Report: Lambeth College strikes despite injunction

I can honestly say that the Lambeth College dispute to protect the hours, sick pay and holiday of workers at the college has already been one of the most inspiring I have been involved in. There really is a great sense of solidarity and togetherness and a determination to win, as is shown by both UCU and UNISON members unanimously asking for all out strike action at mass meetings. The fact that workers are determined not just to fight for their own rights, but also not to give away the rights of future workers has been extremely moving. The speeches given from union members at the college has had me welling up on a few occasions.

Silverman, the Principal of the Lambeth College has recently said this isn’t about bosses and workers and is just about making the college fit for purpose. However the fact that this is a man who wants to take away pay from seriously sick staff, who some cases would sadly be fighting for their lives, and leave them and their families without a penny in wages. He also wants to do this despite admitting that the amount of money that would be saved would be less than what was spent doing up his luxurious office and a fraction of his annual salary. Senior managers also told us in negotiations that they were actually doing staff a favour by cutting their leave and increasing their working week as they’d be able to get more done and be less stressed out! This is the logic of a Victorian mill owner, and couldn’t be more about bosses vs staff.

They have even tried to dictate to the unions who they would allow to be their negotiators. The latest from Silverman is that not content with trying to cut sick pay, leave and increase working hours, he now wants to take away the human rights of college workers and their fundamental democratic right to strike. He went to court, at huge expense, to get an injunction. These are cowardly and weaselly methods and someone who has such disdain for the workers’ well-being at the college and for fundamental human rights should not be running an educational institution. Whether he still will be at the end of this dispute, well I have my doubts.

However this dispute is about far more than just one college, it is about management trying open the flood gates for colleges around the country to decimate terms and conditions, and as such UCU has it as a “local dispute of national significance”. The injunction will only delay the strike action, and given the anger it has provoked among staff, will lead to even more determination among members. UNISON, because of the rules that mean you have to have an “indicative ballot” to ask members if they want a ballot (a ridiculous tool by the UNISON bureaucracy to try and hold up and prevent strike action), could only go out on strike from 15 May. The injunction does have the one benefit of everyone going out together.

There is a more fundamental lesson here that UCU and UNISON should be prepared to break the anti-union laws and call for strike action regardless of the whims of anti-democratic court decisions. Also the unions should be preparing to spread the action beyond Lambeth College, given they recognise themselves that this dispute is of national importance. From that point of view members at the college have to keep a firm eye on the UNISON and UCU unelected regional officials to make sure they carry out what the members want. The message that came from Sally Hunt, general secretary of UCU, in response to the injunction was:

Dear colleague. Following yesterday’s message I am writing to re-confirm that all members will be required to return and work normally tomorrow. Failure to do so would mean that you are liable to be dismissed and you would have no claim for being unfairly dismissed.

This is a message that might have well come from Human Resources. This dispute has every chance of winning, and I am more confident of that than nearly any other dispute I have been involved in. I am proud to be part of the Lambeth UNISON branch, and proud of the UNISON stewards in the college who have done such fantastic work over the last few months. Members have again and again said they want indefinite strike action and have said to management that they don’t want any negotiations without both unions being present. The picket lines have been brilliant, the rally yesterday (I had flu unfortunately!) was, according to the International Officer in my branch, “really militant, I’m very moved and inspired”.

The strike has also linked in with the community based initiative to save Brixton College, which the Principal and Department for Education want to sell off to two free schools. The Lambeth College strike is also starting to make links with the Ritzy Cinema strike, which has been another brilliant dispute to make sure that workers get the London Living Wage. All in all, despite my concerns about the union bureaucracies, I have no doubt that this dispute will win. But we need solidarity.


Little purple lies: UKIP’s racist misinformation

Like most Brightonians I have recently come home to find a UKIP leaflet on my doormat. Unfortunately UKIP had cancelled their Freepost address before I thought to send it back wrapped around a brick or a week’s worth of other assorted rubbish. In this leaflet, UKIP make a number of very bold claims about immigration, the kind of claims that are – unfortunately – uniform in most political spheres. The problem with these mainstream narratives (and it’s a big problem) is that they are not backed up by any evidence. Depressingly, UKIP are not expected to back up these claims; this is because they are myths that have been repeated again and again by all the mainstream parties. Shadow chancellor Ed Balls has been particularly strident in trying to prove that Labour are just as anti-immigrant and anti-immigration as the other parties. Writing after Labour’s electoral defeat in 2010 he wrote that, because of eastern European immigration, “there has also been a direct impact on the wages, terms and conditions of too many people across our country”. [1]

The idea that immigration is the cause of low wages and high unemployment is now so widespread that in the public eye, it has moved from the realm of theory to fact. With this in mind, after receiving my UKIP leaflet, rather than thrashing around indignantly on the kitchen floor, ripping it up, shouting ‘LIES! LIES! LIES!’, I went looking for some facts (those elusive things that UKIP seem to consider irrelevant). Surprise, surprise – UKIP are lying.

