"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 April, 2011

List of evictions and blocked events or racist attacks against Gypsy’s and travellers..


We thought we’d take a closer look at the level of discrimination of Gypsies and Travellers in Britain and Ireland.

Here’s a list of all details of upcoming or recent evictions of people from their own land, refused applications and banned events.

And a few blatant rabble rousing and scaremongering media articles too…

Dale Farm https://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=124229427082

Gang smashes lorry into Gypsy homehttp://www.travellerstimes.org.uk/list.aspx?c=00619ef1-21e2-40aa-8d5e-f7c38586d32f&n=6382bfa7-cc71-4b74-9d89-1e0ac8c87282

Another attack, lorry smashes into Traveller sitehttp://www.sthelensstar.co.uk/news/8987432.Lorry_smashes_into_Travellers_site/

Villagers have whip round to buy traveller landhttp://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2011/04/24/villagers-have-whip-round-to-buy-out-traveller-s-land-115875-23082278/

New Traveller horse drawn event blocked by police and council due to local hysteria…http://www.wychavon.gov.uk/cms/communications/news/2011/april/decision-announced.aspx

More on that story here 1:07:50minutes into the programme http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p00g4wsc/Nathan_Turvey_Children_as_young_as_4_categorised_as_offenders/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=facebook

Milton Gypsy Horse Fair cancelled due to wrong kind of grass or something..https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=156182647779588. Previous event film can be found here where you can see Gypsy’s behaving terribly 😉http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SuPUyItTc0o&feature=player_embedded

Suspected arson attacked on Leeds traveller centrehttp://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/news/latest-news/suspected_arson_attack_on_leeds_travellers_centre_1_3280900

Watch out watch out there are Gypsy’s about! Council scaremongering…http://www.thisisgloucestershire.co.uk/news/Councils-guard-gypsy-camps-bank-holidays/article-3458174-detail/article.html

Traveller child attacked http://www.thisissouthwales.co.uk/news/Concern-traveller-child-hurt-near-site/article-3461878-detail/article.html

NOT IN MY BACK YARD! http://www.lutterworthmail.co.uk/news/local/fears_over_new_travellers_site_1_2594730

Devon council has returned £840,000 to the government which it had been granted for a travellers’ site.http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cornwall-13078196

Travellers site at Findon refused http://www.mearnsleader.co.uk/community/travellers_site_at_findon_refused_1_1562702

Pickles all but declares war on travellershttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1376308/Royal-wedding-Fears-travellers-use-distraction-set-illegal-camps.html

Nimby’s in Windsor http://www.maidenhead-advertiser.co.uk/news/article-20768-controversial-gypsy-plan-withdrawn/

More advice to buy up land to block Travellers…this time in Leicestershire http://www.thisisleicestershire.co.uk/news/Bid-obtain-land-fend-travellers/article-3458700-detail/article.html

Travellers school bus to be scrappedhttp://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/Home/School-bus-is-set-to-be-scrapped.htm

And that’s just a few articles!


‘ANARCHISTS WILL BE HAULED FROM THEIR BEDS’


by Ian Bone


‘Officers are considering a series of ‘pre-emptive strikes’, which could see anarchists being hauled from their beds and arrested on the morning of the wedding.’ ………..Daily Mail today. I looked up ‘haul’ in the dictionary and was horrified to read this…….’ to be transported or conveyed by cart’. Jesus – not even to be shoved into a car but humiliated by being placed in an open cart!  But what’s the etiquette of being hauled from your bed – how should one prepare? I’d reccomend getting your best wincyette pyjamas on and sitting bolt upright in bed reading Freedom so you can’t be confused with other family members. I’d suggest  decent breakfast – dippy egg, marmite soldiers. You might like to change the sheets – could be embarassing ..and get rid of anything you wouldn’t want others to see under the bed. Then compose yourself and wait for door to be battered down. If nothing’s happened by about noon it’s probably safe to get up.

http://ianbone.wordpress.com/2011/04/20/anarchists-will-be-hauled-from-their-beds/


London MAYDAY 2011 – A CELEBRATION OF OUR STRENGTH


London Mayday 2011 11.00am Clerkenwell Green – A celebration of our strength // Anarchist Public Assembly
Speakers * Music * Infostalls * Fun

In the winter of 2010 the nation’s school and university students showed that it isn’t only opinion polls or media corporations that can set the agenda, but also the mass actions of the people. Suddenly the talk changed from how could we best afford this crisis to whether we could actually resist the austerity measures and reject the whole notion of a crisis for us so that the rich can continue rule. What was considered possible, realistic and justifiable was changed: the students had lost their battle but started a war.

