Statement on the SWP

TRIGGER WARNING: this post deals with issues of sexual assault and rape culture.

Last weekend (9th-10th March 2013) saw the Socialist Workers Party hold an emergency conference to address the party crisis. That the conference took place at all is a small miracle given the intensive effort by the SWP central committee to prevent it. Shortly before the conference news surfaced that another central committee member has been accused of raping a party member – and the party has been accused of covering it up (

The following blog post gives some interesting reflections on the conference, the crisis as a whole and possibilities for the future.

Put briefly: the decisions made at the original conference have been upheld; the expulsions which followed have been upheld; Martin Smith is still in the party.

Nothing has changed.

The central committee meanwhile have, predictably, pointed the blame at everyone but themselves – the internet (, “feminists” (use of the term as an insult being disturbing in itself), “autonomists”, the media and a host of other scapegoats. The SWP’s pet jazz musician and notorious racist Gilad Atzmon, on the other hand, decided to go the whole hog and pin it on the global Jewish conspiracy ( – something which, to our knowledge, the SWP has not responded to despite having given Atzmon a stage at Marxism and other events for years.

The problems which created this crisis – sexual abuse, the disbelief of survivors, hostility towards feminism and the tendency to close ranks around friends – are not unique to the SWP, nor to the left. And the anarchist movement is not immune either ( They are problems which exist throughout society. Equally, institutional corruption enabling this behaviour exists across the board, from trade unions and socialist groups to churches, schools, political parties and more, and the eagerness of some on the left to score political points throughout this affair has been shameful.

However, while the problems may be universal, the way those problems were addressed – and the resulting fallout – is inextricably linked to the SWP’s party structure and ideology, and the tendency of political cliques to protect their position whatever the cost. Ironically, the CC’s attempts to keep this quiet for the good of the party have likely done more to damage the party than anything else.

We have many friends and allies in the SWP for whom we have the greatest respect, alongside whom we have campaigned for years – against the war, against student fees, pension cuts, benefit attacks and a host of other issues. Some of whom, in fact, have been involved in trying to salvage something from the party and in opposing the antics of “their” central committee. While we respect and support them in their efforts, the result of this weekend’s conference would seem to indicate that such efforts have been largely futile.

A mass statement has been put together by former members of the SWP, several from York, explaining their reasons for leaving:

Both comradeship and friendship are, and have to be, built on trust. And that trust has been grossly violated beyond repair.

If you are a member of the SWP and reading this, and if you find the party’s recent actions as repulsive as we do, then you continue to be both our comrade and our friend.

If you do not, however, then with all due respect: do not speak to us again.

Some love, and a lot of rage,

York Anarchists.

Further reading:

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Starbucks is rubbish

On Saturday the 8th of December, York Anarchists organised & participated in the picketing of Starbucks, the tragically ubiquitous conglomerate of white collar criminality & crass American consumer capitalism. We were joined throughout the day by other disgruntled York residents, students and a wide variety of socialist types. Thanks and love to everybody who turned up and made the day’s action so enjoyable – let’s use the huge boost to our morale Saturday gave us to re-establish a place in the street for collective action, critical dialogue and community participation.

A lot has been written, both in support and as dismissal, of the value of UK Uncut national days of action, and rather than merely engaging in a tired slagging off of the reformists/utopians (take your pick), I’d like to try to unpack what it was about our rather fluffy tactics that I consider to be a starting point for encouraging a culture of direct action in our city. Why was our picket so entertaining? Why did my face hurt from smiling so much afterwards? Does activism always need to be a matter of serious business? What was so different about what we did on Saturday that created a sustained space for the perpetuation of radical politics, that so many have sought for so long on similar actions?

Upfront, I’d encourage a quick visit to the PropertyIsTheft blog on Libcom, which did an excellent job of applying a class struggle analysis to the call out, and also means that a rehashing of any of those same points here would be redundant. It’s not the purpose of this post to explicitly advocate any particular set of tactics over the other – whether they are militant or liberal – but rather the point is to try to glean a few lessons from Saturday’s action. What did we do right? What worked? What can we do better? I would also like to emphasise (without being naively triumphant) that the energy around UK Uncut represents an opportunity for us as anarchists & organisers that we would be pretty thick to ignore.

In other cities across Britain, the national day of action against Starbucks seemed to reflect a pretty familiar formula: assemble; attempt to occupy the space (for a short term photo opportunity, in a way that seems to me to be little more than tokenistic); three word chants; get moved outside by the plod; get cold; repeatedly decline to purchase a worthless Trotskyite rag; go home. I don’t mean that as dismissively as it reads, we have all participated in countless similar actions in the past, and I’m a firm believer that doing something (as opposed to nothing at all) is always the preferable course of action. What I’m actually suggesting is that there is a better way forward, that we need to be willing to adapt our tactics in a way that preserves their integrity whilst making them publicly accessible.

There were a few reasons the aforementioned formula wasn’t replicated in York. Firstly, as a matter of sheer practicality, we lack the numbers to engage in a sustained occupation (such as the impressive show of community solidarity from Islington, with participants from a variety of organisations unaffiliated to UK Uncut, such as DPAC) or militant demonstration (such as the joint A-Fed/SolFed event held in Brighton). York is a small city, with a small core of people at the heart of its activist community, and that necessarily influences the way we think about conducting actions.

