"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

Opinion: Solidarity Is A Two Way Street…

It’s been an interesting week, watching the media talk up a riot, public servants ‘STRIKING…RALLYING…MARCHING!’

Yet it seems it doesn’t have enough ‘oomph’ anymore for the press. It’s only newsworthy if there’s a ruckus involving ‘latchers on’ from the ‘anarchist movement’…heaven forbid an anarchist might themselves be part of a Labour Party recognised trade union…


Likewise it’s been an interesting and pleasing week watching friends and comrades rising to the challenge in defending the unions and taking the struggle to the streets against the Tory/Liberal ‘coalition’ government…who seem hell bent on destroying our welfare state…much to the derision of the press and unions in equal measure of course…

It’s also been a sad sad week. A week where comrades have been taken from us…

You know solidarity is a great great thing. There’s not enough of it about these days. So it fills me with joy to see it on display.

It is however a two-way street. And it is rarely reciprocated.

Over the last year I’ve spent a lot of my time involved with my organisation in our local ‘Coalition Against The Cuts’. Those on the inside ‘leading the fight’ are a hodge podge bunch, of local and regional union officials, some permanently involved in the usual paper-sale and petitioning for this months big issues, others less politicised but falling into place behind their more ‘senior’ union members. Hidden caucuses, caucuses hidden or within caucuses that are hidden from caucuses…

They use great and meaningful words like ‘worker’ and ‘working-class’. Even…’comrade’…although it’s often followed my a snigger and a red face…

These words however just seem to roll off the tongue.

There’s little passion there. It’s as if they’re acting out a part and the main lines of the script have become their catch phrases.

They talk of ‘fighting’ and ‘uniting the class’…

And this friends is where they start to lose me…when they eagerly discuss booking whole trains to take down to demos held in London which would ‘easily be filled to the carriage’ by a happy throng of ‘the class’…who would be eager to ‘rally to the cause’…

Only it’s all just fantasy…

As is all the talk of ‘the class’…

Class… They don’t belong to my class. Increasingly…they don’t belong to my class…Increasingly they don’t share the same life experiences, of dole, and housing office queue…of the prison…

They work for the state, they increasingly have the degree (that’s not a dig), often work in comfy offices, they have ‘expenses’, and something called’by the mile’… they work a rigidly set working week, hours never to be tampered with or there’ll be hell to pay…most of us don’t…and they have things called pensions…and their idea of conflict with the state…

Many of us too are currently in conflict with the state…and all it’s little branches…it’s offshoots…it’s wheels and centres of enforcement…

They work in the police station, the social services, the job centre, the housing office…’the public services’…the very services that many of these individuals will never ever have to utilise themselves… the very services that many of us have to deal with on a regular basis when we’re unemployed or in need of housing or desperate for work and money…or banged up…

‘NOW JUST HOLD ON!’ I hear you cry…’There’s nothing wrong with having a degree or working for the state and going on strike over pensions!’

You’re absolutely right, there’s not and my hat goes off to them…Likewise I remain steadfast and committed to the principle ‘a grievance to one is a grievance to all, I SHALL NEVER CROSS A PICKET LINE…’

But It would be nice if the solidarity that you and I believe in would be…and here’s that word again’…’reciprocated’.

It would be nice to know that those on the marches and rallies waving their flags shouting ‘support us’ and ‘join us’…that those same people this Monday weren’t going to be throwing us out of our houses, taking or children away, cutting our dole money, putting us in prison, and being the holders of the keys to our cell doors…

Because they will be.

Yes it would be nice if there was…solidarity…

The recent attempts made by the Norfolk Community Action Group within the local coalition to try and bridge this situation fell on deaf ears. So we chose to part company.

Our arguments that if they want ‘popular support’, and yes folks that does mean engaging with the Sun reader and the Daily Mail reader, then they will have to stop solely ‘agitating’ within their unions…an ‘agitation’ that often is nothing more than an email and a flyer on the union notice board or a phone call to the very same people who attended the meeting the week before, the pathological ‘preach to the converted’ who can only be bothered if it affects ‘them and theirs’…and get off their arses and physically start engaging with their local population explaining and arguing why they BELIEVE they are RIGHT to take the actions they are taking, in plain words with the use of plain English, without the use of a pre-script or the handing over of a leaflet that will never ever ever in a million years dear God get read because it’s cold, it’s heartless, it will not engage…

It can not engage.

