A few words on the fallout from Labour Against the Bedroom Tax

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combatbedroomtaxdirectactionLocal tenants’ groups have come under fire on social media after making their point to the Labour Party at today’s Liverpool Against the Bedroom Tax rally. I’ve made my point about this rally a couple of times now so I don’t need to go into the specifics of it here. The contempt shown by the speakers today towards the grass-roots campaign was unsurprising, despite them describing the rally as non-political. The presence of so many Labour councillors and MPs on the platform makes that look largely like bullshit.

It’s the nature of the criticism that is the key here. Their protestations of non-partisanship look completely ridiculous because of it. Accusations of people from the local campaigns “representing” certain unnamed groups, having agendas etc show that these people are incapable of conceiving of any group being formed by and led by those directly affected. They’re unable to grasp the fact that tenants can act independently of some political leadership, be it the Labour Party, the SWP or whoever and instead seem to think the working class are a mass of voiceless, thoughtless people to be led by the nose by a vanguard, answerable to the leadership of that vanguard.

Such a patronising attitude towards the working class is rife among the authoritarian left. But we can think for ourselves. We know when politicians and union brass are pissing down our backs and telling us it’s raining. They’ve been doing it for centuries. Yet when the working class refuses to play ball with these bastards we’re condemned as violent and divisive. Well Labour can get its own fucking ball. We’ll control our own struggles, thanks.

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Labour Party fails to co-opt grass-roots anti-Bedroom Tax campaigns in Liverpool

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291697_303482429780211_583067233_nToday in Liverpool finally saw the knights in shining armour from the local Labour Party riding into town to rescue the city’s working class from the clutches of the evil Tories. Or at least that’s how the Labour left would like to portray the situation. The reality, as they surely know, is very different.

Following the Labour snub to the local campaigns in Liverpool, feelings were running high among tenants who have been involved in campaigns in the city for many months and following the mass bans of angry tenants from the Labour event page on Facebook it was clear the platform wasn’t going to tolerate any deviation from the Labour line.

The grass-roots campaign groups from the south of the city met up a short distance away to march to the rally venue en masse and the numbers from the local campaigns easily matched what the Labour party was able to assemble. Word was passed around shortly after the march started that some local fascists had turned up to the rally and, sure enough, when we arrived a handful of them were trying to blend in with the people already at the venue.

This led to the frankly bizarre but not altogether surprising sight of Labour party stewards in high-visibility vests protecting the Nazis in their midst from being outed for what they were and being removed from the area. What kind of message does this send to any person from a minority group who might want to attend a demonstration in the future? Or is the Labour party that desperate to swell its ranks that it’s going to appeal to openly racist, homophobic scum like the boneheads who showed up today?

The rally itself was the usual mix of rhetoric and backslapping from the Labour-dominated platform with no ideas offered for actually fighting the bedroom tax beyond a petition. What is needed is true grass-roots and tenant-led organization around this and other issues. Tenants should have full ownership of their struggle. No single political group should be able to control and guide tenants in their struggles. At a national level, the Labour Party has already said it will not repeal the bedroom tax if they win the next election. They actually introduced the bedroom tax in the private sector in 2008 and planned to introduce it to social housing tenants if they won the last election. Where will this leave tenants in two years’ time, when victory in the general election will be achieved by the Labour Party and the tenants are no longer needed? As with those who fought against the poll tax, these people will be left up shit creek by the Labour Party.

But the bedroom tax can be fought. For the past several months in Liverpool, tenants have been very busy organizing local meetings, demonstrating at housing association offices and the town hall. There are community meetings happening regularly now in Dingle, Granby, Croxteth, Speke, Bootle, Garston and Norris Green as well as in Kirkby and on the Wirral and these meetings are looking at concrete ways in which tenants can support each other both locally and city-wide. Come along to one of the meetings.

Upcoming Combat the Bedroom Tax meetings:

Dingle: (with Canning): 7:30pm, 19th March, Tuesday, The Florrie, Mill St. https://www.facebook.com/events/621604334521498/

Croxteth: 7pm, Tuesday 19th March, Croxteth Sports Centre, Altcross Rd. https://www.facebook.com/events/407077996054093/

Garston: 7pm, Wednesday 20th March, Methodist Church Hall, Banks Road. https://www.facebook.com/events/171990246285054/

Clubmoor/Norris Green: 7pm, Thursday 21st March, Broadway Pub, Newhall Lane. https://www.facebook.com/events/149699518527768/

Granby: 7:30pm, Thursday 21st March, The Greenhouse, Tiber Street. https://www.facebook.com/events/150168538481226/

Kirkby: 7pm, Tuesday 19th March, Sacred Heart Club, Briery Hey Ave.

