Q&A with a University of Liverpool Striker

Featured in Issue XII – June 2021

Strike rally 28th May 2021

Why are you on strike?

Primarily to show solidarity with the 32 workers targeted for redundancy in the faculty of Health and Life Sciences. Hopefully to prevent those jobs from being needlessly lost. But also to make a stand against this kind of attack on education workers generally.

What kind of tactics are being used?

The union members at the university started ASOS (Action Short Of Strike) on 10/05, meaning we withdrew all labour that goes beyond our contracted work. We stop volunteering for additional responsibilities, stop covering for other staff if they’re ill, stop working outside of our normal contracted working hours, etc. Given how much the university relies on this kind of voluntary labour, this should already have quite an impact.

Then on 17/05 we began three weeks of full on striking. Although there are many kinds of labour being withdrawn (and the impact of non-teaching staff striking shouldn’t be underestimated or underappreciated!) one of the main reasons this period was chosen was because it coincides with the marking period for a lot of courses. During these three weeks a lot of staff spend far beyond their regular hours completing their marking loads for their courses’ exams. Instead, for union staff mem-bers, none of this will get done until after the strike – and even then it’ll only get done at a regular pace during contracted hours, as we return to ASOS.

The union (UCU) is currently discussing what action to take next if the university fails to accept our demands.

I remember in the 2020 strikes some students were occupying the rooms where scab lectures were taking place. Playing music to stop them and getting away with it. Despite support on the picket line, they stopped at the request of UCU.* Have you noticed any similar problems with UCU?

This is my first strike with the Liverpool UCU branch, so my insights will be a little limited. It’s also very difficult to tell what things limiting our strike action are caused by Covid, and what the strike would’ve been like under different circumstances.

I’ve done one day’s worth of picketing on campus, and it was mostly just hanging around Union Square with a sign. But there’s some targeted picketing too – we hear from someone about some activities still going ahead on campus and we dash over to picket the entrance for it. I think I’d have felt a bit better about it if we did more – if we talked to more students as they went to their classes, talked to the people who walked by. There seemed to be a lot of reassuring each other that our actions were meaningful, but without much actual action.

A lot of the meetings at the moment are fairly large – a couple of hundred people – and it seems like it’s very difficult to make any suggestions without someone raising objections to it. And some of these objections definitely seem less well-meaning than others.

Has the strike had much support? How can people help?

The students have definitely been incredible. They’ve set up their own twitter account supporting the strike, organised a rally, and they also speak at any events we host. The university management are really trying to frame this dispute as staff vs students, but the students are making it clear that that isn’t the case – we are both united against them.

There’s also been a lot of support from other unions. Even though solidarity can be difficult to show when the “picket lines” are mostly online, they’ve still done a great job – at one offline rally I saw members show up from SolFed, the IWW, and Acorn, and online messages of solidarity get through at a number of online events too, and plenty on Twitter.

As for how to help? People can learn about the strike: there’s information about how the job redundancies are most likely illegal, and plenty about the absurd amounts of money that the management are being paid to make up restructuring projects like the one that they’re proposing. Then if you can, contact the Vice Chancellors at the university and let them know what you think of their plans.

There have been some successful strikes this year, like the bus drivers in Manchester or bin workers in Thurrock. Do you think you will be joining them?

I hope so, and there’s definitely a chance. The circumstances aren’t exactly straightforward – I think the pandemic makes it much easier for management to give us the impression that we’re isolated, and to divide us, and they’ve tried really hard to take advantage of that. But we do still have strength in numbers, and we are still united. We just need to remember that.

* After further investigation we must retract this sentence since it is false. The occupiers did not stop at the request of UCU, instead it was due to burnout and the strike coming to a close. We can only apologise for printing inaccurate information and will mention the retraction in the next issue.

Signing Support

Featured in Issue XII – June 2021

Police released two men in Glasgow bound for deportation after a protester climbed under their van while hundreds of people surrounded it for 8 hours.

Worried about reporting at the Home Office? Liverpool Migrant Solidarity Network offers phone based signing support, and support in making a detention action plan. You can contact them at:

liverpoolsigning@gmail.com

07709861419 (by phone, telegram or signal)

Liverpool Migrant Solidarity Network is an independent collective of people working together to resist the hostile environment that migrants face in this city and beyond.

International Inspiration II

Featured in Issue XII – June 2021

Confrontation with police in Colombia.

Across the world, working class rebellions continue to break out and spread like the wildfires of our burning planet. Perhaps they can shed some light on solving our own problems.