Myth 1, “Unlimited immigration costs British jobs”

Academic studies indicate that immigration is not a key determining factor in levels of unemployment. An Oxford University survey of a range of research found that “Research does not find a significant impact of overall immigration on unemployment in the UK”[2]. As Jonathan Wadsworth, of Royal Holloway College and the government’s independent Migration Advisory Committee, has said: “It is hard to find evidence of much displacement of UK workers or lower wages, on average.”[3] Just as it would be false to claim that the 20% unemployment figure of 1930 was a result of low immigration so too would it be false to claim that the present unemployment figures which stand at 6.9% are a result of high immigration. The assumption cultivated by the political mainstream is that there are a fixed number of jobs in a national economy and the movement of workers from one country to another reduces the number of jobs in that country. Numerous studies refute this including “Card’s (1990) influential case study of the Mariel immigrant flow. On April 20, 1980, Fidel Castro declared that Cuban nationals wishing to move to the United States could leave freely. By September 1980, about 125,000 Cubans had chosen to undertake the journey. Almost overnight, the Mariel “natural experiment” increased Miami’s labor force by 7 percent. Card’s (1990) analysis of the CPS data indicates that labor market trends in Miami between 1980 and 1985 in terms of wage levels and unemployment rates were similar to those experienced by such cities as Los Angeles, Houston and Atlanta, cities that did not experience the Mariel supply shock.”[4] The fact is that while immigration may in some cases increase competition for jobs it may also creates jobs by increasing demand for goods and services.

Myth 2 “Cheap labour pushes down British wages”

“Empirical research on the labour market effects of immigration in the UK suggests that immigration has relatively small effects on average wages”[5]. The evidence on this subject is, however, inconclusive. “Dustmann, Frattini and Preston (2008) find that an increase in the number of migrants corresponding to one percent of the UK-born working-age population resulted in an increase in average wages of 0.2 to 0.3 percent. Another study, for the period 2000-2007, found that a one percentage point increase in the share of migrants in the UK’s working-age population lowers the average wage by 0.3 percent (Reed and Latorre 2009). These studies, which relate to different time periods, thus reach opposing conclusions but they agree that the effects of immigration on average wages are relatively small.”[6] So the research indicates immigration can improve wages and also lower them but the effect is minute either way. Inflation rose by 18% from 2007 to 2012 yet wages only rose 10%,[7] this gap of 8% could never be caused by immigration yet you will struggle to find a single voice in parliament that will ask why bosses continually drive down wages below inflation.

Myth 3 “Schools, health, welfare are under pressure”

Strictly speaking not a myth. Schools, health and welfare are all under pressure. This statement however comes under the only referenced claim on the whole page; that 4,000 people a week come to Britain from the EU. The implication is a straightforward one, that immigrants are a ‘drain’ on public services. Aside from the fact that this plays on some of the worst and most xenophobic stereotypes about immigrants it is incorrect. Immigrants actually contribute more in terms of taxes that they receive in terms of services. “In 2008/9 migrants contributed 0.96 per cent of total tax receipts and accounted for only 0.6 per cent of total expenditures”[8] “Another study, carried out by researchers at UCL, found that new migrants were 60 per cent less likely than natives to receive state benefits or tax credits, and 58 per cent less likely to live in social housing.”[9]

With this in mind we must accept that UKIP are full of shit and know it or are simply unaware. I think the reality is a mix of the two. The political mainstream through prejudice and Machiavellian logic has been scapegoating immigrants for all manner of problems right back to the aliens act of 1905, designed to keep Jews fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe from entering the UK. So much misinformation has been spread for so long that those who peddle it believe it themselves.

As Daniel Trilling of the New Humanist has said, “The problem – as always – is that the politicians leading the anti-UKIP charge are the ones that created the conditions that gave rise to it”. The conditions that UKIP are preying on are low wages, unemployment, and the pressure on schools, welfare and health. These conditions – although none of the mainstream parties, least of all UKIP, will mention it – are the direct result of 35 years of neoliberalism. Thatcher started the project of undermining unions, slashing workers rights and wages and privatisation. The project was continued by Labour and now the Con-Dems. All the main parties are wedded to neoliberalism, a project which places profits for big business ahead of the freedom and lives of the working class. Anger about unemployment poor wages and squeezes on services is widespread. All the mainstream parties represent the interests of big business and are therefore unwilling to attribute unemployment and poor working conditions to those who employ or dictate the working conditions; big business. These parties however require votes from workers and to get them they blame the problems people face on immigrants, the unemployed and the disabled.

