Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Rent strikes in Warsaw

Warsaw Rent Strike: Community Organizing and Activism in the Context of Social Atomisation

This article was first published in Zspwawa

In Warsaw a rent strike has been going on since Oct.1. Despite the fact that the issues may effect up to a quarter of a million people in Poland's capital city, we cannot say that a significant percent of public housing tenants have joined. This is mainly due to a lack of tradition and the extreme social atomization of the population - something typical in many post-Soviet bloc era countries. There is also the issue of a minuscule grassroots social movement and the disdain of the left for anything radical and outside the realms of reformist and party politics. [1]

The Warsaw ZSP, which called the strike, had no illusions from the beginning and saw the action as a long-term one, one that would start off with the participation of the most desperate, with nothing to lose, but which could grow as people saw the support network expanding. We see the activization of people in the community as the key challenge and the element which can ultimately change the situation. For us, two months into the beginning of the action, the strike is really just starting.

ZSP saw the strike as a necessary escalation of social protest against antisocial housing policies, the mass privatization of public housing and gentrification. More importantly, it is also a way to activate the growing number of people who cannot pay their rents, or who for other reasons risk becoming homeless to organize themselves and fight back instead of falling into despair and misery.

We became involved the tenants' movement about a year and a half ago as the city of Warsaw was introducing a range of unprecedented measures, ranging from drastic rent hikes, increased privatization of public housing and stricter rules for application for public housing. Our members formed the Tenants Defense Committee [2] together with neighbors.

The first protests were connected to the drastic rent hikes adopted in Warsaw - ranging from 200-300%. However, for many, rents were actually raised much higher due to the penalty rates imposed by the city. The city can charge 300% more is a tenant is in debt, or if some paperwork in the past was not fulfilled. In the worst case scenario, some bureaucrat in the city did not fulfill some requirement and now the tenant has to pay.

Despite many protests, and formal attempts to overturn the city's vote, the administration would not bend. The local government argued that the extra would be used to restore ruined housing. But in the end, a meager 1% of the money really went for repairs.

Many people simply cannot afford the new rents, especially the elderly. More and more people also live in housing which has been changed from public housing to privatized through the reprivatization process. [3] Reprivatization has already effected tens of thousands of people. After a house ceases to be municipal housing, the new landlords can raise the rent as well. Many tenants have to choose between paying for food and medicine or paying the rent. There is not nearly enough social help for people and many of the most needy find themselves excluded from the system. For example, there is some aid available for people with low incomes - only you are excluded from it if you are in debt (!!!) or if there were some problems with your paperwork. Scandalously, this decision to make debtors ineligible for rent deductions was made at a time a large proportion of people were already in debt. Over the last year, the percentage has increased dramatically, with some neighbourhoods reporting 50-60% of public housing tenants in debt and at risk of eviction.

In the context of the current, widespread social atomization, a really obscene situation has been created. People in general act as if this situation is their own personal tragedy. This is part of the internalization of the dominant neoliberal logic; if somebody cannot pay their rent, then it is not the system at fault and certainly it is not the fault of greedy landlords and speculators, or scummy politicians would would rather redecorate their offices and spend public money on bonuses for their cronies then on public housing. The neoliberal logic places the blame on the individual: if you don't have enough money to buy your own flat, it is your fault and you should suffer the consequences. On top of this internalized message, there is the implication that people who ask for public housing are something like freeloaders and, unfortunately, people are often made to feel as such by politicians and public housing officials. But the most decisive factors are the feeling of social powerlessness, that nothing can be done, and the lack of motivation to engage oneself in this type of activism with neighbours. The latter is also fueled by years of collective resentment that has pitted people against each other, rather than the system that is hurting them. We unfortunately encounter cases where neighbours show a lack of solidarity to each other, for example because they are convinced that their neighbour is in debt because of some personal defects.

All of these elements have made it very difficult to build a stronger and more effective response to the housing issue. In the situation were we have had to start from nothing, we have to realize what a huge success the tenants movement has become on the bleak social landscape of our city. This is however in relative terms; in absolute terms, our mobilization power is several hundred people out of hundreds of thousands. So we see that all of this is just the tip of the iceberg for us. But we must never get discouraged as it takes this building process to reach more people and greater proportions.

So many people are at risk of eviction. In countries where there are more developed social movements, it might seem amazing that the whole city is not on strike. But we are in Poland. One of the only countries where mass privatization of education and health care has not been met by mass protests (or any significant protests at all for that matter). It is the only country in Europe which had strong growth during the crisis period but despite this, workers massively accepted reductions and pay cuts rather than strike. Such a social vacuum is hard to explain and even harder to understand if you have not experienced it yourself. In this vacuum though, a tiny number of groups carry on the resistance, together with a growing number of affected.

The process of enpowerment we see when people take action, when they refuse to give in and decide to fight for themselves is quite encouraging. Not everybody wins, but when somebody does, it is our collective victory that we all celebrate. And it is an inspiration to others that we can win. This is an important element in the rent strike for us. Rather than watching people risk eviction alone as individuals, or even helping out people as individual cases, we propose that people finally take collective action. Because ultimately, it is going to be collective action, not the solving of individual cases, that will force policy changes. If people cannot afford the rent because of rent hikes or anti-social policies, we say they should join the strike and organize themselves with others for mutual self-defense.

What kind of mutual self-defense are we talking about? Well, we will see this in upcoming months. The city gentrifiers have finally decided to repair some buildings. The problem is that, despite the fact that people have paid rents and lived miserably for years in crumbling and freezing cold buildings that the city has never bothered to care for, when they do finally want to repair the buildings, they will relocate tenants. And, not all of them will qualify for public housing.