On March 26th we faced a real danger of a tiny handful calling a ceasefire on our behalf; in the crowd of 250,000 one voice was already trying to sell ‘slightly less cuts at a slower pace’. On Oxford Street and in Mayfair, on Piccadilly and finally in Trafalgar Square thousands of others made their intentions clear: no cuts at any pace – in place of protest, action.

As if a few shirtless drunks had had a row, mouthpieces for the elite quickly called the targeted sabotage and occupations carried out by several organised groups of over a thousand the work of ‘mindless thugs’. A principled minority of journalists have already opposed this blatant nonsense, but a real question faces the radicals now: what form does our opposition take next? How do we communicate it? One month ago we walked the walk. Now we have to talk the talk.

We don’t think a few broken windows will be the tactic for change any more than pre-approved marches and speechathons. We believe in the direct action of the majority of society against the parasitic minority. The anti-cuts movement is the latest flare up of the fight between employer and employee that has been raging since the beginning of capitalism.

If we believe we can do more than change the agenda, we have to start acting like it – and we have to start saying it. These are our services, these are our workplaces, these are our streets. This is our day.

THIS IS NOT A PROTEST AND THIS IS NOT A BLACK BLOC. This is a day to celebrate ourselves and our struggle together, to take pride in the fight and our ability to carry it out. It’s hopefully going to be sunny, wear shorts – bring your friends, families, and co-workers.

https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=203237313032816


Wave of raids and arrests against anarchist networks in Italy


Wave of raids and arrests against anarchist networks in Italy

5 arrests in Bologna, 7 banning orders, 60 raids all over Italy

On April 6 more than 300 officers were employed in an “anti-terrorism” operation named ‘Outlaw Operation’ that specially targeted anarcho-insurrectionalist activists. The operation was carried out in 16 different cities including Bologna, where police arrested 5 activists close to the squatted social centre Fuoriluogo and shut down the place. Another person was arrested in the nearby town of Ferrara and released straight after interrogation. 7 other people are under banning orders which restrict their movements and are also being investigated (just for your information, these measures are normally adopted when there is serious circumstantial evidence of guilt AND at least one of the following: risk of escape, risk of acquisition or of the genuineness of the evidence and risk of the offence being repeated).

The operation was part of an enquiry started in 2009 linked in part to anarchist publications and in part to recent attacks against detention centres and corporations like IBM and ENI (multinational oil and gas company). The network was believed to stay in touch through the anarchist zine Invece which when found in houses would be proof of belonging to the network according to the police (by the way, in mainstream media the zine has been described as a “clandestine” magazine…). The police also seized other publications and materials considered “incriminating”.

The 5 arrested are being held in Bologna for now. To send them messages of support: Martino Trevisan / Robert Ferro / Nicusor Roman / Stefania Carolei / Anna Maria Pistolesi c/o Casa Circondariale, Via del Gomito 2, 40127 Bologna

Article put together using different sources in Italian and English by Italy Calling:
http://italycalling.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/wave-of-raids-and-arrests-against-anarchist-networks/

http://libcom.org/news/wave-raids-arrests-against-anarchist-networks-11042011


Whitechapel Anarchist Group Ends On A High-Onwards And Upwards!


We received news today that WAG (Whitechapel Anarchist Group) are to shut up shop.

The group, possibly the most militant and forward thinking local group in the country, have been at the pulse of much of the recent struggles in the capital for the past two years. All is not lost however. It appears that the WAGsters are plotting a London wide take over (Whitechapel always was too small for them) and with the caliber of class struggle activists they have in their midsts we have no doubt they will achieve all they set out to.

We send greetings and solidarity to WAG members and will watch with great interest what they have planned next.

WAG is dead! Long live the insurrection!

FULL WAG STATEMENT AS FOLLOWS….

Alarming Times…WAG is Dead!

After much discussion, Whitechapel Anarchist Group are ending the WAG project. This is not because we, as individuals, no longer believe that anarchists and anarchism can play a role in building a better world. It’s because we believe that, after two and a half years, the existing WAG structure and focus is not living up to its full potential in the face of the cataclysmic upheaval in the political culture of this country.

