"I have long argued that the giving of offence, and even hate speech, should be a moral matter but not a matter for the criminal law. That is as true on the football pitch as on the streets. We should always challenge racism. We should also always challenge attacks on liberties in the guise of faux antiracism." Kenan Malik

Archive for October, 2010

Why They’re Smearing The Fire-fighters

Here’s an interesting article about what’s been going on in London. While the situation is somewhat different in Norfolk, there’s every chance of industrial action being taken here and across the country due to the dangerously complacent level of cuts and changing work practices.

Norfolk fire-fighters no doubt will face the same smear tactics adopted by not only the Fire Service but quite likely also a very reactionary press.

We back the fightback against the cuts and we fully support our fire-fighters both nationally and regionally. We also know the general public do too.

Want to play pretend fire-fighters? AssetCo want to hear from you. You get to watch houses burn down and crash fire engines...nice!

First of all, it is not true that this dispute between firefighters and London Fire Brigade management has anything to do with a claim for a £10,000 increase in pay. From listening to some online chatter, it would seem that at one stage, very early on in the negotiations, the union reps mentioned this claim in a negotiating meeting as a joke, in response to some of management’s more absurd demands. When the LFB responded “now you’re being ridiculous”, FBU reps responded “well, you fucking started it”. Whether that is true or apocryphal, what is for certain is that there is no claim for a £10,000 pay increase at the centre of this dispute. So when the LFB management publicise such allegations to newspapers and encourage them to claim that firefighters are making an unreasonable pay claim (by some standards – in my opinion, they would be worth every penny), that is a sleazy and dishonest tactic of class war. And it is certainly LFB management and their Westminster overseers who are behind these claims. The editor of Financial Markets confirmed as much in this editorial intervention, where he reveals that a story written up for the online magazine repeating those claims was taken from a “propaganda release” from the Fire Minister Bob Neil.

Secondly, it is not true that there is anything scandalous or ‘greedy’ about firefighters claiming London weighting while living outside of London. Such ‘weighting’ applies to where you work, not where you live, and the rules are the same for everyone. So, when the LFB management leaks the full home address of every firefighter to the tabloids in order to hound firefighters this is a sleazy, dishonest tactic of class war. Thirdly, it’s not acceptable for LFB management to use comments made by firefighters on Facebook groups as grounds for suspension. But that is what has been happening, and it is a sleazy and dishonest tactic of class war. Parenthetically, one firefighters’ support group with over 20,000 members disappeared from the social media site after comments made on the page were used by management against members. In addition, a number of individuals who were active on the group had their accounts deleted.

The use of smears, bullying and dirty tricks by LFB management should not surprise anyone that has followed the negotiations. Let’s recall how we got here. First of all, there is an important distinction that is apt to be lost in this discussion. The dispute is about shift patterns and the threat of cuts to night-time cover, but the strike was prompted by management’s bullying tactics, wherein they used a section 188 notice to threaten all workers with redundancy unless they accepted the new terms. Were it not for this threat, the strike would very probably not have been called, and the outcome would be determined solely by talks. But management pulled out their ace with the section 188, their last resort of coercion, and left the union with no choice but to strike. Such moves are taking place all over the country as part of the government’s cuts agenda, as tens of thousands of council workers have been threatened with the same threat of redundancy unless they accept lower pay. This is a tactic of class war. It is designed to undermine the position of organised labour, and bully workers. It is designed, in short, to weaken the bargaining power of labour and restrict the consumption of the working class. In context, it is part of a package of political measures designed to transfer wealth from the working class to the ruling class, the financialised fraction of which stands to gain most in the immediate term. It is also part of a project aimed at fundamentally restructuring the political economy of British capitalism, such that the welfare state, trade unions, and other features of society that buttress labour’s position are fundamentally weakened, and the power of the City, of the CBI and of entrenched business interests is fundamentally strengthened.

