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(en) Britain, Freedom* October - Regulars: FIGHTING TALK FOR THE FUTURE; A SIDEWAYS LOOK; NOTES FROM THE US; ATTICA PRISON RIOT; ANGEL ALLEY

Date Thu, 15 Dec 2011 15:45:18 +0200


Freedom editorial – fighting talk for the future ---- Welcome to the new bigger, bolder, brighter Freedom newspaper. We ourselves are still coming to terms with the changed format, different layout and new content (and the novelty of having staples and internal colour pages) so we ask you to bear with us until we settle into a workable routine. We will continue to ask for your feedback, ideas, suggestions and article submissions. We want to make this a paper for the whole anarchist movement, and your contributions will be a central part of that. ---- The UK anarchist movement, or rather those active in anarchist politics, is growing and developing at an astonishing rate, and with it we are being swept along on tidal wave of radical social change. The ruptures we have witnessed recently, from the banking collapse to the August riots, offer increasingly assured glimpses of the fragile nature of capitalism and the state. The political and social uncertainties we are facing are both daunting and a gifted opportunity.

It was a few months ago that we said in these very pages that there was no better time to be an anarchist, and it seems everybody else is coming to that same conclusion.

David Goodway, the respected political historian, writing recently in the Guardian newspaper said: “Britain almost certainly has a greater number of conscious anarchists nowadays than at any previous point in its history and, in addition, there are many more natural anarchists: that is people who, while not identifying themselves as anarchists, think and behave in significantly anarchist way”.

And Chomsky who was asked during an interview should all students become anarchists replied emphatically ‘yes’ adding “Students should challenge authorities and join a long anarchist tradition. As soon as one identifies, challenges and overcomes illegitimate power, he or she is an anarchist. Most people are anarchists. What they call themselves doesn’t matter to me”

Even the Socialist Workers Party, the vanguard of leftist power-politics has acknowledged, albeit through gritted teeth, “the growing popularity of anarchism, as both movement and ideology”, so much so they have been forced to republish their critique of anarchism for a new audience.

The fact that different strands of political thought are all recognising the role anarchist methodology is playing in the current wave of social struggles should inspire in all of us the confidence to organise and act as a visible anarchist movement. This is our time.

Anarchism is now being represented not as a constructed ideology but as a body of people engaged in activities that openly question the dominance of capitalism and the role of the state as valid forms of social organisation. As a movement we stand at an important moment – we either take up the challenge or get left behind.

As a tool of propaganda, as a source of information and as part of the anarchist infrastructure Freedom remains committed to help building a movement worth defending, in a society worth fighting for. This is your paper.

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Svartfrosk: A sideways look – a bad state of health

The ongoing attempt to privatise the National Health Service, or whatever euphemism is being used for the wasteful “internal market” this week, is merely the latest installment in an ongoing programme that began in the 1970s. Capitalism was suffering one of its periodic crises and responded to it by doing the only thing it can do, expand. It expanded in two ways – by privatising and by increasing the area directly under the rule of private profit. I’m not suggesting that the enterprises previously run by the state weren’t capitalist at all, as capitalism is about more than profit, it is a set of social relationships.

But privatisation introduced the profit motive into areas of the economy previously thought to be exempt from them. Neo-liberal theory believes that the state should do very little, with some radical exponents of it approaching an anarchist view of the state. The US has probably gone furthest of the major economies towards this model – its prisons have long been run by for-profit corporations, who lobby for harsher laws and longer sentences, and now even the military is opened up to competition from firms like Blackwater and Raytheon.

As the last few years have shown, there is no steady-state form of capitalism – it will grow or it will die. And once demand has dampened down because of recession, along come the ideological reasons to remove functions from the state. As an anarchist I know the state is not the best provider of services, but it does even out the awful outcomes we’d suffer under pure capitalism. If you disagree, just look at American healthcare, or British railways.

