Setting out our stall

This piece was originally published on our sister blog, On Uncertain Ground. As our blogs seem to have parallel rather than overlapping audiences, we’re re-posting it here so everyone who knows us is clear about how we want to approach the bookfairs we’ll be attending this year.

Our stall at the London Anarchist Bookfair last October

Anarchism is a broad church stretching from those of us focusing on community activism and class struggle politics all the way over to those who focus on various aspects of identity politics. Anarchist bookfairs are one of the occasions where the various strands of anarchism are together under one roof for a day. Which is good for anyone new to anarchism and who wants to find a form of activism that suits their outlook and temperament. They’re also a good opportunity for the varying strands of anarchism to discuss and debate with each other about their differing approaches and outlooks. We would hope that after a few recent blips, that tradition of open and honest debate can continue in 2018.

In the absence of the London Anarchist Bookfair this year, we’re doing our level best to get out and about to other bookfairs. We have got stalls booked at the Bristol Anarchist Bookfair on Saturday May 12th and also at the Dorset Radical Bookfair on Saturday 4th August. In addition to this, we’ll also be at the London Radical Bookfair on Saturday 2nd June handing out our papers. Obviously we’d like to be doing more than this but the costs of travelling and other commitments put constraints on what we can do.

The papers, flyers and mini display we’ll be having on our stall are very much focused on the community activism we do under the banner of the Essex Social Strategic Alliance which is us, Basildon & Southend Housing Action and a number of local, resident led community groups. It’s our belief that if a successful movement for radical change is going to be built, there has to be a base at the grassroots in our neighbourhoods. Our community activism is focused on facilitating residents to improves conditions on their estates and in their neighbourhoods and in the process of doing so, empower and slowly radicalise them so they become more ambitious in their demands. It also has to be said that once we hit a certain level of activity and recognition on an estate, it makes it a lot harder for elements of the far right to muscle in and try to get a foothold.

We’re not going to these bookfairs saying that our approach is the only way and that everyone else is wrong – that would be an arrogant and counter-productive approach leading to unnecessary rows and divisions. All we’re saying is that there needs to be a base on the estates and in the neighbourhoods to support all the other forms of activity and action that make up anarchist practice. We recognise the need for a creative diversity of tactics taking into account the circumstances prevailing at the time to get the message across. However, there should be an ongoing discussion about which tactics are effective and which need some serious re-thinking.

We admit that we have in the past expressed views about certain strands of identity politics and that we have ruffled a few feathers in the process. We would like to remind people that for the moment, we’ve withdrawn from what in our view was becoming a toxic and divisive row to focus on what we do with our community activism and class struggle politics: There have been some changes on this blog. It’s not our intention to get dragged back into that row when we’re out and about at the bookfairs this year – life’s too short for that! Having said this, there is room for a respectful, nuanced debate within anarchism about the balance between class struggle politics on the one hand and identity politics on the other.

So that’s it, we’ve set out our stall for how we intend to approach our presence at various bookfairs this year. We’re looking forward to talking to people about our approach and an interesting cross fertilisation of ideas with those taking a different approach.


Stirrer No.6 off to the printer

The sixth print edition of the South Essex Stirrer was sent to our friends at Oxford GreenPrint yesterday for printing. It will be hitting the streets a few days after the local elections. We also plan to take a small bundle with us for our stall at the Bristol Anarchist Bookfair on Saturday May 12th. As there’s no London Anarchist Bookfair this year, we’re going to a few other fairs around the country. These are good opportunities to talk to people about our grassroots community action approach and our class struggle politics.

As ever, help with distribution of the Stirrer is always appreciated. If you live anywhere in southern Essex (see the map below) and want a small bundle to hand out to friends and neighbours, get in touch (see About us) and we’ll take it from there. As we can only afford a small print run, a downloadable PDF of the Stirrer will be available once the local elections are out of the way – trust us, there is a good reason for this delay in making it available!

Sorry is the hardest word, for a councillor

SKIPP press release (23-04-18)

Yet again Cllr. Anne Holland is unable to admit to being in the wrong and instead has elected for denial and a feeble attempt to mislead the public. Speaking in the Echo (23-04-18), in response to our criticism of her refusal to pledge support for the Leigh Folk Festival on the grounds that the council will not support events that are “badly organised”, the executive councillor for enterprise tourism and culture denied saying this and has instead implied that we misunderstood her due to the length of the meeting.

Well, we can say with absolute certainty that we did not mishear, misunderstand or misinterpret her. She was asked a direct question concerning the Leigh Folk Festival and in response she stated that “We do not support badly organised events”. Furthermore this took place, as Cllr. Holland knows full well, at the start of the Council meeting. in the questions from councillors’ session which is always at the start of the council meetings.

If she did not mean what she said, then fair enough, she should admit that she is wrong and issue a public apology. Don’t try to wriggle out of the situation with lame denials and bungling misdirection.

The SKIPP Committee
Patsy Link
Sheena Walker
Mark Sharp

Naysayer must go

SKIPP press release (19-04-18)

Southend’s Minister of Destruction, Cllr. Anne Holland has made her official position clear with regards to the Leigh Folk Festival.

At Thursday night’s council meeting Cllr. Holland who is in charge of tourism and culture was asked directly by another councillor if she would financially support the Leigh Folk Festival. Her response left nothing to doubt when she said “we don’t support badly organised”. Why could she not unequivocally given her support to this amazing free festival?