In Britain, despite widespread outrage, there has currently been no real resistance to the pathetic 1% NHS pay “rise”. An alternative to clapping can be found in Neuquén, Argentina. Democratic workers’ assemblies in around 20 hospitals rejected a 12% pay rise (in 2020 inflation was 42%), but the trade union leadership accepted it anyway. In opposition to the unions and government, Argentinian health workers and their supporters held mass meetings at hospital entrances, staged unofficial strikes (which spread to other sectors) and blocked roads to disrupt the gas, oil and tourist industries. At first the offer rose to 15%, but the strikers didn’t give in and eventually won a 53% pay rise!

In Colombia, a tax reform that would have further lined the pockets of the ruling oligarchy at the expense of the poor was met with a general strike and uprising across the country at the end of April. These events follow in the wake of a similar uprising at the end of 2019. Despite ruthless repression, the economy is being shut down by road blockades, while street fighting rages against the repressive arm of the state. People have been organising in horizontal networks and popular assemblies, outside the control of political parties and trade union hierarchies. The struggle has succeeded in forcing the increased taxes and healthcare privatisation to be withdrawn, but these issues were simply the fuse on the powder keg. The effects of the pandemic inflamed existing unrest due to extreme inequality, political corruption, and continuous “disappearances” and murders at the hands of the state. Their struggle continues.

“Direct action by organised labour finds its strongest expression in the general strike, in the stoppage of work in every branch of production by the organised resistance of the proletariat, with all the consequences arising from it. It is the most powerful weapon which the workers have at their command, and gives the most comprehensive expression to their strength as a social factor.”

Rudolf Rocker

Hostilities between Israel and Palestine also flared up again for around two weeks in May, both sides targeting civilians, with 12 left dead in the former and 128 in the latter. The Left declared their support for a Palestinian state, with numerous rallies held in Liverpool. We support all attempts to resist war, such as the occupation of an Israeli-owned drone factory in Leicester (which firefighters refused to evict, unlike the police). But the creation or defence of a Palestinian nation state will not further the fight for liberation. There should be no better example of this than Israel itself, a state founded by a population who had been subjected to the horrors of Nazism, simply seeking a measure of security, only to enforce apartheid within their own borders. Instead we view an international general strike as the best means of ending future conflict, and ultimately of dismantling the states behind them. Working class internationalism isn’t just a pipe-dream, in Italy and South Africa, dockers refused to unload Israeli ships. A small seed to sow, but surely better than picking the rotten fruits of nationalism?

May Day Reclaimed

Featured in Issue XII – June 2021

On the 1st of May a rally was held outside Lime Street train station for International Workers’ Day. Dissatisfied with the usual Labour Party aligned Trades Council march, this rally was organised independently by the Liverpool Solidarity Federation, with a clear anti-capitalist and anti-state message. As declared in the first speech, “It is a day to remember the sacrifice of those who struggled for the eight hour day, to celebrate the achievements of workers’ movements across the world, and to keep the flame of class struggle burning.” The event was brought back to its roots in the general strike of Chicago 1886 and the persecution that followed.

Around 40 people turned up to the rally – a little underwhelming – but many passers-by from the station came to have a chat and help themselves to some free food kindly provided by Food Not Bombs. Two short speeches were given by SolFed members, first on the anarchist origins of May Day, and second on workplace organising today; these were followed by a speech from Liverpool Sisterhood, who also talked about the ongoing struggle against the crime bill. The rally was a small success, perhaps something to be built upon next year.

As things wrapped up people were encouraged to join the Kill the Bill protest against increased police powers, which was gathering at the side of St Georges Hall. This coincided with the end-point of the Trades Council march, in an attempt to maximise numbers. But their speeches dragged on, so mid-speech most of the crowd broke away to begin the protest, marching up London Road, leaving the politicians and trade union bureaucrats behind. Over 200 people marched around the city, past Smithdown Lane Police Station, finally dispersing into a crowd of shoppers in the city centre. The protest went well, although there was some confusion among onlookers since there was an anti-lockdown march on the same day, in which conspiracy theory nonsense was mixed together with Kill the Bill signs. Hopefully momentum against the crime bill can be kept up to force the government to fully withdraw their plans.

“We are Anarchists because it is absolutely impossible to obtain justice for all in any other way than by destroying institutions founded on force and privilege. We cannot believe that improvement is possible if we still keep up the same institutions, now more rotten than in the past, or if we merely replace those whose iniquities are known by new men. These latter become in their turn what the others were, or else become barren.”

Louise Michel

Kill the Bill

Featured in Issue XI – April 2021

Around 200 people gathered at Derby Square, on Saturday 20th March, to demonstrate against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill currently passing through parliament. At first dispersed and hesitant, people held their ground as police officers attempted to question and threaten people. The message was clear: the protest would not be tolerated. However, as the numbers swelled, confidence grew and the gathering coalesced, striking up chants of ‘Kill the Bill’ before setting off down Lord Street, beginning a march with great energy and a clear sense of defiance. Taking control of the streets, people demonstrated their refusal to accept further restriction of an already very limited right to protest. Unfortunately as the protest dragged on, lacking a destination, people started to drift off, enabling police officers to arbitrarily target a few stragglers, imposing fines and aggressively arresting two.