Wallasey: 7:30pm, Wednesday 27th March, Park View Social Club, Liscard Rd https://www.facebook.com/events/345521168881416/

There are also several other groups in Merseyside, including two in the Wirral and the large Stand Up in Bootle campaign.

A Public Assembly will be held on April 6th to bring all the various bedroom tax community groups together. Details to follow.

combatbedroomtax@gmail.com

The bedroom tax and Labour Party hypocrisy

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combatbedroomtaxdirectactionIn the past week, the Labour Party has launched its Labour Against the Bedroom Tax campaign nationwide, with its roots in Liverpool. It’s the usual Labour Party fare; sign a petition, display a poster. It offers no support for real action by tenants themselves and instead expects them to allow the Labour Party to lead them around by the nose. Meetings were called across the country without any contact being made with tenants groups or already existing campaigns.

The local Labour stooges in Liverpool can’t have failed to notice the momentum behind the Combat the Bedroom Tax campaign, a grassroots organization set up by tenants and their supporters following a mass meeting in the city in January. Indeed, the logo Labour’s campaign initially used was remarkably similar to one already in use by the grassroots campaign.

When the local Labour hierarchy were questioned by campaigners on their motivation for Labour Against the Bedroom Tax, why they had not bothered to contact the local campaign already in existence and where their logo came from, the party began deleting posts and banning people from their Facebook pages.

Their own post on their campaign Facebook page says it all really.

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This is a cynical attempt by the Labour Party to capitalize on the anger and frustration of social housing tenants in order to score a few “progressive” brownie points and win some votes at the next election.

Liverpool Mutual Homes, a Liverpool housing association, has been complicit in the bedroom tax fiasco, only offering a token dissenting opinion after their city centre offices were occupied by angry tenants a couple of weeks ago. They admit that people who can’t afford to pay the bedroom tax will be evicted from their homes. Two Labour councillors sit on the board of LMH, Irene Rainey and Sharon Sullivan. How do they square their position on the LMH board and LMH’s eviction policy with their party’s “opposition” to a bedroom tax for which their party helped pave the way?

Liverpool mayor and class-traitor extraordinaire Joe Anderson continues to bang on about building new housing stock by 2015, including 5000 new “affordable” homes. But what does “affordable” actually mean? The government defines affordable housing as housing that is let at 80% of market rent. Under the government’s new Affordable Rent scheme, new or re-let social housing stock can be let for up to 80% of the average market rent. According to housing charity Shelter, 44% of social housing tenants have a household income of under £10,000 a year. If this new “affordable” stock is let at 80% of market rent, a social housing tenant will need to be earning over £12,000 a year to be able to afford a studio apartment, just under £15,000 for a one-bed property, £18,000 for a two-bed property, almost £19,000 for a three-bed property and upwards of £24,000 for four or more bedrooms. So who is this new “affordable” housing stock affordable for?

In the north-west, average social housing rent in 2010 was £68.46 a week. The average market rent per week for a one-bed property in Liverpool is around £110. When housing authorities are allowed to charge 80% of market rent, the average rent for these new “affordable” properties will increase to around £88 per week. Clearly, new “affordable” housing stock will be much more expensive than the currently existing stock at a time when both benefits and wages are under sustained attack. Social housing tenants forced to move to this affordable stock because of the bedroom tax could face having to pay more total rent than before they were forced to move.

The Labour Party, by attempting to bypass the tenant-led campaigns in the city and censoring and banning tenants who point this out to them on their social media pages are making clear their contempt for social housing tenants as well as the real motive behind Labour Against the Bedroom Tax. Their campaign has no validity as long as they see themselves as leaders of tenants rather than allies of tenants and I’m sure this will be made clear to them over the coming weeks and months as tenants begin to feel the bite of the bedroom tax while the Labour Party does what it does best and abandons the working class to the wolves.

Figures from: Shelter, The Guardian, http://www.gov.uk and http://www.home.co.uk

Liverpool Against the Cuts occupy Liverpool City Council chamber

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Liverpool council chamber OCCUPIEDWhile delegates from Labour councils across the country met at the BT Convention Centre in Liverpool, likely at public expense, to discuss how best to implement cuts while keeping their council seats under the banner of “Austerity With Fairness”, members of Liverpool Against the Cuts, Birmingham Against the Cuts and comrades from across the country decided to forgo a police pen outside the Convention Centre in favour of occupying the council chamber inside the Town Hall, making it, temporarily at least, the People’s Chamber.

