OPEN HOUSE

So, returning to the Cuts Cafe blog to shout out about a rather exciting space….. Open House 2013. It’s a 9 day squatted space, for organising around housing issues. It opened on Sunday, and runs until next Sunday, with afternoons & evenings chock full of workshops, skillshares, talks, discussions, films, dinner, cups of tea….

Their website tells you all you need to know.

“Open House is a nine-day space (12th – 19th May) in Elephant & Castle that will bring together people facing the housing crisis across London to organise and take action around our collective housing needs. Whether you’re a council tenant facing the bedroom tax or a squatter threatened with eviction, a private renter dealing with a dodgy landlord or a member of a housing co-op fighting to survive – this space is for you.

We aim to work with a wide range of groups and individuals organising around housing to build on what is already happening, facilitate a hub to share stories and tactics, and create a platform for future co-ordinated action.

Open House will have a practical focus on what we can do to reclaim housing and the city. It will involve over a week of workshops, talks, events, exhibitions and games on a range of issues, including (but not limited to) the bedroom tax, housing benefit changes, ‘the rents are too high’, eviction resistance, gentrification, redevelopment, who owns the city, access to land resources, repeal of section 144, Traveller rights, community growing and much much more.

This includes facilitating the continued formation a radical housing coalition, involving different groups working together to share resources, support fellow projects and organise joint relevant housing campaigns and actions.”

http://openhouse2013.com/

Unions doing community organising

This was a session from a Unite the Union organiser, talking about a new community membership project they’ve launched.

In their own words, they want to invite “those not in employment into the union family” to provide “a way people can find and use their political voice”.

The logistics:

  • Costs 50p/week to join (diminished union subs)
  • Promoted within community e.g. noticeboards, leafletting at job centres
  • People “not in employment” welcome: students (over 16 year old), unemployed people, retired people, etc.

Good points of the scheme:

It’s led locally. Unite realised that their way of working (“service user involvement”) wasn’t enough, and are working to try and change that.

They have a lot of resources that local unresourced groups would appreciated e.g. legal training, language courses, national reach with its voice.

Criticisms of the scheme:

Unite think of it as a community scheme, but in reality it doesn’t look like one: it’s not bottom-up either in origin or in structure, and it costs money. It’s hard to imagine an organisation as big as Unite successfully adapting to all local diversities.

Workplace organising will always be front and centre for Unite, which may affect how they interact with local groups. Community members will still be lesser members than workplace members e.g. they’ll be able to join some union committees, but not the workplace-specific ones.

Unite can’t have the purest intentions here that other community groups would – for example, one of their measures of success is more people joining their workplace groups. Sketchy intentions! What if a group launched a campaign against a company Unite don’t want to openly attack? Would the groups split off and become autonomous?

As most the participants are unemployed people, it may have been more effective to launch an unemployment union (cf. one organiser’s description of the scheme as “aims to unionise the unwaged”). With the current structure, people would have to leave their community group if they got employment, which wouldn’t be a problem with a parallel union structure.

What is Plan C?

Plan A = austerity

  • Austerity is the same policies as neoliberalism (cf. War on Want talk)
  • Deregulation meant banks could give out more credit to the Global North. This covered for the fact that wages were staying still or falling… for at least a bit.
  • Long struggles in the Global North and Global South left few ‘safe bets’ for investment other than housing. When housing stopped giving good returns… crisis.

Plan B = “saving” the economy

  • Government intervention in markets to increase demand and create jobs.
  • All plans (from Green New Deal to VAT reduction) still centre on profit logic, competition for scarce jobs, etc.
  • The New Deal came about because of the labour organisation at the time, nor directly repeatable without a similar level of organisation (and also it was built around exploitation of Global South resources, women etc.)