Because there’s no soul in a leaflet…or a petition…especially when it’s a petition for OUR benefit…and our benefit only…

Yes that means job centre staff walking onto council estates, Yes that means teachers walking onto council estates, Yes that means housing officers walking onto council estates…Yes that means social workers walking onto council estates, Yes that means trade unionist from each and every sector of public services in this ‘country’ of ours walking onto council estates…

And engaging…

Not destroying peoples lives and being the first port of call of the oppressive state…

Only they won’t will they?

They won’t because there is a barrier…

They won’t because there is a barrier of ‘us’ and ‘them’…

They won’t because there is a barrier of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and ‘service provider’ and ‘service user’…

That is…dare I say it…a barrier…of one class against another, even if that ‘class’ can not be easily differentiated. They would if they could though comrades…’differentiate that is…

Long gone are the days of Dave Douglass and the great Hatfield Main branch of the NUM, all the miners, the steel workers, the toilers, the manufacturers, the print workers…

They have been taken over…by the bureaucrat…the degree in trade union studies…and the Tolpuddle Martyrs, more an historical quaintness than a model, example, direction and template of struggle…


Increasingly…not…my… fight…

Unless miraculously new Dave Douglass’ appear and return the trade unions to their rightful place…holding meetings at the bottom of our streets, discussing and showing ‘solidarity’ and helping the unemployed with education and training, and building a real resistance to the aggressive Tory doctrine that has recently returned to plague us…


You know comrades, only 26% of the workforce in Britain today are unionised…and it’s falling daily…

They had better appear soon…before trade unions go the way of the Tolpuddle Martyrs..and become ‘a quaintness’..

Did you notice the use of the word ‘they’?


12 responses

  1. James Walsh

    Bloody excellent stuff- we need to see and tell it as it is.

    July 2, 2011 at 11:11 pm

  2. Bob Harding

    This is a better quality bit of writing than the usual lefty inauthentic dogma. Sorry I haven’t the time to spell out all the bits I agree with but, as usual, I wish to highlight the bits I don’t agree with.

    I’m honestly not aware of when I’m on an estate or not and my best friend lives on Mile Cross so I suppose I think of his house or his street, rather than his estate. Looking out my window, its dawned on me that
    perhaps I myself live on an estate..I think? I haven’t a great interest if the council houses and social houses where I live count as an estate or not.

    Your descriptions of how other people feel to be in a different class remind me of my upbringing. However, I honestly thought some kids who lived in estates (in Hastings) had quite “posh” houses in “posh” new areas, out on the outskirts of town. I wasn’t used to families having cars, new furniture, phones, central heating while we didn’t have hot running water.

    While we may feel different to other people I think its important to question when we feel “us and them”. Listening to many working class and unemployed people; many most often imply something here that you don’t even touch on…Nationality. I’m very familiar with “us and them” thinking; similar to some of the feelings you’ve put across. My Welsh Dad about the English, northerners in Manchester against the southerners, people in Scotland against the English, of course Irish against the British, the rest of the world about the Americans-and-British.

    Surely, its worth thinking carefully about words we use like “class”. The first time in my life I remember hearing the words
    “working class” was the first time I remember really talking with someone who was “middle class” (a Labour Party lefty). If you don’t actually mean someone who is “working” it you probably need to intellectualise about it. You may have in mind people who don’t actually work and who some writers label the “underclass” rather than “working class”? Everybody seems to use these words differently. Many friends of mine think it only refers to someone’s upbringing (for some reason) while some people think it refers to eating and drinking habits; some bizarrely think it means “vegetarians”!