How is that? Well, some families received public housing years ago. Practically everybody lived in it during the time of the People's Republic of Poland. After the Transition, some people remained in public housing. Some public housing was also sold to tenants - some was not and some people simply couldn't afford to buy. So currently, in public housing there are some people whose incomes exceed the meagre limit qualifying people. But the city has not decided to check all tenants' income. The whole process is random. If your house is condemned, reprivatized or repaired and you earn "too much", you are on your own. If your house is in good shape, you can stay (even if you can afford to rent on the commerical market).

One of the members of our Committee, a retired former engineer, complained to the building inspectors that his house poses a threat to the life of the tenants. (Among the common problems we see are people getting carbon monoxide poisoning, fire hazards and collapsing elements of the building.) Thanks to his intervention in favour of his neighbours, his building has been condemned. And this 73 year old, who worked hard all his life and managed to get a pension which he actually can live on, will not be moved into replacement public housing. He is "too rich". But we will do everything to prevent such a travesty. This situation is being repeated in a number of buildings where we are organizing with the tenants and, hopefully, when the day comes, the city will see what collective action means.

One of our next big campaigns has to be to increase the upper income limit to allow people to live in public housing. This is already one of the postulates of the rent strike. Currently, people who earn more than the minimum wage, or around 340 euro a month, cannot apply for municipal housing, because supposedly "they can afford commercial rent". If a building is condemned (usually due to years of deliberate and gross negligence), you have to go through this income verification process. It does not matter if you are 90 years old or if you are seriously ill. One of our members, a retired woman whose family income exceeds the limit by 25 euros, has a very ill husband whose health has been so negatively effected by stress that he may die. She received some interesting proposals from the city: maybe her son could get three jobs or marry someone rich, or maybe she could take a loan and buy something. These are the cruel realities of how Poland treats its citizens. As a response, we have asked the city, which turns a blind eye to thousands of such cases, to tell people WHERE they can find an apartment they can afford. We have even officially demanded they be useful and provide a list of apartments that people in a certain income bracket can afford. But we know we won't get that list. The fact is, these places on not available on the commercial market.

We will make a new report, but preliminary research shows that rent for a one room apartment in Warsaw starts at 400 euros a month. This leaves a lot of people who are ineligible for public housing, but cannot afford commercial rents either. For them, it is a challenge, a life of cramming people into small living spaces, living in precarious conditions. Imagine telling some couple in their 70s or 80s that they will have to leave the home they have lived in for 50 years and go spend most of their income paying rent to some landlord who can ask them to move at almost any time. This is what we are seeing on a daily basis: people coming to us in tears and hysterics, wondering how, at their age, they are going to adjust to this new situation, and whether or not they are going to survive it.

Social housing for the homeless? It exists, but there is a huge lack of it. And what there is doesn't have to comply with even the same miserable standards of public housing. Toilets in the corridor shared by many. Or perhaps, in the future, like in other cities, cold containers somewhere on the outskirts of the city, far from any shops, complete misery. Uncomfortable and miserable but, for the elderly, such conditions often complicate existing health problems or can even prove deadly.

Last year we started to help tenants on a rather large scale, although the need for intervention far exceeds our capacities. As we did this, more and more horror stories started to emerge: tenants deprived of heat, electricity or running water and access to the toilet by greedy landlords trying to evict them as fast as possible; people forced to live in houses that are in the danger of collapsing. There were also a number of fires set. In some cases, tenants - who already lived without electricity, heat or gas - were afraid to leave the house, because the landlords tried to lock them out. Last year some people started to barricade themselves in their houses and refused to be evicted, the first forms of spontaneous resistance. They survived by lowering baskets through their windows where neighbors could put food.

Since the politicians and speculators already had their plans, we also made ours. In response to these outrages, we organized a number of direct actions, sometimes with tenants of a particular house or neighborhood, sometimes with other groups. In the winter of 2009, desperate tenants whose gas was cut off in the winter occupied the office of a local housing administration, effectively blocking it for two weeks. [4] As a result of this direct action, many of the tenants received new housing with the appropriate standard.

In autumn this year, we occupied the office of the President of Warsaw in the City Hall demanding that the postulates of the tenants movement regarding access to public housing be fulfilled. On many occasions there were noisy interruptions of meetings of the City Council, forcing them to put our issues on the agenda. Sometime this has resulted in minor victories or the resolution of individual problems. But we need to hit the city much harder to get these heartless "Thatcherites on steriods" to do anything, or even to comply with the existing law, for example, in terms of housing standards.

Over the spring and summer, we started to advise people about forming their own organizations - in houses, blocks or neighbourhoods. The result was a coalition currently consisting of 32 groups, mostly such small groups of tenants. The idea was to fight together, but, as sometimes happens, there arose differences of opinions as to the methods. In the period before November elections, some more moderate tenant activists from other groups decided to run for office and, a critical time for us, called for more patience and moderate approach. [5] But we had no illusions in the political process and decided on escalating the protests by calling for the strike.

ZSP made a strong stand against participating in the elections. This had to do with more than just our anarchist convictions, which is why our decision was usually accepted and seen as being something consistent. [6] Instead, we called for tenant’s self-organization, stressing the fact that only neighborhood committees organized by tenants can solve their own problems - not the politicians who pretend to be interested once in 4 years. As part of a series of long-term actions, we are now involved in calling numerous public meetings.