Left Unity are proud to say that we will never pander to the racist scapegoating employed by the right wing media and the political mainstream we state clearly in our policy that “Immigration controls divide and weaken the working class and are therefore against the interests of all workers.”[10] We must keep pointing out the lies and hypocrisy of UKIP and the other mainstream parties but we must also continue fighting for an alternative kind of politics. A socialist politics that puts people before profits and rejects the myths that are spread by the establishment to divide the working class.

This article originally appeared on the Brighton & Hove Left Unity site. If you are in that area and would like to find out more about Left Unity, they are holding a public launch meeting on 3 June 2014 at the Friends Meeting House. Facebook event page: ‘Beyond the spirit of ’45: Why we need a new Left party’

[1]Balls, Ed. “We were wrong to allow so many eastern Europeans into Britain”. The Observer. London: The Guardian. June 6, 2010. Print.

[2]DR Martin Ruhs DR Carlos Vargas-Silva. “Briefing: The Labour Market Effects of Immigration” . The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford. March 2014.

[3] Jonathan Wadsworth. “Immigration and the UK Labour Market: The Evidence from Economic Research”. Centre for economic performance. LSE. London. 2010.

[4] George J. Borjas. “The Economic Analysis Of Immigration”. Handbook of labour economics. Volume 3. Part A. 1999.

[5]DR Martin Ruhs DR Carlos Vargas-Silva. “Briefing: The Labour Market Effects of Immigration” . The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford. March 2014.

[6]DR Martin Ruhs DR Carlos Vargas-Silva. “Briefing: The Labour Market Effects of Immigration” . The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford. March 2014.

[7] BBC. “Average earnings rise by 1.4% to £26,500, says ONS”. November 2012.

[8]James Bloodworth, “Did immigration really ‘depress the wages and job chances of working class Britons’?”. Left foot forward. April 2013.

[9]James Bloodworth, “Did immigration really ‘depress the wages and job chances of working class Britons’?”. Left foot forward. April 2013.

[10] 2014.


Tom Walker: The potential of a People’s Assembly

One thing is not in doubt: the People’s Assembly on Saturday 22 June will be a massive event. Local meetings in the run-up have been hundreds strong, and thousands of people will fill London’s huge Westminster Central Hall on the day. There have been quite a few anti-austerity conferences since the Tories took office in 2010, but nothing on this scale. If you haven’t registered already, you should go and do it right now. I’ll wait. (Yes, £8 is a bit steep, but really.)

OK, so we’re all going to the People’s Assembly. Great! The next question is: what are we, the organised left, going to do there? This is a contribution to that debate.

I want the People’s Assembly to be a success. It should be obvious, but I mean it. My aim here is not to ‘expose’ its leaders or some such, but to outline what I believe success would look like and how it could be achieved. The central argument of this article is that the People’s Assembly, already a good conference and a nice day out, has the potential to be something much more than that – but it’s going to need a little helping hand from the likes of us.

The ‘intervention’: how not to do it

The dominant far left model of what to do at big conferences (or at least, ones your particular group isn’t organising) is the ‘intervention’. This means organising groups of their members to get called to speak from the floor and push that left group’s ‘party line’. You can spot these people in a room quite easily – they are the ones who, as soon as there is a chance for contributions, shoot their arms high up into the air and keep them there. This also, happily, doubles up as a form of exercise.

Most of the groups present will have one obsession: the betrayals of the trade union bureaucracy. ‘We hear fine words from Len McCluskey,’ they will say, ‘but where is the general strike?’ This is so predictable as to be tedious. Focusing on denouncing the union leaders is a constant temptation, especially in any room that may contain Dave Prentis, but it achieves little apart from making us look like sectarian wreckers.

I am for strikes. Obviously. I am for a general strike. I am for an indefinite general strike. I am also fully in favour of the union leaders getting together to make me a big chocolate cake. Saying all this, whether in this article or at the People’s Assembly, does not make any of it an inch more likely to happen.

The far left getting up and calling for a general strike doesn’t put the union leaders under any pressure, whatever we might imagine. It is empty sloganeering, of the type we used to mock when it came from ‘stopped clock’ groups like the Workers Revolutionary Party. The real purpose of such slogans is not to make a general strike happen, because that takes organisation not slogans – it is a way that the far left attempts to differentiate itself, by posing as the ‘most radical’ wing of the conference, and then saying ‘join us, we’re the ones arguing for a general strike’.

