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Anarchist Federation (Notts.) Monthly Review: October 2012

This is the first of our monthly round-ups of events and views on issues local and national. The idea is to give readers a flavour of what we are about on a more informal level than just reading our publications. So, what do Nottingham AF get up to….?

The weekend of Saturday 6th and Sunday 7th had us at one of our Federation Delegate Meetings. At these, AF meetings groups send delegates from their groups to communicate the decisions taken by their groups to the national level. The decisions relate to proposals put to the national organisation by groups and individuals. We organise through ‘direct democracy’. This is different from ‘representative democracy’ which is how most political parties and other organisations run, and how the country is run. Instead of electing a representative to make decisions for us, who we can only remove at an election whether or not they do what we have elected them to do, we choose delegates for that meeting specifically, and they only have the authority to carry out their groups’ wishes and would be instantly recalled if they went beyond this mandate. Likewise people carrying out national officer roles can be recalled instantly if they fail to carry out their roles or go beyond them. This allows the membership to control the organisation without installing a layer of people with executive decision-making powers, limiting the possibility of corruption or the creation of formal or informal power-bases (we think that the latter tend to emerge where there is no formal structure of activist or anarchist groups).

Using these methods we took decisions on matters including developing our theoretical base, what to put in our propaganda, what campaigns we want to be part of nationally (although individual groups do not have to follow national decisions if they have other priorities), how to involve new members better and increase their confidence levels, what events to arrange, how best to involve ourselves in workplace organisation, the meetings we would be involved in at the London Anarchist Bookfair (below), how to further the development of the anarchist movement’s ‘safer spaces’ initiatives, how to address current press interest in Anarchism.

Wednesday 10th was when the Nottingham members branch of the Industrial Workers of the World held a meeting at the New Mechanics Institute. Entitled ‘Change at Work’, it featured national speakers who are addressing the question of involving ‘precarious’ workers. This refers to the growing ranks of workers with little or no job security, poor terms and conditions, and even no proper contracts, including those forced into employment that is illegal or semi-legal. With all of this always goes low pay. Workers represented by the IWW speakers include workers at Pizza Hut (cooks, restaurant staff and delivery people) and cleaners at Brunel University in London. The aim of the IWW is to get people working in the same industry and workplace to organise together rather than to be divided by trade and rank as they are in modern trade unions. Some of the AF in Nottingham are in the IWW, as well as their trade unions where they are workers, and some are students in the IWW and involved in training workplace activists.

The weekend of the 13th and 14th was the Nottingham Beer Festival. Anarchists do have the odd night off! We joined friends, colleagues and other anarchists and collective members and users of the Sparrows’ Nest for a few pints. This has become a bit of a tradition. It was busier than ever and good fun and a nice change from pub culture.

On Wednesday 17th we didn’t manage to attend Nottingham Against Workfares’s demonstration at the Station St. Job Centre. But this is a really important campaign and anarchists are throwing their weight behind it. There have already been a few events that we’ve taken part in as well. There will be more events so watch this space and the campaign’s Facebook site for dates and more information.

Saturday 20th saw us on the national TUC demonstration against Austerity. We turned out nationally and marched with our work colleagues and in the Radical Workers’ Bloc. It’s difficult to see what these marches are achieving. They aren’t even building support for the unions, let alone leaving the government and its capitalist pals quaking in their boots. The traditional labour movement has been weakened by years of sell-outs by bureaucrats, career-builders and leaders compromising with bosses rather than fighting for their members. Everyone knows this but it seems impossible for a real fight to emerge without it being sapped of energy by the established Left who are apologists for capitalism. Anarchists see this as terminal situation.

We discuss the unions and their role in our publications – we don’t see them as reformable. We work in them and with militants in out workplace for what concessions we can, but we don’t see them as vehicles for the transformation of society. We have tried to work with their most radical and committed members in local campaigns, most recently Notts save Our services. This group has collapsed since Anarchists left it after it was hijacked by the most manipulative and reformist elements of the Left handed over its support to the Labour Party. Recent Trades Council activity in Notts. appears to have been to help leverage more than £10k for negative campaigning against Anna Soubry (Broxtowe MP, now ‘Junior Health Minister’ AKA Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health). To do this a specially formed organisation Broxtowe Save Our NHS now exists. ‘Save our Labour Party’ more like.

