Archive for the ‘UK’ Category

A Community United

Posted: July 8, 2014 in Campaigns, Housing, UK

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You often hear it said how things aren’t the way they used to be, back when communities really were communities, where you knew everyone on your street by their first name and you had no qualms about leaving your door unlocked when you went to the shop. For residents in the area of Easton in Bristol it’s time to reclaim that sense of community.

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Easton has recently become the location of the latest chapter of Acorn International, an organisation that builds grassroots community unions that seek to bring communities together in solidarity as they campaign in their local areas around issues that matter to them. Armed with a will for change a group of local residents hit the streets of Easton going from door to door talking to the people they met about their experiences and concerns and asking one simple question: If 100 of their neighbours would agree to the same, would they commit to attending a local forum hosted by Acorn? And they said yes!

On Friday 16th May 70 residents gathered in a local social centre where they spoke of their concerns around local schools to properties left as junkyards by absentee landlords, and from rip off tenancy fees to zero hours contracts. Through this discussion the first campaign was launched. The campaign has three clear goals:

1. Eliminate tenancy fees
2. Stop monthly rolling contracts for renters
3. Have letting agents and landlords give tenants the option for 3/5 year tenancies

Since that meeting ACORN member have been back out on the streets canvassing resident for support for their campaign to fight exploitative tenancy fees in the BS5 area. These fees, which are already illegal in Scotland, are used to fleece those already most vulnerable to the present housing crisis for work that would have to be provided anyway. Elsewhere in Europe the cost of paperwork is covered by the landlords who are able to make the money out of the transactions, but increasingly agencies are using gaps in the legislation to squeeze tenants for everything they can get.

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Letting agents are key to this problem. Over 60% of tenancies involve a letting agent and 1-in-4 people in England feel they have been charged an unfair fee. In Easton fees are often £250-400 and some agents charge new fees of around £30 every 6 months. Not only that, but some letting agents encourage landlords to only sign contracts for 6 months to make it easier to evict tenants or hike-up rent at the drop of a hat. It also means that the agencies are able to charge a new batch of fees whenever a contract needs signing or renewing. Only having housing security for 6 months is not a decent way to live. Across Europe standard tenancies are 5 years long! Shorter tenancies lead to people moving house often and not being able to put down roots in their community.

The timing for this campaign couldn’t be better. The issues it raises are currently all over the national media. The Labour Party are putting an abolition of tenancy fees and 3 year fixed-term tenancy agreements in their manifesto. The current government have drafted a tenants’ charter aimed at increasing the rights of all renters. Shelter are running national, high publicity campaigns on exactly the same issues and Bristol Mayor George Ferguson has publicly backed them saying “Bristol City Council is serious about tackling poor standards of accommodation and poorly managed properties in Bristol’s private rented sector.”

Things are already looking positive in Easton too, one local agent already does not charge fees and another has suggested that they are receptive to it. As part of the campaign to fight exploitative tenancy fees a petition has been launched which campaigners hope will reach 1000 signatures. This petition will be presented to local agencies inviting them to scrap fees and drop the exploitative 6 month contracts. They will also be invited to explain themselves to residents at a public meeting. ACORN members and other residents will also be invited to give testimonies explaining how they have been exploited by agencies in the past. Campaigners are confident that the meeting will lead to a deal that works for the community not for private profits, but are committed to continuing to apply community pressure on those agencies that refuse to work with them.

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Fashion for Fascists

Posted: April 17, 2014 in Anti-Fascism, Fashion, UK

20140423-112401.jpgA controversial clothing brand strongly associated with the extreme right in Europe has opened a high street store in London.

Thor Steinar, the fashion label popular with hardline right wingers in Germany, has opened a shop in north London called the Viking Thor Shop – but locals may be unaware of its right-wing roots. The shop has been operating from Ballards Lane in North Finchley since late last month, bringing clothing heavily associated with European far-right street movements to the UK.