Secondly, York is lucky enough to have an active chapter of Food Not Bombs, with enough human power & practical resources to sustain a stall on a busy Saturday for several hours.

ImageAs a conversation starter it’s pretty hard to beat, and the novelty of giving away free coffee in front of Starbucks was far too amusing to not go through with. There was, however, a far more important contribution from Food Not Bombs than just the acquisition & equitable distribution of teh lulz: to loudly, proudly & publicly proclaim the principle that the means to life *should* and *can be* communal. Indeed, if I take away one thing from the Starbucks picket, it is that most people (to my surprise I’ll admit), respond hugely positively to watching such a principle put in action.

Right from the moment of our arrival, there was a significant amount of interest from the hordes of Christmas shoppers in what we were up to. Even our long-time Food Not Bombs activist was taken aback by how overwhelmingly positive the response was. It would be fair to say that a lot of this was simple curiosity – ‘what the fuck are they doing with those tables and all that cake?’ – but this initial novelty was quickly transformed into amusement, enthusiasm & declared support when we explained who we were and why we were there. Not did only people stop for a free drink, but they stopped to talk, in some cases to participate in the demonstration itself, and overwhelmingly, to contribute what they could spare to IDAS (Independent Domestic Abuse Services, a North Yorks women’s refuge & crisis centre – we raised 121 pounds in about four hours).

This is not to say that York Anarchists think the act of handing out free baked goods is in of itself explicitly revolutionary. It is not, and to pretend that radicalism is as simple as (enabling) passive consumer choice would be to replicate the same kind of wishful thinking we find objectionable in liberals & various other reformist tendencies. It is anecdotal, granted, but in my rather extensive experience of trying to hand people leaflets about one cause or another, I’ve never witnessed such willingness by members of the public to stop and engage in a discussion. If we are looking to communicate our ideas, values & principles to members of the general public, we have to be able to do this kind of thing on a routine basis.

The fact that we were offering tea & flapjack rather than tepid socialist boilerplate went a long way in creating this opportunity for dialogue.  But I also think that, rather than the all too often joyless humdrum of standing outside shops with flags and leaflets, what we were doing looked like it was fun. That the stall was placed a bit cheekily made the atmosphere buoyant from the outset, and when you look like you’re enjoying yourself, people will come to you in a way that they might not otherwise. Sure, any picket or action would have captured a measure of public attention, but we weren’t interested in merely creating spectacle, we were (and as anarchists should be) interested in extending the conversation beyond the raising of a big middle finger to an exploitative corporate behemoth, supplementing the novelty & creativity of our picket with critical dialogue & politicisation of the public.

The presence of anarchos (but not just anarchists, in fairness) on and around the stall meant that instead of (however well intentioned) moralising about unpaid corporate taxes, the conversation was focused instead on how Starbucks (rather than being a ‘bad apple’) is absolutely representative of the exploitation of people & resources inherit in capitalism itself. Tax justice was always going to be a talking point, given our participation in a national day of action on just that issue, but such critiques amount to little other than hollow tokenism when they’re not connected to a broader theory of (to borrow a phrase) why shit is fucked up and bullshit.

Given the broad focus of the conversations we were having outside, there could have also been a huge space here for engaging in dialogue with the workers inside Starbucks. Through a blend of circumstance and fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants experimentation, we neglected to exploit this opportunity as well as we could or should have. It does appear that we were hardly alone in this oversight – the inability or unwillingness on behalf of UK Uncut to prominently highlight worker’s struggle in its social media campaigning, press releases etc has been a major bone of contention amongst fellow anarchists – which is not to excuse, merely to suggest that some lessons need to be heeded.

If anything from our sod Starbucks street party needs a drastic improvement before the next time we (or anybody reading this) engages in a similar action, it was the fact we failed to declare our solidarity with the workers in any kind of meaningful way. Despite the fact we did come equipped with leaflets from Wobbly comrades about union organising efforts underway in Starbucks, and some of these were placed inside from time to time by less conspicuous protesters, no substantive links between staff and protesters were established which was an egregious tactical hole on our behalf, especially given that Starbucks had announced the day previously an intention to repay some of their hoarded taxes. By stripping pay & conditions from their workers. (As an aside, it seemed a lot like staff were encouraged by their manager to remain inside the store itself whilst on their breaks. I can’t say this for certain, but save for the boss, no staff came outside in the period of time the picket was running.)

With this acknowledged oversight aside, the rest of the way the demonstration was conducted was undeniably positive. Rather than the simple, impotent hurling of demands to ‘pay your taxes’ (a request that seems fair enough to most people, but is utterly devoid of any real class analysis) at the inanimate Starbucks logo, those who approached our picket were also armed with raw statistics about what austerity in our city looks like, and given information about organisations like the York Welfare Campaign who are actively resisting it.