No, this is not an article in which I argue to let the union leaders off the hook. What I am interested in is looking at how we can apply pressure that will work, instead of just shouting into the air.

Top tables, workshops and pressure

There has been an interesting example of pressure from below when it comes to the organisation of the People’s Assembly itself. Though they now deny it, the organisers clearly conceived of the event as simply a mass rally, where speaker after speaker would tell us how bad austerity is, the breadth of speakers demonstrating how broad the movement is. This embodied the ‘get a big audience for the leaders’ approach of the initiative’s prime mover, Counterfire. (If this was really never the plan, then I’ve no idea why they booked a space like Central Hall.)

It was only under pressure that the organisers – by then including some more sensible types from the unions – announced hardly a month before the event that it would now be mostly devoted to workshops, or ‘sub-assemblies’. This is already a victory for the movement, though it is one that must be built on as I will spell out below.

First though, I think it is important to identify the source of this pressure. It came not so much from the organised left as from the anti-austerity movement itself. The points IS Network has been making loudly about the problems of top-down organisation, top table speakers and a lack of democracy on the left are not things that we have invented out of thin air – they are ideas that we ourselves have picked up from the movements. These arguments’ popularity speaks of the lasting influence of the Occupy/Indignados movements, and the anticapitalist movement before them, in spreading ‘horizontal politics’. Anyone who has been part of an Occupy-style assembly, for all their occasional problems, has been imbued with the excitement and empowerment of a bottom-up method of organising. They cannot help but find it a dissonant contrast to a more old-school meeting.

A closely connected phenomenon is the rise and rise of the internet – and with it the ‘network politics’ that Laurie Penny was keen to emphasise at IS Network’s public meeting last weekend. There is a tendency to put this all down to social media, but it is far more complex than that, embracing the whole range of tools that the net has put at our disposal – not just Facebook and Twitter, then, but websites themselves, blogs, forums, photo-sharing, YouTube and other video sites, Skype and similar tech… hell, even something as prosaic as email is transformative for organising compared to what came before it.

We have gradually, almost without noticing, entered a world in which anyone with an internet connection can be part of a massive global conversation – and they no longer demand their participation, they simply expect it. The organised left’s failure to understand this ‘participation generation’ is a significant factor behind its failure to grow throughout the years of capitalist crisis.

The agency of the ‘audience’

So, we’ve got workshops, and ‘the people’ who would have been disappointed to be lectured at what’s meant to be their assembly may instead get a chance to be heard. There might still be another bump in this road if we turn up to the workshops to find them packed with top-table speakers, but hopefully that can be overcome.

The real issue, though, is that hearing from the ‘audience’ is not enough. This hall, after all, will be packed with incredible people. Big delegations of trade unionists. Dedicated local campaigners. People of experience, skill and sound political judgement. I don’t just want them to get a few minutes to speak from the floor – I want the people to be the ones calling the shots in this People’s Assembly. In short, I want to turn the idea of ‘speakers and audience’ upside down and put those thousands of people we’ve heard so much about in the driving seat. I want a meeting that is useful to the people at it, and builds their self-activity. I want to unleash the agency of the audience – in other words, I want democracy. Is that so much to ask?

Let’s briefly consider the proposed statement that will come out of the People’s Assembly, published a few days ago. It says:

‘This declaration represents the views of all those who initially called for the People’s Assembly. We hope it will be endorsed by the People’s Assembly on 22nd June. It will then be open to the local People’s Assembly’s, union bodies and campaign groups who support the People’s Assembly to suggest amendments, additions, or deletions. These will then all be discussed and decided upon at the recall People’s Assembly in 2014.’

So you can amend the statement…but not until 2014! And in the meantime, what? We do whatever the organisers have pre-agreed we should do? None of their statement is anything that anyone would disagree with – but what a dereliction to exclude the wealth of ideas that could come from below on the day. What a lost opportunity to give people a feeling of ownership over the initiative, instead of feeling like fodder when all the decisions have already been made. It would be a great shame if this approach went unchallenged at the assembly.

Where do movements come from?

Isn’t that just a complaint about process? Why does that matter? Surely we can all pull together to create a movement against austerity? This, though, reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what a movement is and where it comes from.

In the Independent, Owen Jones – a prominent supporter of the Assembly – asserts several times that it is ‘the movement’ Britain has been waiting for. ‘A movement demanding an alternative to austerity…is being born,’ he writes. ‘The fragmented strands of progressive Britain are coming together; the anti-austerity movement is making its belated appearance.’

