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FROM BRADFORD TO BINGLEY EVERY WEEK
Issue 165/166, Friday 1st May 1998Nothing ever burns down by itself, every fire needs a little bit of help...
- Frank Field, Social Security Minister
One year on from the election and the reality of what a Labour government is all about is hitting home. All the hype in the world can't hide the reality of a tacky little government elected to defend the interests of the well off at the expense of the rest of us - all in the guise of 'reforming' the welfare state, 'revitalising' the labour market and 'modernising' everything in sight.
Labour are quite clear what they're about. The alliance of big business and the middle class that brought Labour to power is desperate to ensure that Britain maintains its competitiveness - and their privileges - in a world of increasing globalisation. Labour's 'modernisation' is all about gearing up for globalisation by creating a cheap, 'flexible' workforce that will be able to compete with other cheap, 'flexible' workforces around the world.
The New Deal is all about creating just such a workforce by forcing the unemployed into crap, low paid 'jobs'. Employers are given £60 a week for each full-time job they create and are not expected to pay employees any more than that - free labour! The New Deal is as old as the hills - forcing the poor to work for the rich for peanuts.
Many of Labour's other policies are geared towards creating poverty pay jobs. The minimum wage will be set at a level low enough for big business to accept (they're setting it after all!) allowing benefits to be set just below it, making it easier to force people into crappy jobs. As Gordon Brown put it in his budget speech, 'Because in future work will pay, those with an offer of work can have no excuse for staying at home on benefits'.
Cheap childcare - no doubt using New Deal conscripts - will be brought in making it easier to harass parents on benefits into taking low paid jobs. People on invalidity or disability benefits will suddenly find these benefits stopped. Short-term contracts, lack of rights at work, removal of sick pay, maternity leave and holidays are all on the cards as casualisation - which the Liverpool dockers went on strike for two years to resist - becomes the norm for all but the better off.
The Tories never thought they could get away with forcing the unemployed to work for little more than dole money. Labour, with their support in the unions, reckon they can. But they know they will only get away with it if resistance from those under attack can be kept in check. So the Tory anti-union laws will stay in place to ensure that Britain has, as Tony Blair has proudly stated, 'a more restricted trade union legislative framework than any country in the western world'. Alongside this, of course, Jack Straw's ever more authoritarian police, courts and prison system will be ready to deal with objectors.
The contrast between Labour's attitude to the poor and its attitude to the rich could not be greater. Wage differentials are now greater than since records began and set to grow. Britain has the lowest state pension in Europe while private pensions for the well off are subsidised. The countryside is destroyed so that middle class consumers can have their out-of-town shopping complexes while no one seems bothered about the homeless still sleeping on our cities' streets.
Labour has been true to its friends in the middle class and big business. The last budget saw corporation tax cut by £1.5bn a year. The middle class voters who elected New Labour continue to be subsidised by £10bn a year through tax breaks. Not surprisingly the middle class are very happy with this - their support for Labour since the election has gone up by 16% while working class support has remained unchanged.
Labour has been quick to incorporate big business into government. Interested in developing an ethical foreign policy? Lets appoint Lord Simon the boss of BP, a company famed for its championing of the downtrodden, to the Department of Trade. Need someone who understands what living on benefit is all about? Who better than Martin Taylor, £976,000 a year (plus £762,000 bonuses last year) boss of Barclays Bank, to be given the job of chairing the government's tax and benefit taskforce. And who will we get to head the low pay commission? Why it's obvious - the £130,000 a year principal of the London Business School!
No one is going to win any victories by expecting Labour to change its spots or by expecting the unions to lead any sort of resistance. Unions are big businesses these days, investing millions on the stockmarket. While 40% of union members are managers or professional workers, less than 2% of union members are under 20. Unions represent well-off workers in steady jobs rather than the low paid. As TUC General Secretary John Monks puts it, "the days when the trade unions provided an adversarial opposition force are past." Well, quite. Ask the Liverpool dockers, refused real support from their union for two years. Or the Hillingdon strikers.
The Labour government may appear strong at the moment - but only because no real opposition exists. Their 'landslide' victory was won with less than a third of the electorate's votes and with fewer votes than the Tories got in 1992. The alliance of the haves that the Labour government represents excludes millions of have-nots, itself a potentially enormous alliance of those with nothing to gain from Labour's championing of middle class privilege and consumer culture.
