Friday, September 27, 2013

Fascists Jailed For Liverpool City Centre Attack

Clockwise from top left: Pinkham, Kearns, Calvert, Dumont, Coates, Hawley
Yesterday evening, seven fascists associated with the EDL breakaway North West Infidels were given prison sentences for their role in a violent street attack last July. As CCTV footage confirmed, the seven men pounced on a smaller group of antifascists and musicians, in the lead-up to an antifascist fundraiser in Liverpool's Bold Street. Each admitted violent disorder and were given much smaller terms than the maximum prison sentence of five years.

The group, led by Liam Pinkham, ran across Bold Street and laid into a smaller gathering outside the Tabac cafe. When the antifascists and musicians took refuge in Tabac, they were followed, and tables were sent flying.

The fascists sent down were:
  • Liam Pinkham, 24, of Victoria Road, Wallasey, sentenced to seventeen months.
  • Michael Kearns, 41, of Dovecot Avenue, Liverpool, sentenced to fourteen months.
  • Shane Calvert, 31, of Shetland Close, Blackburn, sentenced to fourteen months.
  • Peter Hawley, 53, of Alisa Road, Blackburn, sentenced to thirteen months.
  • Matthew Coates, 22, of New Place Lane, Southport, sentenced to ten months.
  • Steven Dumont, 18, of Rosewood Close, Liverpool, sentenced to five months.
Nathan Smith, 21, of Kingsway, Huyton, did not show up for sentencing, and a warrant has been issued for his arrest.

There can be no doubt that the streets of Liverpool in particular will be far safer for these fascists' absence over the coming months. There is a sense in which the "Scouse Nationalists" have had the heart torn out of their would-be firm, with Pinkham and Kearns behind bars. Dumont is what passes for the brains of the outfit, and has shown some skill in motivating some of the most politically backward sections of the working class with his online combination of populist posturing and outright lies about opponents. However, fascists have historically thrived on jail time martyrdom, and the North West Infidels are already playing up that aspect, farcically describing the seven as "political prisoners".

The Bold Street attack took place at a time when the Infidels were arguably in the ascendency, and growing in confidence as a street crew. Their electoral alliance with National Front mayoral candidate and former Quiggins owner Pete Tierney had proved disastrous, and they were turning their attention to threatened and actual thuggery against "reds" and Liverpool Irish. But they overreached themselves that Friday, and their long decline began. With key members facing time, they have had to show a measure of self-restraint.

Having made these arrests however, police have not gone in for the kill with local fascism. Just two weeks later, the Infidels managed to mobilise three hundred EDL-linked people from around the country, plus elements of Merseyside Orange Order, for a counter-demonstration against a local Irish Republican flute band's parade in the name of Liverpool-born trade union leader James Larkin. With numbers about even on pro- and anti-fascist sides, it was the police who decided the balance of power, allowing fascists and Orangeists almost right up in the face of those on the parade, who were spat at, absurdly called "paedos" and "IRA", and had missiles thrown at them. Only at points when the melee began to spill out of police control did the cops assert their authority.

Anti-Irish racism has remained a key component of local fascism ever since, as street fascists have tried - and largely failed - to make links with local Orangeism. Many online postings have revelled in potato-based 'humour', mocking the Irish famine/genocide which originally compelled some in the diaspora to seek refuge in Liverpool. No arrests have followed this.

Frequent anti-Muslim postings have also drawn no arrests, despite being a clear incitement to racial hatred. Local fascists took their anti-Muslim bigotry to the streets in the wake of soldier Lee Rigby's killing in May, and were protected by police as they did so.

In short, the police position on the fascist threat has proved the militant antifascist maxim that "No government in the world fights fascism to the death. When the bourgeoisie sees power slipping from its grasp, it has recourse to fascism to maintain itself." Nowhere is this more obviously true than in Greece, where the most aggressive austerity measures in Europe, combined with the lack of successful working class resistance, has created conditions in which the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn have flourished like a fungus in shit. Amidst the social chaos of Greece, some sections of the ruling class clearly see Golden Dawn as useful, hence the toleration of everyday co-operation between police and the fascists.