Plan C = the way forward

  • People are dissatisfied with old political movements because they’re no longer structured to make political gains…
  • …so there is a need for any organisation that wants to be successful to devise proper strategies and plans to make austerity (a) costly (b) impossible
  • Proper planning really lacking on the radical left. Plans should be concrete, achievable, flexible plans.
  • In times of austerity, it’s even more important to address the societal rifts that capitalism creates (race, class, gender). It’s not as simple as just shouting slogans to “unite!”
  • There’s not a single strategy to move forward. Multiple strategies.
  • Create antagonistic alternatives, not just mini-utopias – go after the state and appropriate its infrastructure.
  • Should critique what counts as politics e.g. a creche for October 20th, can’t do politics on the street without considering child-care.
  • Does the group you’re in have a chance of winning? If not, what group would?
  • A single-issue campaign, no matter how intersectional its analysis, still isn’t enough on its own. Needs good linking up between a wide variety of groups.
  • Fears raised about how running public services may play into the Big Society. Solutions: (a) no-one cares about the Big Society, so don’t worry (b) as long as you keep apart from the state terms e.g. commodification and marketisation.

About Plan C

  • Membership is based in activity, no forms
  • Experimenting with non-standard organisational form
  • Not a vanguard!

Women of Colour in the Global Women’s Strike

On Tuesday we were blessed with the presence of three women campaigners talking about the Global Women’s Strike and in particular proposed new legislation from the US fighting for wages for house work and caring.

Below you can view the livestream. Apologies for the poor phone-quality, my laptop wasn’t cooperating. It’s definitely still a good watch!

 

Capitalism: “We hit ya and we give ya some”

A guest blog post on capitalism, globalisation and cyber-atomisation by a friendly by the name of Fulano de Tal.

 

Capitalism: “We hit ya and we give ya some[1]

One of the core contradictions of capitalism since its earliest phase of ‘primitive accumulation’ has been the need to bring together disparate individuals and populations while maintaining their atomisation and isolation from each other. For example, in the 19th century industrial cities of Britain, this entailed dispossession of the indigenous rural poor by means of land enclosure etc, and the importation of overseas labour, specifically from Ireland, while bringing together unprecedented numbers of hungry people in one place, namely the early modern city. In these circumstances, the potential for proletarian cohesion was undermined by conditions of grinding deprivation on the one hand, which made individuals’ and families’ physical survival an absolute priority, and on the other, the promotion of racism and sectarianism among the English and directed towards the Irish.[2]

 

Such aggregation gave industrial enterprises ready access to high volumes of ‘living labour’, ie, workers, but also generated an anxiety and a genuine risk in relation to the power of large, insurrectionary populations. Hence the promotion of conditions that prioritised individualism and the creation of sub-group identities based on ethnicity, culture, and religious persuasion.

 

This early tendency of capitalism to ‘bring the world together’ was presciently noted by Marx, and what is now labelled ‘globalisation’ has continued to develop as both symptom of and catalyst for the wider advancement and sophistication of the capitalist project. In particular, we note it as a feature of cyber-communication, which eliminates space far more effectively than the telephone or air travel, and enables instant communication among groups and individuals across the globe.

 

As a telling aside, we should note the sense of palpable unfairness evident in complaints by the British police following the summer 2011 riot wave that, for the first time on this scale, the communication technology available to rioters was more sophisticated than that of the State.

 

It could be argued that, when weighed in the overall balance of profit and loss to capital, such local defeats are worth conceding when compared with the opportunities for profit maximisation supplied by the increased mobility that cyber-technology offers corporations across the planet. However, there is some schadenfreude to be had by watching the contortions of the Chinese state in its attempts to stop the air escaping from the punctures to the balloon of communication caused by internet access.

 

Leaving aside such ham-fisted attempts to suppress free(r) communication, how does capital otherwise ensure that the ‘gift’ of cyber-communication carries out the functions of a Trojan horse? The short answer is that cyber-technology refines the capitalist process of atomisation by promoting the role of the image over the object to a degree unimaginable, say, in 1945. Even Guy Debord, master theoretician of the Situationist International, would have been likely to raise a wry toast of “touché” to these recent developments.

 

People travel in order to bring back footage of their destinations rather than to experience what they are filming. Friends meet up in order to spend an evening texting absent third parties to tell them about what they are [not] doing. Individualism is further advanced by the trivialisation evident in much cyber-communication.

 

When all that people spend their spare time doing is communicating, there is nothing to communicate. For example, my teenage daughter watches a US blog site called “What is in my purse?”, whose content is also symptomatic of the fact that when there is nothing else to recount about one’s life, all one can talk about is the nature of one’s commodities.

