Friday, October 28, 2011

Make or Break Moment Nears for Sparks

Sparks remain determined, but Unite is preparing a defeat all the same
The grassroots 'Sparks' movement of electricians continues to organise direct actions and protests across the country, but it is running out of time before construction companies impose huge pay cuts. Meanwhile, the same Unite bureaucracy whose negotiator Bernard McAulay labelled the Sparks "cancerous" is seeking to gain control of the struggle, the better to strangle it. The rank-and-file workers need to develop a resistance strategy, and fast.

The dispute began back in August, when electricians angry about the proposed new Building Engineering Services National Agreement (BESNA) set up their own rank-and-file campaign committee, with the intention of pressurising Unite tops into adopting a more combative stance than usual. Non-unionised workers were urged to join Unite, with the idea being that they would be able to vote for official strike action. Since then, the national and local committees have organised various wildcat actions, such as brief site 'occupations' and road blockages. This momentum has built week on week.

Under BESNA, the current across the board hourly rate of £16.25 would be scrapped, and electricians would be graded for a rate of between £14 and £10.50. This follows a pay freeze last year, so some electricians would be 45% worse off than they were two years ago, assuming they are able to find work at all in a declining construction industry. Inevitably, deskilling would follow, along with an increase in workplace 'accidents'.

Despite McAulay's controversial statement last month, certain elements within Sparks have sought to court him and the woman he emailed it to - assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail. Over the last few weeks, both have addressed various Sparks gatherings, repeatedly promising a strike ballot soon, but putting it off again and again due to supposed technical issues.

Finally, on 18th October, Unite announced a ballot for Balfour Beatty workers only. Unite say that Balfour Beatty are "ringleaders" of the attempted industry-wide reorganisation, and they do employ 1,690 of the six thousand workers potentially affected. However, this will leave nearly three quarters not covered by the vote.

Sparks show what they think of Balfour Beatty propaganda
The deadline for electricians to sign the new contracts or face redundancy is 7th December. Under Thatcher's anti-trade union laws, unions must give employers seven days notice of a ballot, and the action must take place within four weeks of the ballot, unless the employer agrees otherwise (this actually happened recently in the Southampton council dispute). In short, the clock is ticking for any official strike action by the vast majority before the contract deadline.

Unite have planned a London rally for Wednesday 9th November, as part of a 'national day of action'. Judging by posts on the Sparks Facebook group, many electricians are planning to make the trip down south, so it seems possible there will be a sick-out, similar to the one amongst Wisconsin teachers last winter.

But after that, the huge social tensions will remain, and a new outlet will be required. The employers will surely not budge, and Unite bureaucrats will need to find a way of selling defeat to a largely militant rank-and-file. At that point, Sparks will face a choice of organising outside of Unite and the trade union laws, or swallowing a huge drop in living standards. Will anger win out over demoralisation this time round? We will have to wait and see.

Another factor worth mentioning in regard to Sparks is what might be called the 'cross-pollination' of struggles. On the Facebook group, one electrician said he would be going on to the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts student demonstration in the afternoon. He explained that "in London the students have been fantastic for us", even "helping to block gates and stop traffic". There has also been interaction between the Sparks and Occupy groups. After the electricians' action at Blackfriars, the Sparks marched the few hundred yards to the St Paul's camp.

This kind of interaction is of course essential both to the workers' chances of victory, as well as the political development of groups which are currently less workerist in orientation. But the launch of a real working class movement is still dependent on workers organising entirely independently of the trade union and left party bureaucracies. If that happens with this relatively small group of electricians, the Sparks will certainly live up to their name.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Machine Head - Unto The Locust

Machine Head came to the revolution party early. Back in 2007, before the first banker bailouts, at a time when the anti-Bush wave had retreated and music was perhaps the most 'apolitical' it had ever been, Robb Flynn used The Blackening to urge: "This is a call to arms/Will you stand beside me?/This is our time to fight/No more compromising/And this blackened heart will sing/For sad solidarity". The album was also almost universally hailed as the band's best since their classic debut Burn My Eyes. Bearing that in mind, I was curious about how the California crew could possibly progress with this new release. In the event, it's through a tortured metaphor, superb songwriting and just about all the passion in the world.

Flynn has been uncharacteristically coy about who or what the locusts repeatedly referenced here are, or who they're supposed to represent. Many metalheads have been left scratching their heads, bemused as to why they should care about some short-horned grasshoppers. But of course it's symbolic. Name another swarm of beings which come along and devour all the wealth you thought was yours. Yes, (un)naturally, the banksters ("Down they come, the swarm of locust/Skies above converge to choke us/Feast of souls consume the harvest/Young and old, suffer unto the locust"). As if to confirm that, Flynn tweeted his support for Occupy Wall Street a fortnight ago, hoping his music would "inspire you in your stand against mayor Bloomberg today".

Machine Fucking Head! Machine Fucking Head! Machine Fucking Head!
What to say about the music? As ever for Machine Head - save on their millennial nu metal - it is loud, powerful, heavy, and ultra-technical - a grizzly bear crossbred with a gymnast. Second track Be Still And Know is a case in point. In typical style, Flynn tries to reassure us (and probably himself) that it'll all be okay in the end as "Stars realign in the sky/Glaciers will melt and the oceans rise/Waves will come crashing ashore", but we'll "withstand the roar". This takes place following an intro of duelling double solos.

Locust then unleashes the full force of the metaphor, and uses vivid language to describe how "this plague is sent to erase us", over massive groove rhythms. This Is The End uses classically-inspired passages to accentuate the heaviness of the thrashing going on, alongside bellowed statements that: "This is the end of our respect denied/Stand with us or stand aside". On Darkness Within, the band stays just the right side of metalcore, before Flynn pledges his beating, bloody heart to music, his "saviour", and through that to us - the fans.

Finally, album closer Who We Are could hardly be a better anthem for the Occupiers that Flynn dedicated it to, complete with its militaristic beginning, children's choir interludes, and declarations that: "We are the young and young at heart/The strong and the brave that are destined to start/We are the change the world needs to see/Look in our eyes and see our belief". How appropriate that Unto The Locust was released in the same week that Zuccotti Park was renamed Liberty, and how appropriate that Flynn's indefatigable spirit has been shown by those defying police bullets and brutality in his home city this week.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

When is a Euro Crisis Not A Euro Crisis?

Tensions are running high between Germany and France in particular
European leaders are gathering in Brussels for an emergency summit over the sovereign debt crisis. In recent weeks, the anti-European wing of British ruling class have tried to make hay from the strife tearing the European Union apart, insisting that it demonstrates UK elites would be better off outside the EU. But as duvinrouge has pointed-out for The Commune, it's really a crisis of value, which would exist even if the Euro did not.