Austerity in this country has not yet reached Greek proportions, but it will. When it does, a fascist force will be similarly tolerated by the state, and used against the most militant and most vulnerable sections of the working class. In this context, the police's containment approach makes a lot of sense, from their perspective at least.

And neither should we allow ourselves to think for one minute that the state's attention will not focus on the left, when it manages to become more of a threat to the status quo. It was anti-terrorist police who led the inquiry into the Bold Street fascist attack. But when a small group of antifascists peacefully met in Liverpool Central Library a few months back, they were shocked to overhear a plainclothes cop say "we've found the terrorists".

To summarise, it would be a dreadful mistake to now conclude that the police are a friend of the oppressed. The task of combating fascism remains a task which falls primarily to those they would attack.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Case For A Bedroom Tax Non-Payment Campaign

Over the last few weeks, the tide has been turning against the government over their imposition of the bedroom tax. The human rights report by Raquel Rolnik of the United Nations laid bare both the suffering of affected tenants and the fact that the coalition government holds them in utter contempt. And at this week's Labour Party conference, Ed Miliband made a commitment to abolishing the bedroom tax should he come to power following the next general election.

Labour councils across the country - and particularly on Merseyside - issued statements of support for this decision. Liverpool's Labour mayor Joe Anderson has used his Twitter account to voice his own personal opposition to the bedroom tax on a few occasions. This week was no different, as he tweeted "Thank you to all of the people who campaigned to persuade Labour to pledge to repeal Bedroom Tax, you deserve great credit." But there was no response when the Merseyside Federation of Anti-Bedroom Tax Groups - whose members have been instrumental in organising on the issue locally - tweeted him "That's fine, but will Liv council reassess every affected tenant as per the recent Fife rulings?"

Labour councils in Wirral, Knowsley, Sefton, St Helens and Halton have also refused to do anything to alleviate the agony of affected tenants, despite the Fife QC's statement that it is incumbent on them to reassess ALL bedrooms on the grounds that:
"It’s up to the local authority to make its own decision that the landlord has accurately described the property. Because this is an appeal, it is now for me to decide what a bedroom is. In this case, the council has made a decision based on the landlord’s description but hasn’t even gone round to inspect the room."
Furthermore, there have now been two rulings (1, 2) that rooms under seventy square feet cannot be counted as bedrooms, and usage must be taken into account. Still, Labour councils are refusing to step up to their responsibility. Just this week, Wirral council chief executive Graham Burgess deceptively and falsely replied to the South Wirral campaign that: "This [Fife] is a one off special case - it is unlikely that Wirral will be affected by it." With the Department for Work and Pensions seeking leave to appeal, this position is unlikely to change any time soon.

If tenants can be found who are being charged bedroom tax for rooms of under seventy square feet, and if they have no existing arrears, a non-payment campaign could be an excellent way of forcing the issue. Of course, it would be up to the tenants concerned, and they would need support and solidarity from their local groups within the larger Federation. Still, combined with media attention-grabbing demonstrations, it could be a great tactic for embarrassing the local Labour politicians, and especially those who have made a show of opposing the bedroom tax.

It seems possible that one final push could finish the bedroom tax off, and deal the coalition government a massive blow.

Monday, September 23, 2013

South Wirral Demo Demands End To Bedroom Tax

This morning, a small but determined group of twenty demonstrators marched in South Wirral, demanding that the bedroom tax be finally ditched by the vicious and incompetent Tory/Lib Dem coalition which introduced it.

The demonstration walked the two miles from Bromborough Rake train station to Eastham One Stop Shop, where appeal letters were handed in. In comparison to the demonstration called by a single Rock Ferry estate in July, there were relatively fewer participants from the local community, as distinct from those activists showing their solidarity. However, the event was almost certainly the first protest ever to take place in Bromborough, and the noisy chants will have raised much awareness of the local group.

The route showed something of the class divides which can exist even within the same town, with some parts more mansion tax than bedroom tax. There were whispers of "how the other half live", as we passed immaculately kept massive lawns and multiple expensive cars parked on driveways. It was noted that the general public in these areas barely looked at the march. Then down the road we passed through an impoverished area with shuttered shops and (very artistic) graffiti everywhere. Here drivers waved their support, and two teenage boys whose teachers were "on strike" ran alongside and shouted for their friends to join in.

