The People's Cries

About domination and its effects: and about resistance to exploitation and abuse through solidarity.

Category: Uncategorized

On filling in the Census Rehearsal.

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The trial run of the 2021 national Census asks the Census-filler to consider the “National Identity” of each member of the household, even offering some suggestions, such as “British”, “English”, “Welsh”, “Scottish”,  “Irish”, or “Other”.

I filled it in for myself as “Other – unresolved”.   The ‘unresolved’ was at first just a reference to the present political situation, with the threatened demise of the UK as an entity, but on further reflection this response suited me at a deeper level.  I wanted to hint at the possibility that we all might come to consider our identity, or rather identities, not as something dictated to us by the nightmare of history, but something orientated towards the future.  

I began that section of the questionnaire with a simple rejection of the alternatives on offer.  It is hardly timely to call one’s national identity “British” at a time when the Prime Minister is actively trying to render a “British” national identity a historical curiosity, pursuing policies which make the break-up of that always artificial and provisional ‘nation’ likely.   Anyway the word ‘British’ still conjures up the crimes of Empire…not just the massacres, and the wars, the slavery, the settler-colonialism and genocides, but the very invention of race; and these crimes are not all in the past, they still are being carried out by the afterlife of Empire – by the City of London as a hub with its tax-evasion spokes, by the mining conglomerates with their bases in London, and by all the other multinational networks of domination and extraction, even if they now have to shelter behind US military violence as much as behind the UK’s own military force.  

In any case decades of mobilising against thugs and bullies with their Union Jacks and their crosses of St George have been enough to sour my willingness to claim to be either British, or English.  I disavow any association with those categories.  I strongly oppose all Nationalisms as political creeds, so why do I have to espouse a ‘national identity’ at all?  I might until recently reluctantly admit to being European, but even that as something to be proud of, to cherish as an avowed identity, seems out of reach now, tainted as it is by deliberately stoked-up mass xenophobia and by the bodies of thousands of drowned refugees.

I had similar difficulty with other parts of the questionnaire. Was I white, black, or mixed?  I put down “Other – vitiligo” – referring to the skin disease which makes me multicoloured in patches large and small all over my face and body – a mixture of very white and slightly brown.  This was an evasion, I know – my actual skin colouring wasn’t the issue: I just did not want to own up to the shameful category of being ‘White’… a member of the group that invented race in order to be able to ascribe it to the dominated and abused Other: a group chosen, not by God, but by the successful deployment of violence.  I oppose racism, though I will own up to displaying it sometimes despite my efforts.  But I also oppose race altogether, as an abomination, a false categorisation of people that arises from the impulse of imperialism to steal land, and to enclose it, to be worked then by the slaves or the wage-slaves that have been driven out of it.

The Census questionnaire did not give any guidance on the terms ‘Sex’ and ‘Gender’ , it asked about both without clarifying the meaning of either word as they wanted to use them, as if they were not contested or problematic terms.  Anatomy, assumed chromosomes and, I admit, a long-standing sense of what I am, prompted me to confess to Sex – “male”, but I really did not feel that I could sign up to belonging to the male gender, with its assumption and regular exercise of patriarchal power, which is just as much the product of violence as “British” or “White” is the product of Empire.  I put myself down as  gender “Other — unresolved” for a second time.

The section on sexuality was voluntary, but having warmed to the category I had invented, rather than leaving it blank, I again wrote “Other – unresolved”.   This conveys a hint of an uncertain, exciting, and multi-layered future to which I might aspire.  Having a sexual orientation, at least to some extent or at some stages of life, does, after all, precede sexual experience.  Sexuality is inherently related to dreams and fantasies, and so it is to some extent inherently future-orientated. 

The whole exercise confronted me with the fact that I am the holder of unspeakable identities that I cannot easily disavow, and which I know other people who know me must ascribe to me – white, male, heterosexual, middle-class, well-off, British.  They are all categories tainted with violence, categories defined by ongoing exclusion and domination.  Should I be made to confess to such belonging?  Yes, perhaps I should, and let the felt shame lead to silence, so that other voices can be heard, all the voices that have been silenced by violence and exclusion; I hope I do go along with that injunction a lot of the time … that my silences in meetings and social groups can thus have an honourable justification, not just be ascribable to social disabilities.  However, I cannot resist the impulse to dissociate myself from all those categories and to declare myself as something other, something not with a basis in the past, but in the aspired-to future – such as a believer in material equality, an internationalist, a communist, someone for gender equality and fluidity, an extinction rebel, and so on… and thus entitled to speak.  This is why the Census seemed like a challenge.

My evasive and even misleading answers will be taken as sabotaging the efforts of the Office for National Statistics to provide researchers with accurate data about the population that is needed for the government to take actions to protect disadvantaged groups.  This argument sounds rather hollow, though, when we have a government that is actively promoting social inequality and disadvantage, a government that wants to encourage people to espouse a certain “national identity” that will recruit them to the ranks of xenophobia and discrimination.  We have a State that will be more likely to use figures about the proportion of people who are not “White” or not “British” to prove that ‘we’ are being over-run with “swarms” of foreigners.  We have had such a government for a decade or longer, and very obviously since 2014 when Theresa May crafted the ‘hostile environment’ strategy.  

The problem is deeper than that, however: the Census questions urging citizens to categorise themselves into sets, albeit with the escape set of “other”, are themselves products and expressions of a particular ideology, generally accepting of patriarchy, empire, and grossly unequal ownership of property, and their resulting hierarchies, fundamentally accepting of the very inequalities which it ostensibly aims to measure so as to reduce or modify them.  This acceptance goes along with the fundamental liberal Enlightenment acceptance of the right to own Property – and I mean by Property more than the property – land, food, shelter, smart phone or whatever that is essential for ones’ own use.   This unrestricted right to Own – the outcome of 1789, along with other liberties – means above all the right to exclude, the right to dominate.  It means that society has to be structured as a regime of violence, even if that violence is not being acted out all the time.  Walls and borders, contracts and trade agreements are all means of hanging on the benefits of overt violence, which has to be there in the background and indeed has to be seen and used from time to time in case people start to forget what is the real basis of society, or indeed of the global order as a whole.  This system of structures includes the structures in our minds that we might call our identity.  The Census assumes and in its modest way reinforces this ideology – it asks, “where do you place yourself in this structure?”- this structure of domination – as if it is timeless and immutable and cannot be demolished.  As if the urgent task before us was not to knock it down, which would mean moving out of all our sets, including moving forward out of the sets of the oppressed which people now can understandably be proud to be in.  