Whilst the stores owner claims not to have any links with the far right the arrival of the shop was welcomed by the white power website Stormfront, where users posted boasting that “London gets its first white nationalist clothing shop”. A number of users also pledged to visit the store.

The Thor Steinar brand has faced bans in the German Bundestag, in several football stadium and members of the far-right German National Democratic Party have been expelled from parliament for wearing the brand. Its clothes were banned outright in Germany in 2004 because of the logo’s similarity to symbols worn by the Nazi SS – but the company has rebranded since then.

In March 2012 the label drew global controversy when the company opened a shop called Brevik in Saxony. It was accused of naming the store after far-right mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik. The brand claimed it was named in honour of the Norwegian town of Brevik in Oslo but later changed the name and removed the sign. The Norwegian government also filed a complaint against the retailer over use of it’s national flag in February 2008.

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Above the door at the north London Viking store, an ambiguous Wolfsangel-style Nordic rune is proudly displayed.

The company was launched in October 2002 and was initially based in Königs Wusterhausen, German. In 2009 it moved to Dubai – provoking outrage from some of its extreme right customers who threatened a boycott. The clothes regularly feature Vikings and Nordic themes – mythology which plays a central role in the extreme right’s racial purist views.

Thor Steinar shops in Germany have been repeatedly targeted by anti-fascist protests and repeatedly vandalised. Earlier this month in Hanover 350 protesters gathered outside a Thor Steinar store to protest against what they see as a “right wing lifestyle store”.

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April 5th marked this year’s White Pride Day, an annual event where white separatists, ultranationalists and neo-Nazis come together to drink, shout and promote their racist bigotry. For the past few years the UK location for this event has been the Welsh city of Swansea with this area becoming a stronghold for the re-emerging National Front (NF).

The days leading up to this year’s event, running under the White Pride Worldwide banner, were marred by misinformation. Unite Against Fascism (UAF) an organisation which has been at the centre of broad left anti-fascism for the past ten years, were not only not to be seen on the day, but even cancelled their counter-demonstration under the mistaken belief that since the NF had refused either of the rallying points offered to them by the police, the Nazi demonstration would not go ahead. The cancellation came despite warnings from anti-fascist activists posting on the Swansea UAF Facebook page urging people to still come out as they rightly foresaw that the NF demonstration would still take place. The danger of cancelling the demo and declaring “victory” proved to be real – people who would have been out on the streets of Swansea chose to stay at home believing the demo was off.

Luckily not all had taken the day so lightly. Around 100 anti-fascists from groups ranging from the Socialist Party to Antifa as well as unaffiliated members of the local community came down to Castle Square to make clear that fascists are not welcome in Swansea. This view however was not one shared by the local constabulary, nor by several local watering holes. For the NF and their friends, the day started in Yates’s bar on the corner of Castle Square as they knocked back the lager and jeered at the assembling counter-demo. Before long the excitement got too much for one bonehead, who began proudly waving his white power flag before being told by police to put it away. Once drinks had been downed, the 40-50 fascists out to protest were escorted up to near the old castle for their demonstration, where they listened to a mixture of speeches about how proud they were to be white and how hard it is with all the oppression white people apparently suffer on the basis of their skin colour. The Nazis punctuated the tedium by singing racist songs and hurling abuse at the ‘commie scum’ that made up the counter-protest.

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Amongst the crowd were a number of white power flags, a Scottish flag, a Yorkshire flag, the flag of the National Bolshevik Group and a flag bearing the symbol of Greek fascist party Golden Dawn. As the NF began to leave the demo zone a scuffle broke out during which one of the white power flags was liberated from its bonehead owner, an incident that saw its captor spend the next four hours in a cell, but luckily leave with a simple caution. During this incident a second arrest was made after an anti-fascist made contact with one of the bonehead demonstrators only to be told “You can’t hit me, I’m an undercover police officer!” Although one NF member found himself in handcuffs, this was only a temporary measure while they waited for calm (during which time he stood laughing with the police) before being let go. From here the fascists returned to drinking; heading for Ice Bar on Swansea’s main bar crawl, the aptly named Wine Street.