ImageWhat was perhaps most significant was that people then shared their stories with us: from pay cuts & forced “redundancies” to experiences with misery profiteering technocrats ATOS; from the withdrawal of care services from elderly relatives to the gutting of support programs for those with disabilities and all the way through to Labour’s enthusiastic, unrepentant slashing of funding to various community organisations & spaces.

The value of such conversations is that, far from the abstraction of austerity presented by the various media tentacles of the corporate state (and pathetically explained in terms that seek to obscure the true effects of “fiscal discipline”), these chats connected personal & local hardship directly to the reign of global capital. Words don’t erect barricades in the streets, collectivise George Osbourne or even get funding restored for worthy social projects in our locality. But everything starts somewhere, and the sowing of radical seeds in Christmas shoppers is as worthy a place as any I suppose, even if that thought definitely sounded anachronistic to me in the planning stages.

At this point, one could reasonably question the value of our warm’n’fuzzy tactics, and I certainly understand the impulse. Indeed, we could have stormed the store for the fun of it, and hell it sounded like a good idea to a few of us at the time, but cooler heads prevailed in discussion by pointing out that realistically, such an act would have probably achieved very little. It’s unlikely that we could have forced them to stop operating for long (as other cities with larger numbers did), and even if we did we’d have been visible only to the hipster fuckwits inside – they’re hardly a receptive audience for politics, no matter how milquetoast – and they crossed the picket in the first place.

It would have also changed the confusing relationship we had with the police, who for the first ninety minutes regarded us with little more than detached bemusement. As we weren’t blocking any fire exits (despite the frequent protestations of Starbucks’ manager), they were happy to let us be, and we were free to continue yelling to the streets all manner of dastardly & subversive things. This pretty amusing dynamic continued until boss-man, decked out in snappy managerial duds, confected a bunch of nonsense about us ‘abusing’ teens trying to go into Starbucks to buy the latte their grandfathers fought the Germans to ensure their right to someday buy… or something… and the cops pleaded with us to move the stall a few inches further from the door.

In the interest of preserving the picket, we did, and promptly resumed exactly what we had been doing previously, until we quite literally ran out of everything. The conversations continued, new allies were made, and to be standing amidst so many people engaging one another in radical dialogue was quite the awesome experience. We continued to poach as many potential customers as would settle for a cup of instant & a vegan cupcake, and those who wished to pay for coffee were encouraged to try one of the several local businesses in the immediate area who actually operate according to the “free market principles” the besuited set are always banging on about. We are fully aware that this is problematic for its own set of reasons, not least of which is the idea that consumer power is any kind of substitute for working class organisation, but the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive in all instances. (Also, one of these businesses refilled our thermoses with boiling water, for free, all day. Bless.)


None of these considerations are intended to devalue or condemn the actions of activists in other cities who did rush/occupy stores, but if the question is of the effectiveness of the day’s action rather than claiming some kind of revolutionary credibility, I think the focus on public engagement is not only defensible, but should serve as a spark of inspiration for other activists in other places. Food Not Bombs is a set of values, but it is hardly intangible. It is also a tactic, a direct action methodology, an act of practical solidarity to those regarded by capitalism as surplus to requirements. It is a worthy thing to feed people for free and merely for its own sake, let alone when you consider how significant a political act that can be in a society that teaches us all that we are commodities in shoes, with no bonds to or responsibility for one another. Another world is possible, and if demonstrating the value of mutual aid, solidarity & cooperation can also involve free cupcakes, so much the better.

UK Uncut is also, broadly speaking, an idea (even if a more formalised structure has emerged since its arrival on the streets in 2010.) The solution to the myriad gripes we on the libertarian left might have about the liberal character of its policy prescriptions is not necessarily scorn (even if sometimes it feels appropriate), but engagement. The UK Uncut network exists in the first place because of a visceral popular understanding of the monstrous unfairness of the current status quo, and this is a highly valuable space for anarchos to organise in for a number of reasons. Foremost amongst these is the consideration that ceding this territory to the brand identity politics and safe campaigning of groups like the SWP would be a fatal mistake. Individual members of the SWP are (and were on Saturday) valuable participants and comrades, but as an institution, they advocate a constipated gradualism that is not merely infuriating, but will totally undermine any kind of direct action ethos if given the chance.

It seems to me that many in our society have been inoculated against radical ideas by various forms of social conditioning to act with reflexive dismissal of someone standing in the street railing about capitalism, even when they might very well share many of the same grievances. The trick we need to learn is developing ways to communicate our critiques in a way that is relevant to the lives of the people around us, by contextualising the rule of capital through someone’s own relationship to and with it. This is not something that will be achieved by dismissing the actions liberals, socialists or greens out of hand, nor will it be achieved by letting the aforementioned tendencies have their own way on everything. Anarchist ideals and organisation strategies are hugely powerful, to the point that even a handful of us present on Saturday were able to almost completely dispense with the standard ‘buy the newspaper, sign the petition’ type of demonstration.

There is clearly value in theoretical integrity, but there is much less so in notions of ideological purity which, when taken to their logical conclusion, so often end up advocating for doing nothing because the politics of fellow participants are considered to be wrong. At this point in late-stage western capitalism, we just haven’t got the luxury of making enemies of our potential allies all the time. Sooner or later, we’re going to have to work together, so why aren’t we seeking to lead by example?

