Monday 7 September 2009

ASBO's all round!

Much comment has been made on Drinking Banning Orders, also known as 'booze asbos', which recently came into force (BBC News: New 'booze Asbos' come under fire). This legislation has been under fire from across the political spectrum, for various different reasons.

Some of the criticisms can be easily dismissed, notably the plaintive cry that the law should instead be targeting young / teenage / underage drinkers yet again. As if 'underage' drinkers haven't already had endless crackdowns upon them, for donkeys' years. And as if yet another crackdown on said will, by now, have a significant impact upon underage drinking - let alone, upon problem drinking as a whole.

If anything, it does make a refreshing change for the Establishment to finally be looking beyond the usual scapegoat of young people, and be trying a different approach to the problems associated with excessive drinking. But here my praise for the measures ends. And is outweighed by genuine criticisms of the legislation, as made by groups such as Liberty.

Most obviously, like any ASBOs, the Drinking Banning Orders are another way of 'short circuiting' the process of law by using civil orders to criminalise behaviour. ASBOs are also tainted by their reliance on unreliable, even hearsay, evidence. And by their use in petty circumstances - pirate broadcasters, kids playing football, even pensioners feeding birds, have all been subject to ASBOs. Can we really be certain that Drinking Banning Orders will not be used in similarly petty circumstances?

And how will these orders be enforced? The only way I can see them being enforced is by every pub and off licence checking the identity of every customer, of any age, to check they're not on a 'banned' list. Yes, everyone who is or appears to be under 25, already has this to put up with. But I really don't see 'levelling down' our civil liberties as a step in the right direction! Then, there's going to have to be a register of banned drinkers, which would have to be accessible to every alcohol outlet and the workers therein - with all the privacy issues that entails.

It is also ironic that the Drinking Banning Orders can be used on anyone aged over 16, despite the legal drinking age being 18. Seems yet another case of the Establishment's double standards, which mean someone aged 16 is deemed responsible enough to be punished for alcohol-related offences but not responsible enough to be allowed to buy alcohol in the first place.

But perhaps the most important point to make about Drinking Banning Orders, is that much of the anti-social behaviour associated with binge drinking can already be dealt with by existing laws. Violence, threatening behaviour, criminal damage, harassment (including racial and sexual harassment) were all criminal offences, the last time I checked! If these laws are not being enforced, how would yet another gimmick like booze asbos make us any safer ???

Then again, I guess it all comes down to the system's priorities. Violence - whether drunken or otherwise - tends to be a crime against the individual. And crimes against the individual tend to be, in the eyes of the system (which includes the law and its enforcers), a poor cinderella compared with crimes against the Establishment and crimes against the system itself.

Small wonder, then, we now have the grotesque situation where soldiers returning from Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder, are told by their Army bosses to 'get pissed and have a fight' rather than seek counselling (Daily Mirror: The scandal of our troops who are left with no support for traumas). Maybe, among the laws the Armed Forces have opted-out from, are the laws banning common assault :P Seriously, though, it is telling that violence is sometimes encouraged as a way of 'letting off steam'.

And not just within the Army. Every community is blighted by recession, job insecurity and hyper-unemployment, and many poople are only too eager to drink as a means of escaping the stress. At the same time, the Establishment would much rather see workers batter each other after a few drinks, than see us unite against them and their capitalist system which is ruining our lives.

We must not fall for the Establishment's crocodile tears about lives 'ruined by drink'. But at the same time, we must realise that drinking can never be a permanent solution to our problems. Only unity against the capitalist system can truly make things better. And leave the Establishment, rather than us, suffering the following morning!

Sunday 21 June 2009

British workers must support Stalin

There are at least two important industrial struggles taking place in the UK at the moment. One is the brave fight of the Lindsey Oil Refinery constuction workers, who were sacked following a wildcat strike against redundancies. (Socialist Worker 20th June 2009: The sacking of the Lindsey workers is a challenge for the whole working class) All socialists must give our full backing to the Lindsey strikers, and to all sympathy walkouts across the UK - such as those at several power stations, other oil refineries and a biofuels plant (BBC News 19th June 2009: Oil plant sackings spark walkouts).

At the same time, however, we should be sceptical about the slogan used by some (by no means all!) supporters of the strike, of "British jobs for British workers". Such slogans pander to nationalism, and risk exacerbating the problem of racism towards immigrants. This is especially unwelcome following the rise of the Nazi BNP - I'm not saying the Euro Election results were frightening, but after watching the Euro election broadcast I had to watch A Nightmare On Elm Street for a bit of light relief ...