Since the founding of WAG in October 2008 we’ve had a good run. We initially gained notoriety in the build up to the G20 protests in 2009, ‘infiltrated’ by the Daily Mail while unloading thousands of provocative ‘Storm the Banks’ posters.

WAG’s activity oscillated between sporadic forays into anarchist community organising and involvement in mass actions taking place across London. This inability to commit to either/or was something we have struggled with throughout our history. There were times when WAG was a militant local anarchist group, taking part in mass squatting actions, supporting local strikes, clandestine action, local demos, anti-fascism, organising the Spitalfields Fair, screening films, hosting benefits, local radical history walks and promoting our ideas with a free paper. But as one of the only Anarchist groups in London stepping out and really saying something, WAG was essentially a first point of contact for anyone in London who wanted to meet likeminded people. This was an exhausting and exhilarating model – a load of up-for-it people from all over London moving from one crazy event to another – all the time being surprised by the magnitude and militancy of each action and the controversy our involvement caused.

Then came the trashing of Tory Party HQ at Millbank and the beginning of a mass movement against austerity in the UK. WAG members were in the media defending the actions of the students on the day, getting involved in occupations, legal support, counter-surveillance, direct action, union organising and town hall actions. As individuals, we had never been busier. But WAG, as a group, was surprisingly inactive. One thing became clear to us throughout this process: WAG was a means of co-ordinating the efforts and ideas of it’s members to the fullest extent in an increasingly political environment – but one that remained, nonetheless, a political vacuum. However, it was failing to do the same in this new, highly politicised London.

Austerity Britain, post-banking crisis (with another possibly on the way) has seen the capitalist system stumble – we see a weak coalition government pushing cuts and poverty on to all of us. In response to this a new movement is rising – student occupations, unemployed youth rioting, whole communities laying siege to town halls. This is what we should be a part of and we need an Anarchist organisation that can be part of it.

This has led us to embark on a series of much-needed reflections about what form an anarchist group should take and what function it should serve in today’s volatile climate. At a time when so many people are dramatically re-assessing the way they relate to the world around them, why should we be any different? We are revolutionaries, not conservatives. We refuse to become another dinosaur of the left, unable to break with the habits of a lifetime.

So, rather than become everything we hate, we decided to be true to ourselves as revolutionaries and roll with the spirit of rebellion that we find ourselves so inspired by. This means the destruction of what we have become accustomed to – and held back by – and the creation of something new, ambitious and essentially, uncertain.

We want to reorganise as anarchists. Out of the ashes of WAG we are calling for a new organisation to be formed.

We want this to be a London wide class struggle anarchist group with the spirit of WAG that works across the whole capital and has strongholds in borough groups.

We want you to be a part of this…

We want to topple this government

We want to bring the revolution home.

Sound the ALARM!

—————————————————————————————————-

PRELIMINARY AGENDA

SUNDAY 15TH MAY 1:30PM (2PM Start) CALTHORPE ARMS 252 Gray’s Inn Road, Kings Cross, WC1X 8JR

PART ONE: Introductions

(1) Introduction: Why the meeting has been called and the hopes to come out of it.

(2) Proposed initial structure ALARM! (All London Anarchist Revolutionary Movement)

  • (a) How ALARM! breaks up as both a London wide organisation and local borough hubs.
  • (b) Roles of Secretary and Treasury for ALARM!
  • (c) Roles of Borough contacts.
  • (d) Assets: Red&Black Club Social, Black Rose Martial Arts Club, Discussion Group, Communication Group.

BREAK (15 minutes)

PART TWO: Foundings

Everyone who returns is now taking part in the official founding of the ALARM! group.

(3) Nominate and elect roles of Secretary and Treasury

(4) Nominate and elect Borough contacts.

(5) Agree on ALARM! Meeting dates – it has been suggested weekly.

(6) Creating a political Manifesto.

(7) Communications:

  • (a) Website / Blog.
  • (b) Email list / Forums.
  • (c) Online – facebook, twitter etc.
  • (d) Printed – paper, posters, stickers.

PART THREE: What’s next?

(8) Strategy forward.