A group of activists gained entrance to the building and the chamber without much trouble and proceeded to drape banners and place placards around the room. Simultaneously, this statement was released online explaining the reasons for the occupation. After being aimlessly followed around by security staff for a short time, people began to make themselves at home, occupying the chairs behind the bench at the head of the chamber and draping them with flags.

Journalists and photographers from the Liverpool Echo and Radio Merseyside began to arrive soon afterwards, taking several pictures of banners and placards through the chamber windows and conducting several interviews with occupiers and comrades outside the building.

The police arrived after around half-an-hour and immediately began making ridiculous threats to arrest people for a breach of the peace. Everybody decided to stand their ground, prompting frantic radio talk from the police and a stand-off of around half-an-hour or so. Then the mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, arrived.

He made a show of reading the statement released earlier and then proceeded to attempt to lecture the occupiers about “living in the real world” and how he’d “been a socialist since before most of you had been born”. Anderson seems to have an odd idea of what socialism is, with his history of bragging about his exorbitant salary outside the town hall and repeatedly addressing protesters as scum.

Under a barrage of questions and criticism from the occupiers, and unable or unwilling to tell those in attendance who actually owned the town hall, Anderson beat a retreat from the chamber while threatening that the occupiers would soon be removed by force.

The occupiers refused to be bullied from the chamber and convened a meeting where it was decided that, with the point made and a few hours already spent in the chamber, and with very young children present, the occupation would be brought to a close.

The occupiers left peacefully and of their own volition, but not before one scowling council security guard attempted to pick a fight with one member of the group, confronting him in the corridor outside the chamber, shouting and jabbing his finger in the comrade’s face.

On leaving the town hall, the occupiers were greeted with cheers and applause from those assembled outside, where several banners had been hung in protest against both the austerity being imposed  by central government and against Labour councils attempting to portray themselves as victims of the cuts they are implementing on behalf of the Tories and Liberal Democrats. The real victims of austerity today decided that enough was enough.

It’s clear that this fight can’t be won while we rely on politicians of any party to offer token assistance to the working class. The working class, whether in or out of employment, whether young or old, in education or not, must come together. We are in the best position to solve our own problems. With his six-figure salary and chauffeur-driven limousine insulating him from the real effects of the cuts he is forcing on the working class of Liverpool, Joe Anderson today showed us why.

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The real truth

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After 23 years, the real truth about the Hillsborough disaster has finally been told with the release of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report. Its verdict, on the police in particular, is damning.

It was a spring day in April 1989 and the sun was about to set on over a decade of Thatcher’s iron rule of Britain, a period of war, civil unrest and government openly hostile to the working class. Many people had already paid the price for this. Hundreds more would pay today, ninety-six of them with their lives.

Thatcher had signalled her intent almost immediately on coming to office, approving a 45% pay rise for police forces nationwide. This was, without doubt, a calculated attempt to bring the police onside before her assault on workers across the country. The riots of the early ‘80s only strengthened her determination when it came to assuring the loyalty of “Maggie’s bootboys”.

A culture of unaccountability was being fostered among police forces across the country and this was best and most publicly illustrated by South Yorkshire Police. They had clashed violently with striking miners at the Orgreave coking plant in 1984, charging with mounted units and short-shield squads.  Police maintained they were attacked by striking miners and they retaliated in self-defence. 95 miners were charged with rioting. All 95 were acquitted as it became clear in court that police evidence was unreliable. But to Thatcher and the police, the miners were “the mob”.

The miners’ account of the events at Orgreave differed significantly from those of the police. The miners had been ushered into a field by the police and surrounded on three sides, with a railway line on the fourth side. Here they were attacked by mounted police units and police on foot wielding batons. Video footage of the day seems to support this version of events. The miners had been sitting or standing in small groups in that field in Orgreave. Some of them were playing a game to pass the time. The game was football.

Football was still essentially a working class game in Britain. Following a period in the game’s history littered with incidents of hooliganism, football fans were viewed with contempt by the country’s establishment and treated like animals by the establishment’s enforcers. And the supporters of Liverpool Football Club were considered to be the ultimate example.