The Merseyside Federation of Anti-Bedroom Tax Groups is recommending that all affected tenants appeal, or re-appeal based on the Fife tribunal rulings. Fife council has now accepted that it went beyond its powers when it accepted the word of housing associations on how many bedrooms are in each property for bedroom tax purposes, without carrying out their own assessment based on 'bedroom' size, useable size, and room usage. Wirral council has so far given no reply to the South Wirral campaign's open letter, demanding that they do the same.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Liverpool Antifascists Gather to Commemorate Pavlos Fyssas

On Saturday evening, fifteen Liverpool antifascists gathered at very short notice, to commemorate our comrade Pavlos Fyssas, who was murdered by a supporter of the Greek neo-fascist Golden Dawn party. The assembly - next to the Victoria monument in Derby Square - was arranged via Facebook and word of mouth, and was intended to show our solidarity with Greek antifascism.

Alongside their attacks on leftists and antifascists, Golden Dawn target immigrants and LGBTQ people, amongst other already marginalised groups. In the absence of a coherent class-based alternative to the economic catastrophe in Greece, Golden Dawn have gained a dangerous and growing following by posing as anti-establishment outsiders. However, some consider them to be a paramilitary arm of the Greek state.

Similar gatherings happened simultaneously in Manchester, London, Derry, and many cities across Europe. The Greek struggle is our struggle! The battle continues! Pavlos Fyssas lives on!

Friday, September 20, 2013

A room less than 70 sq ft not liable for bedroom tax – Fife Council

The following is a press release from Merseyside Federation of Anti-Bedroom Tax Groups:

Following a first-tier benefit tribunal judgement* against Fife Council that a room of less than 70 sq ft is not a bedroom for bedroom tax purposes, an emergency meeting agreed today that this will now become official council policy. Earlier in the week the council announced that it would not appeal against the tribunal ruling. In separate judgements over the last two weeks, the benefit tribunal in Kirkcaldy has ruled that room purpose, usage and usable space are also issues that councils need to take into account in determining a tenant’s liability for the bedroom tax.

Secretary of Merseyside Federation of anti-Bedroom Tax Groups Juliet Edgar says: “This is is an important and very welcome decision. We have always said the process that councils went through in determining bedroom tax liability was fundamentally flawed since they did not take into account the space standards of the 1985 Housing Act or individual circumstances. Fife Council has set a precedent: we now insist that councils on Merseyside follow immediately.”

There are thousands of properties on Merseyside where tenants are paying bedroom tax for room less than 70 sq ft. The 1985 Housing Act space standard says that this is too small to serve as a bedroom for an adult. Councils and housing associations will now have to face up to the prospect of undertaking individual surveys of tens of thousands of social housing properties across Merseyside to record individual room sizes, their purpose and the use that is made of them. It is expected that at least 30% of all bedroom tax decisions will have to be set aside as a result.

Ms Edgar comments: “This is is an exercise that will take months. In the meantime, we demand that all existing bedroom tax decisions are set aside. Why should tenants continue to pay a tax for which they are not liable while councils do the job that they should have done at the outset?”

For further information contact Juliet Edgar on 07528194137

* Judgements SC108/13/01362 and SC108/13/01318. For a more detailed assessment of both judgements and their significance see speye.wordpress.com

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

UCU Declare "A Big Victory" at University of Liverpool

The University and College Union's University of Liverpool rep has declared "a big victory" over the University's plans to sack its 2,803 non-academic staff if they refused to accept huge attacks on their working conditions.

In a statement, Martin Ralph announced that:
"In the face of the threat of dismissals without redundancy pay, management wanted to impose contracts that included no defined maximum hours, removal of TOIL [time off in lieu], the right to change contracts without proper negotiation." However, "The UCU has forced management to back down and accept more such as mutual flexibility – that is both sides must agree to changes in flexibility. Another big victory is their agreement to negotiate with the union to a greater extent than before."
In July, I reported how the Unite union - which, along with Unison, collects dues from non-academic staff at the university - had acted to sabotage a demonstration against £300,000 a year Vice Chancellor Howard Newby and guests at a plush city centre dinner. Over the summer, Unite and Unison have refused to call a strike ballot, despite obvious rank and file anger.