But the People’s Assembly is not a movement – it’s a conference. These are not the same thing. Movements can have conferences, but I can’t think of any example of a conference creating a movement. Movements, in general, are not declared from on high – they are spontaneous, complicated, messy things that often appear when you least expect them.

A strange elision here is the assertion that there hasn’t been an anti-austerity movement until now. Yet there have been anti-cuts groups in almost every town and city in the country. Local campaigns have sprung up over everything from hospital closures to the bedroom tax. Owen obviously knows this, having spoken at hundreds of such meetings. This is the movement! Of course in many areas it is not strong enough, but that surely requires a focus on grassroots organising more than it demands a sparkly conference.

It is worth pausing on this, because it reflects a commonplace mistake on the left. Narratives of Britain’s early 2000s anti-war movement, for example, tend to focus heavily on the organisational form it took as the Stop the War Coalition. Of course Stop the War was important – but Stop the War was not the movement. (Hence the problem with book titles like ‘Stop the War: the story of Britain’s biggest mass movement’.) A movement is an expression of a widespread feeling in society. Initiatives like Stop the War and the People’s Assembly are an attempt to organise and give voice to that feeling – and also, simultaneously, an attempt by particular political forces to channel the feeling in the direction they would like to see.

Challenging Labour

What direction do the forces that have created the People’s Assembly want for the anti-austerity movement? Owen Jones, as part of the radical left of the Labour Party, clearly wants it to put pressure on Labour to oppose austerity. This is very compatible with the perspective of Unite, by all accounts the Assembly’s main union backer, which has launched a big push to get its members to join Labour in order to ‘reclaim’ the party. Counterfire, meanwhile, has made clear that it no longer believes an alternative to Labour is possible.

Unfortunately, if we’re talking about a movement against austerity, we can’t put the question of Labour to one side so easily. Of course we need the maximum possible unity against the cuts. But the Labour leadership is not against the cuts, and has failed to defend the people at the sharp end of the government’s attacks, even refusing to say it would abolish the bedroom tax. In fact, last week Ed Miliband and Ed Balls finally raised the surrender flag over the whole question of austerity once and for all, by committing to stay within Tory spending limits (‘iron discipline’) and not to reverse Tory cuts.

Some have suggested these were just one-off speeches. But according to Labour sources who spoke to the Observer’s Andrew Rawnsley, this is the beginning of a long-term strategy. Rawnsley writes, ‘Preparing for his speech, Mr Balls thought about 10 specific spending cuts that he could list. He decided to hold some of them back in the hope of getting further impact by announcing them later.’ That’s a treat I’m sure we’re all looking forward to.

So having told you at the start of the article not to denounce the union leaders, I’m now suggesting we get up and denounce Labour? No – that’s not the point. Really there’s little need. People already ‘get it’ – they know the Labour Party is not on their side over austerity. The forces that are still tied to Labour drastically underestimate the level that this feeling has now reached. That is why 8,000 have signed up to Left Unity, the project to set up a new party of the left. This is an initiative people want.

This is not about setting up Left Unity somehow in opposition to the People’s Assembly (far from it, it fully supports the Assembly), but saying that if we are really going to challenge the austerity consensus that dominates all the big parties, we need to go further. The way create a force that can give a voice to the ever-growing numbers who stand to Labour’s left – and incidentally, the way to put the frighteners on the Labour leaders – is to go beyond the left’s long established rhythm of conferences and A-to-B marches, and create a more permanent form of organisation that scraps both the Labourist and left-sect models in favour of a party that is driven from below.

A new party of the left is our positive project – and one that will, I promise you, get a very positive reception from the thousands at the People’s Assembly. If we want to see the potential of a People’s Assembly realised, then we should put all our resources on the day into getting the word about Left Unity out to as many people as possible.


Rosie Warren: On believing women who allege rape

Note: A response to criticisms of this article appears at this link.

Over the course of the past few months, I’ve been having a lot of conversations about rape, and about the women who allege rape. Particularly, about women who allege rape against high-profile left wing men. I’ve noticed a lot of things about these conversations; some were reassuring, some were disappointing, many were utterly sickening.

I have been accused of many things over the course of these conversations, most of which were baseless, but the most puzzling by far was the accusation that “You’re automatically believing the woman!” Quite. Not only am I doing so, I maintain that this is exactly how consideration of such cases should proceed. And it is important to stress that this is a position predicated on logic, as well as solidarity.

Having recounted such accusations to those people with whom I actually share my politics, who have been on the same side as me in recent fights, I have been somewhat surprised at their reactions. Some of those I have the utmost respect for, reveal they will still not categorically, even privately, make a stance beyond “This needs to be investigated with absolute seriousness” and “We can’t say anything about guilt, or innocence, because we know nothing about the details”. I reject this wholeheartedly; such tentativeness is a failure of political rigour. We should, of course, start by believing the alleger.