The privatisation recommended by the West once the Soviet Union collapsed paved the way for a small number of oligarchs to massively enrich themselves, while the general population watched their living standards plummet. It’s not a far-fetched prediction that the same will happen in Libya now that a western-friendly regime is in power. Gaddafi might have been a murderous dictator, but he was his own man. Libya could soon be heading the way of Nigeria, Angola or Equatorial Guinea.

Governments of all stripes have given NHS work to private companies, often signing ridiculous contracts meaning the companies got paid even if there was no work. There’s plenty of evidence that some of them cherry-pick the easy work, leaving the expensive operations to the NHS.

Aside from losing the goodwill of health workers by selling them out to the lowest bidder, the subsidies required in most private services once they are the only provision are enormous. Look how much care home costs have rocketed (and standards fallen) since the whole sector was taken over by private equity vultures.

The NHS is far from being a decent employer – there are regular employment tribunals that tell of bullying and a long hours culture. Whistle-blowers have been disgracefully hounded, something that gets little coverage outside of Private Eye – presumably the rest of the media rely on private health insurance, which is now standard in a surprising number of professions. The government’s reforms are aimed at fragmenting the service and making it less attractive to the middle classes, with the ultimate aim being to abolish it for all but those on benefits. Then it really will be hopeless, as the economies of scale inherent in it become lost in a maze of ever-increasing insurance premiums.

What can be done? A defence of the NHS without recognising its flaws is daft. But all the same, the principle of free healthcare needs to be defended. An alliance of health workers with, well, almost everybody, ought to do the trick. A vote for Labour isn’t going to help – they started it all. Instead, we will need to take direct action, such as occupying private health care companies and backing strikes against service closures.

Svartfrosk

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Notes from the US – Protest against tar sand oil pipeline, Big strike of the year at telecoms giants Verizon, government in the dock

The silly season is over – inasmuch as it ever is in the United States (it emerged in late August, for instance, that Senator John McCain, former 2008 presidential candidate, promised to provide arms and military aid to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi during a meeting in August 2009. And there are a few small victories for common sense.

A federal court, for instance, has refused to dismiss a lawsuit against former US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, for his role in devising policies of torture in Iraq. In mid August the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that two American citizens (Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel) who were tortured at a US military base in Iraq have adequate evidence to suggest that Rumsfeld was personally responsible for their treatment and not entitled to qualify for immunity.

Then a federal jury has also found four New Orleans police guilty of civil rights violations over the shooting deaths of two civilians and the subsequent cover-up after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The charges were linked to shootings on the Danziger Bridge that also seriously wounded four others.

Also in the legal arena, though not so encouraging, the Obama administration is drawing criticism for the way in which is has dealt with the case of a married bi-national gay couple in San Francisco who risk being separated by deportation (Obama has already deported more people than Bush). The US Citizenship and Immigration Services has denied immigration benefits to Bradford Wells – actually a US citizen – and Anthony John Makk, an Australian national, who were married in Massachusetts seven years ago. Makk has been ordered to return to Australia.

But in New York City, an 82-year-old resident of Brooklyn who faces foreclosure was allowed to stay in her house in mid August after more than 200 people gathered near its front to block the eviction. Mary Lee Ward has lived in her home for 44 years but is now facing foreclosure as a victim of deceptive and predatory lending practices. “We are not slaves anymore. My grandfather was a slave, but I’m not. And they’re not going to force me to do anything against my will. You gotta put up a hard fight for the faith, and that means the fact that you have to stick with it when you know that you’re right. You know you have the evidence. You know you have the facts. Don’t let nobody walk over you. Don’t let nobody make you a slave.”

Unions
Some 45,000 unionised workers at telecom giant, Verizon, struck for several days last month after negotiations broke down between Verizon and two unions representing the workers (the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers). Verizon tried to cut health and pension benefits for workers and make it simpler for the company to sack workers. The strike was the largest and most significant this year. Verizon, which is the nation’s second largest phone company, earned US$6.9 (£4.2) billion in net income for the first six months of the year – or about a £1,000 an hour.