I tried to write an article on this yesterday, but wasn't quite up to grappling with the numbers, so instead I'll leave you in the more than capable hands of duvinrouge:

Even if there was no Euro, or even if there was the Euro and political union, there would still be a crisis. Why? Because the crisis is a crisis of value, says duvinrouge.

That’s not to understate the problem of trying to get economic convergence of divergent economies through monetary union. It cannot be done without a political union that is prepared to use regional policy and the consequent transfer of wealth from north to south. Even without the backdrop of world capitalist crisis the Euro‘s future would be in doubt. But it is the recurrent capitalist crises that bring such problems to a head. And still it is left to Marxists to explain why capitalism is crisis.

Say’s law (supply creates its own demand) does not hold because production is commodity production – things are produced to be exchanged for money, furthermore a monetary amount greater than the original outlay. This increase in value occurs in production – the amount paid to labour in wages is less than the value created by the labourer. But it’s not just about increasing value in production; there’s also the need for the effective demand – money – to be there.

Read the rest of the article on The Commune's website.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Decoding the Battle of Syntagma Square as More Greek Austerity Bites

Greek 'Communists' defend representatives of international capital
As yet more austerity measures pile on the agony for the Greek working class, a potentially revolutionary situation is developing. In this period, the real relationships of various political forces to the working class are ever more nakedly expressed. But still, they must be identified, if Greek workers are to go from being what Marx called a "class in itself" to a "class for itself", and organise society in their own interests. In this article, I will seek to explain the different battle lines and formations, as they were drawn yesterday.

The past two days saw the biggest general strike and demonstrations yet against the Greek austerity measures, which continue to drive many into desperate poverty, destitution and even death. An estimated 500,000 took to the streets of Athens yesterday - which is the equivalent of 2.5 million in London. It was the largest show of Greek working class power since the fall of the military junta in 1974.

But so long as the profit system remains in place, true power remains in the hands of the ultra-wealthy international financiers. As the debt bubble reaches the point of bursting, there are divisions within this group. Some are more keen on bailing out the Greek state than others. In reality, the bailouts of the Greek state go straight to the banks invested in Greek government bonds, and these are far more French than German. Hence the reticence amongst sections of the German bourgeoisie for getting their chequebooks out once more. Other sections - represented by Chancellor Angel Merkel - believe that they must pay up, because a Greek default would end up with a 'contagion' that would ultimately affect German money too. And of course, the money would eventually be squeezed out of the German working class either way.

Despite the divisions, the combined will of the international financiers in represented by the so-called 'troika' - unelected European Commission bureaucrats, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. It is the troika which - because it pays the piper - also calls the tune in Greece, Portugal and Ireland, all of which have received bailout money since the initial financial collapse in 2008.

To a large extent, the politicians who meet in the Greek parliament are therefore the puppets of the troika, though they still try to maintain a facade of democracy by arguing a bit before they pass each round of austerity cuts. Yesterday, the formerly social democratic PASOK used their majority to force the new measures through, by a majority of thirteen, with one 'rebel' voting against. As Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos told parliament, no doubt echoing the warnings of troika representatives: "You have to approve the law, with all its clauses. This is not a game. If anybody thinks they can test how much wriggle-room we have, they’re mistaken."

Police lines were attacked with petrol bombs
Protecting the parliamentarians from the people they pretend to represent were fifteen thousand riot cops. But remarkably, supporters of the misnamed Communist Party of Greece formed their own battalion, protecting the police and the parliament from those they called "provocateurs" and even, bizarrely, "anarcho-fascists". They might as well have accused demonstrators of being meat-eating vegetarians, for all the sense that accusation made. While it is to be expected that the state employed some provocateurs, there can be no underestimating the fury with which impoverished Greeks view the PASOK government.

And yet - from the perspective of the trade union bureaucrats who form the base of that party - it makes a lot of sense. Though their website talks of the PASOK government enforcing the will of the "plutocracy" by "fire and sword", their worst fear is a working class movement that they cannot control, which organises on a rank and file basis, and will not accept sell-out after sell-out.

For the half a million members of the Greek working class facing the red line protecting the blue line protecting the parliament protecting the bankers, it must be increasingly clear that they were face to face with a class enemy. Late in the afternoon, groups of hooded and masked youths attacked those in red and blue with bricks and petrol bombs. Police responded - as had no doubt be planned well in advance - with unrestrained brutality.

Amongst all this, a fifty-three year old unemployed construction worker died of heart failure. Though he was in the Stalinist contingent, he clearly had nothing to gain from defending the police, and his death is a tragedy for which the Communist leadership and the forces behind them must bear full responsibility.

Nikos (second from left) and his colleagues
In the 'mainstream' of the demonstration, which was called by the PASOK-supporting GSEE and ADEDY union bureaucrats, there was growing anger at the posturing of union tops, and growing awareness of the need for international solidarity. WSWS quotes Nikos, a drugs prevention social worker, as declaring that "The workers want to fight, but the unions hold them back." He went on to say that: "What is definitely important is that workers of all European countries work together and break with the old leaders. It is impossible to give capitalism a human face today. This is over. We need a society that is based on the needs of the people. If the workers are not able to give an answer to this, the right-wing forces could come to power and establish military rule again."

And indeed, the danger of military intervention in the Greek crisis looms large in the coming period. The Greek military is still very powerful, after reluctantly giving up political power not forty years ago. On 30th September, a breakaway from a wider military protest against attacks on their retirement arrangements stormed the Defence Ministry, shouting "down with the PASOK junta". If and when the army intervenes more forcefully, it will either be to force through troika diktats on behalf of PASOK, or in the event of a Greek default and withdrawal from the Euro, when no doubt 'patriotic' attacks on the working class would still be needed.

The whole of Greek society is now in turmoil. Aside from the events of the last two days, almost every day sees fresh strikes and occupations. In response, the PASOK government is mobilising the military to crush resistance by refuse workers. But perhaps in doing so, it is preparing its own demise, one way or another.

Most economists now talk of a Greek default - or at least a huge debt 'haircut' - being inevitable. When this happens, the shockwaves will be felt around the world. Sooner or later, the Greek situation is coming to a town near you, and when it does, the international working class will need to organise itself at a grassroots level, and face down the threat of brutal dictatorship.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lupe Fiasco - Lasers

I remember the first time I saw Lupe Fiasco was on some Channel 4 Russell Brand vehicle a few years back. The former seemed like a pleasant, intelligent young man, and he did a rap about skating which was probably great if you were a skater, but didn't have much to say for those who weren't.