(9) Announcement of upcoming events / dates.

https://whitechapelanarchistgroup.wordpress.com/2011/04/14/alarming-times%E2%80%A6wag-is-dead/


Some Notes On Anarchism…


Anarchism is the boldest of revolutionary social movements to emerge from the struggle against capitalism-it aims for a world free from all forms of domination and exploitation. But at its heart is a simple and convincing proposition: people know how to live their own lives and organize themselves better than any expert could. Others cynically claim that people do not know what is in their best interests, that they need a government to protect them that the ascension of some political party could somehow secure the interests of all members of society. Anarchists counter that decision-making should not be centralized in the hands of any government, but instead power should be decentralized: that is to say, each person should be the center of society, and all should be free to build the networks and associations they need to meet their needs in common with others.

The education we receive in state-run schools teaches us to doubt our ability to organize ourselves. This leads many to conclude anarchy is impractical and utopian: it would never work. On the contrary, anarchist practice already has a long record, and has often worked quite well. The official history books tell a selective story, glossing over the fact that all the components of an anarchist society have existed at various times, and innumerable stateless societies have thrived for millennia. How would an anarchist society compare to statist and capitalist societies? It is apparent that hierarchical societies work well according to certain criteria. They tend to be extremely effective at conquering their neighbors and securing vast fortunes for their rulers. On the other hand, as climate change, food and water shortages, market instability, and other global crises intensify, hierarchical models are not proving to be particularly sustainable. An anarchist society can do much better at enabling all its members to meet their needs and desires.

The many stories, past and present, that demonstrate how anarchy works have been suppressed and distorted because of the revolutionary conclusions we might draw from them. We can live in a society with no bosses, masters, politicians, or bureaucrats; a society with no judges, no police, and no criminals, no rich or poor; a society free of sexism, homophobia, and transphobia; a society in which the wounds from centuries of enslavement, colonialism, and genocide are finally allowed to heal. The only things stopping us are the prisons, programming, and paychecks of the powerful, as well as our own lack of faith in ourselves. Of course, anarchists do not have to be practical to a fault. If we ever win the freedom to run our own lives, we’ll probably come up with entirely new approaches to organization that improve on these tried and true forms.

What exactly is anarchism?

Volumes have been written to answer this question, and millions of people have dedicated their lives to creating, expanding, defining, and fighting for anarchy. There are countless paths to anarchism and countless beginnings: workers in 19th century Europe fighting against capitalism and believing in themselves instead of the ideologies of authoritarian political parties; indigenous peoples fighting colonization and reclaiming their traditional, horizontal cultures; high school students waking up to the depth of their alienation and unhappiness; mystics from China one thousand years ago or from Europe five hundred years ago, Daoists or Anabaptists, fighting against government and organized religion; women rebelling against the authoritarianism and sexism of the Left. There is no Central Committee giving out membership cards, and no standard doctrine. Anarchy means different things to different people. However, here are some basic principles most anarchists agree on.

Autonomy and Horizontality

All people deserve the freedom to define and organize themselves on their own terms. Decision-making structures should be horizontal rather than vertical, so no one dominates anyone else; they should foster power to act freely rather than power over others. Anarchism opposes all coercive hierarchies, including capitalism, the state, white supremacy, and patriarchy.

Mutual Aid

People should help one another voluntarily; bonds of solidarity and generosity form a stronger social glue than the fear inspired by laws, borders, prisons, and armies. Mutual aid is neither a form of charity nor of zero-sum exchange; both giver and receiver are equal and interchangeable. Since neither holds power over the other, they increase their collective power by creating opportunities to work together.

Voluntary Association

People should be free to cooperate with whomever they want, however they see fit; likewise, they should be free to refuse any relationship or arrangement they do not judge to be in their interest. Everyone should be able to move freely, both physically and socially. Anarchists oppose borders of all kinds and involuntary categorization by citizenship, gender, or race.

Direct Action

It is more empowering and effective to accomplish goals directly than to rely on authorities or representatives. Free people do not request the changes they want to see in the world; they make those changes.

Revolution

Today’s entrenched systems of repression cannot be reformed away. Those who hold power in a hierarchical system are the ones who institute reforms, and they generally do so in ways that preserve or even amplify their power. Systems like capitalism and white supremacy are forms of warfare waged by elites; anarchist revolution means fighting to overthrow these elites in order to create a free society.

 

Self-Liberation

“The liberation of the workers is the duty of the workers themselves;” as the old slogan goes. This applies to other groups as well: people must be at the forefront of their own liberation. Freedom cannot be given; it must be taken.

 

Text taken from http://anarchistagitation.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/mayday2011.pdf

 


Slave Labour Wilkinson Come To Norwich..


