Tuesday 29 March 2011

Nice cop. Nasty cop. Lying bastard cops.

Of the 201 people arrested on Saturday's demo - 145 were from the distinctly fluffy UkUncut occupation at the discerning toff's favourite tax-dodging grocer Fortnum & Mason.

Have a look at the footage below and the exchanges between the softly-softly female chief inspector and the legal observor inside the store and contrast with the robo-cop from the TSG a short while later:

The nice inspector tells the protestors that they are going to be 'let go'  and that as they are 'non-violent and sensible',  that on leaving the store they will be taken to a safe area to avoid getting themselves caught up in some breaches of the peace so that they can then 'get away to the tube stations'.

What happens next is that the protestors are taken into a kettle manned by the likes of  robo-cop, where they are held, a few of them are smacked around a bit and then they are all individualy arrested -  and subsequently held at police stations for hours until charged on Sunday.

Monday 28 March 2011

Empty rhetoric to the right. Stunts to the left.

Like one of two others I marched - or to be more accurate wearily but happily trudged - on Saturday's demonstration. Being somewhere near the back I didn't get to Hyde Park until after 4pm - and then I had a wander around Oxford Street and the West End to have a look at some of the other actions there.

Earlier on when I had spotted my local MP,  'David - pull up the ladder behind me - Lammy' and a contingent from the local Labour Party I feared that the march was in danger of being hijacked by an unrepresentative minority. My worst fears were later confirmed when I saw on TV the speech from Ed Milliband that I'd missed in the park. (Incidentally remember a time when Labour leaders at least felt obliged to join in with marches ? None of that nonsense for our Ed). A number of ConDems have quite justifiably pointed out the hollow opportunism of this - despite all Ed's talk of the civil rights movement and the Suffragettes  essentially  Labour has the same position as the government on the cuts.  They claim that for every £10 the government cuts Labour would cut £9 - and in local authorities such as my own this is already what is  happening.

On the other hand on Saturday night we put up at our house  a few of my daughters' friends from out of town that she had met on other student protests.  They'd missed their coach back after having been run around the West End in the evening and were buzzing with tales of the actions there against shops and banks. Most of this was youthful bravado and I imagine they were  cheerleaders rather than hardened activists of the black bloc - but it got me thinking. If I was their age - and most importantly if I hadn't grown up in the context of a Labour movement background in the 1980s with some political points of reference that weren't completely useless - I think I would feel the same way. 

Re-reading that sentence it could me misconstrued as patronising - it really isn't - I think the instincts of this new generation are fantastic, I just wish they were better focused:

We need stunts - and let's be clear occupying a shop or trashing a bank are publicity stunts not 'violence'. We also even need a bit of rhetoric - although not the empty rhetoric of a bankrupt leadership. But most of all we need action - industrial action. Because at the end of the day only that will stop these attacks on our living conditions. We can argue the niceties of the slogans - an all out general strike or a public sector strike, 24 hours or indefinite, official or unofficial - but above all we need action.

The cliche of the slumbering giant of organised labour is  over-used but if ever it was appropriate it was on Saturday. And when everything else settles down  the most important thing to take from the demo is that it might just be a step in building the confidence for it to finally stir out of bed.

Thursday 24 March 2011

The sheer cheek of it.

When I came home from work to find a personalised letter from Haringey Council Leader Claire Kober I assumed it was just another vacuous piece of feel-good PR from the council along the lines of the cringe'worthy 'Haringey People' magazine that is regularly sent to all residents of the borough. 

However closer reading showed it to be from the councillor in her Labour Party capacity. Asking around a few other local people none of them had received it - so I can only think that my name must be on some database as a former Labour Party member. It's safe to say that they must be getting pretty bloody desperate - I think I left the Labour Party as recently as 1991 or 1992. I can't be sure because embarrassingly I didn't have the badge of honour of actually being expelled. I just didn't renew my subs, and even  that was  after a year or two of simply  ignoring the local party as the irrelevant and moribund organisation it had become over the poll tax period.

Essentially the letter  explained how horrible the ConDems were  and how the cuts they were making would devastate Haringey - along with an explanation of how in spite of this the local Labour Party  were heroically doing their best to mitigate the damage. 

So as well as giving me her reassurance that they will save what they can (apart obviously from all the stuff they voted a couple of weeks ago to cut), I am invited to join Councillor Klober in her 'campaigning against these savage cuts'. And most extraordinarily to join her in marching for an alternative on 26th March...!!!