 If you object to “race” as a disgusting fiction born out of the violence of imperialism,  can you classify yourself racially?  If you stand against all forms of nationalism, should you be forced to own up to having a “national identity’?  If you detest patriarchy, do you have to confess to being male?  To all these questions I say, “no”.  For those like me without a dominated set to belong to, selecting  “Other”, as the set to which they belong could be seen as a gesture of solidarity with the excluded and the exploited Other whose existence alone gives meaning to all the sets of dominator identities and categories on offer.  This “Other” is  a self-identification available to all those who do not belong to all the really Othered categories, but who are “always with the Oppressed, never with the Oppressor.”   That means being always with the Other.

When enough of us have embraced being “Other” we will have moved forward, perhaps, to a better society in which the future existence of our planet may once again seem possible.

Abu Dis – the Separation Wall – a sculpture of our times.

via Abu Dis – the Separation Wall – a sculpture of our times.

Abu Dis – the Separation Wall – a sculpture of our times.

    The Separation Wall in Palestine:

1).   As a physical presence:

 

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For a visit to Palestine in April, organised by Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association, we were based in Abu Dis, once an outlying suburb of Jerusalem, now itself divided by the Wall and the main part cut off from Jerusalem by the Wall, and thus cut off from basic services such as hospitals, educational institutions and cultural centres.  Thus it is a really appropriate place to see the Separation Wall and to appreciate its effects.

IMG_4850The Separation wall in Abu Dis from the viewpoint of a demolished house. Beyond the wall, on the horizon – near to the protection of the Israeli army camp that is this side the wall under the radio mast and dominating Abu Dis – is a US settler’s house near the Wall.  In what was once a  farm house – the white building in a clump of small trees – an Arab  family manages without water and electricity, but so far prevents by their presence and ownership of the land the planned building of a planned much larger Israeli settlement.

 

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2 To get into East Jerusalem from Abu Dis took us about an hour and a half, including half an hour or so waiting at a checkpoint which was like an airport security system but much darker, more dirty, and more intimidating.  It used to take 20 minutes, and it still does take that time for the settlers who live in the sprawling settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, which is actually further to the east.

 

IMG_5150Looking back through the checkpoint for pedestrians between Abu Dis and East Jerusalem.

Huge height of the wall in the towns is like a prison wall, totally blocking out the people and the scene on the other side, so that their oppression and immiseration is out of sight and out of mind, and at the same time it is an extension of imprisonment into the West Bank communities  

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Wall cutting across Abu Dis

 

The main road of the town is blocked by the Wall in the town at the Jerusalem end and you have to turn down a side street.

2). The Wall, settlements, and militarism as an integrated system of domination:

The Apartheid Wall extends for 810 km and cost $1.3 billion.    Far from tracing a route, like Offa’s dyke or Hadrian’s wall, to enhance the defensive possibilities of a border, the Wall meanders to capture the best land, and to create a system of security for numerous settlements, which are located throughout the West Bank in the areas that are under Israeli military control.   Indeed the settlements, and the fences that surround them, and the settlers roaming the countryside with their automatic weapons,  the drones that carry out surveillance overhead, the watchtowers, and the vast array of weaponry that is at the disposal of the Israeli army can really be seen as parts of the same system.

As we travelled to Ramallah, to Jericho, to Bethlehem and to Hebron, we sometimes lost sight of the huge scar across the landscape made by the Wall,

 

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The Separation Wall to the East of East Jerusalem.                    

 

…….  but we scarcely ever lost sight of the settlements, which are deliberately placed strategically on high ground to dominate the landscape and thus to express entitlement to the landscape as a whole. 

 

We visited three Bedouin villages where people live who have already been displaced northwards from the Negev area in 1948 and subsequently after 1967 they have had their freedom to move around progressively curtailed, though they still try to cling to their way of life that involves grazing animals on open land.  These villages have been thrust into the forefront of the struggle against the encirclement of East Jerusalem with a ring of settlements; though they are on land which actually belongs to the wealthier inhabitants of nearby towns such as Abu Dis, it is land designated as under Israeli military control, so they have been subjected to frequent demolition of their homes, and their schools, destruction of their wells, with prevention of adequate road access and deprivation of electricity.

IMG_5130Al Khan al Ahmar school – still standing after last year’s desperate campaign and international outcry, but still under threat of demolition.

IMG_5120 (1)Jabel Al Baba view over to settlement.

 

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Settlement of Ma’ale Adumim seen from many-times demolished Bedouin village of Jabal al-Baba

 

 

IMG_2725 2 (1)Settlement over Wadi Abu Hindi village, from which diverted sewage has been poured at times, and – when a marquee was set up for a wedding – burning tyres.

 

The settlements have access restricted to Israelis except for Arab workers with special short-term passes, and they have their own interconnecting roads and routes to Jerusalem that non-Israeli vehicles cannot use.  Where such an Israeli-only road meets a main road connecting West Bank cities, the settler road always seemed to have priority, so that the Palestinians had to queue again and again to give way according to a racial logic of inferiority. 

 

IMG_4935Picture of array of passes from Walled-Off hotel exhibition

70% of the land area of the West Bank is controlled fully by the Israeli army, so that the cities and towns where there is nominally Palestinian control are like isolated enclaves, surrounded by some villages where there is nominally joint control, in a kind of no-man’s land that is also subjected by Israeli military incursions and surveillance, and itself surrounded by hostile settlements.

We came closest to an Israeli settlement  beside the small enclaves of mostly American extremist settlers in the middle of Hebron, where there are almost daily settler attacks on the indigenous population, with army house searches, arrests and tear gas. 

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Steps lead up to a house broken into that morning in Hebron. 

 

IMG_5357 (1)Children going through a gate in Hebron into the guarded settlement area where some Palestinian Arabs still have their homes, here a child was killed last year who did not understand instructions shouted in Hebrew.

IMG_2812 2Young woman hand on gate in Hebron.

IMG_2811 2 (1)Hebron access gate in the ruined market area near Shuhada Street.

East Jerusalem:

 The system includes the isolation, with their limited and separate citizenship, of the Arab population of East Jerusalem who in the effort to constantly increase the Jewish proportion of the city’s population are subjected to severe restrictions as to marriage, obstruction of relationships with people from the West Bank, travel restrictions, and difficulty and legal expenses trying to register the existence of their children  so they can get schooling and health care.  They face the constant threat of confiscation of their homes, with expensive litigation the only uncertain route to getting their home back once they have been evicted by settlers.  Others who have built or extended their homes without the building permits that are impossible for Arab applicants to obtain, face the constant threat of their home being demolished, or even of being forced to demolish their own homes rather than having to pay  the inflated costs imposed when the Israeli army do it.  Where homes are taken over, the militant settlers who occupy them regularly throw acids, rocks, or excrement down at their neighbours.

