- Category: Campaigns
- Published on Saturday, 3 May 2014
- Written by Mark Boothroyd
I write as a dedicated UNISON activist in the NHS who is facing obstructive and bullying treatment from regional officials, and sometimes from branch officials.
When attempting to organise members to oppose cuts to vital services and try and halt the privatisation of our NHS, I have found my activity called into question or curtailed frequently by officials of the largest union in the public sector, which purports to be defending the NHS.
I am asking UNISON nationally and the NEC to investigate these abuses and ensure that members democratic rights are protected within and without the union, and that they are not obstructed in their vital work of trying to organise NHS workers to protect the NHS.
I have been an NHS worker and UNISON member since 2009. First as a HCA in Leeds Teaching Hospitals, then as a student nurse and now a qualified nurse at Guy's and St Thomas (GSTT) Hospital.
As a student member I faced obstruction when trying to be active in the GSTT Hospital branch, and faced appalling incidences of bullying behaviour from a London Region Health Official. This began when I was part of a press conference against NHS privatisation outside Barts Hospital in spring 2011 with other NHS activists. Our group included a staff member from the hospital, the head of the Medical Practitioners Union and a cancer patient being treated at the hospital, who were all interveiwed by a Daily Mirror journalist. The official approached us and called us a “rent a mob” and argued we should not be meeting there or holding a press conference without UNISON's official support. Complaints against the official were submitted by the activists following his abusive behaviour. Following this incident I was verbally abused by the same official at a UNISON recruitment stall in St Thomas hospital in front of patients, staff and branch officers. I submitted a complaint to London Region about this treatment, yet this was dismissed by a more senior London Region Official who threatened me with disciplinary action if I brought further complaints against regional officials. I attempted to keep participating in the union branch after this, but my invitation to attend the branch meeting as a student member was withdrawn. After this I withdrew from branch union activity, but continued campaigning against NHS privatisation with other organisations.
Qualifying in August 2012 and securing employment at GSTT I attempted to become a steward with the GSTT branch. I submitted my application to be a steward in October 2012. The Branch Secretary refused to approve me as a steward despite my fulfilling the requirements and being supported by fellow unison members in the workplace. I continued to press the issue and requested a meeting with branch officials. In December 2012 prior to this meeting I was threatened with a Rule I disciplinary investigation and possible expulsion from the branch. I was asked to resign from the union or face expulsion. I submitted a response to this answering the allegations against me and challenging this bullying behaviour. This received no response from the branch leadership.
In March 2013 I submitted a motion to our AGM criticising a decision by the branch leadership to agree a sickness policy which was detrimental to staff and patients. When I arrived at the AGM at St Thomas Hospital I was told by a regional official that I was under investigation for a breach of Rule I and that I could not attend the AGM. When I asked to remain and put my case to the AGM I was told if I did not leave security would be called to remove me. I left the AGM under duress.
After consulting other Unison members I decided to attempt to attend the second AGM at the Guy's hospital site. When I attempted to enter the AGM my way was blocked by the branch secretary who repeatedly told me to "fuck off" and that I had been told I couldn't attend the AGM. After attempting to reason with the branch secretary left. I submitted a complaint to the branch about this action which both violated the rules of the union and was illegal under the Trade Union Relations Act. Following the submission of a complaint to the branch, the branch chair held a meeting with me to discuss the issues and apologised for their actions and said I could attend AGMs in future. I requested an apology from the branch secretary for his behaviour but none was given.
During all this time I was active in campaigns to defend NHS services against the government's austerity plans. I campaigned against the Health and Social Care Bill, organised student nurses to attend protests and supported the 2011 pensions dispute, joining staff on the picket line at St Thomas hospital. Living in South London, I supported the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, helping leaflet the hospital and encouraging Guy's and St Thomas Staff to attend demonstrations and protests. In 2013, following my exclusion from the AGM I stood for election to the UNISON NEC as one of the Health Group candidates. During this time I helped found the 4:1 Campaign for Mandatory Minimum staffing levels in the NHS. I have been exchanging emails with Gail Adams, Head of Nursing in UNISON for the last 9 months regarding gaining UNISON's support for the 4:1 campaign. All of my actions have been aimed towards politicising and organising UNISON members to defend the NHS, and attempting to win UNISON's official support for campaigns and protests which I regard as essential to saving the NHS.
