27 years ago today…

The Poll Tax riot that took place on the 31st March 1990 is a day that will live long in my memory for a whole host of reasons. Here are some interesting accounts of what took place on the day and how a lively march was turned into a riot by deliberate provocation from the police: Accounts of the poll tax riot, 1990https://libcom.org/history/1990-accounts-poll-tax-riot

Many words have been written about a day which has assumed an almost mythical status among a fair number of older activists. I don’t want to dwell on the events that turned the march into a riot and what happened after that. What I want to do is reflect on how much has changed in the intervening twenty seven years when it comes to building actions and marches and also what happens when we’re on them.

Obviously another twenty seven years of neo-liberalism has inflicted further damage on working class solidarity as our communities have become more atomised and fractured. Bear in mind that what defeated the hated Poll Tax was not the riot on March 31st but the subsequent campaign of non-payment that eventually led to the authorities concluding that it wasn’t worth the aggravation involved. That sustained campaign of non-payment could only be carried out in communities where there was still enough sense of solidarity to ensure that those sticking their necks out would get the backing they needed.

Twenty seven years ago, the Internet was in its infancy. Building any political event whether it was a meeting, a picket or a march had to be done by getting out and talking to people. There wasn’t any creating an ‘event’ on Facebook where people could idly click Going or Interested (with only one in ten actually turning up!). Big marches were built with a range of tactics that all involved real life engagement with other people. The classic was street paper sales and street meetings leading to meetings in hired rooms to mobilise the more committed. Evenings spent flyposting any surface that provided visibility to the passing public. Telephone trees and word of mouth. Apart from the flyposting, they all involved having to talk to, debate with and convince people. Mind you, even on a flyposting team, communication was important with the most important job being that of the lookout…

All of these methods involved talking to people face to face on a variety of levels from preaching to the (almost) converted to having to persuade people of your case and why they need to act. Granted it was bloody hard work but it was that real life face to face engagement that built the solidarity that was needed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dismissing the Internet or social media – they can both be very valuable tools for activists but it has to be said that there’s an over-reliance on them these days.

The experience of actually being on a protest has changed a lot. It’s not just CCTV which twenty seven years ago was a relatively new technology but is all pervasive now along with police drones up in the sky discreetly observing your every move. Although it has to be noted the cops don’t appear to be giving up on their helicopters which do play a role as a form of intimidation as they hover directly overhead! It’s digital photography and bloody smartphones… It’s bad enough when the enemy use this technology to record your mug to share on their dodgy far right websites. What’s worse is when people ostensibly on your own side feel they have to document every minute of the action they’re on without realising they’re compromising the security of everyone around them. FFS, if things look like they’re getting a bit ‘tasty’, do us all a favour and put the smartphone away! Even better, don’t bring the sodding thing out on a protest in the first place – get a cheap burner phone instead. As for what to wear on a protest or action and feeling the need to have to go black bloc if you’re doing anything other than a point A to point B – a lot of that is down to the ubiquitous presence of CCTV and digital media…

I don’t want to come over as grumpy old sod who can’t keep up with the times and is nostalgic for the ‘good old days’ of protest. As written earlier, the Internet can be a brilliant tool for activists as it offers publishing capabilities and reach to a broader audience that we could only dream about twenty seven years ago. Also, when it comes to research, providing you can develop your own critical filters, the Internet is an invaluable tool. Where the Net and social media can and do fall down is when it comes to building and organising events. We all need to start thinking about other ways we can build for actions and protests that don’t rely on social media and that make us talk to each other and to the public at large. Face to face engagement with people is more likely to result in commitment than asking someone to tick Going on a Facebook event and hoping they actually make the effort to turn up…

I’ve thrown a few thoughts and ideas out in this piece. Hopefully, they’ll act as a catalyst for discussion about strategies and tactics. What would be great is if that discussion could be face to face:)

Dave (the editor)


How do we deal with the wreckers?