    Your article lists some bad things the State does but doesn’t list other terrible things the state does. Why do some “anarchists” tend to pick some things and not others? Why don’t you think of killing, maiming and burning babies, for example? Many Anarchists I speak to are rightly outraged when state kills someone by hitting and pushing people to the
    ground but seem less outraged if they use weapons of mass destruction to kill them. Their level of outrage tends to match what the media goes on and on about…the state is bad if it kills ITS OWN people. Lets
    ignore mass murder of people who aren’t “OUR OWN PEOPLE”.

    I don’t think it helps to have an “us and them” between public sector workers and private sector workers, employed and unemployed and those who live on estates or not. And this should be quite easy to avoid. Its more difficult between those working class people who buy clothes made by people on an eightieth of Britain’s minimum working wage. If Capitalism was to get its way, people in this countries’ role would be to consume, consume, consume what people in other countries produce. While “poor” people here can get preached at for over-eating other people die of starvation. These are important “different life experiences”.

    Its more difficult to unite when people don’t share the same life experiences: like between poor Pushtun people and those British professionals temporarily over there to kill, dominate and suppress them. This is a huge, massive barrier between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

    I’d ask anarchists to think of the type of people who use the word “imperialism”? The vast majority of actual people who think about this seem to be non-people to many Anarchists. Only the 0.0001% of people who use this word seem to exist for many Anarchists, not people who happen to pop out their mother’s womb in another geographical area !

    Lets be self-critical and question our own views and the history of the politics we believe it. What did Proudhon “think” about 50% of people….women ? Why was an Anarchist, Proudhon, the first person to promote the idea of “the final solution” in exterminating Jewish people?

    Is there any connections between this extreme issue and some anarchists’ attitude towards who may be the “jews” of this historical period? Is there any connection towards these issues and your assessment of whether Muslim women have opinions of their own and whether, like other oppressed people, they can think, speak, struggle, make choices (about dress, sexism, imperialism, life and death, politics). Is there any connection between this extreme issue and the everyday “turning a blind eye” to “imperialism” and “anarchists” wanting to expand the role of our state…in OTHER countries (like Libya)?

    July 4, 2011 at 10:05 am

    • vic

      i think the issue of Libya is more complex than that of Afghanistan or Iraq and you get anti-Semitism all across the political spectrum , though i met more in the swp, we are all anti imperialists,but lets face it their are subdivisions within the working class that the Tories are exploiting ,and snobbery, in solidarity

      July 4, 2011 at 8:23 pm

  3. Ruahri ó Cléirigh

    Hi Bob,

    Cheers for your input and positive comments.

    It’s difficult to address every issue before us in one piece that was specifically written as a critique of where the left appear to be now in terms of their relationship with the majority of the British workforce who are not in a trade union. The piece was also a critique in terms of the illogical current going’s on in our own movement where we find ourselves out marching in support of certain sections of the unionized workforce who’s sole purpose is to regulate peoples use of ‘the welfare state’, or be responsible for making people homeless and deny others their freedom by actively incarcerating them.

    I kind of knew that the Libya subject would raise it’s head again when you asked why I wasn’t bringing up the other horrible things the state does such as ‘killing, maiming and burning babies’. Well frankly I didn’t see that that had a baring on a piece specifically written about the relationship between ‘the unionized left’ and much of the the rest of the population who aren’t unionized. Although it could if you were to bring up the question of ‘nationalism’. And of course you did. ‘Nationalism’ and ‘us and them’. Well here we are at the crux of the matter. I am discussing matters of ‘relationships between ‘service user’ and ‘service provider’ and how the provider is in a position of ‘power’ over ‘user’ and you are bringing up the subject of nationalism. Now this is precisely what I’m talking about. ‘If they don’t agree with us clearly they are ‘the vile outsider’… precisely why the left are in such a mess…why we can’t ever have a cards on the table debate without ‘dogma’ raising it’s ugly head. That’s actually why I’m so attracted to anarchism…I’m not confined to a specific ‘dogma’ and am free to meander my way around in a quest for a logical and practical answer as opposed to one that is a) Impractical and b) downright barking mad..just like’ the left’s’ often lunatic frothing and dribbling when it comes to the Middle East. While marching and screaming ‘tyrant and Nazi’ at the State of Israel they do so stood side by side with the lunatics and representatives of the likes of Hezbollah, Hamas, Hizb ut Tahrir…and George Galloway!