English clubs had been banned from European competition four years earlier following the deaths of thirty-nine Juventus supporters during crowd trouble at the European Cup final against Liverpool. Following years of decline in the city, with soaring unemployment, militant industrial action and the Toxteth riots of 1981, along with unflattering portrayals of the city and its people in the media, an image of the work-shy, violent, criminal Scouser had built up. The city’s response was to elect a Labour council controlled by the Militant Tendency which signalled its intent to tackle the Thatcher government’s cuts by any means necessary.

And so it was against this background of demonization, class warfare and a police force that thought it could get away with anything, that an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest turned first to disaster and then to unforgiveable scandal.

Leading up to the 1989 semi-final, concerns had been raised by Liverpool Football Club and the FA about the ticket allocation for the game. Liverpool, with a much larger following than Notts Forest, had been allocated the smaller West Stand and Leppings Lane terrace instead of the much larger Kop end. Police were in charge of the ticket allocation for the match and their decision seems to have primarily been based on the direction from which each club’s supporters would arrive.

We know that 96 people died as a result of the disaster. We know about The Sun’s “The Truth” headline. However, the Taylor report following the disaster identified the cause as “a failure of police control”. The Sun’s allegations were blown apart and the police narrative dismissed as falsehood.

Yet the police version of events persisted in the public consciousness. As the families fought through an inquest and subsequent private prosecutions of the police officers in charge on the day, they were always under enormous pressure to “move on”. But the campaign groups set up in the wake of the disaster knew that much more had happened behind the scenes. They felt the inquest was flawed and that, despite the Taylor report, the police had come out of the ordeal clean.

The Hillsborough Independent Panel report, which was released on 12th September this year, pulls no punches on the police involvement in the disaster and subsequent events. The panel, after scrutinizing previously sealed documents, found that warnings from previous disasters at Bolton’s Burnden Park, Glasgow Rangers’ Ibrox and the fire at Bradford’s Valley Parade had not been heeded. Hillsborough did not meet minimum safety requirements and did not have a valid safety certificate. Perhaps more damning, along with the police negligence on the day, the panel found that there had been a co-ordinated effort by South Yorkshire Police to deflect the blame onto Liverpool supporters.

The filtering system for fans outside the stadium which had been in place in 1988 was abandoned in 1989. As was acknowledged in the Taylor report, Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, the officer in charge of policing the event, had ordered exit gate C opened to relieve congestion outside but nobody was in place to direct incoming fans away from the already full central pens on the terrace. Duckenfield had told FA representatives that this gate had been forced open by ticketless Liverpool supporters, a lie immediately relayed to the media and sent worldwide.

Ambulances were not allowed onto the pitch as police were convinced the problems in the Leppings Lane terrace were being caused by crowd disorder rather than overcrowding. While supporters were breaking down advertising hoardings to use as makeshift stretchers, the police and ambulance response inside the stadium was uncoordinated and chaotic. Families arriving to identify dead relatives were subjected to interrogation which focused on the amount of alcohol their dead relatives had consumed.

The report discovered that blood alcohol levels were taken from all of those who had died, including children, one as young as ten. Hospitals had also taken blood alcohol levels from survivors without recording the results in their medical files. Officers told local MP Irvine Patnick they had been attacked and urinated upon by fans. Within an hour of the disaster, the police had decided on a narrative and were doing their best to make sure the story was constructed and released.

The panel found that in the days and weeks following the disaster, South Yorkshire Police engaged in what has been termed a “black propaganda operation”. Senior officers and local Police Federation officials met and the need for the police to ensure their story was “rock solid” was discussed. A press release found its way to the White’s News Agency in Sheffield and the story was passed by them to papers nationwide. The sources for the story were senior South Yorkshire officers and Irvine Patnick MP. Officers’ statements were systematically edited to remove criticism of senior officers and the police operation.

The coroner at the inquest into the disaster which followed the Taylor report, based on evidence from pathologists, assumed that everyone who died was already critically injured by 3:15pm. A cut-off point for evidence was established for this time, meaning that a scrutiny of the emergency response and police actions in the immediate aftermath was not possible. The inquest soon became a forum for South Yorkshire police to reiterate their case against supporters and to respond to criticisms in the Taylor report. The panel found that the 3:15pm cut-off could not be justified and that as many as 41 of those who died were not critically injured by this point and could have been saved if the response had been better.