The second occasion was while I was researching my first article on Occupy Wall Street. Here was the same young man, a little older now and a little more serious-looking, Tweeting to his legions of fans to join him in rebellion against the oligarchy. That was just before Occupy reached its tipping point, and the vast multitudes went beyond merely following it online. Clearly, a lot had changed for Fiasco.

So I decided to check out his latest album, Lasers, and I'm glad I did, because in some ways it is the most intriguing album to come out this year. Here is the 'manifesto' which Fiasco released to promote it towards the end of 2010:
"To every man, woman & child... We want an end to the glamorization of negativity in the media. We want an end to status symbols dictating our worth as individuals. We want a meaningful and universal education system. We want substance in the place of popularity. We will not compromise who we are to be accepted by the crowd. We want the invisible walls that separate by wealth, race & class to be torn down. We want to think our own thoughts. We will be responsible for our environment. We want clarity & truth from our elected officials or they should move aside. We want love not lies. We want an end to all wars foreign & domestic violence. We want an end to the processed culture of exploitation, over-consumption & waste. We want knowledge, understanding & peace. We will not lose because we are not losers, we are lasers! Lasers are revolutionary. Lasers are the future."
Fiasco has been involved in protracted struggles with the Atlantic label, and in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, he explained how this affected the production of Lasers: "The climate of this record was very weird, in some instances surreal. I became very abstract. I had to create this commercial art that appeases the corporate side. I had to acquiesce to certain forces. Hopefully within that I snuck in some things I actually wanted to say any way I can."

Lupe Fiasco donated tents in Denver, and is helping Occupy in any way he can
All this is very evident throughout the album. Some of it sounds like any other song you might hear on commercial radio, especially in the last couple of years, when escapist impulses have seen paeans to an artificial, hedonistic lifestyle dominate. Yet on much of it, Fiasco takes that very formula and does subversive things with it, consciously or unconsciously echoing the situationist technique of détournement. This reaches its height on State Run Radio, which is bouncy, hooky and catchy as fuck, but rails against a corporate media where "Truth ain't never getting on like shampoo on an airplane", and "Propaganda's everywhere, constantly on replay".

On the other hand, there are clearly moments when Lupe has felt the need to cave in, just to get the record out. Lead-off single The Show Goes On is particularly dire, and the artist apparently behind it has made little secret of his distaste for it, telling the Chicago Tribune that:
"I was literally told for “The Show Goes On” that I shouldn’t rap too deep. I shouldn’t be too lyrical. It just needs to be something easy on the eyes. Like a record company telling Picasso that we don’t need these abstract interpretations of life, where people have to sit down and look at it and break it down. It was better to paint the Upper West Side lady and her poodle so everyone could look at it right away and understand what was going on. I felt like I was painting poodles. It’s why in the first line of “The Show Goes On” I paraphrase Johnny Rotten at the Sex Pistols’ final show: “Have you ever had the feeling that you were being cheated?"
Third single Out Of My Head is similarly bland, and similarly disregarded by Lupe (it "doesn't have any deep meaning behind it, and is for the chicks"). But Fiasco was pleased to wring Words I Never Said (see video below) out of the company, with its simple yet effective melody, beautiful female backing, and attacks on the banks, the 'war on terror', and Israel's occupation of Palestine.

Elsewhere, All Black Everything is a heartfelt, utopian evocation of a backwards - but somehow almost the right way round - world where "Malcolm Little [X] dies as an old man/Martin Luther King read the eulogy for him/Followed by Bill O'Reilly who read from the Qu'ran/President Bush sends condolences from Iran". And later: "Everybody rappin' like crack never happened/Crips never occurred no Bloods to attack them/Matter of fact no hood to attack in/Somalia is a great place to relax in".

The limitations of this album are the limitations of the entertainment industry as a whole. Lupe Fiasco is political activist who is searching for a perspective on the troubles of the world, and is dedicated to shedding a little light on the gloom using his artistic talent. At every turn, he finds himself frustrated by the whims of the giant corporations in charge of the industry, and every song seems to be a personal struggle between him and the company. The Occupy movement heralds the coming of a time when people will look for answers in the culture they consume, and hopefully Lupe will emerge from the midst of the battle reinvigorated and even more enthusiastic than ever.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Dale Farm Eviction and the Whiff of Fascism

Taser-wielding cops smash their way onto the property at 7 am
Despite courageous resistance by families and a group of activists, Basildon Council are continuing their eviction of Dale Farm residents, backed up by the iron fisted brutality of Essex riot cops. Harrowing and devastating though the episode is for the people being oppressed, it also has dark implications for society as a whole, in the UK and globally.

While the corporate media routinely spreads the deception that Dale Farm is an "illegal site", it is in fact legally owned by the travellers themselves. In one part, residents constructed buildings having won planning permission to do so. In the other - where eighty families had been camped before today - no such permission has been won. However, the lack of legal rights for travellers is part of a broader issue, and cannot justifiably be used to excuse one of the largest mass evictions in the country's recent past. It should be noted that 90% of planning permission applications by travellers are rejected.

The land currently called Dale Farm has been disputed for decades. Though it is often referred to as "green belt", it was used as a scrapyard by the council as early as the 1960s. English travellers first lived there in the 1970s, but they mostly left around ten years ago, when Irish travellers moved in.

Legal battles have been raging between Basildon Council and the travellers for years, and the latter have exhausted every possible avenue in defending their homes. But when the High Court verdict was handed down last week, it became clear that the council's eviction would be going ahead.

A woman raises her crucifix above the ruins of what was her home
Cops and bailiffs began their invasion at seven this morning, as police in riot gear illegally broke down a rear fence, while an apparently planned distraction took place at the front. Electricity was cut off, affecting essential medical equipment used by one resident. Police used Tasers - again potentially illegal in this situation - and one batoned woman was hospitalised with back pain, unable to move her legs. Cops were met with bricks and other missiles, but their superior force is telling.

Local Conservative MP John Baron was quick to applaud the state aggression, stating that: "The police have been restrained but at the end of the day, the police have got to defend themselves to ensure there is no violence". [emphasis added]

Clearly for Baron, police violence is not violence, and in fact serves to prevent violence. The incongruity of violently defending yourself from violence before violence takes place does not seem to have occurred to him. In plain English, this gang of armed thugs smashed their way into someone's property and got their retaliation in first, in much the same way as the US and UK rained "shock and awe" on Iraq eight years ago, before condemning the indigenous resistance.