Coming back to the rent strike, at each meeting we ask people, even if they are afraid and won't join the strike themselves, to think about building better community organization and to do something to support the postulates of the strike. We explain that, as we build up real community movements, we can achieve wider, longer-term goals, but we also have immediate demands, some which are urgent and require immediate action. The main demands of the rent strike include: setting affordable rents, adopting realistic income criteria for public housing based on the price of renting on the private market, building more public housing, no more privatization of buildings with tenants, repairing inadequate and dangerous housing, building new flats to replace condemned buildings, in the same neighborhoods, not ghettos. We also have to constantly monitor what the politicians are doing and block future unfavourable ammendments to the law, or decisions of the City Council.

But besides this, we want to spread another vision, and this is the idea of direct tenant and community control of public housing. And in this way, we also popularize some of the ideas of anarchism, and question some of the suppositions of the neoliberal mentality, such as the primacy of private property and the rule of "the market". This is even to the extent that some people we interacted with now see themselves as anarchists and at meetings explain to others what "we as anarchist think".

In terms of the strike, we will see how it spreads, as more and more people fall into debt and are facing eviction or the privatization or destruction of their houses. The same goes for the overall community organizing and direction actions against resettlement to ghettos and eviction.

One last thing must be mentioned. There are many irregularities in the reprivatization process and there are organized mafias which deal in forging and/or selling claims to buildings, inventing or "finding" fictious heirs or otherwise manipulating the process. As a result, we can see certain names and companies appearing again and again and, ties to some of these can be linked to the husband of the President of Warsaw and other well-connected people. What role has the city been playing in the process?

Unfortunately, one of the lasting legacies of public policy has been to deny tenants the right to information on the reprivatization process. Tenants are not considered to be parties in the cases and often learn that their homes have been privatized and they are no longer public housing tenants after the whole process as been completed. [7]

Due to this situation, people cannot take action. To make the situation worse, afterwards, even if they can prove that fraud has taken place, the Polish law will do nothing to help if the property has been sold to a third party. The law considers the sale to be "in good faith", even if fraud was used to obtain the property! The fact of the matter is that the real estate mafia conspires to sell illegally obtained buildings as soon as possible.

This is one reason that tenants organizations have been fighting for public access to information about this process. But the city deliberately makes this difficult and public officials have even lied about the existence of lists of public housing with claims in court. This reached the highest levels of the local government, with even the disgraced former Vice President telling us on public record at the City Council that these didn't exist. But these "non-existent" lists were leaked. It was at that time that ZSP decided to commit another act of defiance, by declaring that, whatever legal threats the city would try to make, we would not back down from publishing and disseminating this information which is marked "classified". The first list concerned 1500 buildings and we delivered notices to the buildings and said "let's take action".

We told the city that, if they do not give people this information, we will get it anyway, by any means possible. Shortly following this, we occupied the office of the President of Warsaw in City Hall. Although this was not a huge mass action, it was one of those things that scared the hell out of the city. The next day, the city bureaucrats promised that the list of houses would go up on the city's internet page by November 15. A victory for direct action!

Well, not entirely. As usual, they didn't not do as they promised. So... back to work. We have our hands on two more lists and are delivering them and with our tenants' group. We are holding more open meetings. These lists contain the warning that they may not be copied, published or distributed in any way without the express written consent of the President of Warsaw. And again, we openly say that we are going to defy this. And we did.

What will be the result of all this, we don't know. In the meanwhile, we will keep on fighting.

[1] Establishment leftists supported by European social democrats responded to the call for a rent strike by telling tenants not to join in and trying to scare them by claiming they would get evicted.

[2] Website (in Polish): Some of the actions we were involved in are described in English on the ZSP Warsaw blog:

[3] Almost 1000 buildings have already been reprivatized but the process is just beginning. In total to 10,000 buildings may be subject to reprivatization. The data from the city on this process is scandalously chaotic and the subject of a hard battle for access to information. Despite the fact that this may effect a huge amount of people, the city has not prepared any statistics saying how many tenants may be affected and how many units will be taken out of the public housing stock because of this.

[4] See in the January 2010 archive.

[5] None of the tenant activists were elected. And the calls for moderation weakened the protest movement. We hope that people will learn something from this episode. But this is also a challenge. One of our ZSP members, ironically, was the only one offered the first place on an electoral list, which he naturally turned down. (He is much more valuable spending his time working at the grassroots level than hitting his head against the wall with bozos at the City Council.) Despite all, some part of our neighbours continue to believe that the solution is the election of a representatives, not the creation of a movement and they lament the decision not to go into politics. And this is one of the challenges we face constantly, is convincing people not to sit on their hands and believe that somebody will come along and settle these matters for them, but instead to get active, building the movement.

[6] Despite the above-mentioned people who wanted to vote, we find more people who say all politicians are scum. One of all goals is to convert this sense of betrayal with all politicians into a belief that people need to decide things themselves directly.

[7] Reprivatizing these houses together with the tenants, instead of giving them replacement housing is a violation of the European Social Charter. Slovenia had to deal with this problem. But, Slovenia was obligated by the charter: Poland is not. Poland ratified the ESC in but did not accept all of its paragraphs. However, it never ratified the Revised European Social Charter from 2005. Poland has neither signed nor ratified the Additional Protocol to the European Social Charter, nor the Additional Protocol providing for a system of collective complaints. One of the Tenants' Defense Committees current campaigns deals with the ratification of this charter, which would give tenants a legal basis to complain against Poland to European institutions. But we have no illusions that capitalism and profit always come before human rights, despite all sorts of noble-sounding proclamations.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

University Of Manchester Occupation Approaching Two Weeks

The student occupation of the Roscoe building (on Brunswick Street) at the University of Manchester continues. The occupation is now well into its second week and is extremely well organised with lectures and meetings taking place everyday so that students can keep up with their learning. Staff from a number of departments within the University and from the Manchester Metropolitan University have sent messages of support. Unfortunately only one Union branch, Unison at the University of Bolton, has sent a message of support so far.