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Despite refusing to accept either protest location offered by South Wales Police, the NF had full facilitation from the police the entire day. When fascists receive this help from the state it only serves to build their confidence. “I personally witnessed them shouting at a Muslim couple, who had joined the anti-fascist demonstration,” Al Brown of South Wales Anti-Fascist Action (SWAFA) told radical news website SchNEWS, “They called the man a “paki” as police officers looked on. The cops did nothing to try to stop the abuse, and wouldn’t listen to the man’s wife when she tried to complain about it.”

In a similar incident a BME man was subjected to verbal and physical abuse by an NF member outside Ice Bar and was told by police that should calm down. Across the road in the Adelphi I witnessed another NF member give a Nazi salute as he and four other went to join their fellow boneheads. After Ice Bar, the NF were escorted up to another bar – Static on Kingsway, where anti-fascists kept watch behind a police cordon. A phone blockade was organised and the bar’s management in Bristol responded by travelling to Swansea in order to have the racist crowd removed. The NF were then quickly marched by police to the station and made to get on a train.
“South Wales Anti-Fascist Action had a 30-strong bloc and we opposed them every step of the way. It seemed like some kind of pathetic racist pub crawl facilitated by the police, who seemed content to turn a blind eye to all the harassment the NF were causing to Swansea residents. Officers could even be seen exchanging handshakes with NF supporters outside Static. It’s really troubling that they would fraternise in this way with people who were shouting racist insults and threats of violence during the day,” said Al Brown,

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“I don’t think Unite Against Fascism can take any credit at all for the counter-demonstration on Saturday. They took the fascists’ bait and called off their demo, then ignored other groups who had assurances it was still happening. But SWAFA, Swansea Trades Council and a lot of interested local residents went ahead without them. We want to thank everyone who took part, whatever their background, because we know that true strength lies in diversity.”

Unite Against Fascism have since put out a statement telling of their disgust at the state facilitating the Nazis’ demo, congratulating those who did turn out to see them off and interestingly, despite not being present, still feeling the need to cook the numbers. The statement also finished by promising that regardless of what is said by police or council next year they shall hold a march through Swansea. Let’s support that call and make sure UAF keeps its promise.

Plastic Bag Radio is a show on the University of the West of England’s very own Hub Radio. The show, hosted post-graduate students Sam grist and Matthew Hollinshead alongside former UWE student Samir Seddougui, airs every Tuesday 3pm-4pm. The show mixes philosophical, political and historical discussion with a great selection of music. In light of the fact that UWE were playing host to the DPRTE arms fair this week’s show takes a look at the insidious relationship between universities and the defence industry. During the second half of the show our hosts welcomed on Holly Rea from the Campaign Against Arms Trade to find out more.

Plastic Bag: First of all, I know Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) have done research on the money that arms companies give to universities, could you tell us a bit about the relationships between these companies and universities?

Holly Rae: It works in two ways; on the one hand you have universities investing financially into arms companies because it is seen as being a very profitable industry even though when you look at the facts and figures it really isn’t. For instance we just found out through a freedom of information request that Trinity College at Cambridge University have £250,000 worth of shares in Lockheed Martin, the world’s biggest arms company. Then the way that arms companies will feed back into universities is that they will fund scholarships with the insinuation that these students will go on to work for an arms company for a certain number of years or that the arms companies will be able to heavily influence the academic programs. So you will often find that students going into engineering jobs, though now BAE are recruiting students all academic disciplines studying humanities as well as sciences, for example in Manchester there are students doing research on laser cleaning which doesn’t seem that insidious on the surface, however the feedback from this was used by the arms trade. So you have a situation where students are doing research for arms companies and the military for free.