The financial costs of all this - estimated at nearly £20 million at a time of public sector austerity - show that this is not just some council's response to a planning issue. Rather it is a political attack on a marginalised layer of society, aimed at: 1) reclaiming a piece of land for potentially more profitable use, 2) diverting attention from ruling class crimes which are impoverishing broad masses of the population, and 3) spearheading the government's Localism Bill - which will decrease the already insufficient number of sites available to travellers.

In respect to number 2, the right wing gutter press has been leading this charge for months, combining crude ethnic stereotyping of the travellers with outright lies about the activists who have dedicated so much time to this struggle. In a time of sky-high economic tensions, the ruling class are desperate to find scapegoats and alternative hate figures, in order to protect themselves from the seething class anger now endemic in society.

In this, the British ruling class is no different to the French, the Italian, Hungarian and Czech governments, which have all dramatically increased their persecution of Roma in recent times. This - alongside the anti-Muslim bigotry promoted by rulers throughout the western world - is an expression of the sort of ruling class decay that was last seen during the last Great Depression, and ultimately led to fascism in Europe.

The events at Dale Farm must serve as a warning to all working class people: today they came for the travellers; tomorrow they are likely to come for you.

Friday, October 14, 2011

15th October 2011: Birth of a Global Anti-Capitalist Movement?

Global map of the 15th October Occupy X events
In my opinion, it is very likely that the historians of the future will look upon tomorrow as the day a truly global anti-capitalist movement was born. Following the example of Occupy Wall Street, Los Angeles, Boston, and hundreds of US towns and cities, a huge number of small and large occupations will begin on every continent except Antarctica (see Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, South America).

All proclaim their opposition to the capitalist status quo - with its obscene riches at one pole and sickening poverty at the other. All of this has been organised online, completely outside the clutches of the decaying trade union bureaucracies, for whom 'international solidarity' is just some words they used to say a few decades back. The old organisations of timid protest seek influence on the margins, but they are ignored and seen to be as irrelevant as they actually are. It is highly appropriate that this moment has been crowned by the apparently successful resisting of the attempt by New York's mayor and second richest man to retake Liberty Park. There is a sense that the powers that be are losing control by the hour, if not the second if you follow it all on Twitter.

At least in one sense, the occupations are the descendents of Mohamed Bouazizi, who sparked the Tunisian revolution with his self-immolation at the start of the year. From Tunis, the flames spread to Egypt, and  throughout the Arab world. Though the US empire tries its best to dampen down and channel the rebellion in each middle eastern nation, it faces a working class opposition that cannot be defeated by anything short of utter annihilation. Each new crackdown brings greater solidarity, and the story of Muslims attending the funerals of Christians massacred by an Egyptian military intent on sowing sectarian division is supremely heartening. Such indefatiguable militancy is an outgrowth of the desperate conditions suffered by those in employment, as well as the destitution for those who can't find work.

A picture which speaks a thousand words
However, there are important differences between all that and Occupy X. In the west, our working class militancy was largely bought off in the period following World War Two, when the imperialist states made significant concessions. Chief amongst those was a welfare state, and though this has been under sustained attack for the last thirty years, it remains. As a result, it is still just about possible to survive without employment. Such survival is increasingly precarious however, and prospects look bleak, especially for the young. In the UK just under a million 16 to 24 year olds are jobseekers allowance claimants - more than one in five. The figures are far worse in Spain, Portugal and Greece, the nations which saw the biggest demonstrations by 'indignados' over the summer. It is now clear that the indignados were the direct forerunners of the Occupy X movement.

However, a crucial weakness of the square occupations is that by and large they have not been able to link up with workers in struggle, and have therefore become philosophically and politically stale. Of course, so far it is only in Greece that there have been large enough workers' struggles for such a process to be possible on any kind of widespread scale. As the next wave of recession hits, we can both expect and plan for the formation of major links between the occupiers and militant workers.

Another limitation of Occupy X is the seeming fetishisation of the square or park, which was only the most visible part of the Egyptian movement against Mubarak. It is true, the static occupation of public or private space does challenge capitalism as usual. This much is made clear both by the Democratic Party's attempts to co-opt Occupy for Obama's re-election campaign, and on the other hand where that has decisively failed, the state's attempts to recapture the spaces or beat and scare demonstrators into submission. However, the month-long Wall Street occupation has not impinged on the dealings inside the buildings, nor the workings of the profit system in general. The perspective that occupying a square or park is an answer in of itself is born out of class war inexperience. As workers are forced into actions beyond the control of bureaucrats, this experience will come.

There is also a problem with the "no politics" mantra which has been repeated in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Israel, and now the US. "No politics" is, of course, a political statement, and one which enables the formerly social democratic parties and their 'left' hangers on, against the building of a true revolutionary movement - which would demand the overthrow of the capitalist system, and the establishment of working class control over production and distribution.

We are a long way from that, of course. But the past few weeks have seen a movement grow at an exponential rate, and even as colder weather sets in for us in the northern hemisphere, the objective material conditions for a revolutionary workers' movement continue to ripen. The supposed apathy of say 2007 seems a millions years past. We live in interesting times.


If you are not occupying tomorrow, you can follow the action on the #occupy Twitter hashtag, your local Indymedia site, and maybe even your local corporate media, if you've got the stomach for it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Southampton - A Case Study in How Not to Defend Living Standards

Workers said no, but union and council bosses say yes
Leaders of the Unite and Unison unions have hailed what's happened in Southampton over the last five months as a "smart "model for the kind of struggles they intend to lead across the country, as councils seek to cut back their costs and resolve their funding crises. But for council and other workers, there's a big problem with that: the Southampton strikers lost.

As I reported in July, four and a half thousand Southampton council employees were struggling against a pay cut of up to 5.5%, to be followed by two years of wage freezes. If inflation were to remain at around 5%, the workers would find their standards of living slashed by one fifth by the end of the three years, with no guarantee of any improvements down the line.

Not surprisingly, they were determined to put up a great fight. But they were led astray by the union tops, and the vast bulk now find themselves signed up to the same contracts as they originally rejected by a huge margin.

From Southampton Council's perspective, the Unite and Unison leaderships have played a blinder. As regional organiser Ian Woodland told The Guardian over the summer:
"The unions are looking at a strategic campaign where we are using selective action. It is not just bringing everyone out, which is the old-fashioned view, but bringing out key workers that will have an effect on the state nationally and locally. We have shown how it can be done locally."
Indeed they have. The rolling strikes allowed each and every worker multiple chances to vent their anger, while the disruption to the running of Southampton was limited and manageable. After months of such actions, the council staff were already severely out of pocket, and by July 11th 98% reluctantly signed new contracts, facing dismissal if they refused.