This is not an argument for some kind of kumbaya moment, but it is an argument for taking a direct action philosophy visibly into the streets on a consistent basis. Even if it offends some militant sensibilities to attempt to spark conversations about capitalism with free tea & biscuits, if we are actually serious about winning people to our ideas, we should be willing to embrace any and all tactics that make this possible.

We’ll see you in the streets,

York Anarchists

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All Commissioners Are Bastards

The anarchist perspective of this election is different to that of the mainstream left. This election will not politicise policing, as policing is already political. The police act to enforce the status quo, they defend the state as an institution which claims legitimate use of force in an area and in light of the criminalisation of squatting and other laws defend the rights of absentee property owners over the most vulnerable people. As anarchists, we are always aware of the police’s role in limiting protest, infiltrating activist groups and criminalising the act of dissent. When we hear liberal friends talk of this politicisation, we remember our times in kettles, our times running from the police at protests, our comrades who are interrogated and harassed by the police for believing in a world without hierarchy. As such, we refute the mainstream left’s opinion that this election “politicises” the police.

There is however, an issue which has largely been ignored – the powers these officials have in tackling crime. The Police and Crime commissioners have no power to tackle the root cause of much crime – the economic inequality inherent in capitalism. Instead, the powers they have been given are reflective of the authoritarian nature of the main political parties – powers to “crack down” on crime, to stop “anti-social” behaviour (including begging) without ever examining the root causes of these issues.

Within the context of York and North Yorkshire, police harass and criminalise the homeless for begging or squatting in empty buildings. Both of the candidates have refused to change this current policy, even in light of cuts to funding to homeless services and increasing numbers of homeless people in our city. This shows how the state and capitalism act against the most vulnerable in society, further supporting our belief that these problems cannot be solved by the factors which cause them.

Because of this York Anarchists are abstaining from this ballot, or spoiling our ballots. We believe in a world without states and governments, and the coercive relation between the state and ordinary people cannot be abolished by the ballot. No matter who wins this election, we are ungovernable.

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Fare play


This week – from Saturday 7th to Saturday 14th July – sees a UK-wide week of action against workfare, called by Boycott Workfare following the national How Do We Break Workfare conference in Brighton. Before the week had even started, Holland and Barrett – a major client which had committed to taking on 1,000 workfare placements – pulled out of the scheme entirely, though not without issuing a statement accusing protestors of posing a threat to their staff and customers:

The retailer said that during protests over the year, staff had faced abusive telephone calls, assault, human barricades preventing them entering and leaving, and damage to its stock.

The company said it was not aware that police had charged activists in connection with the allegations but added: “We take our responsibilities as a retailer and employer very seriously, and any possible compromise to the safety of our staff and customers from opponents of our work experience scheme is treated with great importance.”

This decision puts Holland and Barrett in the company of Sainsburys, Waterstones, TK Maxx and a host of other high street chains and charities who have announced their withdrawal from the scheme.

In York, protestors from York Welfare Campaign took part in a picket of Greggs the Baker, while protests are planned elsewhere for later in the week. Meanwhile, government figures announced on Monday showed that less than 25% of claimants were no longer on benefits after 36 weeks on the programme – a figure which does not even indicate the number who found work, only those who stopped claiming. Meanwhile, a host of new companies have been publicly identified as participating in the system, including banks, hotels, food outlets, hospitals, charities and more.

For more information:

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Housing roundup

The past few weeks have seen a series of actions and events by York Welfare Campaign as part of the ongoing campaign around housing problems in York. Monday 14th May saw a well-attended public meeting featuring speakers on housing benefit, homelessness and council housing, while Saturday 26th was the date of York’s Here to Live, Here to Stay street party around housing, part of UK Uncut’s Great British Street Party day of action (photos, more photos).

May also saw the launch of York’s Housing Crisis (Facebook), an attempt to collect stories from people living in York about the problems they face around housing, whether from landlords, problems accessing benefit, housing associations or wherever else. Partly as a result of this, and contacts made at the public meeting previously, the Guardian’s The Northerner ran two articles (also published by the Morning Star) on the housing situation in York, as did local media group One & Other.

Further afield, families in Seville, Spain, have occupied an abandoned building after being evicted from their homes. The building – an apartment block which has lain empty since it was build – is now home to 36 families made homeless, whether by banks after being unable to make mortgage repayments or by landlords due to problems paying the rent. The squatters, who have been the subject of mass demonstrations in their support, have called on other families to do the same in light of the rise in evictions.

In Italy, meanwhile, activists from Occupy Pisa have occupied an abandoned sports hall as part of a series of actions taking disused buildings and putting them to popular use. Plans include renovating the sports facilities, providing spaces for adults and children, advice for workers and people concerned with debt, and a canteen providing affordable food.

Lastly, in the United States, activists from Occupy Our Homes have kept up the action, with anti-eviction rallies, actions and workshops taking place throughout the country.

On the back of recent events and coverage York Welfare Campaign is hoping to continue to build campaigns around access to suitable, safe and affordable accomodation in the city. Contact information is available on the website, while meetings are held every two weeks, with the next one being Tuesday 12th June (tonight) at 7:45pm in the Corner Pin pub just off Rougier Street.