This is us thinking out loud about anti-social behaviour in our communities. We’re not offering definitive explanations or solutions – what we’re doing is putting out some ideas and suggestions in the hope they’ll start a constructive discussion as to how we deal with these issues…

It seems that no matter how hard you and your fellow volunteers work on a community project, there’s always a minority of wreckers who for their own instant gratification, will set out to try and destroy what you’ve worked so hard to create. You’re part of a dedicated group of volunteers working hard to turn round a park that ten years ago was a litter strewn no go area that people went out of their way to avoid… You do your level best to make it a safe, welcoming asset to the neighbourhood and yet there’s still a minority of yobs who see nothing wrong with using the park as a venue to carry out unprovoked, random assaults.

We’re not sociologists but what we can say with reasonable certainty is that glib explanations and simplistic blanket solutions to deal with delinquent behaviour don’t work. There are a range of reasons why some youths go off the rails and as such, in an ideal world, there would be a range of appropriate responses to deal with them and the consequences of their actions. What follows are not prescriptive solutions – it’s more a case of us throwing out ideas for discussion to see where things can go…

Sometimes, it may be the case that a household is being buffeted by events beyond their control and the parent/s or guardian/s simply can’t cope and need outside support to help them in dealing with their kid/s. In an age of austerity, sadly the resources to do that are diminishing and troubled households are left to fend for themselves. Could this be the kind of situation where neighbours step in to offer what help they can to get the family back on track? Granted, it’s no substitute for when professional help is needed but for a household that’s struggling to keep things together, an act of solidarity could be the morale booster they need to help steer them in the right direction.

We go from the situation described above through varying shades of grey where things aren’t so clear cut all the way through to the small but extremely disruptive minority of households and individuals whose behaviour could almost be described as pathological. What we’re talking about here has been described by the Independent Working Class Association (IWCA) as the ‘renegades within’: Dealing with the renegadeshttp://www.iwca.info/?p=10134

A corrosive minority for whom the values of community solidarity, empathy and civic pride mean nothing. Brazen opportunists who apart from looking out for their immediate circle of mates and (possibly) family, are effectively at war with the community they live in but are not a part of in any way, shape or form. People who will commit the most venal of crimes to win the ‘respect’ of their mates but who actively ‘dis-respect’ the community they parasitically live in and off. A group who have taken on board the philosophy of get rich quick (by any means) and the view that the weak deserve to go to the wall. We’re talking about people who are the product of 40 years of our communities being atomised and fragmented by a corrosive, neo-liberal doctrine that places the individual above any sense of solidarity or community.

What can we do about what is effectively a fifth column sabotaging our efforts to build a sense of community and solidarity? A petition is doing the rounds in our neighbourhood asking the police to increase patrols in the area in the hope that a) a visible police presence will act as a deterrent and b) early intervention will nip problems with delinquent behaviour in the bud. We can understand why people want to put pressure on the police to have a more visible presence but sadly we have to say that with the best will in the world it’s a flawed approach on the basis that a) if crime is contained in a working class area, then from our experience of helping IWCA groups in Blackbird Leys and Islington, the cops will see it as job done, b) in an age of austerity, police resources are stretched to the limit and if containment is a lower cost option than eradication, then containment it will be and c) if crime is going to be defeated, the only effective way of doing it is through a strong, united community.

There is a slogan that says: ‘strong communities don’t need policing’. We need to start looking at ways of putting that into practice in our neighbourhoods. There’s no one size fits all solution to dealing with the problems of anti-social because the causes of it vary. To be honest, most people can tell the difference between households who mean no ill but because of the way they’re buffeted by events, need a lift up to get them back on track on the one hand, and on the other hand, the renegades who need a more robust approach to make them change their ways.

Even when it comes to the renegades, more often than not, people will know who they are and where they live. They get away with what they do because as our neighbourhoods become ever more atomised and people feel more isolated and afraid, the fear of retaliation stops people from acting. It only takes a minority of renegades to drag a neighbourhood right down – because of the fear factor, the influence they exert is out of proportion to their actual numbers. Obviously, we’re not talking about vigilante action – all that does is set up a tit for tat cycle of violence which further undermines community cohesion. What we are talking about is how a signal can be sent to the renegades within that their actions have consequences such as being ostracised by the neighbourhood. That means being refused service in shops, pubs and cafes until they show a sign of wanting to mend their ways as one possible suggestion.