But anger levels are still high, and a mass meeting on August 10th voted for further strike action. However, the Unite and Unison leaderships sat on this grassroots mandate, arguing that they could still be dismissed under anti-strike legislation if they struck outside the twelve weeks following the original ballot. Only when Conservative council leader Royston Smith indicated that they would permit a further 'day of action' did the joint leadership set a date for October 6th.

The leaderships of Southampton Council and the unions all fear the grassroots gaining control of their own struggle, and presenting a real challenge to the imposition of cuts, hence their manoeuvring over last week's stoppage. They will now be hoping that this will be an end to it, and that the unions won't have to listen to their Southampton members for another three years. But the bureaucrats in every region will be looking to discipline their memberships over the coming months, as they sacrifice rank-and-file wages on the altar of their dues base.

Workers need an independent voice to refuse council attacks
Unison, Unite and the GMB collaborated with Shropshire Council when it sacked all its employees and re-engaged on the basis of a 5.4% pay cut. When Unison members voted to strike on September 22nd, Shropshire threatened to strip the union of a subsidy. The bureaucrats came scurrying to the negotiation table, agreed 2.7% immediately, and are currently 'negotiating' over the other 2.7%.

Similarly, Plymouth council de-recognised Unison, when it failed to sign up to cuts already agreed by Unite and GMB. After a feeble campaign entirely based on emails, Tweets and letters, Unison caved in just a few weeks later.

While the three councils I've mentioned are Conservative-controlled, the unions are promoting Labour for next year's elections in Southampton. But local Labour leader Richard Williams has distanced himself from the strikes, and indicated that his preferred solution is to sack over a quarter of the workforce instead. Around the country, Labour councils are just as committed to slashing costs as their Conservative and Lib Dem counterparts, and national leader Ed Miliband has proposed no alternative to making working class people pay for the financial crisis.

In Southampton, Shropshire and Plymouth - as all around the world - it is necessary for workers trying to defend their livelihoods to make a decisive break with the union bureaucracy, and set-up their own independent, democratically-run organisations.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Waking Up To Russia Today

I am a news addict. And I absolutely must get my fix first thing in the morning, or there's absolutely no way I'll be any use for the next few hours. Until recently I'd tried to prise my eyelids open to BBC Breakfast, which is less like a caffeine shot and more like a particularly thick mug of Horlicks. And more to the point of course, most of what they say is absolute bollocks, with the Beeb fulfilling its traditional role of setting the political agenda for the day on behalf of the ruling class, in amongst the cosy chats with non-entities promoting not very much. But I reassured myself that at least it wasn't Lorraine.

Now over the last couple of weeks I've started to watch Russia Today (or RT as it's rechristened itself, no doubt with an eye to Twitter). Of course, it also promotes the agenda of a ruling class, because it is directly funded by the Russian state. But in spite of this - or more accurately because of this - it hits on the objective truth more often than not. If you take the bits about Russia and China with a huge barrel of salt, you can enjoy hearing about how the American occupations are challenging the "US oligarchy" (and they actually use terms like that).

Occupiers struggle with US media, but push against an open door with RT
It's been so invigorating to see the demonstrators, and there's nothing wrong with getting your blood pre-boiled for the day by seeing a bit of police brutality early on either. From the streets of New York, LA or Chicago, it's typically some 'citizen journalist' decrying the NATO assault on the Libyan city of Sirte from his bedroom, speculation about the direction of the Egyptian revolution, and scenes from the streets of Greece, where there's strikes, or riots, or whatever else. Forget whether or not Liam Fox might by gay, you know the real news is that he's massacring Libyans for oil.

It's not just straight up news either, there are interviews, debates...and then there's the Keiser Report. Max Keiser is a reformed Wall Street trader who is now using his inside knowledge to critique the "financial terrorism" currently sweeping the globe. Together with co-host Stacy Herbert, he's not exactly afraid to shock with the truth. Yesterday he was warning Chicago banksters that the 99% "have the guillotine", and in the midst of the UK riots he told David Cameron to "STFU" for "financially raping" the "ghetto" whilst condemning minor looters.

The depth of RT's analysis is perfectly illustrated by Russia and China's recent veto of sanctions against Syria. Instead of what BBC might have - i.e. 'explanations' couched in the anodyne language of 'diplomacy' - RT provided a realpolitik comparison to the 'abuse' of the US/UK/French UN 'no fly zone' resolution on Libya. It speculated that the west may want regime change in Syria, to suit its ally Israel, amongst other reasons. However, at no point did it mention that both Russia and China have large economic ties to the al-Assad regime.

It seems anything that would upset the "US empire" is permitted on RT. Meanwhile Russia is lauded as an exception to the global economic turmoil, Serbia should free Kosovo, and China might have some problems, but they're working on them. In the end though, I've seen Noam Chomsky talk Arab revolutions and an Anarchist Against The Wall take on the state of Israel, so the sodium chloride needed for RT is far less than on BBC Breakfast, or even Lorraine. Until the international proletariat has its own channel, Russian bourgeois propaganda may have to do.

In the UK and Ireland, the channel is available on Sky channel 512. It is also on Freeview channel 85 and Freesat channel 206.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

BNP: The Fraud Exposed

Griffin is under attack once more, but the ruling class got a free pass from BBC
BBC One, 11th October 2011

Last night's edition of Panorama was a devastating exposé of the far right British National Party's dismal accounts. Fronted by investigator Darragh MacIntyre (brother of Donal), it unveiled multiple likely scandals in the organisation's financial dealings over the last few years. Clearly, the BNP are in big trouble balancing their books, and at the end, MacIntyre posed the question "Will money rather than racism spell the end for Nick Griffin's British National Party?" However, the programme was also yet another example of how the 'mainstream' corporate media uses the far right as a punch bag, and in doing so works to implicitly legitimise the far larger misdeeds of the political elites.

Throughout the half hour course of the show, allegation after allegation was levelled against the party, and ultimately, its 'chairman'. Perhaps the most damaging amongst these was the charge that Griffin had ordered an official to fake an invoice, in order to get money out of the European Union for party expenses. Griffin had been elected to the European Parliament in 2009, having run a populist campaign which accused Euro politicians of behaving like pigs in a trough. Once in this minor position of power, the programme claimed that Griffin's regime sought to gorge themselves.