    In terms of the Libya situation we spent hours trying to make you understand our views on the subject. We explained we were not pro NATO going in, but neither were we going to do what the rest of the left and many ‘anarchists’ had done and instantly turn our backs on ‘the rebellion’ as soon as they requested military assistance from the ‘Great Saturn and Infidel’, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. there’s talk that some ‘rebels’ in Libya are a sordid lot who might have links with ‘fundementalist Islam’…I’m suprised ‘the left’ aren’t supporting them then! But I digress………I don’t like the Police….are you asking me to try and liberate Levi Bellfield and all the other child murderers and pedophiles currently in the ‘prison system’ because they are ‘victims of state kidnap’? There maybe some on the ‘anarchist left’ who would support that but like I said, we’re ‘free to meander’. We are also free to be barking mad if we chose only we tend to fail to get our message across that way…



    Pint soon?

    July 4, 2011 at 6:30 pm

  4. Bob Harding

    Hi Rick. I never intended to raise any subjects we’ve already discussed with you again. It never crossed my mind that you wrote the article under another name. I feel I questioned just how great the differences were between are between unionised workforce and non-unionised, those working class people living on estates and those who don’t. I compared this with other “us and them” attitudes that some working class people speak about. I’ve explained before how I believe how working class people (and I include their families and those unemployed in this description) should be self-determining. Because of this I don’t often whinge about what the Labour Party and Union leaders “should” and “shouldn’t” do to lead them and be their masters. Likewise I disagree with a Trotskyite habit of bemoaning aggressively the (mis-) leadership of the SWP or others. I’m more interested in what may get in the way within ourselves and our class to hinder our own emancipation.

    I’d really like to highlight your comment about ‘If they don’t agree with us clearly they are ‘the vile outsider’. I’d like to stress that you are speculating about my own feelings behind my own words and got it totally wrong. I’m bringing up “Nationalism” for precisely the opposite reasons. Its because its within us and our class. I don’t mean it as a swearword. In another era I hope I’d have questioned prejudice about race, gender and sexuality but its usually Nationalist assumptions I hear from people in my own personal social networks. Rather than being vile they usually appear to be unexamined assumptions.

    With regard to your Ok point that “there’s talk that some ‘rebels’ in Libya are a sordid lot who might have links with ‘fundementalist Islam’…I’m surprised ‘the left’ aren’t supporting them then!” The AWL, in the past, described islamist bigots as “our kind of people”. When was this? Ans. When they supported the Afghan resistance. When did they support the Afghan Resistance? Here’s a clue…It certainly wouldn’t be when they resisted invasion and occupation of “their own” country. No. It was when islamist bigots (understandably) resisted the Soviet Union. At that time the dreaded Russians were Britain-and-America’s big enemy and apparently no better than fascists. Even recently the AWL supported Georgia (on the side of the British state against the Russian Enemy) who would have massacred rebels in South Ossetia. (excuse spelling). The highly charged arguments they made were the exact opposite of the highly charged points they make today about Libya. And I do find this level of dishonesty (and not the having a different political viewpoint) “vile” despite the good people I’ve met in this group.

    I appreciate your points about Anarchists not being “all the same” and I don’t think “the left” are either. I’ll reply to your excellent highlighting of power relationships between service providers and service users later and I have apologised already for not having the time to discuss points where I mainly agreed with you.

    Be good to have a drink soon. I’m free any time this Thursday.

    July 5, 2011 at 7:17 pm

  5. Bob Harding

    Rick mentioned ‘relationships between ‘service user’ and ‘service provider’ and how the provider is in a position of ‘power’. This area is where nearly all my personal political activity and engagement is focused.