Saturday 27 was the annual London Anarchist Bookfair. This vast event sees several thousand anarchists and those interested in Anarchism attend a day-long event held at Queen Mary University in London. This year the Anarchist Federation and individuals in it ran and spoke in 7 meetings. They were on ‘Self-Management’ within our movement, which is a central tenet of Anarchism. Also on the Saint-Imier international event this Summer that we had attended, and see the new issue of our paper Organise!). And on ‘Privilege Theory’, which is a way of theorising and undermining unequal power relationships within radical movements, which we are evaluating for its usefulness. In addition we participated in a round-table discussion on Class Struggle, along with the Solidarity Federation and Industrial Workers of the World. We also hosted a meeting on behalf of the Anarchist Black Cross of Belarus to gather support for its political prisoners, four of which are Anarchists (Belarus remains a dictatorship in spite of the collapse of the Soviet Union and there is no freedom to organise against legally, so those willing to act against its state need our support). We also hosted a meeting to build support for those working for a Woman’s Right to Choose whether or not to have an abortion in the Republic of Ireland, where it is almost impossible to get one and richer people travel abroad to get one, but most women are forced to bring unwanted children into the World. In addition we ran a large stall selling our propaganda and teeshirts and hoodies designed by us in Nottingham and took more money than ever before, which we plough back into our publications and into solidarity work. The following day we went on a tour of the Anarchist East End with a London member who is an Anarchist historian from our London group. Quite an eye opener!

We also launched the issue #79 of our paper Organise! at the bookfair:
See you in November!

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Everything we’ve won: they want it back!

The following is the text of a leaflet given out in Nottingham in March 2011 around the time of the City and County Council budget setting meetings. The full leaflet can be found below and as an attached PDF: Everything we have won they want it back [PDF].

Anarchist organisations such the Anarchist Federation are active against the cuts and wider austerity measures internationally. Here we set out the way that we see the cuts in Britain in the context of the build-up for the TUC’s forthcoming March for the Alternative on 26th March in London.
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Nottingham Against Austerity

Sorry we’ve been away for a while! Since publishing Organise! # 75 and Resistance #127 nationally, as the AF’s first major statements on what lay ahead for the working class under the ConDems, we haven’t paused for breath, to tell you the truth. Here’s a little of what’s been going on…

Where to start? Let’s start with the students!

Last week on Tuesday 30th November, 150 students began an occupation at the University of Nottingham in the Great Hall of the Trent Building. The demands of Nottingham Students Against Cuts and Fees are those of thousands of students occupying universities throughout Britain: scrap the fees and stop the cuts, because we simply don’t believe that there is no alternative.

On Friday 3rd December the occupation was temporarily suspended after the Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Greenaway climbed down and agreed to debate with students in a public meeting that took place tonight (Monday 6th December). This is the first time that senior management at the university has been forced to take the students demands about fees and cuts seriously.The meeting was controversial in that only people who could produce University of Nottingham I.D. were allowed in by the university security. As students speaking from the floor pointed out, it is sixth form and college students who will be affected by the increase in top-up fees, and they should be allowed to have their say. Still, the UoN students put forward the views of the younger students who had come to support the occupation.

The V.C. said that he believes that Higher Education is a privilege, not a right. There isn’t enough money to pay for teaching it anymore, he also said, and so the people who will benefit from their own education have to pay for it themselves. He seemed to think that the students would disagree with his opinion, which they certainly did, but they also made it very clear that he was seriously missing the point. Education, to these students, is not primarily about how much they will earn in future; it is about engaging critically with the world, working out how it works and how to challenge it; it’s also about aspiring to work in notoriously low paid sectors, to do socially beneficial work. Several students were quite insulted about his assumption that we all want to get rich!

Another way in which Greenaway badly missed the point was in stressing several times that if Labour were in power, they’d be doing pretty much the same thing as the Tories and Lib Dems; also, that we already had top-up fees anyway, which were introduced by Labour! Er…we know that! Did he really think he had a couple of hundred Labour voters in sitting in front of him, blissfully unaware of what has been going on these past years? In fact, not one single student responded to vindicate Blair and Brown and, as one pointed out, the fact that they all have the same policy is why nobody bothers to vote!

These students refuse to believe that what is taking place is anything other than ideological; the turning over of education to neo-Liberal values and with instrumentalist aims for those entering it. This recession is a gift to the market. The students challenged the university management to stand up for education rather than for the market, although without illusions that it will. The V.C. in fact made it clear that, as he put it, “the die is cast”, and we just have to accept it.