IMG_5192Courtyard with objects on the roof picture

IMG_5191 (1)Doorway into shared courtyard where a child’s arm was burned with acid thrown by a settler youth living above.

 

IMG_2751Israeli flags on house in Via Dolorosa in the heart of the Arab quarter of the Old City

IMG_4941 (1)House demolitions  – Walled-Off exhibit photo – if you had thirty minutes before your home was demolished, what would you save?

 

 The system includes the  high walls and barbed wire of some 19 Israeli prisons and interrogation centres, most of them in Israel itself, in which Palestinians from the West Bank are held after being arrested, a process which usually takes place at about 2 a.m. to maximise the intimidatory aspect of the “swarm” of army and police who carry out arrests, and the humiliation of the family who are woken from sleep to lose one of their members, without being told a reason nor a destination, nor whether they will be tried in military courts, or subject to administrative detention without charge.  Conditions within the prisons are poor, and torture is so prevalent and taken for granted that the prisoners often do not even realise that they have been tortured.

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Thanks to the system of the Wall and to the even more comprehensive domination of Gaza, Israel is increasingly becoming a producer and exporter of weapons systems, torture techniques and surveillance systems that supply militaristic regimes across the world.  “People like to buy things that have been tested.  Israel sells weapons that have been tested, tried out.  It brings Israel billions of dollars.”  

IMG_4955Finance minister statement 2013 exhibit at Walled-Off museum

And the arms industry has become a key part of the Israeli economy.

IMG_4956Ehud Barak statement on arms industry exhibit at Walled-Off museum.

 

 

 

 

3).   As a symbol of abuse/military domination:

  The wall in Abu Dis and Bethlehem on the West Bank side has art on it, but this use as a site of expression merely modifies slightly its own enormity as a sculpture, a physical representation of absolute entitlement, an entitlement based more obviously than the entitlements that we are familiar with in the UK, that of ex-Etonians for example, on brute military force.  This sculpture reminds us that at the heart of capitalism is the absolute entitlement to land and property, and that entitlement’s proper expression is a Wall.

IMG_2700*** [art on wall at Bethlehem photo]

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So what are the Entitlements  manifest in the Separation Wall:

1) …..to racialise populations – to make them be Arab or Jew and for those socially constructed categories to  be in a conflict to which all the other wealth of their identities and character is subordinate.  Ironically to entirely eliminate the Arab Jews who once, as in many other surrounding territories, formed a substantial proportion of the indigenous population and, in places like Hebron, for example, were anti-Zionists.  It is a tribute to hegemonic power that most of the people we spoke to in the West Bank referred to themselves as Palestinians, and to their oppressors as Jews.

 2)…..to steal some of the best agricultural land at the edges of the West Bank.

3)…. to steal water and then severely ration it, particularly in the summer – two hours a week – whilst it is pumped freely to the settlements.

IMG_4880 (1)Water containers on the rooftops – the marker of a West Bank Arab community.

 

 4)….. to cut off people from their employment or from the means of employment, and to create a subordinate workforce of people who are working in a territory that they are not entitled to be in, thus encouraging employers to exploit them even more ruthlessly.  An estimated 1200 Palestinians are forced to cross the wall without papers every day, risking death or arrest.

IMG_4936Exhibit of one man’s account in Walled-Off Hotel.

                   

5)…. to humiliate and bully people crossing checkpoints.  To have checkpoints operative randomly, but also fixed checkpoints that are only staffed and used to delay and harass non-Israeli travellers at rush hours, undermining the claim that they are for security purposes.

                    

6)…. to engender fear and anger in the dominated population, as often as possible and in as many ways as possible, and then to use the perception of this rage by the racialised dominant group to justify more violence and more oppression, as we’ve seen in the recent Israeli elections.

7)…to use unlimited and often murderous military force in the name of the State, whilst refusing to recognise the targeted population as citizens, even though they pay fines and they pay taxes and they pay extortionate utility bills, in fact they pay more towards their own domination than do the Jewish Israelis, especially the settlers who are often exempt from taxes and from utility bills.

 

(86) Facebook (1)Settlers with assault rifle in the countryside.

8.) ….to use economic levers, corruption, informers, criminals and the desire in a class system to cling to past privileges to try to create a collaborating class amongst the indigenous population.

 

 

Domination engenders RESISTANCE.  

Not all bullying and domination leads to what we can recognise as resistance by the subaltern party – child victims of abuse, for example, may become perpetrators themselves or they may enter a long period of self-harming behaviour.    In the West Bank, however, the inescapability of the racist domination to which people are subjected means that it really is a collective experience.   Mimetic individualised reactions, such as those of the adolescents who try to stab a guard at a checkpoint with a knife or a pair of scissors – such children are nearly always killed immediately – are not stigmatised, they are seen as martyrs practicing resistance, albeit futile.  Their sacrifice represents and enacts the whole community’s refusal of subordination through military force. 

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Naji Salim Hussain al-Ali, a Palestinian cartoonist, assassinated in London in 1987, created this figure of a ten-year old boy, Handhala, which has become an icon of Palestinian resistance.

 

In this context, just remaining alive, experiencing joy and love, is resistance, but what we were really privileged to experience as visitors was a remarkable hospitality extended towards us, a sample of what Abdulfattah Abusrour in Aida refugee camp called “beautiful resistance”, which involves cultural performance, expression and communication in engendering solidarity.

 

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Mural outside Alrowwad Cultural and Arts Society, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem. Layla and Majnun is a narrative poem composed in 584/1188 by the Persian poet Niẓāmi Ganjavi based on a story about the 7th century Bedouin poet Qays ibn Al-Mulawwah and the woman he loved  Layla bint Mahdi, who was kept from marrying him by her father.

4). The Separation Wall and its system as export and as prophecy.

If the above list of entitlements has a familiar ring to it, here in London, which was once the capital of a system of imperialist domination, it is because they are the traditional entitlements of settler-colonialism. 

 

We live in a historical phase when the class that owns the vast majority of the world’s wealth is internationalised through capital mobility;  the brutal systems of direct accumulation by dispossession and enslavement in the periphery that always were a fundamental part of the system of industrial capitalism – but too little attended to in socialist theory –  are returning, like a tide, from faraway continents into the old imperialist heartlands, just as they did in 1930’s Germany and Italy.