The Hillsborough Independent Panel report should now be the final vindication of the families’ and groups’ fight for justice over 23 long, difficult years. The report makes shocking reading for some. For others, like the Orgreave miners, the Guildford 4 or Birmingham 6, or the families of Jean-Charles de Menezes, Ian Tomlinson and Mark Duggan, it will be depressingly familiar: a police force above the law acting in its own interests, hiding its own failings, corruption and abuse of power behind a curtain of lies. Hundreds of officers were on duty that day. Indeed, many are still employed by the force. But barely a single police officer spoke out over those 23 years despite knowing the real truth of Hillsborough.

The police nationwide had a free hand to act above the law as long as it was in the interests of Thatcher’s government. Tough on the IRA, tough on the unions, tough on football supporters. They were all “the enemy within”, the demons built up by the Tories and the right-wing media to justify government policy of the day. This is what the police exist to do. Football has changed since then. Little else has.

John Alfred Anderson (62)
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Gerard Bernard Patrick Baron (67)
Simon Bell (17)
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Peter McDonnell (21)
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Adam Edward Spearritt (14)
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Patrik John Thompson (35)
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Martin Kevin Traynor (16)
Kevin Tyrrell (15)
Colin Wafer (19)
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Martin Kenneth Wild (29)
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Graham John Wright (17)

JUSTICE FOR THE 96

This post will appear in the October edition of Freedom newspaper. You can subscribe here or find your local stockist here.

A report from the Workfare Tour of Shame, Liverpool City Centre (Sat 8th September 2012)

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On Saturday 8th September, as part of the campaign against the government’s workfare programme, members of Liverpool Solidarity Federation, the Anarchist Federation and various other local activists held a tour of some of the city’s most high-profile exploiters of the unemployed.

First stop was Poundland in Williamson Square, who recently restarted their work programme following a high-profile court case brought by students who were forced to work in one of their stores. Banners were unfurled and we immediately began engaging with the passing public, passing on information about workfare and letting them know Poundland’s role in it.

From the start we were chaperoned by the police, who stood and watched from a distance. One young woman approached the picket to ask why we thought workfare was a bad thing. Following a conversation with a couple of members of the picket, she went away with a leaflet and a different perspective on the matter.

The manager of the store soon appeared and began to ask the police to move us on, saying we shouldn’t be allowed to behave like this outside a shop. She also asked for one of our leaflets, which she took to the inspector. The police continued to keep their distance and did not engage with the picket in any way.

We managed to give out around 600 leaflets at Poundland and had some interesting conversation with both passers-by and customers who were overwhelmingly positive about the picket. Several members of the public refused to enter the store when they heard what Poundland were up to. After around an hour at Poundland, we decided to move to our next target – the British Heart Foundation shop on Bold Street.

Here we engaged with more members of the public, pointing out that the BHF and many other charities take part in workfare. Many interested people approached the picket and were shocked at the British Heart Foundation’s role in the work programme. After around 45 minutes here, we began to run out of literature to hand out, such was the uptake in the first two locations. We decided to move onto the next target – Argos.

There was again lots of interest from the passing foot traffic at Argos, including some who engaged with us very positively and politically. We even had a homeless woman across the street join in with us, telling the public that workfare was a threat to everybody and not just the unemployed, with the aim being to drive down wages and worsen working conditions for those already employed, or just laying them off in favour of free workfare labour.

All in all, the day was very successful. Following a couple of recent washouts at planned pickets in the city, the attendance was as good as could be expected. Lots of literature was handed out and there was huge interest in the pickets at each location, with handfuls of people at each store refusing to go inside once they’d heard our message. To see the kind of success we saw with Holland & Barrett, we need to keep the momentum going. More pickets are planned for all of the above locations and more. Make sure you get along and let the parasites know – if they exploit us we will shut them down.

 

 

 

Memorial plaque to workers murdered by the British Army unveiled in Liverpool

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Today a memorial plaque was unveiled to commemorate the deaths of two Liverpool workers murdered by the British Army during the 1911 Transport strike in the city. The plaque is located on Vauxhall Road, at the site where one of the workers, 19-year-old John Sutcliffe, was shot twice in the head. The other man, docker Michael Prendergast, 30, was shot in the chest just a short distance further down Vauxhall Road.

This occurred against a backdrop of industrial unrest in Liverpool in the summer of that year. Events came to a head on 13th August, with workers attending a rally at St. George’s Plateau being attacked by police following a speech from Tom Mann. Riots broke out and 350 people were injured in what became known as Liverpool’s “Bloody Sunday”. Two days later, with the army ordered onto the streets by Home Secretary Winston Churchill and a Royal Navy warship on the Mersey, police and the 18th Hussars were escorting prison wagons from the city centre towards Walton jail along a controversial route down Vauxhall Road. Many believe this was a deliberately provocative act, with many striking dock-workers living in the area. Unrest followed and the soldiers opened fire on the crowd. Sutcliffe and Prendergast were killed and 13 others injured.

