Saturday, 27 October 2018

Ethiopia’s Red Terror Against Ethiopian Reds

Ethiopia’s Red Terror

In the 1970s the political situation in Ethiopia was very chaotic, a military council called the Dergue replaced the Emperor Haile Selassie, meanwhile student movements, unions and political parties were making their presence felt.
The Dergue soon felt threatened by these movements outside of its control and in response to rising violence declared a Red Terror and began imprisoning, torturing and murdering thousands of Ethiopians. The Dergue made no secret of this, its leader Colonel Mengistu talked openly about it in speeches in the radio and in the press, and Dergue agents often left the bodies of victims on display in the streets of Addis Ababa.
Curiously the main targets for the brutal repression were those who arguably were its fellow travellers. The Dergue publicly supported Communist revolution of the Marxist-Leninist variety and developed close links to the Soviet Union and Cuba. Meanwhile it try to exterminate a rival Marxist-Leninist party and engaged in brutal and indiscriminate conflict with Eritrean speratists in the north  who were also lead by a Marxist-Leninist party.
The video and transcription are an account from one of the victims of the Terror campaign and her testimony includes graphic accounts of torture and murder.
CW: for physical abuse and torture.

In the 1970s up to half a million people were killed during the brutal campaign of repression launched by Ethiopia's military regime called the Derg. Hear from one survivor who was imprisoned and tortured.
Memorial to victims of the Terror

[Program Producer Max Pierson]

Throughout history though there have been far more brutal and overt forms of government repression. We’ve got an example of that next as we go back to 1977, when Ethiopia’s military regime was involved in a violent campaign against any form of opposition.

It was called Ethiopia’s Red Terror, Alex Last has been speaking to a woman who was imprisoned and tortured by the regime, and you may find parts of her story distressing.

Original Wolde Giorgis:

It could be anybody, our friends were being taken. You were saying when would my turn be? It was devastating, it was mind blowing, it was unbelievable.

Alex Last:

One night in 1977 Ethiopian Security in Addis Ababa came to arrest a young woman with an unusual first name, she is called Original Wolde Giorgis and she was just 24 years old. She would be just one more victim of Ethiopia’s military regime the Dergue.

Original Wolde Giorgis:

I was at home with a very wicked headache when plainclothes people, they came and I just went out with a very very tiny night dress on. And barefoot, my mother was so surprised and frightened she just brought something to put on my shoulders. Nothing else, so I was, I was really half naked when I was taken, and they took me to the office of the Dergue, the old Menelik palace.

So when I went there, there was a commander and he said “go and tear her apart”.

Alex Last:

Original was a mid-ranking member of the EPRP the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party. A popular left-wing underground movement which opposed the country’s new military regime called the Dergue.

The Dergue had taken power following the overthrow of the Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974 and though it adopted Communism as its ideology and spoke of revolution for many on the left it was simply a brutal undemocratic, authoritarian regime. Certainly it was ruthless towards its perceived enemies, in 1976 as opposition violence intensified across the country the Dergue launched a campaign of murder, arrest and torture against so called counter0revolutionaries.

The EPRP was a principal target in homage to Soviet history the Dergue called their campaign the Red Terror.

Original Wolde Giorgis:

Their Cadres would just go out on the street, they see a youth they shoot and kill him. And they killed so many young people. It could be anybody, they don’t ask, they don’t inquire they just shoot.

Alex Last:

And the Dergue regime wanted to show its work, the corpses of its victims would be dumped on the streets as the BBC reported at the time.

[Archival BBC report]

In the last few weeks people who have been coming to work in Addis after the dawn curfews been lifted have often had to bypass bodies which are displayed at prominent street corners. The victims have always been shot in the back of the head and they usually bear a notice pinned to their chests saying that they were enemies of the revolution. Nobody knows the exact number of people who’ve died in this so-called Red Terror, but the essence of revolutionary justice apparently is that its quick.

Original Wolde Giorgis:

They used to throw the bodies on the streets, on the streets, that is not only it, they used to ask for the price of the bullet for the people they have killed. That is real, the shocking part is after you paid they never give you the body. No mother whose son or daughter was killed in the Red Terror has a body to bury. They didn’t.

Alex Last:

Anyone could be a suspect, killed, arrested or tortured. And in this climate of fear many were denounced innocent or not. When they came for Original they took her to one of the interrogation centres in the capital Addis Ababa, a place with a brutal reputation and there her ordeal began.