A fortnight later, on the 3rd April, even more people gathered on Church Street and marched through the city centre. This time the police kept their distance, wishing to avoid resistance from protests across the country. The atmosphere was a little more temperate than the previous occasion, but made very clear that protests will continue until the bill is completely scrapped. Frustratingly but unsurprisingly, socialist parties took advantage of both gatherings as self-publicising and recruitment opportunities.

“Let us always remember that the oppression of governments has no other limits than the resistance offered to it.”

Errico Malatesta

The bill in question is a sweeping piece of legislation including a significant extension of police powers and what is effectively a clampdown on the right to protest. Police forces will effectively be able to dictate who can protest, where, when, for how long, being given complete discretion to impose conditions on both static and moving protests. Disruptive noise will be reason enough for police to break up a demonstration. Organisers will face up to 11 months in prison when such conditions are breached, knowingly or not, and fines will be increased for individual protestors. The common law offence of ‘public nuisance’ will be placed on the statute books; the vague wording allows anyone who obstructs the public, for example, to be charged and sentenced to up to 10 years imprisonment. The maximum penalty for toppling a statue will be increased to 10 years in prison. Trespass, currently a civil law offence, will become a criminal offence giving police the power to arrest and seize the property of offenders. This will effectively criminalise protest camps, and, more significantly, further criminalises the very living patterns of gypsy, roma, and traveller communities. Travellers will face the prospect of having their vehicle (that is, their home) seized, in addition to facing up to 3 months in prison.

The reason protests in Liverpool were successful was due to the strength of the movement elsewhere. In London, in the face of police brutality, five consecutive days of protest organised by Sisters Uncut, the feminist direct action group, resulted in the bill being temporarily delayed until at least June. In Bristol a cheery protest escalated into several nights of rioting after protesters were brutally attacked by police while rallying outside a police station. Since then protests have spread, particularly across the South West, with many blockades of stations and their surrounding roads. People showed that they were willing to stand up for themselves and their freedom, to fight back and defend each other from state violence.

‘Kill the Bill’ demonstration in Liverpool

A common response to increased police powers is that the “innocent” have nothing to worry about. Before it has even passed, we have seen the organiser of a socially-distanced nurses demonstration in Manchester, following the 1% “pay rise”, fined £10,000 under Covid regulations. Here in Liverpool police used their powers to disperse a street-side soup kitchen. Ending up at a protest against a new road or on a picket line, could see anyone becoming “enemies from within”, just remember how the police treated the dockers or miners.

Exploiting the pandemic, the state is predictably attempting to normalise their emergency powers, which will be used to suppress all opposition from below. It is their fear, and our hope, that a wave of rebellion is upon us – we face a hot summer ahead. It is up to us, the working class, the oppressed and exploited, to ensure that such rebellion is intensified, extended, and directed not only against those who put the boot in, but also toward a more free and equal society.

The Great Porridge Strike of 1913

Featured in Issue XI – April 2021

Rainhill Asylum, near Prescot, had opened in 1851 as a progressive institution for the treatment of “the insane”… The staff often worked an 80 hour week which was thought to be fair by the authorities because many duties were light, for example supervising recreational activities like cricket and football. Free food was provided during working hours and therefore any deterioration in the quality of food was regarded as a wage cut.

When a new menu replaced meat with oatmeal porridge on 6 April 1913, 35 nurses and attendants refused to eat the porridge, to return to the wards or, indeed, to leave the breakfast room! By midmorning the strike had spread throughout the asylum. At midday the Medical Superintendent, Dr. Cowan, agreed to revise the diet sheets. The strike was a success but they were later made to apologise or face disciplinary action. The workers were mainly members of the then National Association of Asylum Workers (NAWU), but the union’s executive regarded the strike to be “spontaneous and unofficial and did not entirely meet with the executive council’s approval.”

The above text was taken from “Occupational Hazards”, a Past Tense pamphlet about hospital occupations.

*EDIT: The original text stated that Rainhill Asylum was in Knowsley, but is in fact in between St Helens and Prescot (Merseyside). The text has been edited accordingly.

Over the Water, Sparks Fly

Featured in Issue XI – April 2021

From the 24th March to the 7th April, up to thirty electricians (sparks) have gathered weekly outside Balfour Beatty’s in Bromborough, Wirral. Passing cars have beeped their horns in support. Beatty’s is working with EDF on the Somerset nuclear power plant, Hinkley Point C. They have been planning to train up electrical labourers in just 7 weeks to do 75% of the work of qualified electricians, both undercutting wages and leading to serious health and safety risks. The trend towards deskilling is deadly serious, whether it’s taking place at an NHS hospital or a block of flats. These protests aren’t the only recent labour struggle in Merseyside, with ongoing strikes at British Gas and lorry drivers winning a 6% pay rise in February due to strike action. What makes them unique is an emphasis on direct action and rank-and-filism.