Members of Liverpool Solidarity Federation were present for both the unveiling ceremony, and the pre-unveiling presentation and speeches from local left-wing historians and trade unionists, including Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey. The unveiling of the plaque is an important event acknowledging the struggle of the city’s working class against the combined forces of the bosses and the state, yet, as with many events of this kind, it is also an opportunity for trade union officials and local politicians to make themselves look as if they’re doing something. We felt it important to have a revolutionary syndicalist presence at this event.

The strike was eventually broken when bosses and union moderates negotiated an end to the dispute, with all sacked strikers reinstated. Sporadic unrest continued until the end of the month. Winston Churchill had described the situation in 1911 as “near to revolution”. These events proved that when the working class is united in solidarity and determined to act, the bosses and the state can be truly shaken. Who knows what may have happened if the momentum of these days had not been lost?

The presence of “Red Len” today was also an opportunity for John Foley of the Ryanairdon’tcare campaign to make his point to Unite regarding Ryanair’s treatment of its workers and the continued use of the airline by the union.

Liverpool City Centre A4e offices picketed again

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As part of the national week of action against workfare, members of Liverpool Solidarity Federation, the Anarchist Federation and various comrades held a picket at the city-centre offices of A4e, with the aim of keeping the pressure on these exploiters, while a communications blockade was simultaneously carried out by allies all over the country.

We managed to hand out a good amount of leaflets and to engage with several people who were themselves on the work programme. The claimants we spoke to were, to a person, all in agreement with our stance on workfare. Claimants placed in the position of having to accept unpaid work under threat of benefit sanction know they are being demonized and exploited, but many are unsure what they can do about it. We gave claimants an advice sheet detailing certain points which the DWP and A4e may be reluctant to tell them, and also managed to give out contact details to a few people.

Towards the end of our picket, the owner of the building, who we are all now familiar with and know as a world-class busybody and general bell-end, came out to complain about somebody on the picket who had the temerity to light a cigarette on the street outside his building but he was soon sent on his way with some choice words ringing in his ears and his parting shot was the usual threat of calling the police, which was ignored by all.

The latest picket and comms blockade has shown A4e that we won’t be going anywhere. The recent victory against Holland & Barrett needs to be a spur to keep the pressure on the exploiters to show them that they can’t get away with their exploitative practices without a real fight.

ASDA hit by anti-workfare picket in Liverpool

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On Saturday 16th June, members of Liverpool Solidarity Federation, along with members of the Anarchist Federation and local unaffiliated activists, held a picket of the ASDA store on Smithdown Road in Wavertree as part of a series of actions to protest against and to raise awareness of ASDA’s use of workfare.

The picket began at the main entrance, at the opposite end of the store to Smithdown Road. This entrance gets the most foot traffic as the trolleys and car park are adjacent. We began to hand out leaflets and engage with customers. Security and management stood in the doorway of the store but did not challenge us. After no more than five minutes, two police cars and full van arrived and officers immediately surrounded the picket and began hassling individual picketers, ordering some to remove masks and hoods.

After being challenged on this and being unable to justify the order, the police tried a different tactic and began to read section 14. The picket stood its ground and refused to move, continuing to hand out leaflets and engage with the public. The sergeant who appeared to be in charge, number 1524, was particularly aggressive with the younger members of the picket. After a half-hour standoff with the police and a police call for more vans, the decision was taken to move the picket very slowly to the Smithdown Road entrance. The 50-yard walk took around 15 minutes and was followed closely by the police, who felt it their duty to hassle us all the way.

The picket set up on Smithdown Road, still with a reasonably heavy police presence, and again began to hand out leaflets and engage with customers and passers-by. Shortly after we set up, officer 1524 again began to hassle the younger picketers, getting into the face of one comrade and actually offering to meet him for a fight when he was off duty. The young lad stood his ground with the support of other picketers and the officer eventually backed down and moved away. While we were closely watched on Smithdown Road, the police now began to keep a distance and we were able to spread the anti-workfare message unmolested.

Overall, the day was a huge success, with a 20-strong picket getting its message across and refusing to be intimidated by the police. Hundreds of leaflets were handed out and conversations held with several members of the public, all of whome were receptive and sympathetic to the message that workfare is an attack on the working class and cannot be accepted.