We must always remember that immigrant workers are never the problem. Where British workers' pay and conditions are being undercut - whether by foreign workers or by other British agency workers - the problem lies with the fat cat bosses who are cutting costs and boosting their fat profits by employing the cheapest labour possible. So the answer - far from attacking immigrant workers - is to fight for immigrant labour to be employed alongside British labour, on exactly the same, decent, pay and working conditions. This would not only eliminate the under-cutting of existing workers' pay and conditions, it would also eliminate the ruthless exploitation of new workers.

The key to this being achieved, is the struggle by immigrant workers for decent pay and conditions, as seen in another important struggle - that of the SOAS cleaners in London. A strike has been taking place against the sacking of Jose Stalin Bermudez, a Unison union official who was sacked by management. Stalin invoked the wrath of SOAS' management after he helped low paid Latin American cleaners demonstrate against non-payment of wages and for a London Living Wage (Socialist Worker 6th June 2009: Strike in defence of victimised union activist at Soas). Since then, the SOAS cleaners have been treated just as, or even more, diabolically than the Lindsay strikers; SOAS management gave no resistance to, perhaps even collaborated with, a raid by immigration officers which led to the arrest and deportation of several cleaners - who had taken part in action for decent pay and conditions and in support of Stalin (Socialist Worker 20th June 2009: Soas: Did bosses target their cleaners for deportation?). On a positive note, this raid and its aftermath led to occupations by SOAS students in support of the cleaners.

What we need is for the white working class, such as those striking at Lindsay against redundancy, to link with immigrant workers, such as the SOAS cleaners striking against low pay and exploitation. The workers' struggles must then be linked to struggles by students fighting against education cuts and tuition fees, and unemployed and disabled workers fighting against cuts in benefits and unreasonable conditions for claiming benefits.

If such unity could be forged, not only could it undercut racists such as the Nazi BNP. It could create a perfect storm which could sink not only the so-called Labour government and its plastic opposition in the form of the Tories, but the entire capitalist system.

Friday 20 March 2009

Economic League, economic hooligans

I'm very glad to see the shutting down of the Consulting Association, an employment blacklisting organisation which kept files on political activists and trade unionists, and even people who raised health and safety concerns (Socialist Worker: Construction blacklist: Bosses pay £2.20 to destroy lives). And I will be very interested to see what legal action is taken against those who ran, and those companies which subscribed to, the Consulting Assholeciation.

If you think you may be on the Construction Association blacklist, you can check with the Information Commissioner's Office. Their Consulting Association info page tells you not only how to check your details, but also lists the companies which suscribed to the CA.

Personally, I'd like to see every company who subscribed to them raided, and their bosses prosecuted for not only blackisting but also for aiding and abetting a blacklisting organisation. Let's face it, 'just looking' is absolutely no excuse in the case of, for example, kiddie porn. And a number of organisations, including the NSPCC, have cited a link between unemployment and poverty - the end result of blacklisting! - and child abuse. So I'd just love to see all involved locked in a cell with Gary Glitter, Ian Huntley et al. And the key recycled!

I know, that's hardly likely to happen. Especially when you bear in mind that the state has an unhappy history of keeping files on political dissidents; back in the 1980's (and probably more recently), MI5 kept numerous files on socialists and even used to infiltrate left-wing political parties.

At the same time, the laws passed in 1999 banning blacklists are welcome - even if it did take a f***ing decade for them to be enforced! Back in the 80's and before, a blacklisting organisation called the Economic League used to operate legally. And, whereas the Consulting Association seems to have most of its subscribing companies in the construction industry, the Economic League had a much larger range of subscribing companies, including Ford motor cars, Tate and Lyle sugar (who also subscribed to Caprim, the first 'son of Economic League'), and McDonalds (citation on McSpotlight).

One of the major factors which brought down the Ecch-onomic League in the early 90's, was consumer boycotts of products made by subscribing companies. In the case of large construction companies, direct consumer boycotts are less practicable. But that does not mean there is nothing we can do.

Pressure must be put on councils and public service bodies, through the unions, to stop using the services of companies which use blacklists. Such companies should especially be banned from PFI projects - such as Academies. If such a company ends up running an Academy (construction firms have already sponsored academies), how would we know that kids attending such schools, who showed signs of not agreeing with the capitalist Establishment (and who could blame them ???), wouldn't end up on such a blacklist ?!?

Apart from anything else, this is yet another argument against academies and the creeping privatisation of education! And we shouldn't stop at re-nationalising our schools, hospitals, etc.

Every company which has used such a blacklist should also be nationalised. Without compensation to their criminal bosses!

Saturday 7 March 2009

Radio pirates and Establishment raiders

It seems to be open season again on pirate radio, or free radio as I prefer to call it (BBC News: Pirate radio 'puts lives at risk').

