Category Archives: direct action

Yorkshire Direct Action Shows There IS Such A Thing As A Free Ride!

There is no alternative say bankers and politicians; these activists disagree!

So after being told there was no alternative to the travel cuts….. Great news on the climbdown by local councils! We’ve won so much, we can fight for the complete reinstatement of concessionary travel! Congratulations to everyone who’s taken part and helped bring this victory!” Statement on the Fight travel cuts in south Yorkshire’ Facebook group

A group of pensioner and disabled bus and train users have overturned a cut to fare concessions by the South Yorkshire Integrated Transport Authority. By using direct action tactics on their self-proclaimed ‘freedom rides’, they have embarrassed the powers that be into backtracking, and struck a small but significant blow against the ‘there is no alternative’ austerity mantra.

Disabled and pension age Barnsley people have had rail and bus concessions throughout South and West Yorkshire since 1985. This costs the four South Yorkshire local authorities £234,000 per year, but previously all had chipped in, no doubt largely because it was believed that for every £1 spent on concessionary travel £1.50 was generated in the local economy in consumer and leisure spending.

However, the local authority decided at the beginning of March that even this stimulus was not affordable in this age of austerity. That meeting was lobbied by 150 demonstrators, after a campaign group had been established by a meeting of three hundred at Barnsley Central Library. Legal protest methods had failed.

Then came the weekly ‘freedom rides’. Starting in April, they saw Barnsley activists simply catching the train to the Meadowhall shopping centre to rally with their Sheffield comrades. Of course, they did not pay to do so.

On 28th April, the direct action was disrupted by the police. In the words of Open Democracy‘s reporter:

“The Barnsley Freedom Riders had planned to board a train to the Meadowhall shopping centre for the now regular Monday rally with Sheffield Freedom Riders. The police hold their ground and the train comes and goes. Dave Gibson, retired college lecturer and chair of the Barnsley Trades Council, calls for a vote and a decision is taken to stay and demand to get on the next train. News comes through that the Sheffield Freedom Riders had gathered at Meadowhall and twenty five protestors are coming to join Barnsley. A second train comes and the police stand firm.

“We all begin to realise that the Sheffield supporters will arrive on the opposite platform. The [British Transport] police had not been told to block the other platform entrance so we all headed over the station bridge and simply walked on and waited for the train, the police and rail officials looking on from the other side of the tracks. The Sheffield train arrives and the Barnsley Freedom Riders board, with their placards and chants, to join the Sheffield group on the train. We cheer and applaud them. The freedom ride is a bit shorter than usual – just up the line to Penistone, but we are all on the train and refusing to pay.”

The following week’s scene was described by the Sheffield Star:

“Elderly and disabled campaigners fighting travel cuts in South Yorkshire had their latest ‘freedom ride’ protest blocked today. Defiant residents were stopped from getting on trains and riding without paying to Meadowhall by British Transport Police and rail staff at Barnsley station. But they rallied outside the entrance, which was blocked by staff, to chant, wave placards and sing in the lively protest demonstration.” 

But just days later, the Star reported that:

“Coun Sir Steve Houghton, leader of Barnsley Council, confirmed that plans to reinstate all free travel for disabled people and offer half price train travel to pensioners from 9.30am would be put to a transport chiefs’ meeting on May 19.” 

He went on to farcically state that: “I do want to stress this is not a result of people who have been breaking the law.”

The activists are planning a demonstration in Barnsley tomorrow, and a lobby of the Monday meeting.

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Irish Communities Unite to Resist Water Charges

Two have been hospitalised defending their right to water from the Troika

For more than three weeks now, people in major Irish cities have been taking direct action to prevent Irish Water from installing so-called ‘smart meters’, which many believe will push the cost of water – the most vital of all substances, beyond their ability to pay. In doing so, they are providing the first active resistance to the attacks on the working class demanded by the ‘Troika’ since Irish austerity began six years ago.