In December 2013 I resubmitted my application to be a steward. 5 days after submitting my application I was sent a letter from another Regional Official informing me they had cancelled my membership of UNISON, stating they were assuming I had resigned as they had found evidence I joined another union. I had submitted no letter of resignation nor given any verbal instruction to do so. Regional Officials do not have the power to cancel members membership of the union. This was again a breach of the union's rules and the Trade Union Relations Act.
I had temporarily joined UNITE when I was originally threatened with expulsion in December 2012, but left them in the summer of 2013. I joined UNITE as I felt I needed protection at work and had lost faith in UNISON's branch officials willingness to defend me if I was victimised by management for my activism.
In January I received a letter and cheque from UNISON London Region giving me a refund of my subscriptions, and stating again they had cancelled my membership for joining another union. There is no rule prohibiting UNISON members from being members of other unions, and this is quite common practice, especially in the health service where many employees are members of a trade union as well as as trade specific union or professional body like the Royal College of Nurses or Chartered Society of Physiotherapists. This action was both against the rules of the union, and a misuse of union funds. Union officials do not have the right to, nor should they, refund members subscriptions.
As they have stopped taking my subscriptions by direct debit I have been sending cheques to the regional office to pay my subscriptions. None of these have been cashed.
I attended UNISON Health Conference from April 14-16th to lobby the union to support the 4:1 Campaign. I was denied entry as a member and forced to have my entry approved by a regional official as a Visitor Non-Member.
I have submitted a complaint to UNISON regarding the regional officials behaviour, but have little hope of it being successful. Regional officials in London have long ruled with impunity, witch-hunting activists and shutting down dissident branches which threaten their power, with no criticism from the union leadership.
I am taking this matter to the Certification Officer as I am not confident that the Regional Office, who have been instrumental in acting against me, can possibly deal with the matter fairly. However, I continue to hope that UNISON will resolve this matter and end this campaign of victimisation, taking action against those responsible and ensuring the democratic rights of lay members to participate in the union are upheld.
In the meantime I have rejoined UNITE as I need the protection of a union in my workplace. I will continue to assert my right to membership of UNISON, and will review my UNITE membership if and when UNISON's leadership resolves this matter and reinstitutes my membership.
You can complain about my treatment to:
Dave Prentis Unison General Secretsry email@example.com
Christine McAnea Unison Head of Health firstname.lastname@example.org
Gail Adams Head of Nursing email@example.com
Linda Perks London Region Unison firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris Remington London Region Unison email@example.com
- Category: Campaigns
- Published on Thursday, 17 April 2014
- Written by Mark Boothroyd
What place does food hold in the constellation of human needs? Maslow’s hierarchy of human need puts food among the base of human needs, alongside breathing, water, sex, homeostasis, sleep and excretion. It should be clear to all that food is a basic need, which is central to a cohesive, stable, humane society. Bertolt Brecht wrote in The Threepenny Opera, ”First comes feeding, then comes morality.” If you cannot obtain food to feed yourself, then all other questions of culture, morality, law and right become secondary or meaningless.
What then will be the social impact of the government’s widespread and growing starvation of hundreds of thousands of its citizens? The impact of the brutal and draconian welfare reforms that rob tens of thousands of their only means of subsistence is driving as many as 500,000 people to access foodbanks every week across the country. The Trussell Trust, a Christian foodbank with some links to the Labour and Tory parties, has doubled the number of foodbanks it supports in just one year. The Trussell Trust had predicted a demand of 200,000 for 2012-13. The latest reports say they have distributed almost a million food parcels in 2013-14. As the Trussell Trust only manages 37% of foodbanks in Britain, the total number of food parcels distributed will be much higher. The Mirror reported that 45 foodbanks distributed 182,000 food parcels between them.
A significant portion of the population are being prevented from obtaining a subsistence level of existence. The pain and misery this causes is impossible to quantify. Its social impact is being told in stories of expanded free school meal programmes, parents going hungry, desperate robberies, rising malnutrition and a hundred thousand small tragedies as people try to maintain a minimum existence with next to nothing.
Into this gap viciously vacated by the state are stepping the foodbanks. The Trussell Trust is an establishment response, it provides a franchise which can be rolled out through religious institutions, organising foodbanks through churches around a Christian ethos of helping the poor and vulnerable. The trust itself provides a section of the elite with jobs and salaries from the charity of others while it provides a minimum to ameliorate the worst aspects of the government reforms.
