy laws il duce, sorry papa, will not be visiting Ireland any time soon. The south’s new legislation came into effect on 1st January 2010 and means that blasphemy is now a crime punishable by a €25,000 fine. Perhaps though this isn’t a strong enough deterrent to stop the protests by many hundreds of victims of sexual abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church in Ireland and their supporters.

While the Pope rallies reactionary sentiment against homosexuals (who incidentally he has attempted to blame for child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church—Vatican II let them in you know), attacking the UK equality legislation and Harriet Harman’s attempt at strengthening it, he is also seeking to make it easier for homophobic Anglicans to become Roman Catholics.

Il Duce Ratzinger has called on his bishops to fight any measures which may force churches to hire homosexual and transgender employees with “missionary zeal” and, in sentiment that is not out of step for members of far-right and neo-nazi organisations, denounced the drive for equality for homosexuals as a “violation of natural law”.

An amendment to the Equalities Bill, which would have clarified which positions and organizations could continue to be closed to gay people, was thrown out by the Lords with the help of eight Anglican bishops who voted against it.

Pro-choice groups, gay rights activists, support groups for those abused by priests, atheists, anarchists, socialists and others will be opposing the visit which is estimated will cost about £20million at a time of devastating cut-backs in public spending. The National Secular Society has called for a coalition of protestors to unite against the visit and has created an online petition for those opposed to the Pope’s security bill being footed by the tax payer. We fear that petitions will not be enough to stop the Popes visit – it is a visit that must be met with protests and mobilisations.

Pope Ratzinger is obviously an active opponent of secularism and equality, a man who seeks to perpetuate inequality, prejudice, discrimination and suffering for people who defy “natural law” but is the former member of the Hitler Youth a nazi?

Well while the leader of Opus Dei (then Cardinal) Ratzinger championed the canonization of Spanish fascist priest, Hitler supporter and Opus Dei founder Jose Escriva, who was officially made a saint in 2002. In September 2005, Pope Benedict blessed a newly installed statue of the man that Pope John Paul II said possessed Christian virtues to a “heroic degree”, at St Peter’s Basilica. As Pope, Ratzinger sits at the head of an autocratic institution, from which all power and authority flows down (but seeks to distance itself in relation to any culpability for child sexual abuse on the part of its priests – despite the very clear culpability in an institution that hid offenders and moved them around the world to avoid prosecution and the wrath of their victims). The Vatican itself is a sovereign state and a religious entity; a political, yet religious and hierarchical state that denies homosexuals even the minimum legislative protection found elsewhere in Europe. Nazism was marked out from the rest of fascism by its theories of an Aryan master race and extreme racism, it is unlikely that il Papa would be comfortable with such a position given the multi-ethnic make-up of his church but it does seem irrefutable that he has sympathies with the extremely conservative and reactionary Catholic fascism of Franco.

In the meantime Irreligious T-shirts have launched a design to campaign against the Popes visit which is available from the Leveller for £12.00.

Deezer

Abolish The Church

On Sunday 21st of March mass goers across Ireland heard Pope Benedict XVI’s mealy-mouthed words of ‘apology’ as his pastoral letter was read out by priests in Catholic churches north and south. He apologised for the suffering of victims of paedophile priests, admitting Irish bishops had made “grave errors of judgment” in dealing with them, but did not address well-documented cover-ups by senior clergy. Cover-ups that were ordered by the Vatican, and Ratzinger himself.

Having previously “Upbraided Irish Roman Catholic Bishops”, (in the words of the BBC News at the time), for a “failure… for years to act effectively“, this is nothing more than a publicity stunt aimed at recapturing the “moral authority” of the church in Ireland. An authority damaged over the years as more and more abuse cases became public knowledge and which should have been smashed to pieces with the publishing of two state-ordered reports. Reports that revealed how abuse was rife in many Irish Catholic-run children’s institutions, and how priests who were accused of abuse were just moved by bishops to new parishes.

Child abuse and the protection of abusers is not limited to Ireland. When child sex abuse at the hands of priests hit the news in the USA Ratzinger blamed the state of society – and homosexuals! A 2004 report found evidence in support of almost 7,000 allegations of child sexual abuse in the USA. Today the Churches Chief Exorcist blames Satan himself!

Parishioners in the Bavarian spa town of Bad Tölz learned recently that one of their curates, who had officiated at the children’s mass, and had been camping with their sons and daughters, was a convicted paedophile. A paedophile knowingly moved there by Ratzinger’s deputy himself.