So, in the last analysis, they’re smearing the firefighters as part of a wider project of redistributing class power. However, there is a more immediate reason for the smears. LFB are losing. They are losing big time, so comprehensively that it’s almost laughable. The incompetence of the scab replacement firm, Assetco, has become nearly legendary. Destroying vehicles, letting houses burn to the ground, calling out striking firefighters to handle situations which they are just not trained or equipped to handle, are just a few examples of their last display. Assetco workers don’t want to cross the picket lines, and Police Silver command are refusing to provide escorts for them. In fact, my understanding is that Assetco have made it plain that they are not in a position to cover the city during the upcoming 47 hour strike, they simply don’t have the means or adequately trained staff. LFB management are panicking and, as a result, lashing out by all available means. They are desperate, on the backfoot, and – if the FBU stick to their guns – will have to back down and reach a serious, negotiated settlement with the union. I note that the NUJ are also out on strike on 5th November. Many RMT workers refused to work in unsafe conditions during the last strike, causing a complete shut-down on the Jubilee Line. It is fairly certain that the same will happen next week. Trade unionists from across London are rallying to the fire fighters, and undoubtedly watching the outcome. Whether the Tories hold the line with the FBU and the RMT will communicate something important to other trade unionists about the state of play. This is why it is vital that firefighters are not demoralised by the constant attacks of management and tabloids, nor swayed by the appeals for timidity from the liberal media. They can win, they have every right to win, and those supporting them need them to win.



To Tramps, The Unemployed, The Disinherited, And Miserable, by Lucy Parsons 1884


Lucy Parsons in 1920

An article by Lucy E. Parsons in anarchist magazine Alarm, October 4, 1884. Also printed and distributed as a leaflet by the International Working People’s Association. How times DON’T change…

A word to the 35,000 now tramping the streets of this great city, with hands in pockets, gazing listlessly about you at the evidence of wealth and pleasure of which you own no part, not sufficient even to purchase yourself a bit of food with which to appease the pangs of hunger now gnawing at your vitals.

It is with you and the hundreds of thousands of others similarly situated in this great land of plenty, that I wish to have a word.

Have you not worked hard all your life, since you were old enough for your labour to be of use in the production of wealth? Have you not toiled long, hard and laboriously in producing wealth? And in all those years of drudgery do you not know you have produced thousand upon thousands of dollars’ worth of wealth, which you did not then, do not now, and unless you act, never will, own any part in?

Do you not know that when you were harnessed to a machine and that machine harnessed to steam, and thus you toiled your 10, 12 and 16 hours in the 24, that during this time in all these years you received only enough of your labour product to furnish yourself the bare, coarse necessaries of life, and that when you wished to purchase anything for yourself and family it always had to be of the cheapest quality?

If you wanted to go anywhere you had to wait until Sunday, so little did you receive for your unremitting toil that you dare not stop for a moment, as it were? And do you not know that with all your squeezing, pinching and economising you never were enabled to keep but a few days ahead of the wolves of want?

And that at last when the caprice of your employer saw fit to create an artificial famine by limiting production, that the fires in the furnace were extinguished, the iron horse to which you had been harnessed was stilled; the factory door locked up, you turned upon the highway a tramp, with hunger in your stomach and rags upon your back?

Yet your employer told you that it was overproduction which made him close up. Who cared for the bitter tears and heart-pangs of your loving wife and helpless children, when you bid them a loving “God bless you” and turned upon the tramper’s road to seek employment elsewhere?

I say, who cared for those heartaches and pains? You were only a tramp now, to be execrated and denounced as a “worthless tramp and a vagrant” by that very class who had been engaged all those years in robbing you and yours. Then can you not see that the “good boss” or the “bad boss” cuts no figure whatever? that you are the common prey of both, and that their mission is simply robbery? Can you not see that it is the INDUSTRIAL SYSTEM and not the “boss” which must be changed?

Now, when all these bright summer and autumn days are going by and you have no employment, and consequently can save up nothing, and when the winter’s blast sweeps down from the north and all the earth is wrapped in a shroud of ice, hearken not to the voice of the hypocrite who will tell you that it was ordained of God that “the poor ye have always”; or to the arrogant robber who will say to you that you “drank up all your wages last summer when you had work, and that is the reason why you have nothing now, and the workhouse or the workyard is too good for you; that you ought to be shot.” And shoot you they will if you present your petitions in too emphatic a manner.

So hearken not to them, but list! Next winter when the cold blasts are creeping through the rents in your seedy garments, when the frost is biting your feet through the holes in your worn-out shoes, and when all wretchedness seems to have centred in and upon you, when misery has marked you for her own and life has become a burden and existence a mockery, when you have walked the streets by day and slept upon hard boards by night, and at last determine by your own hand to take your life – for you would rather go out into utter nothingness than to longer endure an existence which has become such a burden – so, perchance, you determine to dash yourself into the cold embrace of the lake rather than longer suffer thus. But halt, before you commit this last tragic act in the drama of your simple existence. Stop!