The resistance seems to have begun in the south-west city of Cork, before spreading to Dublin. There are few reports of it taking place elsewhere, but then there are very few reports at all, considering the significance of what is happening. As ever, it seems that the corporate, political and media establishment is seeking to downplay working class struggle, due to fear of ‘contagion’ to other locations and other causes

Just over a million meters are scheduled to be installed, and from the autumn the homes will go on the meter for the first time. International studies have shown that meters have reduced household water consumption by between 10 and 15%. But of course, water use isn’t even as ‘optional’ as electricity is. It is an essential part of human life, and of the human body. So in that sense, no wonder people are resisting.

At its most simple, resistance involves community members literally placing their bodies where the Irish Water contractors are trying to dig, as shown on this video. In other cases – where holes are discovered already dug – people are climbing into them, and therefore preventing the workers placing the meters there. Particularly in Cork, it seems that those resisting the meters are creating phone trees and other means of coordinating their defence of their living conditions within and between estates. As of yet, the Gardai (police) do not seem to be intervening forcefully on the side of Irish Water, even though they have warned of possible arrests from the beginning. But this surely can’t be ruled out.

The blockades started around the 14th April, in Cork’s Ashbrook Heights estate, and had reached Dublin by the 23rd. On 30th, an Ashbrook Heights protester named John O’Donovan was taken to hospital by ambulance, after falling to the ground in a confrontation with an Irish Water employee. An eyewitness complained that the employee had ran at a barrier, knocking O’Donovan to the ground.

Protester Theresa Kelly was assaulted in Dublin today

On May Day, activists occupied the Irish Water HQ in protest at the installations. The next day, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny was heckled by anti-water meter protesters in Cork, as he campaigned for the European elections. After a few days of relative calm, the conflict seems to have intensified once more. Yesterday, Environment Minister Phil Hogan threatened that the water supply will be reduced “to a trickle” for those who don’t pay their bills. Today in Dublin, a woman had her elbow fractured when she had a plastic barrier “shoved into her”, resulting in “her falling violently to the ground”.

The attacks on access to water for the Irish working class were dictated by the ‘Troika’ of International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission back in 2012, in return for a bailout of Ireland’s banking sector, which suffered heavily in the 2008 crash. In January, cabinet minister Pat Rabbitte broke ranks with his colleagues when complained that the Troika had “railroaded” the government into making the changes too quickly. In other words, the representatives of finance capital have insisted that the Irish government make its citizens pay for water on a timescale most convenient for them, despite practical reservations from those doing the implementing.

There has been little to no popular resistance to Irish austerity over the last few years, despite the weighty burden imposed on the working class. This mini uprising hopefully indicates that there could be more to come. Certainly, the fact that people are risking life and limb over a charge which Enda Kenny has claimed will be about €240 (£200) per year shows that this attack is very much the straw which broke the camel’s back.

Cambridge Mental Health Centre Occupiers Win Closure Delay

Occupiers are still refusing to leave (photo:Save Cambridge CCS)

Earlier this month I reported how service users had been occupying a mental health drop-in centre which was earmarked for closure, as part of Cambridge and Peterborough NHS Trust’s austerity drive. I described how:

“The centre has been open two days a week for the last twelve years, catering for adults with mainly borderline personality disorders. It offers a crisis clinic, a support group for service users, friends and family, and advice. The Trust has stated that a new ‘care pathway’ will provide some care for affected people.”

However, the service users believed that “90% of patients in the Lifeworks service are not being referred to the new pathway”, so “we are not moving until a representative from the Cambridgeshire Clinical Commissioning Group comes to us and we have some kind of agreement that we are going to be kept together as a community”.

On Tuesday, authorities were embarrassed into making this statement:

“In light of concerns that have been raised about the closure of Lifeworks, we have considered the process that we undertook and we acknowledge that we could have done more to engage with service users. We are now planning to have further discussions with all those affected. All options over the future of Lifeworks remain open. These discussions cannot take place however until the people who are occupying Tenison Road have vacated the building. For the time being, Lifeworks will therefore remain open. However, continuing the group as it is currently provided will have an impact on our ability to provide more specific and evidence based services for people with personality disorders across the county.”

Of course, this is false, and rests on the lie which underpins the whole of the austerity agenda across Europe, i.e. that ‘there is no money’. There is plenty, and it must be taken from the rich.

The service users refused to throw away their bargaining chip by leaving the centre, and as of today, the occupation is still in full swing. A further protest rally for supporters has been scheduled for Saturday, 5th April, and the Save Cambridge’s Complex Cases Service Facebook page is regularly updated.