Monday 21 March 2011

March for the alternative-or more of the usual ?

There's a lot of talk  about parallels  between the TUC anti-cuts demo on the 26th March and the anti-war demo of 2003 -  and the dangers of allowing the  mood to similarly evaporate. Fair enough. I would also throw in memories of the TUC demo against pit closures in 1992 - a huge demo that really turned out to be nothing than more than a wake for something lost quite a while before. But despite being a jaded old veteran who has been marched up and down the hill many times over, I'm not embarrassed to say that I'm actually getting excited at the prospect of next week's demo. 

Although this is not also without a degree of wariness:

The TUC - having clearly gone in to full panic mode upon realising that they have probably unleashed something they can't control -  seem to be in danger of turning the demo in to one focused against themselves.   Of course there's the usual  phenomena of both them and the Labour Party trying to use the event as some sort of  pressure release valve. You know the drill - have a day out in the capital, get roused up by Tony Benn then go home and hope that everyone is  too distracted to notice that it's Labour councils delivering the cuts and the union leadership standing back to allow them.  A new development this time  though is TUC's plans for stewarding - from the use of private sub-contractors to an unprecedented integration with the police control and communications.  This would seem to indicate a conscious tactic to use the stewards as the first line of policing. More surprisingly Liberty - an organisation I've always had respect for -  have allowed themselves to be compromised by being co-opted into the operation as 'officially sanctioned' legal observers. 

All of which will on the day re-direct the anger of a significant layer of the demonstrators towards the march's orgainisers. And on this other side of the fence some people are already seeing the 26th as the catalyst for some sort of quasi-insurrectionary moment. Amidst the perfectly justified plans for 'unofficial' actions and platforms there is also an awful lot of bollocks being spoken about the politics of  the street and the creation of autonomous zones.  Don't get me wrong here I'm all for the idea of camping overnight in Hyde Park to make a point about who legitimately  controls public spaces - but talk of turning the park into Tahrir Square not only massively mistakes the current political situation it also dis-respects the position facing comrades in Egypt. And if not carefully handled can be a form of vanguardism that will provoke the full wrath of the state on a wider layer.

And in the interests of being even-handed in my wariness: My heart sinks when I see that my own organisation - no doubt like most others on the Left - has inevitably set targets for paper sales and recruitment. It all looks horribly like the crap I have to put up with at work and is equally ineffective motivationally.

Demonstrations are just that - demonstrations of a wider movement.  They are not revolutions - although historically they can and have been the catalysts for revolutions but there's always a context to this. More often they are milestones in building something. And they are no less important for that.

Thursday 17 March 2011

Kronstadt anniversary

By sheer coincidence,  following my piece about a rapprochement between Anarchists and Marxists, I got asked to write something for On This Deity around the anniversary of Kronstadt.

I attempted to write it in the spirit of 'truth and reconcilliation' - if it pisses off the polemicists from either side of the debate then I'll know I've hit the right note.

Self determination. Yesterday. Today. Always.

It's a hobby horse of mine so indulge me for a moment - this is going somewhere:

Maybe it's because I had a Roman Catholic background, maybe it's because I just have a thing for hairy 'barbarians' - but I tend to regard the Roman Empire as the root of many present day evils. Perhaps  my on-going  collection of iron-age tattoos is some kind of subliminal protest.

I've blogged before about how it was historians from later empires - and most notably the British one - who presented the Romans as the great civilising force of the Western world.  This has increasingly been challenged by a generation of archaeologists and historians who paint a picture of indigenous peoples doing quite nicely thank you on their own before the Romans ever came along. In particular the 'Ancient Britons' have been shown to have a sophisticated and far-reaching culture based on exchange rather than conquest. The latest example of this is a road in Shropshire previously assumed to be an example of that  Roman engineering that brought civilisation to the dark and savage corners of Europe - such as Britannia - but in fact has been discovered to pre-date the Roman invasion of Britain in 43CE.

But why should this matter to anybody other than people like myself with an eccentric interest in our distant past ?

Because again there is an ideological offensive around the civilising role of empires. We see  this in the  thinly disguised propaganda of  Niall Fergusson's pompous new tv series. And most urgently we  see it in the Blair-ite concept of liberal interventionism in the Middle East and the call for western nations to step in to 'help' democratise the region.

Whether in Shropshire two thousand years ago, or in Libya today, history is testament to mankind's infinite capacity to struggle to improve its environment - physical and social - and to do so best when left to it's own devices.