Is there nothing you can do to insure those whom you are about to orphan, against a like fate? The waves will only dash over you in mockery of your rash act; but stroll you down the avenues of the rich and look through the magnificent plate windows into their voluptuous homes, and here you will discover the very identical robbers who have despoiled you and yours. Then let your tragedy be enacted here! Awaken them from their wanton sport at your expense! Send forth your petition and let them read it by the red glare of destruction.

Thus when you cast “one long lingering look behind” you can be assured that you have spoken to these robbers in the only language which they have ever been able to understand, for they have never yet deigned to notice any petition from their slaves that they were not compelled to read by the red glare bursting from the cannon’s mouths, or that was not handed to them upon the point of the sword.

You need no organisation when you make up your mind to present this kind of petition. In fact, an organisation would be a detriment to you; but each of you hungry tramps who read these lines, avail yourselves of those little methods of warfare which Science has placed in the hands of the poor man, and you will become a power in this or any other land.


Copy, Print, Rage!

Eric Cantona On Banks And Smashing The System

There really are some inventive ideas appearing around the globe on finally doing away with this rotten system that would exile the poor from inner cities into ghettoes out of sight, and cutting basic services that would put the public’s lives at risk such as reducing Fire Service cover.

Here is one we support and encourage others to join in which is slowly building..

On December 7th 2010, across Europe people will be walking to their banks or logging in online and removing their money from all High Street banks.

Here’s an old favourite of ours, Eric Cantona, on the banks, marches (yawn), and bringing down the system..

Click on image.


And if you’re looking for somewhere to put your money after ‘bailing out FROM the banks’…how about your local credit union, here’s one in Norwich.

‘Coalition Of Resistance’ Anyone?

We like receiving emails at NCAG so keep them coming. This one from A.Craig, Northrepps on what is becoming a common theme.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear...

Posh Guardian readers and social network junkies may have noticed the formation of a ‘new national coalition‘ over the last few months but don’t be fooled, there really is nothing new here.

The faces are all the same, and the tired old tactics of bus in, listen, and bus out again are no different.

This is once again John Rees and Lyndsey German Ltd’s attempt to create another power base Stop The War Coalition stylee.

And they will be marching AWAY from any form of real resistance to the cuts…unless you call a quick march, a quick listen to Tony Benn, a ‘brothers and sisters’ speech from a TUC leader before it jumps into it’s Jag and drives off to play golf with an MP, a quick cuppa, then back on the busreal resistance.

Lets make sure we build the resistance we had during the fight against the Poll Tax, not by going to London to listen to endless speeches in Trafalgar Square but here, in Norfolk, in our pubs, shops, and our schools. At our Sunday league matches, at Carrow Road, in our parks, our work places and in our local communities, and lets finally leave these dinosaurs behind once and for all.

John Rees and Lyndsey German Ltd’s STWC, established in 2001, will be holding yet another march in London, November 20th 2010.

Any guess where? Yes that’s it, another Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square ramble.

Nothing changed and most definitely NOTHING GAINED….

Norfolk Community Action Group will be holding monthly public meetings in local community centres across Norfolk shortly, with the aim of building and developing ideas and resistance to the cuts within our local communities. While we see it as important to endeavour to work with all groups on a local level if possible, we recognise the need to distance ourselves from this ‘national nonsense’.

Kenan Malik: A Merkel Attack On Multiculturalism

‘Multiculturalism has totally failed’. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent blunt comments on the fiasco of German race relations has, for many, injected a welcome dose of reality into the debate. I have been a critic of multiculturalism from well before it became fashionable to be one. Yet I am wary of Merkel’s criticisms. For hers is an assault not so much on multiculturalism as on immigration, and on immigrants.

Merkel’s comments came as part of a wider debate taking place over the place of Turkish migrants in German society. Former Bundesbank official Thilo Sarrazin’s controversial book Deutschland schafft sich ab – ‘Germany abolishes itself’ – which argues that Germany is in terminal decline because of the ‘Islamization’ of the nation, has become a bestseller. Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer, whose Christian Social Union is one of three parties in Merkel’s ruling coalition, argued recently for a halt of Muslim immigration. The family affairs minister Kristina Schroeder has condemned the anti-German ‘xenophobia and racism’ of Turkish communities. Faced with state elections next year, and a possible leadership challenge, Merkel has herself joined this rancorous chorus.

In one sense Merkel is right. Germany’s multicultural policies have been a disaster and should be scrapped. But the failure of multiculturalism – and indeed its introduction – has little to do with immigrants. Immigrant groups have actively resisted such policies as pernicious and destructive. To understand why, we need to retrace the story of postwar immigration to Germany.