In contrast, the UCU ballot showed 62% in favour of strike action, with a historically high turnout. Ralph attributed the University's backtracking to a fear of worker mobilisation:
"They did not want a strike as it would damage their image and it could be an example for the rank and file of Unite and Unison to put pressure on their leadership and go on strike together[...] No doubt the national management and even the government do not want strike action that will increase the idea that it is possible to fight and win by strike action. This victory is an example that should be repeated throughout higher education."
For their part, the University stated that: "Discussions have been constructive, enabling us to implement equal terms and conditions for this group of staff."

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The New Working Class Movement: Community Organisation

There is vast potential for community-based resistance on Merseyside
This is the first part of my series of articles, setting out my perspective on the much needed development of a working class movement in the UK. This piece will focus on community organisation, while future blogs will look at: workplace organisation, how we can beat the cuts locally and nationally, the importance of intersectionality to class struggle, the place of the UK working class in the world struggle, creating a new world, full socialism, and full communism.

Over the last year, my political activity has predominantly been in what might be termed 'community politics', and particularly the campaign against the bedroom tax - a movement which has attracted thousands across Merseyside over the period since its January launch. Feeder marches from different areas of Liverpool met at the town hall in the early spring, and for a brief moment it seemed that anti-bedroom tax and anti-cuts campaigns were on the verge of creating a mass participation working class movement in the area. For a number of reasons, this energy dissipated. But numbers which would have seemed astronomical a year ago are still working on different projects in their communities, and the potential for a strong, united movement far beyond the traditional left's control is still there.

It is possible that Liverpool city region - with its high levels of social deprivation and militant history - is the perfect incubator for such a form of struggle. All the same, there are anti-bedroom tax and anti-cuts groups everywhere, so I'm sure the poor of all major cities could potentially move in this political direction sooner rather than later.

There are many hundreds of thousands out there now, who really do have 'nothing to lose but their chains'. While the organised left focuses on (mis)leading the small proportion of the class who pay union dues, it falls to the long-abandoned barely surviving elements to start building a new working class movement. As the welfare cuts suicides show, this is increasingly a life and death matter.

Aside from that town hall demo, there are two other particularly inspiring events I've been to this year. The first was back in February, when over a thousand people charged onto the streets of Bootle - the town with the UK's shortest life expectancy. At the time I labelled it as an "explosion of class anger", and it really seemed like the mob were keen to tear the Cabinet limb from limb. When the group's instigator failed to put forward any actions beyond - albeit furious and brilliant - A to B marches, Stand Up In Bootle disintegrated. However, a massive amount of potential was clearly there, and welfare advocates ReClaim are now doing some brilliant community work there.

The other was the July demo called by the anti-bedroom tax group of just one estate in Birkenhead. They marched from their street to the nearest one stop shop, where appeal forms were handed in en masse, including by a family being threatened with imminent eviction by Magenta Housing (formerly Wirral Partnership Homes). On the one hand this was an exercise in by-the-book legality, but on the other the bullishly defiant atmosphere very much indicated that any bailiffs would be in for a very hard time. As of yet there have been no bedroom tax-related evictions on that estate.

In Bootle and the Birkenhead estate, the campaign began with someone going door to door and asking if anyone was in trouble with benefits. The fear and the anger were already there, all that was missing was a catalyst - someone to bring people together and raise the prospect of rebellion. If you dream of a new working class movement but militant workplace organising doesn't seem like an imminent prospect, doing something similar in your area is perhaps the most radical thing you could do right now.

Every benefit cut, every related death, every eviction is a despicable crime against the working class. And every closed library, every shuttered care home, every boarded up homeless shelter is too. They all must be prevented. But they can only be prevented by those directly affected, standing with the solidarity of those who realise the wider class significance - that an injury to one of us is an injury to all of us. By any means necessary, this must be done. You've heard those cliches before; now you must take action.