Edit: since this post was first published the York Press have run a pair of articles on young people and housing, one of them focused on a recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the other focused on the situation in York for young people, particularly mothers.

Posted in anti-cuts movement, community struggles, housing, solidarity | 1 Comment

Guest article: Henry Raby on politics, protest and poetry

Henry Raby is a York-based punk poet who has taken part in and performed at demonstrations against cuts, in support of striking workers, student protestors and more. In this guest post he looks at politics, protest and the role of music and poetry in political action. Originally posted at

“When they say cut back, we reply: March, Strike, Poetry-ise”

Just read Dorian Lynskey’s article in The Guardian about the current protest music scene. Made me think about poetry and politics. I want to talk about a point Grace Petrie has hit the nail on the head here, to quote from The Guardian:

The challenge, she believes, is to convince people alienated by mainstream politics to feel empowered in other ways. ‘What I’d like to achieve through my songs is to put it into a language that people who are new to politics can understand. There’s not much to be gained by singing to rooms full of lefties who agree with me already.’

Chris T-T has encountered this problem too, and has written the song Preaching To The Converted. Itch from the King Blues has said more or less the same thing. Who changed more people’s opinions, chart-toppers The Jam or The Clash or underground Anarcho-Punk bands like Discharge or Conflict? I bet Anarcho-Punks are more dedicated to politics than fans of The Specials, but the number of people who bought and were stimulated by Ghost Town greatly outnumber the punx.

So, if we are talking about empowering a mainstream audience, please allow me to explore the medium of poetry and poetry open mics. For poetry, it’s not really all that common to hear a politicalish poem here and there at open mic nights or slams. We poets are, by nature, going to be upset with authoritarian government impeaching on our artistic liberties. And, even worse than the musicians, we own a notion that we have something essential to say to the world. And that the world wants to listen. But we do have a fair whack of history behind us. We have Shelly’s Masque of Anarchy to back us up, and the anti-war poems that emerged from the First World War. We have William Blake. We’ve got Allan Ginsburg. We’ve got The Lost Poets, Jack Mapanje, Gill Scott-Heron, Ian McMillan, John Cooper Clarke and Attila The Stockbroker. And shout-out to less known fellows Captain Of The Rant, Cat Brogan, The Ruby Kid, Kate Tempest, Monkey Poet, Chemical Poets, Luke Hoggarth, Martin Dawes and Young Dawkins.

But in all times where there’s clearly a mass movement, an injection of inspirational art never went amiss. Coming from a theatre background, I’ve never been comfortable in going down the Emily Dickinson route of keeping my poems locked away privately. Reading aloud to a crowd, words can stir the soul to thoughts and actions. Like music, a poem read live is one of the most powerful tools we have in changing the world.

Reading political poetry aloud is not without its traps. Perform a poem with too much aggressive politics, it makes the room uncomfortable. Talking about violence, anarchy, socialist revolution and standing on a chair screaming your mouth off would be totally out of context. And rightly so, poetry gigs are usually in a cosy back room of a pub or small bar, maybe even theatres or libraries. Without the drive of music backing the work, it can fall embarrassingly flat. And worse, it makes your issue seem like an over-zealous, extremist, radical and alienating affair. But, as Grace says, it’s not about preaching to the converted. It’s about creating accessible art that engages people and inspires them to perhaps take further action. Like Sonic Boom Six’s Kids Of The Multi Culture, The King Blues’ Save The World, Get The Girl or The Jam’s Town Called Malice coming on the radio with a catchy hook, a poem in the right space at the right time has such incredible power and energy it’s no wonder poets and artists have been feared in dictatorships around the world.

So if you’re thinking of joining the foray and writing a political or protest poem about current issues, here are my thoughts. I’m far from the most experienced ‘political poet’ out there, if anyone’s interested in writing some protest poetry, here’s some vague advice:

  • Don’t force it. Allow the poem to come organically. Let the thoughts mull around in your head. Wait for inspiration; else the poem lacks that authentic element. Don’t worry, watch the news enough and read newspapers you’ll find your spark.
  • Make the poem into a story. Stating the facts is boring and too much like a speech. Focus on a character, a situation, an emotion. Make us care about the human issue.
  • Believe in what you’re saying. Don’t talk about violence if you don’t agree with violence. Don’t be naively optimistic if you feel somewhat cynical. All honest individual feelings give your poem weight and avoid it becoming meaningless propaganda.
  • Have a read about issues online. Look at pictures. Go down to an occupation, picketline or march. Talk to people. Immerse yourself in a vibrant world.
  • Take delight in feeling like your poem will change the world. It won’t, but it may well change people’s opinions. Far more exciting for an artist if you ask me.

Anyone with some thoughts, please let me know suggestions or ideas. Drop me an e-mail or on my FB, I’m always looking for different ways to write and be inspired to write.