PB: About a year ago someone wrote a piece on drones and ethics which argued that they are more ethical because they kill less people. As if, when you take the total number of people that can be involved in a combat situation, any way of reducing that number is seen as an ethical benefit. It just so happens that this was keeping American soldiers out and that was the key. The author of this piece, as it happens, was a philosopher funded by the American Navy. Which seems hilarious, well I mean some of us here study philosophy and the idea of being funded by the MoD just seems bizarre. So, you were talking about how arms companies have a huge amount of influence and how they can recruit people because they have funded them to go through university and then universities are investing in that. Is it simply syllabus control that they have? I know that HP provide a lot of the software used by Israeli Defence Force as well as other western militaries and they own sections of the [Frenchay] campus we are on right now. I was wondering though if there are other universities in the UK where arms companies have more direct control or just UWE.

HR: No it is everywhere. For instance Cardiff University has its own naval ship, which goes out to conflict, in the dock.

PB: The University has its own ship? That is so terrible.

HR: Yeah. In Portsmouth the university has just won a bid to be able to oversee the course at the first military technical college in Oman. So you have a very military and arms trade orientated focus at many universities. In fact 50% of scientists go into the arms industry after graduating and this is because of the influence had by arms companies. I know a lot of people will say “Oh yeah, but they are giving out scholarships”, but the money for these scholarships comes from the government, it’s not businesses putting up their own money. It’s being diverted through the government and it is the government then influencing what jobs they want people to go into, through what I see as very illegitimate means.

PB: It seems entirely that that undue corporate control, which is a massive understatement for the level of control that the arms industry has got, but it does tie into that idea of removing steadily any kind of democratic control of any public institutions like universities. So I think it is very import to connect this kind of stuff to attacks on fees etc. In fact today there is a national day of action against fees and various other issues, but we of course have this demonstration today and tomorrow against the arms trade on our campus. We still know very little about what will go on in that building besides a lot of very dangerous men in really expensive suits talking about finding fun ways to kill people. It’s definitely going to be a big event, we saw on the website it’s described as one of the main defence procurement events of the year in the UK.

HR: Definitely. In September we had Defence, Security and Equipment International (DSEi), which is one of the world’s largest arms fairs, in London and I imagine that a lot of companies that met there will be following up at this event. I was just doing some research and apparently the group who are setting up the event have said that they won’t have any form of munitions, weaponry, artillery or hazardous military equipment on site as though that somehow excuses the fact that that is what they are going to be talking about, those are the deals they are going to be making. Just because you don’t physically have the guns there, they do at DSEi and you’ll see civil servants playing with guns and grenades and things. It’s quite bizarre.

PB: Yeah, when we were trying to find propaganda and photos we found this picture of this incredibly geeky looking guy in a suit that didn’t quite fit right, but being so excited by this sniper rifle. It was so terrifyingly Freudian. So we are not talking about there being loads of guns on campus, this is much more of a networking and brochures type event. Do you feel that there is an explicit push by arms companies to keep the guns away in an effort to make it seem more of a business event?

HR: Definitely. You would never hear an arms dealer talking about the ethics of what they do, when you are talking about how many people they kill it’s in terms of efficiency, it’s in terms of how easily you can suppress a crowd or a riot and how you can do that cheaply. It is very far removed from the actual horrors of conflict and I think that’s why CAAT and other international solidarity groups work really hard to take the photos and do the research to ensure that the human aspect of conflict isn’t forgotten cause I think that it is all very easy to get swept up in this boys and their toys mentality.

PB: Just the rhetoric of arms companies takes the human aspect away from what’s actually happening. You were talking about suppressing riots; the UK particularly has connections with Bahrain and Saudi Arabia known to be extremely bad on those sorts of issues.