According to government data the share of the eligible population holding a job declined to just 58%, the lowest since July 1983. The official unemployment rate is 9.1%.

Other revealing official statistics released last month show that by the end of April this year the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had cost an average of US$9.7 (£5.9) billion a month. That’s £8m an hour and roughly the entire annual budget for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Also protesting were activists blocking the entrance to a US Navy base in Washington state which houses nuclear submarines; the protest was timed to mark the 66th anniversary of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

Then in Arizona, 10 protesters were arrested in mid August after chaining themselves together and blocking a road leading to the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff. They were protesting plans for a ski resort which would use recycled sewer water to make artificial snow on a mountain considered sacred by 13 Native American tribes.

Environment
Protests continue against the Alberta tar sands project which would build a pipeline 1,500 miles from north to south (the Keystone XL pipeline) to deliver tar sands oil from Canada to refineries in Texas. In late August more than 500 people protesting outside the White House were arrested on several separate occasions. Indeed, the protest is being widely described as one of the environmental movement’s biggest and important campaigns for many years. Dr. Sydney Parker of Maryland: “We are here because it’s not just an environmental issue, it’s also a very big health issue and that’s why we’ve come out today and that’s why we’re so committed. So personally I’ve never been arrested before. I don’t do this for fun. I’m here because I think it’s such an important issue that it really demands that kind of action and it demands that level of commitment from myself.”

Meanwhile a new report by Canada’s environmental agency has found that extracting oil from the Alberta tar sands will more than offset emission reductions in other areas. Greenhouse gas emissions from oil sands would triple to 92-million metric tons by 2020. But then Canada’s current conservative government has abandoned more ambitious efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The National Climatic Data Center confirmed that July was the fourth-warmest month in US history. In Dallas, for example, the temperature exceeded 100 degrees on 30 of the 31 days in July. This didn’t stop Texan presidential candidate Rick Perry from advocating – along with the teaching of creationism – that climate change be dismissed as a hoax.

Still, if you look at the website WorldNetDaily the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that shook the East Coast on August 23 is the result of the nation’s declining morals… “Washington, D.C. deserves more than the wallop it got today. It needs a much bigger shaking up than it got”. Whereas for rabbi Yehuda Levin “…there’s a direct connection between earthquakes and homosexuality. There was in Haiti, and there is here in New York and Washington, D.C., where they passed homosexual legislation and ordinances”.

Also in political news, far right candidate, Michelle Bachmann, in addition for saying that hurricane Irene was god’s punishment, effectively for those who don’t support the Republicans, has had to deal with reports that one of her staff, Peter Waldron, was arrested in February 2006 in Uganda for possessing a number of assault rifles and ammunition just days before Uganda’s first multi-party elections in 20 years. Another candidate, Mitt Romney, has applied for a permit to bulldoze his 3,000-square-foot, US$12 (£7.3) million beachfront vacation home in California – so as to replace it with one nearly four times its size. A campaign official remarked that the existing home is, “inadequate for their needs”. Romney lives in Massachusetts, but also has vacation homes in New Hampshire and Utah.

Louis Further

National Climatic Data Center: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/ncdc.html

--------------------------------------------------

Prison news – Attica prison riot

It was inevitable that the 10th anniversary of 9-11 would be ubiquitous in September’s media, just as inevitably there would be scant coverage of a different, though still significant, anniversary of a rather different atrocity perpetrated on American soil on almost the same day 30 years earlier – the brutal ending of the Attica Rebellion.

For 4 days in September 1971 more than 1,000 prisoners took control of the Attica Correctional Facility, a supermax penitentiary in New York State. They set up committees to negotiate their demands with the authorities, to organise food, bedding, sanitation, security and health care for the prisoners and for the 42 prison officers and civilian staff that they had taken hostage. Mass debates took place on aims and possible outcomes of the rebellion and on the wave of rebellion and resistance sweeping America, both inside and outside of its prison walls.