Here’s a few examples of protesty/politicalish poetry. My poem Protest Hugs is a love poem in disguise, with some daft images it sort of works at open mic nights depending how it’s delivered. Same for my new poetryzine The Unkettleables. Here’s me performing at the rally for June 30th 2011 strikes, far more aggressive but the audience interaction works well with a crowd who are used to chants. I remember Inua Ellams reading a poem that was heavily narrative-driven, focusing in on individuals, both police and protestors. Luke Wright’s The Vile Ascent of Lucian Gore & What The People Did is packed with humour.

Poetry, like all mediums, is our tool to inspire and engage audiences. If poetry is meant to reflect the beauty of humanity, then I assure you there is nothing more beautiful than people unified. And if you think the movement only has frenzied hatred, then it’s your responsibility to inject it with some love and poetry.

 P.S. In response to the continous search for political music, personally, finding decent acts has never been a problem. I think large protest movements do inevitably give rise to more people getting involved with making political music, so if you’ve having to desperately scour to find political music online or at the right sort of gig, maybe you’re looking in the wrong places. Need some UK acoustic folk, with hints of the political, social conscious and protest? Louise Distras, Jake & The Jellyfish, Billy Liar, Richie Blitz, Ducking Punches, Mike Scott, Robin Leitch, Chas Palmer-Williams, The Casual Terrorist, Chris T-T, Gary Kaye, Mike Scott, Mike Only, Ed Ache, Emma Hallows, Perkie, Joe Tilston, Babar Luck, The Last Laugh, King Charles, Sam Russo, Al Baker, Shankland, Liam O’kane, Oxygen Thief and the collective Fold. Bands? Too many to mention. Here’s a few. ONSIND, The Junk, Tyrannosaurs Alan, Throw Rocks At Cops, Crazy Arm, The Exposed, Resolution 242, Dirty Revolution, Stand Out Riot.

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Flashback: the 1995 Full Sutton prisoner’s strike

On 10th May of this year, prison officers across the UK walked out (more info) against plans to raise their pension age. The issues around this are too much to go into here, but Phil Dickens of Truth, Reason & Liberty recently wrote on why supporting striking cops, prison officers and the like can be at best naive, at worst, actively damaging.

Regardless, however, this seems like as good a time as any to look at the other sort of prison strike – that carried out by prisoners themselves. In 1995, prisoners at York’s HMP Full Sutton took part in mass strike action against new measures of punishment and control being introduced. As reported by the anarchist journal Black Flag:

On November 13th, 1995, prisoners at the high security dispersal prison Full Sutton went on a work strike. It’s hard to get accurate information about numbers but one estimate reckons on 250 cons refusing to work. This is a massive show of strength for any prison, but especially for Full Sutton where the authorities have traditionally been quick to crush resistance.
Four of the six wings (i.e. all except those for sex offenders) participated in the strike which started in E-Wing and lasted for 3 days. It was ended by the authorities sending in the MUFTI squad, screws tooled up in riot gear, to break it up. This resulted in some clashes with cons, labelled a “riot” by the press where it was mentioned at all. The protest came after a series of restrictions placed on cons over the previous months and was sparked by a new “Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme” introduced at the start of November.

More information, including personal accounts of the strike, can be found here.

Posted in history, prisons, protests, riots, solidarity, strikes | 1 Comment

Housing in York

Saturday 26th May
sees an event being held by York Welfare Campaign entitled entitled Here to Live, Here to Stay. Timed as part of UK Uncut’s Great British Street Party, the event is both a celebration of the city and a demand that everyone is entitled to affordable and appropriate housing. People will be meeting in St Helen’s Square from 11am to 3pm, with a mixture of food, music, political stalls, kids games, talks and more. The event forms part of York Welfare Campaign’s wider series of actions around housing, which has included a recent public meeting, campaigns around housing benefit, services for homeless people and other issues.

The situation in York

While one of the most affluent cities in the north of England, and often seen as entirely “middle class”, York has its housing problems like anywhere else – however, they are by and large kept comfortably outside of the city centre, so as to not spoil things for the tourist trade. Which may help to explain why some people’s preferred approach to people begging is to have them “cleared out”, so as not to cause “a blight on our beautiful city”.

Some might say a better approach to the problem would involve giving people support and/or homes – the White Swan Hotel has been empty for the past three decades, for one thing – rather than opting for a sort of medieval banishing of the poor. But that’s just hippie talk.

In late 2011, housing charity Shelter published two reports on housing in England and Wales. One of them, available here, concluded that York is “the few exceptions…where average rents are on a par with those seen in the South East and East of England.” Similarly, it was revealed earlier this year that York is “one of the least affordable cities in the country to buy a home”.

However, when assessing applicants for housing benefit, rates for York are calculated to include surrounding areas with lower rents, artificially lowering the amount of benefit available to the point that it is inadequate for many people to help pay the bills, forcing some to leave the city. Which may also go some way towards explaining why homelessness in the city rose by 40% in the period 2010/2011.

Also in 2011, another report by Shelter revealed that 450 properties in York had been reposssessed that year alone.

All of this takes place in an environment in which benefits and services are being cut seemingly on a weekly basis. The cuts have brought to light just how divided York is as a city, and how its surface image as simply a well-off tourist trap masks a great deal. The York Press, reporting in April, noted:

The Press reported yesterday how just over 6,000 existing benefit recipients across the city will be out of pocket following a raft of cuts aimed at reducing the nation’s benefits bill by more than £2 billion, with more than 500 residents set to lose in excess of £1,000 a year.