HR: It’s ridiculous. We currently have David Cameron in Sri Lanka talking about human rights and yet he is in the middle of a tour of Saudi Arabia and the UAE trying to sell them fighter jets. So he only cares about human rights when in suites the pocket of arms dealers.

PB: Yeah, exactly. Ok, so there will possibly be some disruption happening on campus today and tomorrow, what kind of security would you imagine demonstrators to be encountering? Is it fair to say that these companies have been ramping up their security?

HR: It is difficult to say, we have found that the policing at first at DSEi was very light-handed, it was only after we had been there a few hours that you started to see more police to the point where there was probably a police officer for every person at the occupation outside DSEi. I can’t imagine it will be like that on a university campus. They may bring in private security to boost up the campus security, but one of the things that universities do when putting on these kinds of conferences is putting a lot of pride on their own security. That’s part of business and in some ways that is why universities have been clamping down on student protest because it is bad for their business. If they are not in the public eye seen as being able to control students, who of course in the public eye are seen as being a bit frivolous and silly then that may negatively persuade them. So you may see quite bad uses of security, but I don’t think it would be anything to worry about as such. I don’t know if you saw all the videos of the security guards in Sheffield?

PB: Yeah, that was at an engineering employment fair it was pretty intense. So that was a ‘dying’ action, people went in, pretended to die and be as obtrusive as possible and eventually private security came in and manhandled them out, which is obviously not what they want to do because it is not very good press. But as you said if they can keep students in line then it kind of helps their image if they are going to be having this kind of employment fair, selling off their students etc. But this also means that the stakes for student resistance over these kinds of issues is a lot higher. If we can actually say well we can’t do it, we could lose them a hell of a lot of money and that is basically how you shift management. I didn’t realise how useful direct action on campus could be.

HR: I’ve got two small anecdotes on that point. The first; on Thursday I was in Portsmouth because BAE Systems were putting on one of their lavish nights of recruitment where basically they will get a bit of prosecco in and sit down with a glossy magazine telling people how they are defending the world etc. And it turned out that the event got cancelled and one of the people who were part of the group I was with was volunteering with the company that was putting on the event and he said that he had received an email informing him that one of the key speakers had pulled out after hearing that there was a student protest planned. So that is an example of how even the threat of something can have an effect. There was another student group, I forget which one, a couple of years ago who were trying to get a meeting with their Vice Chancellor, but every time they called him up the secretary just palmed them off, so in the end they wrote him a letter saying if you do not meet with us then we will sabotage this corporate event that is going on. And so they had a meeting within two days. I think that it is important not to underestimate the power of student protest.

PB: And I think you can almost see that a little bit. I was looking at the western eye, which is the UWE student newspaper, and the editor had written an article on the arms fair and it’s got a quote from a university spokesman who was saying that the university would not expect protest at this type of event and any protest there is he hopes would be responsible. So I think that that shows that they are a bit worried that something could disrupt their event, which obviously a lot of people have put a lot of money into when you look at the £6,000 costs for a table. What is interesting about this event specifically, and we have been talking about the more explicit links between the arms trade and universities, this is literally them renting out the building, a building that perhaps wasn’t bought in the best interest of the students, but that’s another question. So the university is holding this line of we are renting out the building, we condone the arms trade and so they can remain neutral and at the same time completely complicit. It’s just business.

HR: I’ll believe that they are neutral when they put on an event for renewable technology or sustainable energy.

PB: The thing is, they have had that kind of stuff. UWE is very involved in trying to present itself as an ethical institution which means that the fact that it has got major arms research labs, exists on land previously owned and a lot of it still owned by major military industrial contactors and its whole edifice is built up on being “better together” and talking about inclusivity and equality, but this is built up on the whole military industrial complex.