Cambridge Patients Occupy Threatened Mental Health Drop-In Centre

Photo: Save Cambridge’s Complex Cases Service

Patients have now been occupying a Cambridge mental health drop-in centre for one week, in a bid to prevent closure of a service they regard as a lifeline. This comes just a few weeks after a similar case in Ireland, and continues to show a possible way forward for service users and workers looking to defend public services.

The Lifeworks building is the community outreach arm of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust’s Complex Cases Service, which is due to shut down at the end of the month due to budget cuts. The Trust claims it needs to ‘save’ £6.5 million per year. The needs of over a hundred people clearly weigh as insignificant for those drawing up such budgets.

The centre has been open two days a week for the last twelve years, catering for adults with mainly borderline personality disorders. It offers a crisis clinic, a support group for service users, friends and family, and advice. The Trust has stated that a new ‘care pathway’ will provide some care for affected people.

However, campaigner Alex Jones told BBC Cambridgeshire that:

“Roughly 90% of patients in the Lifeworks service are not being referred to the new pathway so the majority of patients are going to be referred back to GPs with no help whatsoever. We are not moving until a representative from the Cambridgeshire Clinical Commissioning Group comes to us and we have some kind of agreement that we are going to be kept together as a community.”

The Trust had initially demanded that the occupiers leave by 8th March, but this deadline was ignored. According to occupier Abi, as of Tuesday evening:

We are currently still occupying the building in the hope of making some kind of compromise. We have been offered a room once a week for a year which is clearly not adequate so still waiting. People really have put their all in to keep it going and it’s been amazing to see everyone pulling together and supporting each other. It would be great to inspire and see other communities doing the same […] It’s important that we stick up for ourselves.”

The campaign group have called a demonstration at Cambridge Guildhall, for this coming Saturday afternoon. The group runs a ‘Save CCS Lifeworks‘ Facebook page, and are encouraging supporters to sign their e-petition.

Protest Blockade Wins Temporary Reprieve For Irish Psychiatric Beds

A crowd of 150 stopped police from taking beds away. Photo: Gerry Stronge

A blockade outside the psychiatric unit of St Brigid’s Hospital, Ballinasloe in County Galway, seems to have won a temporary reprieve for five beds which the Irish government wanted removed as part of ‘care in the community’-branded cuts. This encouraging display of direct action by hundreds of community members and service users mirrors ideas I expressed in my recent piece on ‘How We Can Beat The Cuts‘, part of my series on building a new working class movement.

There was a large demonstration in the town last September, where union leaders joined locals in condemning the closure of the twenty-two acute psychiatric admission beds at the hospital. At the time, Noel Giblin of the Psychiatric Nurses Association told the crowd that:

“The huge turn-out at today’s protest reflects the deep anger in the community at the loss of these beds  and people across Roscommon and Galway are clearly not going to stand by and see the mental health services in the region being dismantled in this way.”

Far from the usual hyperbolic rhetoric, his words could not have been more prophetic. As the Galway Advertiser reports:

“On January 17 this year the HSE [Health Service Executive] succeeded in taking away five psychiatric beds, however a further attempt to take five more was thwarted on Tuesday night. The determination of campaigners in Ballinasloe was clearly proven when up to 200 people took just 15 minutes to mobilise and gather at the gates of St Brigid’s at 6pm to stop a private removal company from taking the beds.
 
“According to [campaigner] Mr Carr 600 people signed up to a text alert system following a public meeting at Gullane’s Hotel on Sunday. When word got out about the attempt by the HSE to take a further five beds mass texts were sent out and campaigners arrived to hold a peaceful protest. “The vans could leave but the beds could not,” said Mr Carr, who explained there are concerns over the falling standard of care in the community.”

On Wednesday, a group of the activists took their cause to the Irish Parliament, where they called for a “full independent review” of psychiatric unit closures in Ballinasloe, plus three others in the country. But mental health minister Kathleen Lynch cynically described the cuts as something which “would liberate the service user”. The Fine Gael/Labour Party government defeated an anti-closure motion, which had been put forward by the Fianna Fáil-led opposition. But according to the East Galway Mental Health Action Group, who are co-ordinating the resistance, “The fight goes on…We WILL get our independent review..”