News reaches us that ‘hardware giant’ Wilkinson are to move into the empty Co-op premises on St.Stephens in Norwich.

Their turnover is up from £1.44 billion to £1.55 billion and profits are up from £31.6 million to £62.9 million.

It’s amazing what you can achieve with the help of forced labour from British Prisons.

Anyone not familiar with this nauseous company can find further details by way of articles below.

KNOWING THE ENEMY – TONY ‘WHIPLASH’ WILKINSON

Campaign Against Prison Slavery | 11.08.2004 14:49 | RepressionLeeds BradfordWorld

Fighting against prison slavery and for prison abolition.
CAMPAIGN AGAINST PRISON SLAVERY

It’s difficult to walk down any English high street without passing a branch of Wilkinson, or ‘Wilko’ as they like to be known, the ubiquitous chain of hardware stores. Since the company’s first shop opened in 1930, more than 200 have appeared, and as in 1930 Wilkinson is still family-owned, mainly by its Chairman Tony Wilkinson who sits on a personal fortune of around £300 million.

Like their egocentric owner the company strive to present themselves as philanthropic and caring, acting as “partners in the community”, and providing a “rewarding place to work” for their employees.

Along with many other capitalist companies Wilkinson engage in what they present as charitable acts, a clever and tax-deductible form of marketing, which can also prove inexpensive when it involves little more than giving away store vouchers. The Wilko website boasts of a number of charities supported by the company, but at least one of these, Students in Free Enterprise, is worth a second look. SIFE is a kind of capitalist missionary organisation which includes in its “Dream Team” (Board of Directors) senior representatives of such philanthropic organisations as Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, Johnson & Johnson, Nestle, Pfizer, Philip Morris, Shell, and Aramark.

If you’ve not heard of Aramark [see article pasted at the end of this e-mail] they’re an American company reaping rich profits from the misery of human incarceration, both in America and in the UK, where they act as the Prison Service’s ‘company store’, with an almost total monopoly of the lucrative prison ‘canteen’ system. This perhaps tenuous link between Aramark and Wilkinson though is something of a coincidence, because Wilko’s are currently the No1 company being targeted by the Campaign Against Prison Slavery (CAPS).

British prisoners are forced to work, it’s compulsory. If they don’t they’re punished, being placed in segregation, losing family visits, even having their sentences extended. With no pension rights, no trade union rights, no minimum wage, no holidays, and no sick pay they represent the ideal workforce for greedy and ruthless companies like Wilkinson, who use prisoners in England and Wales to do packing work for them, paying them around £1 per day, and sometimes less.

CAPS was established 18 months ago to fight this 21st century slavery which is being exploited as never before, and which as the TUC [Trade Union Congress] recognise, undermines the pay and conditions of workers generally. Since then there have been over 100 pickets of Wilkinson stores around the country, as well as other actions aimed at the company. Wilkinson’s initial response was to deny that they in any way made use of prison labour, but in light of the obvious evidence that this is untrue they were forced to change their position (though that’s not stopped them occasionally reverting to their original story when dealing with the Press.)

Wilkinson now claim that they are helping to “rehabilitate prisoners and increase their employability”, a line parroted directly from the Prison Service. Like their first position this claim does not hold up to the slightest scrutiny. A recent internal Prison Service report on prison industries admits as much, characterising the “noddy shop” work as “mundane and repetitive” and with “little value apart from keeping prisoners occupied”. Nor have Wilkinson’s shown any enthusiasm for re-employing prisoners after their release, when of course they’d then be entitled to proper wages and employment conditions. The use of prison labour by private companies has soared in direct proportion to savage cuts in prison education and training during the past 10 years, and perversely as the Prison Service report admits, the profits being wrung from the incarcerated by these greedy companies are actually being subsidised by the taxpayer to the tune of at least £7 million per year.

Along with a number of other leading British capitalists, Tony Wilkinson recently wrote to the Financial Times in order to express his support for the EU Constitutional Treaty. One of his co-signatories was Sir Richard Needham, Deputy Chairman of Dyson Appliances, which is another coincidence. There was a lot of fuss a few years ago when Dyson made their British workers redundant and moved their operation to Malaysia to take advantage of cheap non-unionised labour there (Dyson’s lawyers claim that their workers are paid more than the average wage – of Malaysia.) Less known though was the fact that Dyson had been taking advantage of cheap non-unionised labour for some time prior to this, by using the slave labour of British prisoners at Full Sutton prison near York.