Surely it’s time for this person to go? How many more events can she discourage? We cannot afford this level of negativity from an executive councillor who is responsible for this town’s largest industry, tourism.

The SKIPP Committee
Patsy Link
Sheena Walker
Mark Sharp

What does it take to get a blocked drain cleared?

Residents doing it for themselves, that’s what it takes! Two women, both with disabilities to be precise. Using improvised equipment to do the job. This happened on the ¾ estate in Vange which is on the southern fringes of Basildon.

With Basildon not being a unitary authority, the responsibility for paths and roads on estates is split between Basildon Council and Essex County Council. Which means that on an isolated estate on the southern fringes of Basildon, it’s easy for authorities to a) ignore problems or b) try to fob them off onto someone else. We all know that in the 21st century with the information systems that are potentially to hand, it shouldn’t be possible for a drain in a close to be blocked for seven years. However, we don’t live in an ideal world and both Basildon Council and Essex County Council have a long record of ignoring or failing to deal with numerous problems on the ¾ estate.

Which is why two residents who’d had enough of banging their heads against a brick wall decided to take matter into their own hands and do the job themselves. Even though they pay Essex County Council through their council tax to supposedly do the job. We suggest that both residents bill them for the work done – we’d be more than happy to publish the bill on here.

This is the way things are going though. Residents starting to take on more maintenance jobs because the authorities can’t be bothered. While it’s a pain to do a maintenance job you’ve already paid someone else to do, it’s also the start of the growth of people power as residents start to take on more of the maintenance and running of their estates.

It’s that time of year…

On May 3rd, local authority elections will be taking place. You may well have noticed the flyers coming through your door. You may even have been doorstepped by enthusiastic candidates promising to do all they can for you while somehow forgetting the constraints they’ll be operating under. If your local councillor is up for re-election, you may have noticed they’re being more solicitous and efficient than is normally the case. Your local news websites and papers will be featuring ward by ward analysis of the state of play between the contestants and how that will affect the balance of power on the council.

Here are some hard truths. The role of local authorities in an age of seemingly permanent austerity is to implement the government’s agenda by making painful decisions about which services to cut or scrap. No matter how enthusiastic and committed your local councillor is, even if they belong to the party that’s in power on the council, they’re obliged to deliver the government’s austerity agenda. There’s no getting away from it – your local councillor is the one who has a role in deciding where the axe is going to fall.

If you recognise the constraints your local councillor operates under but still want to vote, that’s fine. As anarchists, we’re supposed to hold a strict line on voting not changing anything. Voting under the system we have will never deliver the radical change we desire. However, we recognise that there are merits in voting for the least worst option or for a councillor who is acutely aware of the constraints they’ll be working under but who will still pull out the stops for you. Obviously, if there’s a candidate from the far right standing in your ward, then getting out to vote to stop them making gains is imperative. Supporters of reactionary and far right parties tend to be more motivated when it comes to voting so that has to be countered.

Whether you vote or not, bear in mind that real change will only come from grassroots community action by residents committed to making a difference in their neighbourhoods. In the case of the ¾ estate in Vange, that change has come from work by the Vange Hill Community Group facilitated by Basildon & Southend Housing Action. This has involved community clean ups, guerilla gardening and constant lobbying of the council officers involved in providing the services the estate relies upon. The two ward councillors have proved themselves to be less than effective and they’re simply bypassed.

In the case of Brooke House Residents (Brooke House is the iconic block in the middle of Basildon town centre) they do have a ward councillor who is pro-active and fully in support of their efforts. He’ll do what he can to lobby for improvements in the block but is also acutely aware of the constraints he faces. One being the long term aim of the council using a policy of managed decline to force residents to seek alternative accommodation so the block can be flogged off to a developer.

Vote if you want to but bear in mind that bringing about real, radical change doesn’t come from putting a voting slip in a ballot box every now and again. It comes from residents recognising that it’s only through their collective efforts that things will start to change and then getting together to start to bring that about. We at South Essex Working Class Action (the Stirrer and Basildon & Southend Housing Action) are there to help facilitate the work of any residents who want to bring about change at the grassroots in their neighbourhoods.

The spring/summer 2018 edition of the Stirrer is on its way!

Since the print edition of the Stirrer we brought out at the start of the year, we’ve also brought out the second edition of The Estuary Alternative and a generic edition of the Stirrer to hand out on protests and at bookfairs. We’re getting well into 2018 and it’s time to bring out another edition of the Stirrer to reflect on what’s shaping up to be an interesting year.

Once the local elections are over and the results digested to give us a better understanding of the political landscape we’re operating in out here in Essex, writing on the next edition will be underway in earnest. We’re aiming to have all of the copy written by the second week in May and allowing a day for design and layout, it’ll be off to the printer by the middle of May ready for distribution from the start of June onwards.

We’re starting to experiment with a variety of distribution methods to make sure the paper gets to the people who want/need to read it and reduce wastage. As ever, if any of our supporters across southern Essex want a bundle to hand out to friends and neighbours, let us know and we’ll sort out a way of getting them to you. See the map below for an idea of the area we cover.

The reason we continue to produce a paper is that the audience for this and pretty much any other political blog is largely self selecting. If we’re going to build a movement that will achieve real change, we need to get our message out to as many people as possible. While papers may not be perfect, they do have a role in getting our ideas across to people who would otherwise have never heard of us.