That alliance is waiting to be built. It won't be built by going on boring marches and letting ourselves be organised into safe, respectable and ineffectual campaigns. It won't be built by bickering amongst ourselves about nothing while loads needs to be done either. It will mean in-yer-face direct action, supporting each other, learning lessons from the past and from struggles around the world. As events from thirty years ago show, things can move very quickly - so who knows what's round the corner? It could be US!
Despite being abandoned by their union, the Hillingdon Hospital workers have continued their fight against low pay. Sacked over 30 months ago for refusing to take a £40 a week pay cut (they were already earning less than £7,000 a year) they have forced old employers Pall Mall to agree that they unfairly dismissed them! Donations needed desperately c/o 27 Townsend Way, Northwood, Middx., HA6 1TG 0956 135311
The events of May '68 were utterly unforseen, but were a revolt without compromise. "This is revolution... a total onslaught on modern industrial society" reported the Observer at the time. A handful of rowdy students at a suburban annex of the University of Paris launched a nationwide movement of revolt, which, within a month, brought the French state to its knees, exposing the fragility of what had seemed the most stable regime in Europe.
People rose up out of the desire to live, as intensely as possible: "revolt is festival or it is nothing" read one bit of student agit-prop. In the lead-up to '68 a French judge condemned such radicals who "do not hesditate to commend theft, the destruction of scholarship, the abolition of work, total subversion, and a world-wide proletarian revolution with 'unlicensed pleasure' as its only goal".
The sixties were a bit of a mad one all around the world. Counter-cultures were flying about all over the place, and you could barely move in some parts without tripping over another commune, squat, festival, or 'be-in'. But while the kids at Haight-Ashbury were discovering 101 ways to love one another, their parents were blustering in the White House, finding even more ways to napalm strangers in Vietnam. So the ongoing anguish of the war leant a whole other dimension of urgency to the cultural dissent; while civil rights movements in Northern Ireland and black America embroiled swathes of those populations in full-on grassroots struggle.
At the same time, the international student movement was getting restless in Europe, Japan, Mexico and elsewhere. Students in the US were occupying their universities to protest the Vietnam war, and British students were going for it too. Italy, like France, had incredibly overcrowded universities run by up-tight old dinosaurs; thirteen of the places experienced occupations in 67/68. In March '68 all of Polandís universities went on strike. In Spain, where the fascist government was expelling rebellious students and closing entire universities, Vietnam came second to the native issue of Franco's whole regime.
Spain was like France in that the strength of its student movement lay in its links with loads of the working class population. The black people rioting in American ghettos didnít much identify with the students and the more-or-less white and affluent hippy scene. But in France, the student radicals were hardcore enough in their aims and outlook, to stir into action millions of ordinary folks. The spark of revolution, struck by the student extremeists, had found tinder on the shop floor. So - deep breath - here's those May events in full (it's yer SchNEWS history lesson)...
May 2: After some cheeky student actions at the University of Nanterre, battles with the cops and anti-Vietnam occupations, the Dean shuts the whole place down.
May 3: Loads of students gather to demonstrate at the Sorbonne (University of Paris) so its Dean shuts that too, and sends in the CRS (French riot police). Rioting spreads throughout the student part of the city, the Latin Quarter, and with each day that passes, more and more Parisians join the increasingly militant demonstrations.
May 7: The students' and teachers' unions call a strike and demand police withdrawal from theLatin Quarter, the release of those nicked and the re-opening of the university facilities.
May 10: "Night of the Barricades". Some 50,000 go for it and occupy the whole of the Latin Quarter, barricading the streets with up-turned cars, and construction equipment. The ensuing battle lasts several hours; the CRS firing tear gas and mounting baton charges, the students and others responding with molotov cocktails.
May 11: The Prime Minister withdraws the police from the Latin Quarter, and capitulates to the unionsí demands, but the balance has already tipped. Thousands of young people from across Europe areheading for Paris.
May 13: All the main trade unions strikein solidarity with the students, and Paris is brought to a standstill by a 800,000-strong march. Now the CRS withdraw from the Sorbonne, and students reclaim their university, filling the lecture halls and convening a general assembly to manage their own affairs.