Rather than moving to the Third World though, at least one smaller company, Industrial Rubber, preferred to sack all it’s workers when faced with paying them the minimum wage, telling the subsequent employment tribunal that work had dried up. In fact they had moved their operation into several British prisons, where of course there is no minimum wage.

The private companies exploiting prison slave labour are often extremely ruthless, indeed as the Prison Service admit some are even ripping them off, with firms systematically failing to pay for work and “playing one establishment off against another”.  Bearing in mind the blatant incompetence of the Prison Service it’s hardly surprising that they’re being taken advantage of, an audit of the PS central stores highlighted in the Prison Industries report showed that while not a single toothbrush was in stock there was enough stationery to last for the next 450,000 years!

Tony ‘Whiplash Wilkinson, as CAPS has dubbed him, may present himself as a benevolent employer doling out jobs and cheap goods to a grateful public, but the reality is of course quite different. No capitalist gets to be worth £300 million without being willing to tread on people. While the company prefer not to mention their prison slaves, they present their 18.000 non-prison employees as “team members”. Meanwhile the workers themselves talk of a ruthless anti-union company that underpays and underemploys. There is every reason to boycott Wilkinson, and to support the Campaign Against Prison Slavery.

Mark Barnsley

July 2004

Campaign Against Prison Slavery: www.againstprisonslavery.org

Aramark – The Prison Service’s Company Store

In the 19th century, Irish immigrants in Argentina, who fled there to escape poverty and starvation, were lured to huge and remote estancias [ranches] with the promise of work. Here, isolated and vulnerable, they were rapidly forced into debt by the over-inflated prices of the company store, and many were compelled to sign away their very freedom and become company slaves. A “lucky” few escaped, but still far from home they were forced to live a desperate life, searching for discarded food in the bins of Buenos Aires or selling their bodies for a crust of bread, many eventually succumbing to starvation, and dying in gutters far away from their native land. Similar scenarios were played out elsewhere. The company store is a cornerstone of freebooting capitalism, earning it a special place in the pantheon of working-class hatred. It features in literature and song. With this and the workhouse there’s little wonder that to this day most working class people still have an all-pervading fear of debt.

Company stores undoubtedly still exist to exploit workers on the wild frontiers of capitalism, and it’s not all that long ago that British pit-villages were subject to this enforced monopoly. When it comes to actual enslavement though, modern first-world capitalism is generally more subtle, seducing us into a lifetime of wage slavery by the creation and manipulation of desires for an ever-growing range of commodities. However, there’s one place in the world where slavery is still regarded as entirely acceptable, indeed where it is flourishing as never before, led like so many things by the ubiquitous forces of American capital. Having plundered the third world with impunity for so long, first-world capitalism has now turned its attention to the incarcerated working class in its own prisons, potentially a rich source of exploitable labour.

For all the talk of the liberties supposedly enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights and the domestic Human Rights Act, many of them evaporate in the fine print, and prisoners are given few rights at all. Even forced labour is considered entirely acceptable.

As in prisons elsewhere, compulsory work has long been an intrinsic part of the British penal experience, but the prisoncrats have rarely had the audacity to imagine they could turn a profit from a belligerent workforce. All that has changed with the establishment of a Prison Industrial Complex based upon the American blueprint, a model of repression being taken up across Europe and beyond. For much of the past decade, British prisoners have been subdued and manipulated, coerced and tricked into a compliant state, not least through the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) Scheme, one of the state’s more subtle and ingenious methods of subjugation. Prisoners are now ripe for exploitation by private capital.

The private prison companies are making profits as never before; they have a big investment in New Labour’s Draconian penal policies in every sense, initially subsidising a massive prison building programme, while reaping enormous profits in return. Group 4’s Altcourse Prison, for example, has paid for itself in only 3 years, with the next 22 years of its contract being pure profit for the company.

Increasingly, these companies are also able to make a fast buck from forced prison labour, doubly exploiting those they incarcerate. Last year prison labour made £52.9 million for private companies and for the State.

The token remuneration prisoners receive for their labour is still remarkably small, with prisoners earning pennies rather than pounds for an hour’s work, but even these pitifully small wages are seen as fair game by capitalism.