At the time, Attica was grossly overcrowded – designed to hold 1,200 prisoners, it held 2,225. Banged-up14-16 hours a day, prisoners were allowed only one shower a week and one roll of toilet paper per person per month. Family visits were conducted through a mesh screen; medical care was minimal; parole inequitable; and racism all pervasive – the governor ran an overtly racist regime, where two-thirds of Attica’s prisoners were Black and Puerto Rican and all 383 guards were white, and the best jobs went to the white prisoners.

Despite this, there was a growing sense of solidarity across racial lines following the issuing of an inmate manifesto in early 1971 setting forth a series of moderate demands that had been presented to the prison authorities, backed up by a peaceful 10-day prison work strike, together with a day-long hunger strike and protests involving 800 prisoners following the assassination of George Jackson two weeks before the uprising.

The spark that started the uprising itself was quiet a small incident: the rescuing of an inmate from a prospective beating to be meted out by guards in retaliation for the throwing of a soup can at one of their number. Guards attempted a lockdown in retaliation and half the prison population rebelled and seized control of the prison and hostages. Negotiations started based around 5 core demands, including amnesty from reprisals and the presence of a team of named observers to mediate negotiations, plus a series of ‘practical proposals’ based on the earlier manifesto (an immediate end to all racial discrimination; the right to prison labour union, the removal of the warden, etc., many of which the authorities were planning on introducing anyway.

Negotiations stalled and on the 13th, whilst National Guard helicopters sprayed tear gas into the prison yard, 450 National Guardsmen, prison guards and police assaulted the prison, indiscriminately firing up to 4,5000 rounds of ammunition in the process. They killed 29 inmates and 10 hostages in the process (though they initially claimed that 9 guards had had their throats cut by the prisoners). The surviving prisoners, many with untreated gunshot wounds, were forced to strip naked and lie face down in the mud of A Yard before being beaten. Those identified as ringleaders, marked with a white chalked cross on their backs, were singled-out for special treatment i.e. torture. The remainder were beaten and forced to crawl across broken glass.

Thus ended the bloodiest prison riot in American history. Despite the massacre, only one state trooper was ever convicted (for reckless endangerment), whilst 64 inmates faced 1,300 separate charges. The state never accepted any blame for the deaths and the public remain barred from the riot files, which are exempt from state public access laws or sealed by court order.

“We are men. We are not beasts, and we do not intend to be beaten or driven as such.” – L. D. Barkely, a 21 year old prisoner serving time for breaching parole by driving without a licence. He died in the assault, shot 15 times at point-blank range.

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Angel Alley – Alliance of Radical Booksellers new initiative

Freedom bookshop is proud to be a part of the new initiative Alliance for Radical Booksellers (ARB) instigated by Housmans.

Up until the mid 1980s there were scores of radical bookshops in Britain – every major town had one. Many of these booksellers worked together under the mutual banner of the ‘Federation of Radical Booksellers’. The Federation acted as a support network for its members, helping with a variety of practical aspects of bookselling, as well as providing a sense of community. Sadly, as the book-trade hit hard times, the Federation collapsed.

The book trade has been in a slow decline for a long time now, particularly after the gradual collapse up of the Net Book Agreement throughout the early nineties. The NBA regulated book prices, meaning that booksellers large or small could sell at the same price, and on the same margins.

Today we are left with a fraction of the bookshops that once flourished, with both small independents and corporate chains struggling to stay afloat. Radical booksellers have suffered the same fate as the mainstream shops, and many fine and wonderful shops have closed their doors.

However all is not lost, and there are still some wonderful bookshops out there, working hard to keep progressive books on our high streets. The Alliance of Radical Booksellers hopes to pick up where the Federation left of: as an organisation which allows its member booksellers to support each other, promote one anothers work, and sell books together. Plans are already in motion for the Alliance members to take part in bookfairs together, and to launch an ARB literary prize.

If you would like to find out more, get in touch with Nik via email: nik@housmans.com

Website: http://www.radicalbooksellers.co.uk/
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* Anarchist journal
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