The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, is facing calls for his resignation after he confirmed he had interviewed victims of abuse 35 years ago and swore them to secrecy. Brady was involved, in 1975, in silencing two young victims of Ireland’s most notorious clerical paedophile. On the 21st he was only one of scores of Catholic clergy making similar announcements in the Netherlands, Austria, Germany and the German-speaking parts of Switzerland and Italy. He was, like many of his co-conspirators, only following Vatican orders. Not that that is any sort of defence for Brady, more an indictment of the Catholic Church as a whole.

The Irish Church has admitted covering up abuse for decades. Files were compiled on more than 100 parish priests accused of sexual abuse –  files that were kept secret. Many were simply shifted about and left free to abuse again.

Irish Survivors of Child Abuse founder John Kelly said in response: “We are entitled to expect that the Pope makes those who committed crimes or covered up crimes, including bishops, be made accountable.”

This is a naive hope and one that lets the Pope himself off the hook. The Pope himself must be made accountable. The entire Catholic Church has deliberately sought to cover this up – not just particular Bishops. In doing so it has facilitated abusers and allowed them to continue the abuse. Victims had to overcome the insane levels of faith in individual priests as good an holy men, beyond reproach, and the resultant disbelief among other Catholics (including family and friends). Sworn to secrecy they were also threatened with excommunication and damnation. They have had abuse heaped upon abuse. Ratzinger’s empty words represent more of the same.

In May 2001 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger sent a confidential letter to every Catholic bishop. It asserted the church’s right to hold secret inquiries. It was clearly designed to prevent the allegations from becoming public knowledge or being investigated by anyone but the Church.

Ratzinger’s letter states that the Church can claim jurisdiction in cases where abuse has been ‘perpetrated with a minor by a cleric’ and that the Church’s jurisdiction ‘begins to run from the day when the minor has completed the 18th year of age’ and lasts for 10 years. It ordered that ‘preliminary investigations’ be sent to Ratzinger’s office, which had the option of referring them back to private tribunals in which the ‘functions of judge, promoter of justice, notary and legal representative can validly be performed for these cases only by priests’.

It concluded that ‘Cases of this kind are subject to the pontifical secret.’ Breach of which carried penalties, including the threat of excommunication (and as a result damnation to hell) for the victim of the abuse.

There is only one appropriate response, the Catholic Church should be abandoned and the hold of its dangerous superstitions uprooted. Our children should be withdrawn from the very real danger it represents to them and in Ireland the Church should be separated from the provision of education. Catholic Maintained schools should be abolished. As a prelude to the abolition of the Church itself.

Facebook Revolution

Readers may not be aware, but ‘The Revolution’ actually happened on February 6th 2010. Propaganda for the glorious day began to appear on message boards and social networking sites around the start of January…

SAT. 06.FEB.2010 – EVERY CITY AROUND THE WORLD. WE CHARGE OUR POLITICIANS FOR THE CRIMES WHICH THEY HAVE COMMITED. YOU ARE ALL WELCOME TO JOIN. WE NEED AS MANY PEOPLE, GROUPS, TEAMS, ETC… TO TAKE PART, PLEASE PASS THIS ON TO ALL YOU KNOW.
NO MORE NEW WORLD ORDER. THIS TIME WE WILL STOP THEM. TOGETHER WE WILL MAKE HISTORY !!
SAT 06.FEB.2010 – REVOLUTION !!
SAT. 06.FEB.2010 – EVERY CITY AROUND THE WORLD. WE CHARGE OUR BANKS AND POLITICIANS FOR INVITED TO JOIN. WE NEED AS MANY PEOPLE AND GROUPS TO TAKE PART, PLEASE SHARE THIS WITH EVERYONE YOU KNOW. …THIS NEEDS TO BE SHARED !!

Some of us, especially those of us who had been involved in various anarchist activities for a fair few years were taken aback. Had we wasted all those years putting out papers, supporting strikers, organising meetings and bookfairs etc? Was it simply just a matter of deciding where and when we wanted The Revolution to happen, advertising it on facebook and then ‘just doing it’?

Clearly the answer to the above question is ‘no, it isn’t’, but that didn’t deter the organiser of this ‘event’. He seemed to think that by putting the revolution on facebook he could get 250000 people to meet him in London on the appointed day, whereupon they would simply march the government out of Parliament and we’d all be free. When politely told that he was being no more than an internet fantasist if he thought this could actually happen, he threw something of a strop, accusing his critics of being ‘do-nothing keyboard warriors’. Worse was to come; when a libcom poster who works as a journalist posted up a (clearly tongue-in-cheek and fake) news article containing the line ‘When contacted British Police denied all knowledge of the Revolution and demanded that we stop wasting their time with petty shit.
“There is more chance of Jesus coming back from the dead on February 6th than any of these internet fantasist wankers showing up,” the police spokesperson declared’,
Our Leader suffered something of an internet breakdown registering multiple accounts (personalities?) on libcom.org in order to show the world that libcom had actually really called the cops about his impending insurrection.