Former 'super-activist' Jim Dowson described the shady ways in which he raised money to fund the party's 'truth truck' and other enterprises. An ex party webmaster recalled the Griffin response to a cyber attack on the BNP website, which was rather hyperbolically described as "the largest DOS attack known to mankind". Griffin announced that supporters needed to raise £5000 to counter the attack, when in fact the bill came to less than £200. Griffin claimed the surplus found its way back into party coffers.

The BNP has also apparently failed to declare who gave three donations over £5000, as they are required to do under electoral law. The party's former treasurer also denies that he was paid tens of thousands, in an apparent attempt to explain away other missing money. The man in question was no longer a member when this money was supposedly paid. Other matters include an alleged kidnapping.

At the time of writing, the BNP's website was down, but Griffin has responded in his own fashion, by issuing a defiant video, in which he declared "that most of what you've just seen is in fact lies and distortions" by an "anti-British" organisation - i.e. the BBC. For his part, Nick Lowles of Hope Not Hate has been blogging excitedly, and calling for supporters to demand the Electoral Commission investigates the Panorama allegations.

Were the BBC to ask disgruntled former employees of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, they would no doubt be able to uncover examples of fraud on a far greater scale. This possibility would never even occur to a BBC producer - comfortably embedded as they are in the propaganda machine - yet no working class person would seriously doubt that the elites so mired in Murdochgate, the expenses scandal and individual sleaze would produce a doctored set of accounts.

So technically correct though the latest Panorama allegations probably are, they do nothing to clean out the Augean stables of official politics, and will no doubt suit the martyr image carefully cultivated by Griffin and his cohorts.

The party has certainly had its brushes with the law in the past, but it has survived thus far. For the capitalist elite, it is a convenient distraction from the immense social harm that its own policies cause, and the blatant corruption which takes place at the top tables. But by the same token, liberals and 'lefts' who call for state intervention against the BNP, English Defence League and their ilk play into the hand of that same elite, who would love the opportunity to decide exactly what political opinions are permissible. As ever with Panorama, the big picture was missing, and for that reason, this edition was a subtle but implicit argument for exactly such repression.

BNP: The Fraud Exposed can be viewed on BBC iPlayer.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Soundgarden - Badmotorfinger

We've had the earnest storytelling of Pearl Jam's Ten and the generational despair of Nirvana's Nevermind. I'll now conclude my twentieth anniversary of grunge series by dusting off my MP3s of Soundgarden's Badmotorfinger (Alice In Chains wouldn't release Dirt for almost another year).

Just like with all the bands I've just mentioned, Badmotorfinger wasn't Soundgarden's first release by any means. But again, 1991 was their year of destiny. It was the year they'd make their best album so far, and the year that a large section of America's youth would be ready to listen. With Nirvana and Pearl Jam winning huge audiences on MTV and getting lots of radio airplay, broadcasters were hungry for anything out of Seattle. And though Soundgarden were musically far more reminiscent of Led Zeppelin-type heavy metal, they still seemed to fit the bill so far as the new 'Seattle sound' went.

In many ways, lead vocalist and main lyricist Chris Cornell was from a similar 'middle class' background to Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder. His father was a pharmacist and his mother an accountant, but a certain level of material comfort certainly didn't mean personal comfort for Chris. As an adolescent he suffered from more than the usual social anxiety, and would retreat from a scary world to listen to music on his own, and drink heavily. When he reached adulthood, Cornell found work as a seafood wholesaler and sous chef in a restaurant. He would spend his days "wipe[ing] up the slime and throw[ing] away the fish guts", but made barely enough money to pay the rent, and would often resort to taking food from his job. At that stage - as with so many others in Seattle - it seemed like the American Dream was going into reverse, and indeed that is a common lyrical theme in Cornell's best work.

Earlier in 1991, Cornell had added his stunning vocal talents to the first and only album by Temple of the Dog - a grunge 'supergroup' set up in tribute to Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone, a close friend who had become the first prominent grunger - and sadly far from the last - to die from heroin addiction. The death and decay of Seattle was among the elements which were spun into the cryptic lyrics for Badmotorfinger, and while Cornell evasively claimed it was about "creating colourful images", lead guitarist Kim Thayil provided a better description, that it is: "like reading a novel [about] man's conflict with himself and society, or the government, or his family, or the economy, or anything."

If the lyrics were somewhat arcane, the sound wasn't exactly straightforward either. Using unusual - for grunge at least - guitar tunings and time signatures, Badmotorfinger is a jumble of styles, although they gel well, creating a contemplative yet somehow also frantic mood. Rusty Cage gets things off to a fast and furious, andrenaline-fuelled start, as fraught verses war with defiant choruses, before Outshined slows things down again with its exploration of emotional bipolarity.

After the staggering and swaggering of Slaves and Bulldozers comes absolute album highlight Jesus Christ Pose. Rather than being a condemnation of Christianity itself - Cornell had been sent to Catholic school by his father - it is a reference to those famous people who imitate the crucifixion to suggest their own martyrdom. The vocals are brimful of indignance at such arrogance, while Thayil's riffs and the drums of Matt Cameron combine to devastating effect.

Later on, Holy Water continues the religious referencing, condemning those who try to force their beliefs on others, and Drawing Flies skips along at a pace belying its focus on writers' block. Closer New Damage is a majestically doomy paean to the "new world order" that President George Bush Snr had recently declared, and it comes with an apocalyptic warning which seems extremely far-sighted right now: "The wreck is going down. Get out before you drown".

Arguably, even better was to come on 1994's Superunknown, but Badmotorfinger certainly merits its place alongside Ten, Nevermind, and later Dirt, with its anthems for the doomed youth of the 1990s.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Grassroots Versus Astroturf Activism

Marches provide no challenge to the capitalist system, or its state
This weekend I got some hardcore abuse from supporters of the Socialist Party for my article on their 2011 Jarrow March. Most dismissed my constructive critique as "sectarianism", but one 'Russellcooky' told me to "Fuck Off You Fascist Bastard" (even though I hadn't advocated business-and-government control of the market place, repression of criticism or opposition, a leader cult and exalting the state and/or religion above individual rights). What I didn't get was a rebuttal. And that's because there couldn't be one.

So I stand by my statement that "...importantly, the march is not some grassroots expression of discontent, born out of a working class community. Rather it is an 'astroturfed' action, a conscious political strategy to win the Socialist Party more members."

But I don't just want to make this an attack on the Socialist Party. All left parties have their own front groups, which organise petitions, lobbies, marches, and even sometimes 'direct action' stunts, in an attempt to increase membership, and therefore improve the party's finances. However, in each case, the leadership is tied to the reactionary union bureaucracy, and so doesn't actually want to challenge the system. In the end, what you get is 'symbolic' actions, which reach their absolute nadir in the Socialist Party's death march.