Original Wolde Giorgis:

I could hear a boy groaning, I think he was being tortured, the investigator just pushed me from behind so that I fell flat on my face, and then he beat me with a whip. I kept quiet and they said “oh, this lady needs something else.”

Alex Last:

Original still wearing her nightie, was trussed up and hung upside down from a horizontal pole under her knees. Then the beatings and torture began again. Here she describes the brutality she experienced.

Original Wolde Giorgis:

Imagine, me being half dressed, being swung like that. And they beat me for hours, I can’t imagine how to describe that torture. They beat you and beat you and beat you. The only result was that the inside pf your feet is like, like raw meat.

And unfortunately for me they tore my toes. The marks of the torture are still there. After two hours they let me down and took me to his office. I couldn’t walk, he just pulled me and put me in the office, somebody wearing white came along and said “who have you slapped inside there?” why he said the corridor is full of blood.

He said “please call somebody, have the floor cleaned and do something about this blood.”

The two things I most remember of this torture is that you get very very cold. You shiver I don’t know why, and then you are very very thirsty. For my shivering the guard was kind enough to say there was a man who was killed yesterday, he has some clothes so you better put them on. So, there was blood on the clothes but I was really thankful and I wrapped it around myself.

Alex Last:

That wasn’t the end of the torture, but Original considers herself one of the luckier ones. She was not killed. She was transferred to one of the overcrowded prisons of Addis Ababa. To keep their spirits up the inmates would tell each other stories, and talk of revolution in far off lands.

Original Wolde Giorgis:

Can’t imagine how many stories I told to the kids, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Count of Monte Cristo, otherwise you talk about the July 26th Revolution and we talk about the Dien Bien Phu, we talk about the Long March. Depends on the audience, sometimes they like it sometimes they don’t and we go around the world through the stories.

Alex Last:

Many did not survive long in the prisons. Names would be called and it was soon clear to all that many were being taken away and executed.

Original Wolde Giorgis:

I never forget their names, I never forget the way they looked when they go out. Even after so many years I can’t talk about it without emotion. And there were others, who were summoned after 5:00pm, when they walked out of the compound they walked as if a price had been put on them. They walked so tall and proud, and so many people passed through my eyes, to be killed.

Alex Last:

After two years Original was suddenly released, but by the end of the 1970s the Red Terror campaign was largely over. The EPRP ceased to be a major threat to the regime. It’s not clear how many were killed during the Red Terror across Ethiopia, estimates range from 100,000 to half a million.

After the fall of the Dergue in 1991 some leaders of the regime were put on trial for crimes against humanity. But for some the full extent of the Terror has yet to be addressed. Original Wolde Giorgis returned to study law at Addis Ababa University and is now a leading lawyer in Ethiopia focusing on women’s rights.

She says she has forgiven those responsible for her treatment, but the scars of the Red Terror are still felt across Ethiopia.

Original Wolde Giorgis:

In my family, in my neighbourhood, in the friends of my sisters and in the friends of my brothers in my classmates in high school, in the University and the people I met in prison, so many were taken away and executed. There is a void, the wounds are still there, there are still families and people suffering and the gap of the generation is enormous.

Max Pierson:

Original Wolde Giorgis was talking to Alex Last, and you can hear an extended version of that interview in the Witness podcast, just search for BBC podcasts and then Witness.

Incidentally the Ethiopian dictator Colonel Mengistu was sentenced in absentia to death for crimes against humanity, but he’s currently living in exile in Zimbabwe.

Friday, 26 October 2018

The Brazilian Dictatorship and the Battle of Maria Antônia

In October 1968, students from two neighbouring universities in the centre of São Paulo clashed in a battle which left one dead and many injured. We hear how the so-called 'Battle of Maria Antônia' drove Brazil deeper into a military dictatorship which is still controversial to this day.
Transcription of the above video, with the crucial assistance of Emma, a friend from Brazil on spelling and pronunciation of local names and places.
[Program Producer Max Pierson]

But we begin in Brazil where the current election process has held out the possibility of a candidate Jair Bolsonaro being voted in as President, even though or perhaps because he has professed himself an admirer of the military Dictatorship, which ran from 1964 to 1985. There are five candidates in total and a second run off vote between the two who come out on top on Sunday is likely to be required.

But whoever wins the campaigning has harked back to the old days of that dictatorship. So, we’re looking at one of the key events from that period in October 1968, a violent street battle erupted between students from the left and the right in the centre of São Paulo. It became a symbol of political and social tension in Brazil, Thomas Pappon has been talking to two former students who were there.

