Wednesday 29 April 2009

Visteon. Struggle. Solidarity.

Socialist Party. Socialist Workers' Party. Socialist Labour Party. Socialist Alliance. "Why can't you all just work together and have one 'proper' party?". I've heard it from my daughter, thinking about politics for the first time, and I've heard it on the picket line at Visteon. It's a very familiar question to anybody on the Left ... and still a very fair one.

If ever there was an instance when different groups could and should suspend their differences and rivalries it is their support for workers in struggle. But still inevitably there are points of departure between the various groups that actually speak volumes about their differences. And these are important, far more so than sterile debates about whose forebears had the 'correct' position over Mussolini's invasion of Abyssinia in 1936. Or something.

This has certainly been what I have seen in the Visteon dispute at Enfield.

Take the SWP: At the start of the dispute they turned up in very large numbers - now, from what I've seen on the picket line, they seem to have evaporated. Why? I suspect because they thought there were no quick wins for them to make. On the other hand now that the conveners at Visteon in both Enfield and Basildon have joined the Socialist Party and are standing as N2EU candidates in the Euro elections they are condemning the platform as chauvinistic and nationalist. Just as they did with the Lindsey Oil Refinery dispute, they have put themselves outside one of the most significant developments in the labour movement. N2EU is not ideologically 'pure' and is quite possibly not the best tag for a new Left movement - but it is happening right now and it is real. Strange that the SWP were a lot less fussy about far more 'incorrect' Islamo-nuts in the Stop War The Movement. But then again of course that was their own 'thing' that they could pretty much control.

Or take the anarchists. Actually I have a lot more time for them. They don't parachute in and out of the picket line, in fact they work pretty tirelessly in their support. Occasionally they can seem like they inhabit a different planet from ordinary workers with cars, mortgages and the other conventional trappings of modern life. But more seriously, they are so suspicious of anything 'official' or that smacks of the organised Left that whenever there is talk of spreading the dispute - of approaching other union branches or stewards, or lobbying this or that union official, they have very little to say. Tellingly their main focus has been on being support from the general public rather than within the labour movement.

Supporting a struggle is not about simply cheer-leading. If you genuinely think that you or your organisation has something to offer to help build success then you have not only a right but also a duty to share it. Not in a sectarian way and not by lecturing or maneuvering. And if you believe that there is also a bigger picture, that disputes should be linked up and movements built it is perfectly legitimate again to try and get people to join your organisation. And most importantly if you don't convince them you go ahead with the practical support work anyway and don't sulk in the corner. I'd like to think that this approach is why a number of the Visteon workers, including two of the conveners have agreed to join the Socialist Party.

All of which is a preamble to talking about Rob Williams. He is the Unite convener at Linmar in Swansea, formerly a part of Visteon before it was re-badged in previously shenanigans to outsource the manufacture of auto components. It is Rob who has played a major role in taking the cause of the Visteon dispute to various parts of the Ford empire and around the movement generally. I have no doubt that he is the major reason that Visteon workers have turned to the Socialist Party.

Yesterday Rob was dismissed from his job at the Linmar plant. In support the other workers there walked off the line and joined him in an occupation of the union office on the site whilst the police were called to try and evict them. To give Rob your support - send messages to

Monday 27 April 2009

Feelgood weekend

It's come a bit late this year but it was the first Spring-like weekend of the year. (Or at least the first one when I had a bike on the road which is the only sort that really counts).

Each year the first feel good factor of a bit of sun in your face is a reminder of our primeval and pagan instincts. And this weekend just about every aspect of my usual pastimes was improved by the sun:

Saturday morning - I visited the Visteon picket line. The mood of the workers was good and optimistic with progress made in involving other Ford sites, and the various supporters actually seem to be working (more or less) together for once.

Saturday afternoon - I picked up my 883R/1200 from the workshop after its chain conversion and took it for a run up to the High Beach tea hut. It was about closing time but I got into chewing the fat for half an hour with a couple of guys from the Rider's club who were up there.

Sunday morning - I got to messing about in the garden doing some forms for the benefit of my kids. I did the long pole form (Luk Dim Boon Gwan) for once - I don't often get to do that during weekday training as it takes up too much space so I was happy to find that I could still do it.

Sunday afternoon - into town to the Globe Theatre for a performance of Romeo & Juliet. First we got in a tour of the nearby excavation of the Rose Theatre. I love the idea of that part of Southwark as the sleaze centre of Elizabethan London. Bear-baiting, brothels, violent ale houses and the stench of open sewers running through the street - it's a nice contrast to the sensibilities of today's' 'theatre-going public'. And walking over the Millennium foot bridge to St Paul's for the tube home - the same route that Christopher Wren would have taken every day in a ferry boat possibly steered by one of my ancestors - there is a sense of continuity (both good and bad) with what it has always meant to be a Londoner.