And here’s why:

Sexual intercourse without consent is rape.

A woman has alleged rape. This means she is alleging that both:

  1. sexual intercourse occurred
  2. she did not consent

For the purpose of this intervention, I am considering those cases in which both parties accept that intercourse occurred, but for which he says it was consensual, she says it was not.

The issue, therefore, lies with (2) – consent:

There are several things that could have happened:

  1. She is lying
  2. She misunderstood what happened, believes it to be rape, but is mistaken
  3. She has been raped

How do we know which has happened, and what can we say with conviction?

  1. She is lying – This is understandably an incredibly difficult thing to estimate, not least because so many rapes go unreported (a 2007 government report suggests that between 75% and 95% of rapes are not reported to the police,1 and most reports suggest the latter is more accurate) but those who have attempted to examine it place the figure at somewhere around 5% of reported rapes are false allegations2 – which means 5% of roughly 10% reported; less than 1% of women lie about being raped. I believe we can reasonably disregard (a), then, unless there is a very strong reason to suggest the woman is lying – these are exceptional circumstances, and should not be foregrounded.
  2. She misunderstood what happened, believes it to be rape, but is wrong – I think this rests on how we conceive of consent. I suggest we should conceive of consent not as the absence of a no, but as the presence of a (not necessarily verbal, but very clear) yes. An intentional, conscious, active, positive decision. In order for a woman to have misunderstood about her ‘not-rape’ then, option (b), we appear to be suggesting that the woman has consented, but unintentionally. This is clearly contradictory to the definition I have just laid out. If consent is, as I think it is, an intentional, conscious, active, positive decision, how could she do that by accident, and could that really constitute consent? Surely, in this scenario, it is the man who is mistaken about the consent, since the woman cannot mistakenly give it. I think this is worth stressing: given this understanding of consent, while it may indeed be the case that there has been a misunderstanding, it is surely the man who has not understood that this is rape, rather than the woman who has not understood that it is not.
  3. She has been raped – Given what I’ve already outlined, there is a 99% chance she is telling the truth, and she cannot consent by accident. If she says there was no consent, we can be 99% sure that there was no consent. Either the man was mistaken about the consent, or else he was well aware, and was not concerned. Either way, sexual intercourse without consent is rape. Rape has occurred.

There are several things I ought to add in response to the criticisms that are already being pounded into keyboards and hurled in my direction.

Firstly, as explained, I’m talking about a specific scenario of rape, where both parties acknowledge that intercourse occurred. Certain issues arise from the formulation that a man can be ‘mistaken about the consent’. Before I go on I must state, in the clearest possible terms, that I am not suggesting that this absolves the man of responsibility for his actions. It is absolutely and unequivocally the responsibility of a man to make concretely sure that he has a woman’s consent before he has sex with her. If he’s not sure, he shouldn’t have sex with her.

When I say that men can be “mistaken about the consent”, what I mean is that men can rape women without necessarily realising that that is what they have done. A man may believe that the woman consented, because his understanding of consent is perhaps “unless she says no”, or “when she’s naked” or “she’s promiscuous, she’s always up for it”. These beliefs are, of course, abhorrent. But nonetheless, if he does not understand that consent is an enthusiastic and freely given yes, he may not conceive of himself as the rapist that he in fact is. It should not change our analysis of these men, as rapists, but nonetheless this is obviously a complicating factor.

This is simultaneously very obvious – it is unlikely that in stating baldly that a man can be a rapist without believing himself to be, anyone will deny that possibility – but also, I believe, counterintuitive precisely because many, even amongst the left, have internalised a simplistic view of rape, according to which The Rapist is a conscious, deliberate, sexual predator. It may be this internalised concept of The Rapist (who does of course exist) which lies behind the hesitancy of some on the left to accept that, in the absence of strong counterevidence, a man accused of rape is, indeed, a rapist. One corollary of accepting the logical position of believing a woman who alleges rape, then, might be for those who had internalised this concept of The Rapist to accept that their understanding of what rape is simply wasn’t adequate, and needs rethinking.