The occupation needs more support, not just practical but moral support too. You can contact them at or on Twitter at They are also on Facebook at and there is a blog at

The occupations are currently spreading around the UK, with students at more colleges and unis joining every week. Following any of the above links for the Manchester occupation will reveal other ongoing occupations and how to contact them. Most seem to have a blog or are on Twitter or Facebook.

Meanwhile, tomorrow at 11.30am, students and supporters are assembling at University Place on Oxford Road (opposite Manchester Museum on the University of Manchester campus) for a march to Piccadilly Gardens for a rally at 1pm.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Student Protests - Direct Action Shows The Way For Education Workers

A version of this article will appear in the forthcoming issue of Education Worker.

The occupations by students have provided a tremendous boost to the anti-cuts campaign. The government appeared to be coasting, hopeful that they could implement their cuts programme with the minimum of opposition. The union leaders’ response to the cuts has so far being pathetic, calling for a national demonstration in March next year. Little wonder the government were so arrogant in their dismissal of the idea they there would be “French style” resistance to the cuts.

The student protests in November have changed all that. The government were soon forced on to the defensive, employing the age old tactic of trying to blame a “political motivated” minority as a way of distracting attention away from the success of the action. This is a sure sign they are getting rattled and demonstrates yet again that it is only through direct action that we can hope to win. Passive demonstrations, however big, petitions, letters to MPs and endless speeches achieve little. It is only through strikes, occupations and other forms of direct action that we will defeat these cuts.

But all of this work cannot be left to the students alone. If higher education is not to be butchered then workers are going to have to join the action. If union leaders were serious about defeating the cuts they would use their massive resources to support the student actions, making it a starting point for a campaign for wider strike action. But we have to live in the real world. If there is going to be strike action it will have to be built from the bottom up. This means rank and file education workers joining with students to press for strike action.

The student occupations should just be the start. If students and workers can join forces and take action, it will not only turn up the heat on a weak coalition government, it also will give the anti-cuts campaign tremendous momentum and begin to make the idea of a general strike a real possibility. Behind all the bluster and cultivated confidence the government’s position is fragile – there is real anger at the banks which will be directed at the government once the cuts begin to bite. The cuts can be defeated, but as education workers we must begin to get ourselves organised.

Pensions: An Issue To Unite Public and Private Sector Workers

A version of this article will be in the forthcoming Catalyst.

In recent years the number of people on final salary pensions in the private sector has declined dramatically. There are now only 3.6 million private sector employees in company pension schemes and many of these are in middle and upper management. The savaging of private company pensions has left millions more dependent on the meagre basic state pension in their old age. According to an OECD report published in June 2009, this is a state pension that is one of the worst in the developed world, with average income working out at just 31% of pre-retirement earnings.

To add insult to injury, the government now intends to force people to work even longer to earn this poverty level state pension. The LibCons have brought forward Labour’s plans to gradually increase the pension age, starting in 2020 when the retirement age will rise to 66. The justification for this is that we are all living longer. What the government fails to mention is that some are living longer than others. For example, a manual worker in Glasgow retiring at 66 would have 13 years (on average) of retirement left. A man in Kensington and Chelsea would have 22 years to enjoy.

Furthermore the government’s claims about people living longer fail to take into account the health inequalities that exist prior to death. Study after study has shown that manual and low paid workers begin to suffer with serious health problems far earlier than the middle classes. This means that not only do low paid workers die younger, but their quality of life in retirement due to poor health is much worse than the better off. Increasing the retirement age can only increase these health inequalities. Forcing people who are already in poor health to work longer can but lead to a further deterioration in their health and increase the likelihood that they will die even sooner.

With increasing numbers of private sector workers dependent on the state pension the government has now set about destroying pension provision in the public sector. In order to justify their attacks they have filled the newspapers with story after story of public sector workers receiving massive pensions. These stories are largely nonsense – for example, the average pension in local government is just £4,000 a year, dropping to £2,800 for women.

The value of these already paltry pensions is set to fall further under government plans to link public sector pension increases to the consumer price index (CPI). Currently pensions are linked to the retail prices index (RPI) which measures inflation much higher. The switch to the CPI will mean that the true value of pensions will be eroded by inflation. So, as the real value of public sector pensions declines, state workers, like private sector workers, will be increasingly dependent on the state pension in old age.

The defence of public sector pensions should be central to the campaign against cuts but the fight must not end there. The government hopes to divide public and private sector workers in order to weaken opposition to the cuts. This can be countered by linking the fight to defend public sector pensions to a demand for a massive increase in the state pension and opposition to the increase in the retirement age. The pension issue, then, can be a means to unite public and private sector workers.

Monday, 29 November 2010

November 30th - 2nd Day of Education Action in Manchester

For full article in The Mule go to:

A call to action on Tuesday November 30 has been launched by university and college students as the struggle against tuition fees and cuts to education builds.
  • Walkouts in Manchester are planned at 11am for college and school students and at midday for university students.
  • Picket lines will be manned from 8am outside colleges and schools and from 9am across university campuses.
  • The assembly points are All Saint’s Park (opposite MMUnion) and Manchester University Place at 12 noon.

Prior to the day of action there will be an emergency activist meeting at Manchester Metropolitan University Students’ Union on Monday 29 November at 5pm. It will be held in the social space on the 2nd floor and is open to all.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Student Occupation at the University of Manchester

The following is adapted from a press release from the student occupation at the University of Manchester. For further info go to

The student occupation of the Roscoe Building at the University of Manchester is to continue into next week. Activists are using the occupation as a focus for drumming up further support on the Manchester campus as well as in local colleges.