Now a geographical analysis has shown that the ward with the most people losing out is Westfield, where 982 people, or 16.2 per cent of the total number of claimants losing benefits in York, are affected.

Another 627 will be out of pocket in Clifton, 507 in Holgate and 643 people in Heworth.

In contrast, neighbouring Heworth Without has only 33 people affected, and only 21 people will lose out in Heslington and 39 in Fulford.

Meanwhile, local homeless shelter Arclight saw its funding cut by £28,000, while other cuts – to jobs, benefits, services and the like – are all likely to have an affect of their own.

York is also home to a traveller community, with sites in Clifton, Osbaldwick and James Street. While there has been a traveller community in York going back some time, they remain marginalised and often invisible. As described by York Travellers Trust:

The location and extremely poor conditions of the three York sites are proving problematic for residents. Families have to live in an environment that is constantly infested with vermin because all of the sites have been built on industrial estates.

Overcrowding on all three sites is also a major issue due to the lack of other provision and official reluctance to build another site. The lack of adequate facilities on each site creates poor living conditions and is detrimental to the health and well-being of Gypsies and Travellers.

The situation nationally

The situation in York is only one example of the housing problems rising across the UK:

  • Figures for Autumn 2010-Autumn 2011 showed a rise in rough sleeping across the England of 23%.
  • Research carried out by Shelter in March 2012 showed one in every 111 houses at risk of eviction.
  • This year the government, as part of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, made it a criminal offence to squat in a residential building, punishable with a fine and/or a prison sentence. The same act, as noted by Inside Housing:…makes squatting in a residential building a criminal offence, meaning squatters could face a year in jail or a £5,000 fine. It also restricts access to legal aid to instances where households could be, or have been, made homeless.
  • In London, cuts to housing benefit – coupled with the potential for huge profits to be made during the Olympics – have seen borough councils attempting to quite literally get rid of those on housing benefit, proposing to relocate them hundreds of miles away in what has been described as “social cleansing”.

Fighting back

Across the UK – and across the world – austerity measures are cutting in harder and harder, and with them, struggles over housing become ever more a priority. There are many approaches to this, from letter-writing and public awareness campaigns to legal challenges, protest marches, direct action and more. We believe we are at our strongest when we work together, and that by taking direct action we can win the things we deserve.

Solidarity networks

A solidarity network is, as described in an interview with the Seattle Solidarity Network (SeaSol), “a small workers’ and tenants’ mutual aid group that focuses on winning small fights against bosses and landlords, over issues such as unpaid wages and stolen deposits, through the use of collective action in the form of pickets and demonstrations.” Similar groups in the UK include the Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, the London Coalition Against Poverty, and the Glasgow Solidarity Network, among others. Solidarity networks have taken action on issues including access to benefits, problems with employment agencies, precarious work, abusive landlords and more, often working in tandem with campaign groups and unions such as the IWW.

Typically campaigns launched by solidarity networks will begin with a letter informing the target – the landlord, letting agency, employer, job agency, benefits office or whatever – of the problem being faced and what the group intends to do about it (indeed, sometimes this in itself can get results). This then leads to an escalation of tactics, including pickets, publicity stunts, occupations, networking with other affected people; from the same interview:

Every fight starts with a ‘demand delivery’ like the one linked here. We turn up as a large group at the boss or landlord’s office or business. The person with the issue hands a demand letter stating what needs to be done to the boss by a certain deadline of one or two weeks. This is basically a show of strength – the worker or tenant is supported by a large group of people – and a warning. The boss or landlord can give in now, or there will be trouble later.
If we’re lucky, the boss or landlord will give in before the deadline. If not, we start an escalating campaign. We start fairly small, then increase the pressure by adding more types of actions, more often, of increasing size. Our mainstay is a picket of a dozen or so people outside the enemy’s place of business. If it’s a restaurant or shop, this often proves economically devastating, reducing sales by half or more during the times we are there. Other techniques we use are poster campaigns to turn away prospective tenants, public embarrassment by leafleting the boss’s church or neighbourhood, interfering with suppliers or business partners, phone and internet actions, and anything else we can think of. We try to be pretty imaginative.

Resisting eviction

As austerity continues to bite with little sign of letting up, even those who would otherwise be comfortable find themselves at risk of losing their homes, in the UK and internationally. As the evictions continue, however, groups have organised to stop them, whether through legal challenges, public pressure – or by taking direct action to literally stop them in their tracks.

In the US, the Occupy protest movement has itself spawned Occupy Our Homes, which aims to challenge the increasing number of homes being foreclosed on in the US – often successfully:

After a 7 month campaign led by Occupy Homes MN, Monique White has been offered a new loan by US Bank. In October of 2011 Monique was perhaps the first homeowner in the nation to approach the Occupy movement and ask for help in defending her home from an unlawful foreclosure . The 6 month campaign to save her home set an historic precedent in the Bank and foreclosure reform movement. The new loan was offered some 15 months after the end of the Redemption period and with a payment in keeping with the homes current value.