Thomas Pappon:
In 1968 Paulo de Tarso Venceslau was a student at the university of São Paulo

Paulo de Tarso Venceslau:

They were ready for the attack, they had acid bombs, Molotov cocktails and even guns.

Thomas Pappon:

Marcel Mendez was a student at Mackenzie University.

Marcel Mendez:

I saw people injured by stones, beaten with sticks, I saw people bleeding.

Thomas Pappon:

Mackenzie Presbyterian University, a traditional private institution founded in the 19th Century took up a whole block side of Rue Antonia in the centre of São Paulo. On the other side of the street was the Philosophy faculty of the University of São Paulo or USP, it was the biggest and most important public higher education institution in Brazil.

Paulo de Tarso Venceslau:

There were lots of universities in the area and Rua Antonia street was like a magnet for all these students, because of the lively bars where they drank and played music. The Brazilian singer and composer Sergio Barque, who studied at the architecture faculty around the corner, used to play for us there.

So there was a strong cultural appeal at a time of political struggle against a military dictatorship, Maria Antonia was a hub of political activity. Culture and politics always walk together in Brazil.

Thomas Pappon:

As in many parts of the world, 1968 had been a year of protests in Brazil. The killing of a student in March by the police in Rio had triggered demonstrations in various cities, all violently repressed by security forces.

In June a hundred thousand people took to the streets in Rio in a march against the government, after four years of military rule Brazilians wanted change.

Paulo de Tarso Venceslau:

We wanted freedom, political freedom, people are also very unhappy with the economic situation, with the decrease in wages, and the students were promoting new values, changes in social customs, mini-skirts, drugs, music. All those influences came from outside, from Paris, the Latin Quarter.

Thomas Pappon:

At that time the Philosophy faculty was also attracting younger high school students, who liked to hang around and take part in political activities, like collecting money to organise a National Student Congress scheduled for October. And it was the beginning of October that hostilities with students from Mackenzie University started. Lots of students at Mackenzie sympathised with the military regime. Marcel Mendez was an engineering student there.

Marcel Mendez:

It started at a crossroads where many USP students were asking for money from people in cars at traffic lights. Students from Mackenzie watched them, and at some point, eggs started flying towards the students asking for money.  Slaps and blows were exchanged, there was some physical aggression but nothing vey serious but it escalated later.

I was standing at the entrance to Mackenzie’s Engineering school, what I saw looked like a fight between hooligans, groups fighting each other, throwing stones, beating each other with sticks. Students from Mackenzie were trying to invade the philosophy building and vice versa.

Thomas Pappon:

The groups kept on fighting on the street throughout the afternoon of October 2nd, but things got much worse the next day, a Thursday.

Marcel Mendez:

The day started very tense, but now they were not only exchanging sticks and stones, but also Molotov cocktails and rockets. They were making them in Mackenzie’s chemistry laboratories. Things like gunpowder rockets with gasoline when you fire them they explode, and bombs, they made them during the night.

I saw a freshman from Mackenzie throwing a metal cylinder used as a concrete mould to the other site of the street without looking. If that had hit someone it would have killed him. They were throwing whatever came to hand, those desks, pieces of wood, some of them climbed to the top of a building which was under construction and belonged to Mackenzie, and they started throwing building materials. Even sinks and toilets they just threw them onto the crowd on the street below.

Paulo de Tarso Venceslau:

At this point in the battle a group of high school students decided to invade the building under construction. That’s when one of the Mackenzie students shot at and killed one of the students.

Thomas Pappon:

José Guimarães a 20 year old high school student was shot in the head and died on the way to hospital. At the time his death was not investigated. In 2015 a Truth Commission which examined crimes committed by the military dictatorship concluded that he was killed by Osni Ricardo, a police informer and member of an anti-Communist paramilitary group called CCC [Comando de Caça aos Comunistas] “Communist Hunting Commando”.

It isn’t clear if Osni was actually a student at Mackenzie, but it is clear that the university was infiltrated by members of the paramilitary group and by the police.

Marcel Mendez:

I remember one of them who always walked around wearing a dark cloak, he always had a gun with him, we knew he was an agent, but there could have been other members of the CCC amongst the students and maybe the teachers.

Thomas Pappon:

At the end of the morning of the 3rd of October the news about José Guimarães’s death had spread among the students changing the dynamics of the conflict. Marcel Mendez tells what happened next.

Marcel Mendez:

The bloodied shirt of Guimarães motivated a huge march through the centre of São Paulo. Thousands of students took part in the protest, they claimed that Guimarães was killed by the Mackenzie students and clashed with police. They overturned cars, set them on fire.