 

This Separation Wall in Palestine  is a representation of what we, as socialists and internationalists, are up against all over the world, and of its modern methods of control in which Separation – i.e. racism – and militarism; the brutal irrationality of force, are key. It is a picture of the huge edifice of domination that we have to undermine without ourselves resorting to bullying, torture, political imprisonment, and military force, in the brief time we have left before they destroy the planet.   What once was Palestine is an epicentre of strategies of domination, through techniques of racialisation, through the creation of different bands of citizenship with different levels of entitlement, through physical walls and systems of surveillance, through killings and detentions, that is being rolled out across the world to enable the system of gross inequality to survive and to develop.

 

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Court of Appeal hears how NHS England’s Accountable Care Organisation contract is not in public interest

via Court of Appeal hears how NHS England’s Accountable Care Organisation contract is not in public interest

Proposed Motion on Agricultural Policy for Labour Party meetings

Motion proposed to —insert Branch— Labour Party on agricultural policy:

This Branch notes that the EU’s common agricultural policy, a farm subsidy system that spends £44 billion a year, has promoted environmental destruction across Europe.   Because payments are made for any land that is in ‘agricultural condition’, there is an incentive to clear wildlife habitats even in places that are unsuitable for farming.  Because the more land you have, the more public subsidy you get, this system subsidises wealthy large landowners, even if they do not live in the EU.  This has encouraged a form of benefit tourism by the international super-rich.

This branch/CLP notes the lack of an agricultural policy in the 2017 Labour Manifesto.  The government proposes that after Brexit, farmers in the UK should be paid for protecting wildlife and ecosystems, including soil and water quality, rather than just for owning land, which would be some improvement on the present system, but this still is using subsidy as a substitute for regulation, paying out public money without achieving public ownership or any other form of democratic control of land.

The Branch calls for the development by the Labour Party of a coherent agricultural policy based on some basic principles:

  1. Restoration and improvement of systems of monitoring and regulation of agricultural and environmental practices, including regular inspections and better protection of sites of special scientific interest.
  2. Failure to meet regulatory standards to be met by compulsory purchase, replacing private with democratically accountable communal ownership.
  3. Urgent action to return land on which sustainable agriculture is relatively unviable to natural re-wilding to allow for reforestation, trapping carbon and restoring degraded landscapes.
  4. Agricultural land to be protected from use as a financial asset at the expense of its use for communal benefit (either for food or for environmental protection and diversity).  This could be achieved by imposing a high capital gains tax paid on transfer of its ownership, and by including land in a wealth tax.

The destructive efficacy of domination – a review of “The Death of Homo Economicus” by Peter Fleming, Pluto, 2017.

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Peter Fleming is professor of business studies at City University, London.  His 2017 book, The Death of Homo Economicus, is full of stories of people destroyed, hurt, or marginalised by the current ‘corporate hellscape’ of vulture capitalism and the ‘wreckage economics’ that he describes with the metaphor of the destructive backwash that followed inevitably from the devastation of the 2007-8 economic tsunami.    Homo Economicus is the mythical creature, the illegitimate offspring of Adam Smith, rationally making choices in a market that needs and tolerates little or no intervention from the state, a creature whose false foundations shattered when financial markets around the world had to rescued from impending collapse by state intervention.

Fleming illustrates the death-giving power of an already-dead extractive capitalism with the grim story of the suicide in 2013 of Aaron Schwarz.  Schwarz was a US computer genius hounded by the hybrid power of big business and the state – a hybrid that in itself contradicts the myth –  after he  attempted to liberate to academic readers the knowledge that they had been forced to surrender as writers to corporate publishers and which they could only then access again by paying huge fees.   This corporate extortion in collusion with the state betrays the promises that IT once made to liberate knowledge from the clutches of ownership, contrary to Paul Mason’s idea that technology can deliver freedom from work and production with zero marginal costs, and thus free us from domination by wealth.  Instead we have the ironically named ‘sharing economy’ in which extraction thrives on desperation, collective bargaining is fettered, student debt and housing debt engender a new peonage, and millionaires are made through owning online prostitution sites, where there is no regulation and the consumer is king.  Such sites are just one example of work extending into everyday life.  

Characteristic of this ‘new Dark Age’ are investor vandalism (Carillion), debt financing, state engineered profiteering through corrupt underpricing of public assets for sale, as with Royal Mail, and the feeding frenzy of tax avoidance summed up neatly by the fact that 80% of global trade consists of transfer pricing, that is, corporations trading with themselves via subsidiaries and shell companies in a different tax zone.   Innovation stumbles due to lack of investment in research and development, and workers focus on metrics rather than their tasks, as in the colonisation of universities by a business analogy; where, as in the NHS, the mythology of the customer is used to undermine public service, so that failings are blamed not on underfunding and excessive workload, but on individuals or understaffed institutions.  Public institutions, from transport systems, to housing, health care systems, schools and universities, have been systematically financialised, whilst the concept of public service has been vilified.

Fleming equates the death of the mythic Homo Economicus – a persona the 1% never identified with themselves – with real deaths – those who die shortly after the DWP has declared that they are fit for work, suicides attributable to overwhelming student debt, the murderous revenge of people made redundant.   Fleming mobilises Engel’s concept of social murder when the system of domination, the transformation of instrumental means, such as money, prices and the quantification of social behaviour, into ideological ends  leads to early and preventable deaths; he wrote the book before the Grenfell fire provided such a harrowing and clear example of mass social murder.  He cites David Graeber in condemning as inherently stupid the extra layers of bureaucracy required to police an increasingly unequal society, which stems from their deriving from state power that monopolises violence, a stupidity that can brazenly avoid interpretive labour in its dealings with the powerless and push that labour onto the victims; however, for Fleming, this does not go far enough in describing the institutionalised sadism that is being encouraged, taught, and measured – in the DWP for example – where the aim is not just to erase the subjectivity of the victim, but to occupy it.  

Work is a cultural and ideological artefact, pushed to an individualistic limit where employed or unemployed are made to see themselves as a ‘Company of One’ (Carrie Lane, 2011) subscribing wholeheartedly to the system that has crushed them, seeking an alibi in pointless and demeaning work that in itself signifies waste, facilitated by state-sponsored over-employment.  Fleming evokes the Auschwitz gate slogan Albeit Macht Frei for this militarised workforce in which Weber’s Protestant aim of divine redemption through work has been replaced by a huge absence, by a victimhood that both the dominators and the dominated can see as manufactured, that is, by sadism.  Neoliberal economics, for Fleming, is a fascism of money, that he describes as ‘the unreal reality that emerges when economic theology tries to make its madness real’, when labour is considered simultaneously as essential and as superfluous, so that the capitalist aim is always to get something for nothing, to be independent of labour but to have it always on tap, with zero reproductive costs.  Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct warehouse regime in Bolsover is one such  (EU-funded) death camp.  He reminds us that work does not exist in subsistence economies, it emerges as the state emerges, needing the latter to make people produce a surplus.  To work is already to overwork.