Intrinsic to the IEP scheme is the restriction of incoming property and commodities; in some gaols prisoners cannot even have so much as a postage stamp sent in. At the same time prisoners are required to purchase more and more things than ever before, because of cutbacks in prison spending, subsidising their own incarceration. Though sometimes the “needs” created are false ones, in many prisons it is even necessary for prisoners to buy their own toilet cleaner, and they are increasingly having to feed themselves.

So-called “special orders”, which allowed prisoners to purchase goods from other sources, were outlawed some years ago (when the IEP scheme was introduced) so everything has to be purchased from the prison canteen, the penal equivalent of the company store. Even remand prisoners are being prevented from having the most basic items sent in, and with prisoners in England and Wales spending £500,000 per week on canteen goods this monopoly is another attractive proposition for the ever-greedy forces of capitalism.

The private prison companies are in an ideal position; they own the prisons, they own the workshops, and they own the company store. Prisoners not only spend their pitiful wages at the company store, but their own money, or money sent to them by friends and family (which the IEP scheme rations so as to encourage greater work productivity and overall compliance.)

Currently, however, the vast majority of British prisons are still in the hands of the State, with private companies being increasingly reluctant to take on crumbling Victorian gaols rather than build their own (which offers far greater long-term profits.) But even here, the company store monopoly is an attractive proposition for a greedy company, and over the past few years one outfit has become ubiquitous, running prison canteens up and down the country – a company called Aramark.

Aramark are yet another US import grown fat on the misery of incarceration. In the States they are contracted to do prison catering and cleaning, just as they are here in addition to running prison canteens (Aramark also operates in detention centres.) Exploiting prison labour directly and indirectly, Aramark has an annual turnover of $7.3 billion, making a profit of $1.6 billion, over the past 6 years. The company boasts that it treats its customers as “long-term partners” and claims to be a “company where the best people want to work.” Unfortunately the prisoners who are forced to pack prison ration packs for Aramark have little choice in the matter, and by the look of their canteen workers they don’t have a great deal of choice either.

Aramark has been assured of a total monopoly over their captive clientele, and consequently insist that individual prisons enforce the strictest possible rules so that they profit from absolutely everything a prisoner purchases. Aramark has been handed (or rather sold) a captive hold over prison policy.

When Aramark takes control of a prison canteen, prices go up (sometimes doubling) and the quality and range of goods comes down. The high mark-up “Happy Shopper” brand (and to a lesser extent their own house brand) is Aramark’s stock-in-trade, but in some cases they are even selling prison-issue items.

Prisoners’ spending is predictable, particularly as it is being limited to a smaller and smaller range of products, and orders have to be placed anything up to a week in advance. Goods are brought in to the prisons pre-bagged for distribution, reducing costs to an absolute minimum. No need for advertising, no need to have stock sitting around for months, no need for friendly sales staff. Prisoners are offered a stark choice- buy here at these prices or you go without. We’re not even allowed to choose birthday cards ourselves. Consumer legislation is routinely ignored by Aramark, and prisoners are prevented from complaining directly to the company about the poor service and blatant exploitation they are forced to contend with.

Like the other parasites who exploit the slave labour of prisoners, Aramark represents capitalism in its crudest form. Such companies have us where they’d like everybody- forbidden trade unions, denied all employment rights, punished for not working hard enough, locked in a cell at night, ready to work again the next day, with profit sucked out of us in every possible way.

Following their re-election, New Labour quickly made bold claims to take a tougher line on the abuse of monopolies, yet they have encouraged one to be created within the prison system, just as they have encouraged the exploitation of prisoners in every other sense. What a coincidence that Aramark’s head office is situated in the Millbank Tower [Site of New Labour HQ]..

For those of us behind bars, nothing’s changed since the earliest days of capitalism, but that’s not to say that we can’t fight back. The exploitation of prison labour for profit has only become viable because of the compliance of prisoners. Work strikes, go-slows, and sabotage are some of the best weapons we have, and solidarity action against our exploiters by supporters outside could make a massive difference, as with the recent occupation of Hepworth Plumbing.* When combined, these things and others make a captive work force look less attractive to greedy companies. While prisoners have previously tried to organise petitions and boycotts against Aramark canteens, the company is considerably less vulnerable to action by prisoners than they are to activists outside prison. We need to be able to attack every aspect of the Prison Industrial Complex, and challenge all those who seek to profit from the misery of imprisonment. Contrary to the song, we don’t owe our souls to the company store.

Mark Barnsley

September 2001. Segregation Unit, Armley Prison, Leeds. .