 

This is not an argument either in favour of stodgy localism or against technology. Instead, it advocates a judicious use of the latter in the service of the human project, where communication will be unmediated in order to deserve the designation of the term.

 

Fulano de Tal


[1] From lyrics to Rebel without a Pause, Public Enemy.

[2] It is believed that the first Orange Lodge in England was established in Manchester, followed by Liverpool.

P.I.I.G.S United Against Cuts

EU flag with pigs for starsPortugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain – the PIIGS, they call us. The financial markets coined it, mainstream media echo it to scorn all of us who supposedly deserve the punishment of austerity.

Yet, this veil of national stereotyping only conceals who they really mean to pay for the crisis of their making: workers, precarious youth, students, pensioners, the elderly, the disabled. In short, the victims of capital, those who don’t live and swear by it, those who the ruling elites despise in each and every country. Nationality only changes their tools and timing of oppression. It is high time that we, citizens of these countries living in the UK, take this insult into our own hands and turn it against its creators. Not as a statement of national pride, but as a realisation that oppression knows no national boundaries. We must stand together to have a chance of defeating it.

We live in the UK by choice or (increasingly) by necessity, driven out of our countries by the chaos wreaked by austerity. In the UK we find the same logic in a different terrain. Abolition of basic layoff protection over there, George Osborne’s sell out of employee rights for company shares over here; rushed privatization of public services over there, gradual dismantling of the NHS over here. Everywhere around, the same puppet governments in the hands of big business, the same troika-style austerity policies no one voted for. Madrid said it to the world: they do not represent us!

Dismal as present politics are, a crude anti-politics is not the solution. Not all politicians are necessarily corrupt, not all parties necessarily equal. Equal at this point is their impotence to stop this assault destroying our working conditions, our schools, our hospitals, our cities, our hopes, our future. We must deepen participation to overcome their representation of impotence. We must discover European-wide measures to counter the divide-and-conquer tactics pitting national oppressions against each other in a race to the bottom. Regulation of offshores, selective defaults on big creditors, higher taxation for the richest, investment on green sustainable technologies — the possibilities are immense.

Why should we demonstrate in the UK? Because the struggle is now everywhere. The mainstream politicians and interests ruling our countries for so long must be combated at home, but they are as much inept puppets as they are willing executioners of forces above them. Many of the decisions destroying our lives are now taken in Brussels, Wall Street, the City of London. We do not forget those who take them, we will chase them where they are, just as our friends at home won’t forget their willing executioners.

First it was the Greeks, but everything was alright, because we were not like the Greeks. Then came the Irish, but we were not like the Irish. Then Portugal, now Spain, soon Italy, next?… As each and every illusion collapses, we realize we really are all in this together. Victims of capital in the PIIGS-farm, victims in the UK, in the whole world. Our enemies put us together as an insult. Let us take it as a call. Let them reap the storms they have sown.

PIIGS United in London are joining the Coalition of Resistance on the TUC’s march on the 20th of October against cuts. PIIGS United in London will be saying ‘enough is enough’ to cuts, austerity and mastery of corporations and banks of the masses’s lives. (their Facebook event)

Pensioners and miners’ strikes (Wed 17 Oct)

Greater London Pensioners’ Association

As a group, they’ve been working for 38 years for better healthcare, better pensions, and a better more dignified life.

Key points:

  • Blair and Labour since 1997 are just “closet Tories” and have been as bad as Thatcher for pensioners.
  • Unions have always struggled for occupational pensions, but not on state pensions (to live with dignity), so pensioners had to pick up the campaign.
  • Fuel poverty affects single parents as well as pensioners. It’s not just ice on the windows – under 10 degrees means people are too cold to regulate their own body temperature.
  • It’s never been as bad as now for working people in living memory, especially given how many cuts are yet to come.
  • What we need to focus on: ignore the small differences that split the left, and untie on common issues e.g. fuel poverty. Need to vote the current government out, build grassroots movements to push society in more positive direction.
  • What can be done: direct action – stealing fuel, taking warm buildings, fuel bill strikes (like successful rent strikes in 70s as long as there’s sustained pressure)

Action on Saturday 27 October, meeting in Stratford shopping centre at noon by Primark and Disney. Young people appreciated!