There are ways of creating a foodbank independently of its network. Organisations like Luton Foodbank show how foodbanks could be built by those actively involved in stopping the reforms, who see the necessity of providing for those affected by them in the here and now.
Luton Foodbank was originally the initiative of members of Luton Council’s Social Justice department. Tasked with analysing the impact of the government’s welfare reforms, they quickly ascertained the scope of the devastation the reforms would wreak on the working class and poor in Luton. Spurred on by this knowledge, six activist members of the department began to discuss what they could do in response.
Settling on the idea of creating a foodbank, they organised an open meeting and advertised it through churches, unions and community groups. Over 80 people attended the initial meeting, including local Labour and Tory party members, trade unionists, community activists and local citizens. While some wanted to set up a foodbank linked to the Trussell Trust, it was thought this was not practical in such a diverse town as Luton. Muslim residents were unlikely to seek help from a Christian charity organising through the churches, just as Christians would be unlikely to go to a mosque, so it was decided to form a non-denominational foodbank and organise distribution points through community centres.
The initial meeting set up a Development Group, which was in charge of the overall direction of the project, and five working groups, each concerned with a different technical aspect of setting up the foodbank. They drafted a business plan (LINK) and set to work.
The working groups were:
- Referral agencies
- Volunteers and training
- Warehouse, van, administration
- Donations, sponsorship and fundraising
- Public relations, marketing and communications
The working groups sent reports back to a monthly Development Group meeting as progress was made in their relevant area.
To learn how to set up the foodbank, members of the development group visited Milton Keynes foodbank, which had been established eight years ago and is now strongly rooted in the local community. Milton Keynes provided them with advice and information, and a number of practical resources like the foodbank stock spreadsheet which maintains an accurate account of food left in the warehouse with minimum effort. The spreadsheet was developed by a Milton Keynes foodbank volunteer, but is usable by any organisation working to set up a foodbank.
Community and Benefit Society
It was decided to set up the foodbank on a cooperative model. The Development Group received advice from Co-operatives UK on what legal form the foodbank should take, and they and set it up as a Community and Benefit Society. This is a form of non-profit organisation with community and social objectives, run and managed by its members. Community and Benefit Societies are registered with the Financial Conduct Authority under the Industrial & Provident Societies Act.
Objectives of the Luton Foodbank (BenCom) from the Foodbanks business plan:
The objects of the Society shall be to carry on any business for the benefit of the community of Luton by:
- 1) Provision of nutritionally balanced and culturally appropriate food free to people in hardship or distress who are referred to the foodbank by a network of agreed referrers.
- 2) Promoting healthy eating and supporting local opportunities for food growing and the expansion of foodbank activity through the development of a community food purchasing scheme.
- 3) Providing signposting information to local advise and information services.
- 4) Promoting co-operative working and social cohesion.
- 5) Promoting the principles of fair trade
These are incorporated in the the Foodbank's principles:
The Luton Foodbank will be run entirely for the benefit of people in and around Luton who need emergency food aid
The Luton Foodbank will not be aligned to any faith group and will be non-judgemental
The Foodbank will provide short-term emergency food packs to help people in immediate need, but will also aim to help people resolve the problem which led to the visit.
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The foodbank was extremely lucky in that they received a donation of £50,000 from Luton Airport to fund the organisation. As Luton Airport is owned by Luton Council while management of the airport is outsource to a private company, part of its operating profit must be distributed to charities and other non-profit organisations. The foodbank applied and received a grant to help with their work. While this beneficial situation won't be faced by many foodbanks, it doesn't invalidate the lessons that can be learnt from Luton Foodbanks creation and operation.
The referral agencies working group was tasked with finding services and organisations which were suitable to operate as referral points for people vulnerable to food poverty. The referral agencies direct those in food poverty to the foodbank, and provide vouchers to access its services.
Initially there were just three referral agencies, but as the project grew more organisations came on board they now accept referrals from some 40 organisations across Luton. Agencies they accept referrals from include Citizens Advice Bureau, women's shelters, older people's charities, mental health charities, children's centres, schools, colleges and parts of social services. Referral agencies sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the foodbank to establish their mutual responsibilities and the limits of their relationship. A handbook was produced by the foodbank to act as a guide for those making referrals so they use the service appropriately.