May 14: The first factory occupation takes place at the Sud Aviation plant in Nante, where workers hold the chairman hostage.
May 16: Workers occupy Renault plants, followed by various other factories around the country.
May 24: Mass demonstrations take place across France. By now 9 or 10 million workers are on strike. Footballers occupying the French Football Federation with the slogan "Football to the Footballers!" President De Gaulle orders the army and police to stay in their barracks and stations, as their safety cannot be guaranteed.
May 30: Having ensured the support of French armed forces stationed in West Germany, De Gaulle addresses the nation on TV, threatening to send in the troops. He calls on citizens to standup to subversion, claiming France is threatened by a "communist dictatorship".
After that, the whole thing starts folding in; riot police re-occupy some factories, while in others, people go back to work. Union officials have kept a lot of workers out of the factories, letting them sit at home in the belief that a bit of a pay rise is all people are after.
"The first impression was of a giant lid suddenly lifted, of pent-up
thoughts and aspirations suddenly exploding, on being released from the realm
of dreams into the realm of the realm of the the real and the possible. In
changing their environment people themselves were changed. The shy became
communicative. People just went up and talked to each other without a trace of
But for a while, everything was up for grabs. The Observer said at the time: "by taking to the streets, they have set themselves against every organised political force in France. Both Government and opposition last week tried desperately to contain them. Both failed."
What are we to make of all this? SchNEWS has its own panel of historians and political scientists who are drawing forth the lessons, due to report back sometime in the new millenium. Meanwhile, we can all witness the strength that came from people looking beyond their own specific concerns (as 'students', 'workers', whatever) and coming together in common action; look at the energy and excitement that came out of the Liverpool Dockers getting together with Reclaim the Streets.
What makes May '68 so sexy is that people were taking back the whole of their lives, unleashing their desires and a wave of creativity. The first non-university territory to be occupied during the revolt was the French National Theatre at the Odeon. The folks raided the wardrobe department and dozens of them came out to face the CS gas dressed as centurians, pirates and princesses.
Rene Vienet, one of the 'situationists' whose ideas were important in driving the revolt, wrote; "Everyday life, suddenly rediscovered, became the centre of all possible conquests. People who had lived their whole lives in offices declared that they could no longer live in the way they had before. The strikers recaptured the time so sadly lost in factories, on motorways and in front of the TV. People strolled, dreamed, learned how to live. Little by little, desires became reality"
We look around everywhere today and see seamless routine, capitalism just getting on with it. "But what about the impossibility of living, what about this stifling mediocrity and this absence of passion?" asks situationist Raoul Vaneigm. The desire to play lives on beneath this society's avalaunch of TVs, cars, and electric kettles.
One of the participants in Paris declared at the time: "another epoch is starting: that in which people know that revolution is possible under the conditions of modern bureaucratic capitalism."
While leaders of the most industrialised nations of the world meet in Birmingham squillions of people will join the Global Street Party. From Australia to Israel, Slovenia to Switzerland... 33 cities in 21 countries (and counting!). Full list: RTS, PO Box 9656, London, N4 4JY 0171 281 4621 E-mail: email@example.com Web: http://www.hrc.wmin.ac.uk/campaigns/rts.html
Gyrate Not G8! Jubilee 2000 human chain around the International Convention Centre in Birmingham, where the G8 summit is meeting @ 2pm- followed by a Global Street Party. Meet 4pm, meet New St Station, Birmingham. 0171 2814621
Fancy a bit of clowning around? Want to help incite outbreaks of internationalist revolutionary optimism? People are needed to set up affinity groups which can function as stewards/party game organisers/performers during the party. No experience necessary, there will be a workshop before hand. Call 0171 281 4621 and say you want to become a clown, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
DAYS OF ACTION AGAINST WORLD TRADE ORGANISATION 16-20 MAY
GENEVA - After Birmingham, leaders of the G8 will be fly to Geneva to join "celebrations" at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference - those nice people who in their own words are writing the constitution of the single global economy Actions have been organised including a street party on Saturday, which will be joined by unemployed marchers from several French cities, bicycle caravans from Germany, a special train from Italy, and up to three thousand small farmers selling local food on the streets. Monday is Peoples Trade Day where several symbols of global capitalism (like banks and fast food restaurants) will be blocked by small scale local traders. A candle procession to the WTO will take place on Tuesday evening and on Wednesday people will walk with hands tied in an attempt to enter and stop the conference. Other anti-WTO actions are planned in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Canada, Colombia, Peru in addition to the 31+ street parties on the 16th. E-mail: email@example.com Web: http://www.agp.org/
Radical alternative to Eurosummit and its corporate agenda in Cardiff. Mass cycle blockade, demos, workshops, street events, parties and other surprises. Info: 0171 2729333, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/5581/
Talking of local elections...