At the time of writing, the five beds seem to remain in place, as do those committed to defending them. Despite massive cuts, first under Fianna Fáil/Greens and now under Fine Gael/Labour, there has been little active resistance to austerity in Ireland so far. This is one to follow.

How Can We Save Libraries and Other Public Servies?

Joy in Friern Barnet, but is this ‘Big Society’ by the back door?

It’s National Libraries Day. I know this because #lovelibraries is trending on Twitter, and because campaigners are debating how to save these treasure houses of knowledge from the blood soaked axe of the coalition government.

There’s something just great about libraries. Many people reading this article will have their own special memories. For me, when I was a toddler learning to read and hungry for all the knowledge in the world, they were my first window on life. I would read every minute of the day that I could, and I soon got bored of the relatively few books my parents could afford. But just down the road – within walking distance when I was a couple of years older – there was our local library, which had thousands and thousands of books for free! There seemed to be no limit to what I could learn!

Of course, this is a reason why the ruling class are so keen to get rid of libraries. In the words of ‘Bulls On Parade’ by Rage Against The Machine, “They don’t gotta burn the books they just remove ’em”. For those who profit from exploitation and social misery, the ideal scenario is a population who can read just enough to fulfil their work tasks, and not enough to question the social basis of the economic system that is tearing their lives apart. For that reason, the very existence of a library shows the potential for a better way of life.

This week has seen two big stories in resistance to this part of the government’s austerity agenda. On Tuesday, campaigners fighting to save Friern Barnet library in London declared victory, when the council apparently gave permission for it to be run by members of the local community. Council leader Richard Cornelius declared that money suddenly had been found, meaning that the activists who had been squatting and operating the library since last September could stay, as the council no longer needed to sell the building.

All this is clearly rubbish. The council intended to sell the library building, but a widely-supported direct action campaign showed them up, and the alternative was an embarrassing police-led eviction. The grant of £25,000 has not just been discovered down the back of the council sofa either. The people of the Friern Barnet area will still have a library resource to use. Yay!

However, Friern Barnet cannot be described as a complete victory. The paid librarian jobs that went last April will not be replaced, so the library will be staffed by volunteers. Ironically, the new Friern Barnet library will fit the government’s ‘Big Society’ rhetoric very nicely. Not only is this a blow for the people who lost their jobs, but the medium and long term viability of the library must remain in some doubt. Unison – who claim to represent 24,000 library staff across the country – have not lifted a finger in practical terms, and much of the responsibility for closure after closure lies with the Unison bureaucracy.

A meme produced by a Levenshulme protester

Just last night, around fifty users of a library in Levenshulme, Manchester refused to leave at closing time, and staged an occupation til past midnight, defying police threats of arrests for ‘aggressive trespass’. The Manchester Evening News reported that:

“Council bosses have dismissed the move as a ‘stunt’ and urged residents to take part in their consultation instead. Under the town hall’s latest £80m savings plan, both Levenshulme library and baths will shut later this year.”

The council’s arrogant dismissal of the occupation is typical of local authorities’ uncomprehension and fear of direct action, especially when combined with pleas to take part in the dead end of rigged ‘consultations’. Hopefully last night was just the beginning of what participants dubbed their ‘Levelution’.

According to Public Libraries News: “341 libraries (296 buildings and 45 mobiles) are currently under threat or have been closed/left council control since 1/4/12 out of c.4265 in the UK.” Just the other day, Liverpool council announced that: “Consultation will be held over having a smaller network of [library] buildings and some services may be delivered by other organisations from 2014/15.”

If we are to build a national anti-cuts movement – and we must – then service users must play a big part. The example of Friern Barnet shows what can be achieved. But if jobs are to be saved, workers will need to take a central role, and Unison’s is not the only bureaucracy sitting on their hands. Affected workers need to seize control of their own struggles, and call on the wider community for solidarity.

Liverpool Starbucks and Poundland Targeted on Day of Action

The scene at the front of Bold Street Starbucks at Saturday lunchtime…

A large group of activists wreaked a little bit of havoc with pre-Christmas capitalist business as usual on Saturday afternoon, as they joined in with a nationwide UK Uncut action, and also targeted workfare exploiters Poundland.