When a referral is made the agency ask the person to fill in a referral voucher to help the foodbank identify the reason they are having to access the service. It allows the foodbank to identify which part of the community the person is from, and what are the causes of them falling into food poverty. This is so they can be directed to the appropriate service to access the help they need to address the problems forcing them into food poverty; be it benefit sanction, low pay, homelessness, domestic abuse or the myriad other issues which drive people into food poverty. Referral agencies can issue people five food vouchers in a 12-month period. This may seem meagre, but there is flexibility granted depending on users circumstances. When I visited, one person had been receiving food from the foodbank for three months while they appealed against a six-month benefit sanction. The five-voucher limit serves as a guideline limit to prevent abuse and to encourage people to access services to help them resolve the issues which are forcing them into food poverty. The foodbank does continue to provide food to those whose difficulties cannot be resolved within a short time frame.
Volunteers and training were concerned with finding people who would work with the foodbank in the various roles it required. The include manning distribution and collections points, van driving, administration and sorting and packing food parcels at the warehouse. This is not a simple tasks as volunteers running distribution points need to have a Criminal Record Bureau check as they are working with vulnerable adults in this role. Initially the foodbank recruited volunteers through the councils volunteering website but this was a long and time consuming process. They now advertise for volunteers when doing collections and through their website, and the foodbank runs a welcome workshop every three weeks which potential volunteers can attend. They are shown round the warehouse and interviewed to assess what skills they can bring to the organisation. For instance, volunteers with IT or graphic design skills have been asked to contribute work on the foodbank's website and admin systems rather than spend their time filling food parcels. Those who wish to volunteer at distribution points can apply for their CRB check, but as this is costly and time-consuming, a small pool of volunteers who already have CRB checks staff the distribution points.
Young people are invited to help with data entry and updating the foodbank records so they have accurate information as to how much has been collected, donated and who it has gone too. The foodbank has sought to welcome all parts of the community to participate in it.
The foodbank has volunteer sessions on Tuesday and Thursday to sort donations and pack food parcels, and usually has two to three volunteers to staff each of the five distribution points throughout Luton.
Volunteers from various services also attend the distribution centres to provide advice and contact the service users directly. These can be volunteers from Citizens Advice Bureau, mental health charities and advocacy organisations. They perform outreach work via the foodbank to find people in need of their services, working to identify those most in need and initiate interventions as soon as possible to try and resolve the crisis affecting that persons life.
Warehouse, Van and Administration was concerned with the logistical side of the foodbank; securing warehouse space to store the food and a vehicle to carry food from collection points to the warehouse, and to the aid points at community centres. They appealed for a vehicle to be donated by local businesses but none were given, so they agreed to spend some of the money from Luton Airport on purchasing a van.
The warehouse space they use is owned by Luton Council, with a slightly reduced charity rent. The warehouse is organised by a volunteer with years of experience working in warehousing. The main obstacle to setting up the warehouse was finding enough shelving and racking to store all the food on. Various pieces were donated by shops and businesses being refitted, and a business that vacated the retail park donated their racks to the foodbank, but it was a struggle initially to create enough storage space for the 3000+ food items stored in the warehouse.
Food is stored and organised by expiry date, If it expires in 2014 it is separated by month and those items closest to expiry are used first, expiry dates further away are organised by year. All the goods collected are non-perishable, tins or cartons.
Donations, sponsorship and fundraising was concerned with organising food collections and attempting to make the foodbank sustainable through sponsorship from local businesses and fundraising from residents.
Roughly 70% of the foodbanks supplies are collected from schools. As a member of the development group was a teacher, they used their links to quickly establish relationships with schools across Luton. At two schools a month they organise an assembly where foodbank volunteers run an interactive session with the students discussing the reality of food poverty in Britain. The schools will hold a non-uniform day, and a letter is sent to all parents informing them that this is in aid of the foodbank, and instructing them to give their child a food item to donate, instead of the customary £1. With most schools having upwards of 1,000 pupils, this ensures a mass of donations to the foodbank regularly, and creates opportunity to speak with young people about the reality of poverty in Britain.
Tours of the foodbank are also organised by schools, and the pupils spend an hour or two sorting food and packing food parcels in the warehouse.
The rest of the food comes from collections at supermarkets and shopping centres, donations from individuals and businesses and food drives by churches and mosques. The collections are planned well in advance to ensure a steady supply of food, and to allow publicity to be circulated to volunteers and those wishing to make donations. They also organise around religious festivals like Eid, Ramadan and Christmas. See their events calendar for this year.