Supporters have camped out in and around her home, led over a dozen marches on US Bank, collected over 6,500 petition signatures, packed the courtroom, shut down Bank branches, and even marched to the homeof US Bank CEO Richard Davis. Occupy Homes MN has worked with White and her family since October 2011, making national and international news in the process.

“I’m so thankful for all of the support during this process.” Said White, “Through it all I kept my faith in God and fought for what’s right. Right now I’m just thankful that my family and I will get to keep my home.”

Similar developments have taken place as part of Spain’s indignados movement and as part of occupy movements elsewhere.


“At the end of the Second World War this kind of squatting started with what was known as the `Vigilante campaign’ which spread from Brighton to other seaside towns like Hastings and Southend. Committees of, largely, ex-servicemen, under cover of night, installed homeless families and their furniture in unoccupied houses – usually successfully, since no action could be taken to evict them once they were in, until the usually absentee property-owners could initiate legal proceedings against them.

“In the following years the campaign grew because of the anomaly of the emptying-out of hundreds of army and air-force camps during the worst housing shortage the country had known. Spontaneous individual actions began in Scunthorpe, spread quickly to two other camps in Lincolnshire, and were followed by the occupation of several camps around Sheffield, where settlers formed a Squatters’ Protection Society and linked up with the pioneer squatters at Scunthorpe. These events were rapidly followed by the seizure of hundreds of camps everywhere in Britain.”

(Colin Ward, The Hidden History of Housing)

Squatting – the occupation of empty buildings for housing or other purposes – has a long and eventful history in the UK, much of it tied in with the radical politics of the time. After the end of the Second World War, returning soldiers and their families found themselves with homes either destroyed or left to delapidation. Whole groups of families went out and squatted abandoned buildings, barracks and POW camps around the UK. The squatters movement would continue through the decades, from the communes of the 60s to the fight against the Criminal Justice Act – that attempted to clamp down on squatters, raves, travellers and activists – in the 90s.

The 2000s saw the growth of the occupied social centres movement in the UK, with buildings up and down the country being squatted by activist groups both for housing and political use. The social centres serve a range of functions, including providing offices for campaign groups, spaces for meetings, musical, artistic and political events, and as a hub for community groups and activities.

In York, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 saw the White Swan Hotel on Piccadilly squatted by a group of anti-war activists. Empty since the early 1980s, the building was opened up and used as a space for anti-war material as well as art work, music and fundraising events. Ongoing social centres – some squatted, some not – include the Black Rose social centre in Sheffield and the 1 in 12 Club in Bradford; a more comprehensive list can be found via the UK Social Centres Network.

Further reading

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Changes to this site

Over the last week or so a few small changes have been made to this site. In no particular order they include:

  • Newsfeed. This pulls in news from other websites, including local campaign groups, anarchist bloggers and news sites, union news and more. The latest five entries are displayed at the right hand side of the page.
  • Map. The activist map of York includes information relevant to local activists, including the location of sites for protests, meeting places, union and political party offices, etc.
  • Calendar. This aims to provide listings not only for events in which York Anarchists are directly involved, but also more general information which may be of interest.
  • Photos. Images from demonstrations in and around York.
  • Reading list. Suggested reading on anarchism, the law, news and more.
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Bonding Warehouse to be developed (finally)

The York Press this week reported that the Bonding Warehouse, a building by the side of the river near Clifford’s Tower, has been bought by local developers:

YORK’S historic Bonding Warehouse has been bought by a developer and looks set to be transformed into a digital media and cultural centre with a public exhibition space.

The landmark riverside building near Skeldergate Bridge, which has lain empty and boarded up since being severely flooded in November 2000, has been bought by York developers Grantside for an undisclosed sum.

The Bonding Warehouse, a reliable source of the sort of endless moaning that only a local paper can provide, dates to the late nineteenth century and spent much of its existence as a pub. In 2000 it was closed down after heavy flooding, and has been officially empty ever since, with a series of potential offers coming up and then being rejected.

Unofficially, however, the building has seen a fair bit of activity over its decade-plus of being empty. In 2004, squatters occupied the building as part of a series of squats aimed at drawing attention to the waste of buildings in the city. The squat was run by the York Peace Collective, who first made their name squatting the (still) abandoned White Swan Hotel as part of York’s anti-war movement.

A few years later, in winter 2006, the Bonding Warehouse was again squatted, this time by a mix of residents and students including the University of York’s anarchist society at the time, FreeSoc (not to be confused with the current right-wing “libertarian” Freedom Society). The squatters opened up the building as a social centre, putting on musical performances, workshops, political debates, art displays and more. An archive of the York Indymedia gives a flavour of what it was like.

While it’s true that we’ve heard it all before, with one offer after another coming along and falling through, it is at least reasonably likely that this one will work out. How it will all turn out is anyone’s guess. But it is reassuring to know that, even briefly, the abandoned space was put to a use other than yet another business hub or bland cafe.

Were you involved in either of the squats? Did you visit them? Comment here!

Posted in anarchism, community struggles, history, protests, squats | 1 Comment