    While many people mythologize the role of the “nurse” as being some “angel” of the working class I haven’t found this to be as the case on my placements within general Nursing. I avoided working in any role in mental health care where I have (or use) legal discrimination against people labelled as having mental illness. I choose to work in the voluntary sector as an area better suited to facilitate empowering care for
    the people I work with. Some of the bullshit professional jargon does actually relates to real liberating pracice which a few of us working in the mental health attempt. Since working in the voluntary sector the
    poliical perspective has sadly changed and I now struggle against business-minded, corporate dominance.

    Individuals working in mental health care do not have to accept the bigotry and prejudices inherent in psychiatry. My approach to this work recognises I have an “asymmetric” relationship with people I attempt to
    help. They enable me to be paid to try and help them and in effect, they help me survive by me being paid me a wage to buy food, electricity etc.

    At work I do my upmost to be of help and this is “unconditional”. Again jargon but in effect it means I do my upmost to offer them help. It makes no difference to my intentions if they happen to be Tory, racist, scabs whatever. It makes no difference in my intentions whatever their attitude about and their changing behaviour towards me. I don’t ever attempt to try and get them to support me, my politics, my profession or
    any cause. While I am in a position to have more power I attempt and usually exceed to build cooperative, enabling relationships. I always offer some solidarity to everyone and never ask for it in return. It is a
    one solidarity I work for and not two way.

    I’ve used the word “asymmetric” because they have a bit of power. Our relationships is shaped by their problems more than mine, their interests not mine, their chosen topics not mine. Our relationship is based on their wishes, wants, needs and goals more than mine. This may play a little part to explain why some staff become more disrespectful, impatient, resentful, bossy, snide, abusive, run down and “burnt out”. But
    being egotistical, selfish, inadequate and being lackeys to their bosses and the system are the more relevant reasons.

    July 7, 2011 at 10:08 am

  6. Bob Harding

    I think you’ve over stated the case when you mention “the very services that many of these individuals will never ever have to utilise themselves”. Most of the people I work with have used the services themselves.

    The majority of the people working in the organisation I do have used, or are using, mental health services themselves. The percentage of people with experience of using mental health services is much bigger than the
    general population. I’ve just spent some time with my work colleague who is sectioned at the moment.

    Regardless of my job, we all have friends and relatives. I’ve recently visited friends in Hellesdon Hospital (both voluntarily admitted and sectioned). On another point: to give a general flavour of some of the
    personalities I work with: my boss has hit Bono (of U2) on the head with a pint glass of his own urine.

    And here’s another point Rick. While most of my work colleagues have had major psychiatric treatment and I haven’t, would the service users we work with find myself less helpful, genuinely caring, understanding and” on their side”? I think nearly every single service user and nearly every single work colleague would definitely say “NO”!

    While this may sound a very personal point it has wide ranging political implications and people’s behaviour and views are not strictly determined by their material and sociological conditions.

    And quite often, when people’s views ARE shaped by their “class” or “cultural identity”, in a capitalist dog-eat-dog word, it can take the form of an inauthentic attempt to bolster an image of “tuppance ha’penny”
    being better than “tuppance”.

    You mention there is a barrier of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and ‘service provider’ and ‘service user”. I think service providers and service users uniting over resistance to the cuts etc is only a minor part of attempting
    unity. The greater part is to unite over what it is that actually divides us. That is psychiatric abuse, misuse of “professionalism”, sectioning people without following the same legal rights that other people have, the services should be controlled and led by people with mental health issues themselves.

    July 7, 2011 at 10:11 am

  7. Bob Harding

    We should all struggle in the here and now against all unequal power relationships. In the dehumanising Capitalist society we live in, the boss can kick the supervisor, who kicks the worker, who may kick a housewife, who kicks the kids who kicks the dog!

    We should free ourselves to fight the system by breaking all sorts chains that hold us back and give particular attention to what it is that actually divides us. Obviously I disagree with Vick on this! Men and women should unite against sexism. Whatever our sexual persuasion we should unite against bigotry towards gays and lesbians etc. Catholics and Protestants in the North of Ireland should fight against the artificial, sectarian statelet and ideas of a “protestant ascendency”, Palestinians and the Jews and Arabs
    within Israel should unite against a racist, apartheid state and Zionist Supremacy.