Meetings have been held in the occupied building with several guest speakers addressing a packed lecture theatre, containing University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan and University of Salford students as well as students from various colleges around the region, union
representatives, parents, lecturers, political activists and more.

The occupiers have resolved:
  • to hold a meeting at noon in the occupied theatre on Monday.
  • to remain in occupation for the duration of the weekend, despite being told by the university that we’d be locked in.
  • to hold a rally on Tuesday as part of the national protest day, outside University Place.
  • to send a delegation down to London for the national coordination meeting on Sunday. The delegates are to stay with the University College London occupation on Saturday night.
The occupiers have made clear their dissatisfaction with the university’s decision to close the Roscoe Building through the weekend. The management committee are not allowing access to the building for food deliveries or water deliveries, as well as turning the heating off for the weekend. This as a clear attempt to starve the occupiers out of the building and evict them through force, which is an unacceptable response to a peaceful protest.

Manchester School Students Prevented from Joining Novemeber 24th Demo

A number of secondary schools in Manchester went to great lengths to stop students leaving schools to join the student anti-cuts demo last Wednesday. This is not a new development. At the time of the anti-Gulf War demos, one school with a high percentage of muslin students actually locked students in breaching just about every health and safety law and regulation. This time, it seems, a number of schools called in the police to prevent students leaving.

At one large secondary school in south Manchester, a well organised campaign had resulted in a large proportion of students intending to walk out of school at 12 noon in order to join the demo. However, when they attempted to leave by the main gate, they were met by staff who prevented them from leaving. Not to be deterred, a number managed to “escape” by other exits. However, when they got to nearby bus stops they were met by “pupil support managers” and police who escorted them back to school.

November 24th Student Demo in Manchester

Well over 1,000 students took part in the anti-cuts demo in Manchester last Wednesday. A sizable minority were secondary students. The demo largely passed off peacefully despite the best efforts of the police who were intent on provoking the demonstrators. At one point the police snatched a student for dancing because they weren’t happy about it and threatened to arrest him unless he stopped!!

As the demo reached the centre of Manchester an attempt was made to “kettle” the demonstration but many people had the good sense to disperse in order to get through the police lines. The demo was then able to reform and carry on. Towards the end of the demo a major road through the centre of the university area was blocked. The police surrounded the demonstration with horses in an attempt to clear the road.

The road was cleared as the demo broke up. However, groups of students attempted to occupy various building around the university. Plans had obviously been made to stop buildings being occupied but with so many buildings being attempted to be occupied at the same time the plans didn’t work and a number of buildings were occupied.

The demonstration ending with occupations made a pleasant change to having to listen to endless boring speeches by politicians and would-be politicians in love with the sound of their own voices.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Student protests: Solfed member reports

This report  was first published on the national Solidarity Federation site.

Initial reports and images from Liverpool London, Brighton and elsewhere on today's events, where Solidarity Federation has a presence for the student anti-fees protests:


Initial estimates suggested a turnout of thousands who brought Lime Street to a standstill, with a fast moving march featuring an attempted sit-down in Castle Street.
While most commenters are agreeing that the protest has been peaceful, police brought out dogs and horses and there have been complaints of "intimidating behaviour." The march was largely halted as of 1pm but quickly got moving again and reached the town hall at around 1.30pm. Hundreds of people filled all levels of the Liverpool One shopping centre, and the protest broke up at around 2.30pm.
The first reported property damage was to buses caught in the moving crowds, one quote had the drivers as "amused and supportive."
The main incident saw students occupy the Guild (Liverpool's Student Union) after the march had broken up, in an interesting twist on the story of over a dozen occupations at universities across the country - apparently many students have remained unimpressed with the performance of the likes of Aaron Porter "representing" them at the NUS.


Thousands more turned out for a march through the centre of the city which commentators initially described as "noisy but peaceful" - however as protesters swirled around Whitehall our members at the march were warning that the police seemed to be preparing a kettle, the tactic used by the Met to restrict and kill off protests by creating a cordon which gradually tightens around the crowd. Police successfully set the kettle up at around mid-day with only cursory attempts being made to break out of it.
Despite breathless reporting of a police van being rocked this was unrepresentative of the rest of the march, and our source said it was later left alone "for precisely that reason." Generally, although pictures have emerged of minor scuffles, there seems to have been very little fighting and as the march wound down there were reports of 15 arrests and eight injuries. Anarchists were still fingered for whatever violence did happen however (what busy bees we seem to be in the minds of the media).
With 800 officers drafted in for the day, police tactics seem to have returned to the G20 style which has become Met tradition in recent years.


The city saw an energetic march converging on Dyke Road Park, from age 12/13 up. Numbers were difficult to estimate, but final police figures for the day indicated around 3,000 turned out. One noted at 3.30pm: "Speeches were largely ignored, and over half the crowd has broken away on an unauthorised march. Cops are heavily outnumbered." As it ended many converged on the town hall, where police pushed the crowd back as it attempted to storm the building. Subsequently a Vodafone store was briefly occupied and a Poundland store was looted before around 400 students attempted to storm the central police station before being repelled by lines of riot police. An occupation of Brighton University survived attempts by riot police to evict it, and remains overnight.

Friday, 12 November 2010

What is SolFed? Public Meeting...

We are holding a public meeting next Monday, 15 November, to introduce interested people to the Solidarity Federation.

We've seen a recent upsurge of interest in Manchester recently. People are angry and restless about the cuts. The student demonstration on Wednesday shows people are not going to sit back and let the government trample all over them.

The meeting starts at 7.30pm at the Town Hall Tavern in central Manchester and is open to all. We will be in the upstairs function room.

We will start with a short introduction to the Solidarity Federation, followed by questions, answers, discussion, etc.