The socially distanced demos, among many across the country, were a show of strength intended to put pressure on the companies, signalling that if their demands aren’t met, with the lockdown easing, disruptive action will be taken. In London the bosses have already had a taster of this, with the occupation of construction sites and offices. Just after their HQ was occupied, EDF released a statement announcing they had paused their plans, but the campaign is set to continue until they are fully scrapped. On the 31st, the first action also took place at Hinkley itself, with sparks continuously crossing the road to stop traffic, before being stopped by the police, undoubtedly emboldened by their new powers.

Sparks already have a history of direct action, with the BESNA dispute in the early 2010s, over an attempted 35% industry-wide pay cut. With their union leaders in Unite delaying strike ballots (due to fear of legal consequences) the sparks had to rely on weekly protests and creative action, such as disrupting an official dinner of industry executives. This culminated in wildcat, or unofficial, strikes and a victory for the workers.

While primarily members of Unite or non-unionised, these recent protesters have been organising through a rank-and-file group. This certainly suggests frustration with the constraints of an official framework and complacent leadership. On the 30th Unite actually denounced the planned protest outside of Hinkley C. Beyond this, opinion on Unite seems divided with some thinking problems could be solved through greater participation and calls for reform in the union, or even forming a separate union just for Sparks, while others seem disinterested entirely. While we would sympathise with calls for a new union, afterall Unite seem more interested in selling their members life insurance than on the idea of taking strike action, a narrower purview won’t necessarily lead to a militant or democratic union. For example on the railways, the RMT’s broad membership are more militant than the specific-drivers union, ASLEF. Issues around union democracy are deeper than this and in our view can only be solved by forming unions that are not legalistic representative bodies, which necessitate a bureaucracy who form their own separate interests, but that are simply associations of workers relying on direct action, what might be called “syndicalism”. However, groups of workers with strong opinions on this debate are best off leading by example and cooperating with other groups with differing views, rather than descending into infighting.

Nonetheless the focus of the movement is clear: stopping deskilling. If you are an electrician, or supporter, and want to get involved you can on facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/230217498810296. The important thing is that the sparks are thinking and acting for themselves, and we wish them the best of luck with their struggle.

Legal Advice for Protesters

Featured in Issue XI – April 2021

Green & Black Cross: We suggest that you take a note of our protest support phone number – 07946 541 511 – and of a criminal solicitor with protest experience*. Write them down on something the police will struggle to take from you, such as an arm or a leg.

*Robert Lizar (Manchester): 0161 227 7777 — Out of hours: 07900 998 999

NO COMMENT: You do not need to answer police questions, so don’t. This is for your own protection and for the protection of others. The police will try to pressure and deceive you into incriminating yourself. Instead of trying to decide when it seems ‘safe’ to answer, just say “No comment” to all questions – during ‘informal chats’, in the police van and especially in interview. If your friend in the next cell knows you aren’t going to talk, they will feel better able not to talk themselves. Remember, interviews only help the police – they will not interview you if they already have enough evidence to charge you.

NO PERSONAL DETAILS: You do not have to give personal details under ANY stop and search power, so don’t. On protests, the police often use searches as a way of finding out who is present, both for intelligence purposes and to intimidate you. As a default, you do NOT have to give your personal details to the police at any point during the arrest process. We recommend not giving personal details to the police for as long as possible. If you have been arrested and taken to the police station you may wish to give your name, address and date of birth at the custody desk to speed your release. There are a few situations in which police may have a power to require personal details: if someone is driving a vehicle; if they are being fined under a Fixed Penalty Notice; under a particular anti-social behaviour power; or if there is a particular by-law.

WHAT POWER?: Ask “What power?” to challenge the police to act lawfully. Some police officers rely on you not knowing the law. If you are asked to do something by a police officer, ask them what power (i.e. what law) they are using and why they are using it. Make a note of what was said, by whom (numbers) as soon as possible afterwards.

NO DUTY SOLICITOR: Use a recommended solicitor with protest experience. The “duty solicitor” is the solicitor who is present at the police station, which means they almost certainly know nothing about protest. Duty solicitors often give bad advice to protesters; we recommend you always use a good solicitor who knows about protest.

NO CAUTION: Cautions are an admission of guilt. Offering you a caution is a way the police may ask you to admit guilt for an offence without having to charge you. It is an easy win for the police, as they don’t have to provide any evidence or convince a court of your guilt. At the very least, you should never accept a caution without taking advice from a good solicitor.

Taken from: greenandblackcross.org