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Laptops. Kuniyoshi. Graphic craftsmanship.

My laptop died at work. Pathetically I felt completely impotent for a day, not sure what could be salvaged or whether to restart on-going projects.

So whilst the IT boys here worked their magic to rebuild the laptop, I sneaked off for a couple of hours to the Kuniyoshi exhibition at the Royal Academy.

The demographics of the visitors were a pretty good guide to the appeal of the exhibition. It was a quiet mid-morning but there was a mixture of the usual chattering classes - 'friends of the RA' types - Japanese tourists (unsurprisingly) - students - and some tattoo 'alternative' types. The latter because of course both the style and subject matter are very similar to the Japanese school of tattooing.

I was struck mainly by how very modern the prints looked. The craft of making the prints from wood-cuts makes them look like tattoos - or comic books - like both these processes a black outline is filled with colour. And the colours:the reds ,blues and greens are much more vivid than you would find in western prints of the same era.

There was one glass case explaining the print-making purpose I was struck by the interplay between the art and the craft.
This is a subject close to my heart - at work we occupy the space where in graphic terms art and craft meet, and it's a pet subject of mine that the creative disciplines can only be as good as their less glamorous artisan poor relations. It's why I struggle with 'conceptual art'.

I've just read a book - Colour by Victoria Finlay - which pretty much says the same thing: We only view art through the lens of the practical crafts that execute it. So for example; our modern view of Turner is defined by the fact that he didn't seem to give a toss about the quality of the paint he used. Consequently the crappy colours have degraded over the years and given a much softer and subdued effect than he ever intended.

... Meanwhile my laptop has now been restored to its former glory. Nothing 'business critical' has gone but I'm extremely pissed off to have lost five years worth of my i-tunes library.

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Another bullying bastard in uniform

Picture taken just before the footage everyone has seen on the BBC: Tiny woman armed with orange juice carton threatens giant angry cop who responds with 'proportionate force' by swatting her with a back-hander and then bringing her to the ground with a steel baton to the legs.

There's a sweet irony that the all-invasive use of CCTV and cameras that has turned us into a surveillance state is now being used to expose police brutality.Which is no doubt why this cunt has obviously tried to hide the numbers on his epaulets to escape identification. Happily it didn't work and he's now been suspended.

Anything less than a conviction for GBH would be a whitewash - let's hope for a custodial sentence I imagine he'd be in for an interesting time inside.

Tuesday 14 April 2009

Older brother for Sportster

I have been getting increasingly pissed off whilst my bike has been off the road waiting for parts to do a chain conversion. Matters came to a head last week and so I did the obvious thing - I brought a spare Sportster.

I've often thought that it would be handy to have two bikes so that I always had one on the road. Common sense would say that the second bike should be some cheap reliable hack - like a Japanese 250. But then again I've also often thought that it would be cool to have a project bike to fuck around with - this would just have to be a Harley. So I put the two ideas together - and brought a second Sportster.

It was an impulsive buy but not as extravagant as it may sound - this was a very low mileage 1989 XLH1200 model that had been stored for some time. It is distinctly tatty and needs a bit of tidying up. It also is festooned in "Live to ride. Ride to live" crap that will have to go. Along with the hideous buck-horn bars and pannier supports.

On the positive side it is of an age when chain drive was standard - so my recent experiences of belts snapping won't be repeated. On the negative side it is of an age when the four speed gearbox was still to be updated. These are agricultural at the best of times, but I suspect that the clutch on mine is shagged anyway. There seem to be any number of false neutrals but I can never actually engage the real neutral !

This makes riding in town 'interesting' to say the least. But on the open road it rides very nicely - and differently from my 2003 XL883R/1200 conversion. It certainly made the bank holiday Southend run without any problems - and even got a few admiringly looks for its old school / lived-in 'vintage' charm alongside the gleaming weekend-only bikes of some of the HOG-types

Despite having all sorts of plans - apart from sorting the transmission - I'm resisting all temptations to mess about it without it too much until I get the other one back on the road. Watch this space ...

Thursday 9 April 2009

Kettling & Ian Tomlinson

I was going to post the link to the Guardian's video footage showing the attack on Ian Tomlinson by the police that led to his death at the G20 protest. But I didn't - because I can't really think that there is anyone who still hasn't see it - and I now see that the ICC have got the Guardian to take it down in case it 'jeopardizes their inquiry'.

Instead have a look at this online debate - taken from the UK Police forum.

Imagine just for a moment that it was one of their own who had died in similar circumstances. And then think about the arguments being advanced by the coppers to explain/justify/defend the police role at the G20: 'Provocation', 'reasonable force', 'shouldn't have been there' 'brought upon by his own actions', even simply 'blame shared by all' or 'tragic accident'.