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Sign Of The Times

Shit you couldn't make up: 

I'm sitting in a noodle bar in the West End having my lunch when I notice that the suit sitting next to me has one of those complimentary nylon briefcase things that they give out at conferences and exhibitions - usually with the sponsors' branding. 

Only this one says "Public Sector Efficiency Expo" - and the strapline reads 'doing more with less'... Fuck.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Is the Olympics bollocks ?

Well if you take the view of my other half that essentially all sport is bollocks - then obviously so is the Olympics. I feel the same way about ballet, opera and a lot of classical music but that gets me branded as a philistine.

More seriously though, if you take the view of community activists you would also conclude correctly that the claims to be giving a social and economic leg-up to a particularly depressed part of London are nothing more than a thinly disguised bit of big business' brand promotion and nationalistic willy-waiving.

Despite  acknowledging the politics of  all this, even so I have found myself applying for tickets today - for boxing, judo and wrestling. I can't even claim to be a follower of any of these sports  - although they come closest to my own martial arts - so I suppose I am just going for the spectacle. My dad still talks about going to the 1948 Olympics and it simply  feels too much like a once in a lifetime opportunity to let pass.

Although I do hope for suitably shambolic opening and closing ceremonies. Something quintessentially  British - maybe a brass band, morris dancers and Bruce Forsyth as master of ceremonies. Recalling the grandiose  Fascistic precision of the Beijing celebrations still sends a shiver down my spine.

Friday 11 March 2011

Census snooping

I had a little peak inside my census form yesterday. Fucking hell ! I do tend to suffer from a kind of form-o-phobia at the best of times but I don't remember it being as extensive and intrusive  as this ten years ago. 

I've heard it said on a few occasions now tin the anti-cuts movement that we should encourage everyone to fill it in to ensure that we get the public services we need. Hmm. I'm not so sure  there's anything 'progressive' about the census it seems suspiciously like another excuse for the big brother state to stick its nose even further in to our lives.

The people who argue this used to be called Left reformists'  - they have a vision of socialism by social engineering. Ironically often they're the same people who talk about  the Second World War as being the time when the economy was best planned  for the common good (unless you happened to live in Hamburg or Dresden of course). But guess what? - 1941 was the one ten-year interval that we didn't have a census. Just a thought.

A piece in The Guardian reports that we've been feeling  suspicious about the census ever since it started up in 1801.

Like many others I've used the historic census returns published online to get a snap shot of my family history. The early censuses were 'taken' by officials actually calling on people's homes and asking them questions.  Infuriatingly for any historian it's often a bit hit and miss. Names are spelt inconsistently. Place and date of birth varies over the years. In some cases the census taker's scrawl is illegible and throws out some wacky transcriptions - one military ancestor  of mine is recorded as being a private in the 10th Huggers (I'm pretty sure it's meant to say 'hussars'). I've another relative who manages to get recorded in two places at once,  and several who are fishermen and manage to disappear from the record altogether presumably because they were at sea in boats too small to have their own records.

However questionable the data recorded may have been, there weren't many other options at at time when there were few other statistical databases and the great unwashed  masses (often illiterate) couldn't be trusted to fill in and return a form by themselves. But today we now live in an age when we are all barcoded, profiled and indexed many times over   - by all sorts of bodies. So much so that it is difficult to believe that all the information ever needed doesn't already exist somewhere else already. In fact  I'm surprised that  the government doesn't just ask Tesco or Amazon if they can borrow their databases  ... or even just cross reference the information they must surely already have.

Maybe I'm just paranoid.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Friend or foe ?

Having just  got nicked for an illegally sized number plate on my ride to work this morning in an affable but totally ludicrous police mass spot-check,   I have to say this through gritted teeth -  but there's some interesting stuff over at the Third Estate about the Left's attitude to the cuts now facing UK police forces.

Inevitably references are being made to the fantastic scenes from Wisconsin where police joined municipal workers occupying the state capitol building in protest at local  union-busting policies aimed at state employees:

But I can't help wondering if in a similar scenario any force in this country would behave in the same way. This may be another instance where things here are not in fact so much more progressive and enlightened than they are in supposedly reactionary US.  Listen to the speech made by the  police office at the Wisconsin occupation. He cites 'protect and serve' as his ethos and duty as a public servant.