HR: Definitely, and that’s how the arms companies manage to put forward this legitimate face.  I think especially it is quite sad to hear that UWE, even though it’s got this really ethical facade on it that it is based on this fundamentally awful industry. It could be a forerunner, there are universities that do have ethical standards for who they allow to rent out their buildings and things like that and they could really push that and though I hate to use business language that could be a unique selling point for them and a really positive way to go forward, but instead they choose to legitimise the arms trade by maintaining this facade of being an ethical place, but yet still inviting these people onto their campus.

PB: UWE was one of the first universities to go for the £9,000 fees, in fact our Vice Chancellor was one of the guys who drew up the Universities UK policy on increasing fees, they have a massive problem with not paying the Bristol Living Wage, and the unions on campus are fighting for a decent wage. So specifically for students weighing up whether or not to come down to the demonstration in ten minutes the fact that the same universities business policy allows it to not pay cleaners properly and allow murderers onto campus are not disconnected issues. The fact that we are having to pay more fees and having fewer lectures is not a disconnected issue, its part of a wider marketisation of the university that needs to be challenged at every step. And this is one that we can be really powerful in. UWE cares so much about its press, it rates one positive tweet about UWE £5, I saw a spreadsheet of media reports, but an inch of positive press is worth £1000 to them. So they have this stuff quantified and the bigger noise we can make about this in the media and also if we can embarrass them in front of their defence contractor friends then that really shifts the balance in favour of students and workers on campus and that is something that we shouldn’t under estimate. OK we only have a couple of minutes left, can you tell people if they want to get involved with Campaign Against Arms Trade how they go about that.

HR: OK, so obviously go and support the demonstration and protest tomorrow, that would sound like the first thing to do. You can find us on Facebook as well as the CAAT website, but then we have the sub-Facebook which is just for universities so that is a really good place to connect with other students. On our website there are loads of resources for if you want to start your own campaign. It sounds like UWE would really respond well to an ethical investments campaign. So I think that would be something to maybe start looking into and maybe get some freedom of information requests out to see how deep these relationships lie and just generally get in touch with us at CAAT, you can give me an email at universities@caat.org.uk and I will get back to you. But just have a few meetings, get people together, they don’t have to be stuffy and boring, you can do them in a fun way and just get some campaign momentum on campus and use your own power to influence your university.

PB: Awesome, thank you so much.

Zero Tollerence

Posted: October 3, 2013 in UK, Worker's Rights

Marcus: Hey do you fancy doing something Thursday night?
Zahra: Sounds good, but I’m not sure if I will get any hours at work this week.
Marcus: OK well let me know and we will sort something out.

A short conversation that is all too indicative of the current state of life for the working class as figures reveal that more than 1 million British workers could be employed on zero-hours contracts. From retail chains like Sports Direct all the way up to Buckingham Palace, workers face little option than to take on contracts that offer them no holiday or sick pay and often little work. Though this style of contract isn’t new it has recently become a focus of controversy with retailer Sports Direct, who employ 20,000 of their 23,000 staff on such contracts, at the centre of the storm. Likewise pub group J D Wetherspoon has 80% of its workforce, 24,000 staff, on zero-hours contracts.

Though recent contention has led to business secretary Vince Cable conducting a review of zero-hours contracts it has been criticised as being “totally inadequate” by the Labour opposition. Vidhya Alakeson, deputy chief executive of the think tank the Resolution Foundation added that “If it’s true that there are in the region of 1 million people on zero-hours contracts, then that would be a substantial portion of the workforce – this could no longer be dismissed as an issue affecting only a tiny minority. The new estimate underlines the urgent need for a deep and thorough review of zero-hours by the government, which takes into account not only the scale of the problem, but the effect these contracts have on workers’ employment rights, earning capacity and personal well-being.” However despite Cable’s oppositional talk, thousands of Londoners are employed by Labour councils on zero-hours contracts. The situation is not much better in the Green Party, after calling for a ban on zero-hours contracts; it was found that they too saw fit to use them themselves, employing up to 1,000 people on casual contracts.