The five hours of fun began at noon, with a static rally organised by Liverpool Against The Cuts, who also played a co-ordinating and publicising role in the run-up to Saturday. It took place next to the Co-operative bank on the corner of Bold Street, and like other recent demos, it seemed quite isolated from the general public milling by. A handful of speakers decried the government’s austerity agenda through a megaphone, but it appeared to make little impact on busy shoppers.

After a few minutes, a group led by the Socialist Singers and the Angry Women of Liverpool made their move on the local branch of Starbucks – the multi-billion pound company which has recently been making the headlines for its ability to avoid paying tax. Police were monitoring the front Bold Street entrance, and the back door had been locked, but a small number of us managed to get inside by simply posing as customers and strolling past the cops. Once inside, the AWOL banner was unfurled. This inevitably provoked the anger of the manager and a plainclothes cop/security guard, who claimed he “didn’t want to hurt” one demonstrator, but twisted her hand and wrist in opposite directions as she and comrades were bundled out of the building.

But by this time, the Socialist Singers had massed outside the front entrance, effectively blocking it, and scores more had moved from the static demo to hear them/join in, creating a ‘wall of sound’. The front door was also locked, and only opened when the customers already inside wanted to leave.

The shop was closed for at least a couple of hours over the busy lunchtime period, and many caffeine seekers were turned away. Most left with no complaint once they were informed we’d closed the branch due to Starbucks’ refusal to pay taxes, and the link with the austerity bearing down on us all was constantly reinforced by the many placards and banners. But one American appeared to be in denial, claiming it was “an objective fact I can get coffee in this shop”, while another man announced he supported the cuts to “bad nurses and bad teachers”, for which he was roundly booed and denounced as “Tory scum”.

Eventually, a breakaway group moved away in knots of twos and threes, in order to hit the Liverpool One Starbucks branch half a mile down the road. There we encountered more hostility from the manager and one cop in particular, but this time the element of surprise meant that we’d got more bodies into the shop itself, therefore making it more difficult to evict us all without arrests. After much shouting, a lengthy standoff ensued, while passers-by took photos through the windows, many of which were uploaded on social networking websites.

…and the back!

Finally, the police ran out of patience, and ‘good cop’ was sent over to couch a threat of arrest under aggressive trespass legislation in “respect for your right to demonstrate” and acknowledgement that “you’ve had a really successful protest”. At this point we decided to walk out together, with large numbers maintaining a picket outside, whilst others of us swapped UK Uncut for Boycott Workfare, and descended on the Williamson Square Poundland.

We have held many pickets there over the past few months, and normally the security guard merely asks us to make sure we are not blocking access as we hand out leaflets and talk to people about the workfare scheme. This time however – perhaps because his patience had run out or perhaps due to Christmas pressure – he threatened to call the police, before actually calling three other ‘security’ men, one of whom was a massive tracksuited guy. This individual proceeded to push one protester, throw balled-up pieces of paper at me, and make gang signs. Another threatened to meet demonstrators “down a dark alley”.

The law did arrive about twenty minutes later, and as is usual they marched straight inside to consult with the store security. When they emerged, they were deaf to our complaints about the criminal acts committed by ‘security’, but the senior cop clearly didn’t want to make any arrests either, so he merely repeated the normal security mantra of “make sure you don’t block the door”, having warned his junior colleague to back off and calm down. Many potential customers took our literature, and stopped for a chat.

As the clock ticked round to five, we decided to call it a day, satisfied that we had put in hours of excellent work. The afternoon had been a massive success – costing Starbucks significant amounts of money, and generating great publicity for our causes. These victories were only possible due to the coming together of many different groups and unaligned people on the radical left, which gave us the numbers necessary to make a big physical impact, and made for a fantastic atmosphere. However, we need to make more effort to communicate with the workers in the shops. In the case of Poundland and other workfare profiteers, real jobs and wages are being undermined by the scheme. And Starbucks declared war on its staff this week, as it refused to accept any cut in profits if and when it decides to pay some corporation tax.

Saturday’s events provided a brief, tantalising hint of working class power, but real change will have to be based on workplace organisation.