Of course, community versus workplace is a false dichotomy, because paid workers need community facilities, and an increasingly large number claim some form of welfare. Workplace action can feed in to community-based action, and obviously it is a positive thing in of itself. In my next article on the new working class movement, I will share my ideas on taking the industrial struggle forward.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Resistance: Bedroom Tax, Welfare Caps and The State

I'm speaking at the following event next month, focusing on the topic of 'mobilising resistance movements'.

Panel Discussion with:
Adam Ford, Joe Halewood, Lynn Hancock and Gerry Mooney
October 14th – 5pm-7pm
Liverpool John Moores University
John Foster Building,
80-90 Mount Pleasant, Liverpool

One year on since the introduction of welfare reforms – such as welfare caps, bedroom tax and the reassessment of incapacity benefits – we have witnessed a collective struggle where communities have joined forces to resist the state and protect our rights to housing, privacy and family life. People experiencing mental health issues and physical disabilities, single female headed households, tenants between the ages of 16 and 35 and tenants housed in high rent areas have so far been hit the hardest by these welfare reforms. This session invites people to relate experiences of community-based protests and what the future holds for these. It will do so by drawing upon the approaches and tactics used so far by activists, housing experts, lawyers and academics to support communities who have been gravely and directly affected by welfare reforms.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Help is Available to Stop You Losing Your Home!

The following is a repost from the Merseyside Federation of Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation Groups blog.

If you are a housing association tenant and have difficulty paying your rent – including the new bedroom tax which came into force on 1st April 2013 – you will have received letters, phone calls, texts, messages and visits to your home from your housing association to make arrangements to clear your rent arrears. You are maybe one of the 27, 215 tenants in Merseyside who cannot afford to pay the bedroom tax.

You may have already received a Notice Seeking Possession, giving you notice of the intention of your housing association to seek possession of your home through the court. We in the anti-bedroom movement across Merseyside can help you to fight the bedroom tax. It is extremely important that you seek help as soon as possible. The possession of your home and/or actual eviction can be stopped if you seek help and support urgently.

There is help available from anti-bedroom tax groups across Merseyside, many of them meeting on a weekly basis in community venues in your area. Some also run anti-bedroom tax surgeries to assist you in appealing the bedroom tax decision made by your local council, and submitting a Discretionary Housing Payment form to request help towards your rent.

Merseyside Anti-bedroom Tax Facebook Groups:-

Canning, Combat the Bedroom Tax Dovecot, Communities Against the Bedroom Tax (Kirkby), Dingle, Garston & Speke, Granby, Leasowe, Norris Green, Old Swan Against the Cuts, ReClaim, South Wirral, Stand Up in Bootle, Stand Up in Halton, Stand Up in Huyton, Vauxhall/Scotland Road, Wallasey, Warrington Against the Bedroom Tax.

Weekly information and support surgeries:

1. CASA – UNITE – Initiative Factory, Hope Street, Liverpool.
Fridays 2-5pm. Contact Celia Ralph/Paul Jones on 07579203969.
2. ReClaim – Upstairs at the Peacock Pub, 355 Westminister Road, Kirkdale, L4 3TF.
Fridays 3.30-6.30pm. Contact Juliet Edgar/Mick Bennett on 07528194137.
3. Combat the Bedroom Tax Dovecot – Dovecot MAC, L14 9BA.
Wednesdays – 2-4 pm. Contact Linda Green on 07760461701.
4. Old Swan Against the Cuts at Old Swan Youth Centre, 23 Derby Lane, Liverpool, L13 6QA.
Tuesdays – 5.30-7pm. Contact Ruth or Sheila at Old Swan Youth Centre on 0151 225 1574.
5. Communities Against the Bedroom Tax - Sacred Heart social club, Northwood, Kirkby
Tuesdays - 7pm.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Bedroom Tax Cases Open To New Appeals Following Landmark Judgement

The following is a repost from the Merseyside Federation of Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation Groups blog

A Kirkcaldy Benefits Tribunal has made a judgement which opens the way for hundreds of thousands of appeals, and which drives a coach and horses through the ConDem Coalition’s hated Bedroom Tax.
 