A disturbing case of sexual harassment in the Liverpool activist community

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Some disturbing news has recently come to light in the Liverpool activist community concerning the activities of a local activist. This is someone I knew and thought I could trust, someone who introduced me to some of the people I now consider friends and someone who I thought was a good activist and anarcho-communist. The local feminist group Angry Women of Liverpool (AWOL) have now released this statement:

We, as survivors, opponents of sexual violence, feminists and/or feminist allies have taken the decision to publicly oppose and name a man within the activist and anarchist community who we know to have repeatedly sexually harassed several young women*. This harassment is known to have taken place in person, via social media and/or text message.

*All references to women refer to any SI women.

The individual concerned, Paul Cunliffe, of Merseyside, has sexually harassed young women within both the local and UK-wide anarchist and activist movement. This has caused varied impacts upon their lives, and the lives of other women who are aware of his actions. One woman for example, quit activism due to Cunliffe’s aggression towards her when she rejected his unwanted sexual advances.

Presently we are aware of six different women affected, of the four we have spoken to, two declined to make a public statement- a decision we completely support – with one too fearful for her safety to do so. However another two women have offered brief descriptions of what happened to them:

“My communications with Paul Cunliffe occurred for several months when I was 17 years old. He first contacted me via the internet, where he began talking to me most days, and most of the time I replied amiably, out of a wish not to offend. After a while speaking online, some of his conversations became inappropriate. I told him at this time that I was not interested in pursuing a romantic or sexual relationship with him, but he persisted in making sexual jokes, which, as he was ten years older than me, made me feel uncomfortable. He became seemingly obsessed with me, made several comments about us having sex, sent text messages referencing sexual acts, and told me that he had masturbated over me. This was all done when he was in full knowledge that I was not interested in him. I didn’t want to upset him if I would have to see him again, as I knew he was capable of violence, and so I didn’t feel able to tell him outright to stop. He apologised several times for his behaviour, but it continued. Towards the end of our contact he was talking to me every day on social media, and sometimes became annoyed or upset if I ignored him. He was also verbally abusive towards a friend of mine. Our contact ended when he sent me a final message, in which he swore at me and insulted me. I would urge all women to be very careful about getting involved with him – I wish that I never had. Having had time to reflect on the events, if anything similar happened again, I believe I would feel forced to contact the police in concern for my welfare.”

A second woman, Romana, who has waived the anonymity we offered her, has told us the following:

“It was December 2011 when I started talking to Paul via DM on Twitter. We’d been interacting since November or October, as I was going through a stressful time with both religion and anarchy which are opposed each other. He was polite, joked around and gave me advice. He is an anarchist who tried to explain things which I found helpful and I could also talk to him about problems at home such as violence which built a trust bond.

I first put a picture of myself on Twitter in December, after which he contacted me and said it was attractive. I said thank you, as at the time I thought he was saying it in a friendly way because he hadn’t made any advances at this point. He asked for my number and I gave it as I trusted him. He then texted me sexual comments. I said I was 16 and he said he had thought I was older and made another sexual comment. At the time I was going through confused feelings and he being someone I looked up to and trusted, I responded initially.

He then started to take sexual comments a bit further at which point I felt uncomfortable but was worried that if I did not respond at least politely that he’d take offence and accuse me publicly of things, as he’d said things about another girl he was involved with that made her out to be a bad person (I later found out that she’d rejected him). I very often would tell him I felt uncomfortable and wanted him not to say things. Quite a few times he texted me along the lines of ‘I’m horny, wondering what you’d do to turn me on’ or ‘I’m so hard right now’ and go on to tell me how he would have intercourse with me.

I started to feel very uncomfortable a few days after and told him I’m wasn’t in a good mental state and I’d like him to stop. He continued. I’d say ‘please stop, seriously…I really want you to stop’ and he’d continue to text sexual things or just ignore me and then on the next day/next few days I would receive a text along the same explicit sexual lines.

At one point I lost my temper and told him to leave me alone and he got very angry, after which I became fearful that he’d spread rumours about me making me out to be a bad person as he had done with two women by this point, so I apologised. We stopped talking for a month or two after but then he suddenly started speaking to me again, apologised for his behaviour and told me about some stuff he was going through for which I gave him some advice.