To conclude, the ideas chucked out ranging from the community rallying round to help a troubled household get back on track and prevent the kids from sliding into a pattern of anti-social behaviour through to the more robust approach of ostracising the renegades all depend in one thing…a sense of solidarity. Without that sense of solidarity and knowing that if you’re sticking your neck out, people will be there to back you up, things won’t change. If we can build genuine community solidarity, we’ve got a chance of defeating this scourge…we look forward to a constructive discussion about how we can achieve this…

A few thoughts on Brexit…

Article 50 has been triggered and the process of the UK exiting the EU is underway. We’re entering a period of political instability which will doubtless by accompanied by economic dislocation as the Brexit process unfolds. There’s the distinct possibility that the start of the break up of the UK is also underway. We really are living in ‘interesting times’!

Let’s be clear, in reality, the EU referendum last year was a ‘choice’ about which faction of the ruling elite we ‘want’ to have running our lives for the benefit of big business. The point is we don’t want our lives to be run by either Brussels or Westminster if we end up being seen as nothing more than production units to be exploited and discarded at will. While the politics of the referendum and its aftermath was undoubtedly a fascinating spectacle, let’s not be deceived that it was anything other than a false choice between two shite options.

Here are just a few examples of how the EU basically screws people over… Firstly, there’s the continuing imposition of a level of austerity on Greece that can only be described as barbaric. Then there’s the trade ‘agreements’ with African countries that allow for the dumping of heavily subsidised EU produced food into Africa, undermining the ability of local producers to export their products. Also, how could we not mention the negotiations for the now thankfully defunct Trans-Atlantic Trade & Investment Partnership which were conducted under high levels of secrecy with no meaningful transparency. If this deal had gone through, it would have given major corporations the right to sue governments if policies that impacted their operations were implemented.

As for the alternative, Theresa May’s grovelling to Trump on her visit to the US earlier on this year was stomach churning and a signal of utter desperation. Effectively becoming the 51st state of the US with all that entails in letting the major corporations have even more power over our lives is not an option. Nor is turning into a low welfare tax haven servicing the global super rich an option either. The powers that be need to be aware that this is not what many people who voted for Brexit want.

We argue that neither Brussels or Westminster are wanted in our lives and the option of becoming the 51st state of the US in all but name is unacceptable. We need to reject all of these and start fighting for a more just, sane and sustainable world where the mass of people working together are genuinely in control of their destinies. That fight starts now – if we can get our act together, there’s everything to gain…

Screwed up priorities…

Back in February, two homeless people pleaded with Basildon Council for help when temperatures were plummeting down to zero. What was the response of the council? They gave the two homeless people one way rail tickets to Harlow via London so they could be accommodated for one night only at the Oasis Hotel which has been used as temporary housing since 2012. See here for the full story in the Echo: Homeless stranded 30 miles away after council gives them one-way train ticket to emergency accommodationhttp://www.echo-news.co.uk/news/15183290.Homeless_stranded_30_miles_away_after_council_gives_them_one_way_train_ticket_to_emergency_accommodation/ The two homeless people were effectively dumped in Harlow, a town they didn’t know with no support network. Fortunately, they both managed to make their way back to Basildon…

In our view, a local authority has to be judged by the way they treat their most vulnerable residents. Leaving two homeless people effectively stranded in a strange town thirty miles away is barbaric – there’s no other way to describe it. This incident shows in crystal clear clarity how twisted the priorities of Basildon Council are. A civilised society would ensure that vulnerable people are treated with dignity and respect, not swept out of the way in an offhand, callous manner. A truly civilised society would ensure that no one is homeless in the first place…

The Tory leader of Basildon Council, Cllr. Phil Turner, bangs on about how Basildon is changing and makes no secret of his desire to transform the place into a Tory voting commuter town. There’s a lot of building going on in Basildon ranging from the estate of executive homes going up at Dry Street to a rash of apartment developments aimed at commuters around the town centre. It’s pretty clear the kind of demographic that Turner and his mates want in the town – tragically, it’s also clear that they have no time for the homeless and vulnerable.