Underpinning the individualisation of work is Human Capital Theory, the idea that a person is the carrier and developer of skills, knowledge, education and attributes that are their property from which they cannot be separated – the neoliberal argument for people investing in their own education and training, leading on to lifelong insecure self-employment, even if it then has to be subsidised by the state.  This regime is in fact a form of divestment, with severe diminutions in the supply of talent, no career development paths, boredom and a new authoritarianism and gender-based workforce abuse, as laid bare at Shirebrook or in Amazon warehouses, but characteristic increasingly of workplaces everywhere.

Steven Slater in 2010 was an airline cabin crew member who exploded with rage when hit by luggage let fall by impatient and argumentative passengers, activated the emergency chute system and fled the scene.  This story Fleming uses to typify the effects of an inclusive form of capitalism in which the economy is both more than us and part of our personalities and relationships, leading to self-harming behaviours and often a violent and drastic snapping.  The depression and quietude that comes from being trapped by an all-encompassing ideology is interrupted because the current system insists on workers being aware of their own futility, making an empty ‘outside’ part of the totalisation, inculcating exit fantasies (moving to France is cited as one such, which I myself indulged in) that may involve doing something really desperate.  As in the battered spouse syndrome, people become more and more dependent on, and even attracted to, institutions that inflict pain.  As Deleuze observed, domination alienates people from their potential to act and do beautiful things, negative power separating us from our potential;  Agamben sees further that it can also separate us from what we can not do, from our capacity to refuse, and this constitutes a further pressure to seek a means of escape.  In the absence of collective strength, this escape turns us into a hunted quarry, the totally individualised subject of surveillance by the state and the police.  Providing sanctuary for such escapees is the basis for a political community to emerge.  Fleming makes an important parallel of such resistance with the recessional resistance, the withdrawal, of the natural world all around us…we experience in our minds and bodies qualities that can be identified in dying ecosystems. ‘Isn’t mimesis the basic code of life?’ Fleming asks, echoing my own conclusions about the relationship between people’s self-damaging health behaviours and their experiences of domination after three decades of working as an inner-city GP.

For Fleming the means/ends inversion that has always been a feature of capitalism is now deeply institutionalised.  He writes that his own academic specialty – ‘economics’ – has the same vacuity at its heart.  Fleming espouses a deep pessimism, but attempts to find the basis for a countervailing “optimism of the will” so that the book ends on a note of exhortation. ‘The growing winter of a wasted world, a vapid monoculture of nothingness, is encircling us as we speak, and it’s time to leave.  That ticket isn’t going to be served on a paper plate.  For the future to begin again and history to be made, one has to be correctly poised.  Be ready.  And therein lies the most important question: will we ever be worthy of that history, still yet to come, but certainly demanding a response from us very soon.’

After so many examples of victimisation, of the damage to more or less all of us, inflicted in the name of domination and the supposed necessity of accumulation this call to be worthy, which pointed by Fleming in the direction of solidarity and of providing sanctuary to our fellow victims, signals a cruel contradiction.  How can we be ready or be worthy, be healthy or collectively strong, when we have already been so cruelly and damagingly subtracted from?  When self-damaging behaviours and escape fantasies are so ingrained? Isn’t mimesis the basic code of life?  

Those of us who are relatively undamaged have a heavy responsibility, which must be a political movement, a Mont Pelerin Society pushing in an entirely opposite direction, away from the market, away from commodities, away from production and exchange, and towards the cultural elevation of nurture, of basic social reproduction of our species and the environment of which it is a part – here mimesis of our childhood nurture, with the exception of the victims of child abuse (and the victims of so-called Public schools) makes us not into Homo Economicus but into carers.  Whilst accepting the myriad forms of individuals’ experiences of abuse, and the many modes of domination that its victims experience, whether raw present or recent violence, or the traces of history that generate social class and other domination hierarchies – of nationality, citizenship, race, gender, and sexuality, we can strive to grasp the essential unity of negative power and its effects on the health of individuals, of communities, and of the environment, its negative effects on our own ecosystem.  This involves articulating the mimetic potentiality of domination, that creates the link between the personal and the political – the relation of rape to gender, for example; articulating  its clear distinction from positive modes of power,  nurture and education, caring for the damaged and disabled, the culture of ourselves and of our environment – that is, attempts that aim for a positive effect upon the capacity of other beings and things to exist and to develop freely. 

We make judgements all the time about our own behaviour but if we remain well enough we can condemn certain actions, regret them and avoid them without condemning ourselves,  and our judgements about others should show the same tolerance, even of the 1% who are addicted to the crazy accumulation which has to be stopped if our societies are to survive.   “Justice for Grenfell” does not mean locking up the perpetrators, as some of the marchers at the anniversary of the fire were demanding, but it means ending the control of housing provision by negative power.  The  habit of stigmatisation of victims must mutate into stigmatising the activities of the perpetrators; this means identifying, vilifying and suppressing (insofar as it is possible) all modes of domination; it means creating a society in which the positive power of nurture and community exemplified by the solidarity in adversity and loss displayed after that mass social murder in the Grenfell fire is generalised and multiplied.  This involves placing social reproduction, on which capitalism and the market have always been parasites, on an ideological and practical footing  above the production and exchange of commodities, that is, the end of survival – (Spinosa’s conatus) above the means of money and accumulation.  We need an internationalism not of workers alone, but of all the nurturing, the educating, and the caring,  and their advocacy for the stigmatised, the disabled, and the weak.  We have to try to celebrate as resistance all resistances even when they are self-harming, show solidarity, provide sanctuary, and bring those resistances back into the fold of a collective and more effective resistance.  

We cannot hope for a society free from violence, but we must before it is too late try to make one in which violence and bullying – negative power in all its forms –  are identified and stigmatised, which means, amongst many challenges in the many fields of entrenched injustices, finding ways to make wealth worthless and borders meaningless.   In terms of the ‘housing crisis’ this does not mean necessarily that we need to confiscate land and property, we just need to make the rights of occupiers and users of property greater than the rights of owners, then the owners would no longer want their surplus property that could no longer be used for extraction;  for economic capital some parallel process could make funds available for all projects that were creating a public service and demonstrably not exploiting people – both at home and abroad; a global period of massive hyperinflation might result and shrink all those piles of accumulated claims upon future society, that hopefully the owners would no longer really want, down to a manageable size.  A project of reparation for Africa and for all the other zones of abjection that we have created around the world, at the same time as we turn to really caring for and helping the sick and the disabled and the homeless, as well as cosseting the environment back into a stable sustainable state would certainly provide plenty of real work for the foreseeable future however much technology is brought to bear.