The allegations of pirate radio causing interference go back to at least the 1980's, probably before that, and are as grossly exaggerated now as they were then. Besides, the constant crackdowns on free radio stations can, if anything, have a counter-productive effect where it comes to the elimination of interference. As penalties for 'illegal broadcasting' increase and the severity of studio raids increase - now even records and CDs can be confiscated, as well as broadcasting equipment - free radio operators take steps to avoid the studio being located. One is the use of 'link transmitters' on non-broadcast frequencies, which massively increases the risk of them being on a frequency used by emergency services or aircraft. As is the case with drugs, criminalisation has created a risk which really need not have been there.

In any case, the Establishment are being hypocritical, whining about free radio 'putting lives at risk' while, at the same time, the maintenance of emergency service radio equipment is being cut back. For example, one of the companies involved in the maintenance of radios for the emergency services, Arqiva, has just made a large number of people redundant (including myself :-( ). I fail to see how scaling back the maintenance of such vital radio equipment can increase the reliability of emergency services' communications :-P

There are also constant - again grossly exaggerated - reports from the Establishment media, about pirate stations being involved with illegal drug-related rave parties. Again, when the mainstream broadcasters continue to irresponsibly promote alcohol, which kills more people and causes more violence than illegal drugs, the stench of hypocrisy is overpowering!

The real reasons for the crackdown on free radio are twofold. The most obvious one is that the legal stations - which, despite calling themselves 'local radio', are increasingly owned by a handful of medis giants - don't want competition eating into their fat profits.

The less obvious, but maybe more important, reason for the Establishment's hatred for free radio, is also to do with competition - for ideas. The mainstream broadcasters have, over the past few years, increasingly become a mouthpiece for Establishment propaganda. For example, the broadcast media played an important part in encouraging people to support the Iraq war in 2003, and during the Gaza conflict, the mainstream news reports were heavily biased in favour of Israel. Then there's the endless adverts for military recruitment, against 'benefit fraud', etc. The last thing the Establishment want is alternative broadcasters eroding the ability of their media to indoctrinate the masses.

Not that all pirate radio is inherently progressive. In my time on the free radio scene, I came across a few characters who were just as alienated and brainwashed as many in wider society. But at their best, community-based pirates can and have given a side of the news not generally heard on the mainstream stations, and helped promote local activity against racism. For example, in the 90's, the Birmingham pirate PCRL had a phone-in programme about the threat of the BNP and how to deal with it.

What we need is broadcasting by the community, aiming to inform and serve the community. Not by big business, aiming to promote the Establishment's agenda and maximise profits.

Monday 23 February 2009

Armless presenters and brainless morons

A number of parents have been campaigning to have Cerrie Bernell, a one-armed TV presenter, removed from CBeebies (Digital Spy: Disabled BBC presenter 'scaring' children). Apart from this being a horribly right-wing disablist campaign, I have a number of other issues with it ...

First of all, I fail to see how pre-school children are 'scared' by a disabled presenter. Young children are not prejudiced, for one simple reason. The Establishment's indoctrination which creates and reinforces prejudice, of any kind, is a slow, gradual, 'drip-drip' process rather than a rapid one. So young children simply haven't yet been exposed to enough of the subtle Establishment propaganda, to yet be brainwashed into oppressive thinking!

Secondly, if they were genuinely interested in stopping kids being scared, they would be far better off campaigning for the complete abolition of corporal punishment, which is still used to instil fear into kids. And the abolition of the SAT tests, which create undue worry among kids who become scared of failure at a very young age. Unlike any TV programme (including the likes of DeadEnders, whose violent storylines are far more scary than any portrayal of disability will ever be!), the belt or the exam result do not have an 'off' switch!

Last but not least, it is not kids who will end up 'having nightmares'. It is disabled people, indeed people of any oppressed minority, when these bigoted gits' campaigns bolster the support of murderous far-right Nazi parties. Indeed, the racist fire whose flames have been fanned by New Labour's increasing attacks on immigration, has led already to the BNP winning a council by-election in Sevenoaks, Kent.

Thankfully, prejudice can be countered and anger redirected against the real enemy. Intervention by the left in recent strikes against foreign labour has successfully won many workers to see that their real enemies are the bosses, not migrant workers who are being exploited while British workers' wages and conditions are undercut. And that the real answer is not to say 'British jobs for British workers', but to instead demand equal and decent pay and conditions for all workers.

It is this message of unity which we must use to counter not only the Nazis' message of hate in the run up to the European elections, but also to counter the capitalist Establishment's divide-and-rule tactics which weaken us all!