    July 7, 2011 at 10:12 am

  8. I’ve read and re-read you’re posts and am still non the wiser as to what exactly you are contesting Bob apart from what you always do.

    We always end up back to a critique of what is ‘da working-class’ and the ‘Middle East question’..

    I can’t put it more bluntly than this and I challenge you to disagree…it gets to the route of what I originally thought I’d written…

    Certain ‘trade unionists’ (little T) actively work in roles that imprison, take away children, throw people out of their homes, cut their dole etc by virtue of the employment they are in which are I might add jobs they have chosen to do…i.e. no fucker held a gun to their heads and forced them to take said jobs.

    So if said ‘trade unionists’ such as these wan’t people (predominantly working-class) to support therm in their political struggles, don’t you think it might be beneficial to their cause to actively get off their ‘socialist’ proverbials and actively engage with said people who tend to see them as…’oppressive’ thereby at least trying to win them over?

    Otherwise they’re just taking the piss…

    A discussion on who the said working-class are, what are ‘estates’, the Middle East question and the ‘lack of morals’ by certain anarchists/communists in NCAG who fail to condemn the Libyan rebellion, really have very little do do with the simple points in question…

    July 8, 2011 at 6:10 pm

  9. Bob Harding

    My last few messages are not contesting a great deal and that could be why you can’t see what I’m contesting!? I’m agreeing with your main points Rick! I’m sharing my experience and chatting about some minor points.

    The main issue is putting a stop to the state oppressing people by way of the benefit system, the mental halth system, the mental health system etc. Wether service users choose to support the trade unionists that oppress them is less important than living, breathing on-going power relationships twith which these workers abuse service users. My main political engagement is in this area. Just because I work in this area doesn’t mean I’m perpetuating the bullshit.

    Likewise if anyone I know thinks I have an interest in politics: they would be wrong to assume I’m like all the other “politicos”, and that I am one of “the political class”. Just because I’m a bit political, it doesn’t mean I’m inevitably wanting to tell other people how to run their lifes like the vast majority of people interested in politics. Likewise, just because I work for a mental health charity doesn’t mean I cooperate with unequal power relationships and the status quo.

    July 9, 2011 at 10:08 am

  10. Bob Harding

    My original reason for entering the mental health system was because I recognised psychiatry is based on oppression and mythology. Likewise, if R.D. Laing worked in this area and fought against psychiatry in doesn’t make him an oppressor because he was a mental health worker. I get feedback that I can be a real help to a few individuals and make a difference to their happiness. Over the decades, I’m not honestly sure I’ve really achieved much in the world of politics outside my job. In my place of work I feel I’m being a bit of a real libertarian. Outside of work I feel I only have had any success in freeing my own mind a little, not freeing anybody else.

    July 9, 2011 at 10:17 am

  11. Bob Harding

    With regard to your point “if said ‘trade unionists’ such as these want people (predominantly working-class) to support therm in their political struggles, don’t you think it might be beneficial to their cause to actively get off their ‘socialist’ proverbials and actively engage with said people who tend to see them as…’oppressive’ thereby at least trying to win them over?”.

    While I agree with your point, I believe people with our views have a long way to go. The people in these jobs often have a disrespectful attitude to service users and, sadly, wouldn’t even be looking for much support or solidarity from them. I think they’d, sadly, more want to be supported by middle class people. ( Nowdays the vast majority of these workers (like other workers) would have no interest in “socialism” at all)

    Sadly, I think we’re only in a position where workers in the public sector should change and have at least some interest in wether poorer, working class people supporti them or not. Sadly, they would rather the bosses of the labour party, the media and “well to do” people support them.

    For my part I totally support them (unconditionally) against their bosses and I totally support (unconditionally) service users against their oppressive public sector workers.

    The world isn’t so black and white and sadly I know many mental health “service users” who hate being called “users” because of their own prejudiced views against those who they imagine are “druggies!” and “spongers!”

    July 9, 2011 at 10:40 am

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