Ken Loach

  • Until the miners’ strike, the worker’s movement in the UK was long undefeated. Thatcher ruined the communal solidarity by breaking unions: removing subsidies leading to mass unemployment, reducing union subs; provoked weaker unions into strikes that could be broken, and only going for the strong miners’ union when there were no other unions to support them.
  • The TUC did nothing to help the miners’, and they’re not doing enough to help workers now. It’s up to us, not them!
  • If you’re successful, people will try and coopt your organisation, so make sure its resistant to it – no (charismatic) leaders, accountable bottom-up leadership.
  • Q: What to do without strong unions?
    A: Partly models like Cuts Cafe, support the better and more grassroots unions like the RMT or PCS, more support in unions for younger people, community organising, militant “single-issue” groups e.g. DPAC.
  • Q: how can we move forward?
    A: Learn from past mistakes (e.g. vanguardist Leninism), try out new structures, and maintain radicalism in our collectiveness.
  • Q: is there chance the tradition of folk music will come back in the UK?
    A: it still exists now, but it demeaned by popular culture. It didn’t come out instantly during the miners’ struggle, but they were driven into it. Comes from struggle, comes from hope.

Interviews with speakers from Monday

We did some interviews with speakers on Monday, and here they are. I think they’re summarising their events, but they may do more or less or different, I can’t check because Ken Loach is talking and I don’t have earphones! Bon appetit.

Chris – Biofuel Watch from Cuts Cafe TV on Vimeo.

 

Ewa – Unite & Cuts Café on organising your workplace. From Cuts Cafe TV on Vimeo.

 

Sara Callaway, GWS : Women of Colour in the Global Women’s Strike. From Cuts Cafe TV on Vimeo.

 

James – Radical London from Cuts Cafe TV on Vimeo.

La Vie est Belle à Cuts Café

Experience last weekend at Cuts Café with us, float around our amazing reclaimed space, from sun-kissed rooftop to the focused energy of our events rooms.

Hear some thoughts from participants, organisers, speakers. Remember your (all too?) brief time here, or wish you could have made it.

N.B. the video’s only actually 7 minutes long, the last 50 minutes are… well, nothing. Don’t be scared by the length!

cuts cafe bon from Cuts Cafe TV on Vimeo.

TRANSCRIPT OF THE VIDEO

[Deep voice] So… The Cuts Cafe has been open… since… er, two weeks before the TUC demonstration was when the space was opened by a lot of people but the space hasn’t been open for events until Thursday just gone, so four days after the space was opened. Er… because we wanted to make sure that the space was fully accessible before we started holding events and workshops. We’ll, like, since that’s happened, we’ve been doing two full days of workshops and events so far and all of them have been really well attended. We’ve had about 100 people through the doors on the first day, about the same sort of number, maybe a little bit more, on yesterday, the Friday. Today, we’ve got an eight hour session on capitalist economics which people have still turned up to, an eight hour session, on a Saturday on some really dense economic theory and that still brought ten people. So, I think it’s going pretty well. So, this has been organised by a group of people, it’s not been organised by a trade union or a pre-existed campaign group. It’s been organised by a lot of people that were united around the, united around the worry that the anti-cuts movement was getting a bit separated, so we thought it’d be good if the two weeks coming up to the TUC demonstration we would have a space where people could come together and talk to other bits of the movement that they don’t normally talk to; like, there’s loads of local anti-cuts groups in London but they don’t necessarily talk to each other that much and trying to get those sort of projects working so that the TUC demonstration on the 20th of October wasn’t the end. [indeterminate poetry, laughing, talking, applauding open mic poets]

[chanting from audience] Cuts! Cuts! Cuts!
[poet] Bleed! Bleed! Bleed!
[audience] Bleed! Bleed! Bleed!
[poet] Stop! Stop! Stop!
[audience] Stop! Stop! Stop!
[poet] Fight! Fight! Fight!
[audience] Fight! Fight! Fight!