Towards the end of that correspondence he began to make sexual comments and I ignored him initially but began to feel uncomfortable and in the same position again, I thought he would say that I’d come on to him. As he was friends with James and I have a good friendship with James and I didn’t want him to turn James or any friends in Liverpool against me, I responded, feeling very upset and angry and helpless until he started to mention threesomes. He suggested having a threesome with Anna (Anna is 16) and a 17 year old friend of mine called Holly. He also suggested a threesome with a girl he’d been involved with.

I asked him to stop and said I was incredibly uncomfortable with him degrading other women like this. I eventually talked to Anna about the situation as she mentioned he perved on young women. On the same day Holly told me that he’d made sexual advances and suggested threesomes to her in a dm. She felt very uncomfortable and avoided the comments but he gave up eventually after asking outright if she was sexually interested in him. At this point I became very angry as not only had I found he’d been harassing other young women in Liverpool and talking about women as if they were objects for him to masturbate over, but he’d also been trying to put my friend in the same situation.

The next day I decided to do some research and told a girl he had been spreading nasty rumours about what he had said, and she was very upset and told me she was scared of him as he’d said some aggressively sexual things and she thought he sounded violent at times. I confronted him that day and told him enough was enough and I won’t allow him to put any more women in positions where they feel helpless or uncomfortable – shortly after this he deactivated Twitter and Facebook.”

Due to abuse received from misogynists on social media websites regarding this statement, Romana has also written a piece for her own blog which can be found here.

The aims and purpose of this statement are three-fold:

To ensure that others, particularly women, are aware of his behaviour and thus can make an informed decision about whether they feel comfortable having any kind of relationship with him;

To ensure the safety of women, within Merseyside in particular, and to allow those who own or take care of places with a ‘safe spaces’ policy to consider whether they should continue to grant him access;

To encourage political organisations to consider their policy on the safety of their female members and how they can avoid compromising this.

We believe that misogyny, sexual aggression and violence are NEVER acceptable and that such consistent harassment shows blatant misogyny and disregard for the oppression that women face under patriarchy. A person cannot class themselves as an “Anarcho-Communist” and then show such misogynist aggression, which is diametrically opposed to the values Anarcho-Communism espouses.

We ask that women, men and groups share and sign this letter to create a network of support and solidarity for those involved in exposing Cunliffe’s behaviour and to minimise any potential backlash that may be caused by doing so. Perpetrators of harassment, aggression and violence towards women should not be allowed to continue to do so without repercussions and we urge all feminists, feminist allies and organisations who support women’s rights to endorse this statement.

In solidarity,

Angry Women of Liverpool

To sign the above statement, please email smashmisogyny@gmail.com.

Signed:

Liverpool Solidarity Federation
Brighton Solidarity Federation
Leila Davey (AWOL)
Emma Segar (AWOL, AFed)
Anna Fleur (SolFed)
Liam O’Brien (SolFed)
Claire Elliott (AWOL, AFed)
N. Gatch (AWOL)
Stacey Long
Hannah Ryan (AWOL, Merseyside Women’s Movement)
James Moffatt (SolFed)
Maria Ng (AWOL, News from Nowhere)
Adam Ford (The Commune)
Sean C (Anarchist Federation)
Jane Nolan
Sam Ambreen
Jane Calveley
Natalie Dzerins (Intersect)
Rhiannon Lowton (LRC)
Sam Talley
Sean Mollan (SolFed/Uncut/ACAB)
Jerry Spencer (Anarchist Federation)
Naomi Beecroft (EUSA Women’s Liberation Convenor)
Matt Moore (Anarchist Federation)
Kashka Georgeson (Merseyside LGBT Student’s Network, SWP).
Helen Holmes
Nicky Clark
Romana Begum (All London Anarchist Revolutionary Mob/ALARM)
Sam Rabin (ALARM)
Maev McDaid (President: University of Liverpool Friends of Palestine)
Paul Robinson (Anarchist Federation)
Toivo Hartikainen
Helen Sheridan (AWOL)
Andy Meinke (Editor Freedom Newspaper)
Louise Whittle (LRC)
James Cleveland (Brighton Feminist Collective)
Brendan O’Malley
Nyika S
Al Derby (Wolvo Anarchists)
Jacob Richardson
Anna Machell
Sarah Hickmott
Les Rich (SolFed and IWW IU 560 member)
Jasmine Pike

Having been made aware of the facts, I added my signature to this statement without hesitation. This behaviour is unacceptable and can never be tolerated. You cannot consider yourself an anarchist if you behave in this way towards women. The bravery it took to come forward with statements cannot be underestimated and I stand in full solidarity with my sisters.

The statement and a photograph can be found on the AWOL blog.