There are also recognised drop off points where citizens can make donations to the foodbank. Volunteers then drive round and collect the donations once a week.
PR, Marketing and communication
This working group communicates with the various agencies, faith groups, schools, businesses and the council and produces publicity materials for the foodbank, such as their brochures and their referral forms.
They write letters to local businesses asking for support for the foodbank, and contact churches and mosques to encourage them to support the foodbank and organise their own collections.
They maintain the foodbank website as a source of information and news about the foodbank, with links to donation points, list of food items to donate, ways to become a volunteer and actively support the foodbank or make financial donations.
Starting the foodbank
Although initially run by volunteers, the foodbank benefited from a large grant of £50,000 from the Luton Airport Community Trust Fund. The airport is owned by the council but managed by a private company. As part of its community relations strategy it runs the Community Trust Fund to support organisations which benefit the local community. The foodbank applied for a grant to start the project.
This money was used to purchase a van for collections and distribution, pay for the initial warehouse lease and to employ a coordinator for the foodbank. While initially run by volunteers, and still heavily supported by them, the day to day operation of the foodbank is now managed by the coordinator. The job description is available here. They are working to secure regular donations to meet the running costs of the foodbank. If they can secure enough regular donations then they will be largely self-sufficient and able to operate independently of grants or other support.
The foodbank opened in April 2013 with a soft launch in order to not be overrun with demand. Their referrals grew from 20 to 200 in the space of a month, indicating the scale of the social crisis afflicting the poor, unemployed and vulnerable.
Initially the foodbank had just two distribution points in the town. They have now expanded to five distribution points, one for each day of the working week. As Luton Foodbank is a non-denominational organisation the distribution points are all based in community halls and centres and other community organisations. This makes them easily accessible to all the different communities, the property of all rather than just of one religious or ethnic group.
Approved volunteers staff the distribution points, taking people's referral vouchers, checking them against the records submitted by the referral agencies and keeping account of what is distributed.
During my visit a wide spectrum of Luton's citizenry cross the door. A young women with learning difficulties who had been sanctioned. A young man who had just lost his job, waiting to sign on and receive benefits. A teenage migrant struggling to make ends meet on his poorly paid job while attending college. A post-graduate student with two children in tow, her university funding not being enough to support her family. Two police collecting food for a ex-prisoner unable to leave their house. An older unemployed man suffering a benefit sanction, accompanied by his friend, who talked grimly about living through their third recession.
All appreciated the human kindness and solidarity demonstrated by the foodbank volunteers, and were surprised at the non-judgemental welcome and warmth they received. Compared to the coldness of the bureaucracy of the benefit system or other institutions, the difference with the foodbank was palpable.
What are foodbanks for?
Setting up a foodbank is an enormous undertaking, politically, socially, logistically. With limited resources its a legitimate question as to whether this is worth it. An argument is that its better to spend time fighting the source of the crisis; be it welfare reform, benefit sanctions, poor pay, extortionate rent, than spending our limited resources dealing with the symptoms like food poverty, which would resolve extremely quickly if the main problems were addressed.
This is a valid perspectives, but it misses that foodbanks and other social organisations are a necessary instrument in the struggle against austerity, not a diversion from it. Human beings have needs, of which food is one of the most basic, which can no longer be met by this system. While we need to be challenging the attacks on welfare, the driving down of wages, the parasitic private renters and removal of rights and benefits which is driving millions into poverty, we cannot leave this chasm of human need created by the social crisis unfilled.
Our people, the poor, vulnerable, unemployed, migrants, disabled, need help and support with the day to day challenges of living under capitalism. Their capacity to resist and continuing struggling to change this system for the better rests on whether they are fed, clothed, have shelter and meaningful human interaction.
Creating a foodbank is a way of ensuring that austerity doesn't impoverish people so much they are left wretched and are unable to resist its effects. It can provide a safety net which can give them avenues other than the payday loan companies, and prevents their misery becoming fodder for organised religious charities which will meet their needs but do nothing meaningful to change the situation, and actively discourage the forms of activity and politics which could.
Luton Foodbank works well to create avenues for people out of the worst effects of the crisis. It is not a political organisation and its board has a mix of local activists, trade unionists, Labour and Tory party members and councillor which prevents it taking a more political stance on the issue of food poverty.