I just don't think coppers here have the same consciousness - after all they take an oath of allegiance and talk about keeping the 'queen's peace' - whatever the fuck that means these days. That's not just  a matter of semantics - it  seems ingrained that they apart and distinct  from the communities they police. 

Of course there's no denying the  humour in watching the Police Federation squirm to defend themselves and even try to behave like the very trade unionists and activists they have happily beaten the crap out of for years now. But that's a road to nowhere.  At some point we will need to have at least elements  of the police come over to our side. Recent events in Egypt showed that the defection of some of the state forces was a tipping point - as it has been in pretty much every revolution.  That won't  be achieved by our attitudes alone - it will essentially  be by the pressure of events - but having a hostile attitude is a sure-fire way of ensuring that it won't happen at all. So I'll grit my teeth and defend the 'workers in uniform'.

Tuesday 8 March 2011

HD - 'return to core brand values' ?

It's just  been announced that Harley Davidson has struck a deal with the unions - the International Association of Machinists and the United Steelworkers - that will keep open their plant in Kansas City Missouri. 

At a price - under a new seven year agreement the workforce will be cut from 685 full time jobs  to 540 with a further 145 'flexible 'positions - albeit for unionised labour.  

It looks as if the Moco has pulled the same kind of blackmail on the unions there that it did to the workforce after the 2007 strike at the much larger plant in York Pennsylvania - sign up on the company's terms of they will pull out of the city altogether. The same stunt was also  pulled last Autumn  at the historic headquarters plant in Milwaukee Wisconsin.

The financial problems that precipitated the most recent shenanigans - the first losses in a quarter for 16years - resulted largely from problems in the credit and financial services market. And some dumb decisions like the bizarre acquisition of the super luxury performance MV Augusta brand. And maybe just a few too many branded cuff-links and cheque-book covers.

None of this is really news. The HD brand-personality of an iconic union-made product for the American working man has been wearing thin for years with the emphasis on a recreational lifestyle brand with all the branded products that go with this. 

But the fact that this has just happened at the plant where they make the Sportster and Dyna models is particularly telling - and not just because I own a pair of Sportsters.

I would have to say that of all the HD ranges, these two models are the truest to that now largely bullshit brand-personality that has been contrived by the MoCo over the years. They are basic,  no-frills motorcycles simple and accessible to work on and customisable  for the ordinary enthusiast. They are also probably the least glamorous and most neglected models in the HD range - despite the fact that the rest of the range - with the exception of the big tourers  - aren't much more that factory copies of the kind of customised machines that people have been knocking out of their garages at home for years. Only with cringe-worthy silly names like FatBoy, Crossbones, Rocker, Heritage and Streetbob for aspirational types who want a bad-ass accessory of the shelf.

So rather than continuing to push out a plethora of these models with just tiny differences in the paint work or different combinations of parts why not just re-emphasise the 'pure and raw' appeal of the  Sportster and Dyna models backed up with a range of custom-goodies that can keep the owner-enthusiast hooked for a lifetime of ownership ?  Perhaps a return to core brand values for HD might not just have an emotional appeal - it might even make good business sense too.

Monday 7 March 2011

Commonsense and good humour

Just resurfacing now after a few days feeling very sorry for myself with a dose of man-flu:

I went to the discussion  day / conference of my local anti-cuts campaign at the weekend. After the protest and occupation of the council chamber a week or so before the turnout was a bit disappointing - but I actually went away inspired.

After the more spectacular mass events, the composition of the meeting has returned to the usual(familiar suspects)  Anarchists, SWP, a handful of us SPers, Greens, community activists - and who knows maybe even the occasional Labour Party member although if so they were keeping it quiet. But despite all the fuss about competing  anti-cuts bodies, and despite the differences over attitudes to Labour Councils - there was unanimous support for the opposition to all cuts and a challenge of 'fight or resign' to Labour.  

Maybe the local SWP comrades are not quite 'on message' with the national line, or maybe its a practical realisation that our borough is a one-horse Labour sinecure and that the cuts here are some of the worst in the country with a disproportionate impact on this already royally-fucked up and fucked-over area. Either way I'm not crowing - I'm just genuinely  pleased that we can agree.

Which was pretty much the tone of the whole day. 

And that's my point - sometimes inspiration comes from the spectacular - maybe revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East - or maybe protest on your doorstep where new people are galvanised for the first time. But it also sometimes  comes from  the mundane. Such was the weekend's meeting - a prevalence of commonsense and genuine good humour. Too often scare commodities on the Left and sadly too often missing from our various party programmes.