 Paulo de Tarso Venceslau:

By the time the students left for the march through the city centre the police had already taken up position around Mackenzie University. The state forces were mobilised to defend a private institution instead of defending a public institution, the Philosophy faculty.

Marcel Mendez:

At the end of the afternoon of the second day Rua Antonia was empty, the next day the road had been closed by the police. That’s when the invasion happened, a group with many armed people who I believe were with the CCC invaded the Philosophy faculty and basically destroyed everything.  They burned documents, archives, vandalised the whole building.

Thomas Pappon:

Two weeks later more than a thousand students were arrested for in a clandestine National Congress and two months later the military government brought in a new law. It was called Institutional Act 5, and it would become infamous. It gave the military power to intervene in all levels of government, to censor whatever they wanted and to suspend individual rights. The law effectively institutionalised torture and censorship and for many students identified with left wing movements -like Paulo de Tarso Venceslau- these events drove them to extreme measures in the fight against the military regime. They joined armed Guerrilla groups, many went to jail, were tortured, exiled or killed.

Max Pierson:

Thomas Papon was talking to Paulo de Tarso Venceslau and Marcel Mendez. So, what exactly was the battle of Maria Antonia? Joining me now is Dr Fiona Macauley an expert on the history of Brazil at the University of Bradford. Now we heard there how the battle led to a more hardline phase of the Brazilian Dictatorship but first what was that dictatorship like, and how did it differ from others in the region?

Dr Fiona Macauley:

Well it’s a very interesting question, the word dictatorship because at the moment that very word is being questioned and has been ever since 1964. Those who conducted the military coup did so with a significant parcel of support from the civilian population. So many of the supporters of what that military coup represented and represents, will say well actually it was a civilian-military government. They don’t call it a coup, they don’t call it a military regime, they call it a counter-revolution.

And in that sense, it was quite similar to others in the region, in Argentina, in Uruguay, in Chile, because they saw this as a counter-revolution against communism, against subversion. So, they saw themselves as holding the line of Western, Christian, anti-communist values. So that they have in common. But perhaps what’s slightly different in the Brazilian case is that they very clearly had civilian support and this was demonstrated because for twenty years they actually maintained a two-party electoral system, underneath these dictatorial conditions. So they had the façade of democracy, even within a very oppressive and repressive environment.

Max Pierson:

 And is it clear when it comes to something like that episode, the street battle in 1968. The military in effect provoked what happened in order to justify a further crackdown on civil liberties.

Dr Fiona Macauley:

Yes, I think that that is a fair interpretation of events. Because the bogeyman of Communism always has to be invoked in order to justify the draconian response. Actually, there weren’t many active Communists in Brazil, in fact there weren’t very many active Communists across Latin America, what you had was fairly nationalist mildly socialist movements who were then mischaracterised as Cuban proxies and Communists. And at the moment the bogeyman is Venezuela, so the current political climate is one of fear that somehow Brazil will turn into Venezuela and a kind of Communist chaos.

So, it’s always quite useful to have moments and incidents that heighten fear and anxiety and puts violence in the streets because of course ordinary people are frightened of violence and chaos. So, they will tend to support politically forces that will promise to eliminate that and bring about social order.

Max Pierson:

So, is that why we have a candidate now in Mr Bolsonaro whom almost champions that dictatorship? Why is this, is there nostalgia for those times, which you know were quite harsh in many respects?

Dr Fiona Macauley:

There is a nostalgia and the nostalgia is one for political order. Its not really an economic nostalgia because the military regime had its ups and downs economically. It did very well for the first half and then it began to decline.

But what we have at the moment in Brazil is extreme economic anxiety, you’ve got unemployment, dropping wages, you’ve got a public security crisis a law and order crisis. In Brazil something like 63,000 people a year are murdered, and all of those anxieties together form this kind of climate of fear and a desire for easy solutions and for a strongman politics.

I don’t even think it is nostalgia for the military regime, because to be perfectly honest if you ask people what happened during that 20 year period they’ll be very vague. What they have in their minds is an idea that there was order and that somebody was in charge and on that they build their nostalgia and their hopes that somehow Mr Bolsonaro will resolve all of those problems.

Max Pierson:

Going back though, over the last three decades or so how would you characterise the way in which Brazil has dealt with the legacy of dictatorship?

Dr Fiona Macauley:

It really hasn’t dealt with it. The first difference from other countries in the region is that they brought in an amnesty law which other countries did, but it’s a very different amnesty law because it was asked for by the people on the left who had lost their political rights under the military regime.