With all the construction that’s going on in Basildon, you would have thought that building a few complexes of sheltered housing staffed with people who can offer professional support to vulnerable people wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for the council. In addition, build genuinely affordable social housing units so that once these vulnerable people have got their lives back together, they can move onto a more independent way of living. It’s not asking a lot is it?

Tragically as things stand at the moment there’s no chance of this happening – the Basildon Council Mafia have made it pretty clear who they do and don’t want in the town. They have no time for anyone who for whatever reason is not contributing to the bottom line. ‘Hard working’ commuters are welcome – anyone who for whatever reason has fallen on hard times and is vulnerable is most definitely not welcome and will be treated accordingly. This is the start of the slippery slope to a very dark and disturbing place…

A breakdown in the chain?

The Basildon campus of South Essex College is to be moved onto the current site of Basildon Market. The market (what’s left of it after stupidly high rent rises) is being relocated to St. Martin’s Square – construction / destruction work to facilitate this is already underway. The relocation of the college is being funded (in part) by the sale of the current site to Redrow to form part of their Dry Street housing development. Complicated isn’t it? Particularly when the finances of the college are being called into question plus the fact that Essex County Council have had to put in £1.75million to make up for a cash shortfall for the work needed to move the market and clear the site for the college to move in: Lib Dems calls for assurances over South Essex College move amid fears over college financeshttp://www.echo-news.co.uk/news/15163679.Lib_Dems_calls_for_assurances_over_South_Essex_College_move_amid_fears_over_college_finances/

A housing development consisting mainly of executive style homes aimed at affluent commuters which will do zilch to clear the (seriously manipulated downwards) council housing waiting list is being built on the spacious site of a college which is moving to a town centre site where it will be nigh on impossible for it to expand should the need arise. This is combined with the unpopular move of the market involving the destruction of the only space in the town centre, St. Martin’s Square, where when the weather was right, people were able to chill out and relax before, during or after shopping or a visit to the Towngate. Seriously, you couldn’t make this up could you?

Hubris is one word that can be used to describe the arrogance of Basildon Council, South Essex College and Redrow homes in pushing forwards with this chain of developments despite widespread doubts, scepticism and outright objections from a sizeable number of people in the town. This is what happens with top down planning that’s forced on the people of Basildon with little or no meaningful consultation let alone any willingness to listen to people’s concerns and objections. Clear evidence that the system of local governance we have is not fit for purpose as people feel that planning is something that’s done to them rather than a process they can have any active, constructive engagement with.

Is it any wonder that people’s cynicism with local (and central) government is growing by the day with this level of hubris laced with sheer incompetence? What’s needed is a planning system led by the people whose experience of living in a town combines with valuable strands of local knowledge that will deliver a result that pretty much everyone will feel they have a stake in. Mind you, that will only come about after the existing political, economic and social order has been rebuilt from the ground up to meet people’s needs as opposed to satisfying the demands of the bottom line…

This is the start of gentrification in Tilbury…

Phase One of the housing development on St. Chads Road in Tilbury that’s being built by the Thurrock Council owned Gloriana Thurrock Ltd. is almost complete and will be handed over in April. Properties for rent on this development are already being advertised on Right Move – http://www.rightmove.co.uk/property-to-rent/property-58379245.html Have a look at what they want for the monthly rent and you’ll see why we think the gentrification of Tilbury is underway!

The ‘affordable’ housing component of this development is just 20% of the total number of homes being being built – these are restricted to two bedroom properties only. These will not be available until the completion of Phase Two which is due to happen this coming summer. The homes will be allocated through the council’s housing register.