It is worth adding to this, I think, that there are many different types of rape. For most this will be obvious, but perhaps it needs spelling out. Some women are, of course, raped by The Rapist, on their way home, in the dark. These are generally the ones you hear about on the news. But for most women who are raped, their rapist is a family member, partner or friend. Many rapes occur in the woman’s own home. Some rapes are incredibly violent, some are less so. Some women are too drunk, or otherwise intoxicated, to refuse, some are simply too terrified. I don’t think it requires a complex concept of rape to understand how this can be so, just a realistic one. Not all rapists fit the criteria of The Rapist. Many of them are ‘nice guys’ who just weren’t quite nice enough to notice that the woman they had sex with hadn’t consented. He may not think of himself as a rapist, because he only knows about The Rapist. But there was still no consent. It doesn’t change our understanding of rape, as intercourse without consent, it just makes it starkly obvious that the old concept of rape as something that only happens in dark alleys, by men who are out to rape, is completely inadequate and is one that has never represented women’s experience of rape.

The final point that I think it is essential to raise, is that while a woman cannot be mistaken in her assertion that she did not consent, this does not mean that a woman may not also have internalised such distorted concepts of consent, and may not, at the time of the event, conceive of herself as having been raped. Many women come to the conclusion afterwards, sometimes years afterwards. This should not undermine the sincerity, or validity of their allegations, nor should it prevent anyone who considers themselves anti-sexist from believing them.

Obviously this throws up issues for dealing with rape accusations in law, and among people on the left. I have an open mind about the best way to proceed, and what protocols if any to put in place, and I welcome that debate. Here, I am focusing on the narrow but important question of belief. The statement that we believe someone alleging rape is not only an important act of solidarity, but is also, given what we know about the nature of rape allegations, the only logically coherent position to take.


Bunny La Roche: Nasty Little Nigel gets a rude welcome to Kent

Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, visited east Kent on Monday. He was here to meet local UKIP members and woo local Tories in advance of the Euro elections later this year. But his visit did not quite go to plan – he was greeted by a throng of angry protesters.

Kent Internationalist Socialists and members of the SWP were tipped off last Thursday about Farage’s visit. We set up a Facebook event, contacted people in Thanet and met with local Green party councillor Ian Driver to help promote a demonstration to “welcome” him.

Protesters gathered around 2pm at the Walpole Hotel in Cliftonville. The small, noisy gathering included socialists, animal rights activists, anti-fracking campaigners and members of the local Czech community.

UKIP did well in the Kent county council elections last May, winning seven of the eight seats in Thanet. It was now on Farage’s list of seats to contest in the 2015 general election. But after yesterday’s protest he was asked if he would be standing by ITV News and replied: “What? With a welcome like that?”

Bunny told Thanet Watch:

He is a racist and a bigot trying to get himself into parliament based on people’s fears. The media are all in a frenzy about him every time he comes out with something. The Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats then try to catch up with him. What’s really frightening is that he moves the agenda to the right. And that’s why we have to stop him.


Brixton Black Revolutionary Socialists: Antifascist action against Jobbik, Golden Dawn and BNP

12:00 Sunday 26th Jan

*Meeting: The Square, Outside The Crown Pub. 235 Shaftesbury Avenue London WC2H 8E

map >>

Gábor Vona, Jobbik’s party president will be coming to London to meet up with Golden Dawn and the BNP to agree a coalition agreement between the three parties for the uncoming term of the European Union Parliament.

Far-right paramilitary groups and fascist organisations have been seeking to form alliances and coalitions within europe for pan-European coordination. The Jobbik party are a violent far-right organisation, seeking electoral support in Hungary.

In 2013, Members of Golden Dawn murdered Pavlos Fyssas, a left-wing rapper otherwise known as MC Killah P, alongside countless others who have been murdered by Golden Dawn Death Squads

Call out for antifascist organisations to assemble.

Message for more details.

Meeting: The Square, Outside The Crown Pub.

map >>


Where have all the election posters gone? Campaigning for a working class alternative to austerity

by Martin Ralph, member of the International Socialist League and candidate for Old Swan Against the Cuts (Liverpool) in the local elections.

Over 600 socialist candidates across Britain are standing in the 22 May local elections. Anger over the brutal austerity policies that have increased year on year since 2010 has led to an urgent need need for working class representation.

Many different sections of the working class, especially the most vulnerable and poorest, are being hurt by these continuing and deepening cuts. Knowledge that younger generation will be worse off than their parents is a further cause of anger. That is why there is the growing mood for election campaigns of local groups with connections in the working class areas where they are standing. 

One such class struggle candidate is Martin Ralph representing Old Swan Against the Cuts (OSAC) in Liverpool. This group has been campaigning consistently against the government and local council cuts for over a year and is standing in the elections in order to deepen that struggle. An absence of political party electoral posters in houses across the ward is unusual, with only four Labour Party and two UKIP (a racist party) posters on display. In the past Labour posters would be seen everywhere, but each year the number has sharply declined. As we write with just days before the election OSAC posters are the most visible (about 40 in 30 streets).