So in order for that law to pass the military said “well fine, you can have your political rights back but we want exemption from prosecution as a counterpart”. That law has never been overturned, there was finally a truth commission that investigated who had been killed and disappeared and who was responsible, but it never got to the point of prosecution, and so effectively the military and police forces who were involved from the 1960’s onwards in this kind of repression they’ve never been brought to account, nobodies been prosecuted, and nobodies lost their jobs, there was no kind of purge within police ranks.

So the culture of the use of torture and extrajudicial killings has simply continued from the 1960s and 70s onwards to the current day.

Max Pierson:

Dr Fiona Macauley from the University of Bradford, many thanks.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Report on the 2018 IWW Organising Summit

Yesterday the UK IWW held its annual organisers conference, luckily for me this one was hosted by the Sheffield branch and was very easy for me to get to. I had a full day of meeting Fellow Workers from around the UK and in discussion groups sharing ideas about workplace organising and feedback on previous attempts both successful and unsuccessful.

Here's a report based on my notes, attendance was 60+ some late arrivals, a good geopgraphic mix, the Welsh branches had a good attendance and some from Sctoland , the south of England and not just London, the furthest away came from Northern Ireland. And some American accents but they were part of local branches so not that far. Majority male, we did have a some women, a higher proportion than any other meeting I've been to, but still the difference was notably. Mostly white English first language speakers, but some from ethnic and migrant backgrounds, and all the Welsh members present were bilingual. In terms of representing every worker the IWW in the UK is doing better than the other organisations and Unions I'm familiar with but it does indicate that there are still problems with outreach in sections of the workforce.

The day was broken up into two sessions with several discussion groups and workshops to choose from after an opening talk from a guest speaker the head of the Sheffield Trades Council about economic conditions in the city the role a Trades Council can play and some updates on the "Sheffield Needs a Payrise" campaign, a campaign started by the Sheffield Trades Council after the TUC coined the phrase "Britain Needs a Payrise" and then did nothing to push it.

The talk painted a rather bleak picture of the main TUC Unions and it was refreshing to hear someone from the TUC willing to acknowledge and call out the behaiours and policies of the TUC that contributed to it, rather than just blaming the Tories and some abstract de-industrialisation process. Like for example USDAW and its agreements with big retail companies like Tesco, its an open secret that USDAW makes deals with big companies to be the one and only recognised Union in their workforces in exchange for no strike agreements and a commitment to bilateral cooperation, but you really hear that being stated from someone high up in the TUC because they have a lot of money to throw around and are pretty close to a lot of Labour MPs.

But the aim of his talk seemed to be to encourage the IWW to forge links with their areas Trades Councils and support them in their unionisation drives, which to me seems like the worst strategy to adopt, judging by my own experience with my local Trades Council. Its so dominated by the local labour party, and mostly by the right wing bureaucratic Labour members with the more open and community activists members sidelined. When the RMT disaffiliated the Trades Council tried to kick out the local RMT branch. And from some of the critical questions hostility from the Trades Councils is not a unique experience. I'm glad the Sheffield Trades Council is trying to build bridges outside of the affiliated Unions and wanting to encourage organising campaigns amongst sectors that were written off in the past for being to hard to organise, and I even think some of the actions they have been doing are useful and can be used by the IWW and anyone else also trying to organise and network in say retail, logistics and agency workers.

For example they've made a little fold out booklet listing 15 key workplace rights that an employer is not supposed to cross but a lot of employers will happily do so if their workforce doesn't know it.

By handing short bits of info like these they hope to do several things, increase knowledge of basic workplace policies and establish contacts to begin conversations so they can find out about conditions at work and how the staff feel and what they need.