The facebook group disappeared shortly afterwards.

Needless to say, nothing whatsoever happened on February 6th, although there are reports of one comrade being arrested after he left a shop without paying for his goods on that date, since he assumed that the revolution had taken place, and so production and distribution had been completely socialised, and money abolished.

The above episode is clearly an extreme caricature of the worst of the ‘Build-it-and-they-will-come’ approach from anarchists. Its a joke, deserves to be treated as such and in truth provides some entertainment and a good giggle at the expense of some very stupid people.

But after you stop laughing, the fact remains that ‘anarchism’ and indeed the full spectrum of ‘left’ groups contain more than a few groups and individuals whose politics have zero class analysis or, worse still, are hostile to class based politics.

Inevitably, these types are only interested in the easy stuff. Do a march-for-the-sake-of-it-that-even-might-turn-into-a-riot that has no relevance to the real lives of anyone else. And then wonder why the rest of us look on bemused. Or don’t even know it happened.

‘The Revolution’, if it ever happens (and given the level and nature of class struggle at the moment, talking about ‘revolution’ frankly makes me cringe a bit) will be made by the working class, and probably not advertised on facebook. Those of us who agree on this will I suppose continue to do the less glamorous-sounding things; supporting working class struggles when and where they do happen, and being at the heart of them if they occur in our own workplace or community.

Solidarity With FAU: German Anarcho-Syndicalist Union

On 29th January members of Organise!, the WSM and a few other comrades picketed the German Embassy in Ireland as part of an international day of solidarity with the Berlin branch of the “Freie Arbeiterinnen- und Arbeiter-Union” (Free Workers Union).

In January 2010 the Berlin Regional Court decided that the local branch of the FAU could no longer call itself a “union” or “grassroots union”. This is the culmination of a series of legal manoeuvres by the management of the cinema “Neue Babylon Berlin GmbH” to hinder the strongest and most active workers’ organisation in the company. This attack is tantamount to a de-facto ban of the union. In the opinion of the FAU, nobody should dictate to the workers how they should organise. “If it isn’t overturned, this verdict will not only represent an affront against the FAU Berlin but also against any form of independent grassroots organising in Germany”.

On January 29th and 30th, 2010, there were protests in at least 56 cities in 20 countries. The bosses at the Babylon Mitte Cinema are now trying to get the FAU Berlin charged with fines or even imprisoned.

The Leveller received reports of protests at Aachen (Germany), Berlin (Germany), Bonn (Germany), Darmstadt (Germany), Duisburg (Germany), Düsseldorf (Germany), Frankfurt/M (Germany), Fukuoka (Japan), Halle/Saale (Germany), Hamburg (Germany), Hannover (Germany), Karlsruhe (Germany), Kassel (Germany), Kiel (Germany), Leipzig (Germany), Moers (Germany), Munster (Germany), Nurnberg (Germany), Recklinghausen (Germany), Schwerin (Germany), Alicante (Spain), Athens (Greece), Barcelona (Spain), Bern (Switzerland), Bilbao (Spain), Bratislava (Slovakia), Brussels (Belgium), Dhaka (Bangladesh), Florence (Italy), Granada (Spain), Goteborg (Sweden), Jerez (Spain), Katrineholm (Sweden), Kiev (Ukraine), Copenhagen (Denmark), Leeds (UK), Lille (France), Liverpool (UK), London (UK), Madrid (Spain), Malaga (Spain), Marseille (France), Oslo (Norway), Paris (France), Philadelphia (USA), Phoenix (USA), Plauen (Germany), Stuttgart (Germany), Thessaloniki (Greece), Trieste (Italy), 2 x Valencia (Spain), Wellington (New Zealand), Wien (Austria), Zaragoza (Spain) so far.

The FAU Berlin said:

“We’d like to thank all those of you in Germany and all around the planet who expressed their solidarity with the FAU Berlin, and their disgust with the management of the Babylon Mitte Cinema and the scandalous verdicts of the Berlin courts. We are deeply touched that we have been the cause of one of the biggest waves of international solidarity within the anti-authoritarian workers movement in the past years. We also would like to thank all those in Germany and other corners of the planet who took action but did not send in reports. And of course those like the Freeters union in Japan, who will take action in the coming days. The struggle has just begun. We were therefore glad to hear that many more unions and organisations – though they did not manage to do anything this time – have announced that they will take action next time”.

 For reports and any further information please contact soli-faub@fau.org

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