Of course, astroturfing is by no means confined to the fake left. Non-hierarchical activists have our own varieties too, often based on 'ethical' or 'moral' positions regarding lifestyle issues. Often, in the social centre 'scene', this results in an atmosphere that many working class people find extremely uncomfortable. 'Good', the activist says, 'they are being challenged by our example'. But as a rule they don't come back.

In short, astroturf activism is any attempt by an organisation to take political action which does not flow from the direct material interests of the people involved, for the purpose of recruitment.* The Jarrow marchers will not magically get a job when they get to London, and none of the participants could seriously have imagined that they would. If the first Jarrow march was a tragedy, then history is repeating itself as farce.

Compare that to the recent actions by the 'Sparks' rank and file electricians (latest bulletins here, background here)! It's like the difference between night and day! Threatened with crippling pay cuts, and deeply distrustful of the union tops, they are taking ever more bold direct action, in an attempt to overturn the employers' attacks. They are not asking someone for a favour, and they are not asking someone to take action for them. They are moving towards grabbing the decision-making process for themselves, and taking direct action, with the idea of making cuts impossible to implement.

By definition, occupations challenge the workings of capitalism and the state
Also, look at the example set by the Wall Street occupiers. Occupy Wall Street started out as little more than a Twitter hashtag, but got huge worldwide traction as the very idea of it thrilled people from Arkansas to Antarctica. The number of people physically there started off small, but grew as it became very clear that reinforcements were needed. Now more than two hundred occupations are in the pipeline across the US alone, and there is even an Occupy Liverpool in the planning stages! By its very nature, a static occupation asks questions which a meandering treck across the country does not.

When someone reposted my Jarrow article on Indymedia, someone called 'Bob' asked: "Do you have any better ideas, then, Infantile Disorder? It's easy to criticise but not so easy to provide altenative [sic] ideas, is it?" No, perhaps it's not easy, but it's not for me to tell people how to resist, so long as they are resisting, and not just protesting.

In the past, resistance has taken the form of wildcat strikes, go-slows, work to rules, industrial sabotage, occupations, and blockades. As the pressure grows on working class people in this new great depression, necessity will become the mother of invention. Communists must do what Marx advised all those years ago - join in when it's our workplace or community, offer practical solidarity when it's not, and "always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole".

* I don't wish to pour scorn on the overwhelming majority of us who have done astroturfing before, whether as members of 'left' parties or non-hierarchical collectives. We've 'seen through' the system, and want a revolution yesterday, so in our desperation we've all done some silly, basically pointless stuff in the past. However, this is not to excuse the fake left leaders, who have a different set of material interests to their respective memberships.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

'Occupy' Movement Scares US Ruling Class

Marchers reach Brooklyn Bridge last weekend, before the mass arrest
As grassroots anger grows against the feeble facade that is democracy in the US, the 'Occupy' movement is gaining in popularity, and its massive online presence is being translated into boots - and tents - on the ground. After getting their start on Wall Street - the belly of the imperialist beast - the occupations have spread across the country.

After a video of police trapping and then pepper spraying peaceful female protesters went viral ten days ago, the movement broke through the corporate media's wall of silence, and has been growing ever since.

Cops made another bid to intimidate would-be demonstrators this weekend, when they entrapped over a thousand marchers on Brooklyn Bridge, and then arrested several hundred of their number. Again however, their tactics seem to have backfired, and tens of thousands more are now getting involved. Copycat occupations have begun in Los Angeles and Boston, Massachusetts, and according to a graphic compiled by the Daily Kos (below), hundreds more are in the pipeline, all across the US.

Occupations are underway or planned in these locations, according to Daily Kos
Without a doubt, this is a movement against the death grip which the financial aristocracy holds over both the economy and the political system of the United States. No less than the 'Arab Spring' protests, or their equivalents in Greece, Spain and Israel, it shows that those who wrote off the working class as a political force did so at their peril. A mass fightback is now in its initial stages.

However, various issues need to be considered. Just like the demonstrators in the Mediterranean countries over the summer, they are predominantly very young and unemployed. This is hardly surprising, as it takes some physical hardiness to camp out in the midst of state hostility for three weeks, and anyone with any regular work commitments simply couldn't afford to spare the time.

Also unsurprisingly, as a generation that has come to political maturity at a time when the trade unions have managed to restrain all class-based resistance, the majority show little awareness of working class struggle as an agent of political change - beyond the struggle of remaining encamped. As sections of the union bureaucracy, plus fellow reactionaries such as former World Bank Vice President Joseph Stiglitz and multi-billionaire financier George Soros voice their 'support' for the demonstrations, they do so with the intention of making them safe for capitalism.

After all, in yesterday's New York Times, finance columnist Andrew Sorkin revealed some of the fear now churning the guts of the ruling class:
“Is this Occupy Wall Street thing a big deal?” the C.E.O. asked me. I didn’t have an answer. “We’re trying to figure out how much we should be worried about all of this,” he continued, clearly concerned. “Is this going to turn into a personal safety problem?”
The 'Occupy' movement is exciting, but it must reach out to the wider working class if it is to have any lasting effect on the political landscape. Beyond the occupations of town centres and squares, working people must fight for control of their own workplaces, neighbourhoods, and communities. Only then can "the 99%" dictate terms to those who have run roughshod over their basic needs for so long.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Nightwatchman - World Wide Rebel Songs

Last year Rage Against The Machine frontman Zach de la Rocha sparked feverish anticipation when he announced to a Chilean newspaper that the rebel-rousing rap metallers would release a new album "in the northern hemisphere summer" of 2011. But no more was said about it. Still, Tom Morello - he of the bombastic funky riffs you could sing along to - has kept himself busy with various side projects. Not least among these is his Nightwatchman folky alter ego - who steps out the shadow of Dylan, Cash, Guthrie and the rest, to find his revolutionary new voice on this, his third album.

The Nightwatchman first emerged in the mid-noughties, as Morello served time in Audioslave - an often ponderous and generally 'apolitical' band. His first release under this nom de guerre was One Man Revolution, which boiled down to Morello, his guitar, the odd harmonica, and some one-liners. While the righteous anger at the crimes of Bush and co. was palpable, the songwriter cut as lonely a figure as the title suggested, and the vengeful Old Testament God of Morello's Catholic background often stood in for the massed ranks of the proletariat. Aside from the odd new instrument and guest appearance here and there, The Fabled City trod similar ground.