Some of the facts and figures I managed to note down. [] is my commentary.
  • Less than 7% of TUC Union membership is under the age of 30
  • The McDonald's strikes are an exception and have been growing in the number of restaurants coming out
  •  The Bakers Union has been putting a lot of its resources into new campaigns and building links in unorganised workplaces, and has received some financial support from larger much wealthier unions.
  • Sheffield has the largest percentage of workers on or just above the legal minimum wage in the the UK.
  • Like many other parts of the UK the city has seen a massive increase in youth unemployment since 2008.
  • The average gender pay gap in the city and the surrounding area is %21, but some companies are at 40 or even 50%! [One of which he named but I didn't catch it, but they do make scalpels and other medical equipment and are part of what's left of the steel industry.]
  • Sheffield Hallam University has over 700 lecturers on zero hours contracts, their excuse that these are guest lecturers only was disproven in all but six cases, the rest work their all year round.
  • The University of Sheffield brags that its a living wage employer, however before it rolled out the living wage agreement it outsourced a lot of its services including food and catering, so all bar staff, kitchen staff etc, are paid below that rate.
  • With the exception of the UNITE Community the TUC is still largely ignoring the unemployed and those whom get by on very short term contracts. 
  • Despite continued higher than average union membership amongst women and ethnic minority workers there is still a lack of representation at higher levels and still lethargy about targeting and supporting workplaces with large or predominantly minority workforce. Here he talked about what the Sheffield Trades Council was doing to increase participation and communication with minority workers in Sheffield, like providing child care at meetings so delegates with kids can come, and changes times and venues for meetings so shift workers can attend. So far they've experienced some increase in attendance and participation but its still been slow going.
  • Union Dues, unlike the IWW which has a staggered dues fees for membership based on what you can afford, the lowest being £1 a month, so £12 a year, most TUC unions have a flat rate for membership which has been shown to be a barrier to workers on precarious work contracts and very low pay. [UNITE Community is an exception being specifically designed for low income people, but it doesn't give you full UNITE membership. Indeed on its own website the benefits of membership are almost exclusively about finding you a job and its material and the local UNITE Community is focused getting the vote out for the Labour party.[
  • And in general knowledge of what a Union even is has become very rare, especially amongst young workers.

Overall I'd say the room was open to his information and practical advice but not interested in his overall strategy, and I'd concur with that, I wish him well in his efforts but can't shake the feeling he's barking up the wrong tree, even he admitted that he's plans will require a fight on two fronts, not only organising in workplaces but also fighting to put pressure on the TUC and its Unions officers and officials to continue putting resources into (from their point of view) high risk work sectors and build links outside their narrower focus. And he'd also told us that he felt this dual battle had been going on for over 120 years, when the TUC decided to strip its Trades Councils of their power to effect overall TUC national policy which lead to a split with the Scottish Unions forming a rival Scottish TUC, and that in the 1990s the TUC actively tried to shut down most of its Trades Councils to centralise the Unions and make them all run entirely through their national offices down in London.

 After the talk and discussion we had food and then had a choice of several topics to attend, I chose to go to the Tactics: Changes in Strike Laws and Workplace Organising Workshop by members of the Bradford branch, so that's what I'm going to talk about. The other options were Dual Carding (Sheffield IWW) Organising in the gig economy by an organiser in the Couriers Network and the new Comms officer, Language, Leadership and Whole Worker Organising, lessons from Jane McAlevey hosted by the North West Organiser and Organising in the Care Industry, run by the North East Organiser.

I also wanted to go to the Dual Carder talk since I'm a Dual Carder and the Language and Leadership talk but I think I made the right choice for me. The law part was about two minutes, short version, in 2015 changes to the law make it harder for a Union to call a legally recognised strike. So we spent the rest of the time talking about how to resist the boss and force improvements in the workplace that don't require going through the legal process.
It was very interesting I got to talk to several other members who shared their histories on the job and I learnt a lot about some work places I'd honestly never considered much before. One of the members is an Archaeologist, which made him a pain to fit in with the other groups who were formed along job lines and economy sector. He joined me and a couple of engineers, it turns out that archaeology is not exclusively the preserve of Universities and Channel 4, a lot of the excavation work is done by private companies often with strict schedules to meet and whom send their archaeologist workers all over the country in digs much like a lot of engineers really. Indeed the descriptions of his workplace sound a lot like how fruit pickers are treated, they get bused into the middle of nowhere and are dependant on the employers to take them back home, meaning they work until the employers say they can stop, this has meant compulsory overtime every work day. So we talked about ways he might go about getting over co-workers on-board, a lot of them are already angry about their treatment so while its daunting it may be easier to start.

And one of the members from the Dorset Branch told us that their branch has been sharing the Old Wobbly pamphlet How to Fire Your Boss, and that they've incorporated parts of that into their own efforts.


How to Fire Your Boss

The workshop also provided one way to get over the talking vs doing divide. There's a criticism of meetings and discussion culture that time spent in a hall talking over sandwiches is time that could have been spent on practical activism. This workshop however does both, our ideas are taken on board by the organiser whom uses them to put out a pamphlet on workplace tactics so they can be used by other workers whom may find that their particular experiences are not solvable in the formal union way.

This was an early version of the 2nd edition (binding is not final)

And our comments and experiences are going to be used in version three.