[Poet] You tell me when’s the last time we cut out a recession? How do you treat a failing heart by doing a dissection? The thoughts in our heads will dry up, don’t you know, if you kill imagination by cutting the blood flow [makes a money gesture with right hand]. Thousands of us marched just to get our voice heard but you BEAT us and kettle us to tame us like a herd. And why are you so surprised when we yell, ‘off with their heads!’? Unless you have the monarchy pay for us instead. This thing called democracy is rotten to the core – [cuts to applause]

[Close up of a woman's face as she speaks] How do we envisage a future that works? That actually works as an alternative to the one we’re now facing. And then everybody, erm, will have a cardboard box [she lifts a small, plain brown box cut in half], we’re preparing those at the moment. And on the inside of that cardboard box everyone will create their impression of a future that works.

[deep voice from beginning, voice over] It’s really important that people who are coming together from different parts of the anti-cuts movement, that’s one side of it, is people that were already engaged in the anti-cuts movement. And it’s important that those people are coming together and talking and making sure that they are sharing resources and working together and planning campaigns together and all that sort of stuff. And the other side of it is, those people that are being affected by the cuts but that aren’t involved in what would classically be classed as action against the cuts. So it’s trying to get people that basically- people that hate the cuts, they know they hate the cuts and the sort of know why they hate the cuts, to come in and give them a space where outside of the daily work and looking after kids and all that sort of stuff, giving them a space where they can actually think about it. So, I think, the energy of the space has been really good so far. It was, there was a problem initially in the first few days because, obviously, we had a space where we had events scheduled and we weren’t- we decided, we actively decided to not put them on because the space wasn’t accessible and we didn’t want events that not everybody could get to  because that’s not really what we’re about. The phrase we keep using is that if you can’t get a wheelchair in, it’s not my revolution. The energy is really good. I think, one of the good things is the fact that the space is non-hierarchically organised, means that a lot of people have been coming in and just getting involved. So for the whole time that the Cuts Cafe is on we’re having, we’re gonna try to have a general meeting every day at 9pm. We’re gonna try and also document all the events that are happening, we’re gonna be putting them all up online. There’s going to be audiostreams and summary blog posts and guest blog posts from other people that have been affected by the cuts and we’re gonna be doing all sorts of stuff.

But also, crucially, the other aspect is coming down to the space and getting involved. We’ve got such a wide range of events on. You can read the whole events list which is constantly being updated on our website. You should come down, you should check us out, you should read stuff on our blog, you should follow us on facebook, you can sign up to our email list but, if you can get down to some of our events, the ones that we’ve done so far have been really good and we’ve still got another week of events which are all going to be amazing – we’ve got Ken Loach coming, we’ve got loads of events on, like, social media and how to use it in campaigning, we’ve got practical things, we’ve got organising workshops, we got talks, we got discussions, we got film showing and there’s a lot of shit going on; there’s probably something there that everybody would like. So, come on down.

[quiet speaker answering a question] … the Palestinians for decades now, using them as human shields, so you can see a lot of this transfer, the fight back gets harder and I think we need to start studying it a bit more…

[Different speaker] I think it basically speaks for itself but it’s really only a real glimpse of the horrors that, er, y’know, our family’s been through the last four years, um, I think I said that, y’know, you kind of expect that they would go into action and do what needs to be done to kind of bring, er, y’know, any culprits or anyone that’s done anything wrong to justice. And, oh, obviously that was a huge shock, er, when we find that they do nothing or they do the right things and then the evidence, which they have collected, er that, which came to light in the inquest

Download: covered%20by%20shuffling%20and%20a%20cough%20in%20the%20audience

Erm, but all the evidence was basically there, y’know, er, and we, we became investigators and very skilled investigators as well by the end of that time. Erm, so, y’know, a lot of experience that we gained we’ve tried to pass that on to other families through united with friends and family campaign, which Ken [speaker looks to man in next to him] and others set up a few years ago.

[cut to question from audience] What sort of system for investigating the police do you personally think would work?