Now, with the musical engine room of his Street Sweeper Social Club becoming 'The Freedom Fighters Orchestra' for this record, The Nightwatchman feels like a fully-rounded project for the first time. And it's clear that the beginnings of large-scale worldwide rebellion have had a big effect on Morello's songwriting, with every song emphasising the urgency that It Begins Tonight, and it is us ('the 99%' - as the Wall Street occupiers have it) against them (the banksters, big business, and their political lackeys).

The Nightwatchman entertaining Wisconsin demonstrators in February
As a poet, Morello can't be compared to a de la Rocha or his SSSC bandmate Boots Riley, but then he doesn't even try to pull off their flourish. Instead, he's great at crafting often metaphorical verses followed by simple choruses which thousands could sing along with on the picket lines, complete with clenched fists punching the air. And that is the aim; The Nightwatchman can packed into the back of whatever Morello drives, and taken to whichever protest or fundraiser he chooses. Perhaps most famously, he played for the huge Wisconsin demos against pay cuts and effective union de-recognition for public sector workers, and this experience directly inspired closer Union Town.

Besides Wisconsin, this tour of rebel hotspots takes in Mexico (The Dogs of Tijuana), colonial Kenya (Facing Mount Kenya), and Iraq (Stray Bullets). Other highlights include the gospel-tinged rock of Speak and Make Lightning, the struggle-on-despite-it-all straight up folk balladry of Save the Hammer for the Man, and the title track itself, which seems to invoke the Sandinista!-era spirit of Morello's teen inspirations The Clash.

Conservatives and metal snobs will hate it, of course. But those who newly have "a mission of our own" might just love it. And that - of course - is the point. For me, it's a strong album of the year contender.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

The Commune Tackles Capitalist Crisis, Dale Farm and Grassroots Struggle

The summer of riots are now behind us, and we're digging in for a long, hard winter of struggle ahead. What better way to ponder your place in the proletariat than with the October issue of The Commune - the self-titled publication of the group committed to workers' self-management and communism from below?

The editorial looks at the Labour conference and the 30th November public sector strike, and Clifford Biddulph argues that Labour will never be on our side. In other news, Pete Jones writes on the complexities of the Palestinian bid for statehood, and Sharon Borthwick examines the brutal state murder of Troy Davis.

The workplace section features recollections of life as a 'chugger' (or 'charity mugger'), Mark Harrison's visit to a Fujitsu picket in Manchester, and my own introduction to the rank-and-file 'Sparks' electricians

Meanwhile various communards weigh in on the theme of capitalist crisis. David Broder looks at criris responses in Italy, Oisín Mac Giollamóir describes the politicians' 'whack a mole' approach to averting economic collapse, and John Keeley tries to explain the crisis cycle using Marx's magnum opus Capital.

This, plus more Eurozone and Libya analysis, is available for PDF download here, as well as from radical bookshops, social centres, and by emailing uncaptivemindsATgmail.com. This is the third issue of The Commune distributed for free. After the last one we received excellent feedback, and as such are looking to expand our distribution network. Would you like to share these ideas with friends or colleagues? Leave a few in your local library or café?

But to get our communist message out there, we also need money. If you enjoy the paper, the price of a couple of pints a month would be of great use to us. Email us, or set up a standing order to The Commune, Co-op sc. 089299 ac. 65317440

The 2011 Jarrow March: A Long Walk To Nowhere

The original march, three quarters of a century ago
This month marks seventy-five years since two hundred men marched three hundred miles in the depths of the Great Depression but the heights of the Spanish Revolution, in protest against mass unemployment in their north-eastern town of Jarrow. At noon today, supporters of Socialist Party front group Youth Fight For Jobs will start to follow in their footsteps. But while there are parallels to be made with the 1936 event, there are also important differences - and it's worth remembering that all the original 'crusaders' got was train fare home.

Though the working class was struggling all over the country - and indeed over much of the world - in autumn 1936, Jarrow was hit particularly hard. Unemployment levels were at 70%, and the local Labour MP described the area as:
"... utterly stagnant. There was no work. No one had a job except a few railwaymen, officials, the workers in the co-operative stores, and a few workmen who went out of the town... the plain fact [is] that if people have to live and bear and bring up their children in bad houses on too little food, their resistance to disease is lowered and they die before they should."
The march was actually proposed by the local council, and the marchers bore the council's petition, pleading for Jarrow-specific government aid. The march was designed in a decidedly undemocratic way, and partly represented an attempt to steal the thunder of the long-established and Communist-linked National Unemployed Workers' Movement, which had organised their own 'hunger marches'. As a result, Communists were strictly forbidden from participating.

Despite these important limitations, it can be said that Jarrow was an event thoroughly rooted in a working class community, enjoying widespread support in the town, and it is still remembered with nostalgia there today. En route south, the marchers received many donations of food and lodgings, because many millions sympathised with their plight.

With all due respect for the 2011 marchers - and I hope they have a great, life-changing experience - their event is a very different affair. Yes, the world economy is again spiraling into depression, and as the organisers point out, youth unemployment is already around a million, which is both an obscene social tragedy and irrational waste of talent.

The 1936 march is still fondly remembered by some in Jarrow
But importantly, the march is not some grassroots expression of discontent, born out of a working class community. Rather it is an 'astroturfed' action, a conscious political strategy to win the Socialist Party more members. Doubtless many participants will see this as a worthy aim in of itself. However, as I have explained before, the so-called 'left parties' are not revolutionary organisations. Rather, they are reformist organisations in the orbit of the reactionary trade union bureaucracy. And I do not reach this conclusion based on sectarian motives. The reality of my claim should be made apparent by the very nature of the action in question.

Think about the effects this march will have. In essence, it is a largeish group of people going for a walk, at the end of which they will make a plea from a position of weakness. It is a plea which is certain to go unanswered. In contrast to the young unemployed of Spain, Greece, and now the United States, these unemployed people will not even occupy a particular space for any length of time. While the growing attempted occupation of Wall Street inevitably poses the question 'should public places be used for private profit?', the new Jarrow march poses no questions, and offers no solutions. No doubt, media coverage will raise awareness of chronic youth unemployment, but this is something that most people in this country are well aware of already. The effect on public consciousness will be depressing, not inspiring, because it offers no practical example to follow.

In his 'Marching For A Future' article, Youth Fight For Jobs chair Ben Robinson asks: "Why should we let pro-big business politicians get away with condemning the young and the unemployed as a 'feral underclass'?" Why indeed? But revolutionary movements and revolutionary organisations decisively break with the lobbying tactics tolerated and even encouraged by the ruling class. They take actions which challenge the ability of the few to profit from the potentially overwhelming many. They do not just go for long walks on the road to nowhere.

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