After the break We had another choice to make, Every Member and Organiser! by the Chair of the new Organising Department, Organising the Precariat, by a long time Organiser, Targeting an Industry to Organise hosted by the London Area Organiser and a member of Angry Workers World,
Exploiting Prison Labour in the UK & US run by a member of the Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee, and the New Syndicalist was running a drop in session for members currently part of a workplace campaign to drop in for a short interview for a video they're making.

I really wanted to attend the prisoner talk-incidentally a friend of mine jokingly pointed out that the way that talk is worded makes it sound like we're interested in exploiting prison labour, which yeah it kinda does- and the talk on targeting an industry looked interesting but I chose to go for the every member and organiser, and again I think that was the right choice for me, I don't believe there's much I can currently do for the IWOC campaigns or targeting an industry since I'm stuck in the one industry in my area, so while I'm sure they'd have been very interesting and enlightening in terms of using what I learned in a practical capacity, they wouldn't be much help.

But then again since I didn't take part in them I could be completly wrong, and I hope other attendees who took part in the other discussions also write something up and share their notes elsewhere so we can all get at least a partial view of these important areas.

Anyway, the talk was largely state of the UK IWW in the past, its present and potential future, along with some discussion about the age old problems of getting members active. It answered some questions I've had for awhile and while the picture painted wasn't uniformly positive there were some interesting details and very promising improvements.

There was also supposed to be a debate on a proposal to use paid organisers, however the member whom was supposed to support the proposal didn't attend, so essentially we got a lot of reason why that would be a bad idea.

My notes for this section, again [] is my comments not what was discussed.