[speaker and man next to him (Ken?) are now seated] What we want is what you would expect in any, er, criminal investigation, murder investigation or someone dying in suspicious circumstances which is, er, good quality, robust investigators, y’know, that that basically will leave, leave no stone unturned, will follow the leads until the end. [cut] The stuff that was in there that, omitted is the crucial stuff, is the evidence on them and the IPCC listened to the tapes, they, they heard them themselves and if I’m able to pick it out, how come they can’t pick it out? [cuts to Ken?] …coming and talking and sharing, I think that’s the main thing for us to get together and organise, that’s how we change. So thank you, all of you. [New voice, off screen] And I think some dinner’s being cooked downstairs so…

[Loud traffic noise as picture cuts to an outside scan of the building, homemade banner that says 'cuts cafe' hanging from a window]

 

Housing action, community organising (Mon 15 Oct)

HOUSING ACTION

  • Who was there: Different housing movements came together to discuss their campaigns and how to draw them together. Including Squash (resisting the criminalisation of squatting), Digs (private renters in Hackney), Housing Solidarity (direct action against exploitative letting agents), Housing for the 99% (building a coordinated housing movement), Eviction Resistance, Private Tenants Action Group Haringey, Lewisham People Before Profit, Squatters Legal Network and more.
  • What’s happening: online map of long-term empty buildings and who owns them; landlord rating website for Hackney; inspections on letting agents in Haringey (about reference checks and how much each agency pays); housing session at the Up the Ante event in December.
  • Outcome of the meeting: plan to form a coalition to share updates and news, support on fellow projects, sharing resources. Meeting to discuss on Saturday 17 November at Pembroke House (Heygate Estate). Campaign to maybe focus on include filling empties, rent caps, security of tenure/tenancy for life, and building council housing.

RADICAL LONDON ON COMMUNITY ORGANISING

When the cuts started to hit, loads of borough-based anti-cuts groups started up, made up of Labour, Green Party, trade unions, anarchists, Trotskyists, etc., but a lot disintegrated after a while when they didn’t have any sustained successes.

They largely failed because they were made up from a number of pre-established groups coming together for a time-bound campaign, and didn’t have a solid community grounding.

It’s part of a wider problem – most activists only engage in single-issue campaigns or broader coalitions. Little effort is put into the long hard work of community organising.

What community organising is:

  • Building a sense of community before embarking on any other campaign.
  • Using the strength of the community to work on community-related issues e.g. housing, cuts.
  • finding the key issues that motivate your neighbours regardless of political allegiance e.g. housing problems with landlord
  • “people against politics”
  • working with people that don’t share your politics, so to show your politics you have to put it into practice
  • going deep into a community
  • a tool to use, alongside workplace organising and single-issue campaigning (either like environmentalism or within a specific identity), to struggle for change.

What community organising isn’t:

  • Just a single-issue campaign
  • Just skimming off the local lefties for your organisation
  • Like workplace organising where there’s a background (uniting to struggle and protect rights) for people to understand. You need to build the background up yourself.
  • Just resistance – it’s building the future we want to live in
  • Necessarily good e.g. community can have negative connotations (small suffocating village communities, the idea of fixed communities exclusive to travellers), and organisations can be bad (racist! fascist!)
  • better or worse than workplace organising (it’s just more neglected in the UK)
  • the same as American community organising (cf. Saul Alinsky) though there are obviously elements to learn from over the pond

Problems with community organising:

  • Not feeling a part of the community. Solution: get fuckin’ involved (local governor for a school, trustee for local charity, volunteering, campaign groups)
  • Gentrification forcing up house prices and meaning people can’t afford to stay put
  • Getting disheartened with endless meetings about potholes, dog-shit and CCTV
  • Dealing with racism/sexism etc. (given moralism/hyper awareness of such issues amongst activist cliques). Solution: deal with as one person to another, not as an enlightened moral agent bringing down the word of Righteousness. Make sure you’re always aware of what your identity (e.g. as an open anarchist) makes people assume about you, and how that’ll colour what you say.
  • If there’s no pre-established solidarity group, then either
    (a) join other local groups
    (b) find 5-10 other people and start a group (Radical London in Londonn a good network to be in)

There’ll be a session with more practical tips on how at the anarchist bookfair