 A healthy society is a materially equal society, in which having no power to control other people is positively celebrated and jealously guarded.  For such a pre-Neolithic, pre-surplus  social structure to work in complex and crowded societies we do need to embrace technology and we need to acknowledge that it, and the knowledge that it represents and bears, belongs to everybody.  If all of us have a little property, we cannot be allowed to use it for purposes of domination without risking stigmatisation and sanction.  This requires clarity, mass agreement and enforcement through the power of collective strength, not about what is morally right or wrong, not about our own or others rights, but broadly about what contributes to human and environmental flourishing and what, on the other hand, constrains and destroys it.  

Homerton Hospital becomes a ‘hostile environment’:

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Clearly designed to intimidate anyone who is at all unsure of their citizenship status, this form for people coming to Homerton Hospital in Hackney, even to the A&E department, is aimed at deterring them from seeking treatment, even the emergency immediately necessary treatment to which all are entitled.  This intimidatory bureaucratic barrier to care takes no account of public health imperatives that should prioritise the health of the whole community, nor does it take account of the right (and the ethical duty) of health care workers not to be acting as border guards and police.

Lessons on Solidarity from Greece.

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Before going on the recent delegation of the Greece Solidarity Campaign to Athens, the old Communard had tended to make a negative judgement about the capitulation of the majority sections of SYRIZA around Alexis Tsipras in 2015 to the demands of the Troika. Obviously this was a moment of triumph for the neoliberal hegemony institutionalised in the EU, but I now see that I was in effect blaming the victim as to the outcome of a grossly unequal struggle in which the international integrity of finance capital was pitted against the clearly expressed democratic mandate of a few million Greeks. It really was no contest. Victim-blaming is a neoliberal reflex, and I had succumbed to it.

Partly this change of view occurred because of hearing poor defences of their positions from the representatives whom we met from Left organisations that had dissented from the capitulation. Petros Konstantinos, the co-ordinator of the anti-fascist organisation KEERFA, explained something of the history and continuing strength of the left in Greece, related to the legacy of the struggles against the Nazi occupation and the 1967-1974 military dictatorship; but this emphasis, whilst it fitted with his involvement in the necessary struggle against Golden Dawn, did not seem to me to register the overwhelming domination of capital at a global level, the capacity of the beneficiaries of the neoliberal order to simply disregard elected governments and democratic mandates through their ‘ownership’ of the world as ‘it presents itself to us as a great pile of commodities’. Likewise Panagiotis Lafazanis, leader of Popular Unity, failed to say what should have been done differently during the years of opposition and at the height of the Greek government debt crisis, whilst they were still in SYRIZA, to forestall the capitulation, as if he were locked in to the mode of declamatory opposition.

It is not possible to know how many have died, or gone through terrible deprivations, or emigrated from Greece as a result of that ferocious application of austerity, much worse than the Tories have yet been able to achieve in the UK, but which Wolfgang Schäuble thought was necessary medicine for what Chancellor Merkel dubbed the “lazy Greeks”. To oppose and counter this suffering, SYRIZA in opposition was at least partly successful in creating a system of social solidarity, funded in part from the salaries of their own MPs, which sought to mitigate the suffering of the poor, co-ordinating the activity of thousands of volunteers. The crisis had meant that millions of Greeks were suddenly without access to health care as well as social security, facing destitution unless they could rely for food and shelter on members of their family who still had any income; it was in this situation that the clinics such as the one where we met Georgia Koumparouli in Peristeri, a northern suburb of Athens, were set up by ordinary people, mostly women, using their organising skills to co-ordinate a volunteer workforce to provide medical care, dental care and access to drugs. Georgia described proudly how she and her colleagues had been able to benefit the whole community with their administrative skills, actively replacing labour as a commodity with labour as commitment.

The inspiring women at the Solidarity for All offices who gathered to tell us about their work at different similar centres expressed a determination to carry on working in that environment, where decisions were taken collectively at regular meetings and where the results of their work were attested not only through peoples’ survival through times of great hardship, but through their participation in the practice of mutual aid, a system of distribution totally foreign to the market and to capitalism.

As the two ministers we met, Efi Achtsioglou and Theano Fotiou, explained to us when we met them in the Greek parliament building, despite the limitations under which they operate under the terms of the Memoranda with the Troika, the SYRIZA government re-elected in late 2015 has succeeded in setting up a system of access of the very poorest sections of society to health care and minimal social security. This has meant that the focus of the Solidarity Clinics work had changed to being about access to pharmaceuticals for those who could still not afford them, and increasingly towards work with refugees. Much needed and laudable reform, though it was far from complete or even adequate to the needs the mass of the unemployed, the partially employed or the disabled, has in this context been destructive of the practice of solidarity.

Solidarity, according to Wikipedia, is “unity (as of a group or class) which produces or is based on unities of interests, objectives, standards, and sympathies. It refers to the ties in a society that bind people together as one.” On the other hand, “Charitable giving is the act of giving money, goods or time to the unfortunate…”. Thus, where there is gross institutionalised inequality, such as in the situation of citizens trying to help refugee non-citizens, solidarity becomes less possible and to carry on with the same activity becomes imbued or overcome by charity, and loses its political momentum.

Workers in struggle have to rely on solidarity to improve or maintain their pay and conditions, but after a strike or industrial action has been won or lost, the solidarity falls away, though it remains dormant in class consciousness and identity. A burning anger also persists, which is easy to redirect towards proxy targets, through stigmatisation and victim-blaming. Solidarity retreats to its ineradicable base in the domestic sphere, the sphere of reproduction as opposed to that of production, where commodification has hitherto gained little traction. But to see solidarity as a gendered practice is a mistake – in a healthier society all of us, men, women and all genders in between would provide and benefit from solidarity work, which should be the basic paid employment of all. Then production of commodities and trade, much more susceptible to automation, would move to the periphery of the real economy.

For the moment, it is possible to build island structures of solidarity in one group or another, but in a sea of neoliberalism this demands extra effort and extra sacrifice, with constant tension at the boundaries, and these islands remain vulnerable to damage from failure, or, as I learned from the Greek Solidarity Clinics, from their goals being won and taken back from popular to institutional control. Solidarity practices foster a totally different kind of ownership, and it is how to keep them alive through good times and bad, to enable them to hold on and to spread, and thus to challenge the old kind of ownership, that we need to study and to develop. Here SYRIZA, if far ahead a few years ago from where we are on the left in the UK, seems to have fallen down, through a focus on achieving and holding on to state power, and losing sight of maintaining and fostering the power that comes from collective activity and responsibility, that is, from solidarity ownership. Yet an important legacy remains, and it was a privilege to meet some of the people who are agents and keepers of that legacy in its continuing struggle in Athens.