The Town Hall Tavern is on Tib Street, off Cross Street, near to Albert Square and the Town Hall. See the map here.

Members of SolFed will be in the pub from around 7pm.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Manchester Anarchist Bookfair

We have a stall tomorrow at this year's Manchester Anarchist Bookfair.

We also have a side meeting with a speaker from Solidarity Federation's Education Workers' Network - it's in the Green Room at 4.15pm.

The Bookfair is on Saturday 2 October, 11am-5.00pm

Dancehouse Theatre, Oxford Road (opposite the BBC)

More information can be found on the bookfair website,which has details of all stallholders and side events.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Sunday, 12 September 2010

TUC Congress - what's happening?

The TUC Congress is meeting in Manchester this year, at the Manchester Central Convention Complex (former GMEX) from 13 to 16 September.
As expected, there are lots of fringe meetings. Here are some of the more significant ones:
1) Keep Trade Unions in Politics
Monday 13 September - 12.30 pm at Friends Meeting House, Manchester
Speakers include: 
John McDonnell MP, Chair Labour Representation Committee
Joe Marino, Gen Sec, Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union
Maria Exall, CWU Executive / LRC vice-chair
John McInally, PCS vice-president
Marsha Jane Thompson, Chair, Unison United Left
2) The Poor Can't Pay
National Unemployed Centres Combine
Monday 13 September, Room 6, Manchester Central, 5.30pm
Speakers include:
Mark Serwotka, PCS
John Stewart, Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed
Chair: Kevin Flynn, NUCC
3) Morning Star Fringe - Con-Dem cuts - the trade union response
Tuesday 14 September, 12:30pm, Premier Inn, Bishopsgate (opposite Manchester Central)
Speakers include:
Unite joint general secretaries Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley, 
Keith Sonnett, Unison
Bob Crow, RMT
Mary Turner, GMB
Mark Serwotka, PCS
Steve Gillan,POA
TUC Gold Badge winner Mary Davis
Morning Star political editor, John Haylett
Chair: Carolyn Jones, IER
4) TUSDAC/Climate Solidarity Project - Cutting Carbon not Jobs!
Tuesday 14 September, 12.30-2pm, Room 4, Manchester Central
Chair: Nigel Costley, Regional Secretary, South West TUC
Paul Noon, Prospect General Secretary/TUC General Council and TUSDAC Co-Chair
Tim Baster, Director, Climate Solidarity;
Sarah Pearce, TUC Greenworkplaces Project Leader
Clara Paillard, PCS Branch Secretary, National Museums Liverpool
5) GMATUC and MTUC fringe meeting - Defend Public Services, Prevent Privatisation
Tuesday 14 September, 5.30pm, Friends Meeting House
Speakers include:
Christine Blower, Gen Sec, NUT
Billy Hayes, Gen Sec CWU,
Mark Serwotka, Gen Sec, PCS
Matt Wrack, Gen Sec, FBU
6) National Shop Stewards Network Fringe Meeting
Wednesday, 15 September, 5.30pm,  Friends Meeting House
Speakers include Bob Crow, RMT Gen Sec
Enhanced by Zemanta

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Council cuts in Bolton

In the midst of the new Tory-Liberal coalition’s austerity measures due to the recession Bolton have started to bring the axe down on public services in the town.

EVERY public service in Bolton faces cuts in the council’s “worst ever” budget, as the Government tries to plug the national deficit.

Town hall bosses need to save more than £50 million over the next five years, which means that up to 500 posts will be cut and every major building project in the borough will be reviewed to see what can be put on hold. Council leader Cllr Cliff Morris said: “This is the worst I’ve ever seen. It will impinge on people’s lives — there’s no two ways about it.”

And before the tough decisions are made, the council has been ordered to save £3 million before next March.

This year’s tight budget is based on a forecast reduction in the amount of cash given to the council by the Government.

Public finances have been hit by the global recession and the banking crisis and Whitehall says it must save £6 billion this year, £1.16 billion of which will come from local government.

Due to Government policy, council tax will not increase next year, which means the gap in the budget must be made up from savings.

The council’s annual budget is about £410 million, but large sections of that, such as the schools grant, are fixed and bosses will effectively have to find savings from about £150 million of the budget.

The cuts will start with £3 million this year, followed by £14.5 million next year, then £12.9 million, £8.5 million, £8.6 million and £6.7 million in successive years up to 2015/2016.

Details of how much cash the Government will give to the council will not be available until the emergency budget on June 22.

Cllr Morris blamed the speed and severity of the necessary cuts on the coalition government.

He said: “We’re arguing that they’re doing it too quickly. It would’ve been hard anyway, but it’s been made harder because it has been brought forward by three months.

“What we’re trying to say to people is that this is the scale of the problem and we will be working to resolve it as fairly as we possibly can — but things are going to happen.

“People will say ‘it’s about time cuts were made’ until it’s a service that affects them, and these are services that are going to affect everyone. We’re under no illusions that we’re in for a rough ride.”


Capital expenditure is also under close scrutiny, with improvements to the borough’s roads and primary schools among the building projects likely to be postponed.

Source: The Bolton News

In the light of such cuts the only way workers in the public sector can save services or deflect the worse of the bosses attacks is through solidarity and direct action. Unison have said they are consulting their members but workers must unite across union boundaries and recognise their common struggle. This is only the start of national cuts in the public sector leading to job cuts and service cuts for the local community. If we can stand up and fight against these cuts now it will show the bosses that we won’t take the ‘savage cuts’ lying down.

(The) Stuff Your Boss (doesn’t want you to know)

The Solidarity Federation’s pamphlet outlining your basic rights at work and how to fight against casualisation has been reprinted and updated and can be downloaded here.