Like many West European nations, Germany faced an immense labour shortage in the postwar years and actively recruited foreign workers, initially from Italy, Spain and Greece, and then from Turkey. These workers came not as immigrants, still less as potential citizens, but as Gastarebeiter or ‘guest workers’, who were expected to return to their country of origin when no longer required to service the German economy.

Over time, however, immigrants became transformed from a temporary necessity to a permanent presence. This was partly because Germany continued relying on their labour, and partly because immigrants, and more so their children, came to see Germany as home. But the German state continued to view them as outsiders and to refuse them citizenship. There are nearly 4 million people of Turkish origin in Germany today. Barely half a million have managed to become citizens. Nor is it just first generation immigrants who are denied citizenship; their German-born children are excluded too.

Instead of creating an open society, into which immigrants were welcome as equals, German politicians from the 1980s onwards dealt with the ‘Turkish problem’ though a policy of multiculturalism. In place of citizenship and a genuine status in society, immigrants were ‘allowed’ to keep own culture, language and lifestyles. The consequence was the creation of parallel communities. The policy did not so much represent respect for diversity as provide a means of avoiding the issue of how to create a common, inclusive culture.

As a consequence of multicultural policies, Turkish communities became dangerously inward-looking. Without any incentive to participate in the national community, many did not bother learning German. First generation immigrants were broadly secular, and those that were religious wore their faith lightly. Today, almost a third of adult Turks in Germany regularly attend mosque, a far higher rate than among Turkish communities elsewhere in Western Europe, and higher than in most parts of Turkey. First generation women almost never wore headscarves. Many of their daughters do.

Not only were Turks isolated from mainstream German society, they were also estranged from the communities from which they had originally emigrated, and from the traditional institutions of Islam. Combined with their growing religiosity and inwardness, the increasing isolation of second generation German Turks from social structures in both Germany and Turkey made some more open to radical Islamist tendencies. The recent news of German jihadis in Afghanistan was the inevitable consequence.

At the same time as Germany’s multicultural policies encouraged immigrants to be at best indifferent to mainstream German society, at worst openly hostile to it, they also made Germans increasingly antagonistic towards Turks. The sense of what it meant to be German was in part defined against the values and beliefs of the excluded migrant communities. And having been excluded, it has become easier to scapegoat immigrants for Germany’s social ills. A recent poll showed that more than a third of Germans think that the country is ‘over-run by foreigners’ and more than half felt that Arabs were ‘unpleasant’.

Germany has taken a different path to a multicultural society from a country like Britain. In Britain, immigrants arrived not as guest workers but as British subjects. They were excluded from mainstream society not by being deprived of citizenship but because of racism. The response of the British authorities to such exclusion was, however, the same as that of German authorities – the encouragement of minority groups to express their identities, explore their own histories, formulate their own values, pursue their own lifestyles.

In Germany, the formal denial of citizenship to immigrants led to the policy of multiculturalism. In Britain, the promotion of multicultural policies led to the de facto treatment of individuals from minority communities not as citizens but simply as member of particular ethnic groups. The consequence in both cases, as in virtually every Western European nation, has been the creation of fragmented societies, the alienation of many minority groups and the scapegoating of immigrants.

Part of the reason that we find ourselves in this mess is that the debate about multiculturalism has become conflated with the debate about immigration. On the one side, many people argue, as Angela Merkel does, that immigrants have helped create social disunity. On the other side, many feel they can defend minority rights only by clinging to multicultural policies. Both sides are wrong.

Immigration has been a great boon, helping create societies that are less insular, more vibrant, more cosmopolitan. It is not immigrants who have created fragmented societies, but rather the multicultural policies designed to manage those immigrants. To find a way out of our current morass, we need to separate the debate about multiculturalism from that about immigration. It is time to ditch multiculturalism but celebrate immigration.


‘Vodafone…We Want Our £6bn In Unpaid Taxes Back!’

We must all send a ‘well done indeed’ message to the bosses at Vodafone on their avoidance of a £6bn tax bill having routed money through a Luxembourg subsidiary.

At a time when the country is facing savage cuts it’s great to see wealthy corporations supporting Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ and showing us how much they care.

We’re sure the people of Norfolk will want to get in touch with Vodafone and pass on their thoughts. At a time when the nations public services are being savaged by the state it’s great to see us ‘all in this togethor’…..

Meanwhile at Vodafone’s Oxford Street branch today….


Protesters blockade Vodafone’s flagship store

“The next five years can’t just be about marching on Whitehall to hear Tony Benn speak”

credit: Dougal Wallace
“Hey, I want my money back!”