 

The People’s Right to London:

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Private ‘property’: two opposed meanings in relation to housing:
Even Communards feel angry when they find that someone in the household has been wearing their clothes, or sleeping in their bed, feeling a ripple of the possessive rage of children about which toys are theirs. We all need some things that are definitely our own. This ’property’ is quite a different sense from that which is used in the phrase ‘property developer.’

Every person needs to have a home as a basic requirement for a healthy life, as acknowledged in the title of Labour 2017 election manifesto’s Housing section – “Secure Homes for All.” We need secure shelter for the changing group of people we belong to that chooses to live together or that we are born into, and within that space we need flexible zones that we both make our own and share. This ‘home’ is a sense of ‘property’ that is simply achieved by the secure occupation of a sufficient space. We do not need to fully own it as property in the second sense, and we can love and enjoy it even when we know that others have more.

“Big Capital:”
Anna Minton is a journalist who has written a clear and readable account in her book, ‘Big Capital’ (Penguin, 2017) of the housing crisis in London. She makes it clear that the housing crisis is not just about not enough houses being built. Some 50,000 properties in London are owned by overseas companies, nearly all based in the web of tax havens, of which the spider at the centre is the City of London itself, and much of this buying is for the laundering of corruptly gained assets. This influx of global capital has a huge impact on London rents and house prices, and completely breaks the connection between the two types of ‘property’.

There are not many oligarchs or Ultra-High Net Worth Individuals yet where I live, in Hackney, but there are plenty of people with inherited wealth, very well paid jobs or both who have been as it were displaced from living in Kensington or Hampstead, and who are now changing the population mix and diversity of ethnicity and class. The Council stays just about afloat financially due to the increased economic activity and Council Tax receipts, and can keep the appearance of the streets and public spaces in order, but the social environment deteriorates as the relentless domination of the poorer communities, takes its toll as they lose their homes, their shops and their markets. Thanks to the combination of the Right to Buy with a prohibition on Councils’ building to replace homes lost, Councils are now unable to fulfil their obligations to homeless families except by forcing them to move to really poor overcrowded properties many miles away. Meanwhile the homeless in those outer boroughs are forced to move to yet more impoverished and jobless areas of the country. This social cleansing is being accelerated by plans to further reduce public housing by demolishing Council estates across London, even if they have architectural merit and low crime rates, in order for developers to cash in on building homes for sale, with as few as they can get away with being designated as ‘affordable’ – which still means far higher rents, so people cannot afford to come back even if they have been promised that option. London is a prime site of ‘accumulation by dispossession’ – savings whittled away in rents and mortgages, a process that becomes altogether more vicious when there is the inevitable next crash in house prices. In the context of falling wages and the growth of insecure employment, most people simply can no longer afford to live here, including such essential workers as teachers, junior doctors, nurses, street cleaners or fire fighters.

“Secure Homes for All”:
In the light of this intense London property confrontation, and the immense waste and suffering that are caused when untrammelled rights of property-as-asset are asserted, Labour’s specific housing pledges in its 2017 Manifesto look weak:
It said Labour will –
provide more support for hostels and supported housing for the homeless;
build 100,000 ‘affordable’ or Housing Association homes during the next parliament.
extend the Tory Help to Buy scheme (that inflates house prices).
ensure that local first time buyers can offer for new homes before overseas buyers.
ground rents in leasehold properties will be restricted,
private sector rents will be controlled to match inflation, with tenancies made for 3 year periods, and with letting fees banned.
Councils will be freed to build homes and to borrow to do so, and the bedroom tax will be scrapped, as will the right to buy until councils are in a position to replace each one sold.

 

 

Improving Labour Housing policy:
This is redolent of good intentions towards the less well-off and the homeless, but also of a refusal to subvert any of the supposed right to use private property for unearned income. ‘For the Many – Preparing Labour for Power’, OR books, 2017, edited by Mike Phipps, makes just this point in its housing chapter written by Stuart Hodkinson, a geographer at the University of Leeds. His additional recommendations to meet the radical ambition of secure homes for all are substantial and many:

1) A right to sell (to the Council) for owners who are not coping with payments or maintenance
2) 5 year private tenancies with automatic renewals and no no-fault evictions.
3) ‘Affordable’ to be linked to incomes not market price.
4) Housing benefit to correspond to actual rents
5) Reinstate right of homeless to a secure tenancy.
6). Make out of borough placements illegal.
7) Central government subsidy for Council house building.
8) Scrap all Council Estate regeneration schemes.
9) Restore financial regulation of Housing Associations
10). Communal tenant ownership of estates.
11) Abolish the Right to Buy
12) Compulsory Council tax premium on empty homes
13) Decriminalise squatting
14) Funding for Tenants’ and Residents’ Associations.
15) Create a National Housing Fitness and Safety inspectorate with direct access from users, funded by fines.

 

“The Right to the City”, what does it mean?
In her conclusions to her book, Anna Minton calls for the control of private landlords, and an end to the speculative model of housebuilding by big contractors, using Community Land Trusts, Self-build housing, and Council house building that is protected from the market: these proposals also seem disappointing in relation to the enormity of the problem for London that she identifies. She invokes a concept invented in the 1960s by the radical French marxist Henri Lefebvre, that the inhabitants of the space of a city could exercise a communal Right to the City. For Lefebvre, the city is a product of a particular mode of production of space, dependent on always contested social practices: this is an aspect of his view, (which both fed off and contributed to the 1968 revolt), that it is not just in the workplace that struggle takes place but in everyday life.  Minton is sketchy about what the Right to the City means, though she does describe some great examples of resistance, such as the Focus E15 campaign in Newham. Meanwhile whilst Council housing deteriorates or is burned down, the marginalised are pushed right out of the city, and less dominated sectors of inhabitants are forced to move further out and into more overcrowding, depending on their means.  In this intra-urban migration there are innumerable individual experiences of powerlessness and defeat, and the Right to the City is trodden underfoot.