However, there is no reason though why socialist activists could not organise foodbanks and other social services on a political basis, and use them not just to fill the gaps left by the state and capitalism, but through them create avenues to organise opposition to the system by those worst affected by it.
The Trussell Trust exists as a franchise which can be rolled out to churches and Christian organisations and provide them with a method of social action which fits with their Christian beliefs and utilises the institutions, organisations and networks which already exist. This report into the Trussel Trusts activities gives a good overview of what it does, how it organises and its plans to expand in coming years.
The socialist movement should be learning from this, not simply disparaging it, and seeking to create its own accessible franchises to provide for human need; forms of social action which could be taken up by trade union branches, socialist groups, anti-cuts organisations and others interested in taking social as well as political action against the effects of austerity. A huge void exists in the socialist movement at present. While many socialist activists may profess their love of humanity, their desire to express solidarity with those suffering under capitalism, few socialists create organisations which do anything practical in this regard. There are thus few ways for socialists to demonstrate their socialist principles in practice. This also means the socialist movement is dominated by a focus on political action which rarely amounts in practice to more than a few meetings or rallies and a passive protest.
Those socialists who want to help out their fellow humans practically rather than attend meetings and listen to speeches, find themselves excluded and sometimes denigrated, and probably end up taking part in activities organised by charities, many of which provide excellent and much needed services for those affected by the crisis, but either remain neutral or actively resist any form of political action to resolve it.
Given the scale of the destruction wrought by austerity, its time the socialist movement resolved this contradiction positively, by abandoning its prejudices against social action, rediscovering its roots in forms of mutual aid and practical solidarity and began working with others to create social organisations which can help those worst affected by the crisis both socially and politically.
- Category: Campaigns
- Published on Friday, 4 April 2014
- Written by Ray M
This article first appeared on the revolution in the 21st century (rs21) site. Many thanks to the authors for permission to repost.
Electricians in Three Bridges, Sussex, walked out this morning to defend their terms and conditions. Within hours they had forced their employers to back off and hire them on industry standard conditions.
The action involved 30 agency workers at an NG Bailey construction site for Network Rail. Their Unite union demanded direct employment in response to attempts by the agency to drive down conditions.
Within the space of four hours NB Bailey had agreed to cut out the agency and employ the workers on three month rolling contracts with industry standard JIB terms and conditions.
“NG Bailey are using the same agency at other Network Rail sites,” one worker told me. “Start organising — or you will be £100 a week worse off. “ Rank and file construction workers are planning to target other sites in the next few days.
The agency had wanted to make workers pay for holidays and employers’ national insurance. This is part of a trend towards “umbrella companies” — agencies that are actual employers rather than intermediaries.
Ian Bradley, a London electrician, writes on the Site Worker blog:
Most agencies though seem to be forcing their workers down the route of signing up to umbrella companies – a move which will leave workers considerably worse off… The reason the agencies are all fighting tooth and nail from having to take us all on PAYE is simple: if you are working on a site after 12 weeks you are entitled to the same terms and conditions as an employee of the same company.
Today’s action is a significant political opportunity to block the spread of casualisation and poor contracts in construction. If rank and file workers and Unite can generalise this action across different sites, we can stop the use of umbrella companies and turn agency work into direct employment.
The sparks won their battle against Besna, and the Blacklist Support Group has been making waves. With solidarity and the right organisation they can push back this latest attack. Defending three month contracts is a step forward – but we want to push further and get workers onto proper contracts.Add a comment
- Category: Campaigns
- Published on Tuesday, 1 April 2014
- Written by Lawrie Coombs
From the standpoint of what is politically necessary, the Sunderland anti-fascist demonstration of 29 March 2014 was a failure, with only 80 of us gathered to confront a band of 50 or so misfits from the Sunderland Defence League (including 15 gathered from the 'Scottlsh' Defence League). The Sunderland Defence League is the latest incarnation of a series of splits within the English Defence League (EDL) and National Front (NF) and thankfully seems to represent a decline of the far-right that can be attributed to a range of factors.
Firstly, in line with the national picture, the British National Party (BNP) seems to have ebbed significantly from a position of having gained credible votes in local elections and of unfortunately articulating an alienation of many people on Wearside. Secondly, the Tommy Robinson factor and his departure from the EDL has clearly taken the wind out of the sails of the local far-right. Thirdly, the constant information gathering, community work and street opposition by North East Anti-Fascists (NEAF) has had some impact.