The pamphlet outlines your basic employment rights, information on health and safety and grievance procedures. However, it is only by collective action and solidarity that we can fight against casualisation and the intimidation and victimisation by bosses. We cannot leave it to governments, bosses or the traditional trade unions.

Berlin Courts’ Logic Supply Dangerously Low

An interview with Lars Röhm about the fine against the FAU Berlin

In April, the FAU Berlin was charged 200 Euros for referring to itself as a union in its statutes. In December 2009, an injunction had been issued forcing them to remove the word union from all their publications. However the banned word remained in the statutes until mid-March as a change there would have taken several months. The management of the Babylon Mitte Cinema filed for the charges in February 2010. The injunction was also filed for by the same cinema’s management during a labor dispute with its employees, which the FAU Berlin was supporting. This is the first time that a workers’ association has been banned from calling itself a union in Germany. Lars Röhm has been the secretary of the FAU Berlin since 2009.

Will the fine affect or change the way you work?
Lars Röhm: The amount of the fine was pretty small and was much less than what the Babylon management had asked for. It is, thus, not all that serious and can even be seen as evidence that the court is unsure of itself.

All in all, though, the injunction will of course affect our work considerably as long as it remains in effect. A union has certain rights in Germany–unobstructed access to the workplace, participation in works meetings and the right to inform workers on a blackboard–that are actually meant to safeguard the work of workers’ associations. Members aren’t recruited by simply distributing membership form but by showing presence at their place of work. That’s why we see this verdict as an unconstitutional encroachment on the freedom of association, which is a basic right. The verdict didn’t cause an international uproar for nothing.

You stopped referring to yourselves as a union publicly after the injunction. You were charged because it wasn’t erased from all texts quickly enough. Will you continue to stay the course and respect the ban?
Yes, we decided collectively to respect the ban at present and will continue to do so in the future. There is the very real possibility that the Babylon Mitte’s management wanted us to act like stubborn children, so they could press for horrendous charges to shut us up. Instead, we will do everything to eliminate this objectionable verdict. Even if the word union can be taken away from us, no court can take away our self-confidence and dignity.

The FAU Berlin has appealed the ban; the case will be heard a Berlin’s Higher Regional Court on June 10th. If the verdict is confirmed, will you continue to do work that one could describe as “union” work–will it even be possible?
It is possible, albeit under considerably difficult circumstances. We will, nevertheless, continue. We will even go on the offensive. In a way, the verdicts have motivated us. As aggravating as they may be, they show that we are on the right track when it comes to bringing about genuine changes. A serious alternative to established unions would be a menace and some will try to stop it. This is even more true in this time of crisis.

Why was the FAU even banned from calling itself a union?
The official reason suggests that the FAU Berlin was fraudulently labeling itself a union. Whereby, the Babylon’s management argued that this is damaging to business. The court went even further, arguing that the employees could be misled. Both reasons are completely absurd if you ask me.

They claim that the normal German citizen sees unions as nothing more than an association which concludes collective agreements. As the FAU Berlin has been forbidden from doing this, they can thus not be a union.

But even if you were to accept this argument, the verdict is still very problematic legally in my opinion. It’s based on a verdict by the Federal Labor Court from 1977(!), which equates union status with the ability to conclude collective agreements. However, the FAU Berlin was told by courts that they could not conclude collective agreements as they have never concluded a collective agreement. Logic seems to be in extremely short supply, and I think this is highly questionable legally. This is something you would expect from a banana republic and not a constitutional state.

The story reminds me of a comment by an American during the McCarthy era that suggests that every citizen should go to jail pro forma once they turn 18 to make sure they become responsible members of society.

For background on the repression against the FAU Berlin click here and here.

The Dead End of Nationalisation: how state ownership of industry does not, never has, and never will serve working class interests

This post originally featured in Direct Action #46 Spring 2009

For over a century now all sorts of social democrats, Stalinists and Trotskyists have espoused the view that the state can be used to bring about a communist society through reforms and/or seizing the state on behalf of the workers. This has often been dubbed by libertarian communists as “state socialism”. One of the staple demands of this statist strategy is the nationalisation of banks and other industries, bringing them under the direction of the state. This is usually disguised in leftist terms like “public” or “social” ownership, offering the illusion of a “worker’s state”.

However, state ownership of industry is in no way a communist measure – by communism we mean a society free of state direction and based on direct democracy, common ownership and production for need, not want. Nationalisation takes control out of the workers’ hands and into those of the state, which bolsters the rule of class over class. In the Soviet Union, as in the West, there was still a small boss class who gained profit from the labour of the mass of the population.

Nationalisation is not only the preserve of the left. Other “state capitalist” ideologies exist which use nationalisation as a tactic. These include those on the right (such as the Nazis) and so-called “democratic” governments (such as Roosevelt’s with the “New Deal” and the Labour party prior to 1997).
Often, nationalisation has been a tactic for large scale industrial restructuring. It was used in 19th century Europe to develop infrastructure. A classic example is the railways, built at a time when it was believed that market forces would reward the good and useful and eliminate the bad or socially useless. However, it was necessary, as early as 1840, for the government to regulate and supervise them, simply to protect the public.

In Russia, after the revolution of 1917, the Bolshevik regime used state ownership to develop Russian industry defending it as socialist by saying that fully fledged capitalism was required for socialism to be achieved. In post-war Europe nationalisation was used to restructure devastated economies. Attlee’s Labour government, elected in 1945, brought the Bank of England, coal mining, steel, electricity, gas, telephones and inland transport under state direction. It also developed the “cradle to grave” welfare state.