Blah-fucking-blah - if a copper had died on a demo after being pushed to the floor by protesters there would be a national witch-hunt as there was after the killing of PC Blakelock at Broadwater Farm.

I'm not calling for the framing of some random policemen to satisfy the public outrage - although of course that is precisely what happened after Broadwater Farm. But at the very least this must immediately lead to the end of the police practice of 'kettling' protests - it is an affront to civil liberties and tragically it was only a matter of time before someone died.

(By the way have a look at the picture again - see what's on the back of the jacket of the copper with his arm raised... maybe he's just trying to revive someone vigorously ...)

Monday 6 April 2009

Visteon - occupation at Enfield site

I wrote about leafleting a local factory a few months ago. At the time I was fairly downbeat about the situation there and sank into reminiscence. Turns out I was wrong and that the redundant workers at Visteon Enfield are now in a roof top occupation of the plant. I was there again this Saturday for a rally to support them.

What has happened at Visteon is pretty much a tale of what has happened to British manufacturing industry in general. Ten years ago this was a Ford plant but a decision was made to 'outsource' component manufacturing and so the former Ford staff were transferred to Visteon under their previous terms of employment.

More recently production at the Visteon site has been progressively run down as suppliers with cheaper labour costs have been used - there are rumours of production moving to South Africa . In what can only be seen as a cynical use of a good day for bad news - the week of the G20 was used to announce the closure of the plant. The workforce were told that the company had gone into administration and that they were to quit the building more or less immediately. Contrary to the promises made by Ford, the redundancy payments from Visteon do not honour the old contracts.

Regardless of the legality or morality of the situation - unless the dispute now spreads to Ford itself it is difficult to see a way forward. But this is a real possibility, and the way in which the occupation has snowballed from Visteon's Belfast factory to the Basildon and Enfield sites is an indication of how these situations can be escalated.

I don't know how this is going to play out, but I am sure though that this dispute, and others like it, are are of far more significance than breaking a few windows at a bank.

Messages of support to:

Thursday 2 April 2009

They predict a riot

And despite all the hype it didn't happen. Even with the smashing of a bank's windows, the death of a protester and the heaviest police presence in London that I can remember.

The much-touted images of some isolated violence were counter-balanced with those of a carnival of ridicule: The massed crowd in Trafalgar Square sang happy birthday to Tony Benn, a bloke dressed as Jesus holding a placard reading 'drive out the moneylenders' hilariously interviewed by the BBC, and a vintage armoured car decorated as a police riot vehicle with the occupants nicked for being (very unconvincingly) dressed as coppers.

But the riot-hype did go somewhere to achieving it's goal of demonising protest and promoting the idea that protesters are something other than ordinary people. Talking at work, I can see that this lie has taken some hold and I needed to do some convincing that the same people who go on demonstrations have jobs, families and watch Eastenders.

Yesterday showed not only that, to paraphrase Lenin, the state depends upon truckloads of tooled-up coppers, but also, to paraphrase Gramsci, that it needs to win hearts and minds too. The very fact that this is necessary in itself shows a fear of an emerging consensus that capitalism is possibly not such a great idea.

All of which eclipses the G20 summit itself:

The fact that it is at the Excel conference centre makes me think that it is probably as meaningless as business events that I have attended at the same venue. The comparison holds up because ultimately the G20 produces no votes and no decisions - just a 'consensus statement'. Very much like a business conference - verbose key note speeches that don't really say anything other than bland platitudes. And endless 'networking' opportunities so that inanities can be exchanged such as 'did you have to come far?'; "how was the traffic?'; and 'did you enjoy Jamie Oliver's dinner last night?' Meanwhile the real deals and decisions are made over a mobile phone in the car park.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Hail to the chief

I'll scream if I see another cut-away drawing of 'Air Force One' or the presidential car 'the beast' . Or hear any more stories of the medical team that is accommodated on the president's jet, or the electronic counter-weapons on board, or the sealed panic room inside his car that can withstand a chemical attack.

Don't think for a moment that it's simply about practical security - it's a carefully constructed image that is supposed to impress upon us a sense of awe at the power of the US state.

But just like the dark glasses and the mormon suits on the secret service guys - it all just seems a bit silly and over-blown.

It also seems ironic that what is supposedly the world's most powerful democracy is so concerned about the safety of one man - and that he is treated with the reverence accorded a medieval monarch or pope.

But flaunting all this in a foreign country seems particularly insensitive and arrogant. Let's face it - the president faces a far greater risk of assassination from some homegrown white-supremacist redneck than he does from an islamo-mentalist or a European anarchist.