In an appeal against Fife Council’s decision that a tenant of what the landlord said was a three-bedroomed property had to pay for ‘under-occupying’ two bedrooms, the Tribunal judge ruled that the property in question in fact had just one bedroom, and the tenant was not liable for any bedroom tax. The judge also ruled that the Council must refund the tenant all the housing benefit it had deducted since its original decision. Crucially the judgement also makes clear that a council:
  • cannot make a reliable bedroom tax decision on the assumption that data submissions from a landlord on bedroom numbers are correct;
  • must know the room purpose and usage as at the time it makes the benefit tax decision for that decision to be reliable;
  • must consider not just room size in making a decision but also usable floor space.
The process in determining bedroom tax liability across Merseyside was no different from that adopted by Fife council: every bedroom tax decision made by Wirral, Liverpool, Sefton, Knowsley and Halton councils is therefore arbitrary and rife for challenge and must be appealed by every affected tenant.

Merseyside Federation will continue its work to ensure that tenants know they have both a right and a responsibility to appeal against this vicious attack on the poor.

Axe the Bedroom Tax!

For further information contact: -
Merseyside Federation of Anti-Bedroom Tax Groups
Juliet Edgar (Secretary) on 07528194137

For a more detailed assessment of the judgement and its significance see speye.wordpress.com

Monday, September 02, 2013

Liverpool's Rubbish Deal Sets Stage For Future Conflict

Amey promise to improve services, cut costs, and protect workers. Hmm...
The Liverpool bin and street cleaning dispute was officially declared over on 16th August, after two weeks of growing litter piles amidst resistance to contractor Amey's penny-pinching plans. After an intervention by Labour mayor Joe Anderson on his return from holiday, the GMB and Unite unions called off all further action. Workers have won a below inflation 'pay rise' of 1%, but the worthless jobs and conditions 'agreement' they got from bosses contains the seeds of future struggles.

Refuse collectors and street cleaners had all been taking action against Amey since the start of the month, as workers pushed for an above inflation rise, plus a guarantee that Amey would not sack sixty street cleaning staff.

At the time of my last report, Amey were implicitly threatening to use scab labour in an effort to break the refuse workers' work to rule, which had already illustrated that the binnies normally work thirty per cent harder than they are paid for. The street cleaners started Friday strikes, but unions had managed to ensure that their members - doing different jobs but taking on the same bosses - did not take action together. In this way, disruption was minimised.

But that still wasn't enough to appease Joe "I was a socialist before you were born" Anderson OBE, who stopped short of fully condemning the workers, but made sure people knew his priority was to force an end to the dispute on unfavourable terms, declaring:

"I regret that the dispute has caused so much inconvenience and damage, I want to assure residents that I will do everything to ensure that what happened in our city centre over the weekend will not happen again."

Though he used the Liverpool Echo to position himself as an honest and neutral broker, he is nothing of the sort. In reality, Anderson had awarded the contract to Amey just two months previously, on the implicit premise that they would attack workers, the better to cut costs to the council.

In June, council mouthpiece Liverpool Express reported that workers from the previous contractor would be rehired, but:

"A new council deal promises to improve street cleansing and road maintenance – and will save the local authority £33 million, helping protect key local services in Liverpool. Liverpool City Council has awarded Amey its streetscene contract, covering highways and street cleaning."

These 'savings' would supposedly be made at the same time as huge 'improvements', but with little idea of how Amey's costs could still be much lower than under the previous contract. Perhaps the only clue came in the claim that:

"Amey has made a commitment to create 140 apprenticeships over the life of the nine year agreement, giving unemployed people the chance of on the job training and a career."

In all likelihood, these apprenticeships will not be in addition to the current workforce, but replacing them on much lower wages and short term contracts. Likely this is what triggered the dispute, though local news reporting failed to make the connection.

If Amey are to substantially cut costs and 'improve' services, this will no doubt mean some kind of assault on the workers they currently employ. In this context, the company's promises are worthless, and by his silence Joe Anderson is complicit in yet another attack on the class he bleats on about representing.

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