However, in the past 30 years, nationalisation was thought to have dropped off the mainstream political agenda. The rise of neo-liberalism, the fall of the Soviet Union and the Labour Party’s dropping of its commitment to state ownership before its 1997 landslide, were, for many, the final nails in the coffin.

The Current Crisis
To many people’s surprise though, nationalisation has made a comeback. Facing the worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s, the near collapse of the banking sector has forced the state to once again openly intervene in the economy. With workers’ militancy at a low ebb, leading to a low wage economy, the growth in credit provided the money to keep consumers spending. This was coupled with the UK economy’s reliance on banking and “mortgage derivatives”. So when the housing bubble burst credit dried up, banks teetered on the verge of collapse and the economy went into recession.

This was most spectacular in the case of Northern Rock with the first run on a bank in over a century and its eventual nationalisation. Since then, the state has also rescued Bradford & Bingley and the Royal Bank of Scotland, while the Anglo-Irish Bank was bailed out by the Irish government. The car industry has also been hit with renewed calls from some on the left for its nationalisation.

However, governments do not nationalise industries because ministers heed the calls of small leftist groups. They do so because of a need to prevent a banking collapse and its inevitable consequences – economic disaster, falling profits and the danger of social unrest.

This use of state intervention by so-called free marketeers like Brown and Bush isn’t new. According to one expert, Ronald Reagan, great that defender of the individualistic free market, “presided over the greatest swing towards protectionism since the 1930s”. In essence, American workers bore the brunt of “free market discipline” whilst the rich benefited from the actions of the state. Laissez faire principles didn’t apply to the working class in that they had no freedom in opposing their exploitation. In Britain, after 17 years of Thatcherite economic gospel, public spending was still the same, 42.25% of GDP, as it had been when she took over. Meanwhile sustained attacks on the working class continued which saw the breaking of militancy and chronic levels of poverty. Unsurprisingly, finance and industry did very well for themselves.

In this recession conditions for ordinary working people are coming under further attack. Redundancies, unemployment, wage cuts, cuts in public services and home repossessions are all on the rise. Benefits are also being targeted with the unemployed, single mothers and recipients of incapacity benefit, among others, in the firing line. At JCB workers voted for a £50 a week pay cut to avoid redundancies only for the company to make workers redundant anyway. With repossessions hitting record levels the government has even had to ask banks to go easy on mortgage defaulters. So, yet again, we see attacks on working people as a small minority of fat cats get billions in state aid.

Communist Critiques
"We would thank anyone to point out to us what function, if any, the state can have in an economic organisation, where private property has been abolished and in which parasitism and special privilege have no place. The suppression of the state cannot be a languid affair; it must be the task of the revolution to finish with the state. Either the revolution gives social wealth to the producers in which case the producers organise themselves for due collective distribution and the state has nothing to do; or the revolution does not give social wealth to the producers, in which case the revolution has been a lie and the state would continue."
Diego Abad de Santillan

So, with all this state intervention, why are we no closer to a glorious socialist future? Why are we actually seeing peoples’ lives devastated by homelessness and unemployment? Simply put, nationalisation is not, and cannot be, a tool for achieving a communist society. Nationalisation by state socialist regimes has never eliminated capitalism. In the Soviet bloc there were superficial differences with the West. Most capital was owned by the state; there was no free market in labour; the poor had the “right to work”. Fundamentally though, the conditions of life for the working class were the same as in the West. Capitalism still existed, because workers sold their labour power and consequently were dispossessed of the means to freely create the conditions of life. As in the West, there was a ruling class which lived off the surplus produced by the workers – this class consisted of a central Party elite which owned the state.

Peter Kropotkin argued that:
"Everywhere the State has been, and still is, the main pillar and the creator, direct and indirect, of Capitalism and its powers over the masses. Nowhere, since States have grown up, have the masses had the freedom of resisting the oppression by capitalists... The state has always interfered in the economic life in favour of the capitalist exploiter. It has always granted him protection in robbery, given aid and support for further enrichment. And it could not be otherwise. To do so was one of the functions – the chief mission – of the State."
So when left wing groups today call for the nationalisation of the banks and other industries (as the Socialist Party of England and Wales and their local councillors do) they are not arguing for socialism. After all, state intervention has historically been a way to save capitalism from itself as it expands and dominates. After a decade of the of the Labour Party claiming there was no alternative to the free market, an alternative was soon found once the capitalism system faced the threat of collapse.

Libertarian Communism
While libertarian communist and anarchist arguments against state intervention seem to be vindicated by the credit crunch, how can we respond to the crisis? We, as workers, have to widen and deepen our struggles and not hark back to archaic, out-dated solutions like nationalisation which should be left in the history books. Instead, when struggles arise we have to push tactics which are anarcho-syndicalist and libertarian communist in nature such as collective action, direct democracy, mass assemblies and for links to be made between workers despite artificial divisions of workplace, union, sector, temp/permanent status, nationality and so on.

A libertarian communist economy, a system without the state and without the free market, where everyone has equal rights to have their needs met, has always been the aim of anarcho-syndicalists. Workers’ self-management will amount to little in a world of inequality with decisions being dictated by the market. However, we have also been careful to always point out that any communist system will be nightmarish unless the people support it and are involved in running it. Thus we argue for the socialisation of the economy, not its nationalisation.

From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.
“The spirit of anarcho-syndicalism…is characterised by independence of action around a basic set of core principles; centred on freedom and solidarity. Anarcho-syndicalism has grown and developed through people taking action, having experiences, and learning from them…the idea is to contribute to new and more effective action, from which we can collectively bring about a better society more quickly. That is the spirit of anarcho-syndicalism.”
SelfEd Collective
Enhanced by Zemanta