The young man in the grey sweater came to Oxford Street to buy a mobile phone; he isn’t part of the gang of activists who have just occupied Vodafone’s flagship store. The protesters are in their early twenties, and equipped with banners and placards demanding that the mobile phone company pay six billion in tax which the government allegedly waived earlier in the year, despite the Chancellor’s insistence that seven billion pounds’ worth of cuts to welfare benefits are “necessary.”

This young man isn’t part of the group, but he flings himself behind the official cordon, yelling and waving to his friends, who all laugh and get out their mobile phones to take pictures of him. It’s a little bit like a Vodafone advert, apart from all the police.

The first thing to note about this protest is that it has been organised only slightly more efficiently than a French farce: the young people currently squatting determinedly in the doorway of Vodafone’s flagship store were mobilised via Facebook and Twitter with real names and the intended target freely discussed, and by the time more experienced activists had intervened to give basic security advice, it was too late.

It is, as such, hardly surprising to see Her Majesty’s finest waiting for us on Oxford Street, but in the mad dash to dodge the police and barricade the storefront before the first customers arrive, the protesters giggle like children shocked by their own daring. This is not just the usual troublemakers making the usual nuisance of themselves. They are very young, they are very resolute, and they are certain that the left’s usual response just won’t cut it anymore.

“The next five years can’t just be about marching on Whitehall to hear Tony Benn speak,” says Thom, 22. “We need to get creative.”

The second interesting aspect to this stunt is that it is not an occupation of a government building, or council offices, or a press lobby. Vodafone have had no direct influence over the spending review that will shortly force millions of people out of work and out of their homes and communities. Vodafone do not write Treasury policy. Vodafone sell phones. The people who have gathered to protest here, however, seem to want to articulate a more profound dissatisfaction with the way the new government has decided to prioritise business at the expense of education welfare and healthcare: a state whose public rhetoric emphasises ‘fairness’ above all else, but which seems to believe that fairness is only acceptable if it does not interfere with competition.

“The cuts are not fair, we’re not all in this together and there are alternatives,” said activist Jennifer Kyte. “Why not start by collecting – instead of writing off and ignoring – the tens of billions owed in taxes by wealthy corporations? Isn’t this supposed to be the wonderful Big Society?”

Nobody attacking the Vodafone store really expects the company to suddenly hand back six billion to the state. The matter is settled, after all: Vodafone paid £1.25bn “to settle all outstanding CFC issues from 2001 to date and has also reached agreement that no further UK CFC tax liabilities will arise in the near future under current legislation.” Still less does anyone expect that the Coalition, which seems to have determined in the coldest reflex of disaster capitalism to use the occasion of the recession to destroy welfare once and for all, will agree to use the money to make sure the poor and don’t starve this winter. They just want the government and big business to know that unlike Alan Johnson, they can count. They can count, and they don’t like the numbers.

All of this feels just a little bit more thrilling than the average rainy protest. Even harried commuters stop to see what’s going on. “I – am – speechless!'”enunciates a woman in a smart pink coat. “What, I pay my taxes but they don’t have to because they’re a big company?” She fiddles with the police cordon. “I’m not saying everyone on benefits should be, okay, but I have a friend with five kids, her youngest is eight months, and they’ve just taken away her benefits, and now you’re telling me they let Vodafone off six billion? How’s she going to look after her baby now?”

Suddenly, there are screams from the shop entrance. The security doors are coming down, and police have shoved themselves into the shop and started dragging out as many people as they can, by their feet if necessary, “for their own safety.” A girl in a green jumper is shoved roughly to the ground, and the rainswept pavement writhes with forcibly twisted limbs as one young man struggles out of the melee and hollers ‘police brutality on the streets of London!’ for the benefit of the horrified crowd. We can see what’s going on perfectly well.

We can see the police jostling students to the ground. We can see knees going into backs, arms around necks. The small area in front of the Vodafone store has been cordoned off with two violent bandages of red-and-white police tape, and now the agents of the state have surged in to cauterise the wound. Some of the protesters arenow trapped inside; some are linking arms outside the rows of police that now seal off the storefront like a matt black scab. The energy spills out onto the pavement. Like the company they have targeted, these young people are clearly determined to Make The Most of Now.

With the activists waving a small sea of identical placards with Vodafone logo and the legend ‘tax dodgers’, a circle of onlookers get out their phones and start taking pictures. You half expect to hear a smooth voice actor announcing price plans over the cheesy strains of the latest indie-folk sensation, but real life is wetter and angrier than the adverts. All you can hear is the wail of distant sirens.