Opposition to these contracts has not just come from think tanks and politicians. Trade unions and activist groups like ‘Zero Tolerance to Zero Hours’ have also been a key part of the fight back against measures that enable employers to keep their profit high by cutting staff benefits. Dave Prentis, general secretary of the trade union Unison, said that “The vast majority of workers are only on these contracts because they have no choice. They may give flexibility to a few, but the balance of power favours the employers and makes it hard for workers to complain.” Also the Bakers Food & Allied Workers Union – who have strong anti-workfare policies – are currently taking industrial action at Hovis after agency workers on zero-hour contracts were brought in to replace workers previously made redundant.

The past thirty years in Britain has see a sharp shift towards neo-liberal politics and social policy that has dramatically changed the lives of the working class both in how they are viewed and how they survive. Bruised by the destruction of industry that took place under the Thatcher regime their search for work has been further marred by an ever diminishing public sector. However, despite the sudden recent interest in precarious labour, both in the media and academically, the need for precarity under capitalism is far from a new development. If we were to look at the 1980s we would see Dockers queuing up each morning in the hope of a day’s work. Similarly the agrarian workers of early modern England experience an inconsistent demand for their labour. Indeed throughout the history of capitalist society sections of the working class have been characterised by a degree of job insecurity, with women and people of colour tending to carry out the bulk of precarious work. American sociologist and professor at Yale University Immanuel Wallerstein even claims that the overseas exploitation of semi-proletarians, members of a peasent class who spends part of their year as a wage worker in a town, as the main motive of colonialism.

So why the sudden focus? Well, though precarious labour is nothing new employers both in the public and the private sectors have massively increased the number of agency staff and staff on temporary or zero-hours contracts over the past twenty years. Between 1992 and 2001 employment agencies tripled their share of employment. In fact 27% of the healthcare sector, 48% of the hotels, catering and leisure industries and 35% of the education sector are made up of employers using zero-hours contracts. With universities and colleges being more than twice as likely to employ staff on zero-hours contracts as other workplaces.

Academic interest in changes in class composition during the neo-liberal period has picked up on the increasing levels of precarity and its need for analysis. One of the leading theorists around this is Guy Standing, a professor at Bath University, who has analysed the theory of what he calls ‘the precariat’. Standing sees the precariat as a new emerging social class which is composed of people suffering from precarity, a condition which stems from a lack of predictability or security affecting material or psychological welfare – though it is a defining factor of the working class or proletariat to rely solely on the selling of their own labour in order to live this classification specifically refers to the condition of intermittent or underemployment and the resultant precarious existence.

The effects on the working class have even been mentioned by Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, who said: “The government’s refusal to address the growing scandal of zero-hours contracts is creating a sub-class of insecure and low-paid employment.” However, simply inventing a new class is not necessarily the answer, as anyone who questioned their status as an emergent service worker should agree. Though attempts have been made to define the precariat as a class of its own these have often been imprecise, defined in negative terms and crucially fail to outline the principles of its reproduction. However what can be said with confidence is that during the neoliberal period there have been real transformations in both the economy and in class structure. The working class has certainly become more stratified, with increasing variety in the amount and type of work undertaken by the working class. The levels of precarity and insecurity have also increased during this period, something which affects the lowest strata of the working class most. So we must either understand that the working class is by its very nature precarious, and so there is no need for a new classification. Our focus should be on the resistance we provide to the division through stratification and the increasing precarity that brings.

It has long been that the left has place too much of their focus on the public sector as a longed for potential hot bed of industrial action. However in doing so a huge failure is maintained. The failure to organise in unorganised workplaces, an area in which the Industrial Workers of the World union (IWW) have shown great strength, mounting successful campaigns with workers at Pizza Hut, Starbucks and Pret A Manger. With the changes that have occurred within the composition of the working class, more than ever this focus leaves too little attention spared for what can too happen in the most unimaginable of places. We need only look at the recent waves of resistance across the US fast food industry, where earlier this month thousands of workers in cities including New York, Chicago and Detroit took to the streets, many wearing red “Fight for 15” T-shirts – a reference to the popular call for a $15 (£9.70) hourly wage, almost double the current minimum. It is action like this as well as the organisation of cleaning staff in John Lewis and London Metropolitan University or the launch of the Pop-Up union at the University of Sussex that show where real potential now lies. Some may say where it always has with the proles.