  • UK membership stands at approx 2,000 members
  • Around 200 of which are considered `active` [currently in or have been directly involved with a campaign or organisational work, though this might be an  underestimate if other work is included]
  • This ratio of active to paper is still better than in many of TUC Unions including Unison, so while not great isn't that unusual and could be worse
  • Average attendance of national organising summits is around 60-70, but not always the same 60-70, new faces arrive whom either couldn't attend previous summits [like me] or entirely new members wanting to dive in. A member in front of me was one of these, having joined about a few months ago.
  • Paid organisers, the issue here seems to be that in the TUC Unions a lot of the work is left to paid organisers and other official staff, which in addition to promoting apathy amongst the membership has some other issues including a culture of Conservatism, both in not wishing to commit time and resources into unproven areas and maybe reluctant to risk a fight if it could damage the Union as an institution and their wages and benefits. [the examples were mostly from Unison as the speaker has been a long term member of their Welsh region, though a lot of what he said is very similar to complaints my friends who are also in Unison in the East of England have with their Regional Officers, to summarise the branches are more willing to fight and campaign but they always receive push back and delays from higher up.]
  • There were some comments on Syndicalism overall in the UK, mainly focussing on the IWW, IWGB and the UVW Unions, their separate strengths and weaknesses what the IWW can teach others, what it can learn from others what we can but probably shouldn't learn from others etc.
  • In regards to paid organisers I was surprised to learn that the IWGB is almost entirely led by professional staff and usually goes through the legal mechanisms to resolve disputes. [Though this would explain why they've been so good at promoting themselves and their actions, I've seen references to IWGB campaigns usually successful in the more mainstream press, but often only hear about similar or even bigger campaigns by the IWW through its social media channels and branch websites though that has started to change.
  • The UVW has also done some very interesting and concerning it recently abolished its elected positions and replaced them with paid staffers, whom in many cases are the formerly elected officers, so there are some very pressing questions about how the UVW plans on handling accountability moving forward.
  • [Also in regards to the Couriers strikes and campaign, probably the biggest campaign the IWW is involved with right now in terms of numbers, according to a member who is part of the Couriers Network, the leadership of IWGB was initially reluctant to take part because of the questionable legality of such strikes, but after a week of pressure and outreach they decided to come on board and have been pretty solid in backing it.]
  • Cross branch communication in the IWW is very poor, the new communications department is looking into ways to change this. [This I already knew, but its good to see it publicly acknowledged. A lot of the branches and groups are very active but frustratingly this knowledge isn't widely available, and so experience isn't being shared, and opportunities for support are being missed.]
  • One positive on the Communications front is that the IWW has gotten better at publicity, the Union can now at least show what its doing and what its about in big actions [there was a list of publications that have covered the UK IWW, but I'm afraid I didn't catch it, the Morning Star was in the list, and so were several popular Welsh regional newspapers. But in addition the news from the national offices have improved significantly recently, the new website is updated often and I receive regular information on campaigns and events, when I first joined it was just e-mail lists]
  • Making Organising a standard part of the agenda and always a topic of discussion at meetings. There are branches that have been active for awhile but haven't gotten involved in any workplace or community actions, one way the Welsh branch [there used to be only one, now there's several like Cardiff and Swansea] dealt with this issue was to make the first item on the agenda and even when there was no organising being done, they discussed why that was and what could be done about. Currently the Welsh parts of the Union are some of the most active in terms of workplace organising and have seen quite a bit of growth.
  • Don't rule out Paper Members, this was a section dedicated to the membership who pay dues but don't seem to get involved.
  • Perhaps being more open to skills not traditionally valued could be a way to get more members involved and make progress on the many obstacles and issues we face. Again going by the Welsh branches one of their successes has been getting people who speak more than one language to translate and interpret, those are very important skills, especially for an organisation that dreams of being the One Big Union, but it isn't something that comes up in the usual meeting agenda's. Also other skills they are eager to tap into and have had some success getting members into active mode is in outreach, and publicity, making videos, writing up leaflets, reports, blog posts etc, can help boost the Unions profile and also be a way for these members to build up their confidence and get used to working in an organisation and help in other ways. [There were more suggestions and anecdotes but I didn't jot them down. Also personally speaking this is an important task, I've been very openly IWW on social media and the internet, as a result I've been messaged and e-mailed and commented etc over a dozen times by workers wanting to join and approaching me because they don't know how or if there is a group in their location. In quite a few cases it turns out that there is indeed an active branch very near to their location, but they've never heard of it, and in some cases I'm on the other side of the world. In addition its usually been a pain for me to find this information, because the directories aren't up to date and I'm usually only tipped off thanks to the groups facebook page or twitter profile.]
  • Salting, the act of taking a job specifically to organise it, this is a very common tactic in the USA but not one that has found much success in the UK, so generally speaking the IWW doesn't really advocate. However it has had a lot of success in the Couriers campaign, so perhaps it may prove to be a viable tactic elsewhere in what's called the gig economy, moving forward, so they're looking into it again. [This might also be a way to engage unemployed and student members]
  • The Organiser Training, a big part of Every Member and Organiser, is the IWW's Organiser Training, its been very useful but there are some issues, the one we use was developed in the USA for the USA workplace so there are parts of the course which simply put don't really have any relevance for workers in the UK and the other Unions in the IWW. We have also experienced issues with how long it is. It takes about two days, so usually its done on a weekend or two consecutive Saturdays. For nine to five Monday to Friday workers that's been no issue, but for shift workers, or single parent workers and others it is a challenge, so the training department will look at revamping it and finding ways to make it more accessible. [I'm one of those workers, the Sheffield branch kindly offered to train me on the course over two Saturdays, but due to my shift pattern and the constant fighting with management to get days off I simply couldn't make it to both sessions.]
  • After that we had some general remarks and a discussion, basically the communications and organisation and training departments had been in an extremely poor state, but after this years elections, those departments have been reactivated and are looking at ways to improve, and we've already seen some progress.
  • Regional Organisers, there are now a lot more of them, when I first joined there was London, the South and the North, and one or two in Scotland... not good, now there are more, indeed several of them were part of the summit. Its still not perfect though South West England for example is still vacant with the branches having to do that work between them. So if your a member in the South West of England, like travelling and chasing people up and want to help the work along, maybe drop the organising department a line?
 And that's about it, there was a closing plenary and a social/fundraiser for the New Syndicalist, but sadly I had to leave early to catch my train so I don't have any gossip on them. Though I did pick up some things.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Emma Goldman Essays - Audio Anarchy

Here is a collection of essay's by Emma Goldman that were recorded by the Anarchist propaganda group Audio Anarchy. I've noticed that Emma Goldman's essays are something of a rite of passage for Anarchist audiobook groups. There's a collection on Librivox and by the group Audible Anarchist.

Playlist link

MP3 folder link

Emma Goldman Essays Anarchism What it Really Stands for

"In the eighteen-nineties and for years thereafter, America reverberated with the name of the 'notorious Anarchist,' feminist, revolutionist and agitator, Emma Goldman. A Russian Jewish immigrant at the age of 17, she moved by her own efforts from seamstress in a clothing factory to internationally known radical lecturer, writer, editor and friend of the oppressed. ...a collection of her remarkably penetrating essays, far in advance of their time, originally published by the Mother Earth press which she founded."

 On Suffrage



Mp3 Download link




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