It is increasingly evident that the fascists are being reduced to a rump of fully paid up Nazi imbeciles and a few hangers on. Their claims to speak for white working class people is not taken seriously and NEAF have identified merciless piss taking of these people on Sunderland Football Club online forums. However, given the political situation, the woeful inadequacies of the workers' movement and the serious shortcomings of anti-fascism, it doesn't take a genius to work out that fortune could spin in their direction once again. For now, the anxieties of many NEAF militants at the rise of the EDL last year, following the horrendous and brutal murder of Lee Rigby do not seem to have been capitalised upon.
Whilst NEAF tries to embrace a certain humility and culture of self-criticism, there were a number of points for us to consider, positively. We are painfully aware of how far back the workers' movement has been pushed and as working class militants we have an agenda that goes well beyond that of chasing numpty lager louts around town. Centrally however our 80 was an increase on previous Sunderland demonstrations and in fairness, we did not pull out all the stops to maximise our number.
The five of us present with ISN affiliation, all had slight variations of analysis, however broadly speaking, the following points seem particularly relevant.
- There is a forward momentum with NEAF and this can be hinted at through the numbers of people engaging with the Facebook page and the declining influence and credibility of ineffective Unite Against Fascism (UAF) type cop collaborationist approaches. The numbers of people on the Anti-Fa bloc, numbered at least half the entire total, possibly more. The NEAF contingent had the most banners, were the most visible and attracted support from a number of Asian youth, who we have encountered several times now (despite their being warned off by community elders). NEAF is clearly the place to go for serious anti-fascist analysis, information and culture - its where things happens. On the demo itself, experience is beginning to pay off, and traditions of scouting and situation recognition is becoming routine.
- The numbers of young people linking up with NEAF has been increasingly evident and this was the case in the pub beforehand, on the demo itself and throughout the post match analysis return for liquid refreshment afterwards. Significantly, one comrade remarked that it was 'good to be around so many people who think like me, are the same age'. NEAF clearly has made significant efforts through a combination of cultural and online work that has taken place in collaboration with others, the Teesside Solidarity Movement (TSM) in particular, who brought significant numbers on the day.
- Intriguingly, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) as individuals acquitted themselves really well on the day, even to the point of being reckless. As militants they seem to regard UAFism as an embarrassment. These comrades have my respect and friendship and while I question their party membership, I will not lose much sleep if they are essentially pursuing a different policy to that of their leadership, who perhaps are losing their grip?
- The camaraderie after the demonstration was likewise a real bonus and I am hopeful that the useful discussions that took place afterwards with most of the politically non-aligned, as well as younger members of Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) and Socialist Party will eventually bear fruit. This is of course all part of networking, the building up trust and developing on-going effective working relationships that are based on 'doing' rather than 'recruiting'.
What happens post Sunderland should of course be the subject of much debate. Cultural, community and youth work will continue to be a focus for us. Collaboration with Ital Guidance Soundsystem for an upcoming Middlesbrough Dub/Roots/Reggae event once again in collaboration with TSM will seek to develop further a vibrant and ambitious working class anti-capitalist/anti-fascist culture.
Our next outing in Newcastle on May 17 has been talked about already and for this the call out goes to all Northern members of the ISN in particular to help out. We want to develop the anti-fa approach, not as some cult like form of machismo, but rather something that intellectually creates the agenda, links to independent working class politics and self-organises on our own terms, not those of the Police, conservative elements in the workers' movements or those who seek control.
We will be looking to make this event more visual, more noisy and more a celebration of our working class resistance and emerging alternative culture. We want banner blocs, drums and linking up with others. It goes without saying that we will steward properly and seek to further demoralise the fascists and emphasise issues of class, after all it it these people who keep us divided, when we need unity.
I would argue that ISN needs to fully embrace movements such as this that provide best practice. Presently this seems most evident in the form of the Anti-Fa, Fracktivism, 3 Cosas and initiatives from Unite Community and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Linking together militants and identifying ways of bringing these struggles together has been part of my own political orientation in TSM and perhaps lessons can be drawn from this.
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- Category: Campaigns
- Published on Sunday, 2 February 2014
- Written by KN
Fourteen people have been given outrageous bail conditions after being arrested at Wednesday's national demonstration to defend education in Birmingham.
The protest of up to 400 people dropped a 50 foot long banner from the University of Birmingham's clock tower, before marching through the university campus.Add a comment
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