The three bedroom properties are being advertised by Right Move at £1,124 per calendar month (£259 per week). For a couple with children to be able to afford the rent on a property like this, they would need to be earning around £35,000 a year. That pretty much puts these properties beyond the reach of most people living in Tilbury.

So with rents at this level, Gloriana Thurrock Ltd. which was supposedly set up by the council towards the end of 2013 by the then Labour administration with the aim of building homes on land that commercial developers supposedly wouldn’t touch, is turning into yet another commercial property developer! Sure, Thurrock Council officers (and some councillors) will try and justify this as a necessary revenue generating initiative to offset the drastic cuts in money from central government. The point is that Gloriana Thurrock Ltd. are doing little or nothing to ease pressure on the housing waiting list as they build homes for people from outside the borough.

Given that the St.Chads developments is within reasonable walking distance of the station, it wouldn’t be surprising if a lot of people moving there are commuters who have been priced out of London. The same thing is happening in Basildon with the Tory leader of Basildon Council, Cllr. Phil Turner practically rolling out the red carpet to welcome an influx of potential Tory voters into the town! This is just another manifestation of The housing domino effecthttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/03/07/the-housing-domino-effect/ that’s a consequence of the project of making London a welcome home for the global super rich.

This is what you get when housing is regarded as yet another financial asset to be brought and sold for profit rather than as a basic human need that has to be met. We now have a situation where housing provision is being used as a means of social engineering and social control. Young, productive and relatively well paid commuters are being made welcome. Low earners are expected to struggle as best they can in cramped, precarious accommodation – if their labour is no longer required, they’re deemed to be expendable and they’ll find there is no place for them anywhere along the estuary. If for whatever reason you’re disabled and on the housing waiting list, expect to be moved right out of the area to a decaying seaside town further up the east coast.

Things will only change once people start to realise that the system we have is screwing more and more of us over and is ultimately unsustainable. A political, social and economic order that is failing to meet the housing needs of an ever growing proportion of the population can only stagger on so far before something gives. Only when that happens will we have the chance to install a system that meets our needs as people instead of one that merely sees us as production units to be discarded when we are no longer of any use.

Yes, there will be a paper!

Time to fess up – this blog is the very thinly disguised successor project to the now defunct South Essex Heckler. It was a complex set of circumstances ending in a bit of a cluster***k that left us with no option but to discontinue publishing the Heckler as a blog and paper – a good part of that was due to its role in getting the ball rolling for the Southend Radical Fair (see below).

Anyway, after a few weeks pondering what to do and some experimentation with other blogs, we’re here with the Stirrer. There will be a paper – work on producing it is already underway and we hope to get it off to the printer by the first week in April. If you broadly support our anarchist principles, live in southern Essex and want to take a small bundle of papers to hand out to friends, comrades, colleagues, neighbours, etc. get in touch with us (contact detail on the About us page) and we’ll work out a way of getting them to you.

As ever, we’re always keen to have people who support our politics contributing to this blog or its sister project, ON UNCERTAIN GROUND. If you’re involved in a grassroots community project, workplace industrial action, an anti-gentrification campaign to name just a few, have a story to tell, get it down and send it in to us. That kind of material will be published here on the Stirrer. If there’s an issue you feel passionately about and you want to write about it in depth, that’s the kind of piece we’ll be looking to publish in ON UNCERTAIN GROUND. Alternatively, if there’s something we’ve written in ON UNCERTAIN GROUND that you have a different take on, write it up and it’s quite likely we’ll publish it! With both blogs we try to take a light touch with editing, generally checking spelling and grammar.

Southend Radical Fair

The South Essex Heckler was instrumental in setting this fair up which is taking place at The Railway in Clifftown Road on May 6th. For a complex variety of reasons involving a certain amount of political incompatibility with ‘partner’ groups down in Southend, we’ve walked away from the fair and no longer have any involvement with building or organising it. If anyone is expecting to see us at the fair, this is just to let you know that we will not be attending it in any way, shape or form.