This article can also be found in The Exchange magazine. A joint publication between the AntiCapitalist Initiative, Socialist Resistance and the International Socialist Network.

The Gremlins Are Back.

Posted: August 5, 2013 in Squatting, UK

During the early hours or Sunday morning activist group the ‘Gremlins’ entered and occupied the Canton Police Station on Cowbridge Road East, Cardiff. The squatting crew gained access to the former police station after reportedly climbing through several open windows. The Gremlins, who describe themselves as a network of travellers, homeless people and supporters who campaign for the right to squat have previously occupied the Bute Dock Hotel in Cardiff Bay and the former Spin ten-pin bowling centre on City Road.
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A spokesman for the group has said: “We did not ask for permission [to enter] as it’s our legal right to do so. We are standing up against corruption and brutality within the police force.” adding “We squat as we believe corporations have no right to own property. We squat here to show people that not everyone is afraid.”

In a prepared statement, the activists make accusations against police over the handling of the Lynette White murder investigation, which collapsed in December 2011.

As ever the Gremlins are welcoming visitors and guests and will even be giving tours of the cells.

Sunday 4th October 1936 is remembered as the most prominent moment in British anti-fascist history. It was the day when Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists sought to march through the East End of London only to be met by 100,000 anti-fascists, including local Jewish, socialist, anarchist, Irish and communist groups.

nbu1Now just over 86 years later, and 72 years since Mosley’s party dissolved after being proscribed, a new party has emerged taking up their baton.  The New British Union (NBU), lead by former BNP Scotland Organiser Gary Raikes, are an openly fascist party following in the footsteps of Oswald Mosley that describes itself as a political movement for the dispossessed. The NBU has taken on the imagery of Mosley’s party, adopting the paramilitary uniform, red armband and flash insignia. They combine this with a modern edge by also appropriating the popular Stonewall ‘Get over it’ campaign posters.

Echoing the views of Sunderland manager Paulo Di Canio, leader Gary Raikes claims “I am a fascist, not a racist.” adding: “National Front types hate me because I was engaged to a black girl. If we find anyone in our movement into the Nazi stuff or racism, they are out.” With this Raikes clearly forgets his idol Mosley’s fervent support for Hitler. Raikes, who originally comes from Bristol, said: “The uniform is to totally separate us from the shirt-and-tie politicians and it also goes with us being run under military lines.” Another separation is their views on democracy, in an interview the 54-year-old dad of one told The Sun: “If democracy means everyone should have a say, then I’m not democratic, no. I think liberalism is a sickness that needs to be exterminated.”

nbu2The NBU have a basic website, which despite simple appearance has attracted over 40,000 hits, it displays the ‘Stonewall’ image, complete with the words “New British Union. 21st Century Blackshirts Marching On For Britain.” Another picture bears the slogan: “One Nation, One People, One Leader”. There has also been a conference organised by Raikes for the party at a secret location in south east England in October. On this meeting the website, which shows Mosley’s fanatical followers performing the stiff-armed fascist salute, boasts: “This will be an historic occasion, the first official Blackshirt meeting to be held since the Second World War, heralding the return of a registered fascist political party in Britain.”

Raikes says he is in touch with some of the original Blackshirts and hopes “one or two” will speak at the gathering. The fascists are invited to wear uniforms — but only in private. Of the Nazi-style salute, he added: “We don’t do it because it’s been demonised by the Press, even though it goes back thousands of years and is a Roman salute.”