London Greenpeace (no relation), who were sued by McDonalds in the McLibel 2 trial (issue 79), were infiltrated by a Mcdonalds employed security firm headed by ex- chief superintendent Nicholson. Nicholson has now retired from McDonalds and is standing for the Tories in Greenwich on May 7th. Wanna rant? His office is 0181 850 2880.
Those sexy tree sitters from the Kingston Campaign have formed The Kingston Poplar Front to stand in the By-Election. Their Manifesto? "That the council be represented by someone from each street thereby establishing a greater degree of democracy": info 0181 287 31182
If you witnessed any of the arrests on Saturday, phone the SchNEWS office as soon as you can - (01273) 685913 - or write to Box A, Arjuna, 12 Mill Road, Cambridge CB1 2AD. Your call is confidential, and you could earn a Community Action Trust reward. (Er - actually, you couldn't. But helping out those being fucked over by the police is its own reward).
- A friend
John who died of cancer last week was one of the beautiful people, involved in the Stonehenge Campaign, for which he campaigned tirelessly for 20 years. More recently he was involved in the Rainbow Centre, Wandsworth Eco-Village and Dead Womens Bottom.
Aldermaston Women's Peace Camp: Every 2nd weekend of the month, outside the atomic weapons establishment in Berkshire. May 9th: Welfare Before Warheads, (a women only event) calling for a nuclear free world without war and arms! More info 0170 355 4434 or 0122 2396563. Bring usual tents, instruments and sense of humour!!
Menwith Hill Women's Peace Camp: always stuff happening. 01943 468593.
Sellafield Women's Peace Camp: Bi-monthly camp. The next weekend of actions is on 24-25 May. More info 0141 226 5066 or 0113 262 1534.
Alvis: Camped in Coventry outside the company that sells Scorpion tanks to Indonesia. Regular events including music nights on Thursdays. Aiming to get a permanent office through a local housing co-op. Get down there and give yer support! Info 01926 338805 or 0336 774113.
Birmingham Northern Relief Road: 27 miles of private toll motorway to campaign against. Excellent local support. The local vicar is going for the Guinness Book of Records for the longest sermon. According to an old law, a vicar cannot be interrupted whilst preaching, and so during the eviction he will be reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation as his basic text - the pulpit is presently being constructed up one of the trees! Site on 07970 932224 for directions/details or a copy of the campaign newsletter.
Nottingham: contact 01636 679979 or 0467317649 for details as to what's happening.
Derby: Anti-Road protest through inner-city green space. Benefit Gigs - 9th May, Victoria Inn, 7.00pm, Life on Venus/Spiral Towers (site band) plus others. Lots going on at site, excellent local support. Contact 07970-318397 for details/directions/happenings.
Crystal Palace: On the highest hill in London, this site is gaining fantastic local support. Southwark Council, together with three neighbouring councils, have joined in opposing this inner-city destruction. Lots of building and digging continues in order to ensure that the £56m, 20 screen mutliplex cinema complex (with parking for 1000 cars!), doesn't get off the drawing board. Wanna get there? By train to Crystal Palace station, by tube to Brixton then No3 bus. Details etc. 0181 7617826.
Bingley Bypass: Still awaiting decision by John Prescott. In desperate need of bodies, so get there. Contact 01274 504626 for details/directions etc..
Bangor: contact 01248 351541 or 0836 563980 for details e-mail: email@example.com - the camp is protesting against a greenbelt housing development.
Ashton Court, Bristol: 20 acre quarry extension into Ashton Court public park. 0467 430211.
Last week on the Macintoshes? Bibi "Orchard" and "Meadow"!
SchNEWS, PO Box 2600, Brighton, BN2 2DX, England
Last updated 18 May 1998
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