(en) Struggles and Unemployment in Great Britain (fr)

Mon, 24 Feb 1997 16.15 GMT

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[This article first appeared in the French journal Le Monde Libertaire in mid 1996. A bit passed its sell-by date we invite you to read it as a backgrounder to some of the other articles about the UK this week on a-infos. In theory these documents are best viewed using the a-infozine digest option]



What is the state of the libertarian movement in Great Britain? Our comrade Gilles, from the FAF group in Cherbourg, took advantage of a trip to England to interview one of those responsible for the well known journal Freedom. Here we present the transcript. ---------------------------------------------------------------- Gilles: You are the correspondant for Freedom Press International: is Freedom, the paper, totally independant, does it belong to an organisation, how does it operate?

Freedom Press International: When it began Freedom was set up according to anarcho-communist principles (in the Kropotkin sense); now all this has evolved. Our readers reflect a wide range of views: I think this is because we have no 'platform'; Freedom is an anarchist journal in the widest sense of the word including anarcho- syndicalists, individualists, ecologists etc. Apart from our fortnightly Freedom, we also publish books and journals and run a bookshop.

Gilles: Do you have links with other groups in Great Britain?

Freedom Press International: Yes and no. Freedom does not participate in a political 'structure' the project is a meeting of individuals. Amongst them are members of Class War, the Scottish Anarchist Federation; there are people from almost all groupings but we have no 'formal' relations. One would have to say that in Great Britain we have a history that might be described as one of 'disorganisation'... there is no anarchist federation as there is in France. There was a British Federation back in the 1960s but also a lot of internal disagreements. Also people are wary of any centralisation based around London: to decide where to hold the first meeting is already a problem... In short, we have different groups in England, but there is no formal relation between them. I think it is different in Scotland where the Scots have formed a federation. The main occasion when all groups come together is the annual bookfair which takes place every October in London.

Gilles: Tell us something of those struggles directed against the state in 1995?

Freedom Press International: Perhaps the most important has been the Criminal Justice Act (CJA). In the 1980s when the Poll Tax was introduced, many people (the young especially) wanted to avoid the tax and 'disappeared' (by boycotting the electoral role for example) heading for the road hence the name: traveller. They were continually on the move to avoid the economic system. Camps were set up on private property and there were festivals also... In Britain there had been places where we had common rights Stonehenge was an example and many festivals were held here. This caused a problem for the authorities because there was a legal void in this area. Under the pretext of controlling the 'travellers' many measures were brought in for example forbidding any meeting of more than ten people without previously getting police permission. We fought these laws in 1995. There were many demonstrations. For example, the property of the Home Secretary was invaded one week-end. People dug holes in the lawn and climbed onto the roof etc. Currently the powers that be have successfully divided the travellers movement and they are on the defensive rather than the attack.

Gilles: With regard to ecology are there similar struggles? Can you tell us something about this area in Britain?

Freedom Press International: The ecologists have had no electoral success and the movement organises itself outside of the traditional political system. There are those who would protest in a 'correct' manner - and non violent (giving flowers to the police at demos for example) Last year saw protests against veal exports because of the conditions the animals were kept in: firstly the demonstrators demonstrated 'correctly' but they soon learnt that in the eyes of the police demonstrators are just that and no distinction is made. You don't change things with flowers and placards. Another wing focuses more on direct action and many anarchists are active here. Then there are the Deep Ecologists who seem to think microbes have the same rights as humans and take no views on the economic and political realities. There is a difference between these people and the militants (for whom there is no distinction to be made between these issues and others). With regard to action: there is a lot of anti-road protesting. In Newberry, for example, just yesterday, a workplace was occupied with lots of underground tunnels and so on. The occupants chained themselves up and waited for the police. Mounted police came in and arrested several people. The aim of these actions is not precisely to halt the motorway but more to delay it for so long that the cost of road building becomes exorbitant. It is impossible for the companies concerned to carry out the work in the time set because of all the action that is taking place.

Gilles: In another area the British government has put forward legislation reforming the rights of the jobless. What is at stake here?

Freedom Press International: With all that has happened here since Mrs Thatcher we are perhaps an example of the future for you... Previously, all unemployed people had the right to benefit (even if small). Today the aim of the reform is to make these benefits less accessible. To prove one's worthiness long forms will need filling in; every week a report will have to be given to state officers saying what personal attempt has been made to find work. Also there has been a change in wording. There are now no longer unemployed people but rather Job Seekers. Also it is hard to find secure jobs (as is your case too): short term and part time work are on the up...

Gilles: Listening to you I think it shows we must make common platform agaisnt our exploiters whatever the national badge they stick on us. One final question: What do you think of the situation with regards Northern Ireland and the British governemnt?

Freedom Press International: When the IRA declared their temporary cease fire I think everyone felt hope. For 20 years the British government tried to impose a military solution. Nobody believed in it. We felt there was no political solution because there were too many social and economic factors clouding the picture. The solution could not be simple (protestant versus catholic for example). One must realsie that the current government has a very slim majority in Parliament and in some areas it needs the support of Unionist MPs to get legislation passed. Thus negotiations are difficult because they are dictated by the Unionists. The English governemtn is in a weak position. The IRA realsies that ther ecan be no progress on this front. Their latest actions have taken place to try to press the British governement into action. This is why there has been an increase in activity.

Propos recueillis par Gilles (groupe FA de Cherbourg c/o GREL, BP 12, 50130 Octeville cedex)

Freedom Press International, 84 b Whitechapel High Street, London E 1 7QX, Grande-Bretagne.

FREEDOM PRESS INTERNATIONAL http://tao.ca/~freedom

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