Time to wake up and smell the coffee, Professor Greenaway!  These students aren’t the ones who will suffer if top up fees reach £6,000 or £9,000. They are taking action for tomorrow’s would-be students. M.P.s who think that voting this crap through on Thursday 9th will sort things out once and for all, should be shaking in their boots. In Nottingham and nationally, the students are not going away. It’ll take more than the conveniently-timed end of term the next day to keep this lot distracted. They are self-organised, autonomous, motivated by a passion for social justice, and they are really fucking pissed off with people like you!

Prof. Greenaway, by your own admission you had access to a full-fees and maintenance grant, and you also had dole and housing benefit payments in the holidays when you were a student in Liverpool in the 1970s. Who are you to deny an education to people committed to funding themselves but not to lining bankers’ pockets? Who are you to threaten and cut jobs of staff through UoN’s trendy new ‘all in it together’ drive for austerity? Universities are supposed to be places where ideas are tested and contested. While you’re mulling it over Prof., and considering whether the students might have a point, think on to when the university will be re-occupied after the holiday! Have some respect for the students please, and this time  turn the heating and the internet in the Great Hall back on! You petty people are bosses and bullies, not educators.

Brilliantly, almost the first thing NSACF did was link up with the more Nottingham city-focussed campaigns at Nottingham Trent (previously with even less of a tradition of radicalism than UoN, if that’s possible), local FE college and sixth-form students, and even school kids themselves, the ones who all this is really about. These younger students are angry at threats to EMA. The Trent and F.E. students had called a demo in the Square and a march on Saturday 4th December, the perfect antidote to the sleet and slush, and the newly liberated UoN students turned up in force too.

The march joined up with the local campaign shaming Vodaphone and other massive tax-dodgers for one of the funniest ‘roaming demos’ we’ve been on in ages. Actually the static Vodaphone demo itself was excruciating in the extreme. We in the AF seem to have developed a speech impediment which won’t let us chant “They say Cut Back; We say Pay Tax”, even though we really want to be non-sectarian at the moment and have a good working relationship with everyone genuinely challenging the cuts. Maybe because that’s one of the most pathetically reformist and misleading slogans we’ve ever heard, and doesn’t genuinely challenge anything. Should we really be making out that if Vodaphone, Boots and Top Shop bosses paid their taxes the ConDems would halt their ideological attack on everyone they didn’t go to Public School with?

Luckily, the mood of the roaming demo itself was very naughty. Students and the rest of us marauded around the Victoria shopping centre for half an hour weaving in and out of the said shops, having a good laugh with shoppers, who definitely got the point, and probably helping out the shoplifters too by attracting all the security to us. Even the cops were laughing! (OK, we don’t want to make them laugh and want them to fuck off, but it was rather funny). The day was rounded off with a student assembly organised by the Trent students, where the amazing events that have recently taken place were analysed by people with all sorts of perspectives, and even better plans were made for the future.

This UoN and Nottingham Trent activity around fees and cuts began a couple of weeks back, but it hasn’t been the only action in the city. Nottingham Claimants’ Action has been formed, there’s a Sneinton Against the Cuts group, an Anarchists Against the Cuts and a really important campaign to save ESOL provision (English for Speakers of a Foreign Langauge).

But the biggest show in town is Notts. Save Our Services. This can tell its own story, with its extensive website being updated several times a day to bring information about its own and everyone else’s activity together. The highlight so far is the 1,100-strong demonstration in the city on November 20th and there’s a county-wide conference planned for January 15th. See its latest newsletter

Finally, the Tory-led County Council is embracing the cuts like they are a long-lost child, and made it plain as soon as they got their majority that they don’t give a shit about anyone else. But the Labour-led City Council have embarked on slashing jobs and services too, with shocking compliancy, apparently believing that everyone would buy that we are ‘all in this together’. Their first response to being challenged NOT to make cuts was to whine that it was illegal and that if they set a deficit budget they’d be taken to court. We said “So fucking what if you lose your houses and cars rather than of making thousands jobless, homeless and without support?” Now it turns out that legally they wouldn’t even face that!

Some Labour loyalists still don’t see that the Labour, Tory and Lib Dem councillors are pretty much as bad as each other when it comes down to it, except that the former are cowards into the bargain. They insist on playing down what JoCo & Co. are up to, as though it wasn’t as bad as Cutts & Co. Given that Notts AF all live and work in areas where it is Labour councillors who are calling the shots, we pledge to be the scourge of the Labour Group from here on….Just watch this space…and many others!

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