OSAC have produced two leaflets with information about our programme and campaigns, 6,500 residencies have received each. This has been possible with the assistance of a motivated group working with others, 25 people from OSAC, the International Socialist League, Left Unity, Bridge Community Care and Reclaim (the last two campaign against the Bedroom tax and give advice about benefit cuts).

During the campaign OSAC was invited to speak to a meeting of local residents based in a sheltered accommodation centre (aged from 55 years). OSAC agreed to help them with their campaign for a crossing for the busy road outside of their centre. At the end of April OSAC were also invited to speak to a meeting of Merseyside FBU (firefighters) and received £71 from their collection, later the OSAC leaflet was sent to all FBU branches on Merseyside. OSAC held four public meetings during the last 12 months and union and community speakers were always invited to speak about their struggles and strikes — thus forging links with the FBU, PCS, UCU, Unite and CWU unions and Liverpool TUC. OSAC is part of Liverpool and Merseyside Against The Cuts and money from members, sympathisers and collections at union meetings raised over £800.

OSAC has become known in Merseyside as a campaigning group. For example, Beryl and Mitch were campaigning against the council for disabled people’s rights for over three years before they joined OSAC. Mitch is a wheelchair user and someone who was working on building site when he had an accident that led to the loss of his legs. Beryl used to be a cleaner in the local fire station. OSAC offered them a way to keep their struggle going and they have become very active members because it is organised democratically by its membership. 

A new member said recently about the group:

Old Swan Against the Cuts is an interesting group of people. They are a group of people, I’d say, who aren’t traditionally involved in politics (and are mostly working class) who are being kept involved and feel there is a place where they are being nurtured politically. In truth it does require a couple of clear head politically minded individuals to keep it all steady and productive
Of all the election campaigns (local, general, Scottish and European) I’ve been involved in over the years I felt today (Saturday 17th May 2014) was one of the most significant. I feel there are a few parallels with the community, political and electoral activism I’ve been involved with in Liverpool 11 (Croxteth and Norris Green) over the years.

I know people (voters) want to be believe in something and someone better. I think you’ve established with OSAC a vibrant grassroots, working class group as well as a genuinely earned profile well before these elections and it won’t be a case of ‘here today and gone tomorrow’ and working class voters particularly want to believe that’s true.

The election campaign is:

full of positive energy and gained its own external momentum, the group itself has local committed supporters and those of us from beyond are working as a team for the greater good. There’s a growing social bond and OSAC is clearly open to anyone who wishes to be active (i.e. leaflet, attend meetings etc), to make connections and earn some smiles and good will in return, plus learn, share and grow our social and political understanding.
The feedback in handing out leaflets person-to-person today especially to young people was extremely uplifting, I gave away all my window posters very easily, the postman (with who I swapped names) took a leaflet and we crossed paths constantly while, he even enabled me to leaflet in a block of flats that we couldn’t otherwise. The postman is from Algeria and we even got to talk about the Post Office privatisation, football and revolution (you like Che Guevara?) in between both of us posting the same letter boxes

The comments from workers, perhaps the majority of them women, who we talk to shows the vast majority no longer trust the Labour Party. Sometimes we are mistaken for the Labour Party and typical comments include, “Labour are useless”, “they do nothing” and “they do not listen”. A number have said they voted Labour all their lives but will never vote for them again and a youth said with simplicity and profundity, “no cut is justified”.

During March in Liverpool, as in many towns and cities, the Council agreed, without a single dissenting Labour voice, to cut £1 million a week in services and jobs for the next three years. The Labour mayor said in 2013 that “these cuts will kill”, and recently the deputy mayor of Liverpool said “we have cut all we can – we are now cutting into the bone”. The Labour Party is murdering council services. These services are a lifeline to the homeless, women seeking refuge, the elderly, disabled people, young children, autistic children and many more. The cuts, if they are not stopped, will close libraries, sack staff, outsource and privatise services to other organisations like housing associations (not-for-profit companies). The Labour Party is nothing more than a puppet for the government.

Some people are asking: “With a general election approaching in 2015 why are Labour making these cuts? Why not fight the cuts now and aim for a Labour government to finish austerity?” The answer is if Labour form a government they will continue with austerity cuts. Miliband has already said that the cuts will continue. The working class is beginning to reject Labour (from a beginning to a mass movement can of course take sometime). Workers, women and youth have shown in this election campaign in the Old Swan that belief in the traditional parties is waning because they help exploit and oppress people. But, they want to have a political participation to decide their own destiny democratically, and not to let the old parties and politicians decide for them. That’s why members agreed to build Old Swan Against the Cuts, and that’s why they want to continue the struggle for a future without austerity.