Occupiers have rights that have to be won, owners have far too many, which have to be taken:
No political party manifesto can make a social movement, and Labour’s assertion that every inhabitant, including the most oppressed and dominated, should have a secure home is a good start, if it can be turned into a demand, supported by active mobilisations. The collective Right to the City is individuals’ or families’ or communities’ rights as occupiers of space. The way forward for a vibrant, thriving city is to make demands that put users’ of spaces rights above those of owners . Those who are allowed to take some of the land of the city (which never has value in itself but only as part of the fabric of what we, the occupiers, collectively provide) for private use should pay for the cost of this loss through a continuing community land contribution. Rents should be controlled so they cover only the real costs of maintaining houses, adjusted for inflation,  and their community land contributions, maybe plus state borrowing costs of the capital used, with security of occupiers equal to that of owner-occupiers, and with no right of the owner to make any additional income. Occupiers should have the right to modify and improve their home if they want to, and employ people to do repairs at the owners’ expense. Meanwhile, home owners have to pay as now for their own house maintenance, and should also have to pay a community land contribution and when they sell, they should be expected to get back only the capital they put into the house, any other gains being subject to substantial taxation, to pay for more council homes. We should be aiming to make tenancy have hassle-free, inheritance-free equivalence to owner-occupier rights, rather than allowing it to be a plight that means you are merely disposable prey to extraction by rentiers.  Those who want to use their wealth to make more wealth have plenty of other options, and they must be made to leave people’s homes out of their plans.

How can we own the city?
The 2017 election slogan, “Secure Homes for all”, as a manifesto pledge, seemed popular. In the situation now where those with wealth need increasingly to see it grow not through production of commodities but through extraction based on ownership, the pledge cannot be realised without a confrontation with that ownership. Stuart Hodkinson’s proposals to beef up the specifics of a future manifesto seem to be pushing in the right direction, but they will not make it into a future manifesto unless there is a surge of action and campaigning which needs to be strong enough to counter the wealth and media access of the likes, for example, of the developers and estate agents who sponsored Sadiq Khan’s bid to become Mayor of London. We need democratic action within Labour, such as the campaign to get Haringey to pull back from its massive social cleansing and loss of social housing plans, which begins to look as if it may succeed. We need, as George Monbiot puts it, to reinvent local government through practice, by experiencing collective control of public spaces, without which our private spaces, our homes, have no true value. if we are to give hope to the millions of Londoners in insecure tenancies, or in unsafe buildings, or being rendered impoverished by excessive rents, and if we are to give the oligarchs and the speculators, the developers or the private landlords any concern at all, then we must do more to actively ‘own’ public space whilst articulating and demanding rights for occupiers of properties within that space… participatory budgeting, street parties, festivals, all sorts of local communal initiatives to improve lives, acting collectively. The ‘public luxury’ which the Paris Commune sought to establish is a demand, perhaps, but it is essentially a practice, one which we can start to do.  “Ownership” rights have never been total, we already have leaseholds, compulsory purchases, and planning laws., they can be challenged and reduced through collective struggle. Asserting the rights of occupiers, as in Catalonia with mobilisations to stop evictions (Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH)), involves actions that are focussed on supporting the stigmatised and demoralised victims of the housing crisis, whether those who have bought but cannot pay their mortgages, private renters subjected to excess rents and foul, damp or unsafe conditions, or social housing occupiers being evicted.   After Grenfell and what we know of the tenants’ warnings about what was to come that fell on deaf ears, Londoners and Labour should be raising the demand for the rights and empowerment of all occupiers of property, which must mean a reduction of the powers of owners.

Now showing at your local cinema – wealth extraction and dire poverty

IMG_9295In 2007, Picturehouse staff at The Ritzy cinema in Brixton began a campaign for a Living Wage.

In 2014, following 13 high-profile strikes through their union, BECTU, the Ritzy staff gained a 26% pay rise and an agreement with Picturehouse Cinemas (owned by Cineworld) to re-negotiate towards the London Living Wage in June 2016. The company back-tracked on this and have refused to negotiate in any way.  In 2017 they sacked all but one of the union reps at the Ritzy.

Since then workers at Hackney and Crouch End Picturehouse, Picturehouse Central, and the Duke Of York’s Picturehouse in Brighton have joined the campaign. At these cinemas the company has repeatedly refused to acknowledge BECTU – now a sector of the larger union, Prospect. Instead, Picturehouse recognise the Staff Forum, a  pseudo-union set up and funded by Picturehouse themselves. Seeing no other option, workers have united with the Ritzy in taking industrial action.

In February 2017, after many months of campaigning and over 20 strike days, BECTU officially called for a boycott of all Picturehouse and Cineworld Cinemas until they agree to meaningfully discuss –

  • A real Living Wage
  • BECTU recognition (Hackney, Central, Crouch End, Brighton)
  • Company sick pay for all staff from day one of employment
  • Company maternity/paternity/adoption pay
  • Fair pay rises for supervisors, managers, chefs, sound technicians and projectionists.

This struggle takes place in the  UK context of rampant growth in inequality, attributable in part to the effective crushing and stigmatisation of trades unionism during the neoliberal era.  Cinema ownership as a source of unearned wealth, and cinema work as desperate poverty have followed the trend analysed by Thomas Piketty in ‘Capital in the 21st Century’, the ill-health effects of which have been explored in Wilkinson and Pickett’s ‘The Spirit Level’. 

Cineworld Group plc is the second largest cinema operator in Europe with 2,217 screens – 800 of which are in the UK. It is listed on the London Stock Exchange and the FTSE 250 Index, but the Greidinger family hold a controlling bloc as the largest shareholders.  The Guardian reported in 2014 that Cineworld employed 80% of its 4,300 staff on zero hour contracts. That same year Cineworld completed the takeover of Cinema City International N.V., in which the Greidingers already owned a controlling stake.  Just this month, Cineworld bought the US cinema chain Regal for $3.6 (£2.7) billion dollars, which will create the world’s second largest cinema group.

Cineworld made £82million profit in 2016 on a revenue of £797.8 million.  Chief executive Mooky Greidinger was paid over £2.5 million. Picturehouse pitch themselves as an ethical business hosting independent films and selling Fairtrade goods, but their treatment of their workforce exposes this as mere marketing to the social conscience of a particular kind of audience.  An effective social conscience always has to be well-informed. Do not be fooled, and until fair employment practices are set up at Picturehouse and indeed more widely across Cineworld cinemas, support the boycott, and seek out a cinema to go to where staff are respected.

This is relatively easy if you live or work in Hackney, or somewhere near – go to the Dalston Rio, where genuine efforts are made to work with staff to improve their pay and conditions, though this is no easy task in the present climate,  as the cinema also has to survive economically.  Elsewhere, the claim that a cinema is “independent” is clearly not sufficient, for example the Everyman chain, which includes the Screen on the Green, was reported by The Guardian in 2013 to have the entire non-management staff employed on zero-hour contracts, earning just above the minimum wage.  The company has since re-structured its pay system, and is currently in the early stages of the process of introducing 10 hour minimum contracts.  When you go to a cinema, ask to speak to the manager about their employment practices and union recognition, and make your views known if you don’t want to be a party to inflicted poverty